The Asian Age – Trump’s Afghan/Pakistan mess: A ‘rebalancing’ is needed

K C Singh

Op/Ed, 19 October 2017. America’s President Donald Trump announced his new Afghan policy on August 21, after an in-depth review. He changed three elements in his predecessor Barack Obama’s doctrine. One was a limited surge of 3,000 additional troops, taking the total to around 11,000.

He also took timelines off the table, which common sense and military leaders had anyway demanded as withdrawal dates allow the Taliban to, in sporting terms, run out the clock and avoid negotiations. Finally, Mr Trump loosened the rules of engagement, thus liberating field commanders from constraints on the manner and place of deployment.

What caused the real regional churn was his threatening message for Pakistan, seeking more action against terrorists and their sanctuaries while inviting India to increase its development footprint in Afghanistan. This caused sinking morale and ire in Pakistan.

In New Delhi, it seemed as if Diwali had come early, and ruling party spokespersons preened on television, using harsh and condemnatory language about Pakistan. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj took the same line as she turned her UN General Assembly address into a Pakistan-bashing session.

The global Indian vision had been subsumed in a vitriolic Pakistan policy. Pakistan adopted its time-tested methods of mixing ire with self-pity, bemoaning its sacrifices in combating terrorism. The onus for bringing the Taliban to heel was gradually shifted to Afghans or others, claiming it had diminishing influence on the group.

Links to the deadly Haqqani Network were denied, but by a magic trick Pakistan got released from the same group the Canadian-US Boyle family abducted since 2012. Mr Trump’s subsequent adulatory tweet saying he looked forward to working with Pakistan caused some discomfort in Delhi.

Even Rahul Gandhi hit his target sarcastically, asking whether it was not time for PM Narendra Modi to go hug Mr Trump once again.

In the process, the US objective has been largely lost. Senator John McCain, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, asked appropriately that he would freeze confirmation of new defence appointees until he gets “a more detailed strategy for war in Afghanistan”. Some contours of the new US approach are visible already, though many ambiguities remain.

The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) met in Muscat, Oman, on October 16. When a senior US official was asked by me why only China was in that group out of the regional powers, besides the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the answer was that it was one of many groupings to enable finding a regional consensus on stabilising Afghanistan.

That is easier said than done as President Trump’s refusal to certify that Iran was abiding by the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal, and dubbing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation is likely to drive Iran to oppose the US’ Afghan policy.

It is conjectured both Iran and Russia have been lately offering the Taliban aid and sanctuaries. Thus US-Iran dissonance will breed Iranian non-cooperation or even hostility as the US moves to stabilise Afghanistan. Pakistan is partially right that other regional players are guardians of some elements of the Taliban, thus diminishing Pakistani influence.

Similarly, the Saudi Arabia-led pillorying of Qatar, which is being opposed by Iran and Turkey, will play out in Afghanistan. The only formal Taliban office overseas is in Doha, Qatar. It is now difficult to travel to Doha from many aviation hubs in the Gulf, making contact with Taliban leaders more difficult.

Apparently Saudi Arabia and UAE have opened their own channels to the Taliban leadership to remain in play. Thus the Iran-led Shia alliance rubbing against the Sunni alliance led by Saudi Arabia in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen will get reflected in their roles in Afghanistan.

However, a shared concern is the resurfacing of ISIS (Daesh) fighters, ejected from their strongholds in Syria and Iraq, in Afghanistan and even Pakistan. They are without a state sponsor as yet and threaten all regional powers. Hopefully no one will start using them in the “Great Game” in the region. Can all regional powers sink their differences to counter them?

India-Pakistan relations remain bogged in mutual recrimination. The Narendra Modi-Ajit Doval doctrine of no dialogue till support to terror ends is unrealistic. At best, Pakistan should be held accountable for attacks traceable to its state agencies. Otherwise the veto on India-Pakistan relations passes into the hands of any single jihadi who is willing to die.

Unfortunately, popularly-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been decapitated by judicial writ. Pakistan is already in electoral mode with parliamentary elections due next year.

