India, Singapore discuss ways to enhance bilateral ties

India and Singapore have discussed ways of enhancing their bilateral relationship in all spheres to a higher level.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna calling on Singapore’s Minister Mentor Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna calling on Singapore’s Minister Mentor Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.

India and Singapore have discussed ways of enhancing their bilateral relationship in all spheres to a higher level.

During a three-day official visit to Singapore that ended today, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna also exchanged views with Singapore leaders on various developments in the region.

The visit was part of the high-level interactions between the two countries. Mr Krishna called on Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security S. Jayakumar and Deputy Prime Minister & Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean.

He held bilateral talks with Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo. He also visited the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre at the Institute of South East Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He also met the Indian community at a reception organised by the Indian High Commissioner.

At the meeting with the India community, Mr Krishna said India had exemplary and excellent bilateral relations with Singapore.

"Consultations between us are frequent and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was in Delhi only last week as was Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in December," he said.

"Our bilateral relations are civilizational but also modern and contemporary covering areas such as investment, trade, financial services, etc. At the leadership level, we have a consensus that the potential to develop our relations to even greater heights is immense in all fields of bilateral relations," he said.

Mr Krishna said India was fortunate to have in Singapore a representative and gifted cross-section of its own society.

He said that, more than ever before, India was poised for a growth spurt which, over the next decade and a half, would qualitatively transform its economy and society.

The Minister expressed happiness that social exchanges and tourism traffic between India and Singapore were growing steadily. He said he believed that the visa on arrival scheme for Singapore nationals coming to India for tourism would prove popular. He also noted that air connectivity between different cities in India and Singapore had expanded dramatically.

"These are all signs of so much more proximity between the two countries," he remarked.

At the Nalanda Sriwijaya Centre, Mr Krishna praised the institution for its research publication on Chola Expeditions to South-East Asia.

He used the opportunity to provide an update on the initiative to set up the Nalanda University in Gaya, Bihar.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna meeting Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna meeting Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"The Nalanda University was a great ancient and medieval centre of intellectual activity in Buddhist philosophy, mathematics, medicine and other disciplines. As you are aware, the East Asian Summit endorsed the establishment of the Nalanda University in the State of Bihar in India. This has been the product of many months of hard work put in by the Nalanda Mentor Group, and will be a shining example of cooperative action in the field of education. The land for the University is already acquired and the Nalanda University Bill is being processed for Parliamentary approval during the current session. I am confident of steady progress," he

Mr Krishna said India would be happy to work with the Institute and the Centre in its academic and scholarly pursuits.

"I understand that certain initiatives are already in place. I would like more such activities including conferences, study tours, lectures by eminent intellectuals and publication of research monographs. India has a civilizational relationship with Southeast and East Asia. Cementing these ties in the academic and intellectual fields is an area of fruitful cooperation between India and Singapore and I am sure that many initiatives and activities shall come to fruition in the near future," he added.


US announces aid for Pakistan power projects, skirts n-deal issue

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the US Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington on March 24, 2010.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the US Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington on March 24, 2010.

The United States has announced an assistance of $ 125 million to Pakistan for power projects, some military supplies and several social sector programmes but there was no word on Islamabad's demand for a civil nuclear energy deal like the one the US has inked with India.

"We are working together to ensure that Pakistanis have access to affordable and reliable power, which is essential to funding economic development," Ms Clinton said at a joint media interaction with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi after the first ever Strategic Dialogue between the two countries at the ministerial level here on Wednesday.

"When I was in Islamabad in October, we announced a signature energy program, and tomorrow, USAID Administrator (Rajiv) Shah and Secretary of Water and Power (Shahid) Rafi will sign implementation agreements for three thermal power station rehabilitation projects that will provide more electricity to more people," she said.

Asked specifically whether the US was prepared to discuss a civil nuclear deal with Pakistan such as the one it has with India, Ms Clinton skirted the issue.

"We have a broad agenda with many complicated issues like the one you referred to. Discussions are continuing through tomorrow. And while I will not go into details of our bilateral conversations, we’ve said that we will listen to and engage with our Pakistani partners on whatever issues the delegation raises. We’re committed to helping Pakistan meet its real energy needs.

