Dark lining to June clouds: 'Prepare for dry July days'

June 30, 2015 | Source: The Indian Express

Rainfall was more than 25% above normal till June 25.

Rainfall was more than 25% above normal till June 25.

The unexpected spell of good rainfall in the last couple of weeks, which promised to ride over predictions of a bad monsoon this year, is over and the country is entering a dry phase now, weather scientists have said.

The good rainfall this month — more than 25 per cent above normal till June 25 — was triggered by what is known as Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO). The eastward moving rain-bearing wind system along the tropics impacts monsoon systems around the world, including the southwest monsoon that brings rain over the Indian sub-continent.

“The MJO was passing through the Indian Ocean. When this happens, it usually results in good rainfall over India. But the MJO has gone past now and it is out of phase. So we will see a reduction in rainfall. In fact, rainfall has already gone down in the last few days,” D Sivananda Pai of the Indian Meteorological Department said.

Most regions in India have seen a sharp decline in rainfall after June 26, recording below normal rain. Only eastern India, particularly Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, and the northeastern region have been receiving good rainfall in the past few days. These areas had been relatively dry when the rest of the country was enjoying good rainfall.

Thanks to the MJO, the monsoon covered the entire country at least two weeks in advance.

“We are entering a dry phase now. The Indian monsoon oscillates between wet and dry phases every few weeks. In a good monsoon year, there are more wet phases than dry phases, while in a drought year, the dry phases dominate over wet phases. MJO is one of the factors that influences these phases,” said J Srinivasan of the Divecha Centre for Climate Change at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Forecast for the next few days shows that only northeastern India and some parts of eastern and central India, besides Kerala, are likely to receive widespread rains. The rest of the country is expected to receive only scattered or isolated rainfall in the coming days.

The good rainfall in the last few weeks had raised hopes that monsoon might be much better than the forecasts had showed. The IMD, in its long-range forecast last month, had predicted that the country as a whole was likely to get only 88 per cent of normal rainfall this monsoon season.

Pai said there was no need to revise the forecast after the unexpected rainfall.

“We are likely to see a greater impact of El Nino as well in the coming few weeks. El Nino has been gaining in strength and will affect the monsoon,” Pai said.

El Nino refers to an abnormal warming of sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. There is a strong correlation between an El Nino event and a weak monsoon.

In addition, there is evidence that MJO has an influence on El Nino. It can contribute to the speed of development of El Nino, and affect its overall intensity.

Pai said the impact of MJO on the monsoon rains could not be seen in earlier forecasts because long-range prediction of the system is not yet possible. “We can understand its behaviour four or five days in advance, but it is not possible to do so over a month,” he said.


Digital India: Government launches a welcome initiative, but is mum on Net neutrality and call drops

July 2, 2015 | Milind Deora | Source: Economic Times

AT&T was recently slapped with a $100-million fine by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the largest in FCC history, for misleading customers and for slowing data speeds. Tom Wheeler, FCC’s Net neutral commissioner, stated plainly that “consumers deserve to get what they pay for”. After President Obama upped the ante on the open Internet debate late last year, the FCC laid out newer regulations to keep the Internet neutral and accessible – well, at least in the US.

Back home, Digital India Week was launched yesterday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with much fanfare. Even though Digital India is old wine in a new bottle (or, to use a smartphone analogy, an old phone in a chic designer case), as India’s former minister of state for communications and IT, I welcome the Digital India initiative – with a few caveats.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, my successor in the ministry, has identified nine pillars that carry Digital India. Broadband highways, universal access to phones, e-governance and electronics manufacturing are just four of them. The nine pillars stood tall even when I was steering the departments of telecom (DoT) and electronics and IT (DeITy). But I guess Aristotle decrypted politics best by declaring that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – that is, packaging and spin goes a long way.

However, while the spotlight shone on yet another Modi Sarkar production (not as brightly though, given the recent spate of scandals plaguing the BJP in New Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai), the star of the remake wasn’t invited to the premiere. Her name? Net neutrality.

Shortly after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) published a ‘Consultation Paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-The-Top (OTT) Services’ on March 27, Rahul Gandhi registered his support for Net neutrality in the Lok Sabha, thereby upping the ante and making it a political issue. (He also finally joined Twitter!) As a result, by April 24, Trai had received over one million emails in support of a neutral Internet.

Regrettably, a headless Trai still hasn’t finalised its report on Net neutrality and the government is clueless, or dithering at best. What’s worse is that the Modi government has conveniently disregarded the American experience and omitted Net neutrality from Digital India.

On Wednesday, as Digital India was being launched, the DoT’s report on Net neutrality recommended leaving OTT services unregulated, except for services that offer local voice calls. How OTT services like Skype and WhatsApp, when used for local calls, will be differentiated – and thereby bound to adhere to the same licensing conditions as telcos — from when they are used ‘non-locallly’ remains a question mark.

To achieve Digital India’s infrastructure objectives, Ravi Shankar Prasad has also pledged his support to the #NoCallDrops campaign, which absurdly pits potential health hazards emerging from mobile tower radiation against connectivity and network reliability.

When I was minister, I didn’t see this as an either-or debate. To me, it was a non-zero-sum game where both needed to co-exist and be prioritised equally.

In the absence of any conclusive health data (the world relies only on World Health Organization data), I appointed a committee led by Dr NK Ganguly, the former director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, to coordinate research with the DoT, the department of science and technology, and the ministry of health and family welfare in order to ascertain whether Indians, whose body mass index is different from Europeans, are more or less prone to health hazards from mobile tower radiation.

I even roped in the ministry of environment, forests and climate change to study the impact of mobile tower radiation on species other than humans. This would have been the world’s first country-specific study, following which the DoT and state governments could tweak their policies on installation of mobile towers based on conclusive, India-centric data.

One year after the promise of achhe din, the committee can be found languishing in some godforsaken cold storage warehouse. This government’s ambivalence baffles me. Either it’s deliberately stratifying the Internet. Or it’s illequipped to steer a vibrant yet complex ministry like communications and IT into the future. The optimist in me would like to believe it’s the latter.

Regardless, the minister – a fine gentleman, I might add – spends most of his time these days taking selfies on the magnificent lawns of the Taj Mahal, much to the amusement of his predecessor.

Iwon’t deny that inaugurating free Wi-Fi facilities at the Taj Mahal will help boost tourism. (I mean, who wouldn’t choose the lure of free Wi-Fi over the grandeur of the Taj Mahal?) But surely, formulating the Government of India’s opinion on how netizens access the Internet deserves greater priority.

(The writer is a former Union minister of State for Communications and Information Technology)


India Inc. lauds online farm market plan

July 2, 2015 | Source: Business Standard

India Inc. on Thursday welcomed the government approval to set up an online national agriculture market through an Agri-Tech Infrastructure Fund as well as a new national irrigation scheme.

"Promotion of national agricultural market through Agri-Tech Infrastructure Fund is a step in the right direction as it will step up reforms in the agricultural marketing sector," Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) president Jyotsna Suri said in a statement here.

"Unifying the national market through e-platform will give higher transparency and better market access at better prices for farmers," she said.

The government allocated Rs.200 crore for three years to set up the online agriculture market by integrating 585 wholesale markets across India.

The irrigation scheme will have an outlay of Rs.50,000 crore over a period of five years beginning the current fiscal.

The allocation for the current financial year is Rs.5,300 crore.

"With nearly 50 percent of Indian agriculture being rain fed, substantial investments in irrigation was the need of the hour, which this scheme seeks to address," the Ficci president said.

"The best part of the scheme is its decentralised nature that will provide states with flexibility in designing the implementation," she added.


India finds itself in a bind on Maldives 

July 2, 2015 | Source: The Hindu

There is a possibility of UNHRC action on the island nation

For the past few months, India’s relations with the Maldives have been under considerable strain over the Maldivian government’s actions against former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his visit to the island neighbour in March 2015 at the last minute. And in June, he extended Ramzan greetings to leaders of all Muslim countries in the SAARC region, but notably ignored Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen.

Even so, with the possibility of a U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Presidential statement censuring the Maldives, India is caught in a familiar bind, between its own disapproval of the Maldivian government’s undemocratic moves and its resistance to action against a sovereign neighbour — much like it was some years ago over the situation in Sri Lanka.

Court strictures

The latest stand-off has been sparked by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s statement against the Maldives Supreme Court for passing strictures and threatening imprisonment of members of the Maldives Human Rights Commission for submitting a report to the UNHRC.

“Imposing such extraordinary and broad restrictions on the Human Rights Commission, including on their engagement with international organisations, is completely unacceptable,” Mr. Al Hussein said. “We have long been concerned about the deeply flawed role of the judiciary in the Maldives, including in the case against former President Nasheed.”

UNHRC President Joachim Rücker also raised the matter at the council’s meeting on June 26, leading to speculation that the next step would be a presidential statement at the end of the current session on July 3. In a letter to Delhi-based Asian Human Rights Centre Director Suhas Chakma on the issue, Mr. Rücker wrote that he “will continue to closely follow this case, continue the dialogue with the government of the Maldives, as Member State of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and stand ready to take appropriate actions within his mandate”.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Chakma said the statement was “unprecedented” and showed how “the U.N. body is seized of events in the Maldives,” adding that a presidential statement would lead to a resolution on the Maldives during the UNHRC’s September session, much like Sri Lanka faces.

In response to a query by The Hindu, the Maldives High Commission said that such “statements made from afar at a time when the Maldives is strengthening the foundations of its democracy would be counterproductive.” It explained that the Maldives government could neither interfere with its Supreme Court, nor would it allow any “restrictions on the human rights commission.”

Diplomatic overdrive

Nervous about the developments, the Maldivian government has been in diplomatic overdrive, with President Yameen visiting China and Germany in June, while Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon spoke with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to apprise them of the latest government moves regarding Mr. Nasheed, who has been convicted on “terror charges,” but has now been moved to house arrest pending his clemency appeal, as well as 18 “new human rights legislations” passed by the government.

On June 25, the government also allowed human rights group Amnesty International to visit Mr. Nasheed in incarceration. In a statement on June 26, Ms. Maumoon said Ms. Swaraj had “welcomed the positive developments in the Maldives”.

While the MEA made no official comment on the conversation, the government does not seem convinced yet that the Maldives government is making moves in the desired direction. In a break from its normal stand of not commenting on internal matters, India had criticised the trial against Mr. Nasheed, as well as an alleged assault on him by police forces outside court on February 23. However, sources concede that if there is international action against the Maldives, India will have to rethink its stand. Maldives is, after all, a neighbour in the Indian Ocean region, with close ties despite the recent strain. Indian officials also closely watched President Yameen’s visit to Pakistan in May, and don’t want to concede any more ground either to Islamabad or to Beijing.


Afghanistan and Pakistan Trade Fire in Deadly Border Clash

July 1, 2015 | Margherita Stancati and Habib Khan Totakhil | Source: The Wall Street Journal

A deadly exchange of weapons fire Tuesday night between Afghan and Pakistani border forces has imperiled an outreach by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, pictured in May, to Islamabad seeking improved ties between the two countries. PHOTO: HEDAYATULLAH AMID/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

A deadly exchange of weapons fire Tuesday night between Afghan and Pakistani border forces has imperiled an outreach by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, pictured in May, to Islamabad seeking improved ties between the two countries. PHOTO: HEDAYATULLAH AMID/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

KABUL—Afghan and Pakistani troops traded weapons fire in a deadly overnight border clash on Tuesday, imperiling a monthslong effort to improve ties between Islamabad and Kabul.

At least one Afghan border police officer was killed and two Pakistani soldiers were injured in the fighting, according to officials from both sides. The clash took place near the village of Angoor Ada, which straddles both sides of the boundary between the two countries.

Afghan and Pakistani troops have exchanged fire across the border before, but it is rare for such clashes to turn deadly.

The violence comes at a delicate time in relations between the neighboring countries. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has made reaching out to Pakistan a priority of his time in office, ushering in a period of intense diplomatic activity that raised hopes Islamabad could facilitate Afghanistan’s stalled peace process with the Taliban.

The two countries must overcome years of mutual hostility, however. Many Afghans accuse Islamabad of effectively controlling the Taliban insurgency against their government. And Kabul doesn’t recognize the British-drawn boundary between the two countries, known as the Durand Line, as an international frontier.

The latest round of fighting, which took place between the Afghan province of Paktika and the Pakistani region of South Waziristan, began after Pakistan began building a new border installation along the Durand Line, according to officials from both countries.

