Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 10th September 2021

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1.  The fall of Afghanistan, the fallout in West Asia

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: International Relations | Mains – GS Paper III – IR
Sub Theme: AFGHANISTAN | TALIBAN | UPSC

Context: Pakistan has played a key role in the regime change in Afghanistan.  It has supported Taliban for past 20 years in term of providing hideouts,  material resources and strategic support. This is clearly visible in the new  Taliban cabinet where majority of the leaders have had support of Pakistan.  Also before the finalization of the cabinet the ISI chief flew to Kabul to  influence the formation of the Taliban cabinet. However the author says it is  not just the Pakistan but how the West Asian players engage with the Taliban,  that will decide the future of the crisis ridden Afghanistan.

West Asia and the Taliban

  • Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran have been direct role-players in Afghan affairs for over 25 years.
  • In the 1990s, Saudi and Qatar were supporters and sources of funding for the Taliban.
  • After the 9/11 attacks, all three countries became deeply involved with the Taliban.
  • From 2005, the Gulf countries have contributed millions of dollars to different Taliban leaders and factions.
  • Iran began a substantial engagement with various Taliban leaders from 2007 and provided funding, weapons, training and refuge, when required.
  • It wanted the Taliban to maintain pressure on the U.S. forces to ensure their speedy departure from the country.
  • In the 2010s, when the U.S. began to engage with Iran on the nuclear issue, Saudi Arabia became more directly involved in Afghan matters to prevent Iran’s expanding influence among Taliban groups.
  • Thus, besides Syria and Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia have also made Afghanistan an arena for their regional competitions.
  • In 2012, Qatar, on U.S. request, allowed the Taliban to open an office in Doha as a venue for their dialogue with the Americans.
  • This has made Qatar an influential player in Afghan affairs, with deep personal ties with several leaders, many of whom keep their families in Doha.

West Asian countries competing for influence 

  • The western countries are mostly wary of the stability of the Taliban regime.
  • They are also concerned about the Security of the region because of the existing volatility in Iraq and Syria along with Afghanistan.
  • Pakistan – Saudi coalition – They will remain influential, but are wary of extremism via Taliban.
  • Turkey – Qatar – share an ideological kinship with the Taliban. Both would like to see a moderate and inclusive administration. Qatar and Saudi are not on the same page after Saudi blockade against Qatar.  Such rivalries will have their impact on Afghan situation.
  • Iran – Many in Iran have been exuberant because of the US withdrawal but there are others who are concerned about the Taliban’s opposition to the Shias. Iran also sees itself as the guardian of the Tajik, Uzbek  and Hazara minorities in the country.

Regional Security

  • The region has a major Faultline in term of Saudi – Iran rivalry. In such a scenario there are two options for the regional players.
  1. An Israel-centric security order in which the Arab Gulf states would link themselves with Israel to confront Iran. This is seen as the larger goal of the Abraham accords that were signed recently.
  2. Comprehensive regional security arrangement – Which forgets the old rivalries to meet the new challenges.
  • The facilitators and guarantors of this security arrangement are likely to be China and Russia: over the last few years, both have built close relations with the major states of the region. i.e., Iran, Saudi Arabia,  Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Melting of old rivalries in the region

  • The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states led by Saudi Arabia lifted the over three year blockade of Qatar.
  • There have been three rounds of discussions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and plans are in place for the next meetings
  • Turkey has initiated diplomatic overtures towards Egypt and Saudi Arabia. None of these initiatives involves the Americans.
  • Saudi signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia, in Moscow.
  • This is a case of “strategic hedging” as the U.S. has placed restrictions on defence supplies to the Saudi.
  • Besides this, there were the two conferences in Baghdad — one set up a coalition of Iraq, Jordan and Egypt for economic cooperation, while the other brought together the principal regional states to confront  shared challenges — all these interactions have taken place without  U.S. presence.

These developments suggest that the germ of a new regional security order in  West Asia is already sown in fertile ground.

 

2.  IITs top Centre’s rankings for 2021

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: NIRF | Mains – SOCIAL ISSSUES
Sub Theme: NIRF | HIGHER EDUCATION | UPSC

Context: Union Ministry of education released India ranking 2021 under  NIRF(national Institutional ranking framework).

National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF): 

  • The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) was launched by  erstwhile MHRD (now Ministry of Education) in 2015
  • This framework ranks institutions across the country based on the following  parameters
Parameter Weightage
Teaching, Learning & Resources  (This includes students strength  including doctoral students, faculty student ratio etc.) 30%
Research and Professional Practice  (Number of research papers

published, IPRs licensed and projects  conducted)

30%
Graduation Outcomes 

(Number of Placements, median  salary of the placed students etc.)

20%
Outreach and Inclusivity 

(Percentage of students from other  states/countries, from socio &  economically backward sections,  women students etc.)

10%
Perception 

(Peer perception and public

perception etc.)

10%

Current Status of Higher education in India

According to AISHE (All India Survey on Higher education) report 2019-20 ⮚ GER: The Gross enrolment ratio (GER) of Higher education increased from  around 10% in 2004-05 to 27.1% in 2019-20.

⮚ College density i.e., the number of colleges per lakh eligible population is 30 ⮚ Gender Parity Index (GPI) in Higher Education in 2019-20 is 1.01 against 1.00  in 2018-19 indicating an improvement in the relative access to higher education  for females of eligible age group compared to males

⮚ Pupil Teacher Ratio in Higher Education in 2019-20 is 26.

