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India calls for cooperation among SCO members against terrorism

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna at the SCO Summit in Tashkent on June 11, 2010
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna at the SCO Summit in Tashkent on June 11, 2010



External Affairs Minister S M Krishna today called for greater regional cooperation among the member-countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to counter terrorism, saying it could play a key role in supporting action taken by individual countries.

"Terrorism and extremism, along with narco-trafficking, are key challenges facing all countries of our region," Mr Krishna said at the SCO Summit in Tashkent.

He said India, as a victim of terrorism, understood the threat posed by the menace to economic and social development. He noted that SCO had been pro-active and had taken major initiatives to pool the resources of its member-countries for the joint struggle against this scourge.

Mr Krishna said India was ready to cooperate fully with the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) under the auspices of SCO based in Tashkent. The organsiation is aimed at exchanging information and working out a common strategy for combating terrorism.

He also pointed out that economic development and the fair distribution of the fruits of economic growth required connectivity between the peoples of the region. He said India was ready to work with the SCO for the economic development of the region. He said the SCO could make a valuable contribution to common initiatives to set up viable transport links between the countries of Central and South Asia.

The External Affairs Minister said India had consistently articulated its desire to play a more constructive and meaningful role as an Observer at the SCO.

"We deeply value the role of the SCO in bringing security, stability and development to our region and stand ready to step up our engagement to contribute more meaningfully to the SCO for the common good of the people of our region. We believe that our historically friendly ties with all the member States, our close political relations and equally, our burgeoning trade and investment relations, as well as our expertise, developed over the decades, in diverse sectors, ranging from rural development to high technology – all equip us to fulfill greater responsibilities in this forum," he said.

Mr Krishna pointed out that India had been associated with the SCO since 2005 as an Observer and attached great importance to the organisation.

"Indeed, we see most SCO member countries as belonging to our ‘extended neighbourhood’, bound to us by strong ties of history and culture. Within the parameters of participation open to Observers, India has demonstrated its strong commitment to SCO, by engaging with the Organization in several different areas and by participating actively at several of the Ministerial meetings," he said.

He said that, during Russia's Presidency of the SCO last year and the current Presidency of Uzbekistan, Observer states had been given an expanded role and India had shown its commitment to the ideals of the organization through constructive engagement in diverse areas.

Mr Krishna also noted that the SCO had played a constructive and forward-looking role over the past few months in the international deliberations on the future of Afghanistan.

"We commend this and believe that the SCO is uniquely fitted to provide positive contributions to the global discourse on Afghanistan. SCO can certainly add a critical regional perspective and play a constructive role in ensuring a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. We in India stand committed to the social and economic development of Afghanistan. We see Afghanistan as a hub for transit, trade and energy, connecting Central Asia and South Asia," he added.

Mr Krishna is accompanied on the visit by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Joint Secretary (ERS) Ajay Bisaria.

During his stay in Tashkent, Mr Krishna will also call on Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov.

SCO is the successor to the Shanghai 5 grouping and was launched in Shanghai in June 2001. It has six member-States - China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The SCO Secretariat was established in Beijing in January 2004. In the same year, Mongolia joined SCO as an Observer. A year later in 2005 at Astana, India, Pakistan and Iran joined as Observers.

In 2005, the Dushanbe Summit introduced the Dialogue Partner status for countries and organizations. Sri Lanka and Belarus became Dialogue Partner countries in SCO at the Yekaterinburg Summit in June 2009. Afghanistan has been a Special Invitee since 20005.

SCO has also formed an Afghanistan Contact Group which has held several meetings.

India, since becoming an observer in 2005, has regularly participated in the Council of Heads of States meetings as well as Council of Heads of Governments meetings.

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India, Cambodia sign MoU in water sector

India and Cambodia have a signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in the water sector that will pave the way for preparation of technically sound and economically sustainable projects.


The MoU was signed in Phnom Penh yesterday during Union Water Resource Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal's visit to Cambodia.


An official press release said the project would use the expert manpower and experience of the public sector Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) in diverse climatic and geographic conditions.


Mr Bansal's visit is a follow-up of the agreement signed between the two countries in December 2007 for cooperation in the water sector.


The Minister said the visit would strengthen bilateral cooperation between the two countries. He visited the sites of various projects undertaken by WAPCOs in Cambodia.


Mr Bansal met Mr. Lim Kean, Minister for Water Resources and Meteorology of Cambodia. During the meeting, he spoke about the achievements made by India in the water sector since Independence.


Mr Kean thanked the Government of India for providing lines of credit to Cambodia in the water sector. He talked about the greater role India could play in the global economy in the times to come. He also appreciated the technological and economic advancement made by India.


The Cambodian Minister requested for sanction of line of credit from India for two irrigation projects -- Stung Svaslab and Stung Kliet -- for ensuring water security in the project area and sanction of grant from India for a study in Siem Reap area for proper utilization of water resources in the Angkor region and for ground water mapping in Cambodia for utilization and recharge of ground water aquifers.

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Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa to arrive on Tuesday for 3-day visit

File photo of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
File photo of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will arrive here tomorrow on a three-day state visit to India during which he will meet President Pratibha Patil and hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Among other issues, the discussions are expected to cover the rehabilitation of Tamils and the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between the two countries.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Sonia Gandhi and Ms Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, will call on Mr Rajapaksa during his stay here.

Ms Patil will also host a banquet for Mr Rajapaksa on Wednesday evening, sources said.

The Sri Lankan President is due to visit Shimla for a day on Thursday before flying back home on Friday afternoon, the sources added.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) today urged the Government to impress upon Mr Rajapaksa the need for an expeditious political settlement of the Tamil question, which would involve the devolution of powers and autonomy for the Tamil-speaking areas. Such a political solution would strengthen the unity and integrity of the island-nation, the party in a statement.

It said the visit was an occasion for the reaffirmation of the close and friendly ties between the two countries and should contribute towards strengthening these relations further.

"With the end of the prolonged war, the rehabilitation of the displaced Tamil people is the other major concern. Out of the 3 lakh displaced people who were in relief camps, still around 80,000 have not returned to their homes. A speedy rehabilitation of the displaced people, ensuring their means of livelihood and their security should be a major priority. India, which is also providing assistance to this process, can discuss ways to speed up the rehabilitation," the statement added.

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President says China visit helped increase trust, understanding

President Pratibha Patil at the India China Business Forum, in Shanghai on May 31, 2010.
President Pratibha Patil at the India China Business Forum, in Shanghai on May 31, 2010.

President Pratibha Patil today described her six-day visit to China, which ended today, as successful and said it had accomplished the goals of increasing trust, friendship and understanding between the two countries.

In a statement on her departure for home, Ms Patil said her interactions with the Chinese leadership were warm, friendly and cordial.

"Our discussions were constructive, wide-ranging and fruitful. We agreed to expand, deepen and diversify the Strategic and Cooperative Partnership between our countries. We acknowledged that the India – China relationship has gone beyond its purely bilateral aspect and also has a global dimension. The commitment of the Chinese leadership to strengthening our ties was evident in all my meetings," she said.

Ms Patil said she had, during her discussions with the Chinese leadership, stressed that there was enough space in the world for India and China to grow together.

She said they also discussed how the two countries could cooperate with each other as they met the developmental aspirations of their peoples.

The President said she highlighted India's desire to work with China in meeting the bilateral trade target of $ 60 billion in 2010. The trends of the first quarter of the year indicated that this was possible, she said.

According to her, after her discussions in Beijing, she was confident that India could further increase and diversify its economic interaction with China in a balanced manner. She said the three business-to-business memoranda of understanding (MoU) signed during the visit were examples in this regard.

Ms Patil said the two countries also agreed to increase their cooperation and coordination in multilateral economic fora, including in the G-20 and the Doha Round of global trade negotiations.

The President highlighted the cultural contacts that existed over the millennia between the two ancient civilizations.

While recollecting the contributions of personages such as Bodhidharma, Kumarajeeva, Xuan Zang, Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, Prof. Tan Yunshan and poet Rabindranath Tagore to India-China relations, she suggested that the Governments of the two countries must expand people-to-people contacts in the present day.

