1. Can the Taliban suppress the potent IS threat?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Issues

With the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, there’s a new enemy ascending.

The Islamic State group threatens to usher in another violent phase. Except this time the former insurgents, the Taliban, play the role of the state, now that the US troops and their allied Afghan government are gone.

The Taliban promised the United States to keep the extremist group in check during successive rounds of peace talks. Under the 2020 US-Taliban accord, the Taliban guaranteed that Afghanistan would not become a haven for terrorist groups threatening the US or its allies.

But it is unclear if they can keep their pledge, with a sudden uptick in IS attacks since the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15.

A deadly bombing Friday in the northern province of Kunduz killed 46 worshippers inside a mosque frequented by Shiites. Other deadly IS attacks have struck in the capital, Kabul, and provinces to the east and north, while smaller-scale attacks target Taliban fighters almost daily.

“Historically, the majority of IS attacks have targeted the state … Now that the US and the international presence is mostly gone, they need to go after the state — and the state is the Taliban,” said Andrew Mines, research fellow at Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

Long rivalry

Both the Taliban and IS advocate rule by their radical interpretations of Islamic law. But there are key ideological differences that fuel their hatred of each other.

The Taliban say they are creating an Islamic state in Afghanistan, within the borders of that country.

IS says it is THE Islamic State, a global caliphate that it insists all Muslims must support. It is contemptuous of the Taliban’s nationalist goals and doesn’t recognize them as a pure Islamic movement. For similar reasons, IS has long been a staunch enemy of al-Qaida.

Both the Taliban and IS advocate particularly harsh versions of Islamic Shariah law and have used tactics like suicide bombers. But when it ruled territory in Syria and Iraq, IS was even more brutal and carried out more horrific punishments than the Taliban did.

IS emerged in Afghanistan in 2015 with the name Islamic State in Khorasan Province, at a time when the group was at its peak, controlling much of Iraq and Syria. It drew members from Afghan and Pakistani militants, including a wave of Taliban defectors.

The group initially found support among Afghanistan’s small Salafist movement in eastern Kunar and Nangarhar provinces. The Salafis had largely been marginalized by the Taliban, and by connecting with the rising IS, the Salafist movement found a means to establish military strength.

But IS’s brutal ways have since led some Salafi clerics to voice opposition. In the years after its emergence, IS was badly hurt by military setbacks at the hands of the Taliban and by U.S. airstrikes, before surging again the past year.

The Taliban downplay IS’s capabilities and dismiss them as a fringe group with no mainstream appeal.

“They have no roots here,” influential Taliban figure Sheikh Abdul-Hameed Hamasi told The Associated Press.

End game

Still, the potency of the IS threat is undeniable.

Two deadly bombings have hit Kabul, including one outside the airport at the height of evacuations before the U.S. exit that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members. Smaller scale attacks are also on the rise.

“The intensity and breadth of attacks … show the capacity and level of national reach which has caught the Taliban by surprise,” said Ibraheem Bahiss, a consultant with the International Crisis Group. IS “is no short-term threat.” It could be a while until IS has the capability to hold territory again. Its immediate aim is to destabilize the Taliban and shatter the group’s image as a guardian of security.

For now, its strategy is slow and methodical. It is reaching out to tribes and other groups to recruit from their ranks while stamping out dissent among moderate Salafis and carrying out jailbreaks, assassinations, and attacks on Taliban personnel.

“Package all of that together, that is an entire method of insurgency the Taliban is not equipped to handle,” said Mines.

Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal, produced by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think tank, offered a different view, saying he believes the Taliban can uproot IS on their own, even without the backup of U.S. airstrikes that nearly eliminated IS.

Roggio said the Taliban have shown themselves capable of rooting out some IS cells, using their vast local intelligence-gathering networks. He noted that IS — unlike the Taliban during their insurgency — don’t have access to safe havens in Pakistan and Iran.

The Taliban have rejected cooperating with the U.S. against IS, ahead of the two sides’ direct talks last weekend.

