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Issue 11

Examining India’s Falling Rank on the World Happiness Index

Sydney J. Harris rightly said, “Happiness is a direction, not a place” and today all economies in the world are struggling to walk in this direction. A step to achieve this was taken in the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network in 2012 when they adopted resolution 65/309: Happiness: Towards a Holistic Definition of Development. This was done to invite the 149 member countries to measure the level of happiness among their population and use these numbers to guide public policy. Although the World Happiness Reports have been based on a wide variety of data, the most important source has always been the Gallup World Poll, which is unique in the range and comparability of its global series of annual surveys.

Finland has been ranked number 1, being the happiest country in the world for the past few years. India has always been very low on the happiness index, averaging around 125th. In fact, in 2021, India was ranked 139 out of 149 countries. The results of the happiness index are correlated with a lot of factors including GDP, social security, personal freedom, life expectancy and opinions of residents among others. 

As former President, Dr Pranab Mukherjee commented, “Despite our country’s economic progress, India is constantly going downwards in the happiness index. This indicates a lack of a holistic approach towards development.” According to him, the best step that the policymakers of the country should take is to adopt the ‘triple bottom line’ accounting framework. It focuses on all essential aspects of holistic development of individuals including social, ecological and financial development. This also implies that happiness is weakly correlated with wealth and the economic growth of a country. 

According to the economist and author Jayshree Sengupta, India has been ranked poorly on the happiness index due to various reasons. Some of these are rapid urbanization and congestion in cities, concerns about food security and water safety, rising costs of healthcare, women’s safety, and environmental pollution, which itself is linked to poor mental wellbeing. These conditions have worsened over time and were amplified due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

The ever-growing inequality between the rich and poor of the country is another crucial reason for the chronic unhappiness. During the Covid crisis,  India reportedly added 40 new billionaires to the global list while about 57% of the working class in the country were on the verge of losing their jobs. This growing pay gap in the population has worsened the mental wellbeing and hence the happiness of the population. 

A statistical exercise using variables like GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceptions of corruption and dystopia was done to understand the relationship of these indices with the happiness index. It found that all these variables are statistically significant and thus have  significant explanatory power. They  illustrate that on average richer countries fare better on subjective evaluations of life circumstances, as do nations with more social support, lower levels of corruption etc. 

Why India, despite its high level of economic growth ranks so low is because it ranks very low on some of these indices. For social support, India is ranked 142nd out of 149 countries. However, if we consider Pakistan’s ranking on all of these individual indicators, it is very similar to India and worse in some cases. According to this, India should be ranked one spot above Pakistan but that is not the case. Pakistan is ranked 105 while India is ranked at 139. This points out to predictive anomalies that this model has. 

One reasonable explanation for this could be that people in India have higher expectations and thus also have greater disappointment. This is one of the very crucial reasons for the low happiness ranking in India in addition to the increasing income inequality and feelings of injustice and unfairness because of the structure of the society and its history. Thus, better political leadership and public policy framework in India are essential for improving the happiness index of people in India. 

Picture Credits: Visual Capitalist

Aanya Poddar is a third year undergraduate student at Ashoka University. She is pursuing a BSc. (Honors) in Economics and Finance. She is the President of the Ashoka Economics Society.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 11

The Cost Of Peace in Afghanistan

For over three years, there have been substantive efforts by the U.S., its allies and the Afghan government to negotiate peace deals and end the war in Afghanistan. What began in 2001 as a U.S. operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan, soon spiralled into a protracted war involving regional as well as international actors. The war in Afghanistan was largely against the Taliban – an extremist Islamist militant group that controls large parts of the country and has links with local and international terror outfits such as the Al Qaeda and Daesh. Since the beginning, the justification that the U.S. provides for waging the Afghan War is that it is a part of their Global War on Terror – the Taliban was harbouring terror groups and it needed to be stopped at all costs. 

As the war progressed, however, so did the U.S.’s perception of terror and their ability to counter it. For a long time, the goal was to drive the Taliban out of power in the regions that it controlled, and ensure it does not provide a base for terror outfits in Afghanistan. However, over the past decade, there has been a decided shift in America and its allies’ response to the Taliban – instead of total defeat, there have been attempts to negotiate a power-sharing deal with the Taliban. Currently, there is a conditional peace deal with the Taliban that was signed in February 2020 announcing that U.S. troops would be out by 1st May, and talks are scheduled in Turkey this month involving regional actors to finalise the peace process. While there is no doubt that both the Taliban and the U.S. want to hasten the end of the war, the power dynamics in the country after the troops leave remain worrisome. Power-sharing with the Taliban essentially depends on the moderation of its ideology, and a firm agreement ensuring peace in the region. The rising violence by the Taliban in the past few weeks raises pertinent questions about its moderation and commitment to peace, as well as the U.S.’s priorities in Afghanistan. Should the U.S., in its haste to end the war, agree to a deal that will leave Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban, it would be detrimental to all actors involved. 

