The HINDU Notes – 10th September 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 10th September 2019

πŸ“° UNHRC asks India to end lockdown in J&K

Michelle Bachelet also asked India to ensure that the National Register of Citizens verification in Assam does not leave the people Stateless

•The UN Human Rights Council urged India on Monday to end the lockdown in Kashmir and restore basic communications services. 

•Delivering the Opening Statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet noted the situation in Kashmir and Assam, where lakhs have been excluded from the National Register of Citizens, and asked the Indian government to respect civil rights.

•“I am deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists,” said Ms. Bachelet, while addressing the 42nd Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC).

•India ended the special status for the State of Jammu and Kashmir guaranteed under Article 370 of the Constitution and put the newly created Union Territory in a state of indefinite curfew. Following the declaration, UN Security Council held a special consulation on the situation in territory on August 16.

•“I have appealed particularly to India to ease the current lockdowns or curfews; to ensure people’s access to basic services; and that all due process rights are respected for those who have been detained. It is important that the people of Kashmir are consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future,” said Ms. Bachelet.

•The official also raised the issue of exclusion of 1.9 million nationals from the exercise of the NRC of Assam and said the process has caused great uncertainty and anxiety among the people. 

•She said, “I appeal to the Government to ensure due process during the appeals process, prevent deportation or detention, and ensure people are protected from statelessness.”

•The official referred to an entire range of issues across the world but problems of human rights violation from India and Myanmar found greater attention. The global attention to developments in Kashmir is on expected lines and The Hindu had reported on Saturday that India was getting ready for a season of diplomatic blitz as Pakistan intensified its campaign against India after the August 5 decision on Kashmir. 

•Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan welcomed the comments from UNHRC and asked it to “set up the indepth investigation commission to probe human rights abuses” in the Indian territory.

•The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has stationed a high-power diplomatic team led by India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria in Geneva for several weeks to explain the Indian position on Kashmir. Pakistan sent back Mr. Bisaria while protesting against India’s removal of Kashmir’s special status.

πŸ“° U.S.-Taliban deal would have been disastrous for Afghanistan: Diplomats

Would have ‘thrown Afghanistan under the bus’, say experts.

•Criticising the United States for having carried out talks with the Taliban without involving the Afghan government or regional players, the Iranian Ambassador to India said here that Tehran is “worried” about the prospect of a Taliban-led government in Kabul. Iran’s worries matched Indian concerns over the deal, which Indian diplomats said would have “thrown Afghanistan under the bus.”

•“Taliban doesn’t recognise a Republic of the people; it wants to establish an ‘Emirate’, where all orders will come from one centralised non-elected power. We hope that will not happen,” said Iranian Ambassador Ali Chegeni at an interaction organised by the Indian Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents (IAFAC) on Monday.

Kabul excluded

•Reacting to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the deal with the Taliban that was reportedly in its final stages, Mr. Chegeni said the main problem with the deal being negotiated between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives in Doha was that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government was not at the table for the talks.

•Iran was invited to regional talks on the Afghanistan peace process in Beijing, attended by China, Russia, U.S. and Pakistan, but had declined to attend because the Ghani government was not represented.

•India has yet to formally respond to the dramatic turn of events, which led to the U.S. cancelling a planned meeting with Taliban leaders and with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at ‘Camp David’ over the weekend to announce a peace deal. Officials said they would prefer to take a cautious approach, in the event Washington tried to salvage talks with the Taliban again.

Revival possible

•“I don’t think the deal has been completely jettisoned yet,” said former Ambassador to Afghanistan Amar Sinha, who is now a member of the National Security Advisory Board, and represented India in a “non-official capacity” at the Moscow talks with the Taliban.

•“I think India should be happy that Afghanistan has been saved from being thrown under a bus for the moment. The deal would have put a question mark over everything from the government and constitution to the election process in Afghanistan,” Mr Sinha said, referring to the Presidential elections in Afghanistan due on September 28.

•It was clear, however that the two biggest losers from the development were Pakistan, that controlled various Taliban leaders, as well as Mr. Khalilzad, who had spent the last year preparing the deal, Mr. Sinha said.

•Former diplomat Rajiv Dogra warned that the talks had only been put on “pause” and not cancelled as yet.

•He said the main sticking point for the Taliban controlled by the Pakistani military, had become the U.S. desire to maintain intelligence operatives and a 5,000 strong contingent of troops in Afghanistan, which would have weakened the Pakistani military’s grip in a post-deal Afghanistan.

