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Afghanistan: Defending the Rights of Women in a Necropolis of Human Rights

A woman walks through a corridor in a village in Zindajan district, Afghanistan. © UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani
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The Taliban founded an authoritarian Islamist theocracy in Afghanistan a quarter-century ago that egregiously engrossed in methodical internal subjugation, deprivation of human rights to Afghan citizens. Consequently, the Taliban endured international isolation. Now, once again, they have ascended to power and captured Kabul on 15 August 2021 that received initially mixed indications whether the Taliban 2.0 regime will be a new incarnation this time. While the Taliban have desisted from massive retaliatory exterminations, their imperium has provoked a mass exodus and intensifying uncertainties over how they will deal with women, minorities, media, and socio-political disagreement that have been well-protected under the 2004 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. There are several questions such as Will the Taliban execute their stated promises about the formation of an inclusive government? Will they respect the diversity of Afghanistan while guaranteeing services and jobs for all Afghan citizens, including women? Will they again establish a Sunni clerical totalitarian regime worse than the Iranian model? Will they abide by their counterterrorism commitments and work with the Western jurisdictions to ensure free economic aid flows or once again allow isolation? To what extent do the U.S. and its allies still impact the promises and prospects of the Taliban? However, in a troubled world, the human right to dignity and the right to human equality of all people have become more needed than ever before.

The answers to the questions hereinabove are fully available under the present 2004 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that was adopted after the years of protracted conflict and whose fate, now, remains in limbo. It has envisioned the Afghan State as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the Preamble. The National Assembly is the supreme legislative establishment in Afghanistan, consisting of two houses; a) the Lower House (Wolesi Jirga) and; b) the Upper House (Meshrano Jirga). The Wolisi Jirga includes 249 elected seats and is empowered to amend the Constitution’s provisions and makes the President accountable to the Wolesi Jirga. The Meshrano Jirga has 102 seats, including a third of presidential appointees, out of which 50% of the seats are for women. The judiciary’s highest court is the Supreme Court, which includes nine judges appointed by the President at the approval of the Wolesi Jirga for a term of 10-years. The Ministry of Justice has been empowered for new enactments and law reforms. The Bonn Agreement in 2001 has established the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Thus, AIHRC is assigned by the Constitution to promote and protect human rights and investigate human rights abuses, including war crimes. The idea of diversity is protected under Article 4 of the Afghan Constitution; the nation of Afghanistan shall contain Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkman, Baluch, Pachaie, Nuristani, Aymaq, Arab, Qirghiz, Qizilbash, Gujur, Brahwui, and other tribes. The majoritarian religion is Islam (Sunni); however, several other minority religions such as Hindu and Buddhism are also professed.

The existential peregrination of Afghanistan is sandwiched between once metropolis of civil liberties and present necropolis of human rights. Today, Afghanistan is jettisoned between Afghan domestic unilateralism narrative and global multilateralism narrative. Geopolitically, Afghanistan is located between South Asia and Central Asia, but it is part of SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation)—an inter-governmental organization—bordered by Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, China, India, Pakistan, and Iran. The total area of Afghanistan is 647,500 sq. km, and more than half the landmass is mountainous, and it is shared in half by the Hindu Kush mountain range. The total population of Afghanistan is 38,928.34 (2020), and it is 40,003,062 (2021) with a growth rate of 2.40% (2021) and 25.75% (2019) live in urban centres. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest nation-states in the world, with a literacy rate of 36% (14% women and 43% men).

Legal Pluralism

Most legal systems in conflict and post-conflict countries consist of parallel and often contradictory social, economic, and political systems and regulatory mechanisms that are a potential source of future legal insecurity and social and political conflict, and Afghanistan is no exception. However, the Preamble to the Constitution stipulates that the Nation of Afghanistan observes the UN Charter and the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Therefore, Afghanistan is a party to a compendium of international instruments such as CEDAW (U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) and U.N. Security Council Resolution No. 1325 to secure women’s rights. Moreover, the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan obligates the government to foster a peaceful and progressive society based on social harmony, human dignity, equality of justice, protection of human rights, the accomplishment of democracy, and preserving national integration and equality among all ethnicities and tribes. However, the Constitution also states that an explicit provision that no law “contrary to Islam” must not be interpreted imperfectly if the same is problematic for women’s human rights.