"I’m particularly pleased that we are moving forward with $125 million to Pakistan for energy sector projects. That’s an assistance programme I announced when I was there in October. And as the foreign minister said, we have followed through. We don’t just make announcements and then forget about them and get the headlines and move on," she said.

"So this dialogue that we’re engaged in is helping us build the kind of partnership that can make progress over time on the most complicated of issues," she said.

At the outset of the press conference, Ms Clinton said the Dialogue, along with the unprecedented participation of senior leaders across both the governments, reflected the importance the two countries placed on the relationship.

"These meetings are an opportunity to engage directly on the full range of issues that are matters of both common concern and shared responsibility, and to produce concrete results," she said.

"Today, we discussed our shared goals: to protect our citizens and our countries from the violent extremism that threatens us both, to see Pakistan prosper as a strong democracy in a stable region, to cooperate on issues that improve the daily lives of the Pakistani people, and so much else. We have made it very clear that this Strategic Dialogue is in Pakistan’s interests and in the United States’ interests. And that is why what we’re doing here today is so critical," she said.

Ms Clinton said the meeting had discussed Pakistan's national security priorities, ongoing counter-insurgency operations and long-term military modernisation and recapitalisation efforts.

"Pakistan is on the front line of confronting the violent extremism that threatens us all. And Pakistan’s civilians and security forces continue to bear the brunt of that fight," she said.

Ms Clinton underscored the commitment of the US to stand with Pakistan as it confronted its challenges. The two countries also reaffirmed their support for the people and Government of Afghanistan as they continue to rebuild their country after decades of war and to overcome violence and insurgency.

"But our relationship extends far beyond security, as does the scope of this dialogue. As demonstrated by the landmark Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation, which supports Pakistan’s economic and social development goals with $7.5 billion in assistance over five years, the United States is committed to advancing the long-term aspirations of the Pakistani people for a more peaceful and prosperous future," she said.

She said the two sides were cooperating to boost economic development on a number of tracks. The US will sign a letter of intent to upgrade significat road infrastructure in the North-West of Pakistan. It is also taking steps to help Pakistan boost exports of agricultural products and to improve agricultural infrastructure.

Ms Clinton said the two sides were working for greater market access to US markets for Pakistani products and collaborating on plans for new water projects. They are also looking forward to the completion of a transit trade agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan that would benefit both countries.

She said the two sides discussed the importance of working on a multi-year basis with regard to resource planning. The US side told the meeting that its goal was a multi-yar security assistance package, including foreign military financing, based upon identified mutual strategic objectives, which wuld further strengthen the long-term partnership between the two countries. "We, of course, will work closely with Congress to further develop this commitment," she said.

Ms Clinton said the US also remained committed to social protection efforts, such as the Benazir Bhutto Income Support Program for families in vulnerable areas. "And we will launch a women in development agenda in our next round of dialogues in Islamabad," she said.

She also announced the approval of flight access for Pakistan International Airlines to Chicago, via Barcelona, making it easier for business travellers and families to strengthen the ties between the two countries.

Sh said the sectoral tracks of the dialogue would meet again on Thursday and then over the next months in Islamabad. The two sides were also working on people-to-people contacts and programmes, she said.

Mr Qureshi said he was a "happy man and a satisfied man" after the meeting. "I’m satisfied because you’ve finally agreed to many of the things that we’ve been sharing over our discussions in the last two years," he said.

He said the two sides had agreed to expand their dialogue from the original four to ten tracks to make it a more people-to-people relationship.

"And when I say I’m happy today, I’m happy because I feel I’ve contributed in redirecting this relationship in line with the aspirations of the people of Pakistan," he remarked.

Mr Qureshi said that he was at the US Congress on Tuesday and saw a qualitative difference in the engagement.

In reply to a question, he listed the steps Pakistan has taken to improve the situation on its border with Afghanistan. "Successful operations in Pakistan against the Taliban have had a significant impact in Afghanistan, and they acknowledge that," he said.

He said Afghan President Hamid Karzai, during his recent visit to Islamabad, had acknowledged the contribution that the democratic government in Pakistan had made in improving bilateral relations with Afghanistan.

