In weaving India and Israel together, challenges loom

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

In weaving India and Israel together, challenges loom

Officials see plenty of potential for closer ties both in trade and on the strategic front, but getting there may be more complex than Netanyahu’s whirlwind tour of India suggests

Joshua Davidovich

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, uses a spinning wheel as his wife Sara Netanyahu, center, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi look on during a visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on January 17, 2018. AFP/SAM PANTHAKY)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, uses a spinning wheel as his wife Sara Netanyahu, center, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi look on during a visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on January 17, 2018. AFP/SAM PANTHAKY)

MUMBAI, India — Mumbai’s Gateway of India, a hulking structure looking out over the city’s harbor, was built to commemorate the landing of British King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

The royal couple never actually got to see the structure, which was only finished in 1924, but it remains to this day as a reminder of the city’s colonial past and as a testament to the grandeur with which rulers were once greeted.

Over 100 years later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a quick whirl around the site just before heading to the airport after five days in India during which he was afforded a welcome seen by some as almost as impressive as the building of the massive gate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are greeted by Indian dancers at the airport in Mumbai, India, on January 17, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Unlike the gateway, remnants of Netanyahu’s visit — the Israeli flags the kids waved, and the giant billboards of the Israeli leader gracing every city he visited — will quickly fade. What’s more important, though, is whether the relationship spotlighted by the carefully choreographed displays can withstand the many external pressures bearing on it.

As it stands, the Israel-India trade relationship is estimated to be less than $5 billion and most of the commerce is in diamonds and arms, with official Indian figures putting the number at just under $3 billion, making Israel its 39th-largest trading partner. By contrast, India trades over $7.2 billion annually with Iran. But what officials on both sides see is potential, both for more trade and a closer strategic relationship, and the rub may be getting both to work together.

The stated goal of the trip Netanyahu and over a hundred businesspeople took to India was to diversify and expand business ties and highlight what is seen as an already growing diplomatic relationship. “The sky is the limit,” Netanyahu said on more than one occasion, a sentiment echoed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who accompanied Netanyahu on several legs of the visit, including to his home state of Gujarat.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center and his wife Sara arriving in Ahmadebad, India on January 17, 2018. GPO)

At event after event, officials played up the closeness of the Indian-Israel relationship, the kinship between the countries and the fact that “both of us are surrounded by enemies.” The amalgamation of Israeli tech and Indian creativity was another theme voiced repeatedly during the visit, as Netanyahu met with officials, business leaders, young entrepreneurs and farmers helped by Israeli aid.

But while optimism was omnipresent, there were also signs that the countries did not see eye-to-eye on everything relating to both trade and any strategic/security relationship.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)

As the country with the second-largest Muslim population in the world, and with a long-trained relationship with Israel and continuing strong trade ties with Iran, India’s supposed love affair with Israel is more complex than the Netanyahu-Modi bromance on display would indicate.

At a joint statement following an official sit-down, neither premier mentioned the Palestinians, with Modi even saying that the land Indian soldiers helped liberate in World War I was “Israel.” (It may have been a slip of the tongue, but Netanyahu followed his lead, saying they had liberated “Israel, the land of Israel.”)

But on Thursday morning, just hours after Modi paid his last farewell to Netanyahu, news leaked out of the Indian leader’s plans to visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a matter of weeks.

Just weeks before Netanyahu’s trip, India backed a UN resolution condemning US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though both countries insisted that the vote would not affect ties.

Modi’s visit to Israel in July, the first ever by an Indian prime minister, did not include a visit to Ramallah. In somewhat similar fashion, Netanyahu’s visit, only the second by an Israeli prime minister after Ariel Sharon’s short and ill-fated jaunt in 2003 — he had to return home to deal with a terrorist attack — didn’t include a meeting with opposition leader Rahul Ghandi of the left-leaning Congress Party.

India’s opposition Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi, center, is presented with a garland, during a meeting in Ahmadabad, India, December 23, 2017. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

While Ghandi’s faction had for years blocked ties with Israel and led the anti-Israel bloc at the United Nations, it did maintain mostly positive ties with Israel in the government led by Manmohan Singh preceding Modi’s rise to power in 2014, making the omission all the stranger.