In Afghanistan, legal pluralism is based on several types of legitimating sources, including International law, State Law, Religious Law, and Customary Law. Traditional practices maintain social order, particularly in rural areas, where the State still has the only limited writ. Each village has its informal customs and processes for enforcing norms and resolving disputes. Therefore, community councils still act as the principal judicial system in the country, and almost 80% of disputes are settled outside the formal judicial system and without any legal documentation due to a lack of access to standard courts and trust deficit in them. Community councils are problematic as they reject anything construed as contrary to their creeds and convictions. As such, disputes relating to marriage, divorce, polygamy, and child custody can be poorly judged. In addition, these councils are dominated by men and have a patriarchal structure in which women are strongly under-represented. In a country where women symbolize family honour and are at risk of being considered goods and properties to be used and exchanged for this purpose, violence against women is widely tolerated at household, community, and national levels due to traditional justice mechanisms being unresponsive to women’s human rights.

Implementation with HRDA Constitutionalism

Implementation of human rights in Afghanistan is possible with Human Rights Driven Approach (HRDA) Constitutionalism. HRDA Constitutionalism invokes the application and appreciation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan where appropriately sufficient arrangements have been envisioned in the Preamble and Chapter-2 on fundamental rights in the context of women’s rights. International Human Rights Law (IHRL) Framework is one of the most significant devices for fostering women’s human rights but does not have pragmatic implementation at the grassroots stratum. The constitutionally guaranteed legal equality of women is time and again contravened with the retaining the discriminatory personal laws stemmed from Islamic hermeneutics based on customary laws that are further seconded by the Constitutional recognition of Sharia Law, for example, a woman walks out of an abusive marriage; therefore, the judicial authorities will be subjected to chastisements, despite the fact it does not have any basis in family law, civil law, criminal law or criminal code of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, these punishments are pronounced by the judicial officers as per their interpretation of Sharia law.

The promotion of women’s human rights can be accomplished by creating spaces for media campaigns, organizing conferences, encouraging the participation of NGOs, and sensitizing the common people about the human rights of women. Women’s organizations will have to work with AIHRC to have a regnant voice on crimes against women while generating parallel documentation of Optional Reports to the CEDAW Committee. Now, there is a necessity to reform the local laws in tandem with the international IHRL obligations of Afghanistan. Regrettably, Afghanistan does not have an appropriate system in place for a pragmatic enjoyment of women’s human rights in every walk of life that too in contravention of the constitutional protections.

Traditional Sensitivities & Islamic Councils

Primarily, Afghanistan is a traditional Islamic State in which HRDA Constitutionalism will have greater socio-cultural acceptability provided it is consistent with the applicable Sharia Law system. In this conspectus, appropriate modules can be taken from various other Islamic countries in the neighbourhood like Iran and Pakistan, where the situation is different and beyond. There is a pivotal issue of Islamic interpretations in Afghanistan that percolates from an absence of an accurate understanding of Sharia Law. Therefore, it is crucial to collaborate with Islamic scholars, particularly from the liberal Islamic democracies, to evolve the correct construction of Islamic views with the Afghan scholars on a wide range of subjects, including women’s human rights. Thus, a liberal and HRDA Constitutionalism-based elucidation of the Holy Quranic verses has to be commenced by Islamic scholars in Afghanistan. HRDA has to create a social balance between women’s family obligations and the rights of women. Such a premise would encourage and facilitate the training of women in the human rights discourse. It would also embolden women’s empowerment and provide requisite momentum to feminist movements in Afghanistan.  

