By the late 1960s, it became evident to American leaders that they could not win the Vietnam war. Richard Nixon, who was elected President in 1968, assigned Henry Kissinger, the National Security Adviser, to hold talks with the communist North Vietnam, seeking “peace with honour”. The Americans were actually prolonging a war they had already lost. The goal was not to defeat North Vietnam but to stop them from taking over the South, the American ally. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, called this approach the “stalemate machine”.
Cut to today’s Afghanistan. It’s hard to miss the similarities in the U.S.’s strategy. After 18 years of fighting — longer than America’s direct military involvement in Vietnam — the U.S. has realised that it cannot win the Afghan war. The American goal is no longer defeating the Taliban but to stop them, at least for now, from taking over Kabul. Veteran diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad is the new Kissinger. Just as Nixon wanted to get out of Vietnam, President Donald Trump too wants to get out of Afghanistan.
The U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam goes back to the last years of French colonial rule. The U.S. first backed France against the Viet Minh guerrillas. After France exited Vietnam in 1954, the U.S. backed South Vietnam against the communist-led North.
Initially, the U.S. involvement was limited to advisory roles. But after the U.S. destroyer, USS Maddox, was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats off the Vietnamese coast, in August 1964, the Lyndon Johnson administration steadily escalated the U.S.’s role. At its peak, in 1968, American troop deployment in Vietnam reached 549,500 personnel. The U.S. went into Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, launching its war on terror. At the peak of the war here, there were over 1,00,000 troops. Despite the massive deployment of troops and superior air power, the U.S. got stuck and failed to stabilise the country.
From a position of weakness
In Vietnam, the U.S. was negotiating from a position of weakness. By the late 1960s, American public opinion had largely turned against the war. Despite massive troop deployment, both the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies had failed to make substantial gains. America’s search and destroy operations in communist-dominated villages in the south and its disastrous air campaign in the north only fuelled Vietnamese hostility. The U.S. had dropped more than three times as many bombs on Vietnam as the Allied forces had during the Second World War. Besides, the South Vietnamese regime was unpopular, oppressive and weak. In a visit to Saigon, the South’s capital, a few months after he assumed the presidency, Nixon promised peace and asked the communists to reciprocate. He badly wanted a deal, and Mr. Kissinger was his bet.
Nixon first started “Vietnamising” the war — reducing U.S. troop presence in Vietnam and shifting the focus from direct participation in land war to training and advisory roles, while continuing with air strikes. At the same time, Mr. Kissinger started talks with Le Duc Tho, a North Vietnamese revolutionary and diplomat. When talks were deadlocked, the U.S. offered to pull out of the South as a compromise. In 1973, the U.S., North Vietnam and representatives of South Vietnam and Viet Cong, the communist guerillas from the South, signed the Paris Peace Accords. The North and the South agreed to a ceasefire and continue holding peace talks, while the U.S. agreed to pull troops out of Vietnam.
In the case of Afghanistan as well, the U.S. is negotiating from a position of weakness. The war entered a stalemate long ago. America’s allies stand divided. The government in Kabul, which the U.S. backs, is known for infighting and chronic corruption. The security forces are struggling to ensure basic security to the public, even in the capital city. Like Nixon’s “Vietnamisation”, U.S. President Barack Obama had started “Afghanising” the war — pulling out most troops and moving the remainder to training and advisory roles. The Afghan war is also unpopular in America. Mr. Trump, who campaigned to wind down America’s foreign interventions, wants to end it. But the U.S. cannot unilaterally pull out, especially when the Taliban is on the offensive. That would cause a lasting stain on America’s already battered reputation as the world’s pre-eminent military power. Hence, it needs a deal; finding one is Ambassador Khalilzad’s mission.
Mr. Khalilzad has already held multiple rounds of talks with the Taliban’s representatives in Doha, Qatar. As in Vietnam, the main demand of the Afghan insurgents is a complete U.S. troop withdrawal. The U.S. and the Taliban have agreed to a road map for peace: the U.S.’s withdrawal in return for the Taliban’s assurance that Afghanistan would not be used by terrorists.
