India Slams Pak Plan To Give Fifth Province Status To Gilgit-Baltistan Region

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

India slams Pak plan to give fifth province status to Gilgit-Baltistan region

INDIA Updated: Mar 16, 2017 22:49 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A committee headed by Pakistan’s foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz reportedly proposed fifth province status for the strategic region.(AFP File )

India on Friday reacted strongly to an attempt by Pakistan to declare the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region, bordering disputed Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), as its fifth province, saying such move is “entirely unacceptable.”There are reports that a committee headed by Pakistan’s foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz has proposed status of a province to Gilgit-Baltistan.Responding to the reports, external affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said any such step would not be able to hide the illegality of Pakistan’s occupation of parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which it must vacate, forthwith.

“The entire state of J&K is an integral part, has been an integral part and will be an integral part of India. No attempt or unilateral attempt or step to change that would have any legal basis, whatsoever, and it will be entirely unacceptable,” the spokesperson said.

The move will not be able to “hide the tremendous, very concerning human rights violations and denial of freedom” that has been going on in parts of J&K controlled by Pakistan for the last 70 years, he said.

Gilgit-Baltistan is treated as a separate geographical entity by Pakistan. It has a regional assembly and an elected chief minister.

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At present, Pakistan has four provinces — Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

It is believed that China’s concerns about the unsettled status of the strategic region prompted Pakistan to explore change in its status.

Asked about Pakistan having expressed concern over acquittal of Assemanand in Ajmer Sharif blast case, Baglay said India completely rejects Pakistan’s “efforts and intention to meddle” in the country’s internal affairs, including in the Indian judicial process.

“We also totally reject the ulterior link which is sought to be established by Pakistan with any other matter under the purview of the Indian courts. A strong Indian democracy and justice system obviously need no self-serving sermons from anybody much less from a country like Pakistan,” he asserted.

The spokesperson also advised Pakistan to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of India and not to deny the reality of terrorism emanating from its soil, which was affecting not only India but the entire neighbourhood and beyond.

Baglay also reiterated India’s demand that Pakistan should dismantle terrorist infrastructure in its own territory or the territory under its control, and bring to justice the terror masterminds who still operate and continue to enjoy freedom on its soil.

Pakistan foreign office had last week summoned India’s deputy high commissioner J P Singh to express its concern over acquittal of right-wing activist Swami Aseemanand in 2007 Ajmer Sharif blast case.

Hong Kong goes Crazy For ‘Hero’ Policeman

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Hong Kong goes crazy for ‘hero’ policeman

  • From the section Asia
Ifzal Zaffar Image copyright HONG KONG POLICE

A 20-year-old Hong Kong policeman has swept to fame online after he talked a suicidal Pakistani man out of killing himself – in fluent Urdu.

The man had climbed a 20-metre-high (65ft) crane at a construction site, and police were called to the scene.

Ifzal Zaffar, who is of Pakistani descent, duly climbed up too and addressed him in their shared language.

The man agreed to come down, and was taken to hospital.

Constable Zaffer, who also speaks fluent Cantonese, said he was simply following his training.

“I used the techniques we learned at the academy … I think he felt safer knowing that I could talk to him in his own language,” he told Apple Daily.

The young man joined the force just under a year ago, and is said to be the only officer of Pakistani origin in the district.

He arrived via a Hong Kong police scheme to recruit non-Chinese officers, called Operation Gemstone.

Constable Zaffer’s handling of the delicate situation won him praise from superiors – and a social media fan club.

“He is very handsome yet having a golden heart,” gushed Facebook user Nuna Priya.

“Mr IFZAL ZAFFAR, many citizen support you, please keep on serving the society. Thanks!!!” wrote Baba Bebe Wong.

As netizens commended his integrity and professionalism, the Muslim Council of Hong Kong also joined the chorus of support.

“Bravo to this young man and thank you to the HK police force for bringing him in,” it said.

“Hope more such stories can be seen to show HK is indeed a multi-cultural city.”

ARAB NATIONS FACE STARK CHOICE: ISRAEL OR IRAN

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NEWSWEEK)

ARAB NATIONS FACE STARK CHOICE: ISRAEL OR IRAN

This article first appeared on the Atlantic Council site.

