Demonetisation Be Damned! The Indian Rupee Is On A Tear

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF QUARTZ INDIA)

LOOK AT IT FLY

Demonetisation be damned! The Indian rupee is on a tear

March 17, 2017 Quartz India

It’s been a great week for the Indian rupee.

On March 16, at Rs65.41 per US dollar, the currency hit a one-year high against the greenback.

Much of the strengthening has to do with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) recent electoral wins in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhandand solid performances in two other states. The strong showing reflects just how well the party is positioned to sweep the next general elections in 2019 and hand Narendra Modi a second term as prime minister. Some of that magic is rubbing off on the markets.

“Since the start of the week, equity markets and the Indian rupee have rallied sharply in response to the strong performance of the main ruling party in recent state elections,” DBS Bank said in a March 16 report.

So far, the Indian currency has been the third-best performing in Asia in 2017. The rupee has gained 3.4% this year against the US dollar, only trailing the South Korean won and the Taiwanese Dollar.

Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike on March 15—only the third since the economic crisis of 2008—hit the dollar. When the US dollar falls, capital outflows from emerging markets are restricted, thus strengthening local currencies like the Indian rupee.

The rupee’s strengthening comes after a free fall triggered by Modi’s move to demonetise 86% of the currency notes (by value) in November 2016. Initially it had been estimated that the currency ban would dent the GDP and take a toll on the economy.

In January, a Reuters poll of some 30 foreign exchange strategists had estimated that the Indian currency could see a record fall this year because of the currency ban. But India’s Central Statistical Office’s estimates show that the economy grew at 7% during the October-December 2016 quarter, and the rupee is holding strong.

One reason for the rupee’s surge is also that the macro-economic factors that influence a currency—inflation and current account deficit (CAD)—are looking good for India at the moment. While inflation is being restricted in its safe zone of sub 6%, India’s CAD (the excess of imports over exports) has also been falling.

What next

A strong rupee is good news for corporate India. Many firms hold debt in foreign currencies, so a fall in the exchange rate means their interest outgo will reduce. “Many Indian entities including short-term trade finance people remain unhedged for their offshore liability. They (companies) are likely to have gained from the rupee’s sharp rise in the last few days. At least, interest liability has reduced, adding to balance sheet gains,” Jayesh Mehta, country treasurer at Bank of America told the Economic Times.

However, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) could soon step in to stabilise the rupee’s movement. Some reports suggest that the central bank already is buying dollars through public sector banks.

“The rupee appreciation, we feel is not sustainable and would revert to the range of Rs66-66.5 range, to begin with as the fundamentals do not warrant such unbridled enthusiasm,” a report by CARE Ratings said. “The outcome of the elections has been the main driving force. A strong rupee may not be good for our exports and the RBI is cognizant of the same.”

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”.

Why These Indian State Elections Matter To The Whole World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Why these Indian state elections matter to the whole world

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a roadshow in support of state assembly election party candidates in Varanasi on March 4.

New Delhi (CNN) India’s ruling political party has won a crucial state election, strengthening its ability to push through a development agenda in the world’s fastest growing major economy.

As vote counts trickled in from five state elections on Saturday, one result loomed large: that of central India’s Uttar Pradesh, home to more than 200 million people. The staggered five-week vote in that state alone marks the biggest election in the world in 2017.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP, looks poised to take about 75% of the 403 seats on offer in Uttar Pradesh.
The clear majority means the BJP will be able to form a state government without the help of other parties. In the previous Uttar Pradesh election, in 2012, the BJP won only 47 seats. 2017’s vote marks a significant endorsement for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the BJP, and the face of its campaign across state elections.
Four other, smaller states declared results on Saturday: Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Manipur. In Punjab, India’s storied but declining Congress Party emerged victorious. The BJP took Uttarakhand and was vying for dominance in close races in Goa and Manipur as results continued to be firmed up.
The state elections are crucial at national level because each state nominates a proportional number of representatives to India’s upper house of parliament.
While the BJP has a clear majority in the lower house — won in 2014’s national vote — it is underrepresented in the upper house, which has stymied some of its reform proposals.

A referendum on Modi

According to Shailesh Kumar of the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, the Uttar Pradesh result was a referendum on Modi.
“Voters largely support his policies. The win indicates that Modi’s efforts to tackle corruption were a far bigger draw than any negative consequence attributed to demonetization.”
“Demonetization” refers to a shock move in November when Modi recalled all 500 and 1,000 rupee currency notes.
The two high-value notes represented 86% of all cash in circulation in India. The surprise recall, and the subsequent release of new 500 and 2000 rupee notes, led to weeks of long queues at banks and ATMs across the country.
At the time, Modi said the recall was aimed at cracking down on corrupt hoarders of untaxed cash. A number of reputed global economists, included Harvard’s Lawrence Summers and Ken Rogoff criticized Modi’s move as excessive.
On the campaign in Uttar Pradesh last month, Modi refuted their criticisms by saying “hard work beats Harvard.”