He said the US and Pakistan had discussed military hardware during their dialogue. "We’ve talked about military hardware. You have to realize that we are operating in a completely different theatre. The western border, the terrain is completely different. And I’m glad to share with you we’ve agreed to fast-track – to fast-track our requests that have (been) pending for months and years on the transfer of military equipment to Pakistan. So all these steps, I think, will make a qualitative difference to border management."

Ms Clinton said the two sides wanted their private sectors to work together much more closely and look at joint ventures and investments.

"We want our universities and academic institutions working together. We want to spend time on improving agriculture and healthcare and so much else," she said, mentioning possibilities in the information technology sector, among others.

Mr Qureshi was excited with the reception he got at the Congress. "I was at the Hill yesterday – the mood was completely different. I’ll say it publicly. It was different. I was at the Senate. I was at the House. It’s 180 degree difference. We’ve turned the corner. And today, there was confidence. There were no question marks. There was no suspicion. There was no “do more.” There was recognition of what we already had done. There was appreciation of what we had already done. That’s one."

"The other thing, the civil-military relations today in Pakistan are excellent. The fact that the army chief is part of the delegation that is here, the fact that we were sitting on the same table arguing, articulating Pakistan case, is unheard of in the past," he said, referring to the presence of Pakistan army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani at the meeting.

To a question about the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, Mr Qureshi said Pakistan had discussed it with Mr Karzai.

"Pakistan is very clear: We want this to be an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process. Now, it’s their choice. If they feel we can contribute, if we can help, we will be more than willing to help. But we leave it to them. We’ve had discussions when they were in Islamabad. I’ve invited the Afghan foreign minister to come to Islamabad for a detailed discussion on the reintegration/reconciliation process. He’s accepted my invitation and we’ll talk about it. Our aim is very simple: We want a peaceful, stable, friendly Afghanistan, period," he said.

In response to a question, Ms Clinton said it was important to recognise that the US had positive relationships with both Pakistan and India. "And we certainly encourage the dialogue between India and Pakistan. The issues that are part of that dialogue need to be addressed, and resolution of them between the two countries would certainly be in everyone’s best interest," she said.

"But I want to just underscore that our goal in the Obama Administration is to make clear that we are going to be a partner with Pakistan going forward on a full range of matters. Now, we can’t dictate Pakistani foreign policy or Indian foreign policy. But we can encourage, as we do, the in-depth discussion between both countries that we think would benefit each of them with respect to security and development," she said.

Mr Qureshi said India was a sovereign country and had bilateral relations which Pakistan respected. "But all we are saying that those relations should not be at the cost of Pakistan. And we are very clear and I think you are very clear on that. I’m of the view that Pakistan has been willing to engage. And I’m confident, as two years down the line, I’m confident of this relationship. I’m confident that India will have to revisit its policy and very soon," he said.

Photos: US State Department Photos by Michael Gross.


Pakistan urges US to maintain "constructive engagement" on Kashmir

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the US Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington on March 24, 2010.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the US Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington on March 24, 2010.

Pakistan today said it would continue to seek a peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes in South Asia, including Kashmir, and hoped the United States would maintain its "constructive engagement to encourage this process."

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the opening session of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue that Pakistan was committed to doing its part to facilitate the world's community effort for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

"We hope the world community will be equally responsive to our legitimate concerns and help advance common interests," he said.

Mr Qureshi also sought non-discriminatory access to vital energy resources for Pakistan so that it could pursue its economic and industrial development plans, an apparent reference to the civil nuclear cooperation deal that the country is seeking with the US on the lines of the Indo-US nuclear accord.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that today's meeting was the first Strategic Dialogue between the two countries at the level of the Foreign Ministers.

"So during the next two days, we will determine concrete steps that our countries will take to advance our work in key areas, including addressing Pakistan’s urgent energy needs and helping communities damaged by violence to rebuild. More broadly, we will discuss our goals and vision for our partnership’s long-term future and set forth a schedule for that future," she said.

"Pakistan and the United States have come together at critical moments throughout our history. We have provided aid and support to each other at trying times. We have faced wars and responded to natural disasters together. Over the years, our relationship has been tested, but it has always endured. And I am pleased we have come together again – at this critical moment – to reinforce our ties and recommit to building a partnership that will last," she said.

