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September 2019

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] Israel, Pakistan ties a bridge too far?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Pakistan-Israel-India


Recently, Israeli and Pakistani scholars have speculated about the possibility of the two states establishing diplomatic ties. 

Background of the relationship

  • Ever since Israel’s founding in 1948, it has been trying to overcome its regional isolation and enhance diplomatic relations with as many countries as possible. 
  • Apart from Turkey (1949), Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994), none of the states in the region have recognised Israel.
  • OIC routinely pillories Israel for its “occupation” of Palestinian lands. Recently OIC called to convene an emergency session to discuss Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks that, if re-elected, he would definitely annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank and the northern Dead Sea.
  • Still, Israel has been successful in gradually expanding its diplomatic profile beyond its immediate neighborhood. 
  • Israel has established diplomatic relations with a large majority of the 193 UN member states.

India-Israel ties

  • India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. 
  • Many factors brought these two democracies together. Both have successfully tackled state-centric threats throughout their history. 
  • Both Israel and India have been victims of asymmetric warfare such as terrorism, which they continue to tackle with resolve.

India-West Asia

  • India’s interactions with the GCC states have witnessed an impressive upward trajectory in recent times. 
  • High-level political engagement with the West Asian region has been another hallmark of the government.

Israel’s outreach

  • Mutual apprehensions about Iran have brought Israel and the Gulf states closer. 
  • Israel continues to look beyond the confines of its immediate region for greater economic and diplomatic relationships.
  • Israel established diplomatic ties with China at the same time as India. Their relations have been primarily limited to the economic realm due to the American embargo on selling sophisticated weapons systems to Beijing. 
  • Israel is expanding its arms sales to India and countries in Southeast Asia.
  • It is also looking at increasing its diplomatic footprint in South Asia and beyond. 
  • Forging closer ties with populous Asian Muslim countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia would help it to gain greater legitimacy in the Islamic world.

Relations with Pakistan – convergence

  • It is argued that Pakistan’s national interests would better be served by having ties with Israel, particularly since Israel carries weight in Washington and could mediate on recurring U.S.-Pakistan tensions. 
  • Concerns regarding Iran were also cited as a point of convergence.
  • Iran is recognised as a potent threat by Israel and the Shia-Sunni divide in Pakistan is frequently a point of friction between Iran and Pakistan.

Limitations of the relationship

  • Pakistan is considered the “sword-arm” of the Sunni world. 
  • It has invested considerably in the security of the Arab monarchies, including in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. 
  • Pakistani military units have been stationed in these countries to promote internal stability. 
  • Pakistan has used the platform provided by the OIC to increase support for its stand on Kashmir, just as the OIC has done for the Palestinian issue. 
  • If Pakistan were to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, it would dilute its Islamic credentials and lead to a weakened support base within the OIC on Kashmir. 
  • The regime in Pakistan would also face the heat from its many domestic conservative Islamist groups. 
  • Israel cannot expect Pakistan to be used against Iran and escalate sectarian conflict as more than 20% of its population is Shia.
  • Pakistan is unlikely to take any steps that could rock its relations with Iran. In 2015, Pakistan’s Parliament had turned down Riyadh’s request to join a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen to fight the Houthi rebels supported by Iran.


It is not in Israel’s interest to seek diplomatic ties with a state that sponsors terrorism. The idea of diplomatic ties between Israel and Pakistan remains, for now, seems a pie in the sky.

J&K – The issues around the state

[op-ed snap] The reality check


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Art 370 and its impact


The satisfaction about the abrogation of Art 370 in the rest of India stems from years of frustration at the failure of our efforts to establish durable peace in Kashmir and the perception that its special status was a mistake. 

What the future holds

  • Three principal arguments have figured in our national discourse: 
    • It has altered the terms of our engagement with Pakistan
    • better central control over a sensitive region 
    • ushering in an era of peace and development in J&K, whose progress was hampered by its special status

Lessons from the past

  • Pakistan’s questioning of J&K’s accession to India will not stop as the issue didn’t start with Art 370.
  • We took the issue of Pakistan aggression in J&K to the UN, but the power politics of the day turned it into one of the futures of the territory. 
  • In the Simla Agreement, we agreed to hold bilateral negotiations for “a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir”. We have not renounced this agreement. 
  • Since the late Eighties, when widespread terror and violence broke out in Kashmir, we have talked to Pakistan on this issue for various reasons:
    • International pressure
    • To manage the relationship and reduce violence 
    • The expectation that Pakistan could be moved in a positive direction through dialogue
  • The role of international pressure has diminished considerably. J&K’s special status figured nowhere in these considerations.