She said this could be done through greater cultural exchanges, tourism, educational linkages and scientific projects.

"In this context, the Indian-style Buddhist temple I inaugurated at Luoyang had special significance. I hope the temple will encourage young people from our countries to step up contacts between us in the present age. The Tagore bust, I unveiled in Shanghai, should be an inspiration for joint activities as we commence marking his 150th birth anniversary," she said.

Ms Patil said she focused attention on India’s aspirations for a permanent seat in a reformed United Nations Security Council.

She said Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were understanding and supportive of India’s desire. President Hu expressed China’s support for India’s candidature for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2011-2012, she said.

One agreement and two MOUs between India and China were signed in Beijing in the presence of President Hu and Ms Patil. In addition, an MoU was concluded between Indian Council of Cultural Relations and Fudan University, which is aimed at encouraging student exchanges and inter-University contacts.

Ms Patil visited Shanghai, where she spent some time at the World Expo 2010, including the India pavilion and the Chinese national pavilion. She met the Indian community in Shanghai and addressed an India-China business meeting.

"After my visit to China and my meetings with the Chinese leadership, I am convinced that there is great potential for growth in India – China relations. All of us, whether in Government or in civil society, must contribute to this effort. I believe my successful visit to China has been a step in this direction," she added.

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US says relationship with India a "signature partnership"

Robert O. Blake
Robert O. Blake

Ahead of the US-India Strategic Dialogue beginning here next Tuesday, the United States has said that the relationship with India would be one of its signature partnerships in the 21st century.

The US also asserted that there had not been any change in its relations with India since the "glory days of the Bush Administration" and said the Barack Obama Administration attached great importance to its relations with India.

US Assistat Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake, Jr. told journalists at a briefing on next week's Strategic Dialogue that this was shown by the President's decision to invite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last November for for the first State Visit of the Obama Administration and by the huge number of dialogues the two countries had.

"It’s shown by the huge number of dialogues that we have. And it’s shown even more by the huge private sector component to our relations and all of the people-to-people contacts that we have. If anything, in our case, it’s the governments who are catching up to the people in terms of all of the many, many ties that exist at so many levels of our two countries," he said.

Mr Blake granted, however, that there were people who perceived that the relationship had slipped. "And the only way that we’re really going to get beyond that is just by delivering results and by showing, in a concrete way, all of the various things that we’re doing. And so I think that’s going to be one of the purposes of the strategic dialogue, is to think through what are the big, new opportunities and where are the big areas of cooperation," he said.

The US official recalled that Mr Obama had called India an "indispensable partner" and said that India would be one of the defining partnerships for the US in the 21st century.

"India matters to the United States because it’s the world’s largest democracy. It has the world’s second fastest growing economy and an economy that is a very important source for – of exports for United States companies, and also because it is an increasingly important partner for the United States in addressing common global concerns. In just 10 years, we’ve had a complete transformation in our bilateral relations and a transformation that enjoys bipartisan support both in India and the United States," he said.

Mr Blake said the US saw tremendous potential for growth in its relations with India and that was why Mr Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had decided to elevate the relations by establishing a strategic dialogue to be led by Ms Clinton and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna.

Ms Clinton had announced the dialogue during her trip to India in July last year after which Dr Singh had made the State visit to Washington.

"We have made very good progress over the last year on both the global and bilateral fronts in our relations with India," Mr Blake said.

He said Dr Singh had played a very important role in Copenhagen in the climate change negotiations in helping to reach an accord there. He had also attended the recent Global Nuclear Security Summit, hosted by Mr Obama, and announced then that India would build a centre for nuclear security that would provide training for countries from a number of regions.

Mr Blake said food security was also a very important new area of cooperation. On health, the two sides were in the process of establishing a global disease detection centre.

He said that one of the important new initiatives of the Obama Administration was to establish the G-20 as one of the premier mechanisms for economic decision-making.

"And I think the President very much values the wisdom and experience of Prime Minster Singh who has long experience, particularly in these economic issues," he said.

Mr Blake said that, on the bilateral front, the two countries had 18 separate dialogues underway to capture the full scope of the opportunities ahead of them.

He said that, in the area of civil nuclear cooperation, the two sides had reached agreement on a nuclear reprocessing agreement that was concluded six months ahead of schedule and was one of now three that the US had around the world, the other ones being with the European Union and Japan.

"As a follow-up to that, we are now following very closely the nuclear liability legislation that the Indian Government has introduced into the Indian parliament. We hope that that will be consistent with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation. And if so, and if passed, it would provide a very important legal protection and open the way for billions of dollars in American reactor exports and thousands of jobs," he said.

He also highlighted the unprecedented counterterrorism cooperation taking place between the two governments. He said they were focusing on law enforcement cooperation and intelligence sharing because of the increasingly common threats that they face, particularly those in India faced by Lashkar e-Taiba and other groups.

Mr Blake also spoke about the cooperation between the two countries in other areas such as education.

There will be both private sector and government activities around the Strategic Dialogue. For one, the US-India Business Council will be hosting its 35th annual meeting.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her US counterpart, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, will oversee a very wide-ranging foreign policy dialogue that will cover Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, probably China, and many other topics.

The main strategic dialogue on June 3 will be chaired by Ms Clinton and Mr Krishna. This will be the first time that the two governments will have a whole-of-government conversation about not so much what they have accomplished but looking ahead about what they can accomplish together. In particularly, they will look ahead to Mr Obama's visit to India in the second half of this year.

Apart from Mr Krishna, the Indian delegation will include Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

The US team will include National Security Adviser James Jones, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller and USAID chief Rajiv Shah.

Mr Blake said the plenary sessio would cover various bilateral issues such as counterterrorism, export controls and high technology, economics and finance, infrastructure, education, energy, climate change.

"And the purpose of that is really, again, to look broadly at the relationships to try to break down some of these stovepipes that we’ve seen and think creatively and strategically about the new opportunities before us in this relationship," he said.

He said that, later over lunch, Ms Clinton and Mr Krishna would have a discussion on global issues and important regional issues, particularly Afghanistan adn Pakistan.

Later in the day, Ms Clinton will host a reception for the Indian delegation at which members of the Indian diaspora and others who contribute to India-US relations will be present.

"We’re very proud of the 2.5 million Indian Americans who are there, who really do provide a unique bridge for the United States with our friends in India. We’re also very proud of the hundred thousand-plus Indian students that are here studying in the United States, the largest single group of foreign students. And again, we think that this education bill that’s now pending in the Indian parliament will help to broaden even further the education cooperation in that area," he said.

In reply to a question, Mr Blake said that, while there would be deliverables, the focus was not on them.

"The purpose of this dialogue is really to think strategically and, again, to get the key people who work on these issues together to think ahead to the President’s visit and to think strategically about what we can do.

"It’s not so much to have a review of all the things that we’ve done. We know what we’ve done. It’s really to think ahead. And when we have all of these senior-level officials together in one place, we have to take maximum advantage of their time and, again, use it productively.

"So that’s the real purpose of the strategic dialogue. It is not to supplant the 18 different dialogues that we have, headed by all these different cabinet ministers on both sides. Those will be really the areas during those dialogues where they will announce deliverables of one sort or another," he explained.

In response to a question, Mr Blake said he was struck by the fact that every single area defined as new priorities for the Obama Administration in the National Security Strategy yesterday were areas in which the US and India were cooperating.

He noted that Ms Clinton and Gen Jones had mentioned the enduring national interests of security, prosperity, values and international order. They had also talked about the President's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and combating climate change.

"These are all areas where we are working productively with the Indians, and I think one of the reasons that we have such great confidence in this relationship is that because of these common values and common interests, we are persuaded that India’s influence is going to grow over time as its economy grows, and that we are going to be working ever more closely together because of those common values. So it is very much in our interest now to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the strategic dialogue, to think strategically at a high level about how to capitalize on those opportunities. And I think when we do that, we will address many of the skeptics that you talked about," he said.