Two very different dialogue proposals are on the table for the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, one from a historic enemy, Israel, proposed in conjunction with a crucial partner, the United States. The other is from a historic rival, Iran, which shares the same neighborhood and faith.

The choice the Arab countries ultimately make could determine the future peace and prosperity of the region.

On February 15, President Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House and during a press conference, both leaders hinted at an approaching Arab-Israeli cooperation.

A few days later, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated Iran’s previously proposed regional platform for dialogue between the Islamic Republic and its Persian Gulf neighbors during a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

The U.S.-Israel proposal encompasses almost all Arab States, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as Egypt, Jordan and possibly Lebanon and Tunisia.

This proposal’s principal objective is a wider Arab-Israeli peace agreement and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the key selling point behind this initiative is mutual concerns regarding Iran, and the proposal has a goal to present a unified front against the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu stated during the press conference that “for the first time in my lifetime, and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but, increasingly, as an ally.” He further stated that “the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach involving our newfound Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace with the Palestinians.”

Related: Michael Dorf: Trump’s Deal-Making Skills Won’t Help Israel

While there has been no official confirmation of back channel talks between Israel and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, Trump and Netanyahu’s statements indicate that previous reports alleging secret direct interactions between high-level Israeli and GCC officials have indeed taken place in the past six years if not longer.

The perception left by the Barack Obama administration, that the United States is leaving the region and that an increasingly emboldened Iran is exerting power across the Middle East after the implementation of the 2015 nuclear agreement, has revived longstanding hostilities between Arabs and Persians, and presented an opening to realize mutual interests and foster cooperation between Arabs and Israelis.

Israel has long seen Iran as its major adversary because of Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah as well as Iran’s ballistic missile program and nuclear advances.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia along with its GCC partners were alarmed when Iran took advantage of the US invasion of Iraq to become influential in Baghdad. The GCC states also grew intolerant of Iran’s perceived links to the uprisings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province as well as Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and for the Houthis in Yemen.

03_03_Iran_Israel_01Deputy Crown Prince, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Muhammad bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi arrive at the Hangzhou Exhibition Center to participate in the G20 Summit on September 4, 2016, in Hangzhou, China. Mehran Haghirian writes that if the United States goes forward with plans to move the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or gives a carte blanche for further Israeli settlements in the West Bank, while abandoning the goal of a two-state solution, there will be no domestic support for Arab rapprochement with Israel.ETIENNE OLIVEAU/GETTY

At the Munich conference, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman quoted without naming him an old remark by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis that “in the Middle East we are facing three challenges: Iran, Iran and Iran…and I can only repeat and confirm this approach.” Lieberman reiterated that Israel would continue efforts to hinder the Islamic Republic’s reintegration into the international community in the aftermath of the nuclear agreement.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also reaffirmed his country’s objections to Iranian actions across the region. “The Iranians do not believe in the principle of good neighborliness or non-interference in the affairs of others,” Jubeir told the Munich conference. “This is manifested in their interference in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan.”

While the prospect for Iran-Saudi détente looks dim at present, it is crucial to remember that the future of Palestine is an issue that not only unites Iran and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, but all people in the Muslim world. The outlook for the US-Israeli proposal to solve the Palestinian issue is unclear and most likely not possible to be implemented.

If the United States goes forward with plans to move the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or gives a carte blanche for further Israeli settlements in the West Bank, while abandoning the goal of a two-state solution, there will be no domestic support for Arab rapprochement with Israel.

Countering the US-Israeli proposal, Zarif reiterated the Islamic Republic’s proposition for creation of a regional platform for dialogue between Iran and its Persian Gulf neighbors, or as he called them “brothers.”

“Countries in the Persian Gulf region need to surmount the current state of division and tension and instead move in the direction erecting realistic regional arrangements,” Zarif told the Munich conference. To implement this proposal, he said it must start with a regional dialogue forum that encompasses the littoral neighbors of the Persian Gulf, and under the framework of shared principles and objectives.

The primary goal of Iran’s proposal is to decrease tensions and increase cooperation between neighbors.

“The forum can promote understanding under a broad spectrum of issues, including confidence and security building measures, and combating terrorism, extremism, and sectarianism,” Zarif said. “It could also encourage practical cooperation in areas ranging from the protection of the environment to join investments and tourism. Such a forum could eventually develop into a more formal non-aggression and security cooperation arrangements.”