The disagreement escalated into open combat on Tuesday night, with the two sides trading rockets and small-arms fire for several hours. Afghan officials claim a Pakistani watchtower was also hit.

It was unclear who started the fighting.

“Pakistani troops responded and targeted positions from where the fire was coming,” the Pakistani army said on Wednesday, confirming two Pakistani troops were injured.

Pakistani officials said the building work on the Durand Line took place on their side of the border and was legal. Afghan officials, however, said the new installation violated the terms of an agreement between the two countries.

“Based on the agreement we have with Pakistan, neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan can build any installation within a few kilometers of the Durand Line unless both the parties agree to it,” said Seddiq Seddiqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s ministry of interior. “We are committed to its terms, but the other side has often violated it.”

While the fighting has stopped, the situation remains tense. “Pakistan has dispatched more troops to the Durand Line and Afghan security forces are on alert,” a senior Afghan official said. The Pakistanis declined to comment beyond giving basic details about the clash and the building work.

On Wednesday, the bazaar in Angoor Ada was closed, and laborers working on a project on the Pakistani side were given a day off, Anwaar Wazir, a shopkeeper from the village, said.

Border tensions peaked in the spring of 2013, when Afghan and Pakistani troops repeatedly exchanged fire in the Goshta district of eastern Nangarhar province in Afghanistan over a contentious outpost built by Pakistan.

One Afghan policeman was killed and several troops on both sides were wounded in that fighting. Afghans staged large protests to condemn the killing of that policeman, who was hailed as a national hero.

The most recent border clash took place in May 2014, after Pakistan began building a trench along the Durand Line near the Afghan district of Maroof, in Kandahar province. Two Afghan soldiers were injured in that incident


Behind the rise of Indian students at top U.S. universities

July 1, 2015 | S. Kumar | Source: Fortune

As applicants from China steadily decline, there’s been a sharp uptick of students from India looking to study in the U.S., a report says.

International applications to U.S. graduate schools grew by 2% this year, marking a 10thstraight year of gains, according to a report by the Council of Graduate Schools that The Wall Street Journal highlighted this week.

What’s most interesting about the report is the steady decline in applicants from China even as college campuses see a sharp uptick in applicants from India.

The report doesn’t say much about what’s driving the rise other than the fact that the U.S. has some of the best colleges in the world. However, one clue is perhaps to look at India’s higher education system, which has struggled to keep up with the country’s growing population and rising demand for skilled workers.

At 18%, India’s college enrollment rate lags behind China’s at 26%, and schools remain plagued by poor quality of teaching, outdated curricula, lack of innovation, and socio-economic inequalities, according to the British Council. In addition, unlike China, which has focused on investing in roads, bridges and schools at home, India’s track record in this respect has been less than stellar. Even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has pledged significant resources to the development of India’s foundational infrastructure, these initiatives will take time and may not be able to keep pace with its rapidly growing economy.

India’s economy is expected to grow 7.4% in 2015, outpacing China’s growth in two years, according to the World Bank. At that rate, it’s likely that the migration of Indian students to the U.S. will grow further as they seek training needed to succeed at home.

Another factor impacted by the economy is the ability of Indian students to pay for school. International students are typically not entitled to the many financial aid options available to U.S. citizens. That forces them to rely mostly on merit-based scholarships, which are themselves scarce and hard to get, in order to afford the pricey investment. However, as the Indian economy accelerates and creates more prosperity for the middle class, that should enable more students to be able to pay their own way through school in the U.S.

By contrast, China’s shrinking economy could have the opposite effect of making a U.S. education less affordable for many students there and encouraging them to explore cheaper domestic alternatives instead of studying abroad.

All this suggests that U.S. graduate schools that once focused on China for foreign recruitment may benefit by shifting their focus to India instead.

S. Kumar is a tech and business commentator. He has worked in technology, media, and telecom investment banking.


$120 billion to be pumped in Indian railways in 5 years: Suresh Prabhu

June 30, 2015 | Press Trust of India | Source: The Times of India

NEW DELHI: A whopping investment of USD 120 billion will be made in next five years in the cash-strapped railways which is in the process of upgradation and expansion, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said on Tuesday.

He highlighted the challenges faced by railways like ticketless travelling and bad condition of toilets in trains and sought innovative ideas from the youth to address these, with a promise of awards for best among them.

Addressing a gathering of students and alumni from IITs and other premier institutes like National Law University and London School of Economics, he said the railways is facing many challenges which need to be addressed.

Railways needs massive investment for upgradation and expansion of its network, Prabhu said.

"There has been no investment in the railways for the last 20-25 years... There will be an investment of USD 120 billion in the next five years to catch up with the backlog," he said.

Requiring huge resources, the government has already decided to allow FDI in certain segments of the railways, like coach manufacturing, station development, suburban rail and high speed network.

"We have big challenges and we have to address them. But the question is how to do it," the Railway Minister said.

He referred to the malaise of ticketless travelling in trains which is a major problem that causes substantial losses to the national transporter, mostly in local and suburban trains.

"Train ticket is cheaper than other modes of transport. So travelling without tickets cannot be accepted," he said.

Northern Railways topped the chart in 2013-14, with more than 1.9 million people traveling without tickets or with improper tickets.

"Ticketless travel can be curbed. How to do it? Can you find a fool-proof solution to it? These are the challenges and the young minds can be engaged in addressing them. These are the day to day problems and we need solutions," Prabhu said.

Aiming at engaging students of the elite institutes, he also sought innovative ideas for improvement in facilities in the public transporter.

"Can we have odourless toilets without using water or ensuring less usage of water because water shortage is a problem and Railways is one of the biggest consumers of water?," he said.

In order to encourage innovative solutions, Railways will announce awards for the best idea put forward, he said.

Railways will come out with a new website to promote technology solution in Rail services. "We will create a technology portal shortly," Prabhu said.


    Thailand, India to pursue joint defence manufacturing

    June 30, 2015 | Source: Bangkok Post

    Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn (right) and India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (front left) arrive at the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok June 29. (Reuters photo)

    Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn (right) and India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (front left) arrive at the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok June 29. (Reuters photo)

    Thailand and India are discussing the possibility of a joint venture in defence manufacturing ahead of a proposed visit by Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon to the South Asian country later this year.

    Wrapping up a three-day visit to Bangkok, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told government officials on Monday that India wants to go beyond current joint naval exercises and move into defence manufacturing, according to India's PTI news service.

    During her visit, Ms Swaraj co-chaired the Joint Commission Meeting between the two countries after a break of three years and wide-ranging discussions were held on economic and commercial cooperation, culture, science and technology, agriculture, legal and consular matters.

    The two sides signed several agreements, including a double-taxation avoidance treaty, and finalised the extradition treaty drafted in 2013, which provides for extradition of criminal fugitives.

    An Indian official called the double-tax treaty significant as there are about 60 Indian companies in Thailand and several Thai firms operating in India.

    A trilateral highway project between India, Thailand and Myanmar also was discussed. The project, first targeted for completion as early as 2017, now is set for 2019.

    On defence, Thailand and India currently run joint exercises and sea patrols near their international maritime border to counter terrorism, piracy and smuggling. The two countries also cooperate on officer training and participate as observers in military exercises.

    A bilateral agreement on defence cooperation was signed in January 2012and the relationship grew at the third India-Thailand Defence Dialogue in New Delhi in May 2014.


    What India Taught Burger King About Vegetarian Fast Food

    June 30, 2015 | Source: Huffington Post

    India is a puzzle for America's fast food chains. Nearly 1.3 billion people live in the country, almost as many as live in China. Yet the market for U.S. chain restaurants in India, though growing rapidly, is still dwarfed by the market in China. Part of that disparity stems from the vast gap between the two Asian giants' wealth. The World Bank estimates India's per capita GDP at about $1,500 -- less than a quarter that of China.

    But fast food spending in China isn't four times as high as in India -- it's an entire order of magnitude higher. Just a few billion dollars' worth of fast food is sold in India every year, while annual sales reach nearly $100 billion in China.

    Experts could probably cite dozens of factors as partial explanations for India's lack of enthusiasm about fast food, but one key part of the picture is Indian dietary customs. Nearly a quarter of all Indians -- 300 million people, about the population of the U.S. -- are vegetarian. And many others eat no beef, because of the reverence for cows in the Hindu religion.

    American fast food chains, almost without exception, rely on products that contain meat, especially beef, for the bulk of their sales. McDonald's locations in the U.S., for example, sell no vegan entrees. And the biggest foreign fast food chain in China is KFC, which is only vegetarian-friendly if you pretend that chicken is a vegetable. By contrast, the biggest in India is Domino's, one of the few chains with plenty of meatless offerings.

    Some other American fast food chains have attempted to overcome this obstacle by adding an unprecedented number of vegetarian dishes to the menus of their Indian outposts. Wendy's -- originator of the phrase "Where's the beef?" -- sells no beef at Indian locations, and instead relies on a potato patty for many of its burgers. Taco Bell, which aims to open 2,000 restaurants in India by 2020, has launched a number of vegetarian-friendly dishes exclusive to the subcontinent.

    Burger King, for its part, developed six new vegetarian sandwiches for India before entering the country in November 2014, including a Paneer King Melt and a Spicy Bean Royale. And now the Economic Times reports that the Miami-based chain has found such tremendous success with its vegetarian menu that its management isconsidering bringing elements of that menu to Burger Kings around the world.

    Burger King is already one of the more vegetarian-friendly fast food companies around; it has long been one of the few mega-chains to sell veggie burgers. But other fast food chains are slowly starting to follow BK's lead as the market for meatless foods grows. So it would make sense that Burger King would want to keep improving its vegetarian options. And vegetarians have long known that Indian restaurants offer some of the best meatless dishes around -- can you say saag paneer? -- so taking inspiration from the country could end up being an inspired, and profitable, choice for Burger King.


    65K Heatstroke Cases, Morgues Overrun in Pakistan

    June 27, 2015 | Source: Newser

    A devastating weeklong heat wave in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi killed 1,233 people, an official said. Nazar Mohammad Bozdar, operations director at the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said about 65,000 heatstroke patients were treated by doctors at all of Karachi's hospitals since June 20 when the heat wave struck Sindh province. He told the AP that 1,923 patients with heat-related ailments were still being treated. "The government quickly responded by making arrangements for the treatment of heatstroke patients and the situation has improved now," he said. Pakistan's deadliest heat wave on record coincided with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, when Pakistan's Muslim majority observed a dawn-to-dusk fast.

    The temperatures in Karachi came down to 93 degrees Fahrenheit after reaching 113 degrees a week ago amid chronic power outages, which forced many residents to spend nights outdoors. The heat wave shocked many Pakistanis just weeks after soaring temperatures caused nearly 2,200 deaths in neighboring India. Since then, it has raised fears that South Asia could be seeing some of the devastating effects of human-caused climate change. Today, Pakistani television stations showed the Edhi Foundation charity burying several unidentified bodies of heatstroke victims because local morgues were overflowing.


    Sri Lanka’s president dissolves parliament, clearing way for early election

    June 27, 2015 | Source: The Guardian

    A Sri Lankan vendor displays newspapers for sale at a stall in Colombo. President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament, clearing the way for a snap election. Photograph: Ishara S.kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

    A Sri Lankan vendor displays newspapers for sale at a stall in Colombo. President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament, clearing the way for a snap election. Photograph: Ishara S.kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

    Sri Lanka’s president dissolved parliament on Friday, a government spokesman said, in an effort to consolidate power and push through political reforms.

    Two government officials said elections will be held to elect a new parliament on 17 August.

    The president, Maithripala Sirisena, who was elected on 8 January, needs parliamentary support to push through reforms he has promised, including limits on the powers of the executive presidency.

    The timing of the parliamentary elections is also important. The United Nations Human Rights Council is expected to release a report in September on human rights abuses during the final phase of the war against the Tamil insurgency in 2009.

    The report could affect an attempt by Sirisena’s predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa to stage a comeback. His supporters say he may bid for the prime ministership.

    One of Sri Lanka’s key parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), is split between Sirisena and Rajapaksa, who defeated the Tamil separatists in 2009. For the moment, political analysts say, the split has given the prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) an edge in the election.

    “The UNP will be the single largest party after the election,” said Kusal Perera, director of the Centre for Social Democracy, a Colombo-based think tank.

    But Rajapaska’s supporters believe if the report criticises him for war-time abuses, it might actually help him with Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese community. He will be seen to be standing up to foreigners trying to interfere in the small island nation.

    The dissolution came ahead of no-confidence motions against Wickremesinghe and finance minister Ravi Karunanayake, and a parliamentary committee report on a alleged bond scam under the new government.


