TOPIC: General Studies 2
- India and its neighbourhood- relations.
- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
- Important International institutions, agencies and fora
Heart of Asia Summit- Stabilising the heart
- The Heart of Asia- Istanbul process was formed by 14 nations in 2011. The participating countries include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.
- It was formed to facilitate the development and security of Afghanistan.
- Why: Afghanistan is geographically located at the junction of Central, South and East Asia, and also of the ancient trading routes from China and India to Europe.
- Today it is also a focal point for the region’s biggest challenge of terrorism; some of the far-reaching battles against al-Qaeda, Islamic State, etc. will be decided on the battlegrounds of Afghanistan.
The Amritsar conference
- In the meeting, delegation from Afghanistan pushed for a regional counter-terror framework with binding commitment by member countries to effectively deal with the terror networks. In today’s testing times, it was necessary for India to put terror centre stage at the Heart of Asia declaration in Amritsar.
- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi focussed their concerns on cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
- Afghan President made it clear that progress and development in Afghanistan are meaningless and unsustainable without peace, and peace is contingent on Pakistan ending support to terror groups such the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
- In a bold move, he dared Pakistan to use its proposed development grant to Afghanistan to fight terror on its own soil.
- The issue of cross border terrorism was something even Pakistan’s traditional allies at the conference, including China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey, found difficult to counter.
- India had already made it clear that it would never accept continuing cross-border terrorism as the ‘new normal’ in bilateral ties with Pakistan. It also reiterated that talks cannot take place in an atmosphere of ‘continued terror’.
- There was also reference to the importance of the tripartite India-Iran-Afghanistan agreement on developing the Chabahar Port to promote regional connectivity to and through Afghanistan.
India-Afghanistan-Pakistan: Dealing is tough
- Currently, India and Afghanistan are facing problems due to cross border terrorism emanating from Pakistan which they have constantly highlighted.
- If it so happens that every engagement with Pakistan is closed for India and Afghanistan, the two countries have to closely consider their next steps.
- In short term, lack of engagement may yield some pressure on Pakistan’s leadership to act, as it did briefly after the Pathankot attack.
- But in long run, it may deplete the two countries of their limited leverage as Pakistan’s neighbours. Pakistan may create more obstacles in trade between India and Afghanistan.
- Also, it has been observed in the past that cornering Pakistan by its neighbours has led to its deepening of ties with China and Russia, pushed Afghanistan closer to Central Asia and India has to move towards multilateral groupings in east and south.
- This may result into derailing of India and Afghanistan’s plans of avoiding Pakistan through land trade from the Chabahar port and a dedicated air corridor between Delhi and Kabul as this infrastructure will take time to put in place.
Way forward for India
- Afghanistan has been appealing to India for over three years for urgent supply of military hardware. India is yet to firm up arrangements for this. Thus, India should immediately conclude a tripartite agreement with Iran and Afghanistan to facilitate transit of arms supplies.
- India has to also look forward to fulfil its commitment to develop Chabahar Port in Iran.
- Also, India has to recognise the emergence of a Russia-China-Pakistan axis, when it comes to developments in Afghanistan.
- Though it has been clear that talks between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government are meant to be exclusively ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’, there are third parties who want to meddle into it.
- Earlier, the facilitators were US, China and Pakistan. But the talks broke down because Afghan saw Pakistan’s duplicity.
- Hence, now there is an emergence of a new grouping of Russia, China and Pakistan, set to promote what is called an internal Afghan Peace Process.
- Russia has been saying that real threat to regional peace emerging from Afghanistan comes from Daesh (ISIS) and not the Taliban. But it is clear that this is what Pakistan is pushing for as it recognises that Russia’s primary concern is the ISIS.
India and Afghanistan
- The process of reconciliation within Afghanistan has achieved a small success, with the former pro-Pakistani mujahideen leader of Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, signing a peace agreement with the Afghan government.
- The prospects for a restoration of peace and a peace agreement with the Taliban are virtually non-existent at present.
- It should be not forgotten that Taliban, together with their affiliates in the Haqqani network – armed, trained and operating from safe havens in Pakistan – that constitute the main threat to the security of Afghanistan and indeed the region as a whole.
- US leadership is also transforming and hence no one can predict what ‘deals’ the new President might enter into to address developments in Afghanistan.
The focus areas of the Heart of Asia conference at Amritsar have been finalising a counter-terror framework, ways to bring lasting peace to Afghanistan and boosting regional connectivity for the war-ravaged country’s economic growth. The Heart of Asia process thus remains critical to forging cooperation to realise Afghanistan’s potential to be a vibrant Asian ‘hub’.
Connecting the dots:
- What is the significance of ‘Heart of Asia’ conference? What are the challenges faced by India in maintaining stability in the region? Critically analyse.
TOPIC: General Studies 3
- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
Delhi Pollution- Is there any hope?