Economy and tackling corruption still the focus for now

The results themselves are not a great surprise, but the margin of the BJPs win in Uttar Pradesh is greater than predicted.
However, even with the landslide win in Uttar Pradesh, Modi will still fall short of enough support in the parliament’s upper house, says Eurasia’s Kumar.
“Modi’s national focus will still be economic development with an added focus on corruption. Changes to economic policies will be through executive action and tweaks to regulations that do not require legislative approval.”
Modi is also expected to double down on his plans to improve infrastructure.
“He is now well positioned for 2019,” Kumar said, referring to the next national elections.

India shows faith in Modi — can he now deliver?

At a time of global anger against elected leaders, India’s state elections represent a vote of confidence for the country’s Prime Minister, as well as a much-needed boost of morale.
Modi had previously lost an important election in Bihar, a state which shares a similar voter base to Uttar Pradesh. Modi also suffered in recent months with the chaos and fallout from his demonetization move.
With a cutback in consumer spending and economic activity, economists had predicted a fall of as much as one percentage point in India’s growth rate.
However, in India’s most recent GDP figures released last month, quarterly growth had slowed only slightly to 7%, which meant India once again edged ahead of China as the world’s fastest growing economy.
While India is still seen as a developing nation, its size and speed of expansion underscore its massive importance to the global economy. According to the consulting group PwC, India accounts for about one-sixth of the world’s GDP growth.
With Modi now firmly ensconced in power until at least 2019, and perhaps further ahead, the focus will now shift to whether Modi can deliver on his promises of rapid development.

China’s Communist Government Trying To Force Its Will On India Over Dalai Lama Visit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

Dalai Lama’s Arunachal visit will cause serious damage in ties with India: China

WORLD Updated: Mar 04, 2017 07:46 IST

Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
China-India ties

File photo of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, at an international conference of Tibet support groups in Brussels, Belgium, in September 2016. (Reuters)

Bilateral ties will be seriously damaged if India allows the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh in the coming weeks, China warned on Friday while reiterating its contention that the Tibetan spiritual leader is a “separatist”.The warning from China’s foreign ministry came soon after the country’s former chief negotiator on the border issue, Dai Bingguo, said there should be some give and take to settle the dragging boundary dispute.

The foreign ministry said it is “gravely concerned” about reports that the Dalai Lama will visit the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in the near future.

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The Dalai Lama’s visit will cause “serious damage” to China-India ties, foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing. “China is strongly opposed to Dalai Lama visiting disputed areas,” he said.

“China’s position on eastern section of China-India border dispute is consistent and clear. The Dalai-clique has long been engaging in anti-China separatist activities and its record on the border question is not that good,” Geng said.

Meanwhile, India on Friday dismissed China’s warning over the Dalai Lama’s proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh, saying that New Delhi’s position on the matter is well-known.

“The government’s position is well-known and has not changed,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said in response to a query.

China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory, calling it south Tibet. The state comprises the eastern sector of the nearly 3,500-km disputed border between India and China. The town of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is an important seat of Tibetan Buddhism and is located 400 km from Lhasa, the capital of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.

Geng avoided a direct comment on an interview by Dai Bingguo, China’s Special Representative for border talks with India till 2013, in which Dai had said: “If the Indian side takes care of China’s concerns on the eastern section of the border, the Chinese side will respond accordingly and address India’s concerns elsewhere.”

Dai didn’t mention specific sections of the border where China could address India’s “concerns”.

“The disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary including Tawang (in Arunachal Pradesh) is inalienable from China’s Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction,” Dai told China-India Dialogue magazine that is part of the official China International Publishing Group.

Dai was the Special Representative for 15 rounds of talks with four Indian counterparts – Brajesh Mishra, JN Dixit, MK Narayanan and Shivshankar Menon.

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Without directly commenting on the interview, Geng said it is in “the fundamental interest of the two countries” to reach an “early solution” to the border issue. This is also an “important consensus” reached by the two sides, he added.

“At present the two sides have reached a roadmap to find a solution based on political parameters and guiding principles. They have also reached the important consensus that they are committed to an equitable, reasonable solution acceptable to the two sides,” Geng said.

“China would like to work with India to work relentlessly on negotiation process and find a solution that is equitable, reasonable to all parties,” he added.

Geng was more emphatic about China’s displeasure on the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunchal Pradesh. Indicating that India is deliberately allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the region despite knowing China’s expected reaction, Geng said India is aware of the sensitivity of the matter.

