Thursday, January 31, 2013

Friendly Handshake

Kanwal Sibal 
(Member, VIF Advisory Board)

Looking ahead, what could President Barack Obama’s second term mean for relations between India and the United States of America? Will the relationship stay more or less at the level that it has already reached or will it see a surge in the years ahead? Can it begin to wane?

There is no reason for the relationship to wilt, even if it has not lived up to its promise in the eyes of some Americans. India’s nuclear liability law and the ouster of US suppliers from the 126 fighter aircraft deal are cited as evidence. The other areas of disappointment are the lack of convergence in views on developments in the Gulf and West Asia, India’s reluctance to accept burden-sharing in upholding the international order as it is obliged to do by its rising global status, as well as its inadequate bureaucratic expertise and capacity to deal with the expanded scope of the India-US engagement.

A less transactional assessment of the state of relations would highlight the great shift in Indian perceptions about relations with the US — from strategic distrust to strategic cooperation. This is best manifested in the $9 billion worth of defence contracts won by the US in the last seven years, with more to come as India diversifies its sources of supplies, as well as the numerous joint military exercises conducted with strategic objectives in view. Counter-terrorism cooperation is acknowledgedly much better than before, as is the quality of exchange of views on regional and global issues. India-US relations are now stable, with a remarkably rich bilateral agenda whose implementation will occupy both sides in the years ahead.

The chance of any dramatic upswing in relations in the next four years, however, seems unlikely. For one, the economic backdrop is not very favourable. With US economic recovery still sluggish, unemployment high and the debt problem unresolved, Obama will remain preoccupied with the domestic agenda. He is anyway not seen as a ‘foreign policy’ president temperamentally. In India, too, growth rates have fallen and investor sentiment, both domestic and foreign, remains unenthusiastic in spite of some reform measures by the government. Regulatory, taxation, environmental, land acquisition, and implementational issues in general remain to be addressed. With growth rates high, market sentiment buoyant and optimism in the air, countries can deal with each other in a more positive spirit than when they are preoccupied with protecting their own interests first — and those of others become even more secondary.

This means that on issues of concern to us relating to the hike in visa fees and the denial of visas to our information technology professionals, making US companies which outsource work ineligible for federal government grants and loans and the totalization agreement that would address the problem of Indian professionals in the US having to compulsorily contribute to social security, the US, already unresponsive, is unlikely to give us satisfaction. Apart from the populism of opposing outsourcing at a time of high domestic unemployment, Obama seems to have an ideological bias against the transfer of jobs abroad even if that improves the competitiveness of US firms.

India-US economic ties are not as dynamic as some may suppose. In the last three to four years our negotiators feel that we have not been able to secure any tangible concessions from the US for our merchandize and services exports. The Trade Policy Forum has not met for two years, although it should do so in a couple of months. The US has dropped to third place as our trading partner, down from 17 per cent to a 10 per cent share of our trade. Investment levels are also low. The US Consumer Protection Act, the extension of the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of 2009 to foreign companies currently under Congressional consideration, the foreign manufacturers liability bill, the ‘Buy America’ campaign and so on are all potential hurdles for building a stronger trade partnership with the US.

Some US trade initiatives would need to be watched closely for their impact on India. The Trans-Pacific Partnership that the US is promoting does not include India, or, for that matter, China and Japan. India’s focus is on the East Asia-centred Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The contemplated trans-Atlantic free trade area between the US and Europe, if established, will affect Indian interests. Bilaterally, regulatory issues on our side need resolution for allowing trade in US agricultural products. In the education sector there are complementarities but legislation on foreign universities operating in India is languishing in Parliament. The stipulation of local content in the solar power and telecommunications sectors has raised US objections. Internet governance is a contentious issue ahead. Our energy dialogue continues, with India hoping to obtain exemption for importing liquefied natural gas from the US. If that happens on a significant scale, it can change India’s energy equations and concomitant strategic calculations. The ambitious goal ahead is to finalize a bilateral investment treaty with the US, the prominent sticking issues being US demands on intellectual property rights (India is on the US watch list on IPRs), environmental and labour issues and pre-establishment rules. In our strategy, an India-US FTA, for which we discern no appetite in the US as of now, should follow the BIT. All said and done, in spite of issues, it is well to keep in mind that our economic cooperation with the US generally builds our strategic capacities whereas that with China erodes them.

The US envisages a key Indian role in its pivot towards Asia, but we are not clear about its scope given the complex texture of trade and financial interdependence between the US and China. Moreover, the US financial downturn will inevitably lead to a reduction of the country’s defence budgets, whereas any credible pivot will require enhanced US military presence in Asia with a concomitant increase in defence outlays. Obama’s domestic priorities could also over-ride any robust Asia pivot. India is already distancing itself from the pivot by the notable friendly discourse towards China by the foreign minister, Salman Khurshid. During the Australian foreign minister’s recent visit, both countries poured cold water on the idea of a trilateral India-Australia-Japan dialogue, not to mention any quadrilateral dialogue involving the US in addition.

The contours of Obama’s policy towards Afghanistan turning on the accelerated and effectively complete withdrawal of troops, the offer of a share in power to the Taliban, the use of Pakistan as a facilitator — entailing greater deference to its ambitions in Afghanistan — are all causing concern in India. India could be pushed into an opposing axis in Afghanistan. India and the US will need, therefore, to reconcile their respective visions of Afghanistan’s future in the period ahead. Pakistan’s renewed aggressiveness towards India is complicating the situation further.
There are some question marks in New Delhi about the new team in Washington, especially with regard to the naming of the senator, John Kerry, as secretary of state because of his perceived softness towards Pakistan and the expected departure of some India-friendly state department officials. The changes in the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, however, are not causing any particular unease. How much attention Obama pays personally to the India-relationship, which is fundamentally on track, is open to question too.

All in all, therefore, India and the US will neither enter into an embrace nor disengage; they will continue to shake friendly hands as Obama’s second term unfolds.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Police, Too, Have a Case: Need for Police Reforms

Dr M N Buch 
(Visiting Fellow, VIF)

Coming from the pen of a retired IAS officer this paper may appear to be a little strange, but as a young officer in the districts I have interacted with the police in happy times and in times of stress. I have witnessed the strength and the weakness of the police, observed its shortcomings, but also experienced the difficult duty of a policeman, his loneliness, his devotion and his willingness to take even those risks which endanger his life. Therefore, despite all the salvoes of abuse that a police man has to face from so-called civil society, I thought it deem and proper to try and present a policeman’s perspective also --- just to set the record right.

Do we need the police? That question was answered for me about 53 years ago when I was a young Assistant Collector in Morena, then the very epicenter of dacoity in India. This was the land of Man Singh, Lakhan, Rupa, Gabbar, Amritlal and Putli, all dacoits of ill-famous renown or notoriety. There is a remote police station at Birpur (now in Sheopour District) which formed the constant focus of complaints by the local MLA, one Nawal Kishore. Every complaint had been inquired into, including through a magisterial enquiry conducted by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and all had been found to be exaggerated, false or worse.