The lack of a Netanyahu-Gandhi meeting and the fact that the prime minister only visited states ruled by Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party, even avoiding business hub Bangalore despite the trade orientation of the trip, raised questions as to whether the positive ties forged between Israel and India under Modi would survive his eventual fall from power.

“Confining Netanyahu’s itinerary only to BJP-ruled states is a short-sighted move,” Jawaharlal Nehru University prof. P. R. Kumaraswamy wrote in The Indian Express daily. “Since relations were established by Congress Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, consensus building has been the hallmark of Indo-Israeli relations.”

Strategic relationships could also be hampered by a reluctance to take a stand against each others’ enemies. Despite Israel’s push to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, Tehran and Delhi maintain a close trading partnership, especially in oil, a relationship Delhi is unlikely to give up without more incentive than a few water purification plants.

A cartoon in the Hindustan Times on January 16, 2018. Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

On the other side, Israeli officials indicated they had no interest in trying to join India in pushing back against Pakistan and China. A cartoon in a popular newspaper during the visit showed Netanyahu and Modi piloting a drone as Pakistan and China cowered in fear, but Israeli officials insisted it was not representative of reality.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” one Israeli official said, regarding balancing ties with India and ties with China (Israel has no relations with Pakistan).

However, an Indian official noted that the relationship could be affected if Israel’s ties to China moved from the economic to the strategic, with India viewing China — with which it fought and lost a bitter border war in the 1960s — as a major threat.

Arun Singh, a former Indian ambassador to Israel, wrote during Netanyahu’s trip that Jerusalem’s willingness to keep a door open to forging ties with Pakistan and improving ties with China could put a damper on improving the India-Israel relationship.

“There are limits on convergence of interests, as is inevitable between any two countries, especially those with differing histories and dissimilarities in their geopolitical challenges,” he wrote on the Indian website The Print. “We should unhesitatingly consolidate our bilateral relationship with Israel, where it serves our national interest. But we should also remain mindful of limits of the convergences. Israel’s approach to China, Iran and Pakistan are indicative.”

Speaking to reporters during the trip, Netanyahu said he “understood sensitivities” surrounding building of ties with Delhi while both were unaligned on other geopolitical matters.

“Improving ties is not meant to be against any specific country,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara pose for a photograph at the Taj Mahal in the Indian city of Agra on January 16, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / STR)

But trade and politics are often intertwined, as evidenced by the desire for a direct flight between Delhi and Tel Aviv over Saudi Arabia, which became a major theme of the trip.

Amid reports of talks over brokering such a route for Air India, Netanyahu at a business forum called for a “simple, direct flight.” Later that day, an Indian food exporter confirmed that the lack of such a flight was hurting business ties.

Politics also seeped into Israel’s bid to boost tourism by attracting a Bollywood film, highlighting the potential pitfalls of developing a larger business relationship in any sector. According to reports, a trio of top Muslim Bollywood stars, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan, known as “the Khans of Bollywood,” boycotted a gala event held in Mumbai Thursday night to protest Netanyahu. A fourth Bollywood Khan, Ajaz Khan, criticized director Karan Johar on Twitter for attending the event, and posted a tirade against it on YouTube.

Wonderful evening, a honour and a privilege, meeting an occupier of Palestinian land and killer of unarmed protesters including women and children in Occupied Territories.shame on u Karan https://twitter.com/karanjohar/status/954087461700775936 

At the event, keynote guest Amitabh Bachchan spoke of the allure of Bollywood films and their ability to bring people together. And the very next morning, Bollywood news was on the front page, but for the opposite reason. Riots were threatening to break out over the film “Padmaavat” after the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban the controversial historical drama based on a 16th century poem about a queen.

The case was just another example that sweet words, like those uttered by Modi, Netanyahu and other officials from both sides about the great Indian-Israeli relationship, were sometimes more complicated than they were made out to be from the dais.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (unseen) at an Israeli-Indian Economic Conference in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Indian businesspeople at many of the events hosted by Netanyahu talked up the strength of the economic relationship, though when pressed, they admitted that Israel was only a blip on the map of potential business ties.

After all the talk of Indian-Israeli business ties, the name “Israel” was not mentioned once in the 12-page business section of the Hindustan Times on Friday, the day Netanyahu left.

