The US decision for decreasing its military presence in Afghanistan from more than 14,000 troops to about 7,000 is most likely the result of its backdoor negotiations with the Taliban’s representatives in Abu Dhabi, organized by Islamabad between the US envoy and the Taliban. The withdrawal of troops has caused serious concern for US high-level officials and called a “big mistake” and “calamitous” by James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral. “It would lead to the resurgence of the Taliban, who would welcome al-Qaeda back with open arms,” James is cited as saying. Moreover, a number of US lawmakers are of the view that since Donald Trump never set foot in a conflict zone, he lacked the credibility to make decision about the troop pull out in Syria and Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, Afghan officials, who had not been warned or consulted about the drawdown, believe it will not affect the security situation in Afghanistan. Unlike the withdrawal of US-led NATO troops in 2014, Afghan grassroots also seem less concerned as the news could not attract much attention on social media. The drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan was predictable since Trump, declaring his strategy about Afghanistan and South Asia last year, said, “Shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.”
But the time-sensitivity made this decision unpredictable and unbelievable as Trump added three major points in his strategy regarding Afghanistan: First, seeking “an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”. Second, he warned about the horrible consequences of rapid exit adding that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda”. He also disapproved of his predecessor for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. Third, he stressed the serious security threat as he stated that “20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Now US officials espouse the very three facts Trump maintained in August 2017, in turn, Jim Mattis resigned as a result of Trump’s decision on military drawdown.
Whether or not the decision about troop withdrawal is the product of a backdoor deal with the Taliban, the insurgents will interpret it as their own triumph. But, unlike the Taliban, being generous on the negotiating table will lead to horrible consequences. I believe that since the conditions are not mutually accepted, the withdrawal of US forces will be one step forward, two steps back.
Contrary to emerging optimism, the Taliban still seek to play a foul game on the table through holding out against negotiating with Afghan government or accepting any conditions set by their US interlocutor. The Taliban are fighting against Afghan government and killing Afghan soldiers and civilians, however, claim that their insurgency has nothing to do with Kabul government but with foreign forces – this is ridiculous and reaching an agreement with such a groups seems unlikely.
Perhaps, troop pulldown may not affect the security situation in Afghanistan as last-year increase could not mitigate the insurgency, it still has its adverse effect. For example, it will, on the one hand, prompt the Taliban to haggle over higher price on the table and, on the other hand, spread a stronger sense of fear and disappointment in the public air. Thus, Trump had better not follow his instincts in such significant issues and should be sure this is an honourable result, worthy of “the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure” made in the past 17 years. Being at a crossroads, Trump’s administration has to make the right decision.
The 17-year conflict has inflicted casualties on both sides without any light at the end of the tunnel. The continuation of war will lead to further casualties and destructions without any end. With this in mind, all insurgent groups, mainly the Taliban, need to stop their militancy and settle their issue through meaningful negotiations.
Looking beyond rhetoric
The government’s haste in implementation of highly controversial Triple Talaq bill, seems like an attempt to persecute Muslim community by criminalizing the not so prevalent practice of instant triple divorce.The move has triggered a heated debate all around and the opposition predominantly claims it as a direct intervention in Muslim personal laws. It is not surprising the bill has been drafted and presented in Lok Sabha by a political dispensation well known for their anti-Muslim stance – which itself raises several questions.
Divorce is the basic right of any individual as is the right to choose one’s partner and to criminalize such right is equal to crushing out the essence of freedom.In its final verdict Supreme Court’s bench found the practice of “triple talaq” as unconstitutional and non-theological, as well ruled out the possibility of any legislation by Parliament as was suggested by two judges. One of the judges of the Supreme Court’s bench, Justice Joseph said in the given verdict “What cannot be true in theology cannot be protected by the law.But despite, the declaration of instant triple talaq as invalid by the Supreme Court, the ruling party introduced a new bill in Lok Sabha, that makes the declaration of “Triple Talaq” (instant and procedural) to be void and illegal, and a cognizable offence (if information relating to the offence is given by the woman and her blood or close relatives).