IS’s future trajectory in Afghanistan will depend largely on its ability to recruit more members and win over large segments of the population.

Since their inception, they have been poaching Taliban members. In 2015, a former Taliban commander, Abdul Rauf Khadim, was appointed deputy of IS in Afghanistan and reportedly offered financial incentives to other Taliban fighters to join the group.

In 2020, when IS re-emerged in Afghanistan, it was under a new leader drawn from the Haqqani Network, currently a faction of the Taliban.

Hard-line members of the Taliban could join IS as the Taliban leadership, now in power, has to make compromises whether at home or abroad. The Taliban have promised a more inclusive government, though the temporary administration they set up is entirely made up of Taliban members.

The more the Taliban cooperate with international states, the more they run against the image of the mujahedeen resistance fighter. “That is a key identity the Taliban will lose,” Mines said.

Treatment of minorities

As the Taliban shift from insurgency to governance, one key test will be whether they act to protect minority groups that their fighters once tyrannized, such as the Shiite Hazaras.

The Hazaras have endured multiple campaigns of persecution and displacement throughout Afghanistan’s history. When the Taliban were first in power in the 1990s, they carried out massacres against the community, in some cases in retaliation for massacres of ethnic Pashtuns.

IS has targeted Hazaras because most are Shiite Muslims, killing hundreds in brutal attacks targeting their places of worship in what it calls a war on heretics.

Friday’s mosque attack in Kunduz was an opportunity for the Taliban to project a new image as a state power. The Taliban acted swiftly: Special forces swept the scene, investigations were launched, the provincial police chief made lofty promises to protect minority “brothers.”

Source: The Indian Express

2. What is Akasa, low-cost carrier backed by investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’s Low-Cost Akasa Airline Launch Date: Stock market investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala-backed aviation venture SNV Aviation, which is planning an airline under the Akasa brand, has received a no-objection certificate from the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The airline, which is planning to operate as a low-cost carrier or an ultra low-cost carrier, expects to launch services by the summer of next year.

What is Akasa?

The airline is being launched by Jhunjhunwala, who will hold a 40 per cent stake in the company. Jhunjhunwala has onboarded aviation industry veterans such as former Jet Airways CEO Vinay Dube and ex-IndiGo president Aditya Ghosh to run the airline. While Dube is the CEO of the company, Ghosh is expected to be on the board as Jhunjhunwala’s nominee. The Mumbai-based investor will pump in $35 million and is planning to have a fleet of 70 planes over the next four years. “Akasa Air will serve all Indians regardless of their socio-economic or cultural backgrounds…,” Dube said in a statement. The airline said it plans to offer flights across India starting in the summer of 2022.

What is the ULCC model?

In the ULCC (ultra low cost carriers ) airline business model, the company focuses on keeping operating costs even lower than typical budget airlines like IndiGo and SpiceJet. In the low-cost model, airlines unbundle certain amenities that are usually associated with the full-service airline experience — like seat selection, food and beverages, etc. In the ultra low-cost model, there is an even further unbundling of services like checked-in baggage, cabin baggage, etc. Traditionally, while LCCs operate with significantly lower fares and only somewhat lower costs than full-service carriers, ULCCs operate with minimal costs to ensure profitability. However, experts have pegged that for a market like India, operating on a ULCC model is tough because of lack of availability of no-frill airport terminals from where the lower costs are derived. Examples of such terminals are prevalent across Europe, and are used by airlines such as Ryan Air, EasyJet, etc.

Is there a case for new players in the sector?

With the 2019 closure of Jet Airways, the disinvestment of Air India to the Tata Group, and the weakened position of other existing players, the airlines industry is facing a threat of consolidation of market share with the major players. Additionally, with vaccination rollout gaining momentum, market participants expect the sector to bounce back. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Jhunjhunwala said: “I’m very bullish on the Indian aviation sector in terms of demand and I think some of the increment players will not recover”.