Ms Clinton said the US recognised the central role that Pakistan plays in promoting security and prosperity.

"And that is not only for itself but throughout South Asia. Pakistan’s stability and prosperity is in the best interests of people everywhere. Its struggles are our struggles. Its future and ours are entwined. And its people and our people share many of the same dreams, dreams we are more likely to achieve working together," she said.

Acknowledging the presence of Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani at the meeting, Ms Clinton said Pakistan stood at the front line of a struggle against violent extremism, which had inflicted terrible costs on its people.

"For months, the Taliban has waged war against the Government of Pakistan. Thousands of soldiers have given their lives to protect their country. Innocent men, women, and children have been killed in markets and schools, at police stations, and even in mosques. This violence is both senseless and part of a larger perverse strategy to destabilize Pakistan and allow extremist groups the freedom to consolidate power and plot further violence in Pakistan and beyond," she said.

According to her, the people and the Government of Pakistan had responded to these attacks with courage and resolve.

"The Pakistani authorities have recently arrested key leaders of the Taliban. The Pakistani Army continues to fight the extremists. And the democratically elected Government of Pakistan and the Pakistani people have shown extraordinary strength in their determination to rebuild their communities and rid their country of those who seek to destroy it," she said.

"So to the people and Government of Pakistan, the United States pledges our full support. You are fighting a war whose outcome is critical; first and foremost, of course, for the people of Pakistan, but it will also have regional and global repercussions. And so strengthening and advancing your security remains a key priority of our relationship," she said.

Ms Clinton said that, with this Dialogue, the US wanted to think about security in the broadest possible terms – "the full range of political, economic, and social issues that shape the daily life of people everywhere".

She noted that the US had, in addition to its humanitarian assistance to citizens displaced by violence, had significantly increased its overall non-military assistance through the Kerry-Lugar-Berman initiative, the legislation passed last year. T

"hat was a landmark, long-term investment in Pakistan’s economy and its civilian institutions. Now, we are redirecting our assistance to priorities identified by Pakistan’s democratically elected civilian government, including energy and water initiatives. And under the leadership of the United States Agency for International Development, we are increasing our efforts to promote sustainable development and broad prosperity," she said.

She stressed that today's Dialogue was the first in a series of continuing, substantive discussions that will continue in the months ahead. The next round of the Dialogue will be held later this year in Islamabad.

Ms Clinton used the opportunity to speak directly to the people of Pakistan. "Pakistan is no longer unaided, marching toward your destiny. The United States is proud to stand and march with you. But now we are called, all of us, to work, work, and more work, today, tomorrow, and the months ahead for the citizens of our countries and many others whose futures will be influenced by our partnership," she said.

In his response, Mr Qureshi spoke about the US- Pakistan partnership, especially in the fight against extremism and terrorism.

"As we recall these shining examples, we must also remember that many of these brooked sacrifices from the people of Pakistan. Red marks were placed on Pakistani cities, thousands of our innocent citizens became victims of foreign-sponsored sabotage, our society was exposed to massive refugee influx, as well as the devastating effects of illicit weapons and drugs, which continue to afflict us to this day," he said.

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan's resolute fight against militancy was evoking a stiff backlash manifested in repeated attacks and suicide bombings targeting its security personnel and innocent civilians.

"Our economy continues to incur losses to the tune of billions of dollars, yet our resolve remains undiminished because it is a matter of standing up for your principles and facing the consequences that come in its wake," he said.

Like Ms Clinton, he too referred to ups and downs in the relationship. "Whenever the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has frayed, the interests of both our nations have suffered. Whenever we have worked together, both our nations and the world have benefited," he remarked.

He said the Dialogue offered an opportunity to craft the vision of a broad-based, long-term, and enduring partnership for the 21st century.

"Such a partnership we are convinced is good for Pakistan, good for America, and good for international peace, security, and prosperity. Such a partnership is important because Pakistan is a pivotal state with over 170 million people, rich in human and national endowment, full of huge untapped natural and energy resources awaiting extraction, strategically located at the crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East, and representing a democratic and moderate voice in the Islamic world. Such a partnership is necessary because Pakistan and the United States have a whole range of convergent interests, including fighting the twin menace of extremism and terrorism, stabilizing Afghanistan, promoting peace and stability in South Asia, linking the economic potential of South and Central Asia, curbing nuclear proliferation, and advancing progress and prosperity in the region and beyond," he said.