The diverse challenges to women’s rights need to be addressed with carving out a pragmatic role for highly influential Islamic Councils. These are, in fact, women’s rights involved in the matters of polygamy, reproductive determinations, child custody & marriage, divorce, preferences for life partners. Traditionally, women’s rights in these matters have always been decided by the patriarchal fiefdoms in Afghanistan. There are reasons for such a sorry state of affairs, like the low literacy threshold among the Afghan population that led the people of Afghanistan to exclusively rely upon the religious clergy that has significantly shaped and influenced their way of life, including their personal affairs. The new political leadership can facilitate accessibility and coordination to NGOs and women’s rights defenders to sensitize the people in this connection. Therefore, religious scholars must be sensitive to women’s rights armed with liberal and harmonious construction of religious texts. These religious scholars can be the change-makers in bridging the contradictions between traditional sensitivities and Islamic beliefs that trample upon women’s rights in Afghan society. Thus, it is the Quranic human rights of women that the Afghan State must access, and it must respect the same.

Gender Representation in Judicial Routes

The Afghan Judicial System (AJS) does not adequately represent Afghan women judges; therefore, legal safeguards designed for their protection are often nosediving at the ground enforcement. The Supreme Court of Afghanistan does not have women judges, and the same is the situation within the local judiciary. Further, there is no female representation at the community level again due to the misconstruction of Sharia Law regarding the ability of women to make proper judgments. Now Afghan women judges and lawyers  are fleeing for safety and refuge as criminals convicted by them are out for reprisals. It shows an inherent and deep-rooted bias and ill-conceived preponderance of patriarchal and parochial tendencies against women, and AJS is not an exception. The pace of judicial and institutional reforms has been sluggish that added salt to injury. Afghanistan got a chance to codify, revise and develop its laws in conformity with international principles of IHRL immediately after the collapse of Taliban 1.0 in the late 1990s, but it could not do so. Until now, only a few courts premises and several training programmes have been developed in the provinces. Only one family court in Kabul and some courts have been created in the adjacent provinces. Such a lacklustre approach cumulatively resulted in a miserable level of public consciousness regarding new rules, regulations, and laws about women’s rights at all AJS and Afghan informal administration levels. Thus, women’s human rights cannot be realized in Afghanistan without the representation of women in the AJS.

Women’s Safety in A Fragile Transitional State

There is a lack of psycho-physical safety and socio-economic security for women’s NGOs and women’s rights defenders in all walks of life across Afghanistan. The modes of women’s sartorial presentation, socialization thresholds, economic engagements, and education exposure are the regnant determinant of honour in Afghan society and culture. The writ of the patriarchal chief runs and is responsible for protecting the family fiefdom’s reputation. By itself, these are stark tests and trials in expanding the scope of accessibility to HRDA Constitutionalism for sensitizing, educating, and devising programmes for Afghan women. The scarcity of understanding the nuances of justice and judicial institutions further impedes their access to public life mobility. However, Islamic councils and religious leaders have allowed few well-connected NGOs to operate to helping vulnerable women in the various communities. Despite all socio-economic trials and tribulations for Afghan women, there is a principal challenge of the rule of law and its application to traditional practices and informal justice systems for achieving justice. In the absence of formal AJS, informal justice systems have mushroomed in Afghanistan. The personnel presiding over them also head the local councils that are perceived as the primary source of traditional norms. Moreover, the lack of infrastructural facilities and logistical support has crippled their faith in the AJS has further deteriorated. The growth of the informal justice systems challenges the AJS, and its prevalence in the future remains a material question.

U.N. Security Council Resolution Principles

The U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 stipulated fundamental principles, namely; protection, participation, and promotion of women’s human rights with the HRDA roadmap and women’s rights NGOs have been doing the work for their empowerment despite all odds as under:

-In the context of protection, women NGOs have been operational with the Ministry of Women Affairs (MWA) and the group ‘Women Living under Muslim Laws’ and other INGOs in training, empowering, and preparing the drafts for new laws of family, marriage, and crimes against women laws, etc. These NGOs and INGOs have also been pushing and encouraging gender mainstreaming within other new laws at household and community levels. Such laws are essential in ensuring the restoration of AJS to enable women to claim their rights. Moreover, the NGOs have been working with MWA to build women’s shelters, help centres for those enduring violence and confronting abuse, and address the women’s most basic health and economic requirements. Thus, the HRDA roadmap ensures protection by facilitating new legislation and socio-economic security for Afghan women enduring violence and promoting rights-based education.