Mr Modi faces a crucial Gujarat Assembly election soon, and may even be forced to call early Lok Sabha elections if the economy does not rebound or a bad monsoon is anticipated.

Thus, bilateral ties in the foreseeable future will be run by hawks on both sides. Afghanistan can be the greatest confidence-builder between the two nations, or the theatre of extreme offshore rivalry.

The Trump administration will soon realise that no Afghan/Pakistan policy will work unless all regional powers honestly cooperate. The US President’s next visit abroad is to China, Japan and Republic of Korea, with its focus likely to be on containing North Korea with its nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump needs to rebalance his approach to South and West Asia if his Afghan policy has to work. Otherwise, ironically, the creator of radical Islamist forces to counter the Soviets in Afghanistan will find the roles reversed, with the Russians using the Taliban to undermine the US in Afghanistan.

The Indians may act likewise if they see Pakistan gaining control over the new US Afghan doctrine. The moral is that while tweets can entertain or provoke, they cannot really resolve geostrategic riddles.

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry
He tweets at @ambkcsingh


The Asian Age – BJP’s secret poll dealings need to be exposed

A G Noorani

Op/Ed, 15 October 2017. Election commissioner O P Rawat is the latest victim of flattery. Recently, he said that the Election Commission of India would be capable of holding Lok Sabha and states Assemblies elections simultaneously by September 2018, and that the government had sought the EC’s views.

The government was told that funds would be needed for electronic voting machines and other equipment, but the EC had already placed orders; machines were already being delivered. “But it is up to the government to take a decision and make necessary legal amendments for it.”

No government has the right to take such a decision without consulting all major political parties. Rawat knows they have done nothing of the kind. He also knows that many are opposed to the decision. Why, then, did he, or perhaps his two other EC colleagues, assuming they were consulted, do so without the requisite consensus and announce it?

Unsurprisingly, the day after his announcement, most Opposition parties responded by rejecting the proposal. They pointed out that there was no political consensus on the matter.

Rawat belatedly acknowledged that all parties had to be brought on board. The EC itself favoured simultaneous polls, he said, to give the government more time to formulate policies.

This absurdity was capped by a damning disclosure. The government had sought the EC’s views in 2015, which it provided “in March that year”. The exchange was kept secret for two years. The government had floated the proposal in several trial balloons in recent months.

Rawat was well aware of these moves, he reads the newspapers. Why he chose to walk into a political minefield so confidently, with his eyes wide open, can only be guessed. On its merits, the proposal violates the country’s federal constitution, parliamentary system and democracy itself.

It is well known that Narendra Modi and his energetic stooge Amit Shah are out to capture total power over the country by targeting non-BJP-ruled states. Two of them, Karnataka and Tripura, will go to the polls next year, along with Gujarat where the ruling BJP faces serious challenge.

The next targets are West Bengal and Odisha, where the BJP’s ally Naveen Patnaik has discovered that the alliance provides no protection against threats to his rule.

In a parliamentary system, the head of government (Prime Minister or chief minister) wields a necessary and powerful weapon: dissolution of the legislature. It keeps his unruly followers in check. (After an aborted revolt, Prime Minister Harold Wilson warned Labour MPs that “every dog is allowed one bite”.)

He could advise the queen to dissolve the House of Commons and send the MPs packing to their constituencies to fight a mid-term election at great expense and risk to their seats. He also has the right to a dissolution if a major issue crops up on which he is entitled to seek a fresh mandate.

To deny him this right by imposing a fixed term is to deny the electorate its democratic right to pronounce its verdict on that issue. This is not all.

Heads of state also enjoy the power of what jurist Eugene Forsey called a “forced dissolution”: if the head of government chooses to brazen it out, the head of state may step in and ask him to secure a mandate through fresh election.

In the last century, Britain had two general elections within a year when the king exercised this power. There is also the anachronism of imposing direct Central rule over a state, which denies the people the right to pronounce on the Centre’s violation of state autonomy.