A close-up shot of the Tammuz missiles mounted on an armed personnel carrier (Photo credit: Courtesy: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Free trade talks remain moribund, by all accounts, and the biggest business news to come out the trip was the reviving of a deal for India to buy Spike anti-tank missiles (known as Tammuz in Israel) from the Israeli firm Rafael. However, it seems it may be for less than the original $500 million price tag, to say nothing of the fact that it does nothing to diversify the business relationship or grow it, since Israel thought the deal was in the bag until recently anyway.

Still, ties between the countries are growing unmistakably closer. It’s impossible to overstate the length the Indians went to in order to welcome Netanyahu, with outlandish routines that sometimes seemed almost embarrassingly obsequious — a sign that to a large degree, Israel has a giant on its side, even if it is one that is still largely focused on raising up hundreds of millions of people out of dire poverty, and it is largely thanks to Netanyahu’s emphasis on expanding diplomatic ties around the world.

At the same time, it seems it’s easy to get sucked into exaggerating the importance of that relationship. While Netanyahu was sweet-talking the Indians, behind the scenes he was distracted with working on repairing another diplomatic relationship: with Jordan, which is one he and the rest of the country likely view as more strategic than ties with Delhi.

Indian children wave to a vehicle carrying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they arrive at Sabarmati Ashram or Gandhi Ashram in Ahmadabad, India, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

In India, the cheering crowds and adulation were likely a welcome respite from home, where the prime minister is constantly dogged by political intrigue and criminal investigations that are casting a pall over his continued rule. Moments before taking off for Delhi over a week ago, he briefly spoke to reporters, looking dejected as he addressed his son Yair’s strip club tape scandal, which was roiling the country.

Landing back home almost a week later, he sat relaxing in his first class seat as staff, security and journalists disembarked, scrolling through his phone and looking carefree as ever.

Less than an hour before he landed, a major rainstorm had passed over the country, but as his plane touched down, the clouds over the airport cleared and for a brief moment, the sun was shining.

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India miffed as Palestine envoy shares stage with Hafiz Saeed in Rawalpindi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

India miffed as Palestine envoy shares stage with Hafiz Saeed in Rawalpindi

Photos of the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan, Walid Abu Ali, sharing the stage with Hafiz Saeed and addressing the rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council at Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi were circulated on social media on Friday. The rally was organised to condemn the US move on Jerusalem.

INDIA Updated: Dec 30, 2017 08:30 IST

Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Walid Abu Ali (L), Palestine ambassador to Pakistan, seated next to Hafiz Saeed at a rally in Rawalpindi.
Walid Abu Ali (L), Palestine ambassador to Pakistan, seated next to Hafiz Saeed at a rally in Rawalpindi.(Photo: Twitter)

India reacted with anger after Palestine’s envoy to Pakistan joined Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed at a rally organised by jihadi groups on Friday, just days after New Delhi backed a UN resolution that denounced the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Photos of the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan, Walid Abu Ali, sharing the stage with Saeed and addressing the rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council at Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi were circulated on social media on Friday. The rally was organised to condemn the US move on Jerusalem.

The development triggered an angry response from the external affairs ministry, with spokesperson Raveesh Kumar saying in a brief statement: “We are taking up the matter strongly with the Palestinian ambassador in New Delhi and with the Palestinian authorities.”

The statement noted that the Palestinian envoy had been seen at the rally “organised by the JuD chief and mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack Hafiz Saeed”.

Officials said a strongly worded demarche would be sent to the Palestinian government.

The external affairs ministry was especially angered as the development came less than 10 days after India joined 127 other members of the United Nations to back a resolution criticising US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The countries disregarded Trump’s threat to cut aid to countries that voted for the resolution.

India’s decision to back the resolution prompted a protest from Israel, a key ally in defence and security matters.

New Delhi explained the vote by saying its position on Palestine is “independent and consistent” and “shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country”.

The “Tahafuz Baitul Maqdas” rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) in Rawalpindi featured several jihadi leaders condemning the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The event was attended by thousands, including members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah.

Photos on social media showed the Palestinian envoy seated next to Saeed and addressing the large gathering. Several speakers at the gathering, including Saeed, also referred to the Kashmir issue and made anti-India remarks. Saeed also called on Muslim nations to act in the defence of Jerusalem.