- Delhi pollution has worsened over past few years. Now, the capital is facing its worst spell of persistent smog in nearly two decades.
- According to the latest data from the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), the levels of PM10 and PM2.5 particles have reached 876 and 680 micrograms per cubic metre, against the safe limits of 100 and 60 micrograms per cubic metre respectively.
- This represents the severity of the issue for the citizens of Delhi as well as environmental harm caused.
Stop blaming farmers
- There are many factors that have contributed to deteriorating of the air quality in Delhi and increased pollution levels, raising environmental concerns.
- It includes Diwali fireworks, urban emissions from vehicles, cooking, lighting, waste-burning, industries, power plants and construction activities.
- However, the state government has singled out stubble burning by the farmers of Punjab and Haryana as the prime cause for the ongoing crisis. Thus, resource-poor farmers become convenient scapegoats for any crisis that happen in country.
- Whether it is over-exploitation of groundwater or environmental pollution, condemning farmers’ actions has become the norm.
- Despite the Central Groundwater Board’s (CGWB) revelations that cities are also culprits, farmers continue to be blamed for groundwater exploitation.
- If the pollution was caused by stubble burning, it would have affected the air quality in Lucknow, Chandigarh and Amritsar, which fall between Delhi, Punjab and Haryana.
- Also, if the pollutants from Punjab and Haryana were actually causing the high levels of toxity in Delhi, they should have been reporting the same conditions in their own home States. But there is no such report so far.
- It is true that there is spike in pollution levels in Delhi’s air annually in winter and also the burning of paddy and wheat stubble after the crop is harvested. But this does not mean that the burning crop residues are contributing to Delhi’s pollution peaks.
- An expert from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has pointed out that Delhi’s pollution level continues to be critical even after the burning stops. This categorically means that the pollution is not the reason of stubble burning and hence farmers should not be blamed.
Problem lies within
- Union environment minister has clearly stated that satellite images from ISRO prove that the neighbouring States were responsible for only 20% of the pollution. The remaining 80% was strictly from Delhi and mainly due to its garbage problem. This was highlighted by study of Central Pollution Control Board and IIT Kanpur (2015).
- Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, IIT-Delhi, made a very crucial observation that vehicles were the largest contributor of air pollutant emissions in Delhi followed by industries, power plants and domestic sources. (2014)
- In a joint report by IIT-Kanpur, Delhi Pollution Control Committee and Department of Environment, NCT Delhi (2016), it was clearly suggested that the single largest contributor is road dust, accounting for about 56% of PM10 and about 38% of PM2.5.
- No doubt crop burning is also a cause of pollution but it is ranked behind major pollutants such as road dust, vehicles and industry.
- The per capita registration of high emission vehicles in Delhi is reportedly the highest in India; more than half of the city’s middle-class homes have two or more cars. This has led the increase in vehicle population since 2007.
- The city planning can also be held the culprit for increased pollution as cramped residential quarters around the industrial zones not only lead to traffic congestion but also stop polluted air from escaping.
Choice with farmers?
- In order to remove all unwanted plants and shrubs in a quick, cheap and easy manner, farmers from time immemorial have set fire to their fields after harvesting. Hence, burning of crops is not a new phenomenon in India.
- However, burning stubble has become inevitable and frequent in recent years as harvesters do not cut the crop close to ground and farmers’ financial condition does not allow them to dispose of the stubble mechanically.
- Also, the other problem is that the time period to shift from rabi to karif crops is very small. This has to be done between the third week of October and the middle of November.
- So, each day of delay in sowing costs them dear. In such a scenario, where resource-poor farmers are already burdened with the rising cost of farm inputs, they cannot be expected to invest more funds to dispose of crop stubble.
- The residents should be willing to keep their lifestyle in check.
- For the sources of pollution, the Centre and the State need to rethink the model of urban development. Then only it is possible to keep air pollution in check.
- Long term measures include imposing a ceiling on the number of vehicles per household, controlling the registration of diesel vehicles, using CNG engines for public transport and phasing out old commercial vehicles, restricting and regulating construction activities, efficient management of garbage and banning smoke-generating fireworks at all social events.
- Also, research initiatives should be undertaken to ensure that mechanised harvester does not leave behind crop stubble.
- Right financial incentives should be put in place to ensure that the collected straw is used in biomass plants for power generation.
- Also, India can take lessons from France by forging partnerships to develop technologies that help bring innovative solutions. Technological and research partnerships, particularly in the areas of space, clean energy and water, can contribute to this.
Implementation of sustainable urban development strategy which includes energy efficiency, development of clean energy, adaptation of conventional energy sources to restrict their negative impact and expansion of public transport network is needed. The two drivers of growth- innovation and technology- play a crucial role in this field.
Hence, the sources of pollution should be clearly identified and best available solutions should be adopted.
Connecting the dots:
- What are the various causes of air pollution? Critically examine the need for India to mitigate the air pollution level else disaster is on the brink of occurrence.
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