In a federal polity, states need not be ruled by the political party that holds sway at the Centre. Political diversity infuses life into federalism. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress swept the polls in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

The Karnataka chief minister, Ramakrishna Hegde, who belonged to the Janata Party opposed to the Congress, advised the governor to dissolve the Assembly even though he was not obliged to do so. An impressive majority returned him to power.

Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal all had powerful chief ministers in the 1980s, who opposed the Congress and provided an invaluable political check on the Centre’s power by forming a group.

Simultaneous polls at the Centre and in the states are not a matter of administrative convenience; they touch the entire constitutional and political system.

We now have one EC member pronouncing his opinion and revealing the government’s interaction with the commission. This is not a private affair between them. The people have a right to know. The entire correspondence must be published so that the public knows the terms of the governments’ reference and of the EC’s response.

By arrangement with Dawn

A G Noorani is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai

The Asian Age – Manmohan Singh shares stage with Sajjan Kumar in Delhi, sparks anger

Atul Krishan

New Delhi, 8 October 2017. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finds himself in the middle of another controversy on Saturday when he shared dais with former Lok Sabha MP Sajjan Kumar, an accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, sparking a massive outrage.

A senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, said that Mr Singh and Mr Kumar attended the first meeting of the newly-elected Delhi Congress unit. “Both the leaders are the newly-elected delegates. They came had come to attend the first meeting,” he said. This has come as major embarrassment to the Congress.

In July, the Delhi high court had sought the response of Mr Kumar to a plea seeking cancellation of anticipatory bail granted to him by the trial court in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case.

The Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) appointed as many as 280 new delegates who would vote in the All India Congress Committee (AICC) elections reportedly to be held next month. Besides, Mr Singh, senior party leader Janardhan Dwivedi was also made one of the delegates.

During the meeting, the Congress leaders also passed two resolutions that AICC vice president Rahul Gandhi should take over as AICC president and that the AICC president and vice-president should elect the new DPCC.

All the newly elected delegates endorsed both the resolutions by raising their hands. Former DPCC president Ms Tajdar Babar read out the first resolution regarding election of the DPCC chief. The second resolution was read out by former DPCC president Prem Singh who proposed that Mr Gandhi should take over as the AICC chief.

Addressing the meeting, DPCC president Ajay Maken said that it was a matter of pride for the party that Mr Singh had been elected as a DPCC delegate.

The Asian Age – Defence Minister inaugurates Pratham-Shyok Bridge in Leh

The defence minister said the government wanted to understand the conditions the soldiers live in

Leh-Ladakh-Jammu & Kashmir-India, 30 September 2017. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday inaugurated the Pratham-Shyok Bridge that will link Leh to Karakoram, providing connectivity on the strategically important Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Olde axis for military transport.

Addressing the officers and personnel of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), the Defence Minister, who is on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, said the construction of bridges and roads at such high-altitude terrain was nothing short of a miracle.

“Jawans from different states, which have varied weather conditions, come and serve the nation in such high-altitudes and it is applaudable,” Sitharaman said.

The state-of-the-art bridge is a major development on the Shyok Gong River which will enhance travel of locals as well as the Army in this strategic region. It will increase travel and communication for strategic transport, the minister said.

She said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the central government fully supported the soldiers who protect the nation under all circumstances.

“We are committed to spending time with the jawans and do whatever is possible for them,” she said.

Recalling the Prime Minister’s visit to Siachen where he spent time with soldiers, she said the government wanted to understand the conditions the soldiers live in.

“I assure you that the government is with you all the time and in all circumstances. We are not only sensitive to your needs and demands but also to those of your families,” the minister said.

While lauding the BRO and its men for working in a difficult terrain and hostile circumstances, Sitharaman said the organisation not only connected people of remote hamlets, but also provided connectivity for the Army in strategic locations.

She said constructing roads and bridges in difficult terrains would help in development and progress of the nation and its people.

The Asian Age – BSF using chilli spray, stun grenades to stop Rohingyas

A chilli grenade makes use of a naturally-occurring compound in chilli powder to cause severe irritation and temporarily immobilise its target.

