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After the recent release of over 80 hardcore Taliban prisoners, after the Loya Jirga assembled in Kabul gave the go-ahead for the release of the last of 400 Taliban prisoners, a temporary halt on the release of the remaining 320 prisoners is in effect, as a few more countries (France and Australia) shared the apprehensions of the Afghan government and public, that the prisoners in question had conducted serious violent attacks on Afghans and foreigners.
The release was part of a peace agreement signed between the Taliban and the US on February 29 this year to clear the last hurdle for the beginning of intra-Afghan talks, to give peace a chance in Afghanistan. A quick announcement of US withdrawal of another 4,000 troops, post-Loya Jirga’s decision, indicated US fulfillment of its obligations as per the deal. The US may commend its Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of the deal for allowing the US to withdraw its forces and end its longest-ever war, but the fact is that the Taliban controls more territory in Afghanistan now than at the time when the US entered the war, and the terror groups like al Qaeda, Islamic State (IS), Haqqani Network co-exist with Taliban, with an opportunity to bounce back, if not be adequately in control. The peace deal does not guarantee the success of intra-Afghan dialogue; hence all stakeholders have to wait and see its progress with hope, as well as apprehension.
Has the US created strategic space for others?
India, having made significant investments in Afghanistan, will always hope for an Afghan elected, Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process and a popular democratic government in Afghanistan. However, the Taliban continues to be a force to reckon with. The US-led invasion ousted the Taliban post-September 11, 2001 attacks. After losing 2,400 US soldiers, tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians and spending more than $1 trillion, war fatigue of 19 years for peace of another country, is enough reason to pull out. Besides, there was President Trump’s election promise to end the war. The Taliban’s assurance of not allowing the use of the Afghan soil for terrorism seems too good to be true; hence the US defense chief indicated that it will not hesitate to nullify the deal if the Taliban failed to hold its promises as per the deal.
The complete withdrawal of US forces will also amount to ceding the crucial strategic space to its competitors; hence the US has made adequate promise to help the Afghan government in combating the al-Qaeda/IS/Haqqani network to ensure that it does not become strong enough to strike its mainland again. The Afghan government had no choice but to go along with the deal due to lack of any leverage, as the Taliban refused to talk to them and the election results were not convincing enough to put them in the driver’s seat; hence the intra-Afghan dialogue, through this route, was the only workable option for them.
The Afghan National Security Forces still need much more capacity building to withstand inimical forces. It indirectly means that the US is considering some support to Afghan Forces, maybe little air support, and some troops, albeit in reduced strength to continue. Another compulsion of the US for such compromise could be to reduce some engagements of troops, as some more flashpoints are emerging for them in the dynamic international scenario post the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new peace spoilers
The Taliban and Pakistan’s promise to renounce support to al-Qaeda and fighting ISIS is unrealistic, because ISKP, AQIS, and Haqqani network is already active, with no visible disturbance from the Taliban and continued support from Pakistan. The Taliban will continue to use violence as leverage for a better bargaining position even in intra-Afghan talks. The recent attack by ISKP on the Afghan prison housing Taliban prisoners amongst many others, the earlier attack on a Sikh Gurdwara resulting in heavy casualties, and the new Pakistani leader from the Haqqani network joining ISKP, indicates close linkages of all the terrorist groups, including Pakistan-based terror groups. A weak Afghan government has resulted in the conglomeration of a variety of terror groups in Afghanistan who have their own agenda and, hence, can be spoilers of peace at any time. The Taliban will not sit quietly unless it gains power. Even if its leaders put up a facade of giving reasonable governance if brought into the power structure, its cadres are unlikely to settle down without Sharia rule.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan border clash earlier this month along the Durand Line, which is apparently being unilaterally fenced, in the light of a weak Afghan government, could be a quick gain for Pakistan but will remain a friction point in the long run as it divides Pashtuns. A strong Taliban suits Pakistan, as it helped in its survival and shrinks Indian space in Afghanistan. It may, however, have its own limitations as the Taliban did not make any concessions to Pakistan on the Durand Line, even when they were in power. The reconciliation of all factions within Afghanistan is also as difficult as change of behavior of the Taliban.