"Pakistan remains engaged in a consequential effort to turn the tide against extremism and build a future of promise and hope for its people. For us, this is and will remain a strategic and moral imperative," he said.

Mr Qureshi hoped the upgraded Dialogue would help both sides take the relationship to a strategic plane. "In this regard, our point of departure must remain that positive and robust engagement between Pakistan and the U.S. is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the region and beyond," he said.

He stressed the need for close people-to-people contacts and strong public support for the initiative to succeed.

"There are great expectations from the enterprise we are launching today. I’m conscious that it will not be without its challenges or complications either. There could be doubt from within, there will be smear from without, and there may be setbacks on the way. But I am confident that we have the requisite political will on both sides to pursue it successfully and to achieve concrete results because at the end of the day, it is in the mutual interest of our two nations to work together to advance our shared objectives. I assure you, that in the worthy cause of building an enduring partnership of mutual benefit between our two countries, we will meet you more than half the way," he added.


US State Department Photos by Michael Gross.

UN Chief mourns death of ex-Nepal PM Koirala

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today described the death of former Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala as a "huge loss" both for the country and for its peace process, which ended a decade-long civil war.

Mr Koirala, who had been ailing for the past few months, died this afternoon at his daughter and Nepalese Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala's residence in Kathmandu.

"As a friend of the United Nations and a staunch believer in its ideals and principles, Mr. Koirala will be remembered as a strong voice of multilateralism and global cooperation," a statement issued by the Secretary-General's spokesperson said.

The Secretary-General hailed Mr Koirala as a "pioneer of Nepal's labour and democratic movement of the 20th century who fought fearlessly and at considerable personal sacrifice for justice and democratic rights in his country."

He also paid tribute to Mr. Koirala's "courageous and resolute leadership" in the so-called 2005-2006 "people's movement", which saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in cities and towns across the country, culminating in the king relinquishing executive power and reinstating Parliament.

Mr. Koirala, the statement said, also played a central role in ending the 10-year conflict which claimed over 13,000 lives.

After conducting Constituent Assembly elections in May 2008, Nepal abolished its 240-year-old monarchy and declared itself a republic.

"With his passing, Nepal has lost a towering figure in its political history," Ms Karin Landgren, the Secretary-General's Representative, said on behalf of the UN Mission in Nepal and the UN Country Team in the country.

Mr. Koirala, she said, played a key role in the peace process. "He brought his political skill and credibility to bear in persuading the parties to begin the dialogue that led to the [2005] 12-point Agreement, and later to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement itself," Ms. Landgren noted, referring to the 2006 accord which ended the civil war.

"Mr. Koirala served his country and the cause of peace," Ms. Landgren said, calling him the "irreplaceable and fearless defender of a democratic Nepal."

"The greatest tribute to G.P. Koirala will be to take up the spirit of his conviction, bringing fresh dedication to concluding the process of preparing a new constitution and consolidating a lasting peace in Nepal."


World Bank provides $ 1.05 billion to improve education in India

Children interacting with their teacher in class.
Children interacting with their teacher in class.

The World Bank has approved two education projects worth $ 1.05 billion to India, designed to boost the number of children enrolling in and completing elementary school, and to improve the quality of engineering education across the country.

The support package, approved here on Thursday, marks the Bank's largest ever investment in education, a World Bank press release said today.

The package will support India's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, SSA, (Education for All) programme that ambitious objectives - to increase enrolments, reduce out-of-school children, narrow gender and social gaps and improve the quality of elementary education for all children.

Since 2001, the programme has enrolled some 20 million previously out-of-school children, the release said.

The package will also support the Technical/Engineering Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP) that is aimed at strengthening higher and technical education in the country.

The Government is hoping that the project would help India meet its growing demand for highly qualified engineers, a demand which has been growing parallel to the country's rapid economic expansion.