New Delhi, 24 September 2017. India has stepped up security along its largely porous eastern border with Bangladesh and is using “chilli and stun grenades” to block the entry of Rohingya Muslims fleeing from violence in their homeland of Myanmar, officials said on Friday.

Border forces in India, which wants to deport around 40,000 Rohingya already living in the country, citing security risks, have been authorised to use “rude and crude” methods to stop any attempts by the Rohingya to cross the India-Bangladesh border.

“We don’t want to cause any serious injury or arrest them, but we won’t tolerate Rohingya on Indian soil,” said a senior official with the Border Security Force (BSF) in New Delhi.

“We’re using grenades containing chilli spray to stop hundreds of Rohingya trying to enter India … the situation is tense,” added the official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to media.

More than 420,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 25, when a coordinated attack by Rohingya insurgents on Myanmar security forces triggered a counteroffensive, killing at least 400 people, mainly militants. The UN has called the assault a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Bangladesh is struggling to shelter all the refugees desperate for space to set up shacks, sparking worries in India that the influx could spill into its territory.

R P S Jaswal, a deputy inspector general of the BSF patrolling a large part of the border in West Bengal, said his troops were told to use both chilli grenades and stun grenades to push back the Rohingya.

A chilli grenade makes use of a naturally-occurring compound in chilli powder to cause severe irritation and temporarily immobilise its target.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is growing increasingly hostile towards the Rohingya in India, with home minister Rajnath Singh calling on Thursday for their deportation as “illegal migrants”.

Seeking to get legal clearance for the deportation plan, the home ministry told the Supreme Court this week it would confidentially provide it with intelligence information showing Rohingya links with Pakistan-based militants.

Most of the refugees had no link to criminal activity, two Rohingya men protesting against the deportation move told India’s top court on Friday.

An official of India’s federal investigations agency said it was seeking help from Muslim religious leaders to step up surveillance of the Rohingya.

Police have arrested a suspected al-Qaeda member who they say was trying to recruit Rohingya in the country to fight security forces in Myanmar. More than 270 Rohingya have been in Indian jails since 2014.

“Our investigations have revealed that al-Qaeda wants to use India and Bangladesh as their base to start a religious war against Myanmar,” said New Delhi police official Pramod Singh Khuswah. “Clearly they are a threat to our security.”

The Asian Age – 420 police encounters in 6 months of Yogi raj

Lucknow-Uttar Pradesh-India, 17 September 2017. On an overdrive to control crime under the Yogi Adityanath government, the Uttar Pradesh police has carried out 420 encounters in the past six months killing 15 criminals. One policeman died in these incidents.

Official statistics show that 10 of the alleged criminals were killed in just 48 days leading up to September 14.

Inspector general (law and order) Hari Ram Sharma said that the encounters were part of an aggressive approach adopted to “control crime”.

“Criminals do not surrender without resistance. Policemen need to fire in retaliation,” he said, justifying the exchange of fire during police action between March 20 and September 14.

The official said that the National Security Act has been invoked against 54 accused while properties of 69 gangsters have been booked under the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters And Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act.

He said that police inspector Jai Prakash Singh was killed in an encounter with dacoits in Chitrakoot and 88 other policemen were injured in the 420 encounters.

He also said that police arrested 1,106 people in the encounters which left 84 people injured.

Additional director general (law and order) Anand Kumar said, “We have adopted a proactive approach towards criminals who are creating fear in society. We are identifying these wanted criminals to arrest them.”

Mr Kumar dismissed allegations that the encounters were pre-planned. “When police work proactively, there are chances that such encounters happen,” he said.

“Every encounter is followed by a magisterial inquiry. The National Human Rights Commission is informed about the deaths,” he added.

I thought the task of the police was to arrest crominals, not to kill them …
Man in Blue

The Asian Age – Mystic Mantra: Mardana – The first Sikh

Bhai Mardana, born in 1459 in a Muslim family, was a life-long companion of Guru Nanak

Kulbir Kaur

Op/Ed, 15 September 2017. I reside where you reside O Mardana!” says Guru Nanak. In Sikh history and religion it is impossible and rather unthinkable to remember Guru Nanak without Mardana.