  • On the return of PoK, we reiterated in every round of dialogue with Pakistan the finality of J&K’s accession. 
  • The remaining issue for discussion is the vacation of its parts under Pakistan’s illegal occupation.
  • It is thought that our government’s move was aimed at forcing Pakistan’s hand to settle for the existing territorial status quo.
  • But it is negated by the chorus for the recovery of PoK being our next step. 
  • Its recovery militarily will pit us against China, besides Pakistan, because of its deep interest in the so-called Gilgit-Baltistan, with its entry to the CPEC.


  • The central government will have direct control over law and order in the Union Territory of J&K. 
  • J&K’s statehood and special status were never serious impediments to operations by security forces against internal turmoil or their deployment for the defence of our external boundaries. 
  • The instrumentality of the Governor’s/President’s rule was available, when necessary. 

Problems with the move on 370

  • A key asset in a sensitive region is the loyalty of the local populace. The scrapping of the special status will not make much difference to the life of people in the Valley. 
  • The abrupt move, break-up, and downgrading of the state will feed into the already prevailing sense of alienation and religious radicalisation, which Pakistan has been exploiting.
  • Peace as a prerequisite for the settlement of citizens from the rest of India in J&K and investment by them, faces serious challenges in the Valley and any turmoil there will not leave the Jammu region untouched. 
  • Influencing public opinion requires a massive effort to engage with the people, which has been missing in the last few years. 
  • Mainstream parties are marginalised and actively discredited by the government.
  • Pakistan’s security establishment finds Kashmir as a means to for its institutional interest of keeping a stranglehold on the country’s polity and has using terrorism to keep the Valley on the boil. These considerations had nothing to do with J&K’s special status and will not disappear with its withdrawal. 
  • Pakistan has opportunistically sought to exploit the Indian move to bring international focus on Kashmir. 

Way ahead

  • Addressing it requires a different set of measures.
  • Devote our energies to building not only immediate but durable peace in the Valley. 
  • This requires engagement with the people.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Clearing the air


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Delhi Air pollution


The odd-even scheme will make a comeback in Delhi four years after it was first implemented. 

Fighting pollution

  • Delhi Chief Minister announced that the road rationing scheme will be a part of a seven-point programme to combat pollution.
  • The scheme will be implemented when Delhi’s air is at its worst
    • post-festival pollution combines with
    • smog from stubble burning in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh
    • particulate matter from tailpipes of vehicles
  • In the last three years, the government resorted to knee-jerk reactions which did very little to improve the city’s air quality. 

Odd-Even scheme

  • The road rationing scheme allows vehicles to ply on alternate days, depending on odd and even number plates. 
  • It was introduced in 2016 as a desperate measure after the Delhi High Court asked the state government to submit a time-bound plan. 
  • A fight between the Delhi government and NGT came in the way of its implementation in 2017. 
    • The NGT said that any relaxation would come in the way of improving the city’s air quality.
    • But the government wanted exemptions for two-wheelers. 
  • The government argued that Delhi’s public transport wasn’t equipped to handle the fallout of extending road-rationing to two-wheelers. 

Way ahead

  • The government has nearly two months to iron out glitches and sort out differences that could come in the way of smooth implementation of the plan. 
  • It needs to ensure that the city’s public transport system is able to meet the needs of commuters on days when their vehicles will be off the roads.


The odd-even scheme is not a magic bullet to clean up Delhi’s bad air. But the scheme is a part of a bouquet of pollution-control measures.

Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

New reports clearly confirm ‘Aryan’ migration into India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various sites of IVC

Mains level : Theory of Aryan Origin

  • ‘The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia’ was released online, in March 2018 creating a sensation in India and around the world.
  • It propounded that between 2000 BCE and 1000 BCE, there were significant migrations from the Central Asian Steppe that most likely brought Indo-European languages into India.
  • In other words, the paper supported the long-held idea of an ‘Arya’ migration into India.

The First Indians

  • The reference to the early hunter-gatherers of Southeast Asia is a reference to the Andamanese, whom the rest of the paper abbreviates as AHG or Andamanese Hunter Gatherers.
  • This is the same as the Ancient Ancestral South Indians (AASI) that the earlier paper talked about, or First Indians, which is the term used in my book, Early Indians.
  • The hunter-gatherers of Southeast Asia, AHG or First Indians — they all refer to the descendants of the Out of Africa migrants who reached India around 65,000 years ago.

Evolution of Indians

  • The primary source of ancestry for today’s South Asians is a mixture of First Indians and a people related to the hunter-gatherers of Iran.
  • This mixed population created the agricultural revolution in northwestern India and built the Harappan Civilisation that followed.
  • When the Harappan Civilisation declined after 2000 BCE due to a long drought, the Harappans moved south-eastwards (from northwestern India) to mix with other First Indians to form the Ancestral South Indian (ASI) population whose descendants live in south India today.
  • Around the same time, the Harappans also mixed with Steppe pastoralists who had by then migrated to north India through Central Asia, to form the Ancestral North Indian (ANI) population.
  • The Steppe ancestry of the people of both South Asia and Eastern Europe in the Bronze Age explains how the movements of the Central Asians between the two regions caused the well-known similarities between the Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic languages.