This proposal is not new. Zarif put it forward shortly after finalizing the nuclear deal in an article on Al-Monitor titled “Choose your neighbors before your house,” and traveledto Qatar and Kuwait shortly afterward.

More recently, on January 24, the foreign minister of Kuwait met with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to deliver a letter on behalf of the GCC. While the details of the letter have not been made public, Rouhani followed with state visits to Oman and Kuwait on February 15, coincidentally the same day Trump and Netanyahu held talks.

Oman and Kuwait, which historically have had less troubled relations with Iran than other GCC members, have indicated a desire to take part in the dialogue forum with Iran, and have repeatedly attempted to mediate tensions between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia.

The disagreements between rival powers should not preclude comprehensive and inclusive arrangements that address mutual concerns, and that benefit all participating countries. The Iranian proposal will ensure a sustainable relationship between neighboring states based on mutual respect, and eventually, the cooperation could facilitate an end to the civil wars in Yemen and Syria.

The Israeli proposal might lead to a wider peace agreement between Arab states and Israel. However, it will most definitely exacerbate tensions with Iran and increase the chances of a wider military conflict.

There has been no substantial conflict between the Arab States of the Persian Gulf and Israel in the past decade or more, and while a wider Arab-Israeli peace would undoubtedly have a positive impact in the region, it is contingent on a Palestinian-Israeli agreement.

Meanwhile, the rise in contention between some GCC states and Iran in the past decade has arguably had more dire consequences for the region than the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Agreeing to sit at the same table with Iran for dialogue based on a mutually acceptable and beneficial outlook will lead to greater peace in the region and beyond. It is crucial for the Arab states of the Persian Gulf to weigh the rewards and consequences of each proposal before going forward with either approach.

Mehran Haghirian is an Iranian Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service in Washington D.C., and he is currently a Project Assistant at Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.

India’s Defence Minister Gives Military Commanders Full Freedom To Combat Jihadists

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said on Friday that military commanders had “full freedom” to decide on how to conduct their operations against insurgents and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.Parrikar’s remarks come in the backdrop of a debate over army chief Bipin Rawat’s comments that those who hinder counter-insurgency operations or display flags of Pakistan and the Islamic State in Kashmir will be considered as “anti-national”, and soldiers will not hesitate to use their weapons.

The comments have evoked sharp reactions from opposition politicians and Kashmiri separatists alike, most of who said such an attitude will only further alienate the military among Kashmiris and help fuel insurgency.

But Parrikar defended his army chief.

Read: General Rawat, hold your fire. All Kashmiri youth are not aides of jihadis

“Our aim is to neutralise as many Pakistani terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir (as possible) and demoralise the militant ranks before the snow starts melting in the high mountain passes next month,” Parrikar told Hindustan Times.

The defence minister also referred to a shootout between militants and the army in which a major was among four soldiers killed in Handwara on Tuesday. He said an investigation was on to see if any operational intelligence was leaked to the militants.

“The February 14 counter-terrorist operation… was based on specific source intelligence inputs,” he said.

“Our suspicion is that this intelligence got leaked to militants in advance. We are checking the facts. In these circumstances, I have given strict instructions of allowing full operational freedom to the commander on the spot. It is his final call.”

Kashmir remained on the boil for months after government forces killed militant commander Burhan Wani last July. More than 100 people were killed, most of them in police firing, during months-long street protests against Wani’s killing.

Although those protests have tapered, this winter has been one of the most violent in Kashmir with at least two major attacks on army barracks in Uri and Nagrota as well as several fatal shootouts between militants and soldiers. There has also been a spike in militants trying to cross over into India from Pakistan.

Government figures indicate that there are at least 300 “foreign terrorists” in the Valley, with Lashkar-e-Taiba accounting for over 90% of them.

Cross-border “infiltration” bids also stood at about 100 last year, official figures show, but top security officials said the number could be three times higher going by a rise in the number of unknown militants killed this year.