How is India’s airline space shaped?

Currently, InterGlobe Aviation Ltd-run budget airline IndiGo is India’s largest airline with over half the market share in the domestic passenger market followed by Air India, SpiceJet, GoAir, Vistara and AirAsia India. GoAir, which has filed papers for its initial public offering, recently rebranded itself to GoFirst and plans to revamp its business model to become a ULCC. The upheaval of the Indian airline industry has largely been on the back of deep losses reported in 2020-21 (April-March) because of Covid19 — a situation that has persisted with the second wave in the new fiscal. “Massive, perennial losses have created a debt trap which has resulted in most airlines having very limited means of recapitalisation. The Government of India is providing almost no direct support; lenders have by and large closed their doors to airlines, even for restructuring purposes; and lessors will soon have no option but to start applying pressure on defaulting airlines. Simultaneously we are heading into a higher cost environment, while staff morale is declining,” aviation consultancy firm CAPA noted in its India airline outlook for 2021-22.

Source: The Indian Express

3. Why a court ruling has raised fears of ‘Polexit’

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Issues

Poland and the European Union suffered a setback in their already hampered relationship this week, after a Polish court provided a major challenge to the EU’s legal framework, effectively rejecting the primacy of EU law over Polish national legislation in certain matters.

The controversial ruling was defended by Poland Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who played down its implications and said his country is not an “uninvited guest” in the EU and therefore does not agree to be treated as a second-class country.

Many have described this as a move that could lead towards a “legal Polexit”, as it introduces deep issues in cooperation between the Polish and European courts. The ruling has therefore invited backlash from the bloc, and several other member states, triggered a national outrage in the country which thinks this could jeopardise Poland’s access to EU funds among other things. Several thousand Poles have taken to the streets to reaffirm their demand to stay in the bloc.

So what is the ruling that has triggered this tussle?

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal on Thursday ruled that some articles of one of the European Union’s primary treaties were not compatible with the Polish Law. Essentially, it declared that EU law should not have primacy over every national legislation in Poland.

This legal challenge to the European bloc was brought by the Poland prime minister himself in March this year. This represents a one of a kind situation, as it is the first time since the formation of the EU that a leader of a member state has questioned its treaties openly in a constitutional court.

The ruling also says that Polish Judges should not use EU law to question their peers.

What has led to this ruling?

It all started when some new changes were introduced in the Polish Judiciary, especially since Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice party came to power in 2015. The ruling party brought amendments to the legal system that increased more government control over judges, thereby reducing judicial independence in some aspects.

These new changes were condemned by the European Commission as well as other international legal bodies, who accused the government of increasing political interference and control over the judiciary.

Adding to this, Poland introduced a new Supreme Court chamber which had the power to sanction judges for specific rulings. This chamber, according to critics, was also being used to silence and punish those judges who had spoken against the government.

The Commission asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to levy daily fines to Poland for not suspending the activities of this new SC chamber. The ECJ also ruled that the new system of appointing Polish judges infringes EU law. It was after this ruling that prime minister Morawieck brought the legal challenge in March.

How has the EU reacted to the latest legal challenge?

In a statement, the EU said the Polish challenge raises serious concerns in relation to the primacy of EU law and the authority of the Court of Justice of the European Union. It reiterated the founding principles of the EU’s legal order that clearly states its primacy over national laws of all its member states.

“We will analyse the ruling of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal in detail and we will decide on the next steps. The Commission will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the Treaties to safeguard the uniform application and integrity of Union law,” it said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was deeply concerned by the actions of Poland. “I have instructed the commission’s services to analyse it thoroughly and swiftly. On this basis, we will decide on next steps,” she said in her first public statement on the matter.

Other member states like France and Germany have also reacted to this by reminding Poland of its obligations to the bloc. “Poland has a moral and legal obligation as a member of the European Union to abide by its rules completely and unconditionally,” the foreign ministers of France and Germany said in a joint statement issued on Friday.

Could this lead to a possibility of a “Polexit”?