Dissenting ideas

  • The study by Pune based researchers is based on the ancient DNA of a woman who lived in the Harappan site of Rakhigarhi about 4,600 years ago.
  • It refuted Aryan migration theory.
  • However, it has always been understood that the Arya migration from the Steppe happened after 2000 BCE.
  • The absence of Steppe ancestry in a skeleton in Rakhigarhi from 2600 BCE is clear confirmation that the earlier understanding was correct, that the Arya were not present during the Harappan Civilization.
  • In other words, the Harappan Civilization was pre-Arya, and so was the language they spoke.

So what’s new?

  • A natural route for Indo-European languages to have spread into South Asia is from Eastern Europe via Central Asia in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE.
  • The fact that Steppe pastoralist ancestry in South Asia matches that in Bronze Age Eastern Europe (but not Western Europe) provides additional evidence for this theory.
  • It elegantly explains the shared distinctive features of Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian languages.

Who were the Harappans then?

  • The Harappans who created the agricultural revolution in northwestern India and then built the Harappan civilization were a mix of First Indians and Iranians who spoke a pre-Arya language.
  • The Arya were central Asian Steppe pastoralists who arrived in India between roughly 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE, and brought Indo-European languages to the subcontinent.
  • The new study says the Iranians arrived in India before agriculture or even herding had begun anywhere in the world.
  • In other words, these migrants were likely to have been hunter-gatherers, which means they did not bring a knowledge of agriculture.

Also read

No Central Asian ancestry in Indus Valley Civilization

Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

Nirvik Scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the scheme

Mains level : Export promotion

  • To enhance the loan availability of exporters, and the MSME sector the Export Guarantee Corporation of India (ECGC) has launched a new scheme called ‘Nirvik’.
  • To revive the export sector, Commerce Ministry also launched the common digital platform for the issuance of certificates of origin

Nirvik Scheme

  • If there is any loss, then ECGC provided credit guarantee of up to 60% loss approximately.
  • Now under new scheme Nirvik consumers and exporters will covered up to 90% and if there is any loss then in that case ECGC will refund 90% to the banks including principal and interest.
  • Both pre and post shipment credit will also be covered under the new scheme.
  • Banks will get up to 50 % within 30 days of complain lodge.
  • Enhanced cover will ensure that Foreign and Rupee export credit interest rates will be below 4% and 8% respectively for exporters.
  • The scheme envisages simplified procedure for settlement of claim and for provisional payment up to 50% within 30 days on production of proof of end-use of the advances in default by the Insured Bank.

Electronic Certificates of Origin (CoO)

  • This platform will be a single access point for all exporters, for all Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)/ Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) and for all agencies concerned.
  • As we know, for exports to countries with which India has free trade agreements (FTA), exporters have to show a certificate that the consignment originated in India.
  • With the launch of this platform, these certificates can be obtained online and all the issuing authorities will be on the same portal.
  • Certificate of Origin will be issued electronically which can be in paperless format if agreed to by the partner countries.
  • Authorities of partner countries will be able to verify the authenticity of certificates from the website.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LRO

Mains level : Achievements of LRO

  • ISRO’S attempts to figure out what happened to Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram will get a boost when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) flies over the lander’s landing site on the Moon.
  • NASA will share any before and after flyover imagery of the area around the targeted Chandrayaan-2 Vikram lander landing site.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

  • The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite missions began on June 18, 2009.
  • It is a robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon.
  • It studies the Moon’s surface, clicks pictures, and collects data that help in figuring out the presence and possibility of water ice and other resources on the Moon, as well as plan future missions to it.
  • The primary mission of the LRO, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland, was to measure the entire lunar surface to create a high-resolution 3-D map of the Moon.
  • The map with ~50-centimeter resolution images would aid in the planning of future robotic and crewed missions.
  • In addition, LRO would map the Polar Regions and search for the presence of water ice.

The mission

  • The mission has provided technical innovations and made surprising discoveries that have changed our view of the Moon.
  • The instruments on board the spacecraft return global data, such as day-night temperature maps, a global geodetic grid, high resolution color imaging and the moon’s UV albedo.
  • It is estimated that the LRO has fuel enough to stay on its mission for at least six more years.

Achievements of LRO

  • Some of LRO’s technical innovations include the first global thermal mapping of a planetary body covering a full range of local times and seasons.
  • It carries the first bi-static radar imaging measurements from Earth to a planetary orbiter.
  • It has provided more than five years of laser altimetry measurements yielding more than 8 billion topographic points, better than any other object in the Solar System.
  • On March 15, 2011, LRO provided more than 192 terabytes of data from its primary mission to its Planetary Data System, or PDS, to make the information available to researchers, students, media, and the general public.