Pakistani Military Kill More Than 100 Jihadist One Day After ISIS Murder 81 Worshipers In Sufi Shrine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

More than 100 militants were killed in a sweeping crackdown launched by Pakistani security forces a day after a suicide attack claimed by the Islamic State left 81 dead at a crowded Sufi shrine.Thursday’s attack at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sindh province was preceded by suicide attacks in Lahore and the northwest. The surge of violence that has claimed more than 100 lives in a week has shaken the confidence of Pakistanis after a recent improvement in the security situation.

The attacks also came at a time when Pakistan’s civil and military leadership had been congratulating itself for defeating terrorism across the country. Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa pledged to avenge the deaths and said there would be “no more restraint for anyone”.

Crackdown targets militant groups across the country

The army and paramilitary forces launched operations in Karachi and other parts of Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces and the tribal areas. “Over 100 terrorists have been killed since last night and sizeable apprehensions also made,” said a statement from the military’s media arm.

Eighteen militants were killed in different parts of Karachi alone since Thursday night and scores were arrested in different cities.

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Afghan embassy officials were called to the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and asked to hand over 76 terrorists “hiding in Afghanistan”, military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted. The border with Afghanistan was also closed for security reasons, he added.

Pakistani volunteers stand beside the bodies of suspected militants killed in an overnight raid on their hideouts by security forces as they lie in a mortuary in Karachi on February 17, 2017. (AFP)

The death toll in the suicide bombing at the Sufi shrine at Sehwan in Sindh province rose to 81 on Friday and more than 250 people were admitted to different hospitals, state-run Radio Pakistan reported.

Amaq news agency, which is affiliated to the IS, claimed the attack. The shrine attracts large crowds on Thursdays and the suicide bomber struck when thousands had gathered for ‘dhamaal’, a Sufi ritual of singing and dancing.

Questions raised on military’s claims about wiping out militant groups

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he would do everything in his power to protect the country but people questioned how terrorism had raised its head again after claims that the military operation in the tribal areas had wiped out most militant groups.

Read | Pakistan launches security crackdown as nation mourns Sufi shrine blast victims

The military began its operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in Karachi in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Former army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, had declared two years of success and said Pakistan was safer as a result of the campaign. Violence-related fatalities dropped from 7,611 in 2014 to 4,653 in 2015 to about 2,560 in 2016, and observers agreed the overall security situation had improved significantly.

But this week, all claims of success were turned on their head. Though the Pakistan Army has asked Afghanistan to hand over terrorists hiding in its territory, analysts believe this isn’t the solution.

“We cannot keep on insisting the problem is elsewhere. It is here. It is in our midst,” said security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi. Others such as analyst Ayesha Siddiqa pointed to the proliferation of militant groups in southern Punjab and upper Sindh. Hundreds of madrassas have been established by militant groups, which use them to recruit and train young men and collect funds.

No operations in Sindh or Punjab

Despite repeated promises, the federal government has not allowed any operation in upper Sindh or southern Punjab because many of the militant groups are patronised by elements in the ruling PML-N party.

“A number of sectarian and extremist organisations are political allies of the PML-N,” Rizvi said.

The military is ready to start a sweep and even announced its intention to do so after the suicide attack in the heart of Lahore on Monday. But the military also patronises other militant groups which are used to launch attacks into India and to aid in security operations in Balochistan.

A view of the deserted tomb of Sufi saint Syed Usman Marwandi, also known as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, after it was closed to the public following Thursday’s suicide attack in Sehwan in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. (Reuters)

“Because there is a difference of opinion on whom to arrest and who to let go, the operation against militants remains a non-starter,” said Rizvi.

Thursday’s suicide bombing was also the biggest attack claimed by the IS. Most of the other attacks this week were claimed by the Taliban. The government has denied the IS has a presence in Pakistan and its links with other groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which mainly targets Shias.

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Main opposition Pakistan People’s Party leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said the government had miserably failed to eradicate terrorism. “It’s very easy to criticise the government of the PPP but the present government has protected terrorists,” he said.

Siraj-ul-Haq of the right wing Jamaat-e-Islami party said the government “appeared helpless”. He said the terrorists had shown “they can attack anywhere and at any time”.

Pakistanis fear violence could spiral out of control

Ordinary Pakistanis were fearful that the situation was again spiralling out of control just when things seemed to getting better. The terrorism could also have an impact on the economy, which had shown some signs of recovery.