The MLA obviously wanted to dominate the police and the complaints continued. One morning E.B. Reinboth, the D.C. and D. M., who was my boss, told me to sit in his jeep and we drove off for Birpur, about 180 kms from the district headquarter. On reaching Birpur Police Station, he sent for the MLA, who again launched into a tirade against the Station Officer. Hearing him out Reinboth told the Inspector, “Thanedar Saheb, it is obvious that you and your men are not welcome in Birpur. Therefore, I am ordering the police station to be closed. You and your men should pack your things and report to the Police Lines in Morena. Meanwhile, you should announce by beat of drum in all the villages in your jurisdiction that the D. M. has closed the police station and now Birpur will have no police presence. When it sank into the MLA that Reinboth was really serious, he said that this was an open invitation for dacoits to pour in to Birpur because there would be no police presence there. He then virtually fell at Reinboth’s feet and begged him not to shut the police station. The drama ended only when Nawal Kishore promised never again to make false complaints. But for me the lesson become indelibly printed in my mind --- civilised society needs the police. The question is does society realise this?

The recent rape and murder of a 23 year old girl in a bus in Delhi has, very rightly, aroused anger, focused attention on the fate of women, on sexual offences and the feeling of insecurity in our towns and villages and the extreme callousness of large sections of society towards women and disregard for their dignity. Sexual crime is symptomatic of a deep rooted malaise, of disregard of law and the rapid growth of a feeling that we can do what ever we want, free of both a sense of guilt at wrongdoing or fear of dire consequences for misdemeanor and worse. Where sin does not invite retribution how does one build a society of laws? Anger has spilt on to the streets and government has been forced to take action. Whether the anger will last and action will be sustained remains to be seen.

Almost coterminous with the rape case was the ambushing of a routine army patrol on the LoC in the Mendhar sector of J and K and the killing of two jawans by Pakistani troops. The body of one soldier was mutilated and one corpse was beheaded and the head taken away in an act of barbarity which one could attribute to Genghis Khan’s Mongols, but not a 21st century army which accepts the Geneva Convention. Naturally the nation was outraged and up in arms to an extent that it would have supported government if it decided to go to war on this issue. Even the usually reticent Manmohan Singh gave a strong message to Pakistan and we put further confidence building measures on hold. One felt happy that India stood behind its soldiers. Even activists from so called civil society, except for a few who have always put India in the dock and have advocated abject surrender by us on all issues, expressed their horror.

However, one did note four discordant notes. When Parliament was attacked by terrorists and nine persons, including five policemen, were killed in defence of parliament, the accused who masterminded the attack were arrested, tried and sentenced. Afzal Guru, the ringleader, was awarded the death penalty, which was upheld by the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. Activists led by Arundhati Roy mounted a campaign to save Afzal Guru and he has not been executed to date. This shrill campaign on behalf of a convicted terrorist had not one word of remorse, neither condolence, nor sympathy, nor compassion for the policemen who died defending parliament or for their widows and children. 76 CRPF men were killed in Bastar in a single ambush by Naxalites. Did civil society activists sympathise with the victims? One of them had the nerve to tell me that policemen should know that when they join the police they are inviting death. It is only because the gentleman was a guest in my house that I refrained from strangling him.

No act of barbarity is acceptable and one against a soldier doubly so. But what about the recent killings of 11 C.R.P.F jawans in Latehar District of Jharkhand? Their bodies were booby trapped and when the relief force picked up one it exploded, injuring many jawans. In one case the stomach of a corpse was cut open, stuffed with explosives and re-stitched. The body was sent for post mortem examination and but for the alertness of a doctor who noticed the tampering of the body and notified the police the body would have exploded in hospital and more people would have been killed or wounded. Is what the Naxalites did to bodies of the slain policemen not an act of vandalism and barbarism at par with what the Pakistanis did to the jawans murdered near the LoC? But our civil society members did not bat an eyelid and they certainly did not utter a word of sympathy.

The fourth incident besides the three cases stated above is of the brutal murder of two policemen deputed for the security of the Collector of Sukma when he was abducted by Naxalites. One was a Muslim and the other a tribal. I am sure they must have had families and loved ones who must have survived on the wages of these two men. Do they not bleed when they are cut, feel the cold in the winter and heat in the summer? Are they not human? My stomach turns with revulsion at the utter callousness of our activists, who look on the policemen as Untermenschen, or lesser beings.

Why is the police looked upon this way? I have already given an example of how much people really need the police for their own protection from anti-social elements. Therefore, the police must introspect on why so many people are either indifferent to the police or positively dislike it. There is a general perception that a police station is an unfriendly place, policemen are rude and corrupt and that they torture people. Starting with the negatives, I agree that many police stations are best avoided. Let me give a personal example from 1979, when I was head of the Delhi Development Authority and was, therefore, a man of some consequence and authority in Delhi. On an evening walk near Tuglakh Road Police Station I found a person lying in a gutter. Not knowing the state of the person I walked into the Police Station and went to the desk of the Head Constable Moharrir, or station writer. I reported the matter to him and requested him to send someone to find out if the man was dead, drunk or otherwise incapacitated and to render necessary aid. The policemen’s reply was, “Tu ney mara hoga” (You must have hit him.) I was furious at this and shouted at the man.

Hearing the commotion the Station Officer came out to see what was happening and, recognizing me, asked how he could help. I narrated the Head Constable Moharrir’s behaviour and told the Inspector that if this is how his officers behaved how he could ever expect people to help the police. Of course, the Station Officer was apologetic, sent a constable to look at the man in the gutter, who reported that he was a drunkard and that the police would look after him. The fact remains that not only are Police Stations places to be avoided, but also that there is a command failure because senior officers do not educate their subordinates about how they should behave with citizens. More on this later.

The cutting edge level of the police is the police station. Under Chapter XII Cr.P.C. the entire scheme of investigation of offences centers around the police station. The Station Officer is the most visible symbol of the police, which is why the Thanedar, or Station Officer, is so feared, especially by wrong doers. The Thanedar is the backbone of the Police, just as the Tehsildar is of general and revenue administration. One example will illustrate the point. The place of landing of the ten Pakistani terrorists who held Bombay to ransom in 2008 was in the jurisdiction of the Colaba Police Station. The terrorists were sighted by a fisherman, but being unchallenged they dispersed to their designated destinations, resulting in 166 deaths and several hundreds of injuries. Had the Colaba Police Station been adequately manned, trained and equipped with transport and communication facilities, with proper modern weapons and a proper beat system, the terrorists would probably have been seen and questioned by the beat constable. Sensing something suspicious he would have called up the police station which, if it had responded swiftly, could have brought the terrorists to encounter at or near the place of landing. The history of 26.11.2008 would then have been different. Our neglect of Colaba Police Station, of all police stations throughout India, cost us dear then and costs us even more now. It is only Andhra Pradesh which fortified its police stations in Naxalite areas, which is why a successful attack on a police station there is a rarity and Naxalism has been brought under control.