There are three main reasons why the current peace treaty to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1st would likely provide an edge to the Taliban to take over the country. The first reason is the history behind the treaty itself, which was signed in February 2020. Under President Donald Trump, the focus was on ‘bringing back the troops from America’s 18-year long war.’ The negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. government began with demands for power-sharing between the Taliban and the Afghan Government, an end to the Taliban’s support for terrorist organisations, a cease-fire declaration by the Taliban and the withdrawal of American troops. However, the final peace treaty that was signed just required the Taliban’s guarantee that it would not allow terrorist groups against the U.S. “on Afghan soil.” The number of concessions given to the Taliban displayed U.S.’s impatience with the war. The second reason has to do with the role of the Afghan government. The first treaty in February 2020 did not involve Kabul or President Ashraf Ghani in any way. While talks were held later in September that year involving the civilian government, the government and the Taliban still hold differing views on fundamental issues. Unless the talks between Kabul and the Taliban are conclusive, U.S. withdrawal of troops will only add to the chaos. The Afghan government needs the military backing of the U.S. if it is to exercise any sort of leverage against the Taliban, or it could potentially lose power the minute troops are withdrawn. The third and most important reason why the Taliban would likely have an edge in Afghanistan once U.S. troops leave is because of its understanding of its position. Experts and scholars both agree that there has been “little to no change” in the Taliban’s extremism, even after ceasefires and peace talks with other actors. The Taliban is aware that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would leave Kabul unprepared to take on its attacks. After the February 2020 deal with the U.S., the Taliban visibly reduced its attacks on U.S. troops. At the same time, it increased the number of attacks on the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, according to a report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The relentless nature of the Taliban in dealing with the Afghan government is a fairly clear indicator of their strive for total control. 

The three-way negotiations between the U.S., Taliban and the Afghan government make it highly unlikely for peace to emerge in the region anytime soon. The Biden government’s actions in these crucial months before the May 1st withdrawal need to reflect not just the U.S.’s counterterrorism priorities but also the larger stability and prosperity of the region. Any narrative of the Taliban’s moderation falls short of living up to the ground reality in Afghanistan, and the U.S. needs to consider the same. The role of international and regional stakeholders also comes in here. For sustainable peace, diplomatic talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government need to be moderated by countries that are invested both in the internal security of Afghanistan and the region in general. China, India, Russia and Pakistan are all key players in the conflict and have vested interests in Afghanistan. If the U.S. prioritises ending the war over safeguarding Afghanistan for the future, other players should be brought in to mediate and bring about conclusive peace in the region. 

Akanksha Mishra is a student of political science and international relations at Ashoka University. 

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Uncategorized

To End or Not to End Privacy

Imagine, if you will, a murder. Some letters are found, all written in a strange language. In Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” it took Sherlock Holmes to decipher such a script and find the murderer.

Inventing a secret language is rather difficult, except that we now have standardized ways to do it: encryption algorithms. Essentially, we have language-inventing software, which can create different languages based on a secret password. If you know the password, you can translate the language back into plain English. Today’s techniques produce incredibly secure ciphers that would leave even Holmes clueless. 

This has led to governments trying to subvert or weaken cryptography. Inevitably, every time an atrocity occurs, we hear this argument again and again. Donald Trump has stated that the US should be able to “penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is and everything about ISIS.” It was perhaps David Cameron who best articulated this sentiment: “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people, which even in extremis, with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally, that we cannot read? … are we going to allow a means of communication where it simply isn’t possible to do that? My answer is no, we are not.” The justification, of course, is that these powers are needed by “intelligence agencies and security agencies and policing in order to keep our people safe.”

The “deal”, then, is this: You can communicate securely, as long as you make the encryption easy enough for The Government to decipher. This “easy enough” requirement is currently being enforced by various means, including the infiltration and bribery of companies that produce commercial cryptographic software. Many activists and technologists have written about the ethical problems with having a government that is capable of snooping on all of our communications. I argue that legalising this is not only unethical, but operationally impossible.

I am sure you can already spot the problem — if something is easy enough for one person to decipher, then it is easy enough for many others. You cannot have one and not the other, since our government employees are not magically cleverer than their US, Chinese, or Russian counterparts, or the many cyber-criminals that prowl the internet. Broken security renders us vulnerable to anyone with the expertise, not just some government agencies. Mathematical laws care little for the laws of any country.

A commonly proposed solution is for the government to have some kind of “backdoor,” such as a master key. This is difficult to do, both technically and operationally. Given that we have substantial problems implementing and deploying our current (comparatively simple) systems, shifting to such a complicated new technology would inevitably lead to more security holes.

Even if one government has a master key for a certain set of encryption systems, we still have problems. What if the master key gets stolen? We are artificially introducing a critical weakness — such a key would certainly be a prime target for any adversary, and having the key stolen is not a negligible possibility. Over the past few years, hackers have been able to steal everything from the blueprints of the F-35 fighter jet, to financial data from credit rating agencies, to healthcare data from hospitals. Trusting governments with master keys when they haven’t been able to safeguard their own military technology seems like a terrible idea.

Further, if a criminal knows that the government has a master key to software #420, she’s not going to use it. She’ll find a system with no master key (these, of course, already exist). So, the people suffering from weak encryption are mostly going to be law-abiding citizens, who will now be more vulnerable to hackers.

The global nature of the internet adds yet another layer to this. Other governments are not going to sit around and use compromised (from their point of view) communication systems – they’ll build their own software, probably with their own master keys, and stop trusting software made by residents of other countries, essentially creating import control on software. How would multinational companies secure their data? Would they be required to provide keys to every government in the world, or, perhaps a branch of the UN? The creation of a global body to govern these master keys presents a herculean challenge. Further, nothing prevents the governments from adding their own backdoors to subvert that body as well.

Practically every expert in the field believes that subverting cryptosystems (and the bulk surveillance that inevitably accompanies it) is foolish, immoral, and dangerous.

This is why companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are supporting stronger encryption. Some people who don’t really understand how encryption works have come up with many good reasons for exceptional access backdoors and opined that regulators and legislators must find a way to provide some privacy while allowing law enforcement access. This won’t work. Yes, there are many good reasons for having backdoors (roll-down windows on airplanes might have many advantages), but the numerous fatal problems that they create should have obviated this discussion long ago. Governments should stop trying to build backdoors and support strong, end-to-end security and privacy.

Debayan Gupta is currently an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Ashoka University, where he teaches a course on security and privacy as well as an introductory programming class. He is also a visiting professor and research affiliate at MIT and MIT-Sloan.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).