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10 March, 2020

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Paper Topics Subject
GS-I SC/ST Education-Social Inclusion Indian Society
GS-II Afghanistan crisis and US - Taliban peace process International Relations
India and Afghanistan analysis International Relations
COMPREHENSIVE CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM
GS-III Quantum Supremacy
GS-I : Indian Society
SC/ST Education-Social Inclusion

‘Fall in percentage of school education funds for SC, STs’

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-I- Social Issue

 

What’s in News?

After several years of rising trends, the Centre has reduced the percentage allocation of funds for education of schoolchildren from SC and ST communities as well as for the north-eastern region in the coming year.

  • In its report on the demand for grants submitted to the Rajya Sabha, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development expressed its concern at these declines and urged higher allocations.
  • A parliamentary panel expressed concern that any shortage of funds for these marginalised communities could be critical, especially given that more than one in five SC and ST students drop out of school at the secondary level.
  • For at least three years, the amounts allocated to improve education for Dalits, Adivasis and those from the north-east have been on the rise in comparison to total allocations for the department. However, the percentage allotted to these communities dipped in 2020-21, although actual amounts still increased slightly.

Concerns:

  • A major concern is about the high rates of dropout among SC and ST communities.
    • The annual average dropout rate of SC students at the secondary school level is at 21.8%, according to the latest survey data from the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) 2017-18.
    • For ST students, it was 22.3%.

Scheme for SC/ST in education.    

NGOs Scheme

Scheme of Grant in Aid to Voluntary Organisations working for Scheduled Castes

Scholarships

Pre-Matric Scholarship to the SC Students studying in classes IX & X

Pre-Matric Scholarships to the Children of those Engaged in occupations involving cleaning and prone to health hazards

Post-Matric Scholarship for SC students

Upggadation of Merit Of SC Students

Central Sector Scholarship of Top Class Education for SC Students

National Overseas scholarship

National Fellowship for Scheduled Caste Students

Hostels

BABU JAGJIVAN RAM CHHATRAWAS YOJANA

Free Coaching

Free Coaching Scheme for SC and OBC Students

Schemes for Economic Development

Credit Enhancement Guarantee Scheme for the Scheduled Castes (SCs)

National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC)

National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC)

Special Central Assistance to Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCA to SCSP)

Scheme of Assistance to Scheduled Castes Development Corporations (SCDCs)

Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS)

Venture Capital Fund For Scheduled Castes

Schemes for Social Empowerment

Centrally Sponsored Scheme for implementation of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

Pradhan Mantri Adarsh Gram Yojana (PMAGY)

SCHOLARSHIP SCHEMES FOR SC/ST STUDENTS

The Finance Minister in his budget speech on the Union Budget 2005-06 made the following announcements –

“The key to empowering the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes is to provide top class education opportunities to meritorious students. The three on-going scholarship schemes for SC/ST students under the Central Plan – pre-Matric, post-Matric and merit-based – will continue.

To provide an added incentive, I propose a new window: a short list of institutes of excellence will be notified, and any SC/ST student who secures admission in one of those institutes will be awarded a larger scholarship that will meet the requirements for tuition fees, living expenses, books and a computer.”

The Scheme was approved in 2007 and was subsequently revised in January, 2012 and June 2016.

2. Objectives and Coverage

2.1     The Scheme aims at recognizing and promoting quality education amongst students belonging to SCs, by providing full financial support. The scheme will cover SC students for pursuing studies beyond 12th class.

2.2     The scheme will operate in all institutions notified by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

2.3     The SC students, who secure admission in the notified institutions, will be awarded scholarship to meet the requirements for (i) full tuition fee and non-refundable charges (there will be a ceiling of Rs. 2.00 lakhs per annum per student for private sector institutions and Rs.3.72 lakhs per annum per student for the private sector flying clubs for Commercial Pilot Training and Type Rating Courses), (ii) living expenses to the beneficiary @ Rs. 2220/- per month per student. However, the advance payment of living expenses, to be paid directly by the Central Government, through Direct Benefits Transfer mode would be restricted to 1 quarter only. (iii) books and stationery @ Rs. 3000/- per annum per student and (iv) a latest computer with accessories like UPS, Printer, Multi-media limited to Rs. 45000/- per student as one time assistance during the course. The Institute will procure computers and supply to the awardees. Alternatively, the Institute may also consider re-imbursement of expenses made by a student on Purchase of the computer. Limited Rs. 45,000/- provided, the computer and accessories are procured from a reputed manufacturer/supplier.