New concerns for India
The Chinese are keen to extend the BRI to Afghanistan to get an alternate axis to warm water in the Gulf should the CPEC face problems, besides exploiting the mineral wealth of Afghanistan. China has been actively involved with the Taliban during the peace process. Iran is economically weak and needs Chinese support. The China-Iran strategic partnership fructifying the $400 billion deal may be an impediment for Indian entry routes into Afghanistan through Chabahar and further connectivity to the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), although Iran has not given any signals of disruption of these projects. From the Indian point of view, it may not be a happy situation in light of its heavy investments. India is in touch with Russia, whose interests do converge with India’s in this region, being a stakeholder in INSTC for connectivity with CAR and Eurasia. INSTC, through Afghanistan, is the shortest route for CAR to warm water, hence they will prefer it over the Sino-Pakistan offer of connectivity through CPEC.
India has to be watchful of the Iran-Pakistan-China axis developing in the neighborhood of Afghanistan, with tentacles in the form of terror groups inside it. India has to be concerned about the growing strength and maneuvering space of ISKP and AQIS, who have an agenda to increase their influence in the Indian subcontinent, although the Taliban has shown willingness to work with India and doesn’t seem to have an anti-India agenda as of now. Since 2001, India has undertaken projects worth $3 billion in Afghanistan. Besides engaging with all stakeholders, including the Taliban, a watch on anti-India nexus of terror groups in Afghanistan is in India’s national interest.
India needs to exercise some smart diplomacy to convince the US that Indian engagement with Iran is as essential to prevent loss of crucial strategic space of Afghanistan to China, as much as the token presence of US troops there. The US is committed to withdrawing some troops, but it remains to be seen whether this peace deal will work, or the US pullback will leave behind a stronger Taliban, growing IS, emerging AQIS, suffering population of Afghanistan, and new challenges for India. (IANS)
Japan has successfully launched a new navigation satellite into orbit that will replace its decade-old navigation satellite.
The satellite, QZS-1R, was launched onboard an H-2A rocket that lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center at 10.19 p.m. on Monday night, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said in a statement.
The company builds and operates H-2A rockets the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
QZS-1R is a replacement for Quasi-Zenith Satellite System 1 satellite first launched in 2010. “It was a really beautiful launch," the company said in a tweet after a successful lift-off.
"H-IIA F44 flight proceeded nominally. Approximately 28 minutes 6 seconds after launch, as planned, the payload separated from the launch vehicle," the statement said.
The official QZSS website lists four satellites in the constellation: QZS-1, QZS-2, QZS-3 and QZS-4, Space.com reported.
The QZSS constellation will eventually consist of a total of seven satellites that fly in an orbit passing through a near-zenith (or directly overhead) above Japan, and QZS-R1 is meant to share nearly the same transmission signals as recent GPS satellites, according to JAXA.
It is specially optimised for mountainous and urban regions in Japan, JAXA said.
Mitsubishi's H-2A 202 rocket launch system has been operational since 2003 and has sent satellites to locations such as Venus (Akatsuki) and Mars (Emirates Mars Mission).
The latest H2-A rocket launch is the first since November 29, 2020, when Japan launched an advanced relay satellite with laser communications tech into orbit, the report said. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: Science, Space Satellite, Communications, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, satellite QZS-1R
Everyone loves firecrackers, even the most environment-friendly advocates cannot hide their joy when they see these delightful lights colour the skies. India celebrates Diwali in the true spirit of her culture and heritage by spraying the navy-blue skies with sparkling hues of gold, silver, red, and green. Firecrackers are not just a tradition in this country, they are a legacy.
The original connotation one makes with fireworks in China. The elaborate Chinese celebrations with dragons and zapping firecrackers have left their mark in human memory, but the use of fireworks is not limited to heralding the Chinese New Year. All over the world, fireworks have come to symbolise the ultimate celebration. During Diwali in India, this spirit is re-ignited every year.
Indians have known the use of gunpowder for many centuries now. Sanskrit texts name a substance called 'agnichura' which is described as a 'powder that creates fire'. This is believed to be saltpetre.