-In the context of participation, the participation of women in decision-making bodies is a crucial step for securing their human rights. National and Global agencies have been working hard to establish women’s Shuras (Decision-Making Councils) among the tribal communities under the Afghanistan National Solidarity Programme. These Councils intend to re-boot those traditional structures already in place to ensure women’s participation in a pragmatic orientation. Moreover, there has been a multitude of initiatives from the NGO and political community to integrate the voices of women and promote their participation through different arrangements like the Women’s Political Participation Committee (WPPC) and the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), etc. These arrangements not only revive a sense of solidarity and cooperation for women’s rights defenders, but they also build partnerships with female Members of Parliament at the national stage. Furthermore, there have been active campaigns for drafting women judges in the Supreme Court. Thus, the women’s rights movement has been advancing different advocacy mechanisms for law reforms and political participation at every stage of the AJS.

There is No Conclusion

It is axiomatic that Afghanistan represents an assortment of burning issues germane to HRDA Constitutionalism in defending women’s rights in a necropolis of human rights, particularly in conflict and post-conflict settings. Due to the fragile dynamics of the Afghan State and the legal pluralism that has followed, NGOs operating with HRDA Constitutionalism must consider several factors, including functioning in an Islam-driven system in a culturally sensitive trajectory. The participation of women in the existing AJS and their potential drafting in the new judicial arrangements need to be ensured with fair play. All the stakeholders must recognize the challenges of women’s safety. The implementation of women’s human rights and their integration within the local traditional decision-making institutions must be salvaged beyond the interference of the Afghan State. 

Ph. D., LL.M, Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University (SAARC)-New Delhi, Nafees Ahmad is an Indian national who holds a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in International Refugee Law and Human Rights. Author teaches and writes on International Forced Migrations, Climate Change Refugees & Human Displacement Refugee, Policy, Asylum, Durable Solutions and Extradition Issus. He conducted research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Jammu & Kashmir and North-East Region in India and has worked with several research scholars from US, UK and India and consulted with several research institutions and NGO’s in the area of human displacement and forced migration. He has introduced a new Program called Comparative Constitutional Law of SAARC Nations for LLM along with International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law & Forced Migration Studies. He has been serving since 2010 as Senior Visiting Faculty to World Learning (WL)-India under the India-Health and Human Rights Program organized by the World Learning, 1 Kipling Road, Brattleboro VT-05302, USA for Fall & Spring Semesters Batches of US Students by its School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in New Delhi-INDIA nafeestarana[at],drnafeesahmad[at]

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Democracy in Disarray: India’s Uphill Battle against an Escalating Surge of Anti-Democratic Sentiments

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India has consistently bragged about being the world’s largest democracy and having an ostensibly ‘secular’ outlook for many decades. The Nehruvian political ideology, which espoused the virtues of secularism as an important pillar of the Indian nation, served as the initial foundation for India’s political landscape after gaining independence. India has significantly departed from its once-celebrated founding principles in modern times, with the RSS BJP dispensation now in power embracing a narrow ideology based on “Hindutva” ideals. Therefore, several well-known Western media outlets have recently expressed their concerns about this apparent change and the implications of India’s ongoing democratic ‘backslide’. Despite India’s rise to one of the world’s most rapidly expanding economies and its crucial role in U.S.-led efforts to balance China, it is difficult to ignore the concurrent rise in repressive measures aimed at stifling dissent within its borders.

Unfortunately, the international community has mostly held back from openly criticizing New Delhi in an effort to preserve a strategic alliance. Most foreign governments, with the exception of Beijing and Islamabad, view India as a crucial trading partner and are therefore reluctant to express their concerns. Even leaders of the Muslim world have kept their opinions on the plight of underprivileged Muslims in India relatively quiet. It is true that self-interest, rather than moral obligations, predominately drives international relations. However, New Delhi’s significance to India’s democratic fabric ensures that the country’s deterioration of democratic standards remains a significant topic of discussion.

India frequently highlights its achievements, from the smooth operation of elections to the unwavering submission to civilian authority, and is proud to wear the title of “world’s largest democracy”. Additionally, programs like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and broader international cooperation aimed at confronting China are frequently presented as a joint effort by democratically inclined countries. In response to the stark reality of India’s democratic erosion, many parties have expressed concern, particularly among Western observers. Therefore, economic and strategic concerns are frequently cited as the reason why the international community is reluctant to discuss this issue openly, but India’s importance to its democratic credentials keeps discussions about its democratic trajectory ablaze.