Behaviour apart, the Police has to face a really critical shortage of manpower. Even against existing vacancies there are approximately 4.5 lakh posts which have to be filled. Internationally, perhaps the standard strength of the police is approximately one policeman for 160 people. Delhi is the only city in India which has an approximate strength of one policeman for 168 people. In Madhya Pradesh the proportion is approximately one policeman for 834 citizens. The total strength of the Madhya Pradesh Police is about 89,000 whereas if we were to aim at one policeman for every 250 citizens the State would need a Force of approximately three lakh policemen. The cities of Indore and Bhopal should have police strength of 8,000 each, whereas there are just about 3,000 personnel per city. The position in most States is that the Police Force just does not have the numbers to provide for adequate policing. Rural India, by and large, is still peaceful, which is why in a State such as Madhya Pradesh a police station can look after approximately 100 villages with a standard strength of one Station Officer, two Head Constables and twelve Constables. Nevertheless, whether it be a city, a town, a cluster of villages, there is hardly any police presence. Without an adequate force the district head of police cannot organise proper beat patrols, manage traffic, have men posted to sensitive or critical locations and patrol the public transport system with sufficient manpower in order to deter crime.

The question is not that rapes, dacoities and murders take place. The question really is why the number of heinous crime is still manageable despite the fact that there is inadequate police presence. I can think of two reasons, the first of which is that by and large we are a law abiding nation. The second, equally important reason is that our police is a great deal more efficient than civil society credits it to be. To quote just one case, in 1963 when I was D.M. Betul, a lad of about nineteen years made some indecent advances at a teenaged girl, who was the daughter of a leading local advocate, as she was returning home from school. A passing Constable immediately caught him and brought him to the police station. The Station Officer, a wise experienced officer, saw to it that the challan was put up within twenty-four hours and the Magistrate remanded the man to judicial custody. Three days later, without any provocation, a local trouble maker tried to foment an agitation in which he roped in the students of a college. The Superintendent of Police and I were sitting in my house having a cup of tea when we heard that there was trouble in the bazaar and shop keepers were downing their shutters. We immediately rushed to the site and what we saw greatly reassured us. There was a menacing crowd of about 300 people being confronted by a single unarmed Head Constable. He warned the crowd to stay put and angrily told the ring leaders that if they advanced one more step he personally would break their heads. No one dared to advance because this single jawan, confident in his moral and legal authority, stood like a rock.

Today the position is that we have systematically engendered disobedience of laws, contempt for laws and constant disempowerment of the forces of law and order. In section 188 of the Model Police Bill drafted by the Soli Sorabji Committee the following words have been used, “The State Government shall take effective steps to ensure that the average hours of duty of a police officer do not normally exceed eight hours a day provided that in exceptional situations the duty hours of a police officer may extend upto twelve hours or beyond. In such cases adequate compensation and facilities shall be provided to the police personnel”. What is the ground reality? In 1978 there was an unusually heavy monsoon in Delhi and there was fear that there would be large scale flooding. I was head of DDA and the Lieutenant Governor asked me to take charge of large parts of Delhi, especially East Delhi. Near the DDA headquarters (then at Vikas Minar) a Constable stood on duty at the crossroads from where one moved towards the IP Bridge. The Constable stopped my vehicle and requested information about the flood situation in Kingsway Camp Police Lines where his family lived. He told me that he had been continuously on duty for forty-eight hours, without food and in the wet clothes that he wore and he was completely out of touch with his family. I told my own security personnel to take the man to my office, let him have a shower, give him change of clothing and feed him, whilst deputing one of the policemen with the DDA to take over the man’s duty. His officers had not bothered about him and I told the Police Commissioner the story later on. However, this dedicated officer stood at his post regardless of the fact that he had neither eaten nor had news of his family. That is a picture of a policeman that the activists refuse to see or acknowledge.

If the police force is woefully short of requirements policemen will have to work long hours. On law and order duty when men have to stand around virtually waiting for something to happen they are bound to become tired, hungry and irritated. Rameshwar Nikhra, a Member of Parliament who had been Chairman of the State Bar Council, once told me that as a student leader in Jabalpur he frequently led student agitations, to control which the police was deployed. On one occasion when the students became violent the police had to use force to disperse them. One of the lathi wielding policemen was laying about him with gusto, shouting, “Because of you I have been standing here, thirsty and hungry, for the last three days. Now let me teach you a lesson”. Nikhra said that at that time he was naturally upset with the police, but on introspection he realised that the policeman had a point. I state this story not because I appreciate or condone brutality by the police, but we would be foolish to overlook the stress and tension under which our policemen operate. Society does nothing to make life easier for a policeman. The Soli Sorabji Committee has recommended that a police station should be neat and clean, with a comfortable room for visitors. There should be separate toilets for men and women, a women and child protection desk, separation of normal police duties and investigation of crimes. All this is possible only if the police strength is sufficient to deploy the manpower for performing all these separate functions. The fact is that adequate manpower is not available and, therefore, the average policeman, especially below the gazetted ranks, will always be under immense pressure and will have to function in an environment in which he will never have adequate facilities. Till this is remedied the police will not function in the manner in which a good police force does.

I stated earlier that there is a command failure. When the Central Reserve Police mutinied some years ago one officer of the rank of DIG from the Madhya Pradesh Cadre tried to reason with the men at Neemuch, where the Force was created by the British. The men told him that they personally respected him but requested him to step aside because they said that he could not in any way help the men and, therefore, they had decided that they would confront government. In other words, the men have lost their faith in their officers and this can only happen when there is failure of command. There are many reasons why this has happened, the first of which is that in appointment of the State DGP every Chief Minister opts for a pliable officer rather than an efficient one. Obviously a pliable officer will take orders from politicians even in matters where under law he is the only person who has the mandate. For example, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, in the matter of investigation it is only the Police who have the authority, which has to be exercised under judicial supervision. The Executive has absolutely no authority in this behalf, but whether it is Delhi Special Police Establishment (CBI) or the State Police it is a well known fact that investigation is definitely influenced by politics and politicians. If the DG Police will not resist how can the investigating officer at police station level show independence? In fact in all departments of government there is the ever increasing malaise of officers operating not according to law but according to whims of politicians. A law is framed by the Legislature and every person involved with implementation of law has a legal mandate. Despite this in the current political scenario officers take orders, including illegal ones, from politicians without pointing out to them why a particular thing cannot be done in law. Our answer to political interference is the setting up of committees and framing of Model Police Acts. For example, the model law drafted by the Soli Sorabji Committee, in section 6 speaks of the selection of the Director General of Police from three senior most officers empanelled by the State Police Board, with the DG being given a minimum tenure of two years. Let us compare this with how Vice Chancellors of universities are selected. In Madhya Pradesh (this system prevails throughout the country) the Vice Chancellor is selected from a panel of two or three persons whom a high powered search committee has identified and recommended. The Search Committee consists of a representative each of the Chancellor, the Executive Council of the University and the University Grants Commission, all three completely different and independent authorities. Despite this some of the worst persons one can think of are empanelled as Vice Chancellors, are appointed as such and have a tenure of four to five years. At least in Madhya Pradesh some of the worst scoundrels have been appointed as Vice Chancellors. That does not mean that we should not introduce complete honesty in the selection of the DG Police, but till we take drastic steps to rid the All India Services of deadwood and dishonest officers we shall not have the best people being promoted to head the police.