2.4   The scholarship, once awarded, will continue till the completion of the course, subject to satisfactory performance.

 

3. Eligibility

3.1     Those SC students who have secured admission in the notified institutions according to the norms prescribed by the respective institutions will be eligible for the scholarship under the scheme to the extent of the number of scholarships allocated to the institutes concerned. In case the number of students admitted exceeds the number of awards, then the scholarship will be restricted to the top ones in the inter-se merit list. The remaining students from SC category admitted in the institute in different courses shall be eligible for the Post-Matric Scholarship (PMS) administered by this Ministry as a centrally sponsored scheme, provided such students are otherwise eligible for the said scheme. In case, the institute finds that the number of eligible candidates in the 1st year are less than the number of scholarships allotted to it, the balance scholarships may be offered to students studying in 2nd, 3rd and 4th year, etc. one the basis of inter-se merit of previous year’s result giving priority to those with higher number of Years left to complete their respective course i.e. 1st Year students is to get priority over the 2nd year students and so on.

3.2     Thirty percent (30%) of slots allotted to the Institute shall be reserved for eligible SC girl students as per their inter-se merit. In absence of sufficient number of girl students, the slots may be transferred to eligible boy students as per their merit.

3.3     However, the 30% slots as mentioned above will not include those girl students who are selected on the basis of their performance in the overall merit list of SC students of the Institute.

3.4     The ceiling of total annual family income from all sources under the Scheme is Rs. 6.00 lakh and the general selection criteria among the eligible candidates of any institution must be the merit. However, if for the last available slot in an institution, there is more than one student with equal marks; preference may be given to the student with the lowest parental income.

3.5     The benefit of the Scheme will not be provided to more than 2 siblings in a family. The students will submit an affidavit to this effect in the Institute to certify that he/she is not the 3rd sibling of the family who is availing the benefit under the Scheme.

 3.6     The ceiling of total annual family income from all sources under the Scheme is Rs. 6.00 lakh and the general selection criteria among the eligible candidates of any institution must be the merit. However, if for the last available slot in an institution, there is more than one student with equal marks; preference may be given to the student with the lowest parental income.

3.7     The scholarship will become payable immediately after a student has secured admission and has started attending the classes.

3.8     The scholarship will be terminated if the student fails to pass the final examination of each year or any terminal examination or semester examination prescribed. He will, however, remain eligible for the Post-Matric Scholarship.

Way forward:

  • “The Committee urges the Department to undertake a study of the social-cultural-financial reasons for the dropout of SC, ST and girls at all levels and with particular emphasis on dropout at secondary level and evolve strategies to remove the cause for the high dropout rates,” said the report.

The Department may also look into the feasibility of bringing back the students who drop out at secondary level and simultaneously providing them vocational training so that these students can look for job opportunities at the earliest possible and also continue their studies.

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GS-II : International Relations
Afghanistan crisis and US - Taliban peace process

Afghanistan Crisis- US TALIBAN DEAL

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-II- IR

 

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.

 

Way Forward

An independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic and inclusive Afghanistan is crucial for peace and stability in the region. In order to ensure this:

  • The Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.
  • Also, there is a need for the global community to fight against the global concern of terrorism. In this context, it high time to adopt the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (proposed by India at UN in 1996).

Though the deal is a good step, the road ahead would not be easy. Achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan will require patience and compromise among all parties.

Recent News: Afghanistan’s two rival leaders have sworn themselves in as President at simultaneous ceremonies that were interrupted by at least two blasts.

Background:

Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner of a disputed presidential election in Afghanistan by the country’s independent Election Commission.

Concerns:

  • The bitter feud between President Ashraf Ghani and his former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has raised fears for Afghanistan’s fragile democracy as the U.S. prepares to leave the country following an agreement with a strong and largely unified Taliban.