On the other hand, the Indian authorities’ escalating persecution of journalists and online critics due to their criticism of government policies and practices, as exemplified by their use of counterterrorism and sedition laws to prosecute them, represents a flagrant disregard for the basic right to freedom of expression. The Indian authorities must show respect for this fundamental human right, immediately release journalists who have been wrongfully detained on false or politically motivated charges as a result of their critical reporting, and stop systematic persecution of journalists and repression of independent media. India must be prepared for whatever may happen as the world continues to embrace it more and more. It is crucial to understand that New Delhi will feel more empowered to intensify its repressive crackdowns inside its borders the more leniency and immunity it receives.

The fact that the United States and India lack a formal treaty alliance must be acknowledged, although they have developed a comprehensive strategic partnership that spans diplomatic, defense, and developmental interests. However, the alignment of these interests suggests a significant change in their relationship since the Cold War ended. Three main factors are responsible for this transformation. First, after the communist model fell apart in 1991, India shifted its attention to the West by embracing globalization and market economics. Second, despite India’s non-signatory status to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the relations between the two countries have become closer as a result of India’s emergence as a nuclear-armed power and the willingness to accept it into the international civil nuclear regime. Finally, China’s emergence as a regional power with global ambitions forced reluctant leaders in New Delhi and Washington, D.C., to acknowledge the necessity of combining their efforts lest they individually suffer the consequences.

The consolidation of a Hindu-majoritarian political style, the excessive concentration of power within the executive branch and the ensuing erosion of independent institutions, and the repression of political dissent and press freedom are the three main areas of concern when evaluating India’s regression in terms of democracy. While each of these issues is significant in and of itself, the presence of all of them together poses a serious threat to Indian democracy as a whole. The foundations of the U.S.-India strategic partnership, America’s broader interests in the Indo-Pacific region, and international initiatives aimed at promoting democracy will all be jeopardized if India’s democratic decline continues. This includes social stability and prosperity for more than a billion Indians.

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Modi’s State Visit to the US: Expansive Engagement

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Utomo/G20 Media Center

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has travelled to the United States several times since 2014, for bilateral and multilateral visits but from June 21 to 24 he will be on an official state visit to Washington DC. White House press secretary announced that “the President and the First Lady are looking forward to welcoming PM Modi for the official state visit on 22nd June. This will be an opportunity to reaffirm the deep and close partnership between US-India.” Upon his arrival, Modi will receive an official welcome and hold bilateral meetings and delegation level talks. President Joe and First Lady Jill Biden will be hosting a state dinner in his honour. In a singular opportunity granted only to the closest allies of the United States, Modi will be addressing a joint session of the American Congress during his visit to the States.

It is noteworthy that a Democratic President is inviting the Indian Prime Minister for a White House state dinner, while a Republic Speaker has asked him to address the joint session of Congress, indicating bipartisan support for augmenting Indo-US ties.

State visits at the highest level of protocol are rare in the American system, and PM Modi is just the third state visitor during the Biden Presidency. Historically, Modi will be the third Indian leader ever invited for a state visit to the US, since those of President Radha Krishna 1963 and Prime Minister ManMohan Singh in 2009. During the state dinner hosted by President Obama for PM Singh, the two leaders spoke augustly about a “future that beckons all of us.” Modi’s state visit will also be one of the longest of any leader to the US.  So in many ways this visit is a significant signalling of the prominence that the US accords to its relations with India. On the agenda are agreements on trade, defence and critical minerals and significant progression of the Indo-US defence partnership, with the signing of a joint production agreement.

Ahead of Modi’s state visit, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is in India on a two-day visit to explore ways to lay the groundwork for highly anticipated agreements on bilateral defence cooperation, especially in areas of transfer of critical technologies for co-development of military hardware.

With bilateral trade reaching a record-breaking $191 billion last year, U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) will also be hosting the INDUS-X conference, and scheduled to be held over two days in Washington coinciding with Mr. Modi’s visit.