Angry relatives of those who were killed in Thursday’s attack surrounded the chief minister’s motorcade in Sehwan and accused the provincial government of corruption and incompetence. The father of a girl killed in the attack told chief minister Murad Ali Shah that no help was available for several hours and his daughter died as she did not get medical attention.

A policeman walks past a pile of shoes left by devotees after Thursday’s suicide blast at the tomb of Sufi saint Syed Usman Marwandi, also known as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sehwan town in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. (Reuters)

A number of people turned to social media to express their anger with the poor security arrangements at most public places. In a tweet, Dr Waqar Abidi said: “Nawaz Sharif himself is a security risk.”

There is also growing anger at the government’s inability to implement the National Action Plan devised in 2014 to combat terrorism after a deadly attack on an army-run school in Peshawar killed more than 130 children. Analyst Sajjad Haider said the delay in fully implementing a plan agreed on by all stakeholders was unforgivable,

“It shows that the priorities of the Nawaz Sharif government do not include fighting terrorism,” he said.

Pakistan sounds alarm over ‘nuclearisation’ of Indian Ocean by India

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS)

Pakistan sounds alarm over ‘nuclearisation’ of Indian Ocean by India

WORLD Updated: Feb 13, 2017 08:52 IST

IANS
IANS
Islamabad

Pakistan

Pakistan says Indian Ocean faced challenges to peace due to its militarization, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increased missile capabilities and power projection by foreign militaries.(AFP File Photo)

Pakistan is determined to counter growing threats to peace in the Indian Ocean, particularly from its “nuclearisation” by India, foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz said.Aziz on Saturday said the Indian Ocean faced challenges to peace due to its militarization, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increased missile capabilities and power projection by foreign militaries, Dawn online reported.The foreign affairs advisor also listed piracy, illegal fishing; human, drugs and arms smuggling; maritime pollution and climate change as major problems.

“This trend is likely to intensify in the coming years,” he warned at the ‘International maritime conference on strategic outlook in Indian Ocean region, 2030 and beyond – evolving challenges and strategies’.

“We are aware of our national interests and every effort will be made to strengthen our capacity to ensure that we remain ready to meet the emerging maritime security challenges. For us, to remain oblivious of the developments taking place in the Indian Ocean region is not an option.”

Aziz said nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean had further destabilised the region.

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It was in Pakistan’s ves­ted interest that the region remai­ned peaceful as 95 per cent of the country’s trade took place through sea and it had over 1,000 km long coastline, an Exclusive Economic Zone of around 300,000 sq km, the Karachi port and the newly built deep-sea port of Gwadar.

He said the Indian Navy’s substantial expansion was a cause of concern for Islamabad. “Pakistan has a strategic stake in the peaceful navigation and security of the Indian Ocean region.”

“We realise the economic potential of the region. As the third-largest ocean providing coastline to more than 30 countries, the Indian Ocean provides connectivity not only to important regions in Asia, particularly South Asia and the Middle East, and Africa, it also connects Australia with Europe. Regular dialogue between stakeholders on security and safety have never been so important.”

He said an estimated 55 per cent of oil reserves of the world and 40 per cent of gas were located in the region.

“Today, some 40 per cent of the global trade passes through the Indian Ocean. With the rise of Asia as the global powerhouse, the region indeed offers the unique platform for the globalised world as an attractive trade route. At present ports in the Indian Ocean handle about 30 per cent global trade and half the world’s container traffic. But the establishment of a new system of routes and ports will further increase the economic importance of this ocean,” he said.

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Aziz said the Indian Ocean region was not all about war.

“It is a catalyst for peace and prosperity, cooperation, collaboration, connectivity and stability and security.”

He suggested that Pakistan, taking advantage of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), should begin working on two supplementary corridors.

“There should be a corridor connecting Pakistan to West Asia and Africa. The West Asian corridor could go by Iran to Central Asia and Moscow and via Iran and Turkey to Europe and a second corridor would pass through or around the Gulf region and penetrate into Africa,” he said, pointing out that Africa in particular was an upcoming continent with lots of potential.