 

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GS-II : International Relations
India and Afghanistan analysis

India's role in Afghanistan

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-II- IR

Responding to President Donald Trump, the Indian government has stressed on the fact that developmental assistance can play a major role in transforming Afghanistan. US mocked at India for funding a "library" in Afghanistan, saying it is of no use in the war-torn country as he criticised India and others for not doing enough for the nation's security. US also asked India, Russia, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries to take responsibility for Afghanistan's security as he defended his push for the US to invest less overseas.

India most of the investments in Afghanistan were on mega infrastructure projects including the 218 km road from Zaranj to Delaram, the Salma Dam and the new Afghan Parliament building. India has also been supplying military equipment to Afghanistan besides providing training to hundreds of Afghan security personnel.

India and Afghanistan (PT and Mains)

  • Post the Taliban era, engagement by India with Afghanistan focused on to ensure a strong commitment for building peace and stability in Afghanistan.
  • India’s strategy in Afghanistan is guided by the desire to prevent a government that would readily provide Pakistan with strategic depth and a safe haven for terror groups.
  • India has opted to pursue a ‘soft power’ strategy to engage Afghanistan, preferring to contribute substantially in the civilian sector rather than in defence and security.
  • India is particularly active in the construction, infrastructure, human capital building and mining sectors. Besides, it has also identified the telecommunications, health, pharmaceuticals, and information technology and education sectors for cooperation.
  • Within the framework of two bilateral agreements, India has pledged over $ 2 billion in aid to Afghanistan. And, by the end of the year 2017 the investment has already crossed $3 billion.
  • India has also agreed to build the 600-km-long Bamiyan – Herat rail link which will serve to connect the Hajigak mines to Herat and further to the Iranian port of Chabahar via the Delaram-Zaranj highway, which India had constructed in 2009.
  • This makes India the fifth largest investor in Afghanistan’s stability and quest for economic and social development.
  • Some of the other important projects
    • Supply of 250,000 tons of wheat.
    • Construction of the Parliament building ($ 178 million).
    • Construction of the Pul-i-Khumri to Kabul power line ($120 million).
    • Salma Dam power project ($ 130 million).
    • Food assistance to primary school children, and construction and rehabilitation of schools ($ 321 million).
    • Expansion of national television network with an uplink from Kabul and downlinks in all 34 provincial capitals.
    • Women’s Vocational Training Center in Bagh-e-Zanana for training of Afghan women in garment making, nursery plantation, food processing and marketing.
    • Reconstruction of Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health, Afghanistan’s only hospital for children, in Kabul.
    • 84 ongoing projects related to agriculture, education, health, vocational training and solar energy.

Heart of Asia Conference

The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HoA) was founded on November 2nd, 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey to address the shared challenges and interests of Afghanistan and its neighbours and regional partners. It will also contribute to the stability and prosperity to Afghanistan’s extended neighbourhood in South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was launched in 2011 and the participating countries include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates. Three pillars of this conference process are: • Political Consultations: Political consultation involving Afghanistan and its near and extended neighbours • Confidence Building Measures (CBMs): Areas for CBMs identified in the Istanbul Process document are Disaster management, Counter-terrorism, Counter-narcotics, Trade, Commerce and Investment, Regional infrastructure, and Education. • Cooperation with Regional Organizations Key Highlights of the Sixth Conference a) Menace of terrorism dominated the Amritsar meet o Amritsar Declaration named  the terrorist organisations that are jeopardising the security situation in Afghanistan: – This was a big blow to Pakistan as almost all the terrorist organisations which are named in the declaration are based in Pakistan. – The declaration mentions two groups targeting India, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, in addition to the Haqqani network, among the organisations causing a “high level of violence” in Afghanistan and the region. b) A regional approach to eliminate terrorism is suggested: o It included dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism. o It also includes tapping the capacities of political and religious leaders, civil society, mass media and social networks in the fight against terror. c) The declaration asks for early finalization of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism with consensus. d) For the first time, a Heart of Asia declaration has expressed concern at the violence caused in Afghanistan and the region by groups like al-Qaeda and Daesh, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad etc. e) The declaration has spoken of the dangers emanating from the increase in production and cultivation of opium in Afghanistan, the volume of drug trafficking and demand in the HoA Region and beyond. f) Afghanistan rejected Pakistan’s offer of $500 million for reconstruction of Afghanistan, and advised it to use the money to counter terrorist activities emanating from Pakistan.

