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.
The highway blues
The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway is no more a freeway. The 290-km long road, the only surface link between the valley and the rest of the world, is in the worst condition with landslides, shooting stones and road sinking becoming a regular feature. After every two or three days, the road is closed for general traffic due to one or the other reason. The reasons are not only natural but man-made too. The haphazard and unplanned human interference in the mountainous region in the name of road-widening is the main of cataclysms in major parts of the highway. The 51-km Banihal—Ramban—Naushri patch and 25-km Chinani—Udhampur stretch are in the worst condition. On a normal day when there are no landslides or any other hindrance, it takes a passenger vehicle 8 to 10 hours to cross over the danger zone. For truckers, it is normal for them to take three to four days to cross over the highway. In case of blockades in the shape of landslides or shooting stones, it can take days together even a light vehicle traveler to reach the destination. There are around two dozen spots on Banihal—Naushri stretch—including Bali Nullah, Amar Cheshma, Naushri, Karool, Ramban, Seri, Kelamore, Fagmoola, Digdool, Khooni nullaha, Pantihal, Magarkoot, Ramsoo, Nachilana, Chamalwas and Shatani Nullaha, which are prone to land-sliding, shooting stones or sinking of road. On Monday the authorities closed the highway for any kind of vehicular movement following landslides at Ramso. As the landslides were cleared by the evening, another blockade struck the highway. Large cracks developed in the road at Ramban near JK bank office causing scare among the residents and travelers. The building housing the bank also developed cracks. The vehicular movement was immediately suspended on the highway and the Bank staff was shifted to a safer place. The local residents staged protest against the Construction Company and concerned government officials for their lackadaisical attitude towards management and repair work of the highway. Hundreds of light vehicles and trucks loaded with essential commodities have been stranded on the highway. Latest reports said that some of these vehicles have been allowed to move towards Srinagar after the repair work was completed. Almost a similar scene is witnessed daily on Chinani-Udhampur patch. Even more hazardous moments scare the travelers due to traffic jams. This predicament is a regular feature on the highway. Even in absence of landslides and other natural blockades, the traffic jams make a daily scene on the road. This is primarily due to ill-management of the vehicular movement. The highway is open for one way traffic only but one finds always a two way movement. It is generally alleged that the police, responsible for managing the traffic on the highway, do allow vehicular movement from the opposite side as well against bribes by the truckers. This two-way traffic causes jams at important bottlenecks. At times travelers get stuck in jams for hours together. Last week, the vehicular movement got blocked at a bottle neck at Udhumpur for around six hours. The passengers who had touched the Udhumpur bypass naka point at 8am were allowed to move forward at 4pm. Passengers complained that it took them 40 hours to reach Srinagar. The passengers and drivers too are responsible for the plight on the highway. They overtake each other, in their bid to make it first, and form several lines leaving little space for vehicles coming from opposite side to pass on. This is the main cause of traffic jam on the road which, on occasions, takes hours to clear. As the highway is the sole link, it is the responsibility of everyone to adhere to traffic rules to make it a safe and smooth journey.
Give peace a chance
South Asia is one of the poorest regions in the world. The human development ranking for India and Pakistan is at 130 and 150 respectively. Hunger index of India is at 103 and Pakistan at 106 out of 119 countries. About 40% of the world’s stunted children and 53% of all wasted children live in South Asia. Around 34% of the population has no access to sanitation. Investments in health and education remain less than 4% and 3% of respective GDPs. Yet successive governments and military establishments have escalated military spending in India and Pakistan to US$ 64 billion and US$ 11 billion annually in 2017, respectively. India’s defence expenditure is 1.62 % of its GDP, while its central health budget is 0.26 of GDP, six times less than its arms budget. Pakistan’s spending on arms is equivalent with budgetary allocation 8.9 billion USD. With Pakistan worth 300 billion USD economy its defence expenditure comes to 2.9% of the GDP.
Increase in spending on arms race causes serious resource crunch on health, education and development. The developing countries and poor in these countries are worst affected. Whatever resources are available are diverted away from common people. We have an example of Bengal famine where around 40 lakh people are reported to have died because the British government under Winston Chrchill at that time in mid 1940s diverted the food material to its soldiers in Burma thus depriving the people in Bengal and Odisha of their basic sustenance diet and landing them into extreme malnutrition and death.
While hundreds of millions of people across the globe go hungry, the nuclear-armed nations spend close to US$300 million (Rs.2000 crores) a day on their nuclear forces. The production, maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces diverts vast public resources away from healthcare, education, climate change mitigation, disaster relief, development assistance and other vital services. Globally, annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at US$ 105 billion – or $ 12 million an hour. The military industrial complex is overtly and covertly promoting and supporting conflicts in different parts of the world through its influence on the political structure to make huge profits.
