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20 Feb 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On Afghan presidential poll result: Infinite crisis

  1. The Afghan Independent Election Commission’s much-delayed announcement that President Ashraf Ghani is the winner of the September 28 Presidential election is expected to deepen the political crisis in the war-torn country. 
  2. Afghanistan is no closer to peace after the declaration of Ashraf Ghani as the President
  1. That it took almost five months to declare the official results — he secured a narrow victory with 50.64% of votes against his main opponent Abdullah Abdullah’s 39.52%.
  2. It points to the seriousness of the crisis. Mr. Abdullah has called the results fraudulent and vowed to form a parallel government. 
  3. If he does so, it would undermine the already feeble Afghan administration whose writ does not stretch beyond the main urban centres. 
  4. For the Afghan voter, this is a déjà vu moment. Five years ago, Mr. Ghani was declared winner of the election but Mr. Abdullah refused to accept the result. 
  1. The then U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, brokered a power-sharing agreement, which allowed Mr. Ghani to take over the presidency and made Mr. Abdullah the government Chief Executive. 
  2. Rising Talibans: And throughout the five years, they were at odds with each other, while the Taliban steadily expanded across the country’s hinterlands and stepped up attacks on its city centres. 
  3. Unsurprisingly, only less than a fourth of registered voters turned up in September, raising questions about faith in the whole exercise.

  1. Worse, the infighting comes at a time when the U.S. is near a Taliban agreement. 
  2. Initial reports suggest that U.S. President Trump has given the go-ahead to its signing if the insurgents reduce violence for a seven-day test period. 
  3. The deal would see the U.S.’s Afghan troop pullback, winding down America’s longest war and leaving the Taliban and the Afghan government to start direct talks for a final settlement. 
  4. The problem, however, is that even with an American troops presence, the Afghan government had never been able to take control of the security situation. 
  5. The U.S. excluded the government from its direct talks with the Taliban as the insurgents do not see the government as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers. 
  1. U.S. withdrawal would invariably weaken the government, aiding the Taliban even before the talks start. 
  2. The disputed poll results and chronic political infighting would weaken the administration further. 
  3. How will the government defend the Constitution or any of the post-Taliban achievements if it is going to negotiate with a resurgent Taliban from a position of such weakness? 
  4. All involved parties in the conflict seem to be missing the big picture. The U.S. just wants to get out of a lost war. 
  5. Mr. Ghani wants to retain his presidency. Mr. Abdullah may want to make sure there is power sharing with the Opposition. 
  6. What is lost in these narrow, self-interest-driven moves is the collective quest for defeating the extremists and rebuilding Afghanistan.


2) On handling SARS-CoV-2 outbreak: Secrecy hurts

  • CONTEXT: China has done much to address the epidemic of Coronavirus from
  1. quick sequencing of the whole genome of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19;
  2. alerting WHO in December 2019 about a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown cause;
  3. to quickly developing viral diagnostic tests.
  • As on February 19, mainland China had 74,185 cases and 2,004 deaths. 
  1. China buit two new hospitals with 2,600 beds. 
  2. Also, the many facilities that became temporary hospitals in the face of growing cases is testimony to China’s ability to pull off the unimaginable in containing the epidemic. 
  3. Decision to shut down huge cities to halt the viral spread may have actually helped is debatable, but it is important to note that China has done a lot after the initial delay in reporting the disease.
  1. However, China, given its capabilities, could have contained the spread with very little effort and resources had it been transparent and acted on time. 
  2. Apparently, China did not apply the lessons it learnt from the SARS outbreak despite strident global criticism. 
  3. Downplaying and being secretive about public health issues, particularly novel virus outbreaks, as it found out during SARS, and then now, can be very counterproductive. 
  4. This is in contrast to the way Kerala handled the Nipah virus outbreaks in 2018-19. Transparency and timely action helped the State contain the outbreaks within days, with few cases, deaths in 2018.