•Former Special Envoy to the United Nations Chinmaya Garekhan said the “mindless acts of violence” perpetrated by the Taliban were the final straw.

πŸ“° Belated realisation: On Trump's peace negotiation with Taliban

An erratic President Trump changes his mind over talks with the Taliban

•In a dramatic set of posts on Twitter, U.S. President Donald Trump announced the cessation of peace negotiations with the Taliban while also revealing that the insurgent group’s representatives were to have participated in secret talks at the Camp David retreat in Maryland. This is yet another instance of the stock that the maverick President puts in personal diplomacy in the conduct of America’s foreign affairs. His tweets abruptly seem to have indicated the end, at least for now, to the negotiations conducted by the chief U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, with the Taliban. Mr. Khalilzad had disclosed that he had reached an “in principle” agreement with the Taliban, but the details have not been revealed. The negotiations were over U.S. troop withdrawal from the country and assurances from the Taliban of not letting the country to be used as a safe haven for terrorists targeting the U.S. Mr. Trump said that a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul on Thursday was the trigger for his sudden decision. But the Taliban has been continually engaging in a series of wanton attacks against civilians throughout the course of the talks that the U.S. had with the group in Qatar. One estimate suggests that it has engaged in 173 terror attacks resulting in 1,339 fatalities in 2019 alone. The Taliban has perversely used the attacks as a bargaining chip of sorts, to undermine the Afghanistan government and to seek concessions on its own terms. It is not clear why Mr. Trump chose this moment to call off talks as little has changed in the Taliban’s behaviour. What all this ambiguity reveals is Mr. Trump’s erratic nature.

•Afghanistan has continued to be wracked by internecine violence, with the Taliban increasing its control over several provinces and the government’s writ prevailing only in the north-central parts of the country. A durable peace, with the U.S. seeking early troop withdrawal, is only possible if there are talks between all Afghan groups and other regional stakeholders, with a guarantee by the Taliban that it will eschew terror. But the Taliban has refused to engage with the Afghan government and the U.S.’s decision to delink the violence from the Doha talks only seemed to have emboldened the group. Mr. Trump must reveal the contents of the so-called “in principle” agreement and set more meaningful terms of engagement involving the Afghan regime in any further talks with the Taliban. It serves neither the U.S.’s own interests, as Mr. Trump seems to have belatedly realised, nor those of the beleaguered Afghan people if the Taliban is allowed to get away with repeated murder.

πŸ“° Giving age-old ties a new shine

Beyond its burgeoning trade ties with India, Russia has emerged as a balancer in India-China relations

•Despite the Russia-India-China triangle reconciling on a shared vision and responsibility for the future of Eurasia, watchfulness resurfaces behind the curtains. As the U.S.-China trade war is tending to get out of hand and China may invigorate its outreach throughout the continent to toss American presence, the strategic triangle might soon face increased pressure that could challenge the existing balance of power.

•Though Russia and India benefit from the current status quo in interactions, enhanced exchange and geopolitical coordination, neither country is interested in becoming hostage to China’s galloping regional ambitions. New Delhi is specifically concerned about Moscow growing more dependent on Beijing, while the Kremlin wants to avoid possible rifts in China-Indian relations.

•Such beliefs act as powerful catalysers to boost more fruitful cooperation between the two nations on a number of areas.

More fruitful cooperation

•In 2017, the bilateral economic turnout grew by almost 22% and by more than 17% last year; trade is projected to touch $30 billion by 2025. Despite Russia’s well-known trade model that is often marked by asymmetry, exporting raw materials and importing value-added products, this does not seem to be the case with India any longer.

•A few years ago, Russia’s oil giant, Rosneft, invested $12.9 billion in India’s second largest private oil refiner, Essar Oil, marking one of the biggest foreign investments in years. Russia is also studying the feasibility of the Nagpur-Secunderabad High Speed Rail and the construction of major energy and transportation projects.

•Petrochemicals is another area that Russian companies are looking at. India is now the world’s fastest growing market for butyl rubber and halogenated butyl rubber thanks to its rapidly expanding car manufacturing industry which is pushing for electric vehicles. In February 2012, Sibur and Reliance Industries entered into a joint venture, setting up the Reliance Sibur Elastomers Private Limited in Jamnagar, Gujarat. The region’s first butyl rubber halogenation plant is set to become operational this year and has a capacity of 120 ktpa of butyl rubber and 60 ktpa of halogenated butyl rubber, respectively. In addition, Sibur has agreed to share proprietary butyl rubber technology, staff training and access to the complex equipment of polymerisation reactors, which is unprecedented for a Russia company and marks a unique case of partnership between the two countries.