Building Strategic Linkages over Two Decades:

After decades of intermittently frigid relations, Washington’s ties with New Delhi have grown significantly closer over the past twenty years. trade and investment flows have grown alongside shared geostrategic interests and China’s growing presence and assertiveness in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region is a concern for both. This rapprochement accelerated markedly after the Bush administration lifted the sanctions imposed after India’s nuclear test, and the completion of the Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Initiative. Since Narendra Modi came to power almost a decade ago, security and economic links with the US have enhanced conspicuously, alongside deepening security cooperation like counterterrorism around shared interests limiting China’s influence in the broader Indo-Pacific. President Barack Obama declared India a “major defence partner” and the Trump administration’s growing concerns about China’s regional assertiveness-including along the Sino-Indian border-cemented the U.S.-India security partnership. India was included alongside the United States, Australia, and Japan-as a counterweight to Chinese ambitions in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the ‘Quad.’

New Delhi and Wasington signed COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 which provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for the sale of high-end technology from the US to India. This was followed by the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries. The pact provides Billions of dollars in American arms purchases were finalised by the Modi government though it did not accede to Trump’s demands to stop purchasing the S-400 and other Russian military equipment.

Biden Seeks to Broaden Ties:

Advancing on these two decades of deepening strategic linkages the Biden administration has sought to further broaden the scope of the strategic partnership between the two countries and deepen Indian integration into a shared security architecture. With more robust military cooperation such as acceleration of joint military exercises, there has also been revival of the US-India Homeland Security Dialogue, which seeks to strengthen cooperation on cybersecurity, technology, and countering violent extremism. These security-oriented steps with steps have been complemented with initiatives such as the launching of a Clean Energy 2030 partnership, etc. Both leaders oversaw the launch of the India-US Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (ICET) during the Quad summit in May 2022. One of the most important results of the ICET was the commencement of negotiations on the General Electric (GE) deal to produce GE-F414 jet engines in India, complete with technology transfer. In February this year the historic deal between Boeing and Air India for the latter to buy more than 200 planes from the American plane manufacturer was announced. Air India is ordering 220 Boeing aircraft valued at $34 billion. The orders include 190 737 Max aircraft, 20 of Boeing’s 787s, and 10 of its 777Xs. The purchase also includes customer options for an additional 50 737 MAXs and 20 of its 787s, totaling 290 aeroplanes for a total of $45.9 billion at list price. In a phone call both leaders discussed the importance of the US-India strategic technology partnership and committed to continue working together and in groups like the Quad to advance economic growth and expand cooperation on their shared priorities.

Deliverables of the Upcoming State visit:

The signing of the MoU with General Electric deal will be the biggest deliverable of Prime Minister Modi’s State visit to the US. India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has selected 99 F414 GE fighter jet engines to power the Mk II version of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Indian Air Force. GE was engaged by the Biden administration, and a proposal with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) officials was arrived at. The agreement is to build GE-F414-INS6 engines that will power Tejas-Mk II Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) being built by HAL.  The engine of the Mk II works at super high temperatures, is the maximum thrust model in the F-414 model, and includes state-of-the-art technology to meet India’s demanding Air Force and Naval requirements. Although the final details of the agreement will only be clear once the MoU is signed, it is likely that the transfer of technology (ToT) and the percentage of locally manufactured components will exceed 60%, possibly reaching 75%.

Other deliverables include the go ahead New Delhi’s plan to procure 30 MQ-9B armed drones at a cost of over $3 billion from US defence major General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

The US is already India’s largest goods trading partner and the only major country with which India has a goods trade surplus. There is also tremendous excitement in the business community over the launch of the initiative INDUS-X, a platform for start-ups and enterprises from both countries to identify collaborations for high-tech innovations within the ambit of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET).

Given the kind of aspirations India has in terms of manufacturing, the US is a critical partner. The US has expressed on a number of occasions that it sees the rise of India to be in its interests. Both administrations have shown tremendous excitement for the “defence innovation bridge” of which the GE deal is just one element.