“India is fully aware of the seriousness of the Dalai issue and the sensitivity of China-India border question,” he said.

“Under such a background if India invites Dalai to visit the mentioned territory it will cause serious damage to peace and stability of the border region and China-India relations.”

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Geng said China had conveyed its displeasure and concerns to India about the impending visit through formal channels.

“We have expressed concerns to the Indian side, urged India to stick to its political commitments and abide by important consensus the two sides have reached on the boundary question, refrain from actions that might complicate the issue, not provide a platform to the Dalai-clique and protect the sound and stable development of China-India relations,” he said.

China had strongly protested against the Dalai Lama’s meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in December, saying it opposes any form of contact between the Tibetan leader and officials of other countries.

(With agency inputs)

INDIA: UP Minister Accused In Gang Rape Of Mom And Teenage Girl Has Disappeared

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

Airports across the country were on Friday alerted about the possibility of rape-accused UP minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati trying to flee the country even as chief minister Akhilesh Yadav promised all help in the case.While the minister continues to elude police, a relative of the woman has said a UP Police officer who recorded the victim’s statement threatened to kill them.

Yadav and his Samajwadi Party are facing the heat over the missing minister as the state holds sixth round of voting on Saturday.

The case, the BJP said, was a pointer to the worsening law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh.

A letter of cancellation would soon be opened against Prajapati and all airports were alerted to prevent the 49-year-old from fleeing the country, official sources said.

A letter of cancellation is a technical term for alerting immigration authorities about the possibility of a suspect leaving the country.

The Sashastra Seema Bal, which guards Uttar Pradesh’s border with Nepal, too, was on an alert.

An FIR was recently registered against the minister for allegedly gang-raping a woman and molesting her daughter. The FIR was filed on the directions of the Supreme Court.

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CM promises help

“The matter is in the Supreme Court…The government will fully cooperate and go by its order,” Akhilesh Yadav said to a question at a hurriedly convened press conference in Lucknow.

When his attention was drawn to a tweet by state BJP president Keshav Prasad Maurya that said Prajapati was hiding in the chief minister’s house, Yadav asked the mediapersons to check for themselves.

Prajapati is the SP’s candidate from Amethi, which voted on February 27.

‘Murder threat’

A relative of the woman allegedly raped by Prajapati and his aides alleged that a police officer who came to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi to record the victim’s statement, threatened to kill them in a fake encounter.

In a complaint filed at the city’s Hauz Khas police station, the relative alleged that a DSP-rank officer on Thursday barged into the ward where the victim’s 16-year-old daughter is admitted and threatened them. The officer also snatched their mobile phones.

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The victim’s daughter, who was also allegedly sexually assaulted by the minister, is being treated in a restricted ward of AIIMS.

“The lady officer pushed the girl who is undergoing treatment and pestered the mother to record the statement.

“When we objected to it, the officer threatened to get us killed in a fake encounter,” said the complainant, who claimed to be a cousin of the victim.

Delhi Police sources said a team went to AIIMS but found nothing to back the claims made in the complaint.

“We have received a complaint from them and it is being examined. In case something comes out in the investigation, we will register an FIR,” a Delhi Police officer said.

Deputy superintendent of police Amita Singh had recorded the statement of the victim and her daughter amid opposition by their family members at AIIMS.

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Kansas Shooter’s Actions Cannot And Do Not Speak For How Vast Majority Of Americans Believe

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS)

Kansas shooter’s actions cannot and do not speak for US

WORLD Updated: Feb 26, 2017 07:05 IST

Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington

Kansas

Srinivas Kuchibhotla (right) with his wife Sunayana Dumala in Iowa. Kuchibhotla was shot at a bar in Olathe, Kansas.(AP File)

Sri Srinivasan’s family moved to Kansas when he was only four. He grew up a basketball fanatic, going to the same high school as a future star of the sport. And eventually went on to become the first Indian-American judge of a court of appeals, roughly like India’s high court, and was a top contender for a vacancy that fell open on the US supreme court bench in 2016, which would have been historic in many ways — as the first Indian-American, the first Asian-American and the first Hindu American named justice to the highest court in the country.Judge Srinivasan, as he is called, grew up in Lawrence, a 30-minute drive from Olathe, where an apparently inebriated US navy veteran killed Srinivas Kuchibotla, an IT engineer from Hyderabad, past Wednesday mistaking him for a Middle-Easterner, and telling him to “get out of my country”. Investigators are still trying to determine the exact motives of the shooter, Adam Purinton, but he will not be the first American to feel that way about people from the Middle-East, specially after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

But does the shooting make the United States less of a destination for anyone with dreams of making it big as Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO from Hyderabad, Sunder Pichai, Google CEO from further south Chennai, or Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems from Delhi? Less safe? After all, how could a drink at a bar with a colleague after work end so badly?