The DPC is a grouping of some 40 extremist and jihadi groups that was formed by Hafiz Saeed and other extremists in 2012. It has campaigned for long for snapping ties with India and the US.

88 schoolgirls in India forced to strip as punishment by teachers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTANI NEWSPAPER ‘DAWN’ WHO IS OBTAINING INFORMATION FROM THE INDIAN NEWSPAPER THE ‘HINDUSTAN TIMES’)

 

Scores of schoolgirls in India were allegedly abused earlier this month as they were forced to strip in front of other schoolfellows at a girls’ school in India’s Arunachal Pradesh state, Hindustan Times reported on Thursday.

Around 88 students studying in class VI and VII were subjected to the worst humiliation as a punishment for allegedly writing vulgar remarks against the head teacher.

According to Hindustan Times, it was assumed that the remarks were written by an unidentified student and that she was present among those students who were forced to strip in front of other schoolfellows.

The news report further added that three teachers of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, Tani Happa (New Sagalee) in Papum Pare district forced the girls to undress on November 23.

Police officials said that the matter came to light four days later when a student body approached the police and filed a First Information Report in this regard, it added.

The complaint alleged that two assistant teachers and a junior teacher subjected the students to humiliation after the teachers recovered a piece of paper with vulgar remarks on it about the head teacher and a girl student.

Tumme Amo, a Superintendent of Police, confirmed the FIR and said that the case had been forwarded to the women police station. “The officer-in-charge of the [women] police station said the victims and their parents along with the teachers will be interrogated before registering a case,” Amo said.

All Papum Pare District Students Union (APPDSU) said in a press release that a team of the union had met the students and teachers on Tuesday, and found that an unidentified student had used vulgar words in a piece of paper mentioning the name of the head teacher and a student.

Subsequently, the teachers demanded an explanation from all the students of the two classes and later made them undress, it added.

“The school authorities did not speak to the parents of the students before punishing them,” APPDSU president Nabam Tado was quoted as saying.

Pakistan Expels South Korean Man For Preaching The Gospel Of God

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

Pakistan officials say a South Korean national who it accused of using a business visa to preach the Gospel inside the Islamic republic has been expelled from the country.

(Photo: Reuters)

The news comes after two Chinese nationals believed to be associated with the South Korean were killed last month by Islamic militants affiliated with the Islamic State terror group.

“Investigations have revealed that the South Korean national went to Pakistan on a business visa, set up an Urdu academy in Quetta and got involved in illegal preaching activities,” a Ministry of Interior official told ucanews.com this week. “We have revoked his visa and asked him to leave the country.”

According to World Watch Monitor, the South Korean national is Juan Won-seo. Pakistani officials told ucanews.com that 24-year-old Lee Zingyang and 26-year-old Meng Lisi, who were abducted and killed last month, were preaching Christianity under Won-seo’s guidance.

(Photo: Twitter/@usmanmasood44)Lee Zingyang and Meng Lisi of China were killed by Islamic militants affiliated with the Islamic State terror group in Pakistan in May 2017.

However, the Hindustan Times reports that South Korea has rejected Pakistan’s claims that Lee and Meng, who were in the country on the premise that they were Mandarin teachers learning Urdu, were preaching Christianity. A South Korean official told the news outlet on June 14 that there is no evidence from Pakistan to backup the claim that they were proselytizing under the leadership of the South Korean.

World Watch Monitor notes that Lee and Meng were only two of a dozen Chinese nationals in Pakistan for Urdu classes but Chinese media has claimed that the school is “merely a front for conducting religious activities.”

According to World Watch Monitor, a Chinese student interviewed by a Chinese government-sanctioned English news outlet claimed that South Koreans recruit Chinese “teenagers to conduct missionary activities in Muslim countries.”

“Compared to Chinese, more South Koreans have been killed abroad due to risky missionary activities in conservative Islamic regions,” the student was quoted as saying. “Some Chinese voluntarily join in the dangerous missionary activities in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq after being converted by South Koreans.”

However, critics have warned that China’s placing the blame on South Korean missionaries is an attempt to “mislead the Chinese people.”

