1. America’s longest war in Afghanistan cost thousands of lives, trillions of dollars

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Issues

US military planes have carried the last US service members and diplomats from Kabul’s airport, ending America’s longest war. Ordinary Americans closely watched the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, as they did the start of the war nearly 20 years ago, in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

But Americans often tended to forget about the Afghanistan war in between, and it received measurably less oversight from Congress than the Vietnam War did. But its death toll for Afghans and Americans and their NATO allies is in the many tens of thousands. And because the US borrowed most of the money to pay for it, generations of Americans to come will be paying off its cost, in the trillions of dollars.

A look at the US-led war in Afghanistan, by the numbers, as the last Americans deployed there departed.

Much of the data below is from Linda Bilmes of Harvard University’s Kennedy School and from the Brown University Costs of War project. Because the United States between 2003 and 2011 fought the Afghanistan and Iraq wars simultaneously, and many American troops served tours in both wars, some figures as noted cover both post-9/11 US wars.

THE LONGEST WAR:

Percentage of US population born since the 2001 attacks plotted by al-Qaida leaders who were sheltering in Afghanistan: Roughly one out of every four.

THE HUMAN COST:

American service members killed in Afghanistan: 2,461.

US contractors, through April: 3,846.

Afghan national military and police, through April: 66,000.

Other allied service members, including from other NATO member states, through April: 1,144.

Afghan civilians, through April: 47,245.

Taliban and other opposition fighters, through April: 51,191.

Aid workers, through April: 444.

Journalists, through April: 72.

AFGHANISTAN AFTER NEARLY 20 YEARS OF US OCCUPATION:

Percentage drop in infant mortality rate since US, Afghan and other allied forces overthrew the Taliban government, which had sought to restrict women and girls to the home: About 50.

Percentage of Afghan teenage girls able to read today: 37.

Percentage of Afghans with access to electricity in 2005: 22

In 2019: 98.

Days before the US withdrawal that the Taliban retook control: 15.

Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the US Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, boards a C-17 cargo plane at Kabul airport as the final American service member to depart Afghanistan. (AP)

OVERSIGHT BY CONGRESS:

Date Congress authorised US forces to go after culprits in September 11, 2001, attacks: Sept. 18, 2001.

Number of times US lawmakers have voted to declare war in Afghanistan: 0.

Number of times lawmakers on Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee addressed costs of Vietnam War, during that conflict: 42

Number of times lawmakers in same subcommittee have mentioned costs of Afghanistan and Iraq wars, through mid-summer 2021: 5.

Number of times lawmakers on Senate Finance Committee have mentioned costs of Afghanistan and Iraq wars since September 11, 2001, through mid-summer 2021: 1.

PAYING FOR A WAR ON CREDIT, NOT IN CASH:

Amount President Harry Truman temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for Korean War: 92%.

Amount President Lyndon Johnson temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for Vietnam War: 77%.

Amount President George W. Bush cut tax rates for the wealthiest, rather than raise them, at outset of Afghanistan and Iraq wars: At least 8%.

Estimated amount of direct Afghanistan and Iraq war costs that the United States has debt-financed as of 2020: $2 trillion.

Estimated interest costs by 2050: Up to $6.5 trillion.

THE WARS END. THE COSTS DON’T:

Amount Bilmes estimates the United States will pay in health care, disability, burial and other costs for roughly 4 million Afghanistan and Iraq veterans: more than $2 trillion.

Source: The Indian Express

2. Why Supreme Court ordered two towers of Emerald Court to be demolished

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

Upholding a 2014 Allahabad High Court judgment on the demolition of the two towers of a housing project called Emerald Court, located in Noida Sector 93A, the Supreme Court Tuesday said the demolition has to be completed within three months and ordered Supertech Limited, the developer, to refund all the existing flat purchasers the amount invested along with an interest of 12% per annum within a period of two months.

Here’s why the two towers were ordered to be demolished.

What is the Emerald Court Project?

In November 2004, Noida had allotted a plot of land to Supertech in Sector 93A for development of a group housing society — Emerald Court. In June 2005, the building plan was sanctioned under New Okhla Industrial Development Area Building Regulations and Directions, 1986 for construction of fourteen towers, each with ten floors and a total height of 37 metres. In June 2006, an additional land area in the same plot of land was leased to Supertech under the same conditions.

Since the new regulations, the New Okhla Industrial Development Area Building Regulations and Directions 2006, were notified in December 2006, a revised plan was sanctioned for the project and two additional floors for the towers, two more towers and a shopping complex were approved. The authorities now permitted a total of 16 towers and one shopping complex. In April 2008, eight towers were completed and by September 2009, a total of 14 towers were completed.