  1. There is an eerie similarity between China’s SARS outbreak response in 2002-03 and the current epidemic. 
  2. During SARS, it initially withheld information and delayed by three months reporting it to WHO
  3. In the case of COVID-19 it systematically downplayed its scale for nearly six weeks after pneumonia cases of unknown cause were first seen on December 8, 2019. 
  1. Shockingly, even as it reported the case cluster to WHO on December 31, and the wet market, thought to be the outbreak hotspot, was closed on January 1, people were kept in the dark. 
  2. In fact, eight doctors who sounded an early alarm were detained for “spreading rumours”. 
  3. Ironically, even as about 900 patients presented with symptoms each day by late December, as a daily reported, official numbers stayed the same. 
  • WHO:
  1. In fact, after initially reporting 44 cases to WHO, the numbers were reduced to 41 on January 11 and continued to remain the same till January 16, when the city and province’s annual political congress ended. 
  2. Even on January 16, WHO was informed of only “limited” human spread, thus putting more people at infection risk. 
  3. The cases reported began rising slowly since January 17 to reach 121 on January 19 when a community dinner was held in Wuhan. 
  4. It took a Chinese epidemiologist’s revelation the next day about the outbreak’s severity for Wuhan to start acting decisively. 
  1. Opacity in the time of an outbreak is sure to kill more people.
  2. The lesson is that in the event of an outbreak, secrecy is a killer and transparency the saviour.