Afghan Peace Process

Stakeholders

There are a number of indigenous players with regard to Afghan peace process

  • The Taliban group – against whom the military action was taken post 9/11. The Taliban has at least four main branches whose relations range from pragmatic cooperation to active hostility.
  • They are organized around decision-making bodies called "shuras," these branches oversee various commissions and operate across Afghanistan – often in competition with one another and sometimes even within themselves.
  • Recently, they have engaged with countries like Russia and the US regarding peace process and withdrawal of troops from its soil.
  • The Taliban does not recognize the present day Afghan government as legitimate government as they believe that it does not represent the will of the people.
  • The Afghan Government – they are the legitimate government recognized by the UN along with other countries.
  • President Ashraf Ghani re-launched the Kabul Process in June 2017. The principal purpose of the process is to ensure an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, inclusive peace process where the people are fully in the driver’s seat to address the multiple dimensions of ongoing war and violence in Afghanistan.
  • The Haqqani Network – the Haqqani network is the most ruthless, disciplined and organized subgroup within the Taliban. The Haqqani network is also a major impediment to the prospects of negotiations with Kabul. The network’s leader favors a solely military solution to the conflict. The main base of its operation is in Pakistan.

 

External Stakeholders

  • The US led NATO forces – the US and the allied countries have actively engaged with all the parties in the peace process including the political faction of the Taliban group.
  • The US government has become wary of the long drawn war (which resulted $900billion dollars in the past 17 years) and one of the most important agendas of the Trump administration is safe return of the American soldiers.
  • Regional powers – countries like Qatar and Russia have actively engaged with all the stakeholders of the peace process, including the Taliban. The headquarters of the Taliban is located in Doha from where they engage with the rest of the world.
  • Russia a key stakeholder in the process – Russia has hosted talks with Taliban delegates and members of Afghanistan high peace council, as the Kremlin seeks a role as peace broker between Islamist rebels and the US-backed government in Kabul.
  • Pakistan’s destabilizing role in Afghanistan – Pakistan sees Afghanistan as potentially providing strategic depth against India.
  • Pakistan may also view a weak and destabilised Afghanistan as preferable to a strong, unified Afghan state (particularly one led by a Pashtun-dominated government in Kabul.)

 

India’s Engagement with the Peace Process

  • India an important player in the peace process – it has been acknowledged by all including the US and very recently by Pakistan that India is a key player in the peace process.
  • The External Affairs Ministers have reiterated that in India supports all efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan which are inclusive and Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.
  • India had strictly refused to put boots on the ground previously and would maintain the status quo. Instead India has invested heavily in training security forces and supplying with necessary equipment.
  • The key concern and challenge is the protection of the investment that India has made in Afghanistan.
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GS-II :
COMPREHENSIVE CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

COMPREHENSIVE CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-II- IR

The date 26/11 has gone down in the history as a day that saw the most heinous attack carried on the Indian soil. The attack claimed 164 lives; leftover 300 injured and sent shock waves around the world. Terrorism has reared its ugly head every now and then and has devastated the world like nothing else. It is an issue which has affected millions of lives from Asia to the Americas but till date, there is no consensus on an international convention on terrorism. Several efforts have been made to address the problem but negotiations have not borne out results to address the issue.

What is it?

The Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is a proposed treaty which intends to criminalize all forms of international terrorism and deny terrorists, their financiers and supporters access to funds, arms, and safe havens. It is a draft proposed by India in 1996 that is yet to be adopted by the UNGA.

What does it call for?

Universal definition of terrorism: no good terrorist or bad terrorist.

Ban on all groups regardless of country of operation, cut off access to funds and safe havens.

Prosecution of all groups including cross border groups.

Amending domestic laws to make cross-border terror an extraditable offence.

It also addresses, among other things, the issue of Pakistan’s alleged support for cross-border terrorism in south Asia.

Concerns expressed by various countries:

US + allies: concerns over definition of terrorism, including acts by US soldiers in international interventions without UN mandate.

Latin American countries: concerns over international humanitarian laws being ignored.

There are also concerns that convention will be used to target Pakistan and restrict rights of self-determination groups in Palestine, Kashmir etc.