The World Bank has supported SSA with two International Development Association (IDA) credits totalig $ 1.1 billion since 2003, the release said.

"SSA - now the largest ongoing Education for All (EFA) programme in the world - has been remarkably successful, particularly in achieving greater access to elementary education," Mr Roberto Zagha, World Bank Country Director for India, said.

"Between 2003 and 2009 the number children reportedly enrolled in elementary education in India increased by 57 million to 192 million. More than two-thirds of this increase took place in government schools. The number of children out of school declined from 25 million to 8.1 million during that same period, a truly remarkable achievement. Enrollment gains were especially strong among girls and children from socially disadvantaged households, which has improved equity of educational opportunity across the country," he noted.

According to the release, the $ 750 million in additional financing for the Second Elementary Education Project – approved on Thursday by the Bank - will enable SSA to expand activities related to increased access at upper primary level (classes 5-8), increase elementary level completion rates, and improve learning outcomes for the full elementary cycle (classes 1-8).

Children having their mid-day meals at school.
Children having their mid-day meals at school.

The programme is expanding its efforts to enable the hardest-to-reach children to attend school. These include provision of teachers and the establishment, construction and extension of primary and upper primary schools and classrooms in districts where access is still an issue.

"We expect that these activities will lead to a greater percentage of children attending and completing elementary education," said Mr Sam Carlson, World Bank Lead Education Specialist and project team leader for SSA.

"But the real focus of this additional financing is on improving quality. More than 50 per cent of SSA resources will be allocated over the next three years for activities to improve student learning, such as teacher training, remedial education, provision of free textbooks and other learning materials to enable more activity-based learning," he said.

Meanwhile, various problems remain at the higher education level in India. Enrlment rates at this level are only 11 per cent, which has led to a severe skills shortage, especially in the information technology (IT), infrastructure, power and water sectors.

The $300 million for the Second TEQIP will support some 200 competitively selected engineering education institutions to produce higher quality and more employable engineers. It will also scale up post-graduate education, research, development and innovation at these institutions. TEQIP is also a partnership with the Ministry of Human Resource Development, and this is the second phase of an envisioned 15-year phased programme initiated with the first phase of TEQIP from 2002 to 2009, the release said.

"The Government of India is renewing its efforts to strengthen higher and technical education," Mr Zagha said.

"This focus on higher education, and in particular the technical stream, is vital to address the current skill shortages in the economy. This project will help India meet its growing demand for highly qualified engineers – a demand which has been growing parallel to its rapid economic expansion," he said.

According to the release, the project builds on the significant results achieved in the first phase of the project which supported 127 Institutions and thousands of faculty members in well performing institutions, such as NIT Rourkela, College of Engineering Pune, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University Hyderabad, and BIT Mesra.

It has made a considerable impact on quality of education by implementing institutional and policy reforms. TEQIP’s second phase will respond to two new sector issues: prepare more post-graduate students to reduce shortage of qualified faculty, and produce more Research and Development (R&D) in collaboration with industry.

"A key challenge is an over-regulated, but under-governed higher education system,"Mr Andreas Blom, World Bank Senior Education Economist and project team leader for TEQIP, said.

"Less than 4 per cent of institutions are academically autonomous and only 5 per cent are accredited. The first phase of TEQIP initiated a reform process promoting autonomy and accountability that led to over 30 TEQIP-institutions becoming academically autonomous. The Government of India and the Bank have found that that increased autonomy allows the institutions and their faculty to teach students the skills that corporate India demands, in particular problem-solving skills, creativity and flexibility. This in turn enhances the quality of education," it said.

The project is also designed to build capacity of technical education policy planners and administrators. Substantial effort will be devoted to monitoring and evaluation to improve governance and ensure that the investment results in better performance of the selected institutions, the release said.

The credits are provided by the IDA, the World Bank’s concessionary lending arm and have 35 years to maturity and a 10-year grace period, it added.


India, US sign Trade Policy Forum Framework

Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma speaking at Brookings Institute, in Washington on March 17, 2010
Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma speaking at Brookings Institute, in Washington on March 17, 2010

Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk have signed the India-US Trade Policy Forum Framework for Cooperation on Trade and Investment.