    India needs additional $60 billion forex to fight volatilities: HSBC

    June 26, 2015 | Source: Livemint

    HSBC says India’s forex are above traditional norms but the country’s ‘peculiar characteristics and experience’ in recent crises suggest that about $60 billion more could buffer sufficiently against prolonged global financial tightness. Photo: Bloomberg

    HSBC says India’s forex are above traditional norms but the country’s ‘peculiar characteristics and experience’ in recent crises suggest that about $60 billion more could buffer sufficiently against prolonged global financial tightness. Photo: Bloomberg

    New Delhi: As India’s forex kitty is growing steadily, foreign brokerage HSBC on Friday said the country needs at least $60 billion more in reserves to fight a sustained period of global volatilities.

    According to the global financial services major, India’s forex reserves are above traditional norms but the country’s “peculiar characteristics and experience” in recent crises suggest that about $60 billion more could buffer sufficiently against prolonged global financial tightness.

    “We estimate an additional $ 60 billion of reserves, taking overall holdings to $420 billion, could take care of key vulnerabilities (such as unhedged external commercial debt, short-term external debt and portfolio outflows),” HSBC India chief economist Pranjul Bhandari said in a research note.

    HSBC said India had lost $20 billion of foreign exchange reserves over the “taper tantrum” months of 2013. However, since then, it has built up more than four times that amount.

    At present, with about $360 billion (including $5.2 billion of net forward position) in reserves, India boasts of an import cover which is three times as large as the IMF’s recommended value of three months, HSBC said.

    Buying $60 billion of additional reserves would cost India $3.2 billion, the report said, adding that “anything more than this could really start hurting the fiscal balance”.

    The report noted that forex reserves are not the only line of defence available and as a second line of defence to forex reserves, swap arrangements with bilateral and regional partners, and similar mechanisms with G20 countries and multilateral organisations should be actively explored.

    “Ultimately keeping the macro house in order, like lowering the twin deficits and inflation sustainably and increasing potential growth, is more important than reserve accumulation, as it can single-handedly make the economy resilient to shocks,” HSBC said.


    Indian officials want 100 ‘smart cities.’ Residents just want water and power. 

    June 26, 2015 | Rama Lakshmi | Source: The Washington Post

    AJMER, India — Ajmer’s famous 13th-century Sufi shrine draws millions of pilgrims from around the world every year. The city recently launched a new Web site called “Amazing Ajmer.” But life in this ancient city of 550,000 people in northern India is anything but amazing.

    Running water is available for just two hours every two days. Only 130 of 125,000 homes in the city are connected to the sewage system. Dirty water flows in open drains in cramped neighborhoods. Stepwells and lakes have become garbage dumps. Illegal buildings and slums dot the city. And only two traffic lights work.

    But soon, Ajmer could be transformed into a 21st-century “smart city” — an urban-planning term for the gleaming metropolises of the future that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to create by 2022.

    These modern marvels would be connected by grids in which water, electricity, waste removal, traffic, hospitals and schools are seamlessly integrated with information technology to run them more efficiently.

    The government has set aside $7.5 billion to make it happen, and Modi officially launched the program Thursday. But it’s a grand vision that the residents of Ajmer — one of the 100 cities designated for the modernization — are not quite ready for.

    Even as it becomes a buzzword, many people here are unclear about what it means to be a smart city. And others question whether Modi’s fascination with smart cities in South Korea, China and Abu Dhabi can be duplicated in India.

    The ambitious project also signals a marked shift in Indian politics, analysts say. For decades, the village dominated the country’s political and economic decisions, a stubborn legacy that dates to Mahatma Gandhi’s constant refrain that “India lives in its villages.” But now the pace of urbanization is so rapidthat policymakers can no longer look away.

    More than 350 million Indians live in cities. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, urban expansion will grow in the next few years “at a speed quite unlike anything India has seen before.” By 2030, more than 600 million Indians will live in crowded cities crumbling with creaky infrastructure.

    In a radical departure from the previous government’s rural focus in the past decade, Modi wants to boost cities as engines of economic growth. By 2030, officials say, 70 percent of India’s economic output is expected to come from the cities.

    “Cities in the past were built on riverbanks. They are now built along highways. But in the future, they will be built based on availability of optical-fiber networks and next-generation infrastructure,” Modi said last year, shortly after taking office.

    In the past eight years, the smart-cities rubric has become fashionable among global urban planners who want to use digital technology and big data to create surveillance-heavy intelligent systems that control how people live, consume energy, go to work, and stay healthy and safe.

    India’s program involves radical renovation of deteriorating cities as well as constructing new municipalities from scratch, similar to a Wall Street-like financial hub called the GIFT city in Modi’s home state of Gujarat — where the progress is nowhere near its promised hype.

    When Modi and President Obama met in Washington in September, U.S. companies selected three Indian cities, including Ajmer, to become smart cities. Last month, IBM, Oracle and several other companies met officials in Ajmer to discuss using smart technology to solve some of the city’s challenging water, traffic and waste problems.

    “While we are trying to bring 21st-century technology, we also need to sort out some 19th-century challenges in Ajmer,” said Mukesh Aghi, president of the U.S.-India Business Council, which organized the meeting. “Basic services like sanitation, health, roads and electricity have not kept up with the pace of growth in these old cities. We can leverage smart technology to leapfrog some of these problems.”

    Aghi said that the U.S. companies are considering a pilot project to install smart electricity meters that will help consumers track consumption and promote conservation on their own.

    Ajmer’s residents have already posted a billboard in the heart of town declaring themselves a smart city. But many wonder whether the initiative is just an urban fantasy of technology and real estate companies that is being imposed on Ajmer.

    “Can we first work toward becoming a functioning city before aspiring to be a smart city? We lack even the basic services that a city should typically provide,” said Suresh Mathur, a retired schoolteacher who runs a city cleanliness drive called “My Clean School.”

    Other critics have dismissed Modi’s smart-cities plan as a 21st-century urban utopia, as a distant Neverland and Orwellian. They say that the idea is more suitable for richer nations whose citizens can afford to take basic urban services such as drinking water, toilets or electricity for granted.

    “The Western definition of the smart city is spineless, if not altogether redundant in India — a mere glossing over of civic services and infrastructure,” Gautam Bhatia, an architect and author on urban design,wrote in The Hindu newspaper.

    Some worry about damaging or destroying Ajmer’s famous cultural heritage.

    “We can’t import a first-world concept of a smart city and plant it here. It has to be culturally appropriate,” said Onkar Singh Lakhawat, chairman of Heritage Preservation and Promotion Authority of Rajasthan.

    Officials have held 22 meetings with residents in the past five months to convince them of the merits of the smart-city plan.

    “Before you take part in the Olympics, you engage in warm-up exercises, build your stamina, physical fitness and change your attitude,” said Dharmendra Bhatnagar, divisional commissioner. As first steps, his office is arranging a flower show and a photography contest.

    The big challenge, Aghi said, is figuring out where the funding for the program will come from. Most city corporations in India are severely cash-strapped. Modi wants Indian and foreign companies to invest in the program, but there is no estimate yet.

    One idea is that private companies charge residents a fee to recover their investment. But that could be problematic. Last year, when a private company in Ajmer received a contract to collect and recycle trash, residents protested in the streets and refused to pay.

    “There is a mind-set among people that the government should give everything free,” said the city’s mayor, Kamal Bakolia.

    In the cramped and labyrinthine lanes leading to Ajmer’s Sufi shrine, there is plenty of chatter and jokes about Ajmer’s new designation. One pilgrim covers his nose with his scarf near an open drain and asks a resident, “When will your city become smart?”

    Earlier this year, before Ajmer was chosen for smart-city status, Modi had also included it in a list of 12 “heritage cities” he planned to develop. And a few years ago, the government launched a program to make Ajmer a “slum-free city.”

    “Real estate prices have shot up since all this talk of smart city began,” said Syed Munawwar Hussain, the shrine custodian. “We are a world-renowned city, but we are still waiting to become a world-class city.”


    Monsoon covers entire India ahead of schedule: Weather office

    June 26, 2015 | Source: The Times of India

    A man takes shelter inside his rickshaw during a heavy rain shower in Kolkata on June 25, 2015. (Reuters photo)

    A man takes shelter inside his rickshaw during a heavy rain shower in Kolkata on June 25, 2015. (Reuters photo)

    MUMBAI: India's monsoon has covered the entire country, the weather office said on Friday, more than two weeks ahead of the normal schedule in a year that is forecast to see below average rains.

    The revival of monsoon rains in the grain bowl of northwest and central regions should help speed up the sowing of main summer crops such as rice, corn, soybeans and cotton.


    Sri Lanka a critical partner in advancing U.S. interests across the Indo-Pacific - Ambassador nominee

    June 24, 2015 | Source: Colombo Page

    June 24, Washington, DC: Sri Lanka, a regional leader in fighting international crime, will be a critical partner for the United States in advancing its interests across the Indo-Pacific, the American Ambassador nominee to Sri Lanka said.

    Giving a testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his nomination hearing for Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives, President Obama's nominee Atul Keshap said Sri Lanka is a regional leader in the fight against cybercrime, a contributor to UN Peacekeeping Operations, and is focused on disrupting drug trafficking and fighting maritime piracy.

    "As we look to advance our interests across the Indo-Pacific, Sri Lanka will be a critical partner," he said.

    He said if confirmed, his top priorities will be to ensure the security and safety of American citizens and to advance the interests and values of the United States and the American people.

    Noting the change in the political situation in Sri Lanka early this year with the election of President Maithripala Sirisena, the ambassador designated said, in Sri Lanka, the primary interest of the U.S. is to help the people of Sri Lanka succeed as a "prosperous, unified, reconciled, peaceful, and democratic nation."

    "We want to help the Sri Lankan people strengthen democracy, civil society, and human rights, including media freedom and freedom of religion. We want to help build a lasting peace and fellowship among Sri Lanka's ethnic and religious communities, including credible justice, accountability and reconciliation that can facilitate closure for those who suffered and lost loved ones during the war. It is important to get this right, and the UN and international community can lend useful insight to the efforts of the Sri Lankan people."

    "Economically, the U.S. is Sri Lanka's largest export market. While our trade volume is relatively low, there is great potential to expand our partnership," Keshap pointed out.

    In the security realm, U.S. de-mining efforts have helped Sri Lankan farmers return to once-war- ravaged land. There is also room for closer cooperation on disaster response and maritime security in the Indian Ocean, the envoy remarked.

    The ambassador nominee told the committee that the democratic progress, economic growth, and security of Sri Lanka and Maldives affect not just their own countries, but the broader Indo-Pacific region.

    "If confirmed, I will consult closely with this Committee and others in Congress to advance U.S. values and interests," he said.

    Keshap, a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Counselor, currently serves as the deputy to Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the Department of State. As his current role, Keshap had worked closely with Assistant Secretary Biswal to coordinate US policy toward India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan.


    'Unprecedented' Surge Of Militants Plagues Afghanistan, UN Told

    June 24, 2015 | Source: Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty

    Afghanistan is under attack from "an unprecedented convergence" of Taliban insurgents, more than 7,000 foreign fighters, and other violent groups including the Islamic State, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United Nations said.

    In a presentation to the UN Security Council before it approved a resolution condemning the attack on Afghanistan's Parliament June 23, Zahir Tanin said militant groups are seeking to control entire districts and provinces of the country as bases for their activities in Afghanistan, central and south Asia.

    The signature of the groups is the rash of suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, hostage-taking, and assassinations seen in Afghanistan recently, he said.

    Nicholas Haysom, the UN's envoy to Afghanistan, told the security council that Afghan forces have been stretched and tested, and have faced many operational challenges since taking on full security responsibilities following the end of U.S. and NATO combat missions.

    "Afghanistan is meeting its security challenges," even in the face of the intensifying conflict across the country, he said.

    The commitment of Afghan troops "is beyond question," Haysom said, "and they are demonstrating resilience in the face of insurgent efforts to take and hold ground."

    Both Tanin and Haysom said the influx of foreign fighters into Afghanistan appears to be a byproduct of the Pakistani military's intensified campaign to eliminate militants in neighboring North Waziristan.

    "Our estimate is that there are more than 7,000 foreign terrorist fighters" in Afghanistan now, Tanin said, including Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Pakistanis.

    The government also estimates "there may be hundreds or thousands of people" operating under the black flag of the Islamic State, including some "extreme-oriented Taliban," he said.