Challenges in Higher education sector

  • Equity in enrolment:

Though Gross enrolment ratio increased over the period,

✔ India still lag behind the world average of 33% and comparable countries  such as Brazil (46%) and China (30%)

With the increase of enrolments at school level, the supply of higher education  institutes is insufficient to meet the growing demand in the country. ✔ Regional and social disparities continue to exist in higher education GER  varies from 5.5 % in Daman & Diu to 56.1 % in Chandigarh

✔ Students belonging to ST group constitute only 5.6%

  • Quality: 

Quality is a challenge in higher education in India. Only 3 Indian institutions  feature in the top 200 in world rankings (QS world university rankings) • Employability of graduates: According to India skills report 2021 less than  half of our graduates (45.9%) are employable

  • Infrastructure: Poor infrastructure like libraries and labs is another challenge to  the higher education system of India
  • Research and Innovation: There is inadequate focus on research in higher  education institutes due to scarcity of funds, ill equipped labs and weak linkage  of Research, higher education and Industry.
  • Islands of excellence: India has developed islands of excellence such as IITs and  the IISc. Govt allocates a major chunk of the budget to few premier institutes and  central universities while most of the regional and state universities are poorly  funded.
  • Governance issues: Management of the Indian education faces challenges of  overcentralisation, lack of autonomy and transparency

{Higher education institutes in India are affiliated to UGC or AICTE etc. Often  these affiliation do not give enough autonomy to design their own curriculum. The UGC document on guidelines for autonomous colleges (2017) clearly states  that “the only safe and better way to improve the quality of undergraduate  education is to delink most of the colleges from the affiliating structure and  granting autonomy status to deserved institutes” 

Government Initiatives taken

  • NIRF to increase the competitiveness of the higher education institutes • Institutes of Eminence:  

⮚ The government intends to establish 20 ‘institutions of eminence’ to  achieve world class status, from amongst the existing government/private  institutions and new institutions from the private sector.

⮚ Autonomy: Institutes with IoE tag will be given greater autonomy and  freedom to decide fees, course durations and governance structures.

⮚ Grant: The public institutions under IoE tag will receive a government  grant of Rs. 1,000 crore, while the private institutions will not get any  funding under the scheme.

  • HEFA (Higher education financing agency): 

⮚ Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) is a joint venture of MoE  and Canara Bank for financing creation of capital assets in premier  educational institutions in India

⮚ Objective is to revitalize infrastructure and systems in higher education, their needs to be new investments in research and related infrastructure. • Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA):  

⮚ A Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS), launched aims at providing  strategic funding to eligible state higher educational institutions

⮚ The central funding (in the ratio of 60:40 for general category States, 90:10  for special category states and 100% for union territories) would be norm  based and outcome dependent

 

3.  BRICS seeks ‘inclusive’ intra-Afghan dialogue

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: IR | Mains – INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Sub Theme: | BRICS | UPSC

BRICS – Intra Afghan dialogue & Counter Terrorism Action Plan 

  • The 13th BRICS summit called for an “inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue” for stability in Afghanistan.
  • The nations adopted the BRICS Counter Terrorism Action Plan • The joint declaration called for settling the situation in Afghanistan by peaceful means
  • The Intra Afghan dialogue would aim at to ensuring stability, civil peace, law and order in the country. The nations prioritised fighting terrorism, including preventing attempts by terrorist organisations to  use Afghan territory as terrorist sanctuary and to carry out attacks  against other countries
  • It also called for addressing the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, and urged the need to uphold rights of women, children and minorities.
  • The summit emphasised the importance of the principle of “non interference” in international affairs and said disputes and conflicts should be resolved by peaceful means.

BRICS Genesis 

  • In November 2001, Jim O’Neill, a British economist who was then chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, coined the term ‘BRIC’ to describe the four emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and  China.
  • He published a paper ‘The World Needs Better Economic BRICs’ for the Goldman Sachs ‘Global Economic Paper’ series.
  • In this paper he made a case for BRIC on the basis of econometric analyses projecting that the four economies would individually and collectively occupy far greater economic space and become among the  world’s largest economies in the next 50 years or so.

Important Summits 

  • As a formal grouping, BRIC started after the meeting of the leaders of Russia, India and China in St Petersburg on the margins of the G8- Outreach Summit in July 2006.
  • The grouping was formalised during the first meeting of BRIC Foreign Ministers on the margins of the UNGA in New York in September 2006.
  • The first BRIC Summit was held in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on June 16, 2009.
  • It was agreed to expand BRIC to BRICS with the inclusion of South Africa at the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ meeting in New York in September 2010.
  • South Africa attended the third BRICS Summit in Sanya on April 14, 2011.
  • Sixth BRICS Summit – Fortaleza Declaration – This was termed by India as the beginning of Second cycle of BRICS summit . The 6th BRICS summit resulted in the official inauguration of the New Development  Bank, a multilateral development bank intended as an alternative to  the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Importance for India 

  • BRICS now brings together five economies accounting for 42% of the world’s population, 23% of the global GDP and an around 17% share of world trade.
  • BRICS has emerged the voice of developing countries, or the global south.
  • As these countries face an aggressive club of developed countries, raising challenges on issues from WTO to climate change, India believes BRICS has to protect the rights of the developing countries.
  • The five BRICS countries are also members of G-20.
  • India can play a balancing role between Russia and China on the one side and the US on the other in the present global dynamics.
  • India has played a key role in making terrorism as one of the key focus of BRICS.
  • The joint working group on counter-terrorism has decided to constitute sub-working groups in five areas: terrorist financing; use of Internet for terrorist purposes; countering radicalisation; the issue of foreign  terrorist fighters; and capacity-building.
  • Further India wants a reform of the multilateral institutions like WTO for which BRICS provides an important platform of generating opinion on such issues.
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