Civil Aviation Sector – CA Policy 2016, UDAN, Open Skies, etc.

Regulations for flying of Drones  


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Categorisation of Drones

Mains level : Security issues associated with flying of drones

  • Two US citizens were detained for flying a drone fitted with a camera above the high-security zone in Lutyens’s Delhi.
  • While this prohibition follows a specific security threat from terrorists, the general guidelines issued by the civil aviation regulator DGCA also lay down specific no-go areas for drones.

Types of drones

  • DGCA has identified multiple categories of drones, which can be broadly classified as ‘Nano’ (weighing up to 250 g), ‘Micro’ (more than 250 g but less than 2 kg) and ‘Small and above’ (weighing 2 kg or more).
  • Every drone that is bigger than a ‘Nano’ must obtain a unique identification number (UIN) from the aviation regulator (similar to the registration number for a car).
  • This number must be displayed on the remotely piloted aircraft. A UIN will be issued once, against a fee of Rs 1,000, and will not be issued to a foreign citizen or entity.
  • Users of bigger drones will be required to obtain a Unique Air Operator’s Permit (UAOP), similar to a driver’s licence.
  • The UIN and UAOP can be obtained from the online platform Digital Sky. The permits will be issued in less than a week.

Flying conditions

  • All drones other than those in the ‘Nano’ category must meet mandatory equipment requirements such as GPS, anti-collision light, ID plate, RFID and SIM facilities with software that ensures ‘no-permission, no-takeoff’, among other features.
  • Before flying a ‘Small’ or bigger drone, an operator has to file a flight plan, and inform the local police, so that the machine can reach a height of 400 ft or more, and use both controlled and uncontrolled airspace.
  • ‘Micro’ drones will be required to submit a flight plan only if using controlled airspace; the operator must, however, inform the local police in all cases.
  • Many drones used for amateur photography fall in this category. These aircraft will need a UIN but no UAOP, and will be allowed to climb only to a height of 200 ft.
  • ‘Nano’ drones will be able to operate freely, without any registration or permit, but their operations will be restricted to 50 ft above the ground, and to uncontrolled airspaces and enclosed premises.
  • All those requiring a UAOP must undertake a five-day training programme that will expose them to regulations, basic principles of flight, air traffic control procedures, weather and meteorology etc.
  • These operators will also have to take written tests and flight simulator tests before they are issued permits.

Only during day

  • All categories of drones must be flown in the visual line of sight, and only during daytime.
  • While all drone operations are restricted to daylight hours, photography using drones is allowed in well-lit enclosed premises.
  • But it would still be mandatory to inform the local police before flying.

No-fly zones

  • The regulator listed 12 categories of “no-drone zones”.
  • These include the area up to 5 km from the perimeters of the high-traffic airports of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
  • For other airports, the no-drone zone extends up to 3 km.
  • Drones cannot fly closer than 25 km of international borders, including the Line of Control and Line of Actual Control.
  • The area within a 5-km radius of New Delhi’s Vijay Chowk is a no-drone zone; this, however, is subject to any additional conditions/restrictions that local law enforcement agencies.
  • A drone can’t be flown within 2 km from the perimeter of strategic locations and vital installations notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs, unless cleared by the Ministry.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

[pib] India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ICAP

Mains level : India's committment to curb global warmings

  • India’s Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) has been appreciated internationally by the UN on World Ozone Day.

About ICAP

The India Cooling Action seeks to

  1. Reduce cooling demand across sectors by 20% to 25% by 2037-38,
  2. Reduce refrigerant demand by 25% to 30% by 2037-38,
  3. Reduce cooling energy requirements by 25% to 40% by 2037-38,
  4. Recognize “cooling and related areas” as a thrust area of research under national S&T Programme,
  5. Training and certification of 100,000 servicing sector technicians by 2022-23, synergizing with Skill India Mission.

Why focus on cooling?

  • Cooling requirement is cross sectoral and an essential part for economic growth and is required across different sectors of the economy such as residential and commercial buildings, cold-chain, refrigeration, transport and industries
  • Cooling is also linked to human health and productivity.
  • Linkages of cooling with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are well acknowledged.
  • Its cross-sectoral nature of cooling and its use in development of the economy makes provision for cooling an important developmental necessity.

Benefits of the Plan

  • Thermal comfort for all – provision for cooling for EWS and LIG housing,
  • Sustainable cooling – low GHG emissions related to cooling,
  • Doubling Farmers Income – better cold chain infrastructure – better value of produce to farmers, less wastage of produce,
  • Skilled workforce for better livelihoods and environmental protection,
  • Make in India – domestic manufacturing of air-conditioning and related cooling equipment’s,
  • Robust R&D on alternative cooling technologies – to provide push to innovation in cooling sector.