Why the Lack of Consensus?

  • The Sixth Committee, the primary forum for the consideration of legal questions in the General Assembly had created an ad hoc group which is still debating the draft for Comprehensive Convention for Countering International Terrorism. There are several issues but the most important of them is “defining the terms related to terrorism”. Multiple groups have contentious claims over what should and what should not be regarded as terrorism.
  • For instance, Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) has denied inclusion of liberation movement activities as terrorism, keeping in mind the Israel- Palestine conflict.
  • On the other hand, the US and the allied countries who are involved in many counter-terrorism activities in various countries wanted the draft to exclude acts committed by military forces of states during peacetime. The Latin American countries want exactly the opposite.
  • Hence, for the committee prescribing an overarching definition that satisfies all the parties is a bone of contention.

    Origin and Status of Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT)

    New Delhi has pushed for an intergovernmental convention to enhance prosecution and extradition of terrorists since 1996. In 2018, even after two decades, there is still a lack of consensus. Although consensus eludes towards the adoption of the terrorism convention, discussions have yielded three separate protocols that aim to tackle terrorism:
    • International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted on 15 December 1997;
    • International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted on 9 December 1999;
    • International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, adopted on 13 April 2005.

    Geopolitics and the Act of terror

  • Geopolitics is one of the most important determinants that has played the invisible hand in protecting the agents of terror. Masood Azhar is a case in point.
  • Time and again China has been reluctant in declaring Azhar a terrorist. China, being a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, has repeatedly blocked India's move to do so. The US, Britain and France all back India to designate Masood Azhar a terrorist under the Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council.
  • China, in its statement, said that since Pakistan didn't agree with India on this issue, there is no "consensus" between the two directly affected parties. Beijing made it clear that China will support the issue only if Pakistan agrees with India.
  • Pakistan government has been proven toothless when it comes to curbing nefarious activities emanating from her soil. There are scores of terrorist camps along the border, aided and funded either by the army (clandestinely) or terrorist groups like Jaish e Mohammad.
  • The motive of the Pakistani administration has always been to support the fringe elements tacitly, in order to fulfill its policy to “bleed India with thousand cuts”.
  • Adoption of the convention would not only force Pakistan to withdraw any tacit state support to the terrorist groups but would also enable India to extradite culprits who are responsible for designing terrorist acts from foreign soil.

 

Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT)

  • The CCIT will provide legal framework which will make it binding on all signatories to deny funds and safe havens to terrorist groups. The original draft that was tabled in 1996 and discussed until April 2013 included the following major objectives:
    • To have a universal definition of terrorism that all 193-members of the UNGA will adopt into their own criminal law.
    • To ban all terror groups and shut down terror camps.
    • Deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts.
  • To prosecute all terrorists under a special law.
  • Exchange information in accordance with international and domestic law and cooperate on administrative and judicial matters to prevent the commission of terrorist acts.
  • To make cross-border terrorism an extraditable offence worldwide.

The global impact of terrorism:

  1. There was no change in the five countries most impacted by terrorism, which include Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan. All of these countries have been ranked in the worst five every year since 2013.
  2. Conflict continued to be the primary driver of terrorist activity for the countries most impacted by terrorism in 2017.
  3. In 2017, terrorist attacks in conflict countries averaged 2.4 deaths, compared to 0.84 deaths in non-conflict countries. Terrorist attacks are more lethal on average in countries with a greater intensity of conflict. In 2017, countries in a state of war averaged 2.97 deaths per attack, compared to 1.36 in countries involved in a minor armed conflict.
  4. There are numerous possible reasons for this difference. Countries in conflict have a greater availabilityof more military-grade small arms and bomb-making capabilities.
  5. Countries that are not in conflict tend to be more economically-developed and spend more on intelligence gathering, policing and counterterrorism.