“Most Chinese Christians have become Christian through Chinese evangelists. It has been very difficult for foreign citizens to proselytise in China. China does not have a visa category for religious clergy or missionaries,” Yang Fenggang, the director of the Centre on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in Indiana told the Hindustan Times. “Some foreign students, professionals and business people may do evangelistic work within China, but evangelistic activities are restricted.”

Carsten Vala, an associate professor of political science at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland, told the Hindustan Times that Chinese nationals have also been “eager to go abroad as missionaries.”

“At least one Chinese church leader I interviewed reported that his congregation had sent missionaries to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Arabic-speaking countries,” Vala said.

Both China and Pakistan are listed as two of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians. Open Doors USA’s 2017 World Watch List ranks Pakistan as No. 4 and China as No. 39.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says news of gas attack ‘100% fabrication’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS)

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says news of gas attack ‘100% fabrication’

WORLD Updated: Apr 13, 2017 20:51 IST

AFP
AFP
Damascus
Assad on chemical attack

In the interview, Assad asked: “We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhun. Were they dead at all?”(AFP)

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said a suspected chemical weapons attack was a “fabrication” to justify a US strike on his forces, in an exclusive interview with AFP in Damascus.The embattled leader, whose country has been ravaged by six years of war, said his firepower had not been affected by the attack ordered by US President Donald Trump, but acknowledged further strikes were possible.Assad insisted his forces had turned over all their chemical weapons stocks years ago and would never use the banned arms.

The interview on Wednesday was his first since a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun.

“Definitely, 100 percent for us, it’s fabrication,” he said of the incident.

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“Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack,” added Assad, who has been in power for 17 years.

At least 87 people, including 31 children, were killed in the alleged attack, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

But Assad said evidence came only from “a branch of Al-Qaeda,” referring to a former jihadist affiliate that is among the groups that control Idlib province, where Khan Sheikhun is located.

Images of the aftermath, showing victims convulsing and foaming at the mouth, sent shockwaves around the world.

But Assad insisted it was “not clear whether it happened or not, because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now.”

“We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhun. Were they dead at all?”

He said Khan Sheikhun had no strategic value and was not currently a battle front.

“This story is not convincing by any means.”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has begun an investigation into the alleged attack, but Russia on Wednesday blocked a UN Security Council resolution demanding Syria cooperate with the probe.

And Assad said he could “only allow any investigation when it’s impartial, when we make sure that unbiased countries will participate in this delegation in order to make sure that they won’t use it for politicised purposes.”

He insisted several times that his forces had turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action.

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“There was no order to make any attack, we don’t have any chemical weapons, we gave up our arsenal a few years ago,” he said.

“Even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them, and we have never used our chemical arsenal in our history.”

The OPCW has blamed Assad’s government for at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 involving the use of chlorine.

The Khan Sheikhun incident prompted the first direct US military action against Assad’s government since the war began, with 59 cruise missiles hitting the Shayrat airbase three days after the suspected chemical attack.

Assad said more US attacks “could happen anytime, anywhere, not only in Syria.”

But he said his forces had not been diminished by the US strike.

“Our firepower, our ability to attack the terrorists hasn’t been affected by this strike.”

World’s biggest bombs: India’s SPICE no match for America’s MOAB or Russian FOAB

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

World’s biggest bombs: India’s SPICE no match for America’s MOAB or Russian FOAB

INDIA Updated: Apr 14, 2017 12:03 IST

Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
US

A Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weapon is prepared for testing at the Eglin Air Force Armament Centre in March 11, 2003. (REUTERS)

Less than three months after Donald Trump took over as President, an MC-130 aircraft operated by the United States Air Force Special Operations Command dropped one of the biggest conventional bombs in country’s arsenal in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday.Deployed by the US military for the first time in combat, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) is one of the most powerful non-nuclear weapons in the possession of any military worldwide. The 21,000-lb MOAB’s sheer destructive power has earned it the nickname ‘Mother of All Bombs’.

Neither India nor Pakistan nor even China possesses non-nuclear bombs that are in the league of MOAB, developed in the early 2000s. In fact, their stockpile doesn’t come anywhere close to MOAB-like munitions.

Read | US drops GBU-43 bomb in Afghanistan: What we know about the ‘mother of all bombs’

The rare strike against Islamic State fighters with a weapon of this size has turned the spotlight on the world’s biggest and largest contemporary non-nuclear bombs, primarily held only by the militaries of Russia and the US.