President Trump Call India’s Prime Minister Modi “A True Friend And Partner”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS)

Trump tells Modi India ‘a true friend and partner’, invites PM to US ‘later this year’

WORLD Updated: Jan 25, 2017 07:26 IST

Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington

Highlight Story

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a scheduled telephonic conversation at 11:30pm IST on Tuesday.(Agencies File)

In a phone call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said the US considers India a “true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world”, according to a White House statement.The two leaders also discussed opportunities to “strengthen the partnership between the United States and India in broad areas such as the economy and defense”, the statement said without citing specific areas, sectors or goals.

Modi and Trump, who were speaking for the first time after the new US president took charge last Friday, also discussed “security in the region of South and Central Asia” and, once again the statement left out details.

South and Central Asia cover many areas of mutual interest to both India and the United States including Pakistan and Afghanistan and it could not be immediately confirmed if they discussed the drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan.

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But the two leaders resolved, according to the White House statement, “that the United States and India stand shoulder to shoulder in the global fight against terrorism”, which has been a priority for both of them and both countries.

Trump is hosting Modi later in the year, but it was, once again, not immediately clear if that will be in September-October when the Indian prime minister comes to the US for the UN general assembly meeting, or some other time.

But the two, who first spoke in November when Modi was among the first foreign leaders to call Trump on his election, are likely to meet during the next meeting of the G-20, which is scheduled to take place in Hamburg, Germany in July.

Since that first call, India engaged with Trump on two separate occasions: The first was a meeting between Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar and then Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, and the second on December 19 when Ajit Doval, national security adviser to PM Modi, met Trump’s NSA Michael Flynn.

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And now the call. The US statement contained no details and it was not known if trade in services, read H-1B, came up during their phone call, as many had expected, since it being the one issue that had agitated New Delhi the most about Trump.

The fate of the temporary US visa programme for high-skilled foreign workers, which is at the heart to India’s burgeoning IT exports to the US, seemed uncertain, given the president’s own reservations about it, and those of leading members of his team.

They believe the H-1B programme is being abused by the US companies to outsource American jobs to temporary foreign workers, a large number of them from India, and they have been considering ways to make it harder for that to happen.

“There is no other area of potential dispute or differences with the United States under President Trump,” said an Indian official, who spoke strictly on background. He added, “H-1B is the only problem for us as of now.”

In response to a question about India-US relations, White House press secretary Sean Spicer had said Monday that as with other countries, the Trump administration is focussed on access to markets in manufacturing and services.

Since being sworn-in last Friday, the new president has begun engaging with world leaders and has spoken to prime minister and president of neighboring Canada and Mexico first — with whom he plans to renegotiate the NAFTA trade deal.

He has also talked since with Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who he has invited to to a meeting in early February. And he meets Teresa May, prime minister of America’s closest ally the United Kingdom, on Friday.

The Tuesday call with Modi, on the second day of Trump’s first week in office, is being taken as sign of the priority he is attaching to the relationship, after an unprecedented outreach to the Indian American community during election.

At an election rally in New Jersey, Trump had said on his watch as president that India and the US will be “best friends” and, added in a typically Trumpian hyperbole that “there will be no relationship more important to me”.

At the suggestion of the Republican Hindu Coalition founder Shalli Kumar, who had organised the rally, Trump recorded a campaign call modeled on Modi’s election slogan “Abki baar Modi sarkar”, replacing Modi with Trump.

Also, Prime Minister Modi appears to have an admirer in Steve Bannon, chief strategist and senior counseller to the president, who had in 2014 called Modi’s election a “great victory … very much based on … Reaganesque principles”.

Bannon was then chief executive officer of Breitbart News, a stridently conservative news publication, and would become in 2016 a leading and early supporter of Trump, and later went on to head his campaign in August.

Anywhere America Steps Back: China’s Communist Government Steps Forward

 

THE WEEKEND ROUNDUP 

A new rift in world affairs appears to be opening up: a division between pro-globalization Asia, with China in the lead, and the transatlantic nations that have turned against globalization.

“President Xi’s appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week,” I write in a blog post this week, “comes at both an auspicious and inauspicious moment. It is an auspicious moment because President-elect Donald Trump has all but announced America’s withdrawal from the world it has largely made over recent decades — and from which Asia has most benefited.” Since Europe has become inwardly absorbed with anxieties over terror attacks, immigration and failed integration, I continue, “that leaves China as the one major power with a global outlook. Ready or not, China has become the de facto world leader seeking to maintain an open global economy and battle climate change. In effect, President Xi has become the ‘core leader’ of globalization.”