A single firecracker ablaze Photo by Unsplash
Sometime during the rule of the Vijayanagar Empire, and the Adil Shah Dynasty in South India, the use of the Chinese pyrotechnic formulae became extensively common in entertaining the royals. Weddings, Festivals, and other special celebrations in the palace were marked with a spectacular display of fireworks.
Between the 1920s and 1940s, the dynamics of fireworks changed in India. Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar, from Tamil Nadu's Sivakasi who migrated to Kolkata, set up a fireworks factory there. It began as a match factory, but after receiving the required permission, it was converted into a fireworks unit. Within a few years, another factory was set up in Sivakasi. Before long, multiple units were set up there, and today, it is India's fireworks hub. Most of the crackers that are used during Diwali come from Sivakasi.
Recently, environmental concerns have caused the ban of fireworks as it causes air pollution. The sale of crackers has reduced drastically after this new law. During the lockdown, the factory labourers underwent great losses, especially in Sivakasi. But keeping the spirit of Diwali in mind. crackers cannot be entirely done away with, and continue to light up the skies at least for a few hours every year.
Keywords: Diwali festival, Fireworks, Sivakasi, the Vijayanagar Empire, culture and heritage in India.
PARIS — In a decision with potential ramifications across European museums, France is displaying 26 looted colonial-era artifacts for one last time before returning them home to Benin.
The wooden anthropomorphic statues, royal thrones and sacred altars were pilfered by the French army in the 19th century from Western Africa.
President Emmanuel Macron suggested that France now needed to right the wrongs of the past, making a landmark speech in 2017 in which he said he can no longer accept "that a large part of many African countries' cultural heritage lies in France." It laid down a roadmap for the controversial return of the royal treasures taken during the era of empire and colony. The French will have a final glimpse of the objects in the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac from 26-31 October.
French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot tried to assuage jitters among European museums, emphasizing that this initiative "will not create a legal precedent."
A royal seat of the 'Royal treasures of Abomey kingdom' (Œuvres des tresors royaux d'Abomey) on display at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris, Sept. 10, 2021. Photo Credit: VOA
A French law was passed last year to allow the restitution of the statues to the Republic of Benin, as well as a storied sword to the Army Museum in Senegal.
But she said that the French government's law was intentionally specific in applying solely to the 27 artifacts. "[It] does not establish any general right to restitution" and "in no way calls into question" the right of French museums to hold on to their heritage.
Yet critics of such moves — including London's British Museum that is in a decades-long tug-of-war with the Greek government over a restitution of the Elgin Marbles — argue that it will open the floodgates to emptying Western museums of their collections. Many are made up of objects acquired, or stolen, during colonial times. French museums alone hold at least 90,000 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa.
A woman looks at the Parthenon Marbles, a collection of stone objects, inscriptions and sculptures. Photo Credit: VOA
The story of the "Abomey Treasures" is as dramatic as their sculpted forms. In November 1892, Colonel Alfred Dodds led a pilfering French expeditionary force into the Kingdom of Danhomè located in the south of present-day Benin. The colonizing troops broke into the Abomey Palace, home of King Behanzin, seizing as they did many royal objects including the 26 artifacts that Dodds donated to the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris in the 1890s. Since 2003, the objects have been housed at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac.
One hundred and twenty-nine years later, their far-flung journey abroad will finally end.
Benin's Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola called the return of the works, a "historic milestone," and the beginning of further cooperation between the two countries, during a news conference last week. The country is founding a museum in Abomey to house the treasures that will be partly funded by the French government. The French Development Agency will give some 35 million euros toward the "Museum of the Saga of the Amazonians and the Dan home Kings" under a pledge signed this year.
The official transfer of the 26 pieces is expected to be signed in Paris on Nov. 9 in the presence of Macron and the art is expected to be in Benin a few days later, Abimbola said.
While locals say the decision is overdue, what's important is that the art will be returned.
"It was a vacuum created among Benin's historical treasures, which is gradually being reconstituted," said Fortune Sossa, President of the African Cultural Journalists Network. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Benin art, Emmanuel Macron, European museums, Abomey Treasures, anthropomorphic statues