The U.S. has already made two big compromises in its rush for an exit deal. It has given in to the Taliban demand that the Afghan government should be kept away from the peace process. The Taliban does not recognise the Kabul government and has made it clear that it would hold talks with the government only after a pullout of foreign troops. Second, the U.S. continued to hold talks even in the absence of a ceasefire. As a result, the Taliban continued its terror campaign even when the peace process was under way.
U.S. officials have hoped that a deal could be reached by September 1. It is anybody’s guess what will happen to the Afghan government once America is out. When the U.S. was forced to pull out of Vietnam, the Southern and Northern governments hadn’t reached any settlement but for the ceasefire. The plan was for talks to continue, seeking a final agreement. The ceasefire did not last long. In the two years after the U.S. pulled out, the communists captured Saigon and the government crumbled like a house of cards.
In the case of Afghanistan, there is not even a ceasefire between the government and the Taliban even as the U.S. is preparing to make an exit. The winning side is the Taliban, which, unlike the Viet Cong, is a anti-modern, anti-woman, anti-minority fundamentalist machine, whose earlier regime was notorious for excessive sectarian violence. The Taliban is part of the problem, not a solution. The Communists unified Vietnam, and after early years of struggle, modernized the economy and rebuilt the country into an Asian powerhouse. For Afghanistan, the tunnel gets longer and darker.
Bigger and better
More judges are welcome, but SC must focus on its role as interpreter of the Constitution
Any move to increase the strength of the judiciary ought to be welcomed, given the perennial complaint that availability of judges is not increasing in proportion to the institution of cases. In this perspective, the Union Cabinet’s decision to raise the strength of the Supreme Court from 31 to 34, including the Chief Justice of India, will help in dealing with the large pendency — 59,331 cases on July 11. The law that fixes the number of judges in the highest court was last amended in 2009 to raise the figure from 26 to 31. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had written to the Prime Minister recently, highlighting the problem of paucity of judges, due to which he was unable to constitute enough Constitution Benches to decide important questions of law. However, a moot question is whether the highest court should go into the correctness of every decision of every high court. Are the judicial resources available being used optimally? Is valuable time being taken up by mundane matters that do not impinge on larger questions that involve interpretation of laws and constitutional provisions? For instance, routine bail matters land up in the Supreme Court within days of persons being arrested. Every major crime or disaster seems to invite a litigant, ostensibly in public interest, who mentions the matter before the Chief Justice for urgent hearing. The court is being invited to even oversee flood relief work.
A mere increase in the court’s strength may not be enough to liquidate the burgeoning docket. Another set of measures that would save the court’s time, including a reasonable restraint on the duration of oral arguments and a disciplined adherence to a schedule of hearings may be needed.
In this case, one of the principal objectives should be to preserve the apex court’s primary role as the ultimate arbiter of constitutional questions and statutory interpretation. All other questions involving a final decision on routine matters, especially civil cases that involve nothing more than the interests of the parties before it, ought to be considered by a mechanism that will not detract from the court’s primary role. Some countries have brought in a clear division at the level of the apex judiciary by having separate constitutional courts, which limit themselves to deciding questions of constitutional importance. It may be worthwhile considering the 229th Report of the Law Commission, suggesting a new system under which there will be one Constitution Bench in Delhi, and four ‘Cassation Benches’ for different regions of the country. These will be final appellate courts for routine litigation. This arrangement may also increase access to justice to those living in farflung areas of the country and who may otherwise have to come to Delhi and spend more time and money in pursuing appeals. It may also cut down on the time taken for disposal of cases.
While 22 institutions, including those from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the DBT would be involved in the exercise, the data generated would be accessible to researchers anywhere. This would be through a proposed National Biological Data Centre, envisaged in the ‘Biological Data Storage, Access and Sharing Policy’ that is still in the early stages of discussion.
“Genomics research is a major thrust area for us. What is unique about this programme, called the Genome India Initiative, is its scale. The deliverables are genomic-based diagnostics that can be affordably made available through a lab,” Dr. Swarup added. The programme is expected to launch in October, with an estimated budget of â‚¹250-350 crore for phase 1.
The Pune-based National Centre for Cell Sciences — also involved in the project — will collect samples of microbiome from the human gut. The diversity of the bacterial samples is at the frontier of global research, and scientists have said there is an intimate connection between the genome, the gut microbiome and disease.