One major cause of breakdown of command is the almost total disempowerment of senior police officers by the politicians. In any organisation, but especially in a uniformed service, the hierarchical structure has to be clearly defined and the disciplinary authorities have to be given sufficient power to maintain discipline. Now even in the matter of postings and transfers even the D.Gs.P. have been left at the mercy of politicians. In Madhya Pradesh Arjun Singh centralised all transfers and Digvijay Singh gave all powers of transfer of even the lowliest functionary to the Minister in charge of a district. In all departments, particularly in the police, officers suddenly found that they had lost control over their subordinates. When policemen found that the S.P. and other superior officers could no longer shift them, even on compassionate grounds, they naturally sought political patronage and this absolutely destroyed the command hierarchy. Under these circumstances, there was bound to be a command failure and this has put paid to effective policing. It is in the interest of the police, of people at large and of the nation that senior officers are once again empowered, command restored to them and then they are held accountable for effective, honest, citizen friendly policing.
We have to find a way of creating more K.F. Rustomjis and totally eliminate the Rathores of Haryana ill-fame from the Service. In this behalf I would strongly suggest to the IPS Association, Central and in each State, to understand that they are one of the three foremost Services in India and that no one has a greater responsibility than they themselves to cleanse their ranks of the corrupt, the inefficient and those who use flattery to promote themselves.

A person who has achieved a level of command has the onerous task of actually commanding. A Superintendent of Police who takes a bribe from his Sub Inspectors cannot be expected to either lead the Force or to motivate it to truly serve the citizens. An IG or DGP who has achieved the rank through political manoeuvring can neither expect the respect of his Force nor can he command and guide the Force to serve the people. That makes it all the more important that the Force should cleanse itself at its own initiative.

Unlike the so-called civil society I like policemen and I admire the fact that they perform very difficult tasks under daunting circumstances and are the guardians of the security of the nation. There are more Ombleys in the Police than civil society gives credit for. Let us honour the policemen who dedicate their lives to our security. Let us not constantly attack the police as being anti people, but let us try and understand why the police image has taken such a beating. It is the duty of society to create an environment in which the police can do its duty. Once that happens I am for hanging rogue policemen, but I am not prepared to collectively call the Police rogues.

Status of Indian Education - Present Trends and Past Systems: Some Reflections

Dr. Anirban Ganguly
(Associate Fellow, VIF)

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2012 is out and has already generated discussion on the state of education in the country. A quick survey of some figures seem to point to a mix of a movement forward – especially in terms of infrastructure and broad enrolment ratio – and a certain movement backward in terms of learning skills and teacher performance. It would be perhaps useful to have a brief look at some of the findings and to note with alarm the fact that the principal investigators of the report feel that there is indeed a ‘deepening crisis in education’, especially mass education in the country. And this crisis, they feel, is like ‘an unseen and quiet killer disease’ of which the government, education policy makers and educationists in the country ought to take serious cognisance.

Some of these findings may be thus enumerated: learning levels in government schools are declining and the private school enrolment figures are rising by almost 10% per year. A decline in education performance has been discerned as well. This has been attributed by some experts to the RTE regulation which stipulates no detention till class VIII leading to a ‘relaxation’ in teaching in classrooms. It has been argued that the scrapping of all exams till that notified level has contributed to the reduction and eventual removal of performance pressure from the classroom thus leading to a decline in educations standards. One can argue that instead of seeing this as the debilitating effects of adhering, for more than a century, to an exam and syllabus oriented centralised education system, the tendency is to decry any move that looks at trying to reduce the stress and load on the young learner. The teachers for this past period – ever since the colonial system of exam-syllabus oriented education was introduced – gradually lost their sense of initiative and became mere executors of textbooks. Their new found role thus, as educators and not mere examination monitors and facilitators may have left them perplexed for the time being leading to a certain hesitancy which is perhaps mistakenly being perceived as ‘relaxation’. On the teachers’ role, the report observes that the problem with the ‘governmental system is that the individual teacher feels that he has to wait for the highest authority to say what is to be done.’ Therefore it may be asked whether under the no-exam RTE regulation the teachers and their role need a comprehensive re-examinations and rethinking. This particular RTE regulation requires greater study and debate and ought not to be dumped without forethought.

The other observation on the deteriorating levels of learning and retention that the report made was that it was better to ‘adhere to a policy of achieving basic learning outcomes’ rather than solely focus on ‘completing the syllabus.’ The past adherence to a mechanical system of education ensured the primacy of the text book and subordinated all other aims of education to the overweening goal of completing the syllabus. It must be recognised that these expressions in our times are a result of that past history.

The other point of concern that the report highlights is the widening gap between children who go to government run schools and those who attend private schools. The District Information System of Education (DISE) statistics for 2012 have revealed that 29.8% Indian children in standard I-V, both and urban and rural, attended private schools in 2010-11. Pointing to this growing trend of taking recourse to private education the ASER 2010 report revealed that 22.5% of rural children in standard I-V attended private schools and the ASER 2012 reports that the proportion has risen to 28.39% over two years – an increase of 5.8%. Making a projection, the report notes that in this manner by 2014 41% of all India’s primary age children will be attending private schools and that by 2019 the private sector will emerge as the ‘clear major formal education provider in India.’ Commenting on this trend, the report observes that private school enrolment ‘will go on increasing till it hits family budget constraints’ and ‘unless the quality of government schools improves substantially’ this gap between government school going children and private school going children will ‘create a great divide in every aspect of life and opportunity.’ Taking this further the report also notes that by 2020 over 50% children in India will have to pay for their primary education.