The Framework seeks to build on the success of the Trade Policy Forum by facilitating trade and investment flows between the two countries.

At a meeting in Washington yesterday, Mr Sharma and Mr Kirk also announced the launch of a initiative "Integrating U.S. and Indian Small Businesses into the Global Supply Chain."

This aims to expand trade and job-creating opportunities for U.S. and Indian small and medium-sized companies, an official press release said here today.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Sharma said that, by signing the Framework, the two sides wanted to create the right environment to ensure that the relationship brought maximum benefits to the maximum number of people. "We will do so by promoting inclusive growth," he said.

He said the two countries also intended to use the Framework to encourage the development and deployment of clean energy and environmental technologies as well as to support India's infrastructure growth.

Mr Sharma said the two countries recognized the contribution and potential of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in their trade and investment agenda by adopting an initiative to create fresh opportunities for them both the countries and help in integrating them in the global supply chain.

At his interaction with Mr Kirk, Mr Sharma spoke about the benefits of commencing negotiations on a Totalization Agreement and added that due to the absence of such an agreement, Indian companies in the US were making double payments of social security, without getting any benefits.

He also raised the issues of visas for Indian professionals, restrictive trade measures and the need for reform of US export controls to promote high technology trade between India and the US.

He also addressed a meeting of the reconstituted Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) to the Trade Policy Forum. The members of the PSAG were tasked to work as implementing partners for initiatives undertaken by the Trade Policy Forum, including the new small business initiative.

Mr Sharma also had a meeting with US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, at which the two Ministers discussed cooperation in the field of agriculture that could be leveraged to strengthen agricultural productivity, and promote agro-based industry in India.

Later in the evening, Mr Sharma addressed the Brookings Institution on "Asia’s Unfolding Economic Saga – an Indian Perspective". The Minister spoke about the transformation of the global economy, the rise of Asian economies and concluded that their growth did not threaten any other country; on the contrary, it was good for world prosperity and financial stability.


Robert Blake to visit India, Afghanistan, Pakistan

Robert O. Blake.
Robert O. Blake.

United States Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr. will be travelling to India, Afghanistan and Pakistan this week, a statement from the Department of State said.

This will be his first visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan as Assistant Secretary, the statement said.

In Delhi, Mr Blake will deliver a keynote address at the Asia Society Corporate Conference on March 20.

He will also have consultations with Indian and American business representatives and have discussions with his counterparts in the Ministry of External Affairs to prepare for the US-India Strategic Dialogue here in early summer.

While in Afghanistan, Mr Blake will meet with US embassy officials in Kabul and then travel to Kunduz to meet with local officials and visit the Provincial Reconstruction Team.

In Pakistan, Mr Blake will meet with federal and provincial officials, civil society representatives, religious leaders and business representatives in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore, the statement added.


India, US review progress on Strategic Dialogue

India and the US reviewed the progress on their Strategic Dialogue at talks between Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her counterpart, William Burns in Washington on Tuesday.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao with the US Under Secretary for Political Affairs, William J. Burns at the State Department, Washington, DC on March 16, 2010.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao with the US Under Secretary for Political Affairs, William J. Burns at the State Department, Washington, DC on March 16, 2010.

India and the United States reviewed the progress on various pillars of their Strategic Dialogue agenda at talks between Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her counterpart, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, here on Tuesday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped in on the meeting and joined the discussions, a statement from the Indian Embassy here said.

The agenda of the Strategic Dialogue, instituted in July 2009 during Ms Clinton's visit to India, includes cooperation in defence, nuclear energy, counter-terrorism, agriculture, education, energy, space and cyber-security, among other areas.

Ms Rao, who was on a visit to the US, also met National Security Adviser General James Jones, Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Robert Hormats and Under Secretary of Demcracy Global Affairs Maria Otero.

She also met Congressman Gary Ackerman and Senator Joseph Lieberman, the statement said.

On Monday, Ms Rao had met Under Secretary for Policy in the Department of Dfence Michelle Flournoy.

The statement said the bilateral meetings of Ms Rao with her US interlocutors also focused on regional issues, including India's neighbourhood.