Here’s a quick look at some of these deadly air-delivered monster munitions whose efficiency and power almost match nuclear weapons, and the smaller bombs that the air forces of India, China and Pakistan hold in their inventories:

Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power: Also known as the ‘Father of All Bombs’ (FOAB), it is the Russian answer to the American bomb. Moscow successfully tested the weapon in 2007; four years after the US developed the MOAB. It is reportedly the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb, capable of unleashing 44 tons of explosives compared to 11 tons in the GBU-43 MOAB. At 15,650 lb, the FOAB is lighter than the American bomb but the former’s significantly higher blast yield makes it far more lethal.

GBU-43 MOAB: Designed to destroy underground facilities, caves and tunnels, the US had developed the GPS-guided bomb for the 2003 invasion of Iraq but it was never used in combat until Thursday evening. Just like the Russian bomb, the 30-foot MOAB detonates before hitting the ground and causes unthinkable destruction by sending deadly shockwaves up to a distance of over a mile in all directions. The GBU-43 MOAB, however, is not the heaviest conventional munition in the American arsenal.

GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator: Known by its acronym MOP, the 30,000-lb American bomb is perhaps the heaviest conventional weapon in the world. However, the bunker buster bomb’s explosive power doesn’t match that of the MOAB or the FOAB. Manufactured by US defence giant Boeing, the GBU-57A/B MOP is designed to obliterate underground nuclear facilities and deeply buried enemy targets.

GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrator: The air forces of Israel and South Korea have the 5,000-lb GBU-28 bunker buster munitions supplied by the US in their inventories. The bombs were deployed by the USAF during Operation Desert Storm to carry out strikes against Iraqi bunkers, military installations and high value strategic targets in 1991. The GBU-28, a variant of the Paveway III bomb, can reportedly blast through six metres of concrete.

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GBU-24 Paveway II bombs: The French Air Force’s Rafale omni-role fighters can carry a number of bombs from the US Paveway family of munitions. The heaviest air-to-surface conventional weapon the fighter can be equipped with is the GBU-24 Paveway II 2,000-lb laser-guided bomb.

INDIA

SPICE: The Israel-manufactured SPICE (smart precise impact and cost effective) bomb is the biggest conventional bomb that can be delivered by the Indian Air Force. Manufactured by Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd, the 2000-lb precision guided bombs are used on the French-origin Mirage 2000 fighters.

The IAF’s Jaguar deep-strike penetration aircraft can be fitted with 1,000-lb bombs for destroying the enemy’s ammunition dumps during combat. In one configuration, a Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter can carry 26 bombs of 550-lb class to destroy a concentration of enemy armour and personnel. The fighter can also carry 1,000-lb HSLD (high speed, low drag) bombs to destroy enemy airfields. Indian fighter planes can also drop indigenously produced 1,000-lb bombs fitted with Israel Aircraft Industries-produced Griffin laser-guided systems

CHINA AND PAKISTAN

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force has a variety of conventional bombs ranging in the 500 lb to 3,000-lb class. Most of these general purpose bombs have been developed by the China’s North Industries Corporation. Most of the designs are reportedly based on bombs earlier imported from Russia.

Some of the designs also reportedly draw inspiration from the US Mk 80/82/83/84 bombs. Some other bombs in the Chinese inventory are also suspected to have been copied from Western designs. The conventional bombs with Pakistan Air Force are in the 250 lb to 2,000-lb class, with the design again based on the US Mk 80 series bombs and mated to laser guided systems of American origin. Former IAF vice chief Air Marshal KK Nohwar told HT on Friday, “India, China and Pakistan largely have a similar stockpile of lighter non-nuclear bombs. It’s nowhere close to the mega bombs that the Russians and the Americans can deploy in combat.”

India: Cops Halt Church Prayer Because Hindu Group Alleges Conversion: Democracy, Really?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

In Uttar Pradesh, cops halt church prayer after Hindu group alleges conversion

INDIA Updated: Apr 08, 2017 07:49 IST

Abdul Jadid
Abdul Jadid
Gorakhpur, New Delhi
Yogi Adityanath

People inside the church on Friday. Eleven US nationals were also present in the church. (HT Photo)

Police stopped a prayer attended by more than 150 people, including 11 American tourists, at an Uttar Pradesh church on Friday after the right-wing Hindu Yuva Vahini complained that the event was a cover for religious conversion.The youth group, set up by chief minister Yogi Adityanath in 2002, filed a complaint against Yohannan Adam, the pastor of the church at Dathauli of Maharajganj district.