•The new areas of cooperation contribute to those where India and Russia have already developed a relatively stable pattern of interaction and exercise evolved traditions on the state level. Dwarfed by the Soviet times and experiencing an overall decrease in total market share, Russia, nonetheless, continues to serve as the largest arms supplier and just recently signed an agreement to carry payments through national currencies to circumvent the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act norms of the U.S.

•In October last, Moscow and New Delhi signed a $5-billion S-400 air-defence system deal that is among the agreements cumulatively worth $10-billion. The list includes joint production of Kamov Ka-226T helicopters, four Admiral Grigorovich–class frigates and a joint venture in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, producing 750,000 Kalashnikov AK-203 rifles. More deals are under way, including acquiring additional Su-30 MKI and about 21 MiG-29 fighters, as well as possible participation in the multi-billion ‘Project 75’ of the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force’s contract for 114 fighter jets.

•Strong personal ties between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi act as additional powerful catalysers. Moscow played a key role in facilitating India’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which allegedly helped to dilute China’s dominance. Mr. Modi has also become a regular at Russia’s key national events and the two met during the Russia-India Summit on September 4-5.

The China factor

•Demand to boost relations also prevails in the corridors of the Kremlin. Currently, China’s GDP is four times larger and defence spending almost three times bigger than that of India. As both nations also have prolonged territorial disputes that occasionally turn into border stand-offs, a peaceful exchange between New Delhi and Beijing is perceived as fragile and Moscow’s balancing role seen to be in high demand.

•Russia’s relations with India rely on traditions that follow from Soviet times and encompass New Delhi’s quest to sustain balanced and diversified policy that keeps enough space for manoeuvering.

•In 1971, India signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union to balance a China-U.S. rapprochement, a move that performs a vital role in Russia’s interpretation of Indian foreign policy till date. Thus, Moscow is aware of New Delhi’s long-term quest to diversify its economic and political relations to preserve maximum independence in decision-making. In effect, close U.S.-India relations do not seem to be having a serious impact on the exchange.

•Despite the agreement to bypass U.S. sanctions and use of national currencies with Moscow, New Delhi is still hoping to acquire a waiver from the White House. India acknowledges Washington’s support in its claim for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. India has also benefited from the rift in Pakistan-U.S. relations that emerged under the Trump administration and it became more assertive in Kashmir by revoking its special status.

•Although Russia acknowledges its augmenting dependence on China, it also envisions potential threats to the current balance of power in Eurasia. Unlike in Europe, however, Moscow is not willing to punch above its weight and prefers the role of an intermediary. New Delhi acknowledges Moscow’s growing dependence on Beijing that has accelerated amid the Kremlin’s never-ending melee with the West. Nevertheless, with the Eurasian balance of power at stake, the need to bet on each other seems to be a shared strategy that supplies strong impetus to greater cooperation.

πŸ“° No imminent ‘ban’ on single-use plastic: Javadekar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn't say ‘ban’, but said 'goodbye’ to SUP waste, the Minister notes

•There is no imminent ban on the use of single-use plastic (SUP) in India, according to Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.

•At a press conference on Monday, he said Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn't say ‘ban’, but said 'goodbye’ to SUP waste. “From October 2, we will begin an attempt to collect all that waste. Nearly 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste remains uncollected,” he pointed out.

•Mr. Javadekar was referring to Mr. Modi's address at the United Nations Conference on Desertification, where he said, “I think the time has come for the world to say goodbye to single use plastic... My government has announced that India will put an end to single-use plastic in the coming years.”

•Government officials have reiterated over the last month that there will be a concerted attempt by the government to redouble the efforts to limit the use and consumption of SUP.

•While there’s no official definition of ‘single-use plastic’, it refers largely to plastic bags, cups, water bottles and straws that are believed to contribute a significant share to India's plastic waste problem.

•Several States have laws against the use of such plastics but they aren’t enforced, largely due to the costs of collecting and ensuring that these waste plastics are recycled at proper facilities.

•In the last month, there’s been speculation that India is looking at a ban on the use of single-use plastic from October 2 this year to coincide with the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

•India has a long-standing committment to eliminate the use of single-use plastic by 2022.