On skills developed the report found that in private schools, less than 40% of standard V children ‘could solve a simple division sum in 2012.’ General reading skills continue to be a cause for ‘serious concern’ with more than ‘half of all children in standard V’ being ‘at least three grade levels behind where they should be.’ On the enrolment front it has been noted that 96% of children between the ages of 6-14 years attend school and the other positive development is that of enhanced basic infrastructure in schools. The teacher pupil ratio has shown improvement as well; in 2010 the percentage of schools meeting these norms was 38.9 while 2012 saw it rise to 42.8%. While 73% of schools surveyed had drinking water facilities and the proportion of schools without toilets has seen a reduction from 12.2% in 2011 to 8.4% in 2012 the mid-day meal scheme was also seen in operation in 87.1% schools that were surveyed.

But challenges, especially in teaching, teachers’ training and motivation in rural mass education remain. The inability of governments to really revamp primary education, especially rural education, is one of the greatest looming challenges for Indian education in the years ahead.

It would also be useful and timely to underline in this brief discussion the fact that India of the not very distant past, India in 1700s – 1800s did possess an extensive rural education network. It was not that the vast rural hinterlands of India were forever educational deserts till the British came and redeemed the situation by introducing the light of education and governance. It would be an interesting study to try and trace the gradual decimation of that network and to see how we have ceased to discuss that rural model of education in India and of how we have stopped deriving any inspiration from their governing principals and framework. There appears to be a systematic effort to discourage any discussion of these and to relegate any memory of them to the realm of myths and legends. In short, our present education discourse hardly takes note of our civilisational and cultural perception of education and of past efforts that went into giving concrete shape to it.

In fact it has been amply noted that in a report on the status of Indian education around 1830s British observers recorded the existence of around 1, 00,000 village schools in Bengal and Bihar alone. Obviously it would be unfair to try and fit these indigenous schools into shapes of those that were later institutionalised by the colonial system or of that of schools today. These schools – argue those few experts who have studied the Indian education system from the Indian point of view – were ideally suited to the rural society, were seen as ‘watering holes of the culture of traditional communities’ and were ‘kept alive by revenue contributions by the community including illiterate peasants.’ Interestingly these may be seen today to have been private initiatives, they may well have been, but with a huge difference. The pupil never seemed to pay for his education and sustaining of the educational institution was the responsibility of the community and done through a sense of service and duty.

Examples of such an approach and spirit abound in Indian civilisation. For instance, records show that a minister during the reign of the Rashtrakuta King Krishna III (c.939-967 C.E.), established a temple which also accommodated a centre of Sanskrit learning. As the institution expanded it had to build ‘as many as twenty-seven Hostels for residence of its students who hailed from different provinces (nānājanapadodbhavāh).’ The growing expenses were met from endowments. A ‘special endowment of twelve Nivartanas’ (approximately 60 acres of land) met the expense of lighting the hostel while another endowment of ‘500 Nivartanas’ sustained the expenses of boarding of at least 200 students. The principal of the institution, it is recorded, was maintained by ‘another endowment of fifty Nivartanas.’ The village Salotgi, which housed the temple and institution – an ancient centre of learning located in the present day Bijapur district of the southern Indian state of Karnataka – also supported the institution by ‘an arrangement that each villager should contribute to its funds 5 coins at each marriage, 2 ½ coins at each Upanayana.’ It was also stipulated that at ‘every social feast’ the students and teachers were to be invited. Instances such as these, supported by empirical epigraphic records, abound in the story of Indian education.

Nor was the above instance limited to the hoary past. Similar systems appear to have been extant and functioning even until a much later age. ‘The Calcutta Monthly Register, and India Repository’ in its January 1791 issue, for example, gave a brief description of the ‘University at Nuddeah’ [Navadveep], Krishnanagar in Bengal. The observer, a Westerner, noted with amazement the remnants of an intricate system of education, ‘the Nuddeah University consists of three colleges —Nuddeah, Santipore and Gopulparrah’ and:

Each is endowed with lands for maintaining masters in every science. When ever, the revenue of these lands, prove too scanty for the support of pandits, and their scholars, the Rajah’s treasury supplies the deficiency for the respective masters have not only stated salaries from the Rajah, for their own support; but also an additional allowance for every pupil they entertain.

There were, it was noted, ‘eleven hundred students and one hundred and fifty masters’ in the institution and this was a much reduced number. The institution attracted students from distant parts and one of the interesting features of the entire system was that ‘any man that chooses to devote himself to literature, [found] a maintenance at Nuddeah, from the fixed revenues of the university, and the donation of the Rajah [while] men in affluent circumstances [lived] there at their own expense, without burdening the foundation.’ The other description that bears narration was the method of teaching followed in this institution:
Their method of teaching is this; - two of the masters commence a dialogue, or disputation on the particular topic they mean to explain. When a student hears anything advanced, or expressed that he does not perfectly understand, he has the privilege of interrogating the master about it. They give the young men every encouragement, to communicate their doubts, by their temper and patience in solving them.

The teachers were also bound by a strict code of conduct vis-à-vis the pupils, ‘It is a professed and established maxim of Nuddeah, that a pundit who lost his temper, in explaining any point to a student, let him be ever so dull and void of memory, absolutely forfeits his reputation, and is disgraced.’ Interestingly teachers of these indigenous schools and institutions of learning often ‘encouraged students to learn by giving them small stipends out of their own pockets.’ Thus the organisational and support structure of education, the recognition and encouragement of academic and learning qualities and skills and the approach of the teacher to education and to education imparting – practical, ethical and philosophical – seem to have been evolved to a great and complex level.

Empirical evidences also abound into how the indigenous schools were not ‘strictly communal but instead provided some mobility for disadvantaged castes and revealed an underlying harmony in which the major religious groups – Hindus and Muslims – studied with and were taught by teachers of different backgrounds.’ These schools, interestingly, ‘turned out the accountants, the lawyers, doctors, priests, and officials required in the traditional society.’ The centralised colonial system was completely incapable of understanding the needs and the psyche of such a society. It eventually placed in opposition to the demands of such a society its own needs, ‘the desires of missionaries and the interests’ of the urban businessmen. The indigenous system saw subversion and it was such pressures which gradually allowed the ‘vast system of indigenous schools’ to ‘soon wither before the power of the new English curriculum.’ The ‘intimate relationship between schooling and the culture of the people’ that this system signified was disrupted and eventually lost.

Hard data has shown that in terms of ‘the content, the proportion of those attending institutional school education in India in 1800’ , the situation was in no way inferior to England and in many respects these European narration of Indian education show the indigenous Indian education system to ‘have been much more extensive.’ In fact Dharampal, historian of the 17th and 18th century India, noted in his study of records of Indian education made by British observers, that:

The content of studies [in India] was better than what was then studied in England. The duration of study was more prolonged. The method of school teaching was superior and it is this very method which is said to have greatly helped the introduction of popular education in England but which had prevailed in India for centuries. School attendance, especially in the districts of the Madras Presidency, even in the decayed state of the period 1822-25, was proportionately far higher than the numbers in all variety of schools in England in 1800. The conditions under which teaching took place in the Indian schools were less dingy and more natural; and, it was observed, the teachers in the Indian schools were generally more dedicated and sober than in the English versions.