The organisation accused him of converting Hindus to Christianity, a charge the pastor denied.

“No prior permission was taken before the meeting. We stopped the meet after a complaint was registered. A probe is underway and appropriate action will be taken if the charges are correct,” said police officer Anand Kumar Gupta.

The US tourists were let off after police checked their visas and relevant documents.

“The presence of US nationals indicates that innocent and illiterate Hindus were being converted by the missionaries, who lured them with money to change their religion,” said Krishna Nandan, a Hindu Yuva Vahini leader who surrounded the church with his supporters in the afternoon.

They dispersed after police promised a probe and adequate action, though Nandan was not happy that the Americans were cleared.

The church authorities dismissed the conversion allegations.

“The charges are absolutely baseless. The people were attending a prayer meeting voluntarily. We prayed. Nothing else was done,” pastor Adam said.

The Hindu right wing has been at loggerheads with Christian missionaries, accusing them of converting people through coercion and allurement to their faith.

Several Hindu organisations have conducted ghar wapsi or homecoming of such people, which minority groups say is a couched term for re-conversion.

Earlier this year, Hindu Yuva Vahini activists attacked the Full Gospel Church in Gorakhpur, accusing it of religious conversion.

India: Murders Hide Behind Religion And The Holy Cow

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

Rise of gau rakshaks: Don’t hide behind euphemisms, this is murder, writes Barkha Dutt

COLUMNS Updated: Apr 08, 2017 08:09 IST

Gau Rakshak

As the list of people murdered by ‘gau rakshaks’ continues to rise, it is time to call murder by its name, instead of cloaking it in euphemisms such as manhandling and vigilantism. (Nitin Kanotra / HT Photo)

End the euphemisms. Call it by its name- Murder. Not manhandling. Not vigilantism. And stop saying, ‘gau- rakshaks,’ please.The men who dragged Pehlu Khan out of his vehicle on the Alwar highway in Rajasthan, flung him on the roadside and lynched him so brutally that he died four days later, are not ‘protectors’, self- appointed or otherwise; they are not even ordinary criminals. They are thugs, who driven by blind religious prejudice, and emboldened by an environment that will justify the perpetrator instead of standing with the victim, brazenly killed an innocent man.

It didn’t matter that Pehlu Khan, a trader from Haryana, pleaded with his assaulters that the cattle he was transporting was with legal documentation and had been purchased at a fair in Jaipur. Quite frankly, even if he were a cow-smuggler it was no one’s business but that of the state police to enforce the law. That the Rajasthan home minister- the man who is meant to be a custodian of the law- sees “two sides” to a singular horrific truth is what is frightening.

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In the India of 2017, we are asked to see these murderous mobs as men whose intent is pure and ennobling, even if their actions are not. In the noisy debates over ‘cow-protectionism’, we gloss over the fact that it is Indian Muslims and, in some cases Dalits, who are being repeatedly targeted. And that bigotry, and not some misguided sacred zeal, is the subtext that ties all the attacks together. The lynch mobs count on two things – the ifs and buts ambivalence of government response as illustrated in the rationalisations of Rajasthan’s home minister and our short, fickle memory that is either too numbed or too distracted to stay focused on the issue.

We have already moved on from Mohammad Akhlaq who was killed in Uttar Pradesh over rumours that there was beef in his house and whose son, a corporal in the air force continued to believe his country would grant him justice. And I can confidently wager that not too many people would even know, leave alone remember, who Majloom Ansari and Inayatullah Imtiaz Khan are. In March 2016 they were found hanging from a tree in a Jharkhand village, their hands tied together by the nylon chords used to hold cattle. Imtiaz was only 12 years old. A school-going child, he was accompanying Ansari to a cattle fair in the hope of making a few extra bucks for his family. Later it emerged that Ansari had been threatened just a few days earlier by a gang of extortionists who asked him for a 20,000 rupee bribe money to ferry his oxen. The National Commission of Minorities team that investigated the killing reported a “brazen communal bias” in the police handling of the lynching and said that complaints by Muslim traders against the so called cow-protections groups had been ignored. A few months later the Jharkhand Chief Minister declared that “If India is your country; the cow is your mother.” But no mother would allow murder in her name.