Bhai Mardana, born in 1459 in a Muslim family, was a life-long companion of Guru Nanak. He was 10 years elder to the Guru and they grew up in the village of Talwandi Rai Bhoe, now known as Nankana Sahib in Sheikhpura district of Pakistan. Bhai Mardana belonged to the Mirasi caste, community of Bards.

“Miras” means heritage and a Mirasi was supposed to be the custodian of “Miras” or heritage. In the Sikh religion, Bhai Mardana played the role of a true custodian of Guru Nanak’s ideas, principles and faith.

Bhai Mardana was named “Dana” by his parents and it was Guru Nanak who renamed him as “Mardana” (warrior). Guru Nanak, during his childhood, had given Mardana a simple string instrument made from reeds to play while he sang the hymns.

When Guru Nanak started working with the Nawab of Sultanpur Lodhi, Mardana went to meet him but never came back. He accompanied the Guru on his spiritual journeys across India and abroad. It was the beginning of a wonderful relationship, one playing the Rabab and the other singing the praises of God.

Bhai Mardana was, in fact, the first Kirtania of the Sikh religion.

The relationship and bond between Guru Nanak and Mardana is very symbolic and significant. It is sacred but reflects upon the everyday mundane life as well. In the Janamsakhis, Mardana represents this worldly affairs like hunger, desires, need for shelter, etc. Guru Nanak is the other worldly manifestation of truth.

Once Mardana felt very hungry and needed something to eat. Guru Nanak asked him to go the nearby village and satisfy his hunger. The villagers served him well and gifted him a number of things. Mardana returned to the Guru with a big bundle. When Guru Nanak saw this he rolled on the ground laughing.

Mardana realised his mistake and threw the bundle, which in fact was an unnecessary burden of desires and greed. Guru Nanak’s philosophy is portrayed through these journeys in an extremely simple and practical manner, without any heavy discourses and sermons.

In almost all the journeys Mardana raises certain doubts or encounters, certain situations typical of this world. Guru Nanak in a simple manner provides clarifications and solutions.

In the company of the Guru, Bhai Mardana acquired the traits of a Gurmukh, the one oriented towards the Guru. Three of his hymns are included in the Adi Granth under Raag Bihagra.

These hymns denounce the evil practices like drinking and differentiate between Gurmukh and Manmukh — the one oriented towards the world. Mardana is the only Sikh who could use Guru Nanak’s name in his hymns as Mardana Nanak.

Bhai Mardana did not care for the restrictions of the organised religion. When Pir Julaali’s son Jul Julaali asked Bhai Mardana not to play the Rabab, he replied that he was singing the hymns of the Guru and would not stop. During one of the journeys, when Mardana fell very ill, Guru Nanak asked him about the performance of his last rites.

Since he was a Muslim, the Guru asked about his wish. Bhai Mardana replied that in the company of the Guru he had overcome the pride of his body and was no longer attached to it. He asked the Guru to do as he wished. In 1534, Bhai Mardana breathed his last at Kartarpur.

Bhai Mardana had all the qualities of a Gursikh. He was child-like and pure in his conduct. He was the first Sikh, the first Kirtania and the first Rababi of the Sikh religion.

Above all he was a friend, a disciple and a companion of Guru Nanak. Bhai Gurdas says, “Ek Baba Akal Rup Dujja Rababi Mardana (There was Guru Nanak as the manifestation of the supreme being, and along him was Mardana, the musician).”

Notes :
1) Not everybody agrees that the three shabads headed Mardana are actually written by him
2) Bhai Mardana’s family was of Sufi background.

Kulbir Kaur teaches sociology at Shyama Prasad Mukherji College, Delhi University

The Asian Age – PM Modi, Shinzo Abe to kickstart bullet train plan on 14 September 2017.