To a query about the delay in passing the nuclear liability bill in India, Mr Blake did not agree that it had really taken that long.

"India is a democracy and, like our own democracy, they have to work a bill through – first through their own cabinet system and then they have get a consensus within their own parliamentary system on this very, very important bill. And it has some political resonance in India because of the Bhopal disaster. So people are – obviously look at this very closely and they should. It deserves that kind of scrutiny.

"But I think the prime minister addressed this very forthrightly himself in his recent press conference in which he said that this – the passage of this legislation is a priority for the Indian Government. And it’s a priority because it’s going to help the United States to – and other countries – to deliver nuclear technology that will help to meet the needs, the energy needs, of India’s fast-growing economy. And it will also help us because we’ll be able to substantially increase our exports, but also provide much needed new jobs in the United States.

"So we see this as a win-win for both of our countries. And we’re not frustrated. We think that this – we trust Prime Minister Singh’s judgment on this. And our main interest is in making sure that the legislation that is passed is compliant with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation, which is the international standard for such legislation," he said.

To a question about reining in Pakistan on the issue of terrorism, Mr Blake said the issue would figure at the meeting.

He said the US welcomed the meeting planned between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan in Islamabad on July 15 and the meeting before that between Home Minister P Chidambaram and his Pakistani counterpart next month.

"Those are very important opportunities to try to expand relations and to reduce some of the frictions between these two friends of the United States," he said.

According to him, one of the most important obstacles to expansion of those relations is the continuing infiltration from Pakistan to by Punjab-based groups, such as Lashkar e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and others.

"And the United States has consistently called for greater action on the part of Pakistan to stop these – the activities of these groups," he said.

"Pakistan has done so in the past between 2004 and 2007, and that laid the basis for a very significant expansion in relations between India and Pakistan. So we’d like to see these two friends get back on that same course again. But one of the first things that has to happen is for there to be visible progress in stopping this.

"And I think the point that the Secretary (of State) and Secretary (of Defence Robert) Gates and the President himself has made is that increasingly, these groups are all operating together as a syndicate. And so it’s very much in Pakistan’s own interest to take on these groups as well," he said.

To questions on Afghanistan, Mr Blake made it clear the US had no plans to ask India to limit its involvement in any way.

"No. I mean, I would say we’ve welcomed very much the assistance that India has provided and all of our cabinet-level officials have welcomed that and will continue to do so. We think that they’ve really played a very important role with the $1.3 billion in assistance that they provided to date, mostly in infrastructure and other kinds of reconstruction projects, but also capacity building and training and so forth. And so we think that is a very important part of the international effort to help stabilize Afghanistan," he said.

About the Kashmir issue, Mr Blake felt it was not an issue that India and Pakistan would address right away.

He said it was important to focus on counter-terrorism issues and important opportunities like trade. "And once they have developed a degree of confidence, they might then be able to take up some of these more sensitive territorial issues," he said.

Mr Blake denied the US was mounting any pressure on India or Pakistan to resume their dialogue.

"We always have an interest in seeing our two friends have peaceful relations, but we are not pressurizing either side, as you say. We have consistently said that it is up to India and Pakistan to determine how to improve their relations and that the pace and the scope and the character of whatever talks they have is really up to those two countries to decide. But we will always stand ready to help in any way that we can, because again, we see it very much in our interest to see improved ties between these two friends of ours," he added.

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Canada expresses deep regrets over visa refusal letters

Jason Kenney
Jason Kenney

Canada today expressed its deep regrets over the recent incidents in which letters issued by its High Commission in Delhi to serving or retired officers of Indian security forces and agencies who had applied for Canadian visas had denounced these organisations.

"Canada has the highest regard for India, its government institutions and processes," a statement issued by the country's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in Ottawa.

"Our friendship as democratic nations who operate under the rule of law grows ever stronger and we share a common bond of ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity. Our economic and trade ties continue to strengthen both of our economies," he said.

Mr Kenney said that, furthermore, at a time when global security continued to be a cause for concern, He said Canada valued the increasing ties and cooperation with India in the fields of defence, security and counter-terrorism.

Each year, Canada welcomed about 131,000 Indian residents on both a temporary and permanent basis, including many individuals from the various Indian security forces, he said.

"The Government of Canada therefore deeply regrets the recent incident in which letters drafted by public service officials during routine visa refusals to Indian nationals cast false aspersions on the legitimacy of work carried out by Indian defence and security institutions, which operate under the framework of democratic processes and the rule of law," Mr Kenney said.

"This language, or the inaccurate impression it has created, in no way reflects the policy or position of the Government of Canada. While, under Canadian law, admissibility to Canada is determined by a number of different criteria, candidate assessments should in no way question Indian institutions which operate under the rule of law and within a democratic framework," he said.

"As to the decision process itself, decisions on visa applications are made on a case-by-case basis by non-partisan public servants following an independent process based on Canada's immigration law as it currently stands. However, this unfortunate incident has demonstrated that the deliberately broad legislation may create instances when the net is cast too widely by officials, creating irritants with our trusted and valued international allies. For this reason the admissibility policy within the legislation is under active review at this time," Mr Kenney added.

The statement by Mr Kenney came after India had made it clear that the letters issued by the Canadian High Commission were "entirely unacceptable".

The Canadian mission has, in recent weeks, denied visas to several serving and retired officers and, in letters to them, denounced the security forces and intelligence agencies they were associated with.

"India is a democracy. All institutions function under our Constitution. We are proud of our security forces and agencies and services rendered by them to the nation," External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said in a statement in Bangalore yesterday.

"We expect the Canadian authorities to address the situation appropriately," he said.

While denying the visas to the serving and retired officers, the Canadian mission, citing Canadian rules, questioned the Army's track record and suggested the Intelligence Bureau (IB) might be engaged in terrorism.

Last week, the media had reported the case of a retired Border Security Force (BSF) officer who was denied a Canadian visa on the grounds that the BSF was a "notoriously violent paramilitary unit".

Since then, more instances have come to light, including that of a retired IB officer, saying the agency's men had engaged in terrorism and espionage. The mission is also learnt to have denied visas to three army officers on the ground that they had served in Jammu and Kashmir, where the security forces are engaged in counter-insurgency operations.

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President Patil in Beijing on six-day State Visit

President Pratibha Patil being traditionally welcomed by Chinese Students on her arrival at Beijing International Airport on May 26, 2010.
President Pratibha Patil being traditionally welcomed by Chinese Students on her arrival at Beijing International Airport on May 26, 2010.

President Pratibha Patil reached Beijing today at the start of a six-day State Visit to China that is aimed at enhancing trust, friendship and understanding between the two Governments and the two peoples.

"It will deepen and expand the areas of our cooperation and, thereby, cement the partnership between our two countries," Ms Patil told mediapersons accompanying her on the trip on board the special Air India flight.

This is the first visit by an Indian Head of State to China in more than a decade. The last visit was by President K R Narayanan in 2000. Chinese President Hu Jintao had visited India in November 2006.

Apart from Beijing, Ms Patil will also visit Luoyang and Shanghai.

The President said it was particularly significant that her visit was taking place in the 60th anniversary year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China.

"China is India's largest neighbour in terms of area, as well as population. India attaches great importance to its relations with China. Our two countries enjoy a Strategic and Cooperative Partnership. We also have a 'Shared Vision for the 21st Century', which acknowledges that the India - China partnership transcends the purely bilateral and has global implications. This understanding and awareness is the basis for our cooperation on international matters," she said.

Ms Patil noted that, as ancient civilizations, India and China have had contacts and linkages over the millenia.

"Our nations enjoyed links along the Silk Route. Monk-scholars like Kashyapmatanga, Dharmaratna, Bodhidharma and Kumarajeeva are well known in China for their work there. Similarly, Xuan Zang and Fa Xian are familiar to us in India as scholars from China who visited India in search of Buddhist scriptures. In contemporary times personages such as Gurudev Tagore, Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis and Professor Tan Yun Shan have become symbols of India-China friendship and co-operation. During my visit, I will have the privilege of unveiling a bust of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in Shanghai," she said.