3) The missing piece in India’s defence jigsaw puzzle

  1. According to 2018 data, India occupies the fourth place in military expenditure across the world, behind the U.S., China, and Saudi Arabia.
  2. The country needs a clearly articulated white paper on its defence needs which sets out its strategic concerns
  1. Undoubtedly, we are living through a moment of decisive change and turbulence. 
  2. This geopolitical period is perhaps the most troubled since the final decades of the 20th century. 
  3. Hence, there exists a vital need to adopt right strategic choices. 
  4. India occupies the fourth place in military expenditure across the world.
  5. This does not mean that India has no further need to increase its stock of state-of-the art weapons. 
  6. What is needed, nevertheless, is sober reflection and a cost-benefit analysis, to ensure that the amounts expended are in tune with our strategic requirements.
  1. This is an opportune moment to undertake such a cost-benefit analysis.
  2. The first lot of Rafale fighter jets are expected shortly. 
  3. The final deal on the 200 Kamov Ka-226 light utility helicopters from Russia is in advanced stages and expected to be signed soon.
  4.  In October 2018, India and Russia had signed a $5.4-billion mega deal for the S-400 Triumf Air Defence System. 
  5. Under contemplation today are yet another set of high-value U.S. defence deals, including additional purchases of P-8I Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft and Apache Attack Helicopters. 
  6. According to estimates, the total worth of defence equipment purchased from the U.S. alone since 2007 is in the region of $17-billion.
  1. On the eve of U.S President Donald Trump’s visit to India, a further spurt in defence purchases is anticipated. 
  2. Speculation is rife that India and the U.S. would sign a deal for the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS-II), NASAM Sis intended as part of a multi-layered missile shield to protect Delhi. 
  3. The U.S. side is also hoping for two more mega defence deals, worth $3.5-billion to be signed for; 24 MH-60 Romeo Multi Mission Helicopters for the Navy and; SP an additional six AH-64E Apache Attack Helicopters for the Army. (India’s Cabinet Committee on Security, on Wednesday, cleared the MH-60 helicopter deal.)
  1. Given India’s rising global profile, and with two major adversaries on its borders, India needs to be fully prepared. 
  2. What is lacking in the defence jigsaw puzzle, however, is a; well considered and clearly articulated white paper on India’s defence needs, that sets out its strategic concerns, how it is positioning itself to meet these challenges, and; the putative costs of meeting the country’s defence needs.
  1. Several nations undertake such exercises. 
  2. In India, exercises of this kind are sometimes undertaken, but they suffer from a lack of clarity and are restricted in scope. 
  3. They contain vague references to the threat posed by China and Pakistan, but there is clearly more to India’s defence needs than exercises in military hagiography. 
  4. What is required is a well formulated defence white paper, putting the different threats and dangers the nation faces in perspective, alongside steps taken to meet these challenges.
  1. In the case of Pakistan, the threat motif is, no doubt, obvious. 
  2. India’s political and defence establishment are on record that India can easily defeat Pakistan, even if a “weaker” Pakistan possesses “nuclear teeth”. 
  3. Yet, while this makes for excellent copy, a great deal of effort is called for to explain to the public, the true nature of the threat posed by Pakistan.
  4. CHINA:
  5. Meeting the military, strategic and economic challenge from China is an entirely different matter. 
  6. China is not Pakistan.
  7. China and Pakistan have established an axis to keep India in check.
  8. explaining the nature of the threat posed by China to India is a complex task that needs to be undertaken with care and caution.
  1. To begin with, there are many experts who express doubts as to whether China intends today to pursue its 19th Century agenda, or revert to its belief in ‘Tian Xia’. 
  2. Undoubtedly under China’s President Xi Jinping, China aims to be a great power and an assertive one at that. 
  3. India’s defence planners should, however, carefully assess whether there are degrees of “assertiveness” in China’s behavioural patterns. 
  4. There is little doubt that regarding its claim to areas falling within the ‘nine-dash lines’ (the first island chain), China is unwilling to make compromises. 
  5. Whether this applies to other regions of Asia and the Indo-Pacific, calls for an in-depth study. 
  6. It would be premature for India without undertaking such an analysis, to adhere to a common perception. Common perception being China's intent on enforcing a Sino-centric world order in which India and other countries would necessarily have to play a secondary role.
  7. If after undertaking such an “analysis”, it appears that China does not pose a direct threat to India’s existence, notwithstanding the fact that India is its main rival in Asia, then; India’s political, strategic and military planners need to come up with a different set of alternatives. 
  8. In recent years, unfortunately, much of India’s strategic thinking regarding China’s aggressive behaviour has been coloured by that of the U.S. and the West.
  9. It is a proven fact that China has not used lethal military force abroad since the 1980s.
  • CHINA's BRI:
  1. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) does convey an impression that China seeks to put itself at the centre of the world. 
  2. The speed with which many of the steps to progress the BRI are being taken, again conveys an impression that China is intent on shrinking the physical and psychological distance between Europe and East Asia. 
  3. This does not, however, necessarily mean that China is preparing to confront individual countries in Asia, such as India, which do not subscribe to the BRI.
  1. A defence white paper would provide a more definitive answer to such issues. 
  2. A detailed exercise to assess whether China is indeed a threat, rather than a challenge, to India should prove invaluable. 
  3. It is possible that a detailed study may indicate that China understands that there are limits to its strength and capabilities. 
  4. Several instances of late, have shown the frailties in China’s policies — Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even Xinjiang are instances that indicate that China has its own Achilles heel. 
  5. Consequently, China may not be ready, for quite some time at least, to seek a direct confrontation with India.
  1. A closer look at Beijing’s policies, undertaken as part of a defence white paper, may also indicate that rather than a “conflict-prone” role, China is more intent on an “influence-peddling” one. 
  2. This is important from India’s point of view. Already there is one school of thought that believes that; Beijing is better at converting its economic heft into strategic influence, rather than employing force beyond certain prescribed areas.
  3. If this view is espoused by a defence white paper then, despite the vexed border dispute between India and China; then two countries could try and arrive at a subliminal understanding about respective spheres of influence. 
  4. Today, one of India’s major concerns is that China is attempting to intrude into its sphere of influence in South Asia, and the first and second concentric circles of India’s interest areas, such as Afghanistan and parts of West Asia. 
  5. The defence white paper might well provide a strategic paradigm- in which India and China agree to peacefully co-exist in many areas, leaving aside conflict zones of critical importance to either, thus ensuring a more durable peace between them.
  6. One other outcome that the defence white paper could attempt is: whether China views geo-economics as the primary arena of competition today. 
  7. China has invested heavily in technologies like- artificial intelligence, robotics and bio-technology, And perhaps, India needs to recognise that rather than blacklisting Chinese technology Tech firms, there exist avenues for cooperation, paving the way for better state-to-state relations.
  1. The defence white paper needs to underscore that a country’s domestic politics are an important pointer to a stable foreign policy. 
  2. There could be different schools of thoughts within a nation, but equilibrium needs to be maintained if it is not to adversely impact a nation’s foreign policy imperatives. 
  3. An impression that the country is facing internal strains could encourage an adversary, to exploit our weaknesses. 
  4. This is a critical point that the defence white paper needs to lay stress on.