The target for its completion is December 2023, though officials say there are indications that the government may seek an earlier deadline of 2022

New Delhi, 10 September 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe will lay the foundation stone for the proposed Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed rail network, commonly known as the bullet train, on September 14 in the Gujarat city, railway officials said.

The bullet train, which has a capacity to accommodate 750 people, is expected to reduce travel time between the two cities from seven to three hours. A sum of around Rs 1.10 lakh crore will be spent on the project.

The target for its completion is December 2023, though officials say there are indications that the government may seek an earlier deadline of 2022.

The train will stop at each of the 12 railway stations on the route, but only for 165 seconds. A 21-km-long tunnel will be dug between Boisar and BKC in Mumbai, of which seven km will be under water.

After the laying of the foundation stone, an investment summit will also be held between the Indian side and a Japanese delegation comprising representatives from Japan External Trade Organisation and Japan Inter-national Cooperation Agency.

The Asian Age – Cabinet reshuffle: Meet the nine new ministers to be inducted today

Here’s all you need to know about the nine new ministers being inducted in Modi’s Cabinet on Sunday.

New Delhi, 3 September 2017. The nine new members to be inducted in the Union council of ministers include four former senior bureaucrats and also Bharatiya Janata Party (BPP) leaders from the states of Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh which go to polls in the near future.

Here are their short profiles:

Ashwini Kumar Choubey

64-year-old Ashwini Kumar Choubey has been the health minister of Bihar. A BJP veteran he was born at Dariyapur in Bhagalpur and did BSc (Hons) in Zoology from the Science College, Patna University. Presently, he represents the Buxar Lok Sabha seat.

Married to Neeta Choubey, he is father to two sons. He was an active part of the JP movement in the 1970s and was taken into custody during the Emergency.

Chaubey is credited with raising the slogan “Ghar-Ghar me ho Shouchalaya ka nirman, Tabhi hoga Ladli Bitiya ka Kanyadaan”, and has helped construct 11,000 toilets for Mahadalit families.

Virendra Kumar

Virendra Kumar, 63, is the Lok Sabha MP from Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh. From the convenor of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), District Sagar in 1977-79 to now being set to become a Union minister in the Modi government, it has been a long journey for Kumar, who was elected for a sixth Lok Sabha term in 2014.

Kumar had participated in the JP movement of the 1970s, and was in jail for 16 months during the Emergency. He hails from the scheduled caste community and hold a masters degree in economics and a PhD in Child Labour.

Shiv Pratap Shukla

65-year-old Shiv Pratap Shukla is a Rajya Sabha MP from the country’s most populous and electorally crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. The lawyer-social worker has earlier been a minister in the government of Uttar Pradesh.

He was appointed a vice president of Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP in 2012. He is a law graduate from the Gorakhpur University and was imprisoned for 19 months during the Emergency.

Anant Kumar Hegde

Anant Kumar Hegde, 49, was elected to the Lok Sabha a member of the 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th and 16th Lok Sabha, from Uttara Kannada in Karnataka.

He is an agriculturist by profession. At the young age of 28, he was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time. During his multiple stints in Parliament, he has been a member of multiple Parliamentary Standing Committees like Finance, Home Affairs, Human Resource Development, Commerce, Agriculture and External Affairs.

He has also been a member of the Spices Board of India for 4 terms. He is a practitioner of Tae-kwon-do.

Satya Pal Singh

Satya Pal Singh is a Lok Sabha MP from Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh. The 1980 batch, Maharashtra cadre, retired IAS officer is a former Mumbai police chief. He was recognized with medals like the Antrik Suraksha Sewa Padak by the Centre in 2008 and a special service medal for extraordinary work in the Naxalite areas of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in 1990.

Singh has written books, on topics like tribal conflict resolution and Naxalism. Born in Basauli village in Baghpat, Satya Pal Singh has a MSc and MPhil in Chemistry, MBA in Strategic Management from Australia, MA in Public Administration as well as a PhD in Naxalism.