What happened to the two new towers?

The first revised plan contemplated a green area in front of Tower 1 but Supertech started construction of the new towers there in July 2009 and that too prior to the grant of sanction from the authorities.

In November 2009, the Noida authorities sanctioned a second revised plan under which one of the new towers, sanctioned in 2006, was allowed to have 25 floors in place of 12 floors and the shopping complex, which was to have two floors, was replaced with another tower consisting 25 floors. The towers were planned to have a height of 73 metres. The total towers of the project now increased to 17. One of the new towers was to be constructed at a distance of nine metres from Tower 1 with a space-frame connecting them at the upper level.

In March 2010, a third revised plan was sanctioned by the authorities allowing Supertech to raise 41 floors as a part of the two new towers and also construct basements and open space for parking beneath them. Meanwhile, the 15th tower was completed in June 2012.

Why did the Emerald Court Owner Resident Welfare Association approach the High Court in December 2012?

The RWA sought quashing of the revised plan and also demolition of the two towers, alleging various violations and misrepresentations by the developer. It also sought setting aside the permission granted to link the towers through a space frame.

Supertech argued that the two towers were sanctioned in accordance with Noida Building Regulations 2006. The authorities in Noida told the court that the permission for connecting the towers was granted only after the design was approved by IIT-Roorkee.

Allowing the RWA’s petition and ordering demolition of the two towers, the High Court in 2014 held that the distance between the building blocks must be at least 16 metres under the NBR 2010 and Supertech in collusion with authorities obtained sanctions for the layout map in violation of the mandatory requirement.

The UP Fire Prevention and Fire Safety Act, 2005 has also been violated, the court had held. Supertech approached the Supreme Court in April 2014 against the High Court decision. In May 2014, a status quo was ordered and later, National Buildings Construction Corporation Limited was asked to examine the dispute.

What is the Supreme Court order?

Between 2016 and 2017, a number of persons were ordered to be returned a part of their investment on orders of the apex court.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court said the purpose of stipulating a minimum distance is a matter of public interest in planned development and the residents who occupy constructed areas in a housing project “are entitled to ventilation, light and air and adherence to fire safety norms.”

It rejected the argument that the new towers are a part of a building block along with T-1, T-2 and T3 and there was no necessity of maintaining the minimum distance. “If a developer is left with the unbridled discretion to define the content of the expression ‘building block’, this will defeat the purpose of prescribing minimum distances, leaving the health, safety and quality of life of flat buyers at the mercy of developers,” said the court.

The court also said that the construction of the new towers reduced the value of the undivided interest held by the flat owners in the common areas and facilities. The same was held to be violative of Section 5 of the UP 1975 Act and Section 5 of the UP Apartments Act 2010 as the flat owners’ consent was not sought before modifying the plan initially promised to them.

As per the apex court order, the work of demolition has to be carried out by Supertech under supervision of government authorities in Noida and in consultation with Central Building Research Institute Roorkee. Supertech has also been ordered to pay the RWA a cost of Rs two crores within one month.

Source: The Indian Express

3. What did America achieve in Afghanistan?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Issues

For the first time since October 2001, there are no American troops in Afghanistan. While defending his decision to pull back the forces, which led to the Taliban’s quick takeover of Kabul on August 15, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he was left with only two options after the withdrawal agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February 2020 — either honour the deal or renege on it and send in more troops to continue the war. “I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” said Mr. Biden.

So the forever war has come to an end. What did the U.S. gain from it?

Mr. Biden is now trying to reinterpret America’s foreign policy from realist, national security point of view. He said on Tuesday the U.S. invaded Afghanistan not because it was ruled by the Taliban but because the September 11 attacks originated from Afghanistan. In early July, he said “America didn’t go to Afghanistan to nation-build”. America’s primary objectives in Afghanistan were to disrupt al-Qaeda and capture or kill Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Mr. Biden said the U.S. met those goals. He is clearly de-emphasising the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan. The argument is that the Taliban were not America’s main enemy and defeating them was not its primary objective.

While it’s true that America went to Afghanistan because the 9/11 attacks originated from that country, Mr. Biden’s assessment of the Taliban was not shared by his predecessors, as their actions suggest. The Taliban had offered to surrender on modest terms in December 2001, but President George W. Bush rejected the offer and his Defence Department vowed to defeat them. America did not pull back from Afghanistan after the Taliban regime fell and the insurgents retreated to the Afghan mountains and Pakistan. America did not withdraw after bin Laden was killed in 2011 either. The U.S. stayed in Afghanistan, propping up the Islamic Republic because American leaders were of the view that a return of the Taliban to power would derail the global war on terror.