    "Increasingly, Afghanistan, one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, is finding itself in the forefront of dealing with terrorists whose origins are the neighbors, and possibly whose eventual destination are its neighbors," Haysom said.

    He urged greater collaboration and support for Afghanistan "in dealing with what is a regional, shared threat."

    After the presentation, the security council adopted a resolution condemning the "blatant disrespect to democracy and rule of law" of the militants who attacked parliament, all of whom ended up dead.


    Asian Development Bank promises $600 million to help Nepal 'build back better'

    June 25, 2015 | PTI | The Economic Times

    KATHMANDU: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today pledged $600 million to help Nepal "build back better" after the devastating April 25 earthquake, which had resulted in huge loss of lives and property.

    ADB has approved an immediate assistance of $200 million and promised an additional $400 million for the rebuilding of Nepal, ADB President Takehiko Nakao told the International Conference on Nepal's Reconstruction here.

    "Just yesterday, ADB's board approved $200 million in earthquake emergency assistance to rebuild and restore schools, roads and public buildings," Nakao said.

    "Nepal will emerge stronger from this catastrophe and continue along the path of inclusive and sustainable growth."

    In addition to the emergency assistance, $50 million is being provided, which includes disaster relief grant, budget support for rural finance and grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction.

    For the subsequent phase, ADB can also allocate up to $350 million from its existing projects without affecting the ongoing and planned development programmes.

    Speaking at the inaugural session of the conference, Nakao commended the "self-help spirit and solidarity" shown by people of Nepal.

    The ADB President also complimented the government for its "strong leadership" in conducting post-disaster needs assessment with development partners, and planning reconstruction efforts.

    Highlighting effective reconstruction, he said Nepal should "build back better focusing on earthquake-resistant standards".

    The ADB chief also underlined the importance of strong leadership, improved fiduciary risk management system and effective donor coordination for successful reconstruction of Nepal.

    The powerful earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people, injured 23,000 people and damaged more than 5,00,000 buildings, leaving hundreds of thousands of people jobless.


    Foreign Donors Pledge $3 Billion to Help Rebuild Quake-Ravaged Nepal

    June 25, 2015 | Bhadra Sharma and Nida Najar | Source: The New York Times

    Police officers secured Basantapur Durbar Square ahead of a tour by representatives of donor agencies in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Wednesday. 

    Police officers secured Basantapur Durbar Square ahead of a tour by representatives of donor agencies in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Wednesday. 

    KATHMANDU, Nepal — As foreign donors and agencies pledged more than $3 billion in aid for Nepal on Thursday to support its post-earthquake reconstruction, the government sought to assure would-be contributors that the funds would be used effectively.

    “We will share periodically the use of the funds to maintain transparency because you are accountable to your own citizens,” Prime Minister Sushil Koirala told an international donors’ conference in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, where most of the pledges were announced.

    More than 8,800 people were killed in the earthquakes in April and May, and over half a million homes were destroyed, making the construction of housing a pressing need.

    India, which borders Nepal and quickly mobilized an emergency response after the first earthquake, was the single largest donor, with Sushma Swaraj, India’s external affairs minister, pledging $1 billion for reconstruction at the meeting. Thursday’s commitment was on top of a previously announced $1 billion over the next five years.

    “Nepal and India are joined in both their joys and sorrows,” Ms. Swaraj said in Kathmandu. “Therefore, we need to closely coordinate our disaster response and help each other in the wake of such calamities.”

    Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China promised $483 million, while the Japanese government pledged $260 million. Further commitments came from the Asian Development Bank, Britain, the United States, the European Union and other countries.

    The World Bank on Tuesday pledged a loan of up to $500 million, partly for the reconstruction of housing in rural areas and for the government’s budget.

    The total promised, including previously announced commitments from India and China, was about $4.4 billion, Nepal’s finance minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, said, more than half of what Nepal has said it needs, while the largest governmental pledges came from the country’s neighbors in Asia. In a report released last week, the Nepal Planning Commission estimated the cost of reconstruction at $6.7 billion, about a third of the country’s annual economic output of just over $19 billion.

    The report detailed additional areas of focus for reconstruction, including schools, roads, government buildings, agriculture and heritage monuments

    Chandan Sapkota, an economist at the Asian Development Bank who is based in Nepal, said concerns remained over the capacity of the Nepalese government, mired in bureaucratic delays, to use the aid effectively.

    The Nepalese government announced on Monday that it would set up a new autonomous authority to oversee the spending of donated reconstruction funds, but it has not yet provided a road map for how the authority would operate.

    “We need a plan from the government that we can spend the money within four to five years,” Mr. Sapkota said. “And that’s a very tall order.”

    Nepal’s finance minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, said on Thursday that the trade deficit for the current fiscal year, set to end next month, would grow in the earthquake’s aftermath, deepening the need for donor funds.

    Even as the central government made assurances that the funds would be implemented efficiently, officials in earthquake-affected districts have said that the government’s plan to immediately provide $2,000 to families for home rebuilding is mired in red tape.

    It has also been difficult to verify the identity of quake victims, said Devendra Raj Lamichhane, the chief district officer of Dolakha, which was hard-hit by the second earthquake on May 12, when nearly 200 people in the district died.

    Mr. Sapkota, the economist, said the donors had “played their part — they’ve pledged a lot of money.” He added that the Asian Development Bank’s commitment of up to $600 million would largely go to reconstructing government schools. “Now, it’s up to the government to spend it,” he said.


    India floods: Fifty die in Gujarat rains

    June 25, 2015 | Source: BBC News

    Gujarat has been hit by heavy rains

    Gujarat has been hit by heavy rains

    Authorities in India's Gujarat state have asked people to move to higher grounds as incessant monsoon rains have triggered floods and house collapses.

    Heavy rains have been battering the worst-affected Saurashtra region, where more than 50 people have died in flood-related incidents.

    Nearly 10,000 people have been moved to higher ground, including 1,000 who were airlifted to safety.

    India regularly witnesses severe floods during the monsoon season.

    But the ferocity of this year's monsoon in Gujarat has surprised many, says the BBC Hindi's Ankur Jain in Ahmedabad, the main city in Gujarat.

    House collapses have been responsible for most of the deaths and the toll is likely to increase, our correspondent adds.

    "The coastal district of Amreli was the worst affected, where 36 people succumbed to the flood fury," Gujarat's disaster control room said in a statement.

    There have been reports of lions coming out of their habitat in the Gir forest in Junagadh - the only home to Asiatic lions - which has been hit by rains, our correspondent adds.

    Indian air force helicopters have airlifted people stranded in a bus on a highway and low lying villages in the flood-hit districts.

    India receives 80% of its annual rainfall during the monsoon between June and September.


    India leads FDI in South Asia with 34 billion investment in 2014: Report

    June 25, 2015 | Press Trust of India | Source: Daily News and Analysis

    India leads regional inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in South Asia accounting for $34 billion investment during 2014 and the upward trend is likely to continue this year also, according to a UN report which placed China as the world's largest FDI recipient.

    "FDI inflows to the country (India) surged by 22% to about $34 billion" improving its position to 9th top host country for FDI in 2014, over its rank of 15th in 2013, the UNCTAD's World Investment Report 2015 says.

    India is likely to maintain an upward trend in 2015 as economy recovery gains ground, the report adds.

    FDI inflows to South Asia rose to $41 billion in 2014, primarily owing to good performance by India, it says.

    "In terms of the sectoral composition of FDI flows, manufacturing is likely to gain strength, as policy efforts to revitalise the industrial sector are sustained, including, for instance, the 'Make in India' initiative launched in mid-2014," the report says.

    The top five recipients in South Asia of FDI inflows were India, followed by Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh ($2 billion each) and Sri Lanka ($1 billion).

    In the UN report, Asia is divided into three sub-regions: East and South East Asia, West Asia and South Asia.

    According to the report, China became the world's largest recipient of FDI ($129 billion) toppling the US ($92 billion).

    However, "global FDI inflows fell by 16 per cent to $1.23 trillion in 2014, mostly because of the fragility of the global economy, policy uncertainty for investors and elevated geopolitical risks and new investments were also offset by some large divestments," it says.

    The groups of countries negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership saw their combined share of global FDI inflows decline.

    Asia overall bucked the global trend with historically high levels of inward FDI to developing economies at $681 billion marking a 2% rise.

    Among the top 10 FDI recipients in the world, five are developing economies.

    India was also the biggest investor in outward FDI in South Asia with $9.8 billion marking an increase of 486% over 2013. However, India does not figure in the first top 20 countries for FDI outflows.

    "There was an abnormal decrease (in outward FDI investment in India) in 2013 because of macro economic uncertainties when some of the Indian MNCs divested. The figures are now back on track but still lower than figures (of outward FDI investment) in 2009, 2010 and 2011," said Guoyong Liang, UNCTAD Asia head of the Investment Division.

    The US had the largest outward flow of FDI ($337 billion) followed by Hong Kong-China ($142 billion) and China ($116 billion).


    Pakistan Rejects Afghan Allegations on Parliament Attack

    June 25, 2015 | Ayesha Tanzeem | Source: Voice of America

    An Afghan municipality worker carries the body of a Taliban after clashes in front of the Parliament, in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 22, 2015.

    An Afghan municipality worker carries the body of a Taliban after clashes in front of the Parliament, in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 22, 2015.


    ISLAMABAD—

    Pakistan has rejected Kabul’s allegations that an officer of its intelligence agency was involved in an attack on the Afghan parliament.
     
    Qazi Khalilullah, a spokesman for Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs, said his country is committed to good relations with Afghanistan.
     
    “You must have seen that as soon as the terrorist attacks took place on the parliament, we issued condemnation on three levels. The prime minister himself did that, the speaker of the national assembly condemned the attack, and the foreign office also condemned the attack,” Khalilullah pointed out.
     
    He also said the two countries had agreed to cooperate on counter terrorism and promised they will not allow their territory to be used against each other.
     
    At least seven Taliban gunmen with explosives and suicide vests attacked Afghanistan’s parliament Monday, wounding 30 people.
     
    Haseeb Sediqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence agency the National Directorate of Security, said preliminary investigations indicate the attack was hatched in Pakistan’s city Peshawar.
     
    According to Sediqi an ISI officer, Bilal, helped Haqqani network operational commander Maulvi Sherin in the planning. The attackers were provided about $75,000 for the execution of the attack on the Afghan legislative body.
     
    Sediqi did not have enough information to determine whether Bilal was working on behalf of ISI or on his own.
     
    The two countries have recently signed a first of its kind memorandum of understanding to cooperate on intelligence sharing, as well as possible joint investigations of terrorism suspects. According to Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's advisor on national security and foreign affairs, the deal was initiated by Kabul.

    But Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, informed the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday the “ratification of the (ISI-NDS) agreement has not been received yet.”

    Afghan NDS spokesman Sediqi could not say whether there would be a joint investigation between the intelligence agencies of the two countries in the case of the parliament attack.
     
    “Our president and our ministry of foreign affairs have also declared that this MoU was on general principles and more operational details have to be discussed about this cooperation,” Sediqi explained.

    The allegation from Kabul has put a strain on the delicate relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s unity government. The two sides have been trying hard to improve their ties. There seems to be a sea change from the time of President Hamid Karzai who often blamed Pakistan for facilitating cross border attacks and harboring terrorists.
     
    Pakistan national security advisor Sartaz Aziz told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that Pakistan is using “whatever influence it had” with the Afghan Taliban to persuade them to engage with Kabul for a reconciliation process.
     
    He blamed the slow pace of progress on divisions in the ranks of Taliban. Some groups, Aziz said, are opposed to peace and are “raising hue and cry and issuing statements, while others (in favor) are silent.”
     
    He was referring to a statement by Afghan Taliban in which they distanced themselves from a secret meeting between Afghan peace negotiators and members of the Islamist group last month in China. Pakistan organized the meeting.
     
    Aziz also told the committee the “next few weeks are critical” and require persistent effort to help the peace process in Afghanistan.
     
    “The challenge is big, but I am hopeful,” he said, advising against public debate on the issue due to the delicate nature of the negotiation process.


    Sri Lankan soldier handed death sentence for civilian massacre

    June 25, 2015 | Agence France-Press | Source: The Guardian

    Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake was ordered hanged over the massacre in 2000 of the ethnic minority Tamils who had returned to their bombed out homes on the northern Jaffna peninsula to try to salvage their belongings.

    Ratnayake is said to have slit the throats of the eight, including the children, a five-year-old and three teenagers, before burying them in a mass grave, according to prosecutors.