A sophisticated fiscal arrangement made possible such a vast education network. This ‘sophisticated operative fiscal arrangement of pre-British Indian polity’ had long ensured that a regular flow of revenue sustained a multiplicity of public projects. As Dharampal notes, ‘These seem to have stayed more or less intact through all the previous political turmoils and made such education possible. The collapse of this arrangement through a total centralisation of revenue, as well as politics led to decay in the economy, social life, [and] education.’ In fact the many assumptions of our past education networks, capacity and performance may have to be reviewed in this light.

A number of European observers of this system had then made a case for its initial preservation; one of them insisted in a report to the colonial authorities that vernacular schools in Bengal ‘could still serve as a foundation for an expanded system of schooling.’ But this plea fell on deaf ears and the entire system was allowed to degenerate allowing the rural Indian school to die a slow death of decay and starvation. We do not seem have recovered from that initial loss. As Joseph DiBona, emeritus professor at Duke University and an early researcher on the Indian indigenous system of education has observed, ‘the Indian village school today is but a poor reflection of what existed in India before the British. There is no continuity of culture, no reaffirmation of community and no prospect of influence in a society only nominally independent of foreign domination.’

The conundrum of rural education in India thus continues to elude answers and directions. The past of Indian education may hold keys to a partial way forward by helping the formulation of possible models of education – but asking for a detailed and comprehensive study of it to be made in order to generate a wide debate with all concerned stakeholders is perhaps asking too much.

Is it at all possible to convince our policymakers that an Indian education past may still provide clues to the present of Indian education, and that too in a wide gamut of areas?
  • Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2012, (New Delhi: ASER Centre, 2013).
  • Radha Kumud Mookerjee, Ancient Indian Education (1947), (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1969), pp.367-369.
  • Dharampal, ‘British Narrations on India its Conquest Dominance and Destruction 1600-1900 A.D.’, Archival Compilation,vol.9, (Sevagram: Ashram Pratishtan, 2000), p.6.
  • Dharampal, ‘The Beautiful Tree’, Collected Writings, vol.3, (Mapusa: Other India Press, 2000), pp.18, 20, 21.
  • Joseph DiBona edited, One Teacher, One School: The Adam Reports on Indigenous Education in 19th Century India,(New Delhi: Biblia Impex, 1983), pp. x, xi,1, 2.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nettlesome Neighbour

Kanwal Sibal 
(Member, VIF Advisory Board) 

We need to take proper stock of our policy towards Pakistan after the recent incidents on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and the manner in which the government of Pakistan has reacted to them. A re-examination of some of the assumptions underlying our policy is needed. We believe that the principal problem in our relations with Pakistan is lack of trust. 

This implies that our differences are not of a fundamental nature and can be overcome by dialogue and correcting misperceptions on both sides that have been allowed to endure for decades. 

Have we made real progress in reducing the trust deficit between the two countries? The latest incident of mutilating the bodies of two of our soldiers and beheading of one of them by Pakistani troops reveals the undercurrents of hate that exist. 

Even if we were to treat it as an isolated incident, the reaction of the Pakistani government to the incident is perturbing. The right thing would have been for the Pakistani government to take note of our accusation, promise proper investigation and appropriate action against those responsible if the charges proved to be factually correct. 

Instead, it conveyed the deplorable message that Pakistan is dismissive of India’s anguish, to the point of even imputing that we have contrived the incident. 

Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, has excelled herself in cocking a snook at India. She is appalled at what she terms as absolutely unacceptable Indian charges. She has accused India of war mongering, adding contemptuously that if a billion Indians ask questions Pakistan is not obliged to answer them. 

If the exercise of the last eight years and more was for building trust between the two countries, then the kind of tongue-lashing that Ms Khar has given India hardly demonstrates that it has been successful. She represents the civilian government of Pakistan, which is supposed to be more committed to improve ties with India. 

People of goodwill in Pakistan and India never fail to exhort the government of India to strengthen the civilian set-up in Pakistan against the security establishment. Well, it is the civilian government that is deriding our concerns and sentiments. If the civilian foreign minister of Pakistan is such a servile tool of the Pakistani military that she cannot even choose diplomatic vocabulary befitting her responsibilities, then the civil-military distinction we are asked to make is of limited consequence. 

We have tried to build trust with Pakistan by agreeing to a composite dialogue even without satisfaction on the terrorism issue. Despite our pleas Pakistan has not brought to justice those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. We protest about Hafiz Saeed but live with the reality of his uncurbed venomous rantings against us. We have not resisted Pakistan’s strategy to wrong-foot us on terrorism by bringing the Samjhauta Express issue into discussions. 

Visa restrictions

The Pakistani interior minister Rahman Malik, comes to India and equates the Mumbai attacks and Babri Masjid, besides suggesting Indian complicity in the former, and we let it pass to avoid clouding the atmosphere. We have agreed to ease visa restrictions, permit sporting ties and increase cultural ones, besides welcoming the expansion of trade ties without Pakistan granting us MFN treatment, so as to enlarge the orbit of trust between the two sides. 

As against all this, what has Pakistan done to build trust? Pakistan has persisted with provocations on Kashmir. In early 2012, Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution calling for resolving the Kashmir issue in accordance with UN resolutions, a position that president Zardari reiterated in his UNGA speech in September. 

After the recent LoC incidents Pakistan’s foreign minister has taunted us with an investigation by the UN Military Observers Group whose role India does not recognize since 1971. Pakistan insists on Indian withdrawal from Siachen which it never controlled. On Sir Creek, Pakistan is unwilling to accept a compromise solution consistent with established international principles. 

On water related issues Pakistan has deliberately distorted public perceptions by resorting to malevolent propaganda against India’s imagined high-handed actions. 

Pakistan has used its nuclear capability to promote terrorism against India, as it feels protected against any strong Indian conventional response. Pakistan distorts the content and intent of the India-US nuclear deal and under cover of that is expanding its nuclear arsenal and is preparing to introduce tactical weapons as a step to lower the threshold of use of nuclear weapons against India. 

As a victim of terror itself, Pakistan claims that it can hardly be accused of abetting terrorism against India. This is a specious argument because its military still considers jihadi groups targetting India as strategic assets. Kashmiri insurgents have safe-havens in Pakistan; infiltration across the LoC continues. The latest act of beheading an Indian soldier reflects a jihadi mind-set even in the armed forces in whose motto ‘jihad’ figures prominently. 

Our prime minister’s statement that it cannot be business as usual with Pakistan after this barbaric act and that Pakistan should mend its ways; if it wants friendship with India adequately captures the public mood. 

This does not mean no dialogue in the future. It means Pakistan has to act like a civilised country and do serious introspection about its destructive attitudes and policies before we can resume efforts to build mutual trust. 