•“We make a solemn pledge that by 2022, we shall eliminate all single-use plastic from our beautiful country. Our beloved Prime Minister Shri Modi ji has envisioned a new India by 2022 - an India of our dreams which shall be clean, poverty-free, corruption-free, terrorism-free, casteism-free … and most of all … which will be a global superpower. This India of our dreams shall also be single-use plastic free,' Union Minister Harsh Vardhan said on World Environment Day last year. He was then the Environment Minister.

•This had pushed several States — notably Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh — to enforce previous commitments to ban plastic bags and similar disposables.

•A resolution moved by India at the United Nations Environment Assembly to eliminate SUP by 2025 was defeated with the final text of the agreement only committing to the “significantly reduced use” of SUP by 2030.

πŸ“° India to raise target for restoring degraded land: PM Modi

India to raise target for restoring degraded land: PM Modi
PM Modi announces target revised from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares by 2030

•Prime Minister Narendera Modi has raised by 10% the amount of degraded land India has agreed to rehabilitate by 2030.

•“I would like to announce that India would raise its ambition of the total area that would be restored from its land degradation status, from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares between now and 2030,” he said as the keynote speaker during the high-level ministerial segment at the ongoing United Nation Conference of Parties summit on land degradation.

•On August 27, Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, during a prelude to the UN summit, had said that India would restore “5 million hectares” between 2021 and 2030.

•Mr. Modi in his address said that this target would be achieved with an emphasis on “degraded agricultural, forest and other wastelands by adopting a landscape restoration approach.” This would also address water scarcity, enhance water recharge in forests, slow down water run-off and retain soil moisture.

•India faces a severe problem of land degradation, or soil becoming unfit for cultivation. About 29% or about 96.4 million hectares are considered degraded.

•This January, India became part of the “Bonn Challenge”, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. At the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) 2015 in Paris, India also joined the voluntary Bonn Challenge and pledged to bring into restoration 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020, and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030. India’s pledge was one of the largest in Asia.

πŸ“° The Amazon fires, an alarm that lacks proportion

The effect of deforestation can be repaired slowly. Fossil fuel emissions cannot be put back in to where they came from

•The upsurge of global environmental anxiety over the recent spate of forest fires in the Amazon, apparently marking a renewed push to deforestation, is clearly testimony to the heightened awareness of the danger to human security represented by global warming. The provocatively anti-environmental and climate denial views of Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, and his colleagues, the reining in of environmental controls if not disabling them, the President’s initial air of unconcern, and his absurd counter-allegations regarding the causes, have all contributed to exacerbating this anxiety. Predictably, this has drawn the ire of environmentalists, and public and government opinion globally, though the global media has been more circumspect.

•Unfortunately, in this confrontation, facts and scientific evidence have become collateral damage, obscuring in the hype some of the substantive challenges to global climate action. The confrontation is also in danger of skewing the global discourse on climate policy, opening the way for unprecedented pressure from developed countries on the global South.

The emissions math

•What has been the overall contribution of deforestation and land use change to global carbon emissions? As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes in its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the cumulative net addition of carbon to the earth system from terrestrial ecosystems since 1750 amounts to 30 Gigatonne (Gt) with an uncertainty of plus or minus 45 Gt. In the words of the IPCC in the AR5: “The net balance of all terrestrial ecosystems, those affected by land use change and the others, is thus close to neutral since 1750.”

•The key word here is net. Though cumulative emissions from land-use change since 1750 amounted to almost 180 Gt, driven largely by the more than six-fold expansion of cropland, they were compensated by the 160 Gt of absorption by existing vegetation not subject to land use change. Fossil fuel use, in contrast, contributed 375 Gt since 1750, that is more than 12 times that of the net cumulative emissions from terrestrial ecosystems.

•This pattern in carbon accounting also extends to annual emissions. On an average, the Global Carbon Project reports, fossil fuel emissions currently pump about 9.9 Gt of carbon annually into the atmosphere, while land-use change accounts for 1.5 Gt. But terrestrial ecosystems absorbed 3.8 Gt. Taking sources and sinks together, they are a net sink.

•For tropical forests alone, following literature cited in the AR5, annual emissions (averaged over 1990 to 2007) due to deforestation and logging amounted to 2.9 Gt of carbon, while this was compensated by carbon absorption due to forest regrowth (1.64 Gt), recovering from deforestation and logging, and carbon absorption by intact forests (1.19 Gt). As a result, overall, tropical forests were marginally a source of emissions of about 0.11 Gt of carbon per year. Clearly there is no cause for complacency here, but nor is this yet an emergency.