Here, second thing that exposed the duality of intention of BhartiyaJanta Party while addressing the issue of Triple Talaq and scraping of IPC 497 is that, latter constrained adultery with the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery as well as per the law women as abettor was exempted from punishment.
So earlier, IPC 497 law was partially anti-women but the latter scraping of IPC 497 turned the scenario and became an apparatus to hit the loyalty and sanctity of marriage. Hence, somehow both the instant triple talaq and scraping of 497 are on same strata and responsible to break down the structure of marriage. On that ruling party, BJP showed a hypocritical attitude while addressing the two similar issues, they paid a great effort to challenge triple talaq and introduced The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018 but remain unaddressed the issue of IPC 497 which is more against the spirit of the family & marriage institution.
Even, the most sacred Islamic text Holy Quran and Hadith has clearly invalidated the practice of instant triple talaq, as well provided a prescribed procedure of how to end up a nuptial tie.Quran described instant triple talaq as TalaqUlBidat (the sinful form of divorce) as it is against the spirit of the holy book, whereas Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) found it as invalid practice.“Three divorces were treated as one” during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Caliph Abu Bakr and Caliph Umar’s reign.
Basically, the issue of triple talaq has been thoroughly discussed in five schools of thought, whereas in some cases Hanafi school of thought entertained the idea. But the clerics belonging to the particular sect have also accepted the facts that triple talaq was responsible for spreading social evils. Hence, 23 Muslim nations have already banned the practice.Here, all the schools of thought determined the punishment of instant triple talaq and there are ample resolutions available in the theology to provide the maintenance and means of livelihood to the affected women.
One cannot deny the fact that triple talaq as a political tool is used due to negligence of All India Muslim Personal Law board who failed to address the issue in the light of Shariah law. It was their responsibility to initiate a research to gather the data of such cases and to invalidate the practice of triple talaq as it is theologically irrelevant. If the BJP government was sincere enough they can collect data in collaboration with All India Muslim personal Law Board and seek out a solution.
The unabated border tension
The border tension between India and Pakistan shows no signs of decline. On Tuesday, an Assistant Commandant of Border Security Force (BSF) was killed in a ‘sniper fire’ by Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) in Samba district of Jammu. Elsewhere, three BSF personnel and an army soldier were injured in separate incidents of firing along Rajouri and Kathua districts. Last week, Pakistan summoned Indian Acting deputy High Commissioner to lodge protest against “unprovoked” firing by Indian army in Shahkote sector which resulted in death of a woman. The number of ceasefire violations (CFVs) and the resultant casualties of soldiers and civilians on both sides along the Line of Control and the international border between India and Pakistan have seen a dramatic rise in the past five years.
Official records say that 2936 incidents cases of ceasefire violations took place, last year, the highest in the last 15 years, making mockery of the ceasefire agreement of 2003 between the two countries. For two years – 2004 and 2005–there was not a single such violation on the border. In 2006 just three incidents of CFVs took place while in 2007 and 08, there were 21 and 77 such incidents. There had been a gradual increase in ceasefire violations 2009 and 2013 with 28 in 2009, 44 in 2010, 62 in 2011, 114 in 2012 and 347 in 2013. After 2013, the CFVs witnessed serious rise. Since 2014, the border tension hit new levels with the Line of Control and International Border brimming with artillery and firearm sounds. The seriousness of the situation can be understood from the latest threat by army chief Gen Bipin Rawat. He said that India would mind to strike inside Pakistan if the need arose. Pakistan army has viewed it as a direct threat from Indian army and retorted that they were ready for war if it was imposed on them. It is no exaggeration to say that the current level of hostilities is the most dangerous escalation since the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Though the ceasefire violations never ceased on the LOC or working boundary but it had never been so threatening as it is today.
