Dawn Editorial 28 October 2019

Afghan talks

THE fact is that were Afghanistan to implode, the chaos thus spawned would not remain confined within its borders, and would spread across the region.
Perhaps this is the key concern behind the quadrilateral talks that took place in Moscow focusing on Afghan peace, and featuring diplomats from Pakistan, the US, Russia and China.
Read: Four countries call for reducing violence in Afghanistan
All the participating states have stakes in Afghan security, which is why the meeting called for a resumption of stalled peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the US, the real power behind the government in Kabul.
The participants also “urged all sides to immediately reduce violence”, as recently released UN figures show that a large number of civilians have been killed in acts of violence within Afghanistan.
The quadrilateral process is a welcome development and may pave the way for regional states to support Afghan peace.
Where the US and Russia are concerned, ironically, both states have played key roles in bringing Afghanistan to its current sorry pass.
Kabul became a central battlefield in the Cold War, as the Americans and Soviets jousted for influence; Afghanistan has yet to recover from the instability of the ‘jihad’ that was fought in its cities and towns.
And while the erstwhile USSR was humbled for its imperial hubris, the Americans soon found themselves involved in a new Afghan adventure, this time bringing ‘justice’ and ‘democracy’ to Afghanistan by punishing the Taliban for their support to Al Qaeda in the post-9/11 scenario.
However, today both Washington and Moscow find themselves trying to bring peace to Kabul.
Naturally, if Afghanistan is destabilised further, Russia will be concerned due to its geographic proximity, while the US will also want to prevent terrorist groups from finding refuge in the country. As for China, it also fears Afghanistan becoming a base for extremists that may target its interests. And Pakistan has the most to lose from an unstable Afghanistan; for the past four decades, this country has been affected by the instability within the borders of its western neighbour.
Apart from the fears of neighbours and regional powers, Afghan civilians have paid a high cost for hostilities between their government and the Taliban. As per UN figures, over 1,100 non-combatants were killed in violence between July and September, with the Taliban carrying out numerous bloody attacks during the Afghan presidential polls.
It is hoped the quadrilateral process is carried forward so that talks between the US and Taliban resume.
Meanwhile, reports that the results of September’s presidential election have been delayed are worrying.
A power vacuum in Kabul will only result in more chaos, which is why a representative government acceptable to all Afghans must take power soon. And while external players have their roles, lasting stability can only come when the Taliban and their Afghan rivals decide to end hostilities and work for peace.
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2019


Twitter takedown

AN investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists illustrates India’s determined efforts to stifle diversity of opinion on social media — even more so where the issue of India-held Kashmir is concerned. According to the results, since 2017, Twitter at the request of the Modi government has blocked nearly a million tweets from various accounts. And given that the requests — dating between August 2017 and August this year — were retrieved from only one open database, the picture that emerges is likely just a snapshot of the actual situation. The CPJ found 53 letters to Twitter from the Indian government during this period asking the social media giant to take action under its Country Withheld Content policy to block all or portions of 400 accounts. Around 45pc of those accounts were focused on the disputed territory. The Indian government was undoubtedly gratified by the social media platform’s response: nearly 90pc of the withheld accounts referenced Kashmir. In August alone, when the Indian government stripped the region of its special status and imposed a media blackout while engaging in brutal human rights violations inside the disputed territory, nine legal requests were sent to Twitter citing 20 accounts and 24 tweets. That constituted a considerable spike in the frequency of such requests.
Significantly, all the requests that originated from India’s ministry of electronic and information technology — 40 of the 53 in total — cited legislation pertaining to national security and public order to make their case. That is an old canard to suppress criticism of official policy that could paint a country in a negative light. Usually, even when a country’s mainstream media has been browbeaten and/or swayed by financial blandishments into becoming cheerleaders for the government, social media, given its nature, remains a largely untamed space where global voices can be heard. In this instance, several journalists’ accounts were also caught up in the Twitter moderation dragnet. The social media giant’s opaque moderation policy sometimes encourages speculation about its criteria for blocking accounts or taking down tweets. In August, 200 accounts belonging to Pakistanis posting content in support of Kashmir were blocked. Despite its claims of impartiality, evidence indicates Twitter’s increasing compliance with requests from the Indian government. To maintain the platform as a space for open discourse and exchange of ideas, Twitter must consider requests to block accounts within the larger political context, and distinguish between incitement to violence and fair comment.
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2019


Top polluters

BIG corporations are accused, often justifiably, of transgressions such as unethical labour practices, conflicts of interest, etc. Now, a report by the #breakfreefromplastic global movement illustrates their appalling contribution to the problem of environmental pollution. On Sept 21, World Clean Up Day, BFFP mobilised over 72,000 volunteers to conduct a ‘global audit’ by collecting discarded single-use plastic waste to determine which international brands were the worst offenders. Of the almost half a million pieces of plastic collected in 37 countries, 43pc was marked with a clear consumer brand. The top three offenders were Coca Cola, Nestle and Pepsico, with single-use plastic waste belonging to Coca Cola adding up to 11,732 pieces, more than the next three global polluters combined. Among the top 10 are also Unilever, Mars, P&G, Phillip Morris and Colgate-Palmolive.
In a world where ‘disposable’ had become a byword for convenience, there has been a seismic shift during the past decade or so as awareness about environmental pollution and climate change has increased. However, for giant multinationals such as the ones that emerged at the top of the global audit, the bottom line trumps social responsibility. Using cheap, non-recyclable packaging material, the disposal of which they do not pay for, has been a hugely successful business model. The consequences are disastrous, choking rivers and waterways, poisoning the air when the plastic waste is burned; the toxic components then leach into the soil and enter the food chain. While Pakistan was not on the list of countries where the global audit was carried out, most of the multinationals that scored among the top polluters in the report have a major presence in this country, with a commensurate footprint in terms of plastic waste. There appears to be a new resolve in officialdom’s efforts to address the issue. But there is clearly more to the problem than the ubiquitous plastic ‘shopper’. What is the government going to do about the multinationals’ major contribution to the scourge of plastic waste in the country?
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2019


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