No magic bullet

•The story with respect to the Amazon River Basin and its tropical forest cover is very similar. By one scientific estimate, the Amazon, in 1980, stored 128 Gt of carbon, with 94 Gt in vegetation and 33 Gt in the reactive component of soil carbon. Subsequent evolution of the carbon storage in the Amazon, makes for a complex story. But while preservation of the Amazon as a carbon pool is essential, such preservation clearly is not the magic bullet that would counteract the impact of fossil fuel emissions.

•But the bottom line from this evidence is that fossil fuel emissions have a lasting impact of a kind that deforestation and land use change do not. The effect of the latter can be partially repaired over time, albeit slowly, as the data on tropical forests demonstrates, while untouched forests and living biomass continue to absorb carbon. Fossil fuel emissions from coal, oil, and gas cannot however be put back in to where they came from. Nor can their cumulative emissions be compensated by increased vegetation, since it will amount to increasing the cumulative absorption of terrestrial ecosystems to an improbable level. Forest ecosystems, in balance, will suffer from the overall impact of global warming, degrading their extent and quality.

•Even the alarm expressed over the current forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon, lacks a sense of proportion. Data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research shows that the number of fires this August, while large, is not exceptional. The year’s tally, till August 25, was 80,626, a 78% increase year-on-year. However, in Peru it is 105% higher, and in Bolivia 107%, both part of the Amazon basin. There are forest fires elsewhere, extensive in Africa, particularly in Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (attributed to slash-and-burn agriculture), in Siberia (three million hectares) and in Canada, both attributed to unusually high summer temperatures (this July being the warmest month ever). Brazil’s tally this year is nowhere yet near its highs from 2005 and 2010, when it exceeded 120,000 for the comparable period of the year.

Brazil’s efforts

•Brazil has also put in substantial effort over the last decade to slow down deforestation, with some notable success, reducing it by 2013 to 75% of its pre-2005 annual average, success that was hailed globally. It is quite likely that Mr. Bolsanaro represents a reaction to the tough measures that accompanied this effort, not only from agribusiness in soy and beef production, as has been plausibly argued, but also a large section of small farmers who found it difficult to shift from slash-and-burn to intensified cultivation. Apart from deforestation though, Brazil is by no means a high emissions country, and a model of renewable energy use from hydro power and biofuels.

•What then has driven the global outrage against Mr. Bolsanaro? On the part of global public opinion, the notion that afforestation constitutes some kind of magic bullet to fight global warming, is a popular one. The Amazon was always the poster-child of conservation and biodiversity, and halting deforestation there a global cause cΓ©lΓ¨bre among environmentalists and their movements. With global warming, the difficulty in slowing down fossil fuel emissions provides added fuel to such views, even if the evidence militates against them.

•However, the attitude of the governments of developed countries and many international non-governmental organisations that share these views, is clearly driven by other considerations. These nations have notably failed to deliver in reducing their fossil fuel emissions. As a 2018 report of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has noted, the developed countries (excluding the former Soviet bloc nations whose emissions plummeted along with their economies) have achieved a reduction of only 1.3% over 26 years from 1990. The only way to maintain the Paris Agreement’s promise, that they brokered, of restricting global warming to well below 2° C or indeed 1.5°C is by turning the screws on mitigation in the non-industrial sectors. These sectors play a major role in the emissions of most developing countries, however low they may be in absolute terms.

Pressure tactics

•Mr. Bolsanaro’s revolt is particularly unwelcome in this context, even if it is inspired by the United States, and its President, Donald Trump. But while a superpower cannot be brought to heel, nor indeed can large developing nations such as China and India, Brazil is a softer target. The threat by the French President, Emmanuel Macron to block the EU-Mercosur trade deal to mark the European Union’s displeasure marks a new low in the global North’s pressure tactics on the South in dealing with the climate challenge. In a dangerous portent, a noted U.S. foreign policy commentator, Stephen Walt, writing recently in Foreign Policy magazine, speculated on precisely such tactics. He further speculated that “major powers” could intervene even militarily to discipline nations recalcitrant in climate action. Global talk of a climate emergency that is not grounded in scientific evidence, however well-intentioned in their origins, could also unwittingly fuel thinking along these lines.

•The Amazon and other terrestrial ecosystems offer much needed room to manoeuvre in dealing with global warming. But without reducing fossil fuel emissions drastically and the global North paying back its carbon debt by taking the lead, there can be little hope of meeting the climate challenge.