“The inauspicious aspect is the reverse,” I go on to say. “The general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party is speaking to the converted from the pulpit in the foremost church of the global elite that gathers annually in Davos. Aligning with the global business elites in such a high profile manner places China even more squarely in the negative sights of the populist wave sweeping the Western democracies. It affirms in their minds that China is the main enemy of the working and middle class in the West.” China’s increasing show of force in the South China Sea this week in response to what it sees as provocations by the incoming U.S. administration also does it little favor in Western eyes.

Alexis Crow makes the counter-case that globalization continues to be beneficial to the West, saying trade is closely correlated with economic growth. “Increased wages in Southeast Asia boost demand for goods from new economy sectors in the West,” she writes. She also notes, as a case in point, how Chinese investment is creating thousands of jobs in Ohio.

Writing from Vladivostok, Artyom Lukin wonders how heightening conflict with China, as Trump tilts toward a closer embrace of Moscow, will play out. “Given Trump’s obvious hostility to China and his friendliness to Russia,” he writes, “Moscow may move into the apex spot of the triangle, having better relations with Beijing and Washington than they have with each other.” As Lukin sees it, Russian President Vladimir Putin may well seek to, “position himself as a sort of mediator between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.”

Based on his experiences with Putin, Alexey Kovalev offers some advice as a Russian journalist to his American colleagues who this week faced their first press conference with Donald Trump. “Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him.” He welcomes his American colleagues to “the era of bullshit.” Fearing this is only the beginning of what’s to come in the battle between Trump and the press, Howard Fineman writes, “It’s not a video game. It’s Washington in the Trump era, and we’ve just seen an unsettling preview.”

Many Africans are also wondering how a Trump presidency that is hostile to China will unfold for them. As Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden report, while America’s role in the world is growing uncertain, China is becoming more predictably favorable. As the year opened, China outlawed its domestic ivory trade and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is making a visit to Africa his first overseas trip of the year. China has also committed $60 billion in financing for African projects.

Writing from Singapore, Parag Khanna takes another tack entirely, suggesting that an America caught up in the turmoil of a populist backlash might learn a thing or two not only from other successful states like Germany, but from China as well. America, Khanna observes, “is caught in a hapless cycle of flip-flopping parties and policies while overall national welfare stagnates. Populism has prevailed over pragmatism.” He further remarks that, even in the West, there is grudging admiration for, “China’s ability to get things done without perpetual factionalism holding up national priorities, such as infrastructure.”

The populist drift in both the U.S. and Europe deeply concerns the Human Rights Watch organization, Nick Visser reports. “They scapegoat refugees, immigrant communities, and minorities. Truth is a frequent casualty,” he cites the watchdog’s director, Kenneth Roth, as saying. Nick Robins-Early looks at the trend of populism in Europe, noting that this year will be a test for the far-right, specifically in France, Germany and The Netherlands.

Writing from New Delhi, Swati Chaturvedi fears the consequences of the anti-Muslim and anti-woman hate speech that seems part and parcel of a Hindu brand of populism taking hold in India today. “Trolls,” she says, “are the goons of the online world. … lies and violent words can have deadly consequences in the real world.”

In an interview, former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr sees opportunity for the regime in a Trump presidency where others see only trouble. “Khamenei’s supporters believe not only that Trump will maintain the Vienna nuclear agreement,” he says, “but also that his policies in Syria and the Middle East will maintain the interests of the regime.”

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, also has a positive spin on the negativity surrounding President-elect Trump. He thinks Americans are more than capable of rising to disruptive challenges of new technologies behind so much political anxiety today. Wheeler argues that the slogan “‘Make America Great Again’ became a surrogate for ‘Make me secure again amidst all this change.’ Great swaths of the electorate sought stability in a world where everything seemed to be changing.” Wheeler reminds his fellow Americans that they’ve been here before: “Like today,” he says, “the technology revolution of the 19th century produced a longing for stability. But instead of retreating, Americans pushed forward to build a new security around new concepts. Universal education, employee rights, governmental offsets to abusive market power and other initiatives targeted the new problems. The result was the good old days many now long for.”