Those criticising the suspension of sporting and cultural ties should not equate their political and moral duty as citizens to share public anguish at the treatment given to Indian soldiers by the Pakistani military with their right to be entertainment by Pakistani sportspersons and musicians. We must get our priorities right as a society.

Taliban and Afghan Peace – No Tango after Paris

Monish Gulati 

A track II initiative was organized on 20-21 December 2012 by the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) at the Chateau de la Tour Hotel in Gouvieux, Chantilly fifty kilometers north of Paris. The meeting was the third such event arranged by the FRS. About twenty Afghans from the quasi-governmental High Peace Council (HPC), the main political opposition parties in Afghanistan, the Taliban, as well as and the Hezb-e-Islami militant group met at Chantilly to lay grounds for more meaningful talks in the future between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Afghan president had expressed support for the meeting, saying he backed any forum for discussion with the insurgents.

The talks were held against a background of frantic efforts to draw the Taliban and other opponents of President Karzai into negotiations on the future political arrangements in Afghanistan as the NATO and ISAF pull out by the end of 2014. Last peace talks between the US and the Taliban had broken down in March 2012 mainly because the Taliban had refused to agree to a deal under which detainees released from Guantánamo Bay would remain under Qatari government supervision at Doha. 


Shahabuddin Delawar and Naeem Wardak represented the Taliban in Paris. Dilawar is a former deputy head of the Taliban’s Supreme Court. The Taliban negotiators were a part of what U.S views as a “pragmatist” faction within the Taliban headed by Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. A Taliban spokesman had been reported saying prior to the Paris meeting that “We are not going to discuss peace," he said. "This gathering is not about peace.”
 At the meeting Delawar and Wardak read a prepared statement and the five-point outline of their agenda called, amongst other things, for amendments to the Constitution. They said the current “constitution is illegitimate because it is written under the shadows of B-52 aircrafts” (referring to the US invasion). They demanded a new constitution be written by Afghans in “free atmosphere”, implying after the withdrawal of NATO/ISAF troops. And the new constitution should be based on “principles of noble Islam, national interest and historical achievements.” They also asked for the withdrawal of the NATO/ISAF troops prior to peace talks and the upcoming elections.

The FRS had presented an agenda for discussion during the meeting. A key demand was to study the possibility of moving the country towards a parliamentary system, with less concentration of power in the hands of the President. This view is also held by several western analysts who consider it as a drawback of the Afghan constitution. Other issues raised at the meeting covered human and gender rights, and amnesty from prosecution. The unanimous opinion regarding the Taliban at the meeting was that they should lay down their arms, stop the violence, leave their Pakistani sanctuaries and enter the Afghan political process starting with the participation in the upcoming provincial and presidential elections. 

The Afghan government initially expressed optimism after the Paris talks, “We welcome the Paris negotiations as well as the participation of Taliban at the meeting. We hope such negotiations continue,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Janan Mosazai said at a press conference. He added that the government’s preconditions for the talks with the Taliban have not changed: a cease-fire, recognition of the Afghan constitution, cutting ties with international terrorists and agreeing to respect the rights of Afghan citizens including women and children. The Afghan government did not comment on the demands of the Taliban raised during the meeting. 

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who was the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan before the US invasion of Afghanistan was also present at the Paris meeting, not part of the Taliban team but in individual capacity. He suggested establishment of a commission comprising of all Afghan stakeholders to discuss proposed changes in the constitution in 2013. A suggestion the Taliban team did not oppose. This was possibly one of the positives of the meeting which otherwise was merely restating of positions by various stakeholders. Mohammad Hanif Atmar, former minister of interior and representative of the Rights and Justice Party at the talks said that another meeting, similar to the present one, will be held in Paris in a month. 

Post Meeting

The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai in particular, are wary of peace efforts not led by Kabul and more so by the Taliban’s refusal to hold direct talks with it. After the Paris meeting, Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Zalmai Rassoul was called to the Afghan Senate to address the body's concerns over the Paris meeting. He reportedly told the Senate, surprisingly, that there was insufficient information about the backgrounds of the two Taliban representatives at the Paris meeting, and that the Taliban faction Delawar and Wardak represented could not be identified. He went on to add that there is no need of holding such meetings outside the country and such talks should be held in Afghanistan. Senator Rafiullah Haidari said the Paris meeting was not representative enough and did not represent those who fought in the Afghan jihad. 1 

Taliban Office

The second twist to the affair was provided by the Afghan government’s comments on the establishment of a Taliban office in Doha, Qatar. Afghan Foreign Minister insisted that the Afghan government will not allow the Taliban group to open a liaison office in Qatar unless the group is prepared for direct peace talks. He said, “The office for the Taliban group will not be opened unless the Taliban group or its representatives do not announce to start talks with the Afghan government. It will be highly risky if the office is opened and secret talks are held.” 2 However during the 11 January 2013 meeting in Washington, President Obama and Karzai endorsed the opening of a "Taliban office" in a third-party country to "facilitate" reconciliation talks3.

Taliban too firmed up its position after the Paris meeting and early this year a statement was released on ‘Voice of Jihad’, the official website of the Afghan Taliban, signed by "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" which rejected any security agreement between the US and the Afghan government as "a personal deal between Karzai and America," and said "it shall hold no legal credibility. The Islamic Emirate shall continue its sacred Jihad against it just as it has for the past eleven years, if even a single American soldier" remains in country, the Taliban stated. The Taliban made the statement as the Afghan government is freeing hundreds of Taliban prisoners and the US government is debating the size of residual force for post-2014 period. 

Release of Taliban Detainees

Afghan officials believe that freeing Taliban members could be a positive step towards persuading the Taliban fighters to accept peace negotiations, hold direct talks with the government and eventually transform the Taliban into a political movement. The Afghan government has freed more than 250 Taliban prisoners formerly held by the U.S. and plans on releasing an additional 150 soon. 4 

Prisoners were released on January 4, 2013 from the Bagram military prison, north of Kabul, and other jails across the country. Their release was secured through a special complaints committee, amid hopes that it might help peace and reconciliation efforts. An Afghan Defense Ministry official, Jalaluddin Dehati said a total of 1,200 prisoners will be set free in the coming weeks. According to the official, Bagram prison at present holds about 3,000 Taliban fighters and suspected terrorists. 5

In neighboring Pakistan, 26 Taliban have been freed in recent months and there are reports that Kabul had presented a 40-man list of detainees to Islamabad. The list includes Mullah Noorudin Turabi, a former Taliban justice minister, Anwar ul-Haq Mujahid, a military commander who headed Taliban operations in Tora Bora. Others on the list include top advisers to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. 