After the ruling received widespread backlash, the Prime Minister reiterated the fact that Poland wants to stay in the EU and said the issue has become a bigger deal than it is. Morawiecki and another prominent political leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski have instead blamed the country’s opposition parties for spreading “fake news” regarding the exit to stoke fear in people.

On the possibility of a Polexit, Morawiecki took to Facebook and wrote, “this is a harmful myth, which the opposition uses for its own lack of ideas about Poland’s responsible place in Europe.”

However, others have different ideas of what this could lead to. Donald Tusk, the former European Council president and now the head of Poland’s largest opposition group Civic Coalition, said the country stared at a real possibility of an exit. “We have to save Poland, no one will do it for us,” he wrote on Twitter.

How have the Polish people reacted to this?

Reacting to the ruling, and reiterating their stance of staying within the EU, over 100,000 Poles took to streets on Sunday. Amid fears that Poland could leave the bloc, rallies were held across the entire country.

According to the organisers, protests were held in about hundred cities and towns, with over a hundred thousand turning up in the capital Warsaw alone. People could be seen waving the flags of Poland and the EU and shouting slogans like “We are staying.” Several members of the opposition, political activists and others were a part of these protests.

Even opinion polls have consistently shown a strong backing for EU membership among the voters, according to the BBC.

What could Poland lose amid all this?

The ruling has thrown Poland and EU’s relations into a state of crisis. Since the EU provides trade, jobs and other benefits to the country, this tussle could have an impact on that. EU officials were also expected to approve funds to Poland this month. However the last ruling complicates this, as some officials have called to freeze all kinds of financial flows to the country.

Source: The Indian Express

4. G20 meeting on Afghanistan

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Issues

Appeal by PM Modi

At a meeting of countries with the world’s highest GDPs — the G20 — Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, especially as winter nears. He also called for the international community to provide Afghanistan with “immediate and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance”.

Situation in Afghanistan

The meeting came as the UNHCR published a new appeal for funds, with a report that half the population (more than 20 million people) are in need of “lifesaving humanitarian assistance”, and the UN has received only 35% of the funds needed for its relief operations. As a result of the Taliban takeover, most direct aid to the Afghan government has dried up; its reserves have been frozen by the U.S., making it impossible for salaries to be paid. The Taliban government’s refusal to allow women to work and its stopping girls from schooling have made the situation more dire.

International Commitment for Afghanistan

While recognition of the Taliban and any governmental engagement is a long way off, the world is faced with the stark choice on how to ensure Afghanistan does not suffer further. At the summit, the EU committed $1.15 billion for Afghanistan and neighbouring countries where refugees have fled, while other countries including the U.S. and China pledged $1.1 billion at a donor conference in Geneva last month. India has not announced any monetary or food assistance.

The PM’s words are a welcome sign that the Government remains seized of the welfare of ordinary Afghans even as New Delhi has closed its embassy but maintains only a limited exchange with Taliban officials in Doha. Given the manner of the Taliban’s takeover in August, with support from Pakistan, maintaining links with terror groups including those that target India leaves the Government hard put to increase its engagement, or to send aid directly to the new regime. But India could contribute to international agencies that are working with displaced Afghans, particularly for about one million children at the risk of starvation. It could also help Iran and the Central Asian states that are housing refugees with monetary assistance. The Government could also consider liberalising its visa regime for Afghans, which at the moment has cancelled all prior visas to Afghan nationals, and is releasing very few e-visas for Afghans desperate to travel here. As a goodwill gesture, India could once again send food aid, including wheat, grain, fortified biscuits and other packaged food, directly to Kabul. Clearly, the imperative to act is now, at what the UN Secretary General has called a “make or break” moment for the Afghan people, and to heed the warning that if the international community, which includes a regional leader like India, does not help stave off the unfolding humanitarian crisis, not only Afghans but also the rest of the world will pay a “heavy price”.