    The High Court in Colombo acquitted four other soldiers on Thursday over the killings, citing a lack of direct evidence, court officials said.

    Army spokesman Jayanath Jayaweera said Ratnayake’s sentence showed that the authorities were following due process in dealing with abuses committed during the war.

    “This (verdict) is a good example to show the (justice) system is working well,” Brigadier Jayaweera told reporters.

    Soldiers are rarely tried in civilian courts in Sri Lanka. The military has faced international condemnation for alleged atrocities committed during the decades-long conflict that ended in 2009 when the military crushed Tamil rebels.

    Sri Lanka has some 300 prisoners technically on death row, but there is an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment and authorities have not carried out an execution since 1976.

    President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January promising reconciliation and accountability for abuses during the war, including allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final phase.

    During the trial, prosecutors alleged the five soldiers had arrested the civilians in December 2000 in their village before carrying out the killings, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Colombo.

    One of the civilians survived the attack and raised the alarm, triggering a military investigation and the suspension of Ratnayake’s entire unit of soldiers. Five were later indicted in 2003.


    Sri Lanka and China Navies to strengthen mutual relationship

    June 24, 2015 | Source: Ministry of Defense, Sri Lanka

    The Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Jayantha Perera made an official visit to China recently at the invitation of the Commander in Chief of the People's Liberation Army Navy of the People's Republic of China, Admiral Wu Shengli.

    During the four day visit, the Commander of the Navy met the Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan and exchanged views on defence related matters of mutual interest giving emphasis to training between the two navies. They also discussed the acquisition of a large naval ship to the Sri Lanka Navy from China. Expressing gratitude to China's continuous military assistance, the Commander of the Navy stated that the Sri Lanka Navy looks forward to strengthening of mutual relationship with the Chinese Navy, SL Navy Media reported.

    Pledging to strengthen the military co-operation, Minister Chang said that China is ready to maintain the strategic cooperative partnership and the smooth development of military-to-military ties in various fields. He also commended on the efforts made by the Sri Lanka Navy to maintain regional maritime stability.


    Bangladesh to receive 1,100 MW of power from India from January

    June 24, 2015 | Indo-Asian News Service | Source: Business Today

    Electricity-starved Bangladesh will begin receiving 100 MW of power from Tripura from early January. This will be in addition to the 500 MW it already receives from West Bengal and a like amount that is on the cards from the state - for a total of 1,100 MW - as the two countries enter a new phase of bilateral cooperation for regional benefit.


    The power from Tripura will flow with the completion of 65 transmission towers in the northeastern state by December-end, a minister said.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the power supply from Tripura with his Bangladesh counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, during his visit to Dhaka on June 6-7. Modi has declared that India would enhance the supply of power to Bangladesh from the existing 500 MW to 1,100 MW.

    The union government-owned Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) "has already completed 20 of the 65 transmission towers in southern and western Tripura. "The remaining 45 transmission towers and related works would be completed by December," Tripura Power Minister Manik Dey told IANS after holding meetings with PGCIL engineers and officials.

    "I have asked the PGCIL authorities to expedite the works to fulfil our commitment given to Bangladesh about supplying 100 MW of power," he added.

    The minister said PGCIL would erect around 20 km of transmission lines in Tripura, while the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB) would lay 27 km of transmission line on its side.

    Both the prime ministers welcomed the steps being taken to augment supply of power through Baharampur in West Bengal and Bheramara in Bangladesh, grid inter-connection from 500 MW to 1,000 MW and to operationalise the supply of 100 MW from southern Tripura's Palatana power plant to Bangladesh.

    "Both prime ministers directed the concerned officials to complete the work in a time-bound manner. To enhance power grid connectivity as envisaged in the framework agreement, Modi agreed in principle to consider Bangladesh's proposal to allow import from India to Bangladesh additional power in a phased manner through construction of an additional grid interconnection on western side of Bangladesh," said the India-Bangladesh declaration in Modi's visit.

    Tripura Power Minister Dey said that Indian and Bangladeshi officials, after a series of meetings, finalised the various technicalities and mechanisms to supply 100 MW of power from Tripura.

    "While erecting new power transmission lines from (western Tripura's) Surjyamaninagar power grid to Comilla (in eastern Bangladesh) power grid to supply the power, human habitations, forests and other vital installations would be avoided," Dey added.

    Officials and engineers of PGCIL, Central Electricity Authority, Tripura State Electricity Corporation Limited (TSECL), PGCB and Bangladesh Power Development Board are now in a close touch to complete the transmission lines between the two countries at the earliest.

    M.K.Chowdhury, the TSECL's director (Technical), said the Indian government has submitted a proposal to send power from the northeast region to others parts of India via Bangladesh. "No formal decision has been taken so far in this regard," he added.

    Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar had earlier said that after the completion of two mega gas-based power projects, at least 200 MW of power would be surplus in Tripura.

    The central government-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation has commissioned its biggest 726 MW commercial power project at Palatana, 60 km south of Agartala, while the state-run North East Electric Power Corporation is setting up a 104 MW project at Monarchak in western Tripura, 70 km south of Agartala, and only eight km from the India-Bangladesh border.

    The Palatana project is a hallmark of the cooperation between India and Bangladesh, which ensured the smooth passage of heavy project equipment and turbines to Palatana through its territory by road and waterways from Haldia port in West Bengal.

    India had begun supply of power to Bangladesh in 2013 after the government-run Bangladesh Power Development Board and India's NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam Ltd (NVVN), a subsidiary of NTPC, signed a deal Feb 28, 2012, to supply electricity, following an agreement signed during Hasina's visit to New Delhi in January 2010


    Business School Terrorism Suspect Rattles Pakistan’s Commercial Elite

    June 24, 2015 | Source: Bloomberg Business

    Demonstrators protest against the killing of the Shiite Ismaili minority, following the Shiite bus slaughter, in Islamabad on May 13, 2015. Photographer: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

    Demonstrators protest against the killing of the Shiite Ismaili minority, following the Shiite bus slaughter, in Islamabad on May 13, 2015. Photographer: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

    The list of prominent alumni at Pakistan’s most prestigious business school includes a president, prime minister, cabinet members, bankers, fund managers and senior executives of the country’s biggest companies.

    The latest addition: Saad Aziz, a terrorist suspect accused along with other former university students of involvement in more than 20 attacks, including the deaths of at least 44 minority Shiite Muslims in April. He graduated in 2011 from the Institute of Business Administration, set up in the 1950s with the help of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

    “We’ve never had such a case in IBA before, closely or remotely,” Huma Baqai, a spokeswoman for the school who had taught Aziz, said by phone. “I don’t know where or what went wrong, but for the time he was with us, there was no inclination of this kind of behavior.”

    Aziz’s apparent turn to extremism after attending an institution venerated by Pakistan’s business elite underscores the challenges facing a nation struggling to stamp out terrorism and take its economy to new heights. The violence has prompted many investors to overlook one of Asia’s best performing stock markets over the past year.

    “Whenever we ask our investors to visit Pakistan, they never want to due to the security situation,” said Shamoon Tariq, a fund manager at Tundra Fonder AB in Stockholm who has some $130 million in Pakistani stocks. “Terrorism is definitely a serious concern for investors, whether foreign or local.”

    Growth Surge

    Pakistan’s potential is enormous. It has the fourth-biggest population in Asia, and a third of its roughly 200 million people are under the age of 15. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government expects the economy to grow 5.5 percent in the next 12 months, the fastest pace in nine years.

    Still, the drumbeat of bombings, killings and kidnappings makes it hard to blame anyone for keeping their distance. The violence, mostly from Taliban-linked insurgents who want to impose their version of Islamic law, has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 2001, and shows few signs of abating.

    Sharif has seen some success fighting militants along the border with Afghanistan in an operation that began a year ago, with bombings falling by half in 2015 compared with the same period a year ago. He’s spending about $1 billion in the next fiscal year on that fight, which is in addition to normal defense spending.

    More difficult is the ideological battle raging since at least the 1980s, when the government invoked religion to justify a fight against the occupying Soviet army in neighboring Afghanistan. Aziz’s case shows that it’s far from over.

    Bus Slaughter

    Police accuse Aziz and three others -- including graduates of the University of Karachi and Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology -- of carrying out attacks for al-Qaeda. They include the Shiite bus slaughter, the murder of human rights activistSabeen Mahmud and the shooting of Debra Lobo, a U.S. citizen who taught at a medical college in Karachi.

    Aziz and the others couldn’t be contacted. They have been detained under an anti-terrorism law since their arrest was made public on May 20, and authorities have as many as 90 days to bring charges. None of the accused has a lawyer yet, according to Rasheed Channa, a spokesman for the chief minister of Sindh province, which encompasses Karachi.

    Schools have long been targets for propaganda. In the 1980s, the U.S. spent millions of dollars on textbooks for Afghan students that were designed to whip up Islamic militancy to counter the Soviet Union.

    One of those involved in killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl studied at the London School of Economics before dropping out. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader, went to Cairo University. Jihadi John of the Islamic State was said to have attended the University of Westminster in London.

    ‘Quiet Type’

    In Pakistan, authorities have focused primarily on stemming extremism in Islamic religious schools known as madrassas. That’s now changing: Aziz’s case is prompting the army to closely probe terrorism networks in top universities, spokesman Major Waheed Akhtar Bukhari said this month.

    Aziz came from a well-to-do family in Karachi that owns part of a popular restaurant serving burgers and Mexican food. He didn’t raise any suspicions during his first few years at IBA, playing soccer and hanging out with a group of friends.

    “Saad was a quiet type of person but that doesn’t mean he was involved in terrorism,” said Saleem Ahmed, an employee at the Cactus restaurant who saw Aziz a few days prior to his arrest. “I don’t think Saad did what he is accused of.”

    High Grades

    Closer to his graduation, Aziz became more overtly religious. He joined the Iqra Society, a university group that sought to “inculcate Islam in the daily life of its students.” Still, his behavior was “fairly normal,” according to IBA’s Baqai, saying that his grade-point average exceeded 3.0.

    “It’s not the institution,” she said, adding that it was more important to look into societal factors that lure young people in terrorism.

    The case surprised some alumni of IBA, whose dean is a former central bank governor. Husain Lawai, who graduated from the school in 1967 and is now chief executive officer at Summit Bank Ltd., said the incident shouldn’t affect IBA’s image.

    Even so, graduates of the school should help prevent students from “turning to the other way,” Lawai said. “This is very worrisome that this can happen at this level.


    Death toll from deadly heatwave in Karachi surpasses 800

    June 25, 2015 | Reuters/Agence France-Presse | Source: The Express Tribune

    A man cools off under a public tap in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS

    A man cools off under a public tap in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS

    KARACHI: A deadly heatwave that has killed more than 800 people in Karachi showed signs of easing on Wednesday, bringing some respite to the sweltering city.

    Temperatures in the city were forecast to peak at 38 degrees Celsius down from the 40-plus highs of recent days. The government declared a holiday in the city to encourage people to stay home and cool off.

    The heat wave has coincided with severe electricity cuts and the holy month of Ramazan, when most Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours.

    Many of the deaths, among the elderly and poor in Karachi, were caused by dehydration.

    “The heat wave death toll has reached close to the 800 mark in the last four days,” Anwar Kazmi, a senior official of the private charity, the Edhi Foundation, told Reuters.

    “We are planning to expand the Edhi morgue to cope with a situation like this in future.”

    The charity runs a network of ambulances, clinics and morgues to bridge the gaps in an overburdened and poorly funded by public health system in the city of 20 million people, home to Pakistan’s main stock market, central bank and biggest port.

    Government health officials did not return calls seeking comment.

    A sea breeze slightly cooled parts of the city on Wednesday but rains predicted by weather officials did not arrive. Winds have shifted to the southwest, blowing cooler air into the port city from the Arabian Sea, and the Met Office has predicted rain, which would bring lower temperatures.

    The government has demanded urgent action to deal with the crisis, and the administration in Sindh province declared Wednesday a public holiday to encourage people to stay indoors out of the sun.

    Some residents on Tuesday took to hosing each other down with water to avoid collapsing from heat stroke.

    A state of emergency is in force in hospitals which are struggling to cope with the 3,000 people affected by heatstroke and dehydration.

    The change in weather will come as welcome relief for the economic hub, where maximum temperatures have hovered around 44 to 45 degrees C since Saturday.

    The National Disaster Management Authority has been setting up dedicated heatstroke treatment centres to try to cope with the volume of patients.

    Blasting summer heat is not unusual in Pakistan, and some parts of the country regularly experience higher temperatures than those seen in Karachi this week, without serious loss of life.