Pakistan has said recently that it plans to release all Afghan Taliban prisoners still in its custody. Jalil Jilani, Pakistan's foreign secretary said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi that Islamabad was coordinating the release of all prisoners and those released will include Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the militants group's former second-in-command. Kabul has long called on Islamabad to free Baradar, whom it sees as key to moving forward the peace negotiations with the Taliban. 6

Analysts say the move to free Taliban detainees is fraught with risk. The Afghan government has not been able to track the freed detainees, and some are thought to be returning to the battlefield. Under a "safe passage" agreement between Kabul and Islamabad, prisoners have been released with no conditions and many have simply disappeared. The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, which offered resettlement opportunities including security to Taliban foot soldiers and received some $140 million from international donors, has persuaded only about 1,000 militants to join the mainstream. 7 

French Connection

The French Foreign Ministry had said that the Paris meeting -- called the “third inter-Afghan closed academic seminar” -- will bring together “participants from the various components of Afghan society for discussions on 'Afghanistan -- Toward 2020.'8 France, which hosted similar meetings in 2011 and December, 2012, says it has no direct involvement in the event other than hosting it. The Paris meeting had been preceded by similar talks on 28 June 2012 in Japan, between Qari Din Mohammad, a member of the Taliban’s former Afghan minister of planning, and Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, head of the Afghan HPC, which had been facilitated by the Doshisha University, Kyoto. 

The meeting came on the heels of France ending its combat mission in Afghanistan as it withdrew its remaining 500 combat troops from the Nijrab base in the Kapisa region, a province northeast of Kabul. France was once one of the largest contributors to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, with a peak deployment of 4,000 troops. The Taliban did not fail to highlight the fact that their decision to attend the meeting in Paris was influenced by the French decision of withdrawing all their troops from Afghanistan which met their primary precondition for holding any talks. Hizb-e-Islami representative Ghairat Baheer, son-in-law of Gulbuldin Hekmatyar, too said that his militant group was attending the meeting in France because they admire the French government's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. 

Analysts believe that the French interest in Afghan reconciliation comes from the fact that France had in the past backed Jamiat-e Islami, a northern, Tajik-dominated faction and the broader Shura-e Nazar, sometimes known as the Northern Alliance."The French now realise that the Taliban will be have a stronger role in Afghanistan in days to come”. They would like the interests of the Jamiat-e Islami and Shura-e Nazar, secured in the future power equations. The only progress in this direction has been Taliban’s public admission of the need to talk to the opposition groups from the former Northern Alliance. 

The US was observing the Paris meeting and would like to see this interaction take the next step toward reconciliation in terms of the resumption of what was known as the “Doha process”. This would involve an exchange of detainees and the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, Qatar. US analysts strongly believe Taliban can be persuaded to “cut a deal’, which might lead to an eventual cease-fire in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders on the other hand are said to resist any compromise that might not show them as victors. Significantly, the US ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunninghum has said that Washington will never attend any peace talks with the Taliban group where Afghan government representative is not involved. He said in the context of the recent meeting between Obama and Karzai that , “The two leaders made clear that peace negotiations and reconciliation are vital for the two nations and they encourage the establishment of Taliban liaison office in Qatar so that the Afghan government and Taliban group can hold peace talks. The decision will finally depend on the Taliban group.”9 

Taliban Strategy

Some observers feel Taliban leadership is changing its stance on the Afghan war and peace negotiations.10 Prior to the Paris meeting it was said that the Taliban leadership were considering a change of strategy on a wide array of issues. Zabihullah, a senior Taliban leader in the Quetta Shura informed that they are reconsidering the peace talks, the hostility towards the former Northern Alliance, their rejection of the Afghan Constitution and even participating in the next presidential and National Assembly elections. The Taliban affinity for the predominantly ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara Northern Alliance was attributed to the fact that it is opposed to the Karzai government and in favour of an Islamic state. Zabihullah also said that the Taliban is willing to accept the Afghan Constitution and democratic elections with some changes to the electoral law; a view that was debunked at the Paris meeting.

One political analyst in Kabul, believes that the conflicting signals are because the Taliban leadership is in a real quandary about how to proceed and where it can make compromises acceptable to its own followers.“For the last 11 years, Taliban leaders have motivated their forces to carry on the fight by saying the country is under attack, its government is not Islamic, and God's religion is under threat,” he said. “While the war is framed in terms of religion, it also highly personalised because the Taliban ranks include people who have lost family members. “If foreign forces are still based in Afghanistan, the constitution remains unchanged and the movement has no substantial guarantees inside or outside the country, how can its leaders convince the rank-and-file? This will split the Taliban."11

Others take a more cynical view of the insurgents’ ability to make peace, regarding them as merely an instrument of Pakistan’s intelligence service. Afghan HPC saw the release on 31 December 2012 by Pakistan of eight Taliban members imprisoned by them as supportive of the peace negotiations and promoting stability in Afghanistan. However, many observers feel the Taliban are tired of fighting and want to end the war, but have been prevented from proceeding with peace talks by Pakistan which is pushing for a larger role in the region. The softer stance of Taliban is also viewed as a manipulation by Pakistan to influence the upcoming elections in Afghanistan.


The Paris meeting was meant to "pave the way for formal talks in the future." But some analysts believe that “the incentives for the Taliban to negotiate a deal just aren't there". The Afghan government’s plan to draw the Taliban to the table through the release of detainees seems more like a shot in the dark as there are no assurances that the freed detainees will help bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table. For that matter these released detainees might reorient the power structure within the Taliban and give ‘jihad’ a new purpose and direction.

End Notes
  1. Rafi Sediqi. ‘Bona Fides of Taliban Representatives At Paris Meeting Unclear: MoFA’, Tolonews, 25 December 2012.
  2. Sajad. ‘ Afghanistan sets conditions for Taliban office in Qatar’, Khaama Press, January0 2, 2013.
  3. Obama, Karzai endorse 'Taliban office,' agree to speed military transition’, January 11, 2013.
  4. ‘ Afghan Militants Freed by Government’, Associated Press, January 04, 2013.
  5. Afghan Government Releases Dozens Of Taliban Fighters, RFE/RL, January 04, 2013.
  6. Pakistan Pledges To Free All Afghan Taliban, RFE/RL, January 18, 2013.
  7. Frud Bezhan. ‘Taliban Prisoner Releases Are High-Risk, Low-Reward’, RFE/RL, January 13, 2013.
  8. ‘Afghan Factions Meeting In France’, RFE/RL, December 19, 2012.
  9. Meena Haseeb . ‘Afghan peace talks pending Taliban agreement with Kabul’, Khaama Press, January 13, 2013.
  10. Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai. ‘Afghanistan: Drastic Changes for the Taliban’, December 15, 2012.
  11. Mina Habib, Hafizullah Gardesh . ‘Kabul Officials in Face-to-Face Meeting with Taleban’, Afghanistan ARR Issue 446, 01 January 2013.