Gajendrasingh Shekhawat

Gajendrasingh Shekhawat (age 49) is the Jodhpur Lok Sabha MP. He also is a national general secretary of the farmers wing of the BJP. A sports enthusiast, Shekhawat has participated at National and All India Inter University level in Basket Ball.

He currently is a Member of the All India Council of Sports and the President of Basketball India Players Association. He has an MPhil and MA in Philosophy from Jai Narain Vyas University, Jodhpur.

Hardeep Singh Puri

Hardeep Singh Puri, 65, is a 1974 batch Indian Foreign Service officer who served as the Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013.

Known for his experience and expertise in foreign policy and national security, he is the president and chairman of Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) think tank, and was the Vice President of International Peace Institute, New York.

His four-decade career in diplomacy spanning the multilateral arena, included critical roles of ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Ambassador to Brazil and the United Kingdom and Permanent Representative of India to Geneva.

An alumnus of The Hindu College, Delhi University, Puri was a student leader and active during the JP movement. He briefly taught at St Stephens College before joining the IFS.

Raj Kumar Singh

Raj Kumar Singh, 64, a former IAS officer of 1975 batch Bihar cadre, has been a former Home Secretary of India. He is a member of the 16th Lok Sabha representing Arrah in Bihar. Singh studied English Literature at St Stephens College, New Delhi and got a Bachelors Degree in Law thereafter. He also went on to study at the RVB Delft University in Netherlands.

Alphons Kannanthanam

Alphons Kannanthanam is a former IAS officer of the 1979 batch, Kerala cadre. He is also a practicing advocate. Kannanthanam became famous as Delhi’s ‘Demolition Man’ during his stint at the Delhi Development Authority, having cleared DDA areas of encroachment removing around 15,000 illegal buildings.

Born in a non-electrified Manimala village in Kottayam district to a World War II veteran, he pioneered the literacy movement in India as District Collector of Kottayam by making it the first 100 per cent literate town in India in 1989.

He retired from the IAS to get elected as an Independent Member of Legislative Assembly for Kanjirappally in Kerala from 2006 to 2011. Kannanthanam is a Member of the Committee to prepare the final draft of the National Education Policy 2017. He has authored a book “Making A Difference”.

Really rejuvenating and refreshing the cabinet with two 49 year old and seven 60+ ministers !
Man in Blue

The Asian Age – In shadow of terror, Afghanistan celebrates Independence Day

Ghani welcomed dozens of Afghan officials for a morning ceremony at the presidential palace

Kabul, 20 August 2017. Afghan security forces were on high alert on Saturday as the war-weary country, reeling from a number of high-profile deadly attacks, marked its independence day with muted celebrations.

There was an increased police presence in the capital Kabul where President Ashraf Ghani hosted a private ceremony for Afghan dignitaries.

“All of our police units are on the highest state of alert and they are placed everywhere across the city,” Kabul police spokesman Abdul Basir Mujahid said.

“We have increased the number of police checkpoints in and around the diplomatic quarters (too),” he added, amid fears that the Taliban would mark the anniversary with a large-scale attack.

August 19 commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919, which granted Afghanistan full independence from Britain, although the country was never part of the British empire, after three bloody wars.

While Afghanistan’s red, black and green tricolour flag adorned many Kabul streets, the day was largely going unobserved by ordinary Afghans, who are frustrated by the deteriorating security situation and the lack of progress by the US-led international coalition forces.

As in recent years there are no public ceremonies planned in the capital. The city has been on edge since a massive truck bomb ripped through its diplomatic quarter during morning rush hour on May 31, killing about 150 and wounding around 400 people, mostly civilians, in an unclaimed attack.

Taliban insurgents are currently at the peak of their summer fighting season and have launched several deadly assaults around the country in recent weeks.

Ghani welcomed dozens of Afghan officials for a morning ceremony at the presidential palace and laid a wreath at the independence minaret inside the defence ministry compound.

“A very happy Independence Day to everyone in AFG,” Ghani said on Twitter.

“This day was earned with lots of sacrifices. We must pay homage & celebrate this legacy.”