Measures to Tackle Terrorism

  • India should play a proactive role to neutralize any threat of terrorism.
  • Addressing UN High-Level conference on Heads of Counter Terrorism, Indian Special Secretary, Internal Security) extended a five-point formula –
    • Exchange of timely and actionable intelligence.
    • Prevention of misuse of modern communication through collaboration with the private sector.
    • Building capacities for improved border controls.
    • Sharing of info related to the movement of passengers.
    • Designation of Counter-Terror focal points to fight global terror.
  • In addition, there should be a concerted effort from the countries affected by the scourge of terrorism to pressurize countries who engage in state-sponsored terrorism.
  • It is believed that the Indian intelligence agencies did have actionable intelligence from its Israeli and the US counterpart regarding 26/11. So, intelligence gathering and sharing are not enough, timely & appropriate action is required on the intelligence received. Consequently, the Indian intelligence agencies have to be empowered both monetarily and through modern infrastructure to be able to respond in time.
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GS-III :
Quantum Supremacy

Quantum Supremacy

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-III- S&T 

 

Recently, Google’s quantum computer, named Sycamore, claimed “quantum supremacy”, as it reportedly did the task in 200 seconds that would have apparently taken a supercomputer 10,000 years to complete.

What is “quantum supremacy”?

  • The phrase “quantum supremacy” was coined in 2012 by John Preskill.
  • Quantum supremacy refers to a quantum computer solving a problem that cannot be expected of a classical computer in a normal lifetime.

 

Quantum Computing vs Traditional Computing

  • Traditional computers work on the basis of the laws of classical physics, specifically by utilizing the flow of electricity. A quantum computer, on the other hand, seeks to exploit the laws that govern the behavior of atoms and subatomic particles.
  • Conventional computers process information in ‘bits’ or 1s and 0s, following classical physics under which our computers can process a ‘1’ or a ‘0’ at a time.
  • Quantum computers compute in ‘qubits’ (or quantum bits). They exploit the properties of quantum mechanics, the science that governs how matter behaves on the atomic scale.
     
    • In this scheme of things, processors can be a 1 and a 0 simultaneously, a state called quantum superposition.
  • Because of quantum superposition, a quantum computer — if it works to plan — can mimic several classical computers working in parallel.
  • World's most powerful supercomputers today can juggle 148,000 trillion operations in a second and requires about 9000 IBM CPUs connected in a particular combination to achieve this feat.
  • At that tiny scale, many laws of classical physics cease to apply, and the unique laws of quantum physics come into play.
  • Unlike classical physics, in which an object can exist in one place at one time, quantum physics looks at the probabilities of an object being at different points. Existence in multiple states is called superposition, and the relationships among these states is called entanglement.
  • The higher the number of qubits, the higher the amount of information stored in them. Compared to the information stored in the same number of bits, the information in qubits rises exponentially. That is what makes a quantum computer so powerful.
  • Building reliable quantum hardware is challenging because of the difficulty of controlling quantum systems accurately.

 

What is quantum computing?

Let’s start with the basics.

An ordinary computer chip uses bits. These are like tiny switches, that can either be in the off position – represented by a zero – or in the on position – represented by a one. Every app you use, website you visit and photograph you take is ultimately made up of millions of these bits in some combination of ones and zeroes.

This works great for most things, but it doesn’t reflect the way the universe actually works. In nature, things aren’t just on or off. They’re uncertain. And even our best supercomputers aren’t very good at dealing with uncertainty. That’s a problem.

That's because, over the last century, physicists have discovered when you go down to a really small scale, weird things start to happen. They’ve developed a whole new field of science to try and explain them. It’s called quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics is the foundation of physics, which underlies chemistry, which is the foundation of biology. So for scientists to accurately simulate any of those things, they need a better way of making calculations that can handle uncertainty. Enter, quantum computers.

 

How do quantum computers work?

Instead of bits, quantum computers use qubits. Rather than just being on or off, qubits can also be in what’s called ‘superposition’ – where they’re both on and off at the same time, or somewhere on a spectrum between the two.

Take a coin. If you flip it, it can either be heads or tails. But if you spin it – it’s got a chance of landing on heads, and a chance of landing on tails. Until you measure it, by stopping the coin, it can be either. Superposition is like a spinning coin, and it’s one of the things that makes quantum computers so powerful. A qubit allows for uncertainty.

If you ask a normal computer to figure its way out of a maze, it will try every single branch in turn, ruling them all out individually until it finds the right one. A quantum computer can go down every path of the maze at once. It can hold uncertainty in its head.

