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A good step but the road ahead will not be easy: Defense Secretary Mark Esper

On the same page: U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha. AP

The U.S. signed a deal with the Taliban on Saturday that could pave the way for a full withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Afghanistan over the next 14 months and represents a step towards ending the 18-year-war in the nation.

While the agreement creates a path for the U.S. to gradually pull out of its longest war, many feel that the talks, scheduled to take place between the Afghan sides, could be much more complicated.

The deal was signed in the Qatari capital Doha by U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was present.

American Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the accord a good step but just the beginning.

‘Patience, compromise’

“The road ahead will not be easy. Achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan will require patience and compromise among all parties,” said Mr. Esper, who met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, where they announced a joint declaration in parallel to the accord.

The U.S. said it is committed to reducing the number of its troops to 8,600 from the current 13,000 within 135 days of signing the deal.

It also said it is working with allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces in Afghanistan, if the Taliban were to adhere to its commitments. A full withdrawal of all foreign forces would occur within 14 months of the deal getting signed if the Taliban holds up its end of the deal, the joint statement said.

Hours before the deal, the Taliban ordered its fighters “to refrain from any kind of attack ... for the happiness of the nation”.

“The biggest thing is that we hope the U.S. remains committed to their promises during the negotiation and peace deal,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the hardline Islamist group.

Toll rises to two in as many days of clashes between KSU and non-tribals

On the boil: Members of the Khasi Students’ Union andnon-tribals during a clash at Ichamati in Meghalaya. ANIANI

Curfew was reimposed in Shillong and other parts of the State on Saturday after a person was killed in a marketplace, taking the toll to two in as many days of communal clashes.

The situation in six districts of the State’s eastern half has been tense following Friday’s clash at Ichamati in the East Khasi Hills district between members of the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) and non-tribals during a meeting over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the Inner Line Permit (ILP). One person was killed and several injured in the violence. Tribal organisations have been opposing the CAA and demanding the ILP — a temporary permit for outsiders to enter the State — as is mandatory in four other northeastern States.

Violence erupted again on Saturday morning in Shillong’s Bara Bazar after the curfew was relaxed after 10 hours. A vegetable vendor was stabbed and at least six others were injured. He succumbed to his injuries later. The incident made the authorities reimpose curfew. Mobile Internet services have been suspended in six districts since Friday night while SMSes have been limited to five per day.

Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma assessed the situation at a meeting with Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui, police and civil administration. He also met Governor Tathagata Roy and briefed him on the law and order situation. A probe has been ordered into Friday’s violence.

Appeal for calm

The Governor and the Chief Minister appealed for calm. “We are taking all steps to restore normalcy. The police and the paramilitary forces have been patrolling vulnerable areas to foil any untoward incident,” Mr. Rymbui said.

Superintendent of Police, East Khasi Hills, Claudia A. Lyngwa said eight persons, named in the FIR for involvement in Friday’s violence, had been arrested.

The police issued a statement over the violence at Ichamati, which is close to the India-Bangladesh border. Non-tribals are in the majority here.

The police said the violence had erupted after the meeting the KSU had organised. “The KSU members burnt a haystack at the edge of the market and attempted to burn a house. The non-tribals retaliated and stoned a bus carrying KSU members... A person driving a taxi succumbed to his injuries,” the police said in the statement.

India needs a protocol for the introduction of wild animals, says scientist of Lacones

Majestic cat: A file photo of a male African cheetah at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad.NAGARA GOPAL

Days after the Supreme Court green-lighted the introduction of cheetahs in India, the top scientist at the laboratory for saving extinct species says it will be a challenge.

“Our work [the laboratory’s] on cheetahs has been in the limelight because re-introduction of any species back into nature is as challenging as a Moon mission or a mission to Mars,” said Karthikeyan Vasudevan of the Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (Lacones).

The court recently gave the nod to the National Tiger Conservation Authority to re-introduce African cheetahs, nearly 10 years after the plea was made. “The background extinction rates are over 100 to 1,000 times due to reasons like hunting, destruction of habitat and human intervention. Species die out naturally but when a species becomes extinct unnaturally, it is like murder,” said Mr. Vasudevan. “Cheetahs became extinct due to sport hunting and recreation hunting,” he said, adding: “Cheetahs are good antelope hunters. Antelopes are adapted to dry conditions. Historically, we have not cared for grasslands as we planted trees for our requirements. We had extensive flat areas, but these are gone.”