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Is President Donald Trump’s America any less safe? While condemning the killings, the White House has dismissed any links to the president’s rhetorics as has been suggested by some, but there are worries and concerns arising out of a surge in ethnic, religious and racial tensions in the aftermath of his election.

But Purinton cannot, and does not speak for Kansas or the United States. Judge Srinivasan has never complained about racial slights he or his family might have faced growing up in Kansas and local news publications had covered his elevation to the appeals court and his possible move to the Supreme Court with unrestrained pride.

Adam Purinton of Olathe, Kansas, who shot Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla. (REUTERS)

He was one of them, and they wanted to celebrate his achievements as they would of anyone else. He might have, as all immigrants, faced stereotyping — Indians are mocked, often by Indian comics — for nodding their head excessively as they listen; their accent, and they may have all faced one time or another intended or unintended slights.

Things can get worse, and have gotten worse for some. Balbir Singh Sandhu, an immigrant from Punjab, became the first victim of the backlash after the September 9, 2001, terrorist attack. He was shot dead at his gas station in Arizona by a man who mistook him for a Middle-Easterner. Six men and women were gunned down by a white supremacist an attack on a Wisconsin gurudwara in 2013. But Sandhu’s relatives chose to stay, and so have those of Wisconsin victims.

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And it may not be pointed out to those feeling uncertain, don’t forget Ian Gillort, the Kansas man who was shot by Purinton trying to save Kuchibotla and his colleague Alok Madasani. “No, it’s not like that,” Grillot said in a vide about being hailed as a hero. “I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being. It’s not about where he was from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt I did what was naturally right to do.” His sister has said he wishes he could have done more.

It is reasonable to feel unsafe and insecure after every such incident, but, as a young immigrant from India, said Friday, “People back home must realize the US is no less safe today than it was yesterday or the day before, or tomorrow.”

Nepal Government Trying To Curb Alcohol Abuse

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

The Nepal government has approved a stringent policy to regulate the sale of alcohol, including mandatory pictorial health warnings and an age bar for buying liquor, sparking a debate in the country.The National Policy on Regulation and Control of Alcohol 2017, cleared by the cabinet on February 20, will now be sent to Parliament for its endorsement. Under it, Nepal will adopt a zero-tolerance policy against drinking alcohol in public functions, weddings and other social and cultural events.

The policy requires producers to mandatory display a pictorial warning depicting liver cirrhosis and effects on other organs that will have to cover 75% of the packaging of alcoholic beverages.

Nepal will be first country to introduce such a warning for alcohol.

People below the age of 21 and pregnant women will be restricted from purchasing and consuming alcohol. Alcohol will no longer be served at government-sponsored events and it will not be sold at public places such as heritage sites and sports complexes. There will also be a total ban on alcohol advertisements.

The policy will also decrease the availability of alcohol by restricting sales to specially licensed shops for certain hours. Sales will be prohibited from 5 am to 7 pm, and every person will be able to buy only one litre a day.

The health ministry said it was forced to impose such restrictions because of health problems caused by excessive drinking, but there have been calls that the social and religious aspects of consuming alcohol should not be overlooked.

Selling alcohol is not perceived as a mere business in Nepal, as liquor forms an intrinsic part of religious functions for many ethnic communities.

Though the policy has been cautiously welcomed by various stakeholders, some have questioned how it will be implemented, given the country’s weak administrative structure, and how the market will respond. Others have noted the policy is silent on controlling moonshine, the sale of which is rampant in the countryside.

The health ministry has proposed a new mechanism to monitor the policy’s implementation and to take legal action against violators.

The multi-billion rupee liquor industry is in a dilemma as it cannot be seen as opposing a “noble cause” taken up by the government, a senior industrialist told Hindustan Times. The industry will wait till the policy is fully implemented before coming up a reaction, he said.

The tourism industry will back the move, said Biplav Poudel, who runs luxury hotels in Pokhara and Chitwan. He told Hindustan Times that the measures would not affect tourism as almost all tourists drink inside their hotels and not in public places.

The policy also includes income generation programmes and alternative employment opportunities to discourage the production and sale of domestic liquor.

But Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, a prominent rights activist, gave the example of Andhra Pradesh in India, which lifted a ban on alcohol in 1997 after enforcing prohibition for two years. “Such measures are not successful due to leakages within the state and from across borders and this is a lesson for Nepal,” he said.

Unlike in India, selling and consuming alcohol is not restricted in Nepal and experts say this has contributed to health problems. A WHO report of 2014 said around 50 people die of alcohol abuse in Nepal, while the health ministry has estimated 17.8% of the population of nearly 27 million drink every day.

Nepal banned drink-driving in 2012 to reduce road accidents and the move was widely successful.

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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.