Apart from talks with President Hu Jintao, Ms Patil will also have discussions with the Chairman of the National People's Congress, Mr Wu Bangguo, Premier Wen Jiabao and Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Mr Jia Qinglin.

She will also meet Vice President Xi Jinping and interact with provincial leaders in Henan and Shanghai.

The meetings will review the bilateral relations from a strategic and long-term perspective.

"The many dimensions of the India - China partnership including trade and investment, culture and the arts, science and technology, and people-to-people exchanges, will be discussed. It will be my effort to impart additional momentum to our existing cooperative activities and exchanges," she said.

In Luoyang, within the precincts of the famous White Horse Temple, the President will inaugurate an Indian-style Buddhist temple. She will dedicate this temple, a gift from India, to the friendship between the people of India and China. This temple will encourage the people of India and China to have greater exchanges between the two countres as in times gone by, she said.

In Shanghai, Ms Patil will visit the World Expo 2010 and see the Indian pavilion and the China national pavilion. She will also interact with the Indian community in Shanghai.

The President is also slated to address an India - China business forum to provide fillip to this aspect of the relationship. The two countries are aiming to achieve a bilateral trade target of $ 60 billion this year. Ms Patil will encourage Indian businesses to expand their presence in China and invite Chinese investments into India.

"I am confident that my State visit to China will help bind our two countries closer together and enhance cooperation between our Governments and our people," she added.

The President is accompanied on the trip by Minister of Food Processing Industries Subodh Kant Sahay, Members of Parliament Jayanti Natarajan, Ramdas Agarwal and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Mr Christy Fernandes, Secretary to the President, besides a business delegation.

Ms Rao had told journalists yesterday that the visit signalled India's unequivocal commitment to deepen and expand its Strategic and Cooperative Partnership with China.

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Sibal launches CBSE's international curriculum in Dubai

Union Minister of Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal at the launch of the International curriculum of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), in UAE on May 25, 2010.
Union Minister of Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal at the launch of the International curriculum of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), in UAE on May 25, 2010.

Union Human Resource Development Minister launched the international curriculum of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) at the Indian High School in Dubai today.

The curriculum, CBSE-I, to which 30 schools in nine countries have subscribed, will address global needs and also relate to local issues and local culture, an official press release said.

It said the curriculum would carry forward the basic strength of the Indian system of education and promote critical and creative thinking skills, effective communication skills, interpersonal and collaborative skills and information and media skills.

"There is an in-built flexibility as it provides a foundation and an extension curriculum in all subject areas to cater to the different pace of learners," it said.

The CBSE will introduce the curriculum in a phased manner in different schools affiliated to it at the international level.

Mr Sibal expressed the hope that CBSE-I would grow and provide an alternative international curriculum to students, both of the Indian diaspora and to local citizens in the countries where CBSE-I was being made available.

Stressing that the world needed a globalised community of children, he stressed the need for quality education for all.

Earlier, Mr Sibal participated in the India-UAE Forum in Abu Dhabi last evening on the theme, "Leveraging the Knowledge Economy Paradigm". The forum was also addressed Sheikh Nahayan Mubarak al Nahayan, UAE Minister for Scientific Research and Higher Development.

Mr Sibal told the gathering that developing countries would emerge as the providers of solutions for the global community, which would be cost-effective and, thus, effective for the entire world. He said this would be in contrast to the high-cost solutions emerging from the developed world.

The Minister said an expansion in higher education was required in the developing world to raise the Gross Enrolment Ratio(GER) to a robust level to generate the creativity and wealth that comes through intangible assets.

He said the nature of wealth was shifting from acquisition of labour and capital to acquisition of intangible assets.

Emphasising that expansion must be accompanied by quality, he listed the various initiatives taken by India to ensure this.

"The globalization of higher education has added newer challenges in terms of quality assurance system, issues of mutual recognition and equivalence of degrees and transparency in the regulatory structures of national systems of higher education. These challenges can be largely addressed by increased regional and international collaboration," he said.

He said the time had come to start a dialogue across countries as new frontiers of knowledge could not be gathered without collaboration. "All of us, in this globalised world, have a stake in each other’s future," he added.

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Indian peacekeeper dies in attack in Congo

An Indian soldier in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Congo was killed yesterday when the patrol he was part of rushed to the aid of national army forces ambushed by unidentified gunmen in the east of the country.

As soon as the Rwindi-based Indian contingent saw the army troops under attack in North Kivu, scene of years of fighting between the Government and an array of rebel groups, it went to their aid, a press release issued by the peacekeeping force, known as MONUC, said.

The soldier suffered injuries in the exchange of fire and was rushed to hospital in Goma, the provincial capital, where he died later.

He was the 31st blue helmet to die under enemy fire in the 11-year history of MONUC, the release said.

A Congolese soldier and a civilian were also killed and three soldiers and one civilian wounded.

MONUC has helped restore a measure of stability and democratic process to a country torn apart by years of civil war and revolts that led to the greatest death toll since World War II – 4 million people killed by fighting and the attendant starvation and disease. But fighting has continued in the east, the release added.

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Turkmenistan President Berdimuhamedov to visit India May 24-26

Dr. Gurbanguly M. Berdimuhamedov
Dr. Gurbanguly M. Berdimuhamedov

Mr. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, President of Turkmenistan, will pay a State Visit to India from May 24-26, 2010.

An official press release from the Ministry of External Affairs said this would be Mr Berdimuhamedov's first visit to India.

He will be accompanied by a number of Ministers and senior officials. During the course of his visit, President Berdimuhamedov is scheduled to meet President Pratibha Patil as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

According to the release, a number of agreements are expected to be signed on this occasion.

The visiting dignitary is also scheduled to meet with Vice President M Hamid Ansari and other senior leaders during his visit, the release added.

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India, Oman to accelerate cooperation in maritime security

Defence Minister A. K. Antony inspecting the Guard of Honour in Muscat on May 18, 2010. Defence Minister of Oman, Sayyid Badr bin Saud bin Harib Al Busaidi is also seen.
Defence Minister A. K. Antony inspecting the Guard of Honour in Muscat on May 18, 2010. Defence Minister of Oman, Sayyid Badr bin Saud bin Harib Al Busaidi is also seen.

India and Oman today decided to take their defence cooperation a step higher by agreeing to accelerate their cooperation in maritime security and regional security issues.

The decisions in this regard were taken at bilateral discussions between visiting Defence Minister A K Antony and his Oman counterpart Sayyid Badr bin Saud bin Harib al Busaidi in Muscat today.

Mr Antony had reached the Sultanate yesterday on a two-day visit, his first ever to the region as Defence Minister.

He told the meeting that maritime security was one of the issues which were causing concern to countries around the world. he said that, after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, issues of maritime security had emerged as a major aspect of India's security concerns.

"Maritime security has also become a global concern due to the pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden. Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been growing over the years and has now assumed alarming proportions," he said.

Mr Antony said that, to protect Indian flag ships and Indian citizens employed in sea-faring duties, the Indian Navy had commenced anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden from October 2008.

A total of 16 Indian navy ships have been deployed in the Gulf of Aden since. In addition to escorting Indian flag ships, ships of other flags have also been escorted.

"We are cooperating with other navies deployed in this area by way of information sharing and have been participating in the Shared Awareness and De-Cofliction (SHADE) Meetings since April 2009," he said.

The two sides also discussed various bilateral and regional issues. Mr Antony said the two countries had a common aim in Afghanistan and that was to ensure that it did not become a safe haven for terrorists again.

"We want a stable, moderate, unified and democratic Afghanistan," he said. According to him,  New Delhis’ efforts in Afghanistan are focussed on economic and social development activities.

"We intend to continue such activities even though we have lost personnel and have suffered attacks on our embassy in Kabul," he said.

Mr Antony expressed satisfaction at the existing defence cooperation between the two countries which was characterised by exchange of high-level visits, training, regular bilateral exercises between the two navies and ship visits.