If we barely remember Ansari and Khan, we didn’t even pay marginal attention to the death of Zaid Ahmed Bhat, a young man in his twenties who died in a Delhi hospital after being attacked with petrol bombs on the highway in Udhampur, Jammu & Kashmir. His body was unable to recover from the 60% burns the flames had inflicted. And once again the rumours of cow slaughter turned out to be unfounded.

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Now Pehlu Khan joins this growing list of (forgotten) victims. His murder will occupy the news cycle till another story bumps it off. He will be a talking point in Parliament till the next deal has to be negotiated between the government and the opposition. There will be outrage and analysis; we will tell you how cow hide is used in other parts of our life, from leather to musical instruments. The opposition will urge the Prime Minister to break his silence and make a statement. He may even do so, as he did in 2016 after four Dalits were flogged in Gujarat. Back then, he eviscerated what he called the ‘gau-rakhshak business” underlining that nearly 80% were “anti-social” elements hiding under the cover of cow protection. Yet, several BJP leaders of Uttar Pradesh had rallied behind those accused in the Dadri lynching, demanding punishment for Akhlaq’s family instead for eating beef. The opposition outbursts will be replete with hypocrisies as well. (After Dadri, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh boasted that the Congress had banned cow slaughter in 24 states and was even open to a debate around a nationwide ban). And the BJP will fulminate in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat- where a law was just passed on life imprisonment for cow slaughter- but reject any idea of a beef ban in the north-east where it is looking to expand its political presence.

Soon enough the debate will go off the front pages and the prime time headlines and we will all get on with our lives. Till the next murder. In the meantime, the ‘cow’ards will thrive. This has become the New Normal.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author

The views expressed are personal

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.

ISIS Demons Threatens Attacks Within India And On The Taj Mahal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS AGENCY)

Pro-Islamic State group warns of attack on Taj Mahal

INDIA Updated: Mar 16, 2017 22:17 IST

Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Islamic State

Security agencies say about 75 Indians have joined the IS. This includes 45 who went from India, mostly from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka.(Site Intelligence Group)

A pro-Islamic State media group has warned of attacks in India and published a graphic depicting the Taj Mahal as a possible target.The graphic by the Ahwaal Ummat Media Center was posted on a channel of Telegram, the encrypted communication app, on March 14, according to Site Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadi activity on the web.

The graphic features a fighter in combat fatigues and black headgear armed with an assault rifle and a rocket-propelled grenade standing near the 17th century monument to love in Agra.

An inset in the graphic features another image of the Taj Mahal within crosshairs with the words “New target” below it. There is also an image of a van with the Arabic text “Agra istishhadi” (Agra martyrdom-seeker) written in English, implying the threat of a suicide attack.

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This is not the first time a pro-IS group has threatened attacks in India. After terror suspect Saifullah was killed by police in Lucknow on March 8, another pro-IS channel on Telegram had incited attacks in India.

That channel had also posted a photo of Saifullah and described him as a “soldier of the Khilafah from India”.

Indian security officials have said they are yet to procure proof that Saifullah was directly linked to the IS. They noted the photo of Saifullah posted on the Telegram channel was one released by Uttar Pradesh Police and not an image procured by the group before his death. They also said Saifullah was “self-radicalised”.

According to security agencies, some 75 Indians have so far joined IS. This includes 45 who went from India, mostly from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka, while the remainder were Indians living abroad. About 37 more were apprehended while they were making their way from India to territories controlled by IS.

Security agencies have stepped up efforts to prevent the radicalisation and recruitment of youngsters via the internet and communication apps, which are extensively used by the IS.

The US state department too has noted the threat to India from IS.

US Embassy New Delhi warns of an increased threat to places in India frequented by Westerners, such as religious sites, markets..

An advisory for American citizens issued last November said: “Recent Indian media reports indicate ISIL’s desire to attack targets in India.” The advisory warned Americans of “an increased threat in places in India frequented by Westerners”.