It is time, steps are taken for complete nuclear disarmament and end to arms race. The Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) passed by the UN General Assembly on 7th July 2017 is a big opportunity for complete nuclear disarmament and save the world from nuclear catastrophe. It is time the nuclear armed states realize this and join the treaty without any ifs and buts. The role of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) recipient of Nobel Peace Prize 1985 and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) recipient of Nobel Peace Prize 2017 in their consistent efforts to get the TPNW through by highlighting the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons has to be carried forward to achieve the goal of a nuclear weapons free world. IPPNW has designed the task to meet decision makers in different countries over this issue. A delegation of IPPNW affiliates from south Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal met the Foreign Minister of Nepal, Speaker of their Parliament and advisor to the Prime Minister. They appealed them to take initiative as they have friendly relations with all countries of the region and their opinion will be valued. There are some events in history which can bring perceptible change. TPNW is the opportunity which should not be lost.
India claims of being harbinger in the peace movement. India’s role under the leadership of Nehru in founding Non Aligned Movement has been path breaking. Rajiv Gandhi action plan for nuclear disarmament is still relevant. We must take initiative to join the TPNW. Let peace and disarmament become a leading factor in the region instead of jingoism for electoral benefits. The missing of the issue of nuclear disarmament from the election manifesto of the political parties in the present Parliamentary election in India. It is also unfortunate that political discourse is centredaround sale and purchase of weapons instead of humanitarian impact war and violence particularly the nuclear weapons. Role of peace movements is very vital in the present context.
Polls and opinion polls
The Lok Sabha elections that kicked off on Thursday are a democratic exercise the likes of which the world has never seen. In the world’s largest democratic practice, around 900 million voters – more than the combined population of all the European countries, across 543 constituencies will cast their votes to decide the fate of political parties.
The media coverage, like every election season, is being ruled by opinion polls. Surveyors and pollsters have jumped into the maze of deciphering future election results by making use of statistical models that forecast the vote share and the seat share of political parties based on surveys conducted among electorates. These forecasts have become fodder for everyday conversation.
However, it is difficult to trust the results of opinion polls as the results differ significantly from poll to poll. Given this situation, many researchers have examined the results of opinion polls and claimed that they have failed repeatedly to predict election outcomes.
A recent study presented in the book ‘The Verdict’ demonstrates that the success rate of such polls in estimating the number of seats that the winning party may bag is just 62 per cent. On similar lines, a study conducted by India Today raised concerns over the fact that day by day, opinion polls are drifting away from reality. One of the main findings of that analysis is that the errors in predicting LokSabha elections are on the rise since 1998-99.
In such a situation where the gap between opinion poll predictions and actual outcomes is widening it is important to have a better statistical model in place to make sense of what factors are driving the outcomes behind elections. This can be done by indicating which types of economic and political data most meaningfully correlate with election outcomes.
An attempt to develop such a holistic model that can provide precise estimates of voting behaviour must take into account all the factors that citizens keep in mind while casting their votes. In most democracies, a common belief is that good economics makes for good politics. This belief suggests that an incumbent party’s chances of winning elections increase if the region experienced positive economic growth during their term. In India, however, this popular notion is not supported by data. A simple correlation analysis between the growth rate of GDP per capita and the incumbent party getting re-elected reveals a negative relationship between the two, implying that in most cases despite higher growth incumbent does not get re-elected. This observation helps us in concluding that support base and vote bank for parties in India is dependent on a host of factors other than economic development.
The two other factors that shape voting decisions of Indian voters might be social issues and public sentiment towards the government. A broad spectrum of the social issues from shelter to sanitation, education to health, personal rights to inclusion must be considered. This is important because of presence of diversity across Indian regions. For some living below the poverty line or on bare minimum income, social wellbeing would mean better shelter facilities, free healthcare, improved nutritional facilities, etc. For rich people, this would mean new opportunities to grow and improve their life.
The sentiment towards the current government can be captured through two aspects. One, the vote share of the national ruling party in the state elections held during their tenure. Second, the narrative build by traditional media platforms about leaders and political parties and social media engagement of the political parties. The traditional media platforms provide voters with the facts and figures that can help them to make informed choices. And the increased exposure of voters to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter has provided a direct link between voters and leaders. More and more candidates are relying on social media campaigns to win elections. By serving as the source of information, media has the power to impact voting behaviour of citizens.
32 per cent voting in Udhampur, muted in Srinagar
Jammu/Srinagar:Brisk voting was recorded on Thursday in Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur Lok Sabha seat, with over 32 per cent polling...
0.9 percent voting in Srinagar till 9 AM
Srinagar, Apr 18 : Over six per cent votes were polled till 9 am in Udhampur and Srinagar parliamentary seats...
Newly married couple arrive in full wedding attire to cast votes at Udhampur polling station
Today, as the second phase of polling started in 11 states and 1 union territory, a newly married couple from...
Polling under way in Srinagar parliamentary seat amid tight security
Srinagar, April 18: Amidst tight security, polling is under way on Thursday in Srinagar Parliamentary constituency of Jammu and Kashmir...