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India calls for ‘comprehensive resolution’ of Middle East conflict, united action against extremists

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United Nations: India has called for united action against extremist outfits operating in northern Iraq and Syria and a “comprehensive political resolution” of the conflict. India stressed the need to stop the “dangerous trends” emerging in the Middle East and Gulf regions that are endangering peace and stability of the religion. It also stressed the need for bringing all parties to the negotiating table, but said it should be a “Syrian-led process”.

Speaking at a Security Council debate Tuesday on the Middle East, India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin expressed India’s “deep concern with the activities of proscribed outfits, radicalized and extremist groups in the West Asia and Gulf region, especially in northern parts of Iraq and Syria.” They “are critically impacting on peace and stability in the region,” he said. “Efforts must be taken by all parties and stakeholders in the region to curb these dangerous trends.”

Although he refrained from naming the groups, it was a reference to the principal operator in the region, the Islamic State, which is also known by the acronym ISIS, and others like the al-Nusra Front.

Opposition to these outfits, which control parts of Syria and Iraq and draw supporters from as far away as the United States, is fragmented. The US, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are ranged on one side and Syria, Russia and Iran on the other.

“We believe the consolidation of political processes and solutions while building durable state institutions will be the effective way of addressing such extremism and radicalism in the region,” Akbaruddin said.

“India has consistently called for a comprehensive political resolution of the conflict, bringing all parties to the negotiating table,” he added in a nuanced statement. “It has to be a Syrian-led process, taking into account the legitimate aspirations.”

He expressed support for the UN-sponsored Syrian peace conference that was to have started Monday, but was postponed because of questions over who should represent the opposition to al-Assad.

“We remain hopeful that the UN’s mediation efforts will yield results,” he said. “We urge all parties to demonstrate the requisite political will, exercise restraint, and commit to seeking common ground in accommodating their differences.”

Akbaruddin said that India had donated $4 million in humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees and would contribute more at the Syrian Donors Conference for refugee assistance next month in London.

Turning to the other regional hotspot, Yemen, Akbaruddin said, “We have been urging all concerned parties in Yemen to amicably resolve their differences and we hope that the UN-mediation efforts would assist the people of Yemen in finding a consensus-based solution.”

Speaking about the long-running Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Akbaruddin said, “India remains firmly convinced that dialogue remains the only viable option that can effectively address the issue.”

Straddling a middle path between traditional friend, the Palestinians, and Israel, with which India has developed closer ties more recently, he said, “The imperative need is for restraint, to avoid provocation and unilateral actions and to return to the peace process. We remain hopeful and urge both sides to resume the peace process soon, for a comprehensive, just and lasting resolution of the Palestinian issue.”

He added, “India supports a negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognized borders, side by side at peace with Israel.”

Reiterating India’s support for the Palestinian cause, Akbaruddin said, “India has always played a proactive role in garnering support for the Palestinian cause in multilateral fora.”

He referred to visits by President Pranab Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and said, “These visits and interactions reinforce and renew our political and diplomatic support to the State of Palestine in its endeavors to realize an independent and sovereign State of Palestine.”

During those journeys, they both also visited Israel.(IANS)

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How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

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Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

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First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

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An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)