    Many residents are furious with the civilian government over the electricity cuts and the poor state of the public hospitals  treating many of those who have fainted from the heat.

    Read: Govt mulls use of cloud seeding technology for artificial rains in Karachi

    Public services in Pakistan are starved of resources because almost all its wealthy evade taxes. Fewer than 0.5 per cent of citizens pay income tax; many legislators are among the tax dodgers.

    The army has set up 22 health centres where it also hands out water and rehydration salts.

    Grave statistics

    The government is yet to collect and collate the exact death toll in four days, but the management of different hospitals around the city have reported the following figures: 260 people were either brought dead to or died during treatment at the JPMC, 112 at Karachi Metropolitan Corporation-run hospitals (including the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital), 93 at the Civil Hospital Karachi, 62 at the Liaquat National Hospital, 40 at the Indus Hospital, 37 at the Ziauddin Hospital (Clifton, North Nazimabad and Keamari), 32 at the Sindh Government Qatar Hospital Orangi, 20 each at the Aga Khan University Hospital and the Lyari General Hospital, 15 at the Sindh Government Hospital New Karachi, six at the Sindh Government Hospital Liaquatabad, three at the Sindh Government Hospital Malir and two at the Sindh Government Hospital Korangi.

    Meanwhile, a total of 18 sunstroke-related deaths have been reported from six Hyderabad districts. Most of the victims were the elderly. Six people ranging between the ages of 55 and 70 years were reported dead in the last 24 hours alone.

    Five deaths have been reported from Tando Allahyar, while two minors were among three people who fell victim to the heatwave in Thatta. Two people have been reported dead in Badin, while one death each was reported from Jamshoro and Sujawal.

    The heatwave has also claimed three lives in different parts of upper Sindh, where a large number of people, especially the elderly and children, have been afflicted with gastroenteritis.

    A labourer died near Sukkur on Sunday, while a schoolteacher near Sukkur and another person near Dadu were reported dead on Tuesday.


    ISI officer involved in Kabul parliament attack, claims Afghan intelligence

    June 24, 2015 | The Associated Press | Irfan Haider | Source: Dawn

    A vehicle is set on fire after a blast near the Afghan Parliament in Kabul.

    A vehicle is set on fire after a blast near the Afghan Parliament in Kabul.

    KABUL: Afghanistan's intelligence service says a Pakistani intelligence officer helped the Taliban carry out an attack on parliament earlier this week.

    Afghan intelligence services spokesman Hassib Sediqqi said Wednesday that the officer in Inter-Services Intelligence helped the Haqqani network carry out the attack outside parliament in Kabul, which killed two people and wounded more than 30 as lawmakers were meeting inside.

    Sediqqi said the suicide car bomb used in Monday's attack was manufactured in Peshawar, adding that Afghan authorities were made aware of the attack on June 10 and had deployed extra security.

    Afghan-Pakistani relations had improved in recent months following years of mistrust, during which each country accused the other of supporting militants operating along their porous border.

    Almost a month ago, ISI and the Aghan intelligence agency— National Directorate of Security (NDS)— signed a landmark deal aimed at bolstering the fight against terrorism.

    Under the agreement, the two intelligence agencies would cooperate in counter-terrorism operations. An essential element of the accord was a provision for joint probe of terrorism suspects. The ISI would also equip the NDS and train its personnel.

    At that time, a Pakistan government official had said that the signing of the agreement represented the new-found trust between Islamabad and Kabul, particularly between their security and intelligence establishments.

    When contacted, Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah rejected the allegation on ISI, saying that this was not the first time such claims had been made by Afghanistan's intelligence personnel.

    The FO spokesman said Pakistan's policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan was clear, adding that the two brotherly countries shared a common enemy, a sentiment which has been earlier expressed by PM Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif.

    Pakistan had vehemently condemned Monday's attack on the Afghan legislature, he said, and will continue to support its neighbour in the war against terror.


    Lalit Modi row: Raje is lying, should resign, says Congress

    June 24, 2015 | Press Trust of India | Source: The Hindu

    Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje attends a meeting at the BJP office in Jaipur on Wednesday. Photo: Rohit Jain Para

    Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje attends a meeting at the BJP office in Jaipur on Wednesday. Photo: Rohit Jain Para

    “This has never happened in independent India before where a former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition has batted for a fugitive”.

    Seeking her immediate resignation, the Congress on Wednesday stepped up the offensive against Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje accusing her of “repeatedly lying” on the Lalit Modi controversy.

    “The curtains are off, the secret is out. The document signed by Vasundhara Raje dated August 18, 2011 supporting his immigration case before the British government is out. When the issue came out first, she feigned ignorance and then said she does not remember,” senior party leader Jairam Ramesh told reporters at the AICC briefing.

    He was speaking after media reports showed a document purportedly signed by Ms. Raje in which she allegedly backed former IPL chief Lalit Modi’s immigration plea in Britain.

    “BJP has always maintained that if papers are produced with her signature, then she is culpable. There is no need of anymore evidence, Vasundhara Raje stands thoroughly exposed,” Mr. Ramesh said.

    Mr. Ramesh said the Congress seeks her immediate resignation as she has broken four laws — Indian Penal Code, Prevention of Corruption Act, PMLA, Passport Act.

    “She should immediately resign. It should be followed by the resignation of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and HRD Minister Smriti Irani,” he said.

    Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Ramesh said he knows it will be “difficult” for him to seek resignation of three leaders.

    Hitting out at the Prime Minister, Mr. Ramesh said, “The government which advocates propriety and zero tolerance to corruption should immediately seek her resignation. The Prime Minister who used to speak so much on these issues one year back has been silent and has gone into a shell“.

    Asked if he expects the BJP to sack the three leaders, he said it was not an opposition issue but an issue in which even the BJP leaders should demand so.

    However, he said that the BJP is “brazen”. “BJP should be called Brazen Janata Party.”

    Mr. Ramesh said saying the demand for resignation of the three leaders is “non-negotiable“.

    After Wednesday night, the continuation of Ms. Raje as Chief Minister of Rajasthan is “immoral”, he said.

    Asked if the issue would be raised during the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament, he said, “Our struggle will continue both inside and outside Parliament.“

    Displaying the seven-page document having 21 points, he said, “This has never happened in independent India before where a former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition has batted for a fugitive“.

    He underlined that the word fugitive has been used by none other than BJP MP and former Home Secretary R.K. Singh.

    “There is need for no more evidence. Raje stands exposed completely,” he said.

    Top developments

    1. Mr. Modi alleged that Mr. Jaitley had control over the BCCI for decades and had continued to stick by his “oldest friend” — former Board president N. Srinivasan — even after the media and the court found him guilty.
    2. A report in the Sunday Times said Mr. Modi had used the names of Prince of Wales Charles and Duke of York Prince Andrew in support of his claim for a travel permit.
    3. Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria admitted that he had met Mr. Modi in London last year, but clarified that he had asked him to return to Mumbai and lodge a case in connection with underworld threats to his life. 
    4. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asked Mr. Maria to “provide information officially to the government as to what he has said in the media”.
    5. Mr. Modi had dismissed allegations levelled against him in the controversy, saying that he was being targeted as part of a political conspiracy aimed at destabilising the Narendra Modi government.
    6. Mr. Modi's counsel Mehmood Abdi accused former UPA Ministers Salman Khursheed, P. Chidambaram and Shashi Tharoor of being behind the current controversy.
    7. BJP MP Kirti Azad, hinting at a feud within the party on Twitter, referred to a party insider playing a role in leaking information about Ms. Swaraj’s recommendation and her family’s association with Mr. Modi.
    8. The U.K. said it will not probe into the allegations against Labour party MP Keith Vaz. The Commissioner for Standards examined a complaint of conflict-of-interest and dismissed it for lack of sufficient evidence.
    9. The Union government and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh came out in full support of Ms. Swaraj. Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah said the recommendation was made on “humanitarian” and not “moral” grounds.
    10. Ms. Swaraj defended her decision to recommend travel documents for former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi, after taking a "humanitarian view" and asserted that she asked the British government to examine his request and follow the rules.

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    NGO ‘Save the Children’ office reopened in Pakistan

    June 24, 2015 | Source: Geo TV

    ISLAMABAD: The office of International Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) ‘Save the Children’ in Islamabad has been reopened on Wednesday after the interior ministry conditionally allowed it to work for six months.

    ‘Save the Children’ operations in Pakistan were halted on June 11 and its Islamabad office was sealed for its alleged involvement in anti-state activities.

    A statement issued by the district administration said today that the decision to reopen some of the NGO’s offices has been taken by high officials at the Ministry of Interior.

    Sources in the interior ministry said that 13 out 73 offices of the NGO have been allowed to operate in Pakistan except the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and other sensitive areas.

    A spokesperson from the NGO welcomed the decision and said that their organisation certainly does not work against the country.

    The spokesperson went on to say that the NGO has been operating in Pakistan since the last 35 years and all its 1200 employees are Pakistani citizens.

    He added that they will continue their efforts to work for the welfare of children in Pakistan


    Afghanistan's new national hero: 'Bang! Bang! Bang! I shot all six'

    June 23, 2015 | Source: Los Angeles Times

    Men attach a poster of Afghan army Staff Sgt. Isa Khan Laghmani to a fence in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday. (Ali M. Latifi / Los Angeles Times)

    Men attach a poster of Afghan army Staff Sgt. Isa Khan Laghmani to a fence in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday. (Ali M. Latifi / Los Angeles Times)

    Isa Khan Laghmani, 28, had little time to collect himself after a suicide car bomb near the Afghan parliament building caused the “loudest explosion” he had ever heard.

    His ears ringing, it took the Afghan army staff sergeant several seconds to realize that the converted shipping container he and other soldiers were standing in was filled with dust and smoke. Knowing from experience that such a bombing in Afghanistan is often followed by militants on foot, the 10-year veteran grabbed his M-16 assault rifle and stepped outside, near the entrance to the parliament complex.

    When he saw a group of young militants approaching, he hesitated for a second before opening fire.

    “I said bismillah [in the name of God], and then: Bang! Bang! Bang!” he said in an interview Tuesday, a day after the bombing. “I shot all six.”

    The soldier’s bravado made him a national sensation in Afghanistan in the wake of the latest Taliban assault on the parliament, in which two civilians were killed and 40 wounded. The morning after footage of him narrating his exploits to local media went viral Monday evening, young men hung posters with his picture around Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani gave him a three-bedroom house.

    With Afghan security forces suffering heavy casualties in a struggle to contain a Taliban offensive and many criticizing Ghani’s attempt to open peace talks with the insurgents as violence increases, Laghmani’s story made him an instant hero for a country and a beleaguered government that desperately needed one.

    The Afghan government got more good news Tuesday with reports that security forces had retaken control of a key district at the doorstep of the capital of the northern province of Kunduz. A Taliban advance over the weekend had brought the militants to within a few miles of the city, home to some 300,000 people.

    Laghmani’s version of events could not be independently confirmed. On Tuesday two members of the security forces stationed at a roadblock near the parliament compound said that at least one other soldier also fatally shot some of the six militants but did not tell his story publicly out of fear of becoming a Taliban target.

    The swaggering Laghmani had no such fear.

    “I made myself a target for the Taliban 10 years ago” after he joined the army, he said. “Believe me, I’ve done much worse to them in that time.”

    The father of three, whose family lives in the eastern city of Jalalabad, dreamed as a boy of joining the army and has served in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan. When he applied to be reassigned to Kabul six years ago, it was at the urging of his family, who worried about his safety, he said.

    “I wanted to be where the action was and where I could really be of service to the nation,” he said.

    After the suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the parliament in West Kabul Monday morning, while lawmakers were inside preparing to vote on Ghani’s nominee for defense minister, the six Taliban gunmen stepped out of a minivan parked several hundred feet away.

    In the time it took the gunmen to reach the road leading to the parliament building, they fired off several rounds, at least one rocket and six or seven hand grenades, which were responsible for most of the casualties, witnesses said.

    Inside the building, Abdul Rauf Ibrahim, the parliamentary speaker, tried to maintain order as lawmakers panicked at the sight of falling dust and debris.

    Once the six gunmen were within shooting range, Laghmani said it took him 10 or 15 minutes to fire off the rounds that killed them.

    “I only used one-and-a-half or two rounds of bullets, so the government doesn’t think Isa Khan used a lot of bullets,” he said.

    On Tuesday morning, a 31-year-old man named Hairan was among a group of men hanging a poster with Laghmani’s face. Hairan, who has only one name and hails from Kunduz, said Laghmani’s bravery sent a message to the Taliban, whom he described as infidels.