Source: The Hindu

5. Centre enhances powers of BSF; Punjab slams move

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

Increase in powers of BSF

The Union Home Ministry has enhanced the powers of the Border Security Force (BSF) to “arrest, search and seize” within 50 km from the international boundary in Assam, West Bengal and Punjab. Such operational powers of the BSF, a Central armed police force under the Union, will also be applicable to the newly created Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, according to a notification published in the Gazette of India on October 11.

Earlier powers

Earlier, the BSF’s limit was fixed up to 80 km from the international boundary in Gujarat and 15 km in Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.

The October 11 notification replaces a 2014 order under the BSF Act, 1968, which also covered the States of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya.

Though the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir that was bifurcated into two Union Territories in August 2019 was not mentioned in the 2014 order, references to it exists in a previous such amendment in 1973. The October 11 order specifically mentions the two Union Territories.

Powers of BSF

The violations for which the BSF carries out search and seizure include smuggling of narcotics, other prohibited items, illegal entry of foreigners and offences punishable under any other Central Act among others.

A BSF official said the amendment “establishes uniformity in defining the area within which the BSF can operate” as per its charter of duties, adding that this would enable improved operational effectiveness in curbing trans-border crimes.

After a suspect has been detained or a consignment seized within the specified area, the BSF can only conduct “preliminary questioning” and has to hand over the suspect to the local police within 24 hours. The BSF does not have the powers to prosecute crime suspects.

Criticism

Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi said the move was an attack on federalism. “I strongly condemn the GoI’s [Government of India’s] unilateral decision to give additional powers to BSF within 50 KM belt running along the international borders, which is a direct attack on the federalism. I urge the Union Home Minister @AmitShah to immediately rollback this irrational decision,” he tweeted.

In 2012, Narendra Modi as Gujarat’s Chief Minister had written to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opposing the Centre’s proposed move of amending the BSF Act, 1968, to give wide powers to the Central armed police force to arrest and search anybody in any part of the country.

The Shiromani Akali Dal also termed the Union’s move “the imposition of the President’s rule through the back door in nearly half of Punjab. This virtually turns the State into a de facto Union Territory. This devious attempt to place the State directly under the Central rule must and will be opposed,” said senior Akali leader and former Minister Daljit Singh Cheema.

Source: The Hindu

6. Developed countries are nowhere close to meeting their targets

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment

In the run-up to the 26th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), media reports have claimed that developed countries are inching closer to the target of providing $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing countries by 2025 (the original target was 2020). This view has been bolstered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which claimed that climate finance provided by developed countries had reached $78.9 billion in 2018.

Flawed claims

These claims are erroneous. First, the OECD figure includes private finance and export credits. Developing countries have insisted that developed country climate finance should be from public sources and should be provided as grants or as concessional loans. However, the OECD report makes it clear that the public finance component amounted to only $62.2 billion in 2018, with bilateral funding of about $32.7 billion and $29.2 billion through multilateral institutions. Significantly, the final figure comes by adding loans and grants. Of the public finance component, loans comprise 74%, while grants make up only 20%. The report does not say how much of the total loan component of $46.3 billion is concessional. From 2016 to 2018, 20% of bilateral loans, 76% of loans provided by multilateral development banks and 46% of loans provided by multilateral climate funds were non-concessional. Between 2013 and 2018, the share of loans has continued to rise, while the share of grants decreased. The overwhelming provisioning of climate finance through loans risks exacerbates the debt crisis of many low-income countries.

The OECD reports on climate finance have long been criticised for inflating climate finance figures by including funds for development projects such as health and education that only notionally target climate action. The Oxfam report on climate finance discounts for the climate relevance of reported funds to estimate how much climate finance is actually targeting climate action and also discounts for grant equivalence. In contrast to the OECD report, Oxfam estimates that in 2017-18, out of an average of $59.5 billion of public climate finance reported by developed countries, the climate-specific net assistance ranged only between $19 and $22.5 billion per year.

