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Taliban says war is over, calls for peaceful international relations

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The Taliban have declared the war in Afghanistan is over after its fighters swept into the capital, Kabul, and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday.

“Thanks to God, the war is over in the country,” Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for Taliban’s political office, said.

“We have reached what we were seeking, which is the freedom of our country and the independence of our people,” he added. “We will not allow anyone to use our lands to target anyone, and we do not want to harm others.”

Naeem also called for peaceful international relations.

“Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years,” Naeem told Al Jazeera.

The spokesman said the group did not want to live in isolation and said the type and form of the new government in Afghanistan would be made clear soon.

The streets of Kabul were quiet on Monday, but there were scenes of chaos and panic at the international airport as hundreds of Afghans desperate to leave the country flooded the tarmac.

China says ready for friendly relations with the Taliban

China on Monday said it is willing to develop “friendly relations” with the Taliban after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.

“China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop… friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

Russian ambassador to Afghanistan to meet Taliban in Kabul on Tuesday

The Russian ambassador to Afghanistan will hold a meeting with a senior coordinator of the Taliban on Tuesday to discuss embassy security, Russian Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov announced on Monday.

“Our ambassador is in contact with a representative of the Taliban leadership. As he told me just 10 minutes ago, he will meet tomorrow with a coordinator of the Taliban leadership to discuss safety, including safety of our mission,” Kabulov said on air of Echo of Moscow radio station.

There are currently around 100 people in the Russian embassy in Kabul, some of them will be evacuated, the diplomat added.

According to Business Standard, he also said that Russia has no reason to believe that Afghanistan will turn into a new reincarnation of the Islamic State (the terrorist Daesh group) under the rule of the Taliban.

“No, I don’t have such concerns, as I saw how the Taliban — unlike the Americans and NATO, including the fleeing Afghan government [which] did not fight ISIS, but in some cases even pandered ISIS — fought them. They fought mercilessly. Representatives of the Taliban’s top leadership have repeatedly told me that they have only one thing to tell the ISIS — they will not take prisoners,” Kabulov said on air of the Echo of Moscow radio station.

According to Al Jazeera, Russian President’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan has said “exclusion of the Taliban from the list of terrorist organizations begins in the Security Council” on Monday.

Ex-adviser slams president’s departure, says it is “shameful”

Shafiq Hamdam, a former adviser to the Afghan president, slammed Ghani’s decision to flee Afghanistan on Sunday amid the Taliban’s rapid advance on Kabul.

“It’s shameful. It’s embarrassing. People feel abandoned, people feel betrayed,” Hamdam told Al Jazeera from Washington, DC.

“After so many years of effort and so many years of investment, he has put a black dark mark in the history of democracy in Afghanistan. He himself escaped with his team and he didn’t have a second thought about the millions of people who live in misery, who live in uncertainty, and who are now left behind, living under Taliban regime.”

Hamdam said the Taliban need to prove they will protect women.

“From tomorrow on, we have to see women going to schools, we have to see women civil servants and teachers, like my mother going to school and teaching. That’s what I want and that’s what the world wants. And that’s a test for the Taliban. To prove if they have changed or not.”

 “At least five killed at Kabul airport”

At least five people have been killed in Kabul airport as hundreds of people tried to forcibly enter planes leaving the Afghan capital, witnesses tell Reuters.

One witness says he has seen the bodies of five people being taken to a vehicle. Another witness says it is not clear whether the victims have been killed by gunshots or in a stampede.

U.S. troops, who are in charge of the airport, earlier fired in the air to scatter the crowd, a U.S. official says.

Taliban regrouping to create governance structure

A Taliban leader tells Reuters the Taliban fighters are regrouping from different provinces, and will wait until foreign forces had left before creating a new governance structure.

The leader, who requested anonymity, says Taliban fighters had been “ordered to allow Afghans to resume daily activities and do nothing to scare civilians”.

“Normal life will continue in a much better way, that’s all I can say for now,” he tells Reuters in a message.

Afghanistan aviation authority advises transit aircraft to reroute

Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) says that Kabul airspace have been released to the military and it advises transit aircraft to reroute, according to a notice to airmen on its website.

ACAA says any transit through Kabul airspace will be uncontrolled and it has advised the surrounding flight information regions that control airspace.

Kabul’s flight information region covers all of Afghanistan.

Commercial flights out of Kabul cancelled

Commercial flights from Kabul are cancelled after chaotic scenes at the airport with thousands looking for a way out.

“There will be no commercial flights from Hamid Karzai Airport to prevent looting and plundering. Please do not rush to the airport,” the Kabul airport authority says in a message sent to reporters.

Afghans denounce priority evacuation of diplomats

Hundreds of Afghans invade the airport’s runways in the dark, pulling luggage and jostling for a place on one of the last commercial flights to leave before U.S. forces take over air traffic control.

“This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty,” Rakhshanda Jilali, a human rights activist who was trying to get to Pakistan, tells Reuters in a message from the airport.

U.S. forces fired in the air at Kabul’s airport to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac, according to an official and a witness.

“The crowd was out of control,” the U.S. official told Reuters by phone. “The firing was only done to defuse the chaos.”

A witness confirmed the development to the AFP news agency.

“I feel very scared here,” the witness said. “They are firing lots of shots in the air.”

Taliban at ‘every checkpoint’

Charlotte Bellis, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, said the Taliban was in control of the capital’s streets.

“It’s very quiet in Kabul, surprisingly,” she said from the Afghan capital.

“The Taliban say they sent in 1,000 of their special forces units overnight. They are now in control of every checkpoint and have set up additional checkpoints. I saw dozens of Taliban fighters with guns over their shoulders in police vehicles, in Afghan government vehicles patrolling the streets.”

She added: “There’s not that many people on the streets and it seems as if life can function as normal.”

Taliban say situation in Kabul is ‘normal’

A spokesman for the Taliban said “the situation in Kabul is normal” and that its fighters “are busy providing security”.

In a Twitter post, Zabihullah Mujahid also said the Taliban have deployed special units to different parts of Kabul and that the “general public is happy with the arrival of the Mujahideen and satisfied with the security”.

In an earlier tweet, Mujahid had said the Taliban have assured all embassies that foreign nationals in Kabul will not face any danger.

Over 60 countries urge safe departure of Afghans and foreigners

Dozens of countries from around the world are calling on all involved in events in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate the departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country.

More than 60 nations released a joint statement on Sunday night citing what they call “the deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan.

The statement says that those in power and authority across the country “bear responsibility – and accountability – for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order.”

It added, “Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so; roads, airports and border crossing must remain open, and calm must be maintained.

“The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity.  We in the international community stand ready to assist them.”

Taliban say situation in Afghanistan ‘peaceful’, no clashes

Taliban officials say they had received no reports of any clashes from across the country a day after the armed group seized the capital, Kabul, and the U.S.-backed government collapsed.

“The situation is peaceful,” one of the senior members of the Taliban tells Reuters news agency. He declines to be identified.

Charlotte Bellis, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, said the Taliban was in control of the capital’s streets.

“It’s very quiet in Kabul, surprisingly,” she said from the Afghan capital.

“The Taliban say they sent in 1,000 of their special forces units overnight. They are now in control of every checkpoint and have set up additional checkpoints. I saw dozens of Taliban fighters with guns over their shoulders in police vehicles, in Afghan government vehicles patrolling the streets.”

She added: “There’s not that many people on the streets and it seems as if life can function as normal.”

Tehran Times

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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South Asia

India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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