    “We are doing it because we want to show the Taliban that we are with the people of Afghanistan and those who protect us, not them,” Hairan said.

    Ghani tweeted of Laghmani: “I’m so proud of his resolve and heroism.”

    Laghmani said he had seen a few of the posters but that he was only glad to have the chance to serve his country.

    “I thanked the president for the three-bedroom house, but I also told him, ‘I hope you don’t expect me to sit at home now,’” Laghmani said. “I am of this nation and I want to continue to defend it.”


    China blocks India's move in UN seeking action against Pakistan on Lakhvi

    June 23, 2015 | The Times of India

    A Pakistani court had on April 9 set free Lakhvi, a development which India said "eroded" the value of assurances repeatedly conveyed to it by Pakistan on cross—border terrorism.

    A Pakistani court had on April 9 set free Lakhvi, a development which India said "eroded" the value of assurances repeatedly conveyed to it by Pakistan on cross—border terrorism.

    UNITED NATIONS: China has blocked India's move in the UN demanding action against Pakistan over release of Mumbai attack mastermind and LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi in violation of a resolution of the world body as it contended that India provided insufficient information.

    As the UN sanctions committee met here at India's request, a clarification was to be sought from Pakistan over Lakhvi's release in the 26/11 trial but the Chinese representatives blocked the move on grounds that India did not provide sufficient information, official sources said.

    In a letter to the current chair of the UN sanctions committee Jim McLay, India's permanent representative to the UN Asoke Mukherjee last month had said Lakhvi's release by a Pakistani court was in violation of the 1267 UN resolution dealing with designated entities and individuals.

    The sanctions measures apply to designated individuals and entities associated with terror groups including al-Qaeda and LeT, wherever located.
    The sanctions' committee has five permanent and 10 non-permanent UN member states in it.

    The release of Lakhvi had also raised concerns in the US, UK, Russia, France and Germany with Washington calling for him to be re-arrested.

    Lakhvi and six others — Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younis Anjum — have been charged with planning and executing the Mumbai attack in November, 2008 that left 166 people dead.

    Lakhvi, 55, a close relative of LeT founder and Jamaat—Ud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed, was arrested in December 2008 and was indicted along with the six others on November 25, 2009 in connection with the 26/11 attack case. The trial has been underway since 2009.

    A Pakistani court had on April 9 set free Lakhvi, a development which India said "eroded" the value of assurances repeatedly conveyed to it by Pakistan on cross—border terrorism.


    Indian companies taking keen interest in defence manufacturing: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley 

    June 23, 2015 |  The Economic Times

    "A large number of major Indian corporate groups are now taking a lot of interest in setting up defence manufacturing establishments in India," he said. 

    "A large number of major Indian corporate groups are now taking a lot of interest in setting up defence manufacturing establishments in India," he said. 

    NEW DELHI: Stating that many Indian companies are taking a keen interest in the defence sector, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday told ET Now. "We have opened up the defence sector and we want to start defence manufacturing in India." 

    "A large number of major Indian corporate groups are now taking a lot of interest in setting up defence manufacturing establishments in India," he said. 

    In the past Jaitley has said he is becoming a little optimistic because "a flurry of activities" is taking place in the sector. 

    "You see foreign investors partnering with domestic manufacturers, takeovers have started, large groups are now taking interests in entering that particular field," he had said in March. 

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened a window for majority foreign ownership in defence companies, pointing to an important policy shift just months after India raised the FDI limit in the sector to 49%. 

    Modi, for whom domestic manufacturing is a key strategic goal, has tied any increase in the FDI limit to another important goal, the acquisition of the latest technology that in the long run will help India become a self-sufficient arms producer in the most crucial areas. 

    "We have raised the permitted level of FDI to 49%. This can go higher, if the project brings state-of the art technology," the PM had said earlier this year at Asia's largest air show, Aero India, in Bengaluru. 

    In August 2014, the FDI limit in defence was increased from 26% to lure foreign defence suppliers to set up manufacturing facilities in a country that is the world's largest arms importer. 
     


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    National Assembly approves Finance Bill 2015-16

    June 23, 2015 | Source: George News

    ISLAMABAD: National Assembly on Tuesday approved federal budget for the fiscal year 2015-16 amid walk out by the opposition in the lower house.

    The Finance Bill, with a total out lay of Rs4313 billion, was approved clause by clause reading, under the chair of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.

    The amendments, made by the opposition, could not be presented in the assembly due to their walk out.

    The House adopted a number of amendments proposed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Senators and MNAs during the debate.

    About Rs248 billion have been allocated for energy sector with an objective to generate additional cheap electricity and overcome load shedding.

    The budget contains grant of 7.5 percent adhoc relief allowance in the pay and pensions of government employees.


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    'Violence cost India's economy $342 bn in 2014'

    June 17, 2015 | Source: The Hindu

    File picture shows a Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation boring the brunt of stone pelting by cadres of a poltical party in Puducherry. Photo: T. Singaravelou

    File picture shows a Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation boring the brunt of stone pelting by cadres of a poltical party in Puducherry. Photo: T. Singaravelou

    This is equivalent to 4.7 per cent of India’s GDP, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace

    Violence hit India where it hurts the most — it impacted the economy to the tune of USD 341.7 billion in 2014, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).

    The country has been ranked at a lowly 143 out of 162 nations in this year’s Global Peace Index (GPI).

    According to the 2015 GPI published on Wednesday, escalating civil strife and the consequent refugee crisis have been among the major factors behind the rising cost of global violence containment.

    On India, the report said “the economic impact of containing and dealing with the consequences of India’s levels of violence was estimated to cost the national economy USD 341.7 billion in 2014. This is equivalent to 4.7 per cent of India’s GDP, or USD 273 per person“.

    Meanwhile, South Asia moved up one notch in the regional ranking after staying at the bottom in 2014, but that’s mostly because conditions worsened at a faster pace in MENA (the Middle East and North Africa).

    Overall, scores of most countries in South Asia slipped, with only Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh registering gains.

    India ranked 5th out of seven countries in South Asia.

    Moreover, in the past eight years since GPI was first introduced, India deteriorated by 6 per cent largely due to “deteriorations in indicators measuring deaths from external conflict, political terror and perceptions of criminality“.

    Iceland led the pack of the Global Peace Index, followed by Denmark and Austria at second and third positions, respectively.

    Others in the top 10 include New Zealand, Switzerland, Finland, Canada, Japan, Australia, and Czech Republic.

    According to the report, the impact of violence on the global economy reached a whopping USD 14.3 trillion, or 13.4 per cent of global GDP, in 2014.

    Globally, many European countries are in the midst of historic levels of peace, with homicide rates falling, military budgets decreasing and withdrawal of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    In contrast, countries such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan and Central African Republic brought up the bottom of the list, turning less peaceful.

    Since last year, 81 countries improved their levels of peace while 78 fared worse, the report said.

    “The year 2014 was marked by two contradictory trends: on the one hand, many countries in the OECD achieved historic levels of peace while on the other, strife-torn nations, especially in the Middle East, became more violent,” said IEP Founder and Executive Chairman Steve Killelea.


    India rejects Kazakhstan's offer for Abai oil field

    June 17, 2015 | Source: Economic Times

    Kazakhstan had in April last year offered OVL a stake in Abai, which was previously being operated by Norway's Statoil. 

    Kazakhstan had in April last year offered OVL a stake in Abai, which was previously being operated by Norway's Statoil. 

    NEW DELHI: Nearly two years after Kazakhstan blocked India's $5 billion deal to buy stake in the Kashagan oilfield, ONGC Videsh Ltd has said the offer of an alternative mid-sized Abai oil block in Caspian Sea is not attractive enough. 

    Kazakhstan had in April last year offered OVL a stake in Abai, which was previously being operated by Norway's Statoil. 

    OVL, the overseas arm of state explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), has after one year of studying the field data found it not attractive enough, highly placed sources said. 

    OVL was offered 25 per cent interest in the Abai block, which according to Kazakhstan government estimates has 2.8 billion barrels of oil reserves. However, the Indian firm believes reserves may not that high. 

    Sources said the company has not yet formally rejected the offer but indicated it's reluctance to take a stake in the block ahead of the 12th meeting of the India-Kazakhstan Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic Scientific, Technological, Industrial and Cultural Cooperation here. 

    Kazakhstan had in July 2013 blocked OVL's USD 5 billion deal to buy an 8.4 per cent stake in the Kashagan oilfield, the world's largest oil find in five decades, from US energy giant ConocoPhillips. 

    Kazakhstan exercised its pre-emption right to first buy the ConocoPhillips' stake and then sell it off to Chinese firm --- China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). In 2005, India had lost a USD 4.18 billion deal to buy PetroKazakhstan to China. 

    At the time of the offer for Abai was made, it was stated that Kazakhstan realises that they were more than unjust to India and have put all their eggs in one basket i.e. China. 

    Statoil had in February 2013 given up the Abai offshore block spending about seven years negotiating to start exploration. 

    Kazakhstan's state-owned KazMunaiGaz National Co held 75 per cent interest in the block with an estimated 387 million tonnes of resources (2.8 billion barrels). Statoil had 25 per cent interest which had been offered to OVL. 

    Delays and cost overruns have dogged Kazakhstan's efforts to expand offshore production of oil and gas. OVL had planned to drill two exploration wells on Satpayev in 2014 and 2015 but delivery of a drill rig has been delayed and will start drilling next month. 

    "There has been satisfactory progress on this project. We expect exploratory drilling to commence early next month," Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said at the joint meeting. 

    OVL Managing Director N K Verma said the company has already invested USD 150 million in Satpayev and will invest a total of USD 400 million in exploration. 

    OVL bought 25 per cent of Satpayev in 2011. It paid USD 13 million as a signing amount to Kazakhstan. In addition, it will pay USD 80 million as a one-time assignment fee to KazMunaiGas (KMG). 

    On top of this, OVL had committed a minimum exploration investment of USD 165 million and an additional optional expenditure of USD 235 million to the project. 

    The Satpayev block, measuring 1,582 sq km, is located in the North Caspian Sea, in water depths of 6-8 m, and has two prospective areas that hold an estimated 256 million tonnes of oil and natural gas resources. It lies near four major discoveries. 

    OVL estimates a peak output of 287,000 barrels per day from the Satpayev and Satpayev Vostochni (East) structures. OVL said it had in November 2012 finalised definitive agreements for acquisition of ConocoPhillips' stake in Kashagan offshore oil project in the Caspian Sea. 

    The deal had received support from all other parters in Kashagan. Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Italy's Eni, Total of France and KazMunaiGaz each hold 16.8 per cent of Kashagan. Japan's Inpex Corp has 7.56 per cent. 

    The Kashagan field, located in the shallow waters (about 5-8 meters) of the Kazakh North Caspian Sea, is the world's largest current development project. 

    The field, which is set to produce 370,000 barrels of oil a day, is to start output by September, eight years later than initially planned and with costs nearing USD 48 billion, double the early estimates. 

    India has lost at least USD 12.5 billion of deals to China in the past years.


    Bangladesh factory owner, 41 others charged with murder in 1,100 deaths

    June 1, 2015 | Source: Los Angeles Times

    Cranes operated by Bangladeshi army personnel are at the scene days after the April 24, 2013, collapse of an eight-story building in Dhaka. Bangladeshi police on Monday charged the owner of the Rana Plaza factory complex and others with murder in the collapse that killed 1,137 people.  (AFP/Getty Images)

    Cranes operated by Bangladeshi army personnel are at the scene days after the April 24, 2013, collapse of an eight-story building in Dhaka. Bangladeshi police on Monday charged the owner of the Rana Plaza factory complex and others with murder in the collapse that killed 1,137 people.

     (AFP/Getty Images)

    Two years after a garment factory building collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and drawing worldwide attention to dangerous conditions in Bangladesh’s apparel business, authorities Monday charged 42 people with murder in the country’s deadliest industrial disaster.

    The accused included the owner of the Rana Plaza factory complex, Sohel Rana, and national and local officials who oversaw building safety and inspections. Rana and others initially had been expected to face lesser charges of culpable homicide, but the murder charges mean they could face the death penalty, if convicted.

    Authorities said the severity of the charges was due to the scale of the disaster, a signal that Bangladesh was serious about repairing the image of its troubled garment export industry, the second largest in the world and supplier to such major U.S. companies as Gap, Fruit of the Loom, Target, Wal-Mart and Macy’s.