She briefed the US side about her talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir last month. They also exchanged views on recent developments related to Afghanistan.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao addressing the Seventh U.S.- India High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG) Meeting in Washington, DC on March 15, 2010.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao addressing the Seventh U.S.- India High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG) Meeting in Washington, DC on March 15, 2010.

According to the statement, Ms Rao stressed that Afghanistan presented the foremost security related challenge in the region. She reiterated India’s long held position that it was important for the international community to stay the present course in Afghanistan for as long as it is necessary. The US interlocutors conveyed their appreciation of the important developmental work being done by India in Afghanistan.

During her visit, Ms Rao co-chaired the 7th meeting of the India-US High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG). This was the first meeting of the HTCG, a component of the India-US Strategic Dialogue, with the new US Administration.

During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington in November 2009, he and US President Barack Obama had "agreed that strengthening high technology trade between their countries is in the spirit of their strategic dialogue and partnership. They reiterated their shared commitment to technology security and that it is in their mutual interest to invigorate this area of their partnership".

During the two days of deliberations – between the industry representatives of both countries followed by the Government-level meetings to consider the recommendations of the industry - on promotion of high technology trade between India and the USA , the two sides were able to consolidate the progress made in the last five years and identified the next steps for further expanding high technology trade between India and the US - especially in the areas of Defence and Strategic Trade, Biotechnology and Nanotechnology.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao addressing the audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC on March 15, 2010.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao addressing the audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC on March 15, 2010.

They also agreed to create new groups for focused attention on cooperation in Health IT and Civil Aviation, the statement said.

The Indian side requested the US Department of Commerce to review US Export Controls applicable to India and update them to bring them in keeping with the changed political realities that contextualize the India-US strategic partnership today.

During her visit, Ms Rao also delivered an address on "Two Democracies - Defining the Essence of India-US PLartnership" at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

On Tuesday morning, she had a separate breakfast meeting to interact with experts from prominent Washington think-tanks.

(Photos: Courtesy website of the Embassy of India, Washington)


RBI to buy upto $ 10 billion in IMF notes

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under which it would purchase upto $ 10 billion in IMF notes that would boost the multi-lateral institution's lending capacity to help its members weather the global financial crisis.

The promissory notes will be issued in a Special Drawing Rights (SDR)-denominated amount upto the equivalent of $ 10 billion.

An IMF press release said the note purchase agreement followed the endorsement by its Executive Board on July 1 last year of the framework for issuing notes to the official sector.

The Indian authorities had already expressed their intention in September, 2009 to invest in IMF notes, it said.

The release said the agreement offered India a safe investment instrument at the same time as boosting the Fund's capacityto help its members to weather the global financial crisis and to facilitate an early recovery from the worldwide economic crisis.

"The Fund can now add these resources to those already available through agreements signed with other members, which contribute towards an increase in Fund resources that was requested in April 2009 by G-20 leaders and the International Monetary and Financial Committee," it added.

In Mumbai, the RBI said the agreement was a part of the international efforts to support the IMF's lending capacity following the decision of the G-20 in its London Summit to treble the resources available to the Fund to $ 750 billion.

"This agreement is a temporary bilateral arrangement for an initial period of one year, which may be extended for a period of upto two years," an RBI press release said

It said permanent increases in the resources of the IMF were expected to take place through an increase in quotas and standing borrowing arrangements which were currently under negotiation.

"With the signing of this agreement by the RBI with the IMF, India as a member of the G-20 has fulfilled its commitments in this regard," the release added.


Putin to arrive on working visit on March 12,

File photo of Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin.
File photo of Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will arrive here on March 12 for a working visit during which the two countries are expected to ink three agreements on military technical cooperation, including one on retrofitting the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier that India is acquiring at a final cost of $ 2.35 billion.

A brief statement from the Ministry of External Affairs said Mr Putin would be accompanied by an official delegation comprising senior members of the Russian Government and several business leaders.

"Mr Putin will hold talks with Prime Minister Singh on a range of issues of bilateral interest," it added.

Ahead of the visit, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) met here today, with Dr Singh in the chair, and approved the final price of $ 2.35 billion for Gorshkov, which India agreed to buy for its Navy in 2004 and has rechristened as INS Vikramaditya.

The Defence Ministry