In this connection, he recalled the first ever air exercise "Eastern Bridge" in October 2009. Royal Air Force of Oman pilots have attended Jaguar simulator training in India in the past and similar training is planned this year also.

"We have laid the foundation and should now work towards adding more content to our defence cooperation," he added.

Mr Antony was accompanied on the visit by Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Chief of Integrated Staff Command Air Marshal S C Mukul, Director General Mechanised Forces Lt Gen Dalip Bhardwaj, Air Marshal A Raha and Rear Admiral L V S Babu.

During his stay in Muscat, Mr Antony also called on Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

Last evening, shortly after his arrival in Muscat, Mr Antony attended a dinner hosted for  members of the Indian community by Indian Ambassador Anil Wadhwa.

Oman is now home to nearly half a million expatriate Indians. Speaking at the function, Mr Antony said his visit would consolidate further the existing ties between India and Oman. He said India would expand its cooperation with Oman in all fields.

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Indian oil PSUs to hold 40% in $20 b Carabobo-I project in Venezuela

Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at Caracas on May 12, 2010.
Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at Caracas on May 12, 2010.

Three Indian public sector oil companies will be part of a consortium that will hold a 40 per cent interest in the $ 20 billion project for development and production from the Carabobo I block in Venezuela.

Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora and Secretary S Sundareshan were present at the signing ceremony in this regard in Caracas yesterday, which was presided over by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Oil India Limited (OIL) and ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) signed the joint venture agreement with Corporacion Venezolana del Petroleo SA (CVP) for the project in the Orinoco region of Venezuela.

OVL will hold 11 % in the project and IOC and OIL 3.5 per cent each. The other two partners in the joint venture, Repsol of Spain and Petronas of Malaysia, will also own 11 % interest in the venture.

These companis had been selected by the Government of Venezuela for awarding a 40 % ownership interest in the joint venture. CVP, Venezuela's state oil company, will hold the remaining 60 % equity in it.

According to an official press release, the joint venture will build heavy oil production facilities, upgrading facilities and associated infrastructure. The upstream production facilities are expected to produce around 400,000 barrels per day of extra heavy oil of which approximately 200,000 barrels per day will be upgraded into light crude oil in a facility to be located in the Soledad area, Anzoátegui State. The license term will be for 25 years with the potential for a further 15 year extension. The project costs are estimated at $ 15 – 20 billion and is one of India’s major investments in Latin America,

After the signing ceremony, Mr Deora had a meeting with Mr Chavez at which he discussed the possibility of sourcing Venezuelan crude to meet the requirements of new refineries coming up in India.

The also discussed the possible of award of the Junin Norte block in Venezuela, where new oil reserves are being certified by OVL.

The release said the Venezuelan side was receptiv to these ideas and expressed interst in establishing refineries in India and Venezuela with the involvement and assistance of Indian oil companies. The Venezuelan side said it was keen on developing a special relationship with India.

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India, Kazakhstan to sign pacts on nuclear energy, hydrocarbons soon

File photo of External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna.
File photo of External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna.

India and Kazakhstan are likely to finalise soon an Inter-Governmental Agreement on Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation as well as an agreement on exploration and production in the Satpayev oil block in that country.

This emerged after talks between visiting External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and Kazhakstan Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev in Astana today.

"Very good progress has been achieved in our discussions to deepen cooperation in the hydro-carbon sector. I am confident that an Agreement between ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) and KazMunaiGas on exploration and production in the Satpayev Oil Block will be concluded soon," Mr Krishna said in a statement after the talks.

"I would like to thank the leadership of Kazakhstan for earnestly supporting this important initiative which would pave the way for greater cooperation in diverse sectors," he said.

He said the civilian nuclear energy sector had immense possibilities for bilateral cooperation including for supply of uranium ore, investment by Indian companies in mining in Kazakhstan, construction of nuclear reactors and so on.

"Discussions in several other promising areas like thermal power plants, transportation and banking are in an advanced stage. For instance a premier Indian bank - Punjab National Bank - will soon commence commercial operations in Kazakhstan," he said.

The External Affairs Minister said his talks with Mr Saudabayev were "very warm, cordial and fruitful."

"We conducted a comprehensive review of our bilateral ties in all spheres including political, strategic, security, economic, commercial, social and cultural affairs," he said.

Mr Krishna was due to meet President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Prime Minister Karim Massimov later today.

"I am pleased to say that India and Kazakhstan have a strong congruence of views on major regional and international issues. Both our countries are strongly opposed to terrorism. I would like to thank Kazakhstan for its steadfast support to India in our fight against terrorism, particularly after the dastardly terror attack in Mumbai in November, 2008," he said.

He also thanked Kazakhstan for its steady support for India's bid to get a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

Mr Krishna said the fact that a large delegation of Indian business leaders was accompanying him was testimony to the strong and keen interest that Indian businessmen and industrialists have in strengthening and diversifying relations with Kazakhstan.

"We would also like to invite Kazakh companies to invest in India and take advantage of the huge market that India has to offer," he said.

He said both India and Kazakhstan were factors of peace, stability, development and growth, not only in the region but also in the world.

"Our cooperation is a win-win proposition and I am happy to see a strong commitment on the part of government and people in both our countries to take the process to a qualitatively higher level," he said.

Mr Krishna, who reached Astana on his first visit to Kazakhstan yesterday, said he was struck by the rapid development and progress that the country had achieved since its independence.

He noted that the two countries enjoyed warm and friendly ties going back several millennia. "We are part of the same neighbourhood. Both India and Kazakhstan are multi-ethnic, multi-religious and secular societies. We have also forged a strategic partnership to give a qualitative boost to our ties," he said.

He said the landmark visit of Mr Nazarbayev to Delhi in January last year, when he was the Chief Guest at India's Republic Day celebratons, had provided a significant impulse to the bilateral ties between the two countries.

"We have rapidly moved to implement the far reaching initiatives taken during his visit, in diverse sectors like energy including hydro-carbon, thermal and nuclear, fertilizers, agriculture, information technology, space, pharmaceuticals, trade and investment, culture. I am here to build further on our mutually beneficial engagement and also to discuss a road map for bringing projects in diverse sectors, to fruition," he added.

India and Kazakhstan had unveiled a strategic partnership during Mr Nazarbayev's visit and had worked out an ambitious agenda of cooperation.

Mr Krishna is accompanied on the three-day visit by, among others, Ms Latha Reddy, Secretary (East) in the Ministry and Mr Jawahar Sircar, Secretary, Ministry of Culture.

The business delegation includes representatives of companies such as the Tatas, Sun Group, Apollo Hospitals, Punj Lloyd, BHEL and ONGC.

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India, Seychelles hold talks on piracy, areas of cooperation


India and Seychelles held talks on a wide range of subjects, including the danger from piracy, at the 7th Indo-Seychelles Joint Commission Meeting held in Victoria on May 10-11.


The Indian side to the talks was led by Mr Vivek Katju, Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs, and the Seychelles delegation by Mr Barry Faure, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


At the conclusion of the deliberations, the two sides had identified several new areas of cooperation, an official statement added.


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Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb to visit India May 3-5

File photo of Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb.
File photo of Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb.

The Foreign Minister of Finland, Mr Alexander Stubb, will pay an official visit to India from May 3-5 during which the two sides will hold talks on ways of enhancing bilateral relations.


During his stay in New Delhi, he will hold talks with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, when the two sides will discuss bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest. He will also meet National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon.


Mr Stubb will also deliver a talk on ""Giants at Crossroads – Prospects for the India-European Union Strategic Partnership after the Treaty of Lisbon" at the Indian Council of World Affairs.


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PM tells Gilani terrorism holding back bilateral relationship

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani for bilateral talks and told him the issue of terrorism was holding back progress in the relationship between the two countries.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit, in Thimphu, Bhutan on April 29, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit, in Thimphu, Bhutan on April 29, 2010.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani for bilateral talks for the first time in nine months and told him that India was willing to discuss all matters of mutual concern but said the issue of terrorism was holding back progress in the relationship between the two countries.

The meeting took place in Thimphu, Bhutan, on the sidelines of the 16th SAARC Summit, which both leaders were attending.