It’s a bit like keeping a finger in the pages of a choose your own adventure book. If your character dies, you can immediately choose a different path, instead of having to return to the start of the book.

The other thing that qubits can do is called entanglement. Normally, if you flip two coins, the result of one coin toss has no bearing on the result of the other one. They’re independent. In entanglement, two particles are linked together, even if they’re physically separate. If one comes up heads, the other one will also be heads.

It sounds like magic, and physicists still don’t fully understand how or why it works. But in the realm of quantum computing, it means that you can move information around, even if it contains uncertainty. You can take that spinning coin and use it to perform complex calculations. And if you can string together multiple qubits, you can tackle problems that would take our best computers millions of years to solve.

What can quantum computers do?

Quantum computers aren’t just about doing things faster or more efficiently. They’ll let us do things that we couldn’t even have dreamed of without them. Things that even the best supercomputer just isn’t capable of.

They have the potential to rapidly accelerate the development of artificial intelligence. Google is already using them to improve the software of self-driving cars. They’ll also be vital for modelling chemical reactions.

Right now, supercomputers can only analyse the most basic molecules. But quantum computers operate using the same quantum properties as the molecules they’re trying to simulate. They should have no problem handling even the most complicated reactions.

That could mean more efficient products – from new materials for batteries in electric cars, through to better and cheaper drugs, or vastly improved solar panels. Scientists hope that quantum simulations could even help find a cure for Alzheimer’s.

Quantum computers will find a use anywhere where there’s a large, uncertain complicated system that needs to be simulated. That could be anything from predicting the financial markets, to improving weather forecasts, to modelling the behaviour of individual electrons: using quantum computing to understand quantum physics.

Cryptography will be another key application. Right now, a lot of encryption systems rely on the difficulty of breaking down large numbers into prime numbers. This is called factoring, and for classical computers, it’s slow, expensive and impractical. But quantum computers can do it easily. And that could put our data at risk.

There are rumours that intelligence agencies across the world are already stockpiling vast amounts of encrypted data in the hope that they’ll soon have access to a quantum computer that can crack it.

The only way to fight back is with quantum encryption. This relies on the uncertainty principle – the idea that you can’t measure something without influencing the result. Quantum encryption keys could not be copied or hacked. They would be completely unbreakable.

 

How will it help us?

  • The speed and capability of classical supercomputers are limited by energy requirements. Along with these they also need more physical space.
  • It can have a major impact through quantum chemistry, which could be important in agriculture and human health.
  • It could help with the development of new pharmaceuticals, new energy sources, new ways to collect solar power, and new materials.
  • Looking for really useful information by processing huge amounts of data quickly is a real-world problem and one that can be tackled faster by quantum computers.
     
    • For example, if we have a database of a million social media profiles and had to look for a particular individual, a classical computer would have to scan each one of those profiles which would amount to a million steps.
  • In 1996, Lov K. Grover from Bell Labs discovered that a quantum computer would be able to do the same task with one thousand steps instead of a million. That translates into reduced processors and reduced energy.
  • A quantum computer can attack complex problems that are beyond the scope of a classical computer. The basic advantage is speed as it is able to simulate several classical computers working in parallel.
  • Quantum computers would also be useful for tasks which handle huge amounts of data. Data mining and artificial intelligence would be major beneficiaries, along with sciences which deal in volumes of data, from astronomy to linguistics.

 

Government's Initiative

  • In 2018, the Department of Science & Technology unveiled a programme called Quantum-Enabled Science & Technology (QuEST) and committed to investing ?80 crore over the next three years to accelerate research.
  • The ostensible plan is to have a quantum computer built in India within the next decade.

 

Challenges Associated with Quantum Computing

  • The dark side of quantum computing is the disruptive effect that it can have on cryptographic encryption, which secures communications and computers.
  • It might pose a challenge for the government also because if this technology goes into wrong hands, all the government’s official and confidential data will be at a risk of being hacked and misused.

 

Way Forward

  • Long after the birth of social media and artificial intelligence, there are now demands to regulate them. It would be prudent to develop a regulatory framework for quantum computing before it becomes widely available.
  • It will be better to regulate it or define the limits of its legitimate use, nationally and internationally before the problem gets out of hand like nuclear technology.
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