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Communal Unrest in Manipur: A Test for Unity or Separate state

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People from Manipur raise slogans during their protest against the ongoing violence in Manipur, at Manipuri Rajbari in Guwahati. (PTI Photo)

In the recent past, the Indian state of Manipur, located in the northeastern part of the country, has been grappling with rising communal tension that escalated into deadly violence, shaking the foundations of unity and harmony in this region.

The unrest began sometime around the first week of May 2023, leading to at least 30 individuals losing their lives by May 6th, with the death toll escalating to a reported 58 just a couple of days later. The exact genesis of this widespread violence remains shrouded in a complex tapestry of ethnic rivalries and socio-political dynamics, but the devastation left in its wake is undeniable and heart-rending.

At the heart of Manipur’s violence was the destruction of buildings and vehicles, leaving many parts of the region looking like a war zone. In towns and villages across Manipur, houses were reduced to ashes, whereas neighboring properties remained untouched, a stark and horrifying testament to the selective, targeted nature of the violence.

While the immediate causes of this ethnic violence are likely diverse and intertwined with the region’s complex history, it is clear that the situation reached a point of widespread crisis following a rally by indigenous groups. Yet, the specifics of what transpired at the rally that sparked the violence remain vague, an opaque point that begs further investigation.

In the aftermath of this violence, a significant part of the narrative has revolved around the region’s future, with some calling for the creation of a separate state as a solution to these recurring clashes. However, this idea could fundamentally change the geopolitical and social landscape of the region.

While the idea of separation may seem like an attractive solution to some, it is vital to consider the underlying issues that lead to such violent conflicts. Socio-economic disparities, cultural misunderstandings, political marginalization, and historic grievances are all factors that can fuel ethnic tensions. Addressing these issues is paramount to the long-term safety of minority communities.

While the immediate damage from the violence is stark, the long-term impacts on the region are profound and multifaceted. The riots have torn apart communities, disrupted normal life, and created a climate of fear and uncertainty. As the violence forced many people, like Mamang Vaiphei, to flee their homes and hide. This mass displacement of people adds another layer to the crisis, as individuals and families are left homeless, with their lives uprooted.

Socially, the riots have caused a significant strain on inter-ethnic relations. The recent violence threatens to deepen divisions among these groups and foster an environment of hostility and mistrust. The collective trauma experienced by the people of Manipur is bound to have lasting effects on the social dynamics of the region.

Economically, the riots have led to immediate and potentially long-term disruption. Local businesses have likely been affected, leading to lost livelihoods and economic instability for many families. The need to rebuild physically damaged areas will require substantial resources, placing an additional financial burden on the state.

Politically, the unrest could lead to changes in local and perhaps even national politics. The response of the local government to the riots, as well as the perceived effectiveness of their efforts to maintain peace and protect citizens, will undoubtedly influence public opinion and potentially sway future elections. Furthermore, the riots have triggered calls for the creation of a separate state, a political move that could fundamentally reshape the region’s geopolitical landscape.

Culturally, the violence disrupts the vibrant tapestry of Manipur’s diverse communities. Each ethnic group in Manipur contributes to the region’s cultural richness, and the riots threaten to overshadow this diversity with a narrative of division and conflict.

In this time of crisis, the people of Manipur, the Indian government, and the international community must work collaboratively to address the root causes of these tensions. The current situation should serve as a catalyst for serious discussions on ethnic relations, power sharing, and socio-economic disparities, as well as the region’s political future.

The recent events in Manipur underscore the delicate balance of maintaining peace and coexistence in a diverse society. It is a poignant reminder of how quickly tensions can escalate to violence and how deeply that violence can impact communities. These incidents should serve not only as a sobering wake-up call but also as a rallying point for peace-building efforts that prioritize dialogue, understanding, and unity over division and conflict.

As the dust settles and the process of rebuilding begins, one can only hope that the events in Manipur serve as a catalyst for lasting change. It’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit that, even in the face of such adversity, there remains hope for a peaceful future.

The road to healing the wounds of communal violence is undoubtedly long and arduous, but it is a journey that the people of Manipur must undertake to secure a harmonious and stable future. The story of Manipur’s unrest should be a lesson for us all about the importance of understanding, respect, and cooperation in a world growing increasingly diverse every day.

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