Agreeing that there was a "trust deficit" between the two sides, the two Prime Ministers decided that their Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries would meet soon to work out the modalities of creating trust and confidence in the relationship to pave the way for a substantive dialogue in which all matters of concern to both sides would be discussed.

The two Prime Ministers had last met on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt in July, 2009. The joint statement issued by the two sides after that meeting had led to a major controversy in India because of perceived delinking of terrorism and dialogue as well as due to the reference to the problems in Baluchistan, which Pakistan routinely blames on India.

Dr Singh and Mr Gilani first met with their delegations in attendance and later had a one-on-one meeting after which the delegations joined them again.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, which lasted for about an hour, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said the talks were held in a free and frank manner and that both leaders agreed that cooperation between the two countries was vital for the people of all of South Asia.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit, in Thimphu, Bhutan on April 29, 2010.

Dr Singh conveyed to Mr Gilani India's concerns about terrorism emanating from Pakistani territory and the slow progress in the investigations in the cases related to the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

As many as 166 people were killed in those attacks, which India blamed on elements based in Pakistan. After 26/11, India suspended its Composite Dialogue with Pakistan and said there could be no meaningful dialogue with that country unless it brought those responsible for those attacks to justice and dismantled the terrorist infrastructure on its soil used to plan and carry out acts of terrorism against India.

In February, in an effort to break the ice, India offered to host Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two countries. The meeting between Ms Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir was held on February 25 and India kept the focus then on the steps being taken by Pakistan against terrorist groups operating from its territory against India.

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India urges SAARC to renew compact to build a better developed region

India on Wednesday urged fellow-members of SAARC to renew their compact to build a region that is better connected, better empowered, better fed and better educated.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the inaugural session of the 16th SAARC Summit, at Thimphu, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the inaugural session of the 16th SAARC Summit, at Thimphu, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.

India today urged fellow-members of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to renew their compact to build a region that is better connected, better empowered, better fed and better educated.

"We must ask ourselves what kind of South Asia we wish to create for our present and future generations?" Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his opening statement at the 16th SAARC Summit that began in Thimphu, Bhutan this morning.

Noting that SAARC was celebrated its Silver Jubilee thear, Dr Singh said that, in these two and a half decades, the sub-continent had been witness to much progress. Yet, each one of the member-countries, and the region as a whole, had a long way to go in fulfilling the aspirations of their people, he pointed out.

"In looking back at these two and a half decades we can claim the glass is half full, and compliment ourselves, or, we can admit the glass is half empty and challenge ourselves.

"I believe we should challenge ourselves by acknowledging that the glass of regional cooperation, regional development and regional integration is half empty. Intra-regional trade flows have grown and transport and telecommunication links have expanded. Yet, the share of intra-regional trade and investment flows in total trade and investment flows in South Asia is far below what we see in East and South-east Asia. It is also well below the potential," he said.

Dr Singh recalled that then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had, speaking at the first SAARC Summit in Dhaka in 1985, described the establishment of the grouping as an act of faith.

"Based on our experience so far we can affirm that this was also an act of great foresight and statesmanship," he said.

The Prime Minister said SAARC members had created institutions for regional cooperation but had not yet empowered them adequately to enable them to be more pro-active.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at Convention Centre to attend the inaugural session of the 16th SAARC Summit at Thimphu, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at Convention Centre to attend the inaugural session of the 16th SAARC Summit at Thimphu, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.

"We have opened new windows of cooperation. The SAARC Development Fund, the Food Bank, the South Asian Free Trade Agreement and the South Asian University are examples of new institutions that will knit our region more closely together.

"The challenge before us is to translate institutions into activities, conventions into programmes, official statements into popular sentiments. Declarations at summits and official level meetings do not amount to regional cooperation or integration. Regional cooperation should enable freer movement of people, of goods, of services and of ideas. It should help us re-discover our shared heritage and build our common future," he stressed.

Dr Singh said that, by rising to this challenge, SAARC member-states would not only help themselvs but also become a net contributor to global economic and social prosperity.

"We can once again become part of global trading routes and networks. We can influence the global discourse on issues of concern to us. If we do not, we run the risk of being marginalized and suffering from stagnation," he said.

He noted that, while the member-state were able to cooperate individually as members in various international fora, it was unfortunate that, together, the people of South Asia did not have the voice they should and could have in the global polity.

"The 21st century cannot be an Asian century unless South Asia marches ahead and marches ahead together," he said.

The Prime Minister said there was, perhaps, no region more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than South Asia. He said Bhutan had led by example in combining development with conservation of the environment. It was, therefore, most appropriate that the Summit focused on this important issue, he said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Mr. Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, on his arrival at Convention Centre, to attend the 16th SAARC Summit, at Thimphu, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Mr. Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, on his arrival at Convention Centre, to attend the 16th SAARC Summit, at Thimphu, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.

According to him, regional cooperation can be a significant multiplier in improving the quality of governance in managing natural resources, in preventing land and water degradation and in strengthening food, water and energy security.

Dr Singh welcomed the conclusion of the SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment.

He announced the setting up of an "India Endowment for Climate Change in South Asia" to help member-states in meeting urgent adaptation and capacity building needs.

He also proposed the setting up of Climate Innovation Centres in South Asia to develop sustainable energy technologies based on indigenous resource endowments.

Dr Singh said India had recently launched a National Mission on Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem. The National Institute of Himalayan Glaciology under development at Dehradun in India could serve as a nucleus for regional cooperation in this vital area, he said.

"I have a vision of inclusive growth in South Asia both within our countries and for the region of South Asia as a whole. Regional and sub-regional imbalances in growth affect all of us in varying degrees, and have led to social unrest," he said.

He said this would require much greater attention in the future, with an emphasis on development at the grassroots level. "We will have to institute the right policies in the areas of agriculture, forestry, appropriate technologies and disaster management," he said.

Dr Singh said South Asia was emerging as the hub of technological innovation. The manner in which technology was harnessed for development would be crucial, he said.

He said initiatives such as tele-medicine and tele-education were already having a profound effect on South Asian societies. He said there was much that they could do together and learn from one another in all these areas.

The Prime Minister said health and human resource development were perhaps the most compelling of the areas that impacted on the dignity and well-being of people.

"We need to bring on the agenda issues relating to basic education, skill development, the creation of a scientific temper among youth, women’s empowerment and improving the quality of nutrition," he said.

Dr Singh said the South Asian University in Delhi would be ready to begin its first academic session in August 2010. He announced that India would provide 50 "SAARC Silver Jubilee Scholarships" for meritorious students from the least developed SAARC countries for the University.

"Mutual respect and tolerance are part of our civilisational heritage. So is the abhorrence of extremism, radicalism and terrorism. Let us pledge to revive the South Asia of our dreams that is once again a source of new ideas, new knowledge and new opportunities. Let us make SAARC a dynamic organization that can realize this collective vision for all our people," the Prime Minister added.

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PM to hold bilateral meeting with Gilani in Thimphu on Thursday

File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani in Egypt in July 2009.
File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani in Egypt in July 2009.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani for bilateral talks tomorrow on the sidelines of the 16th SAARC Summit in Thimphu, Bhutan.

"It has been agreed through diplomatic channels that the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan will hold a bilateral meeting at Thimphu on Thursday (29 April 2010)," a press release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said.

Dr Singh had, in a pre-departure statement yesterday, said that he looked forward to his meetings with leaders of other SAARC countries, but there was no firm indication of a formal meeting between him and Mr Gilani.

The two leaders did not hold a formal meeting when they were in Washington earlier this month for the Nuclear Security Summit, restricting their interaction to an exchange of pleasantries at a reception hosted by US President Barack Obama.

India has suspended the Composite Dialogue Process with Pakistan after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, in which 166 people were killed.

India blamed the attacks on elements based in Pakistan and has said repeatedly there could be no meaningful dialogue with that country until it took credible action to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice.

New Delhi also wants Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on its soil that is used to plan and carry out attacks against India.