The numbers of dead on both sides, civil and military, is rising. Indian and Pakistani armies, some time back, released videos of attacks on each others’ positions on the LOC claiming heavy losses on both sides. The most unfortunate part is that there is no agency or process or set of protocols that appear to be able or willing to stop or at least bring a pause to what is now dangerously close to outright warfare. The provocative statements by military and political leadership and incensed media propaganda on both sides go on un-endingly.
It is now an admitted fact that political factors play a major role in determining the relations between the two countries. Vajpyee, who was seen as a man of peace, and General Musharaf, despite serious provocations from hardliners with the government and the deep state, sorted out a strategy to lessen the tension between the two countries which worked quite successfully. It was Vajpayee’s political sagacity that brought Gen Musharaf on board who put a stop to what India called cross border terrorism. The present dispensation however has different priorities. They are using external trouble for political gains internally. That way they have developed a vested interest in border tensions. It is most likely that the tension may escalate further given the political compulsions ahead of the ruling party at the centre.
The general elections in India are being held in April/May, and BJP would desperately need heightening India-Pakistan tension to woo electorate on its side. That might help BJP gain electorally but India, as nation, would have to bear its fruits.
Kashmir is reeling under yet another deadly disease—Swine flu also known as H1N1. The valley recorded the year’s first casualty last week when two persons died of the disease in the premier SMHS hospital. One more patient is battling for life in the hospital with H2N3 virus. The H1N1 or swine flu is now considered a seasonal flu which mostly survives in cold humid conditions. At least 30 people died due to swine flu in Kashmir Valley where a total of 147 cases were reported last winter season. In the past three months, 12 people have fallen victim to the fatal run of the swine flu till date. The first death of this season occurred in September, last. Official record shows that 50 people have been admitted in SKIMS under the influence of the disease out of which 42 have been discharged after the treatment while eight are still being treated. Doctors in the hospital have warned that H1N1 is a contagious disease and can transmit from one person to another. They have asked for taking precautionary measures to escape the disease. This is matter of serious concern. The even more alarming is the shortage of medicines. Report says that the valley hospitals are without proper medicine.
Barring SKIMS and SMHS hospital, there is no flu vaccine available in any hospital in the valley. This leaves SKIMS and SMHS as the only testing and treatment centre. Experts say that the swine flu outbreak can be contained but only if medicines reach the affected on time.
When the hospitals are not equipped with the testing and treatment drugs, how the disease could be contained. There is every reason for the people to feel panicky and authorities need to take the problem seriously and equip hospital with adequate medicine before the panic take over the valley. The panic has gripped even the medical fraternity as well as the lack of relevant vaccines has put the lives of doctors at risk. Doctors at SKIMS, who are dealing with patients at the Emergency and the OPD of the hospital, too are vulnerable to the disease and could catch infection in the absence of immunization and protective gear. Doctors and other hospital staff are not provided with personal protectionequipments while dealing with H1N1 patients thus putting them also at risk of contracting the virus.
There are no H1N1 vaccines which are to be given to high-risk persons with diabetes, elderly, children below 5 years, pregnant women, chronic diseases, immuno compromised and healthcare workers as the virus can be fatal in them. The designated laboratory for testing at SKIMS does not have the desired Biosafety-3 level for handling and processing H1N1 samples which is dangerous to staff and community. No sensitization and awareness programmes are conducted in hospitals with the result majority of H1N1 patients are overlooked. What is even more criminal is the silence by the concerned authorities. They have maintained complete silence over the deadly contours of the disease and the non-availability of the medicines. It is no less than criminal that despite these disturbing realities, some sections in the government would give false hope to people and come out with advisories of ‘no-panic’. The state administration should, in first place, take note of health hazards in the wake of fast spreading swine flu and activate the administration to take necessary measures, provide relevant vaccines and other medicine and expertise for the disease.
Instead of keeping the lack of medicines a secret, the administration should approach central government for immediate help by providing medicines. An awareness campaign through advertisements in the media should also be launched to keep people abreast of the dangers of the disease and measures to be taken at individual level for self protection.