4) By agreeing to Partition, Congress kept India united

  • CONTEXT: It has become a fashion these days to blame the Congress for Partition. 
  • Certain sections of the right, who in fact became the prime beneficiaries of Partition, are the leading proponents of this thesis. 
  • Had Partition not taken place, the demographic exigencies of undivided India, with a Muslim population of 25%-30%; and five, and possibly six, Muslim majority provinces, among them Bengal and Punjab would have rendered the parties espousing Hindutva permanently irrelevant. 
  • But this is a topic for another time. 
  • If the Congress leadership, especially Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, had not accepted the division of the country, it could well have led to the dismemberment of India as we know it today. 
  • What was on offer as an alternative to Partition was the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. 
  • This plan not only envisaged a loose federal structure with a very weak centre, it could be called a ‘crypto-Pakistan plus’. 
  • It grouped provinces on the basis of religious majorities, it left the issue of the princely states’ future as a matter of discussion between the princes and the weak centre that it envisioned. 
  • The central authority would have then had a very weak hand to play against the wily princely rulers.
  • Hindu and Muslim princely rulerswould have joined hands with each other and with the Muslim League in defence of their common interest to further weaken the centre.
  • Moreover, documentary evidence, especially the resolution of the Muslim League Council in June 1946 that accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan.
  • It proves that the Muslim League’s acceptance was premised on the belief that the Plan was a stepping stone towards the ultimate formation of Pakistan.
  • The League inferred this from the Cabinet Mission Plan’s provision that said that;
    1. “any Province by majority vote of its Legislative Assembly could call for a reconsideration of the terms of the Constitution after an initial period of ten years and at ten-yearly intervals thereafter.” 
  • Hence the Plan did not rule out the dissolution of the Union if provinces made a demand.
  • Furthermore, the working of the interim government formed in September 1946 made it clear that the Muslim League was bent on thwarting its smooth functioning. 
  • It was the feeling that the interim government was like a chariot being pulled in two different directions.
  • This convinced Patel that Partition was the only way to save India from becoming a totally dysfunctional state. 
    1. In his own famous words, “In order to keep India united it must be divided.” 
  • It was Patel who convinced Nehru that Partition was better than an eternally fragmented India.
  • Nehru, whose opposition to Partition was based on his unstinted commitment to secularism, refused to encounter the idea of India being divided on communal lines.
  • He finally realised that his vision of a modern and strong Indian state could not be achieved with the Muslim League, in power in Bengal and Punjab, thwarting it at every step. 
  • With Patel and Nehru convinced of the necessity for Partition, the rest of the Congress Working Committee, except Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who voted against it, and Maulana Azad, who abstained, accepted the plan.
  • Had Congress Party not accepted the Partition plan, India today would have been a weak state and a divided polity barely able to keep itself together and constantly teetering on the brink of collapse. 
  • The Congress did a favour to the country by accepting its division in order to save it from collapse or dismemberment. 
  • This is a historically verifiable fact that cannot be refuted by partisan propaganda.