In February, in an effort to break the ice, India offered to host Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two countries. The meeting between Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir was held on February 25 and India kept the focus then on the steps being taken by Pakistan against terrorist groups operating from its territory against India.

Dr Singh had last met Mr Gilani for bilateral talks in July, 2009 on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt. The Prime Minister had also met Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at Yekaterinburg in Russia in June last year on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit.

At tomorrow's meeting, the Prime Minister is expected to reiterate India's concerns about terrorism from across the border and express its unhappiness that Pakistan had not done enough to end the scourge.

In particular, he will seek details of the progress made so far in the cases related to the Mumbai terror attacks.

The revelation that a woman official of the Indian High Commission was involved in passing information to Pakistani intelligence agencies might also figure at the meeting between the two leaders.

Pakistan, on its part, will most likely once again raise the issues related to Jammu and Kashmir and the alleged violations by India of the Indus Water Treaty.

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PM in Bhutan for 16th SAARC Summit

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew into Bhutan on Wednesday for the SAARC Summit, which he said would provide South Asian nations an opportunity to reflect on how the aspirations of their people could be met.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by the Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley on his arrival at Paro International Airport, to attend the 16th SAARC Summit, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by the Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley on his arrival at Paro International Airport, to attend the 16th SAARC Summit, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew into Bhutan today to attend the 16th SAARC Summit, which he said would provide leaders of South Asian nations to reflect on how they could meet the developmental aspirations of their people.

"The winds of change are blowing across the world. South Asia cannot be immune to the trend of greater integration, both at the regional and global levels," he said in a pre-departure statement.

"If we as South Asians work together, there is nothing that we will not be able to achieve. India will play its part in the resurgence of South Asia," he said.

"The Summit will provide the countries of this region an opportunity to collectively reflect on where we are, what more we can do together to meet the developmental aspirations of our people, and how South Asia can play its rightful role in the international arena," he said.

Dr Singh said the two-day Summit had special significance as it was taking place on the 25th anniversary of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC). This is also the first time that Bhutan is hosting a SAARC Summit.

Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Ministers of the member-states held preparatory meetings in Thimphu over the past two days to prepare for the Summit.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur being received by the Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, at Paro International Airport, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inspecting the Guard of Honour on his arrival at Paro International Airport, to attend the 16th SAARC Summit, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur being received by the Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, at Paro International Airport, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur being received by the Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, at Paro International Airport, in Bhutan on April 28, 2010.

SAARC brings together India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan and Afghanistan.

Dr Singh said the establishment of SAARC in 1985 was a visionary step for the South Asian region. He said that, during this period, the region had witnessed major transformation, and the idea of regional economic cooperation had taken firm roots.

"We have established a robust institutional framework for cooperation in diverse areas such as food security, poverty alleviation, terrorism, communication links, trade and economic, and a range of social issues impacting lives of our people. The South Asian Free Trade Agreement, the SAARC Development Fund and the South Asian University are some concrete examples of regional projects that will enable greater economic inter-linkages, and promote people to people contacts within the region," he said.

Noting that the theme of this year's Summit is "Climate Change", he said he looked forward to discussing regional cooperation and strategies for tackling the effects of global warming in the region.

"Ours is a particularly vulnerable region, which demands a coordinated and well thought out response cutting across sectors. We all stand to benefit by learning from each other’s experiences and strengths," he said.

The Prime Minister also pointed out that India enjoyed close relations with Bhutan, which are based on complete mutual trust and understanding. He said he looked forward to holding bilateral discussions with his Bhutanese counterpart Jigmi Y Thinley to build upon these solid foundations.

He said he also looked forward to his meeting with leaders of other SAARC countries. There is much speculation about whether he will meet his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani during his stay in Thimphu, though both sides said no meeting had yet been scheduled.

The two leaders did not hold a formal meeting when they were in Washington earlier this month for the Nuclear Security Summit, restricting their interaction to an exchange of pleasantries at a reception hosted by US President Barack Obama.

During the SAARC summit, two important agreements, on Environment and Trade in Services, would be signed.

The SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services will enable the realization of the region’s immense potential in service areas such as Health, Hospitality, Communications, Computer and Information Services and Air Transport. It is expected to augment intra-regional trade in services in a mutually beneficial manner.

Bhutan has also proposed a Summit Declaration entitled "Towards a Green and Happy South Asia" and a separate Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change.

The SAARC Convention on Environment is expected to promote cooperation among the SAARC countries in the field of environment and sustainable development. The scope of cooperation under the Convention would extend to exchange of best practices and knowledge, capacity building and transfer of eco-friendly technology in a number of areas, including climate change, coastal zone management, wildlife conservation and environmental impact assessment studies.

Of particular satisfaction to India will be the fact that the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) Secretariat will be inaugurated in Thimphu during the Summit. India had proposed the establishment of the SDF at the 15th Summit in Colombo in August 2008.

The Summit is also expected to endorse the rules, regulations, academic and business plans of the South Asian University in New Delhi.

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India likely to get direct access to Headley soon

India and the United States have agreed to take suitable steps to bring about direct access by Indian authorities to suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley, who has admitted to being part of the conspiracy behind the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.


This came after a meeting here on Tuesday between Solicitor General of India Gopal Subramanium and US Attorney General Eric Holder.


Indian Ambassador the US Meera Shankar and senior officials of the US Department of Justice were also present at the meeting, which was followed by detailed discussions between the two sides.


"The discussions have resulted in a mutual commitment that there would be the best possible cooperation in our common fight against terrorism," a statement from the Indian Embassy here said.


"The two partners agreed to take suitable steps to bring about direct access by Indian authorities to David Headley as soon as possible," it said.


"The partnership between India and the United States recognizes the high priority to be accorded to each country’s national security. Both countries recognized the need for the investigations to reach a fruitful and successful outcome," the statement added.


India has been pushing for direct access to David Headley who, along with another suspected LeT operative Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Pakistani national, had been arrested by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Chicago in October last year for allegedly conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks in Denmark and India.


Subsequent investigations have shown that Headley had travelled to India several times prior to 26/11 and surveyed the sites where the attacks were carried out. At least 166 people were killed in the attacks.


More recently, it has come to light that he had, during one of those visits, surveyed the area in Pune where a bomb explosion at a popular eatery in February had killed 17 people and injured about 50 others.


In mid-March, Headley entered into a plea bargain with the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.


As part of this, he has agreed to testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, video conferencing or letters rogatory.


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India urges SAARC nations to join hands in fight against terrorism

External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna (2nd from left) at the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in Thimphu, Bhutan on 27 April 2010.
External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna (2nd from left) at the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in Thimphu, Bhutan on 27 April 2010.

India today called upon fellow-members of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to join hands to fight and defeat terrorism that posed a serious danger to the economic stability of civilised societies.

"The South Asian region is particularly afflicted by this menace. The time has come for us to rally against the forces of terrorism that seek to divide and weaken our societies," External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said in his opening remarks at the 32nd session of the SAARC Council of Ministers in Thimphu, Bhutan.

The meeting of the Council came a day ahead of the 16th SAARC Summit that will be held for two days from tomorrow. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will lead the Indian delegation to the Summit.

SAARC, which is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding this year, brings together India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan and Afghanistan.

Mr Krishna told his counterparts from membr-states that they could join the fight against terrorism through the early ratification of regional instruments such as the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, signed at the last Summit in 2008, and early conclusion of the proposed UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).

He said India, in cooperation with Sri Lanka, was involved in the strengthening of the SAARC Terrorists Offences Monitoring Desk and the SAARC Drug Offences Monitoring Desk for sharing of information amongst their security forces.

Mr Krishna said it was a matter of satisfaction that SAARC had emerged as a model of regional cooperation in dealing with the wide range of issues that impact directly on the lives and livelihoods of the people of the region.

He noted that the grouping had made impressive gains in addressing issues of regional concern such as poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, trafficking in women and children, terrorism and drugs, among others.

"We, as Member States of SAARC, have an abiding obligation to address the pressing problems that beset our region, which we should set about achieving through well-defined goals based on mutual cooperation and understanding. Our effort will be to infuse a fresh dynamism into the regional processes and to strive to channelise the fruits of our collective efforts to the most vulnerable sections of our societies," he said.