While it’s still debatable whether the Taliban have changed over the past 20 years, American foreign policy thinking has clearly changed during this period. If the U.S. saw the Taliban, which hosted al-Qaeda, as part of the problem in 2001 and removing them from power as a key goal of the war on terror, in 2021, it has extricated a victorious Taliban from the war on terror. The Taliban are now a problem of the Afghans, not of Americans, according to the Biden doctrine. In the U.S.’s last days in Afghanistan, the American military coordinated with the Taliban to ensure airport security. The State Department even said the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, a designated terrorist group, “are two separate entities”.

War on terror

When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, it was touted as the first step in what Mr. Bush called a global war on terrorism. Terrorism, he said, doesn’t have borders and the war on terror would not confine to borders either.

Where does that war stand now?

In 2001, al-Qaeda was largely concentrated in Afghanistan. The U.S. invasion and the fall of the Taliban led to al-Qaeda’s disintegration. The terrorist outfit was driven underground, but was not defeated or decimated. Over the years, new branches of al-Qaeda sprang up in different parts of the world. Of them, the deadliest was al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Jordan-born terrorist was killed by a U.S. strike in 2006, but AQI transformed into the Islamic State of Iraq, which later became the dreaded Islamic State (IS) that declared a Caliphate and established a proto-state across Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Modest gains

The IS’s physical infrastructure was destroyed by coordinated and separate war efforts by a group of powers, including the U.S., Iran, Iraq, Kurdish and Shia militias, Syria and Russia. But the rump of the outfit continues to operate in parts of Syria and Iraq. The IS has also established provinces in other parts of the world, including the IS West Africa Province (ISWAP) and the IS Khorasan Province (ISKP) that claimed responsibility for the August 26 Kabul blasts in which over 200 people were killed, including 13 Americans. Al-Qaeda has also established a strong presence in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region, where they have carried out dozens of attacks in recent years, killing hundreds of people. So if al-Qaeda was an organised terrorist machinery concentrated in Afghanistan in 2001, it’s now a decentralised amalgam that has metastasised across the world.

The U.S. can take credit for disrupting al-Qaeda’s networks in Afghanistan, which it thinks has neutralised the terrorists’ capability to strike the American mainland, and killing bin Laden. But the question American policymakers and public faces is whether it was required to stay 20 years in Afghanistan, spend over $2 trillion and lose over 2,300 soldiers to meet these modest objectives.

Source: The Hindu

4. For a bona fide press: On weeding out ‘fake journalists’

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

HC order for weeding out ‘fake journalists’ is well-intentioned, but needs wide consultation

In directing the State government to establish a ‘Press Council of Tamil Nadu’ within three months, the Madras High Court has come close to formulating policy and legislation. Its direction amounts to creating a body and clothing it with powers and functions, something that is normally done by law and after wider consultations. There is no doubt that it is a well-intentioned order that seeks to address problems arising from the dubious activities of ‘fake journalists’. In fact, the directives may constitute a remedy to the maladies highlighted by the Division Bench in its recent verdict, but it is quite surprising that such a far-reaching measure has sought to be created by judicial direction while disposing of public interest litigation somewhat unrelated to the case at hand. The original case initiated by a man claiming to be a journalist contained some allegations against the special team investigating theft of idols from various temples. It was disposed of with a direction to the Idol Wing CID to proceed with the investigation in accordance with the law. As there was suspicion over the petitioner’s credentials, the Bench has proceeded to address the larger problem of imposters masquerading as journalists for personal enrichment.

The issues highlighted by the Bench are quite real and need remedial measures. Some people claiming to be journalists do run letter-pad publications, or even print some copies of obscure journals, but devote much of their time to using “connections” to wangle benefits and gifts, try and swing transfers and postings; or be fronts for vested interests. Broadly, the court wants a State-level ‘Press Council’ to weed out ‘fake journalists’, regulate the distribution of identity and accreditation cards and the recognition of media bodies, besides receiving and disposing of complaints about the media. As of now, the Press Council of India performs the watchdog role about public complaints, but without any substantive enforcement powers. Accreditation and dealing with journalist bodies are now the functions of the respective governments. A powerful body that will identify and accredit journalists, decide their entitlements to bus and rail passes and welfare measures, as well as act as a complaints authority will surely need a statutory framework. Besides, a separate body created by executive order may act over-zealously and end up eliminating bona fide journalists. As ‘newspapers, books and printing presses’ are in the Concurrent List, the State government needs to examine if the field is occupied by central legislation, and whether it can create a watchdog body, as suggested by the court, encompassing all forms of media. It may have to weigh its options carefully, including an appeal.

Source: The Hindu