    Cheap, submissive labor has propelled Bangladesh’s $20-billion clothing industry, the source of 80% of the country’s exports. Many of the garment manufacturing sector’s 4 million workers are women, which has also driven social change in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation.

    Since the disaster, officials have launched a new inspection regime for factories, raised worker pay, allowed unions to register for the first time and pledged other reforms. Major apparel retailers and brands in the United States and Europe formed consortiums to monitor safety at factories that produce their clothes — a sign of how Bangladesh has become a crucial supplier, particularly to low-cost brands.

    “They see this as a necessary step to maintain the attractiveness of Bangladesh as a source country, particularly for the U.S. and European markets that are strategically important to the industry,” said Sarah Labowitz, co-director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

    “The brands need Bangladesh too, because no other country can compete on volume and cost,” Labowitz said. “So we are at a moment where dramatic change is possible because it’s in the interests of both Bangladesh and international companies.”

    Yet of the 42 accused on Monday, some two dozen are fugitives — a reminder of the challenges Bangladesh faces in prosecuting suspected abuses in an industry beset by problems.

    Even after the minimum wage for garment workers was nearly doubled, it remains just $68 per month, one of the lowest in the world.

    Scores of new unions have been formed, but workers say some who tried to unionize have faced intimidation, threats, dismissal and physical attacks by factory managers. Few unions have been able to reach collective bargaining agreements with employers.

    “Bangladesh deserves credit for giving unions the leeway they need to organize,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “But the most important thing is to create institutions that give nascent unions a remedy when factory owners ignore them, crush them or otherwise make them ineffective.”

    Workers have long been vulnerable to corrupt, politically connected factory bosses who face little oversight.

    On the morning of the disaster in April 2013, authorities say, factory owners and managers ordered reluctant workers to enter the nine-story building a day after large cracks had appeared in the structure. Workers have said that some managers threatened them, in keeping with a feudal labor system in which they were often subjected to physical and verbal abuse, denied bathroom breaks and refused sick leave.

    Eighteen of those accused of murder were also charged with violating building codes by adding extra floors to what was originally a five-story complex. About 2,500 people were rescued from the building after it collapsed, many suffering severe injuries.

    Rana, owner of the plaza complex on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, and active in the Awami League, the political party that runs the country, was arrested days after the collapse while trying to flee to India. He remains in police custody. Rana’s parents were also charged with murder, along with the owners of several other factories in the complex.

    Despite pledges by Bangladeshi authorities and international companies, experts worry that the root problems that contributed to the huge death toll at Rana Plaza have not been addressed.

    Through two consortiums, American and European brands and retailers such as Adidas, Marks & Spencer and Abercrombie & Fitch have taken responsibility for monitoring workplace and fire safety at about 1,800 supplier factories. But researchers say the total number of factories in Bangladesh is closer to 7,000, including many small- and medium-sized operations that lie outside the reach of international companies and Bangladesh’s own inspection regime — yet employ half of the garment industry workforce.

    The government has been busy training inspectors, but has not laid out a clear plan for how to help factories pay for renovations that can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, contributing to a system in which smaller, less well-funded factories remain dangerous.

    On Sunday, the day before the Rana Plaza indictments, a fire reportedly caused by a short circuit broke out at a garment factory near Dhaka, causing the top five floors of the seven-story building to collapse. Factory owners said there were no casualties among the 3,000 workers, who were on their lunch break when the fire occurred.

    “I totally welcome a criminal prosecution to address the terrible crimes that happened at Rana Plaza,” Sifton said. “But that’s not enough to prevent factory disasters in the future. At the end of the day the real work in improving Bangladesh’s labor situation is in the smaller, mundane issues of labor reform.”


    Optics as well as substance important as Narendra Modi visits China

    May 12, 2015 | Reuters | Source: Financial Express

    When Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in the ancient city of Xian on Thursday at the start of a visit to China, he will be met by Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Reuters)

    When Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in the ancient city of Xian on Thursday at the start of a visit to China, he will be met by Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Reuters)

    When Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in the ancient city of Xian on Thursday at the start of a visit to China, he will be met by Chinese President Xi Jinping, in an unusual departure from normal protocol.

    Top Chinese leaders almost never travel outside Beijing to meet senior foreign guests on bilateral visits, and Xi’s appearance in Xian, located in Xi’s home province of Shaanxi, underscores China’s determination to set aside past rancour between the world’s two most populous nations, experts said.

    “It definitely indicates the significance our president puts on Mr. Modi’s visit,” said Li Li, an India expert at the government-backed China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

    “From the Chinese side, we were very impressed by the hospitality extended by Mr. Modi during Xi Jinping’s visit to India,” he added, referring to Modi greeting Xi in his home state of Gujarat when Xi visited India last year.

    Modi will visit a Xian pagoda connected to Xuanzang, also known as Tripitaka, the monk who bought the Buddhist sutras to China from India thousands of years ago, according to people briefed on the trip.

    “It is sending a very important message,” Li said of Xi’s going to Xian to greet Modi, a place closely connected to the deep historical links between China and India.

    Still, the list of problems both countries face are considerable, ranging from a festering border dispute to China’s support for India’s arch-rival Pakistan.

    Mistrust runs deep, something Xi will be keenly aware of despite the bonhomie and billions of dollars in deals likely to be signed.

    Modi’s new account on Chinese social media site Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, was filled with messages soon after launching this month asking him to return what China calls South Tibet, otherwise known as the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

    “This is the great, great pressure the Chinese government is facing,” said Mao Siwei, a former senior Chinese diplomat who was based in India and Pakistan, talking about the need to manage Chinese public concern about the disputed area.

    China claims more than 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq miles) disputed by New Delhi in the eastern sector of the Himalayas.

    India says China occupies 38,000 square km (14,600 sq miles) of its territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the west.

    In September, the two armies faced off in the Ladakh sector in the western Himalayas just as Xi was visiting India for the first summit talks with Modi. This time, the border has been quiet ahead of Modi’s arrival.

    While chances of a breakthrough on the border look distant, the exchange of visits by Modi and Xi so soon after both took office is a positive sign, said Ram Madhav, a senior leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a hardline Hindu nationalist organisation that has close ties to Modi’s BJP.

    “There is an earnest eagerness to connect with the Indian leadership,” Madhav told a forum in Beijing.

    “Prime Minister Modi has chosen to come in his first year (of office) to China. It shows that the leaders on both sides are seriously attempting to … bridge the most important challenge between the two countries – the trust deficit.”


    Prime Minister Narendra Modi inks 13 agreements with Canada, including a pact on space cooperation

    April 16, 2015 | Roy Chaudhury | Source: Economic Times

    (The two countries also decided to strengthen defence and security cooperation and decided to cooperate to stabilise the Asia Pacific region.)

    (The two countries also decided to strengthen defence and security cooperation and decided to cooperate to stabilise the Asia Pacific region.)

    NEW DELHI: India has inked a deal with Canada for supply of uranium for its nuclear reactors during Prime MinisterNarendra Modi's visit, capping negotiations on safeguards that started five years ago. Modi himself made the announcement following talks with Canadian counterpartStephen Harper. Under an agreement signed on Wednesday, after comprehensive talks Modi had with Harper, Cameco Corporation will supply 3,000 metric tonnes of uranium over five years to India for $254 million. The supply may begin in a year.

    "The agreement on procurement of uranium from Canada for our civilian nuclear power plants launches a new era of bilateral nuclear cooperation," said Modi in his joint presser with Harper. This was the highlight of total 13 pacts that the two countries signed that also included a pact on space cooperation. "It also reflects a new level of mutual trust and confidence. Further, it will contribute to India's efforts to power its growth with clean energy," Modi said. Modi and Harper also resolved to fight terror jointly. "We in India felt Canada's pain when this city was struck by a senseless act of terrorism... We will deepen our cooperation to combat terrorism and extremism. We will also promote a comprehensive global strategy, and consistent policy and action against all sources of terrorism and its support," said Modi.

    The two countries also decided to strengthen defence and security cooperation and decided to cooperate to stabilise the Asia Pacific region. Modi also announced Electronic Visa Authorisation for tourist visa for Canadian nationals. They will also be eligible for 10-year visas now. The two countries also agreed for new framework for economic partnership.

    "I am confident that we can conclude the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement very soon. We will also implement the road map to conclude the Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement by September 2015," the PM said on deepening economic cooperation. India and Canada had signed a civil nuclear cooperation deal in 2010. It was followed by the signing of an administrative arrangement in 2012 under the Manmohan Singh government.


    Intellectual Property and Economic Development

    February 17, 2014 | Rod Hunter | Source: Project Syndicate

    WASHINGTON, DC – In his recent State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama reiterated his ambition to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement among the US and 11 Pacific countries. Meanwhile, the European Union and China are pressing to close their own deals in Asia and elsewhere. If these proliferating trade pacts are to spur virtuous cycles of growth for developing countries, they must not only reduce trade barriers; they must also build the institutional framework of a modern economy, including robust intellectual property (IP) rights.

    Some activists and government officials get the relationship between strong IP protection and economic growth backwards, claiming that IP rights are an obstacle to development, and thus should not be enforced until after countries achieve high-income status. This attitude is particularly prevalent in India, which recently put trade negotiations with the EU on hold, and it was central to the failure of the Doha Round of global trade talks. As Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma put it, “inherent flexibilities must be provided to developing countries.”

    But the bottom line is that the ideas protected by IP rights are the dynamo of growth for developed and developing countries alike. Instead of diluting IP rights, developing countries like India should recognize that strengthening IP protection is a prerequisite for attracting the foreign investment that they need to help their economies grow, create jobs, and improve their citizens’ capacity to consume.

    Today, IP accounts for much of the value at large companies. One study found that in 2009, across a variety of industries in the US, intellectual capital – patents, copyrights, databases, brands, and organizational knowledge – held a 44% share of firms’ overall market value. Such companies have little desire to put their IP at risk of erosion or outright theft; they want to do business where they know that their IP is safe.

    Developing countries have a lot to gain from attracting multinational firms. Such companies bring technologically advanced imports and new management techniques that foster growth in domestic firms, while spurring industrial modernization. They also spawn new local companies that serve as suppliers, thereby boosting employment, augmenting workers’ skills, improving productivity, and increasing government revenue.

    Currently, India attracts a mere 2.7% of global spending on research and development; China, with its stronger IP rights, attracts close to 18%; and the US brings in 31%. United Nations data show that India’s stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) was equivalent to just 11.8% of its GDP from 2010 to 2012 – far lower than the developing-economy average of roughly 30%.

    According to a new study by the economists Robert Shapiro and Aparna Mathur, if India achieved Chinese levels of IP protection, its annual FDI inflows would increase by 33% annually. In the pharmaceutical sector – which is particularly vulnerable to IP infringement – a stronger IP regime could increase FDI inflows from $1.5 billion this year to $8.3 billion in 2020, with pharmaceutical R&D doubling to $1.3 billion over the same period. The increased FDI would create 18,000 new jobs in the pharmaceutical industry.

    If India could transform its IP regime to resemble the US system, which is more robust than China’s, the benefits would be even greater. Inward FDI could increase by as much as 83% annually by 2020; in the pharmaceutical industry alone, FDI could reach as much as $77 billion, with R&D rising to $4.2 billion and 44,000 new jobs being created.

    The Indian government’s ongoing assault on pharmaceutical IP makes these findings even more significant. Over the last two years, India has invalidated or otherwise attacked patents on 15 drugs produced by international firms in order to make way for local champions, claiming that exclusivity enables companies to charge high prices that harm consumers. Allowing local producers to copy patented medicines, officials assert, will bring down prices and expand access.

    But drug patents and prices are not the main – or even a major – obstacle to patients’ access to medical care in India. The bigger issue, as the IMS consultancy found last year, is the shortage of doctors, clinics, and hospitals, especially in rural areas. Even the public clinics and hospitals that do exist are often rendered useless by high rates of absenteeism by doctors. Medicine, however affordable, is of no value if no one is available to prescribe or administer it.

    Furthermore, Indians lack access to insurance programs, particularly for outpatient care. This, coupled with the lack of a public safety net, makes health problems a leading source of economic hardship, even for middle-class families. Far from improving citizens’ access to health care, weak IP protections are exacerbating India’s formidable health-care challenges.

    It is time for India’s leaders to recognize the positive role that IP can play in fostering growth and improving citizens’ wellbeing. It is equally important for trade negotiators worldwide to reject the notion that IP protection is a luxury that only rich countries can afford. The reality is that IP protection is an economic engine that developing-country citizens should not have to forego.