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24 May 2016 Editorial

 

24 May 2016 

Death of a terrorist

The death of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has thrown the insurgency into its second leadership crisis within a year. Mansour, who took over command of the Taliban after its founder Mullah Omar’s death was announced in July 2015, had a chaotic year. His attempts to capture more territory from Afghan troops were thwarted, and his plans to unify the group under his leadership never succeeded. Now, after a year of bloodshed and internal power struggles, he has been killed in an American drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, miles away from the actual battleground. Whether this development weakens the insurgency will depend on three main factors. First, today’s Taliban are not a cohesive force. Mansour never enjoyed the authority that his predecessor had. Omar’s family had challenged him, and a breakaway faction under commander Mullah Mohammad Rasool may have even cooperated with Afghan intelligence against him. If Mansour, a long-time associate of Omar, failed to unify the Taliban, it is doubtful if his successor would succeed in doing so. Mansour’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was practically in charge of the Taliban’s attacks over the past few months, is tipped to become its next leader, but having been brought into the Taliban network only last year he could face resistance within the group.

Second, Pakistan will continue to play a major role in Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani’s initial planwas to persuade the Taliban to come for talks through Pakistan, and he reached out to Islamabad. But this did not go far as the Taliban under Mansour continued to stage attacks on security personnel and civilians. Even the circumstances of his death raise serious questions. Mansour was killed not in Pakistan’s restive north-west, where the Taliban operate from, but in Balochistan. This raises questions about how Mansour managed to travel so freely in Pakistan. The U.S. airstrike, the first in Balochistan, also indicates its willingness to widen the drone war in Pakistan, putting more pressure on the government. The third factor is the state-of-play of the peace process. When Omar’s death was made public, the Taliban had already begun talks with the government, though a section within the organisation, mostly field commanders, continued to oppose negotiations. Mansour had a choice between peace and war. He chose the latter, perhaps in a bid to win over the rank and file of the Taliban and to present himself as a hard-nosed militant. The war helped him win neither more territory nor control over the organisation. What he managed to do was to unleash widespread death and destruction, eventually prompting the U.S. to target his life. Kabul has to keep in mind these three factors when it makes the next move. It’s in an advantageous position now — the Taliban are leaderless and divided, and Pakistan stands exposed. Whoever the group’s next leader is, Kabul should press ahead with the plan for talks, either directly or through Pakistan, without being complacent on security. The U.S. must continue to put pressure on Islamabad to use its influence on the militant group.

iForays in the Indian market

Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook’s visit to India this month marks a definite change of course for the technology giant. Unlike its peers, till now it hasn’t worried much about making or selling its wares in the country — and the course correction is timely. Mr. Cook’s visit, the first to India by an Apple CEO in the company’s 40-year history, comes barely a month after its first quarterly revenue fall in 13 years. The long period of heady sales growth, making Apple the world’s most valuable company by market capitalisation, seems to have ended. Even as critics debate whether this is due to the innovations pipeline at Apple drying up or a global slowdown, the Cupertino-based company is now finding that customers in its two main markets — the U.S. and China — are not as eager as before for its premium phones and tablets. In the last six months, the Apple share has lost about a fifth of its value. Last month, maverick billionaire-investor Carl Icahn sold his stake in Apple, citing concerns about “China’s attitude”, the trigger being Beijing’s decision to shut down Apple iTunes movies and iBooks stores. This is far more serious than it may appear, as Apple offers not just hardware but a whole marketplace. It is clearly time for Apple to nurture a big, promising market. India is that market.

Mr. Cook has taken the task of engaging with India seriously. He has ticked all the boxes — including visiting the Siddhivinayak temple, meeting Bollywood stars, watching an IPL cricket match, and calling on the Prime Minister. But he would know that India can be no match for China in the scheme of things for Apple immediately. True, India proved to be a rare high-growth region for the company in the last quarter. But that growth came from a very small base. Not only is China a key manufacturing base for Apple, it also accounts for about a fourth of its sales. As Mr. Cook pointed out, India is now where China was seven to 10 years ago. It is poised to become the second-largest smartphone market in the world but its buyers are extremely price-sensitive. Apple is premium. There is little doubt amongst analysts that there is immense potential for Apple in India in the long run. But till it gets there, Apple would want to see how much of the market it can tap for its products and its marketplace. Its plan to sell pre-owned phones, which was overruled by the government recently, was an attempt in this direction. Two announcements made by Apple during Mr. Cook’s visit — regarding the opening of its first development centre in India and the establishment of a design and development accelerator in Bengaluru — show how Apple is now looking at India not only as a market. But the big news that the Centre would have liked to hear — Apple manufacturing in India — has proved to be elusive. For now.


 

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