The hollowness of the OECD claims is also exposed by the accounts provided by the developed countries themselves in their Biennial Reports submitted to the UNFCCC. The 2018 Biennial Assessment of UNFCCC’s Standing Committee on Finance reports that on average, developed countries provided only $26 billion per year as climate-specific finance between 2011-2016 even if these numbers are still open to challenge. This rose to an average of $36.2 billion in 2017-18.

Broken promises

U.S. President Joe Biden recently said that the U.S. will double its climate finance by $11.4 billion annually by 2024. But any claim that such a pledge will make the U.S. a “leader in international climate finance” is misleading. It is Congress that will decide on the quantum after all. The U.S. also has a history of broken commitments, having promised $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) under President Barack Obama, but delivering only $1 billion before President Donald Trump withdrew U.S. support from the GCF. Mr. Biden initially promised only $1.2 billion to the GCF, which fell well short of what was already owed.

In any case, the future focus of U.S. climate finance is the mobilisation of private sector investment, as John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change, made it clear during his recent visit to India. Alongside claims that a few trillion dollars of private investment were being mobilised, he was clear that public finance would only contribute to “de-risking” of investment. At the end of the day, the bulk of the money coming in would be through private funds, directed to those projects judged “bankable” and not selected based on developing countries’ priorities and needs. Regrettably, behind the rhetoric of mobilising climate finance lies the grim reality of burdening the G77 and its peoples with a fresh load of “green” debt.

Climate finance has also remained skewed towards mitigation, despite the repeated calls for maintaining a balance between adaptation and mitigation. The 2016 Adaptation Gap Report of the UN Environment Programme had noted that the annual costs of adaptation in developing countries could range from $140 to $300 billion annually by 2030 and rise to $500 billion by 2050. Currently available adaptation finance is significantly lower than the needs expressed in the Nationally Determined Contributions submitted by developing countries.

Delivering on climate finance is fundamental to trust in the multilateral process. Regrettably, while developing countries will continue to pressure developed countries to live up to their promises, the history of climate negotiations is not in their favour.

Source: The Hindu

7. Domestic airlines back to full capacity: How has demand recovered

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

Taking account of the onset of festivals season in the country that is leading to a rebound in demand for air travel, the government has done away with capacity restrictions imposed on airlines for domestic flights, allowing them to operate 100% of the scheduled capacity.

Why has the government relaxed capacity restrictions?

In an order, the government noted: “After a review of the current status of scheduled domestic operations vis-a-vis passenger demand for air travel … it has been decided to restore the scheduled domestic air operations with effect from 18.10.21 without any capacity restriction. The airlines/airport operators shall, however, ensure that the guidelines to contain the spread of COVID are strictly adhered to and COVID appropriate behaviour is strictly enforced by them during the travel”.

How have these restrictions been relaxed over time?

Since the reopening of domestic aviation in May 2020 after the initial two-month lockdown, the Centre has regulated the number of flights airlines can operate on domestic routes to prevent overheating of the sector. Initially, the cap on number of flights was 33% of the pre-Covid schedule, and this was gradually increased to 80% till the second wave of Covid-19 hit. After that the government had reduced it to 50% and then relaxed it to 60%, 72.5%, 85%, and has now completely removed the restrictions.

How is the air traffic demand in India shaping up?

On October 10, domestic passenger numbers clocked at 3.04 lakh crossing the 3 lakh per day mark for the first time since February 28 this year, when 3.14 lakh passengers had traveled on domestic flights.

Considering the rising demand, the two biggest airports in the country — Delhi and Mumbai — have also geared up for the rebound in air traffic by announcing the reopening of terminals that were closed on account of low footfall earlier.

Delhi Airport announced that operations at Terminal 1 would resume from October 31, almost 18 months after closure, with IndiGo and SpiceJet. Mumbai Airport, which witnessed chaos and flight delays last week on account of sudden increase in traffic, preponed the resumption of its Terminal 1 to Wednesday from the earlier date of October 20.

Source: The Indian Express