Mr. Vasudevan said India would need a protocol to introduce wild animals in the country. “The International Union for Conservation of Nature has a protocol. It has reintroduction specialist groups. It has template guidelines, but we need to adapt them to our needs and we have to develop for our own species,” he said. There is a need to create provisions under the Wildlife Protection Act for a policy on introduction of wild animals. Otherwise, citing this [cheetah introduction], many things can be done. We need to safeguard the interests of other species,” he said.

The laboratory, set up in 1998 during the heady days of success after the cloning of Dolly in Scotland, has had the goal of breeding cheetahs from the time of its inception. Scientists considered the Iranian cheetahs to be the closest related to the extinct Indian cheetah and have been trying to get the germ plasm to carry on with the research, but without success.

One of the successful efforts of Lacones has been the reintroduction of mouse deer in the wild with its captive breeding programme in collaboration with the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad. The Lacones is building up a national genetic wildlife bank, which has the germ plasm of 23 species, including red panda, pygmy hog, Asiatic lion and gharials. It is one of the few frozen zoos in the world where a repository of germ plasm is stored for possible future use.

2001 census figures were used in the other Union Territories and the States

Countdown on: An election will have to wait for the completion of the delimitation.PTI

The new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) will be the only place in the country to undergo a delimitation exercise based on the population figures recorded in the 2011 census. The latest readjustment of boundaries of constituencies in the States and other Union Territories has been done on the basis of the 2001 census and in future, it will be carried out based on the 2031 census.

A senior Home Ministry official said the unique provision for J&K was enabled through an amendment introduced in the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019. The Act passed by Parliament on August 6 bifurcated the State of J&K into the Union Territories of J&K (with a legislature) and Ladakh (without legislature). The J&K Assembly was dissolved in November 2018 and the region has been under Central rule since June 2018.

By the 2011 census, the population in the Kashmir region is 68,88,475, in Jammu 53,78,538 and in Ladakh 2,74,289. By a government reply in the Lok Sabha last year, there are 37,33,111 voters in the Jammu division, 40,10,971 in Kashmir and 1,79,147 voters in Ladakh in undivided J&K.

First since 1995

Delimitation was last done in J&K in 1995.

“Section 63 was introduced in the J&K Reorganisation Act so that the delimitation exercise can be conducted smoothly without overlapping with other provisions of the Delimitation Commission Act, 2002. It is a saving clause and since J&K is a UT, it now has constitutional safeguards. The provision did not require any separate legislation as it was incorporated in the primary Act,” the official said.

Section 63 (special provisions as to readjustment of Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies) says that “until the relevant figures for the first census taken after the year 2026 have been published”, it shall not be necessary to readjust the constituencies and any reference to the “latest census figures” shall be construed as a reference to the 2011 census figures.

On February 17, on a request by the Legislative Affairs Department of the Law and Justice Ministry, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora nominated Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra as his nominee to the proposed Delimitation Commission for J&K.

The Act says the number of seats in the Assembly would be increased from 107 to 114.

The full Delimitation Commission is yet to be appointed.

“The delimitation will be done for 90 seats as 24 seats fall in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The exercise will take at least a year to complete. Till then, no elections can be held,” the official said.

India has welcomed the agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban sealed in Qatar on Saturday. Official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Raveesh Kumar said the government noted that the agreement had received the support of all sections of Afghanistan.

“We note that the entire political spectrum in Afghanistan, including the government, the democratic polity and civil society, has welcomed the opportunity and hope for peace and stability generated by these agreements,” he said.

The agreement was announced in the backdrop of Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s conversations with the leadership of the government of Afghanistan during a two-day trip to Kabul. It was Mr. Shringla’s first foreign trip after taking charge in late January. During his meetings with President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan decision-makers, he highlighted New Delhi’s commitment to “enhanced political, economic and development partnership” with Kabul.

The Indian leadership had taken up the U.S.-Taliban negotiations during the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump. Officials on Saturday said India would support all opportunities that could bring peace, security and stability in the country.

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