NATO coalition forces attacked in Afghanistan, leaving 2 U.S soldiers dead

A suicide bomber rammed an explosives laden truck into a NATO convoy killing two U.S soldiers in the southern province of Kandahar. While Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, maintaining the death toll of 15 soldiers and two destroyed vehicles; the claim was not verified by Pentagon. It was taken as an exaggeration by Taliban.  Kandahar province was a Taliban stronghold for five years until US invasion in 2001. So far, this is the longest war fought over 16 years by U.S. against Taliban. The Kandahar airport is also home to a major military base of 13,000 troops from 39 countries who are part of the coalition to train, advise and assist Afghan troops against the insurgency.  According to the Time, currently, soldiers from U.S., Australia, Germany, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania are deployed in Afghanistan, said U.S. military spokesperson Lt. Damien E. Horvath.

The Trump administration in Washington is still deciding on whether to send 4,000 troops to fight Taliban, as requested by the U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan. The attack on the coalition happened on the next day to the twin suicide bombing of a Shiite mosque in Herat that killed 32 people and injured 66 others, where Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility.

Sources – The Guardian, Time 

RBI stops printing Rs 2000 notes and focuses on new Rs 200 notes

According to Livemint, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has stopped printing Rs 2000 notes for the current fiscal year. The notes were introduced post the demonetisation drive on November 8, 2016; in a bid to quickly increase currency in circulation. The RBI has not printed Rs 2000 notes for the past five months from its Mysuru mint; instead is expected to release new Rs 200 notes by next month.

RBI data reveals, eight months post demonetisation, the currency in circulation was only 86% at Rs 15.55 trillion as on July 14 in comparison to Rs 17.7 trillion on November 4, 2016. In majority, so far, nearly 14 billion pieces of new Rs 500 notes have been printed (close to 90% of the current currency circulation).  However, sounding cautious the SBI chief economist Soumya Kanti Ghosh said, “RBI is possibly keeping the supply of Rs 2000 bank notes low to get a right mix.”

Further, a report dated July 19, 2017 by SBI’s economic research wing shows banks with 5.4 per cent of currency in circulation, versus 3.8 per cent before demonetisation. This means that most ATMs or bank branches have excess cash lying with them, which can probably be Rs 2000 bank notes. The report also highlighted the mismatch in distribution of currency towards smaller denomination as the presence of Rs 2000 denomination straight after Rs 500. The introduction of Rs 200 notes aims to address this gap.

Sources: Livemint, Business Standard

Samsung to extract rare metals from its recalled Galaxy Note series

South Korean technology major, Samsung is set to retrieve 157 tons of gold, silver, cobalt, copper and other metals from millions of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones that were recalled last year, due to faulty batteries and heating issues.

This move is aimed at reducing technological waste. Though the company has not clarified how it would use these retrieved materials. So far, the phone’s display modules, memory chips, camera models and other components for sales or recycling.

According to Business Standard, in South Korea Samsung has already begun selling 400,000 units of Galaxy Note FE made from unused parts of the recalled smartphones.

When several airlines refused to allow passengers carrying Note 7 onboard due to safety concerns, around three million Galaxy Note 7 handsets were returned to Samsung, making it the largest recall for Samsung ever, costing the organistion over $5 billion and hampered its reputation. It was reported that the smartphone catches fire. The sheer numbers of recall made groups like Greenpeace express concern regarding the rising wall of tech waste that is harming the environment.

Even though in April 2017, Samsung posted its highest quarterly net profit from the sales of memory chips, leaving behind its Note 7 debacle; it has come under pressure on wider fronts.

Sources: Business Standard, NDTV

Fresh communal violence erupts in West Bengal over Facebook post

The town of Baduria, in North 24 Parganas of West Bengal reported fresh bout of violence that has claimed a life while 23 people have been injured. The town that is 12 kilometers from the Bangladesh border has been the epicenter of communal violence since a teenager posted about Prophet Mohammad on Facebook. Though the boy has been detained, neighboring regions of Basirhat also faced the heat since July 2, when angry Muslim mobs burned down shops and buildings. On July 6, in a retaliatory attack mob attacked a dargah and vandalised shops belonging to Muslims; set tyres on fire and caused panic by bursting local-made bombs.

Sensing the deteriorating situation, the Center has sent eight companies of paramilitary forces, (each company consisting of 100 personnels) to adjoining areas of Basirhat, Swarupnagar and Deganga to assist the local administration. But the state administration has decided to use only four companies to restore normalcy. Police have requested the locals to maintain calm using loudspeakers throughout the day. The protestors have disrupted sections of Eastern Railways links around the region. Internet services have also been withdrawn.

According to Hindustan Times, the local administration would likely stop the team of three BJP MPs from visiting Basirhat on Friday and this can set grounds for fresh confrontations.

Sources: Hindustan Times, Indian Express

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Malaysia declares North Korea Ambassador “persona non grata”

Three weeks after the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Malaysia has asked the North Korean ambassador to leave the country within 48 hours. The diplomatic blow to Ambassador Kang Chol came from the Malaysian foreign ministry, after he failed to provide an apology over his comments regarding Malaysian authorities’ murder investigation of Kim Jong-nam.

Kim Jong-nam was murdered by North Korean agents with a toxic nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur’s airport and Kang Chol had commented that Malaysia’s investigation could not be trusted. He said Malaysia was “colluding with outside forces” in an obscure reference to South Korea. US and South Korean officials have said Kim Jong-nam was killed by North Korean agents with the deadly VX, a nerve agent classed as a weapon of mass destruction.