Writing from Geneva, Richard Baldwin sees a double blow to the labor market – in both rich and poor countries ― of both offshoring and robots. “Rapid advances in computing power and communication technology,” he contends, “will make it economical for many more people to work remotely across borders.” As medical costs rise in the rich countries, for example, Baldwin expects to see more and more “telesurgery” where the patient and doctor are divided by hundreds of miles.

In this world so afflicted by hatred and violence, Turkish novelist Kaya Genc also sees a way to unite amidst division, finding beauty and peace in the quotidian event of a winter snowfall. “Snow saved Istanbul,” he writes this week from his beloved hometown on the shores of the Bosphorous. “As flakes fell from the sky, the city was relieved of its status as the new destination of international terror. … There was a hint of something chilling in the air, and I felt relieved that it was not man-made.” 

Wife Of Pulse Nightclub Mass killer Arrested In Rodeo Calafornia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWSPAPER)

Wife of Pulse nightclub mass killer arrested

The  wife of Omar Mateen, the man who killed 49 people in a shooting rampage at a Orlando nightclub last June, was arrested Monday on a charge of obstructing justice, a federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY.

Noor Salman was taken into custody by the FBI at her Northern California home, The New York Times reports.

The law enforcement official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, told USA TODAY Salman will likely face her first court appearance Tuesday.

CBS News said Salman also faces a charge of aiding and abetting.

Salman, in interviews with federal investigators after the shooting, allegedly acknowledged driving Mateen to the Pulse nightclub at least once before her husband launched the assault.

Salman told the Times in November that she was unaware of his true intentions until he sent her a 4:00 AM text message the night of the shooting, asking if she had seen what happened on the news.

According to Salman, the last message from her husband was a text message saying, “I love you babe.”

Salman met Mateen online and they married in 2011. The couple has a 3-year-old son. Salman, who has Palestinian roots, grew up in the small suburb of Rodeo, Calif., about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco.

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Flaws In India’s Military Equipment Is Putting Their Soldiers At Risk

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

HT Exclusive| Flaws put lives of soldiers at risk, says army report

INDIA Updated: Jan 10, 2017 01:17 IST

Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Highlight Story

A soldier takes position outside a General Reserve Engineer Force camp in Akhnoor sector, near Jammu, where three civilians were killed in a militant attack. (AP Photo)

At a time when military is increasingly coming under attack in Jammu and Kashmir, an army report has pointed out at least 50 gaps — ranging from body armour, night-vision gear to flawed fuel storage — that pose a threat to soldiers’ lives.If the army doesn’t make fuel storage safer at its forward bases, it could risk the lives of thousands of soldiers.

Militant strikes can cause greater damage not because of their sophistication but because tens of thousands of litres of fuel is being stored in make-shift shelters, says the document.

“The enormity of the problem can be gauged from the aftermath of the recent terrorist action on the FOL (fuel, oil and lubricants) dump at Uri,” says the report on Future Core Technologies and Problem Statements.

Nineteen soldiers were killed when suspected Pakistani militants struck at an army base in Uri in September. Fourteen of the troops were burnt alive as their tents were pitched next to a fuel dump.

The attack, one of the worst against the army in the border state, forced a rethink on fuel storage.

The army design bureau (ADB), inaugurated last August, has identified FOL storage in forward bases as one of the 50 problems that need to be resolved swiftly.

An initiative of the Modi government, the ADB has been tasked with promoting research and development and act as a bridge between the force and the private sector to meet the army’s requirements.

The ADB has stressed on the need for smart vests for soldiers with built-in codes for identification, sniper scopes to engage targets with greater precision and robots to carry equipment in high-altitude areas, including Siachen glacier.

The document, published by the CII, says “vintage barrels and jerrycans” used for storage and transportation of fuel are vulnerable, increasing the “scope for collateral damage”.

Make-shift fuel storage facilities are susceptible to enemy shelling and fire hazards, too.

The army has sought the help of academia and the industry to develop alternative mechanisms for storage. “In Uri, the soldiers were sitting ducks and even the terrorists must not have expected to kill so many of them,” a senior officer said.

The army is looking at solutions developed by other countries. These include “pillow tanks” used by Nato forces, collapsible storage containers used by the US marines and “quick tanks” with aluminium frames.

The report suggests use of lighter and fire resistant material for tanks, with capacity to hold more than 50,000 litres of fuel.

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