US - TALIBAN - DOHA ACCORD
- The deal signed between the U.S. and the Taliban in Doha sets the stage for America to wind down the longest war in its history. Which will enable the US and NATO to withdraw troops in the next 14 months.
- The pact is between the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban” and the US.
- US went into Afghanistan in October 2001, a few weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, with the goals of defeating terrorists and rebuilding and stabilising the central Asian country.
- Almost 19 years later, the U.S. seeks to exit Afghanistan with assurances from the Taliban that the insurgents will not allow Afghan soil to be used by transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and that they would engage the Kabul government directly to find a lasting solution to the civil war.
- The Afghan war is estimated to have cost $2-trillion, with more than 3,500 American and coalition soldiers killed. Afghanistan lost hundreds of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers.
- After all these, the Taliban is at its strongest moment since the U.S. launched the war. The insurgents control or contest the government control in half of the country, mainly in its hinterlands.
- The war had entered into a stalemate long ago and the U.S. failed to turn it around despite both American Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump having sent additional troops.
- Faced with no other way, the U.S. just wants to leave Afghanistan. But the problem is with the way it is getting out.
Key Elements in the deal
- 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 — “all” would include “non-diplomatic civilian personnel” (could be interpreted to mean “intelligence” personnel).
- 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”.
- While Former Acting US Special Representative for Afghanistan & Pakistan Laurel Miller said the reference to al-Qaeda is important, the pact is silent on other terrorist groups — such as anti-India groups Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed. Again, India, not being an US ally, is not covered under this pact.
- UN sanctions on Taliban leaders to be removed by three months (by May 29) and US sanctions by August 27. The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue.
- Miller identified it as a “possible trouble spot” because the US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ, and it is not clear whether the Ashraf Ghani-led government is on board with this “pretty big up-front concession to Taliban”.
- The joint declaration says the US will facilitate “discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides”.
- While there are no numbers or deadlines in the joint declaration, 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 — which is when intra-Afghan negotiations are supposed to start, in Oslo.
- Identified as another potential “trouble spot”. The agreement states ceasefire will be simply “an item on the agenda” when intra-Afghan talks start, and indicates actual ceasefire will come with the “completion” of an Afghan political agreement.
- The joint declaration is a symbolic commitment to the Afghanistan government that the US is not abandoning it.
- The Taliban have got what they wanted: troops withdrawal, removal of sanctions, release of prisoners.
- This has also strengthened Pakistan, Taliban’s benefactor, and the Pakistan Army and the ISI’s influence appears to be on the rise. It has made it unambiguous that it wants an Islamic regime.
- The Afghan government has been completely sidelined during the talks between the US and Taliban.
- The future for the people of Afghanistan is uncertain, and will depend on how Taliban honours its commitments and whether it goes back to the mediaeval practices of its 1996-2001 regime.
- Much will depend on whether the US and the Taliban are able to keep their ends of the bargain, and every step forward will be negotiated, and how the Afghan government and the political spectrum are involved.
INDIA & TALIBAN
- India and the Taliban have had a bitter past.
- New Delhi nurses bitter memories from the IC-814 hijack in 1999, when it had to release terrorists — including Maulana Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed that went on to carry out terror attacks on Parliament (2001), in Pathankot (2016) and in Pulwama (2019).
- The Taliban perceived India as a hostile country, as India had supported the anti-Taliban force Northern Alliance in the 1990s.
- India never gave diplomatic and official recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001.
- In recent years, as US-Taliban negotiations picked up momentum, New Delhi has been in touch with all stakeholders. But its foreign policy establishment has shied away from engaging with the Taliban directly.
- Even when former envoy to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and former envoy to Pakistan T C A Raghavan were sent as “non-official representatives” to talks with the Taliban in Moscow in November 2017, they went as “observers” and did not engage in direct talks, although some conversations are learnt to have taken place on the sidelines.
NEW DELHI & KABUL
- India has been backing the Ghani-led government and was among very few countries to congratulate Ghani on his victory.
- India’s proximity to Ghani also drew from their shared view of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
- The government sent Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Kabul on Friday and Saturday to meet with Ghani and the senior political leadership, while its envoy in Doha went for the US-Taliban ceremony.
- Shringla has reiterated India’s consistent support for an “independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic and inclusive” Afghanistan in which interests of all sections of society are preserved.
- He also conveyed India’s support for “enduring and inclusive” peace and reconciliation which is “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”.
- His reference to an “end to externally sponsored terrorism” is a signal that the state and non-state actors must keep Pakistan-sponsored terrorism at bay.
- To convey India’s commitment, agreements for road projects in Bamyan and Mazar-e-Sharif provinces with Indian development assistance were signed during the visit.
- Many Indian diplomats say although there has not been formal contact with top Taliban leaders, the Indian mission has a fair amount of access to the Pashtun community throughout Afghanistan through community development projects of about $3 billion.
- Due to these high-impact projects, diplomats feel India has gained goodwill among ordinary Afghans, the majority of whom are Pashtuns and some may be aligned with the Taliban as well.
- So, although Pakistan military and its ally Taliban have become dominant players in Kabul’s power circles, South Block insiders insist that it is not all that grim for New Delhi.
WHAT IS INCINERATION? PROS AND CONS
- Incineration is a way to treat waste through controlled burning. Waste is shredded and heated to over 1025 degree Celsius in a furnace.
- Incineration has several benefits. The process has mainly three by-products:
1) Pavers bricks
- One tonne of incinerated waste will yield 20-30 kg of ash which can be converted into paved bricks. One tonne of waste will yield 60 kg of bricks
2) Fly ash with carbon
- Fly ash with O.1% to 0.2% carbon content and weighing 2 kg will be produced by a tonne of waste. The fly ash can be used in agriculture.
3) Activated carbon
- Approximately one kg of activated carbon will be produced in the plant. This can be used in sewage treatment, metal extraction, gold purification and medicine.
- The incineration process doesn't use external fuel.
- The passage of exhaust is through a pollution control unit which releases only water vapour into the atmosphere.
- Less dependency on land fills
- It reduces level of groundwater pollution in residential areas near dump yards.
- Energy as byproduct
- But the process has its negatives too.
- Incineration is not an inexpensive process, far from it in reality. The costs of building the infrastructure are substantial.
- Many of the waste items incinerated, especially plastic, contain toxins which produce carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide when burned.
- Such pollutants can contribute to the development of asthma, cancer and endocrine disruption.