He said SAARC members should make efforts to enhance trade, open borders and facilitate economic integration in the region.

"Our focus should be on improving regional connectivity through upgrading trade, transport and telecommunication links; addressing issues relating to trade facilitation such as harmonization of customs procedures and standards; increasing understanding through greater people-to-people contacts, particularly among the youth, civil society, cultural personalities, academics and parliamentarians," he said.

The External Affairs Minister said that, in the last few years, SAARC had also begun to lay the institutional framework for regional cooperation. Regional institutions, in the form of the South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) in Dhaka, the SAARC Arbitration Council in Islamabad, the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) in Thimphu, the South Asian University in New Delhi, among others, are the building blocks of regional development, he said.

He noted that these and other SAARC initiatives were formalized through instruments that were signed by the SAARC Heads of State and Government during their 14th and 15th Summits to advance intra-SAARC cooperation in these crucial areas.

"The relevant Agreements pertain to the Establishment of SARSO, the South Asian University, Afghanistan’s Accession to SAFTA and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. While we would urge Member States to expedite the process of ratification, we may also direct the Secretariat and relevant SAARC mechanisms to simultaneously operationalise the provisions of these agreements while awaiting conclusion of the legal processes. Distinguished delegates will recall that we had undertaken similar measures in the case of the SAARC Food Bank Board and the SDF," he said.

Mr Krishna said he was pleased to note that progress had been achieved in the last few months in facilitating trade in South Asia. Intra-SAARC trade under SAFTA touched $ 529 million in 2009, a considerable jump from the previous two years, he said.

"Under SAFTA, we agreed in principle to prune our sensitive lists by twenty per cent. SAARC Member States have also agreed to reduce tariffs on 30% of tariff lines outside the Sensitive Lists to Zero," he said.

He said India was happy that two SAARC Agreements, on Environment and Trade in Services, are to be signed during the Summit. He said it was also hopeful that the SAARC Agreements on Motor Vehicles, Railways, Rapid Response to Natural Disasters, Multilateral Arrangement of Conformity Assessment Activities of Goods and Services and Regional MRA on Product Certification would also be finalized at the earliest.

Mr Krishna said it was a matter of great satisfaction that the SDF Secretariat would be inaugurated in Thimphu during the Summmit. He urged Member States to take full advantage of the mechanism of SDF through expeditious clearance and implementation of projects and programmes to promote the welfare of the people of the SAARC region, to improve their quality of life and to accelerate economic growth, social progress and poverty alleviation in the region.

"We are fully committed to working within SAARC to contribute to the development of the region through social development and regional economic integration. In this context, I am happy to report that regional projects initiated by the Government of India in Telemedicine, Tele-education, Rain Water Harvesting, Seed Testing Laboratories and Solar Rural Electrification, are under implementation in most SAARC Member States," he said.

India supported Bhutan's proposal for a Special SAARC Declaration on the theme of Climate Change to be issued during the Summit. India also supported a fresh SAARC position on Climate Change for the Conference of Parties (CoP 16) in accordance with the UNFCCC principles and Bali Action Plan.

"It is my sincere wish that the dialogue on Climate Change is carried in a meaningful manner at this Summit," he said.

Mr Krishna said positive progress had been made towards establishment of the South Asian University and noted that the university would start classes in August this year.

"SAARC belongs to the people of South Asia who have ensured that its focus is delivery oriented and intended for the larger benefit. It is also an important reason to ensure that that parallel strands of culture and trade are inter-twined for greater regional synergy and for economic prosperity," he said.

He said India had always attached importance to facilitating people-to-people contact in the region through exchanges in the fields of culture, tourism, literature, youth and so on. He also informed the Council that permanent premises for the SAARC Museum of Textiles and Handicrafts had been acquired in New Delhi and work on developing the Museum was progressing as per plan.

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Krishna says SAARC has achieved many milestones in 25 years

External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna with Foreign Minister of Nepal Sujata Koirala in Thimphu on 26 April 2010.
External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna with Foreign Minister of Nepal Sujata Koirala in Thimphu on 26 April 2010.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna today said that the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) had, over the past 25 years, made visibile strides and achieved many milestones.

"It has created the institutional and legal framework for regional cooperation through agreements and programmes covering almost every area of importance to the region, ranging from poverty alleviation and food security to terrorism and women’s empowerment," he said in a statement on arrival in Thimphu for the 16th SAARC Summit on April 28-29.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will lead the Indian delegation to the Summit, which will mark the Silver Jubilee of the grouping, which also includes Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan.

"Its focus on grassroots development is designed to cater to 'the welfare of the people of South Asia' and to bring about an improvement 'in their quality of life'," he said.

Mr Krishna said that, with the depth of challenges facing the region, the transformation of SAARC within a quarter of a century to a dynamic vehicle of regional economic cooperation was indeed remarkable.

"The asymmetric and non-reciprocal participation by India has been an important factor in this process. This has inspired other SAARC Member States to take similar initiative on regional projects," he said.

Mr Krishna said the 16th Summit would give member-states an opportunity to introspect on the past and chart a course for the future.

Bhutan has chosen "Climate Change" as the theme of the Summit. The "Thimphu Silver Jubilee Declaration" has been entitled "Towards a Green and Happy South Asia".

Mr Krishna said the theme was expected to be reinforced by the signing of a SAARC Convention on Cooperation in Environment by the Foreign Ministers in the presence of the Heads of State and Governments of SAARC Member States. An Agreement on Trade in Services will also be signed during the Summit, thereby opening up new vistas of economic cooperation among SAARC countries.

He said SAARC member-states had committed themselves to strengthening regional economic cooperation through SAARC, particularly over the three years since the New Delhi Summit in April 2007.

According to him, it is to the credit of SAARC, that despite the global financial recession, trade under SAFTA since its implementation in 2006 amounted to $ 689 million.

He said the basket of tradeable items was also quite diverse from manufacturing to agriculture products. All member-states had also reiterated their resolve to facilitate greater trade liberalization measures and greater tariff reductions, he said.

"As we head for the 16th SAARC Summit in Thimphu, we are imbued with a sense of confidence and optimism in SAARC as a vehicle for regional development," he added.

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Assistant Secretary Robert Blake to lead US team to SAARC Summit

United States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake, Jr. will lead the US observer delegation to the 16th SAARC Summit to be held in Thimphu, Bhutan on April 28-29.


A press release from the State Department here today said Mr Blake would hold bilateral meetings with regional leaders on the margins of the summit.


Before reaching Bhutan, Mr Blake will pay a two-day visit to Nepal on April 25-26, during which he will meet with political leaders, government officials and civil society to discuss the continuation of the peace process, next steps in the constitution drafting process, trafficking in persons issues and economic development.


From Bhutan, Mr Blake will travel to Beijing where he will lead the US delegation to the US-China Sub-Dialogue on South Asia. He will also discuss regional issues with government officials and scholars, the release added.


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Hamid Karzai to visit India from April 26-27

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will pay a two-day official visit to India on April 26-27 for talks aimed at strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Announcing the visit, an official press release from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the visit would carry forward the sequence of high-level interaction between the two countries.

During his stay in the capital, Mr Karzai will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior Indian leaders.

"The visit provides an opportunity for both sides to discuss bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest, and for India to express its firm commitment and support to the Government and people of Afghanistan as they build a peaceful, democratic, pluralistic and prosperous Afghanistan," the release added.

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Steinberg to visit India, Bangladesh from April 20-22


United States Deputy Secretary of State James B Steinberg will travel to India and Bangladesh from April 20 to 22.


This will be his first visit to the two countries as Deputy Secretary, a press release from the State Department said.


According to the release, Mr Steinberg will meet government officials and other political figures, and business, civil society, and opinion leaders in New Delhi, Kolkata, and Dhaka.


He will discuss a range of bilateral and multilateral issues that advance the US' bilateral relationships with both India and Bangladesh, the release added.


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