According to the Indian Express, a statement from the Malaysian foreign ministry read, “The expulsion of the DPRK (North Korea) Ambassador is… an indication of the government’s concern that Malaysia may have been used for illegal activities”. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Haji Aman said “Malaysia will react strongly against any insults made against it or any attempt to tarnish its reputation”.

Pyongyang refuses to acknowledge the dead man’s identity and claims that Malaysia is hand in glove with its enemies, even when two suspects – Indonesian woman Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese woman Doan Thi Huong remain in Malaysian police custody. Malaysia, in response, has imposed visa travel for North Koreans, effective March 6, 2017, in a complete departure from the visa-free travel enjoyed earlier.

Sources: 1] Free Malaysia Today

Work to resume on Shahpur Kandi Dam, with Punjab and J&K on board

Ahead of the annual meeting of Indus Water Commission with Pakistan at Lahore, the Centre has persuaded Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) governments to work together on the stalled Shahpur Kandi Dam. The 55.5 metre high hydroelectricity project, located in Gurdaspur district of Punjab was taken up in May 1999 but halted in 2014 due to dispute of design between Punjab and J&K. The two states have ironed out their differences with Punjab’s irrigation secretary K.S.Pannu and his J&K counterpart Saurabh Bhagat signed a pact in front of Union water resources secretary Amarjit Singh in New Delhi.

Post the Uri terror attack last year, India had refused to engage in dialogue with Pakistan through the Indus Water Commission. The Commission is a mechanism to address any dispute over sharing of waters of the Indus river system. The Permanent Indus Commission which has members from both India and Pakistan is expected to meet in Lahore, later this month.

Aside from generating 206 MW of power, the dam is expected to aid in irrigation of 5000 hectares of land in Punjab and 32,173 hectares in J&K. As a part of the Indus Water treaty signed in 1960, India intends to use Indus basin river waters – the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab in the west and Sutlej, Beas and Ravi in the east.

Sources: The Telegraph, TOI

From right to express to cyber bullying

An account of the controversy surrounding DU student, Gurmehar Kaur and ace cricketer, Virender Sehwag

Media is flooded with the news of the clashes in Ramjas College, Delhi University between the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists and students over the ‘Save DU campaign’. The campaign has been started in support of student’s right to freedom of speech. Jawaharlal Nehru University students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid were invited to the North Campus for a seminar. Even though Khalid and Rashid did not turn up for the event, ABVP students launched into violent protests and vandalism. Condemning the violence that erupted on the campus and saw many of her friends injured, 20 year old Gurmehar Kaur shared a protest image on Facebook that read “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP”.

Gurmehar Kaur is a student of English Literature at Lady Sri Ram College for Women, Delhi University who came into the eye of the storm when her Facebook post turned viral and one of her past video messages as a peace activists asking for friendly relations with Pakistan surfaced online. As the daughter of Kargil War martyr, Mandeep Singh, she received flak from ruling establishment and politicians for her ‘anti-nationalist’ post. The year-old post is a part of Profile for Peace campaign created by activist and ad filmmaker Ram Subramanian.

The seemingly optimistic post turned on its head when Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju said “who’s polluting this young girl’s mind?” and “Kargil war must not be exploited”. BJP MP Pratap Simha went a step ahead and posted a picture collage comparing Kaur to fugitive underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim.

With the matter gaining political winds, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi praised Kaur for standing up for her thoughts and intolerance. Congress spokesperson, Manish Tewari lashed out at Rijiju for intimidating and trolling Kaur, saying this is the worst form of bullying. Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu, however questioned the opposition for fuelling student unrest and violence. He further stated that freedom of speech does not mean the right to offend.

As cyber bullying in the forms of trolls and memes started making rounds on Kaur, cricketer Virender Sehwag made the least appetising statement by holding a placard, similar to Kaur’s older video saying ‘I didn’t score two triple centuries, my bat did’. Actor Randeep Hooda who liked this picture was equally drawn into the controversy with netizens taking sides. Soon, Bollywood celebrities joined the debate with Javed Akhtar expressing his displeasure at Sehwag’s tasteless meme. Mahavir Phogat, the Indian amateur wrestler and senior Olympics coach hit back at Akhtar for his ‘uneducated’ jibe at Sehwag. Actress Vidya Balan came out in support of Kaur. It was later that Sehwag clarified that he had tweeted in plain humour and did expect it to escalate into a crisis. He also took a backseat by saying that everyone has a right to expression.

While celebrities and cricketers were busy echoing their thoughts on the issue, Kaur distressed by the hate mails, spams and rape/ death threats withdrew from the social media sphere by deleting her Facebook account and moved home to Jalandar. She had previously planned to be a part of the protest march on February 22 to mark against the vandalism and atrocities caused by ABVP students. However, she cancelled taking part in the protest and left for home. It has been reported that a female constable has been posted outside her home.

It is sad to notice that a bright student who chose to voice her anger and frustration at the growing level of intolerance in educational campuses across the country has been snubbed at largely by the political establishment and the youth icons of the society. Without getting into the political nitty-gritty, it is time we realize cyber bullying or trolling is the worst form of intimidation. The anonymity offered by social media to its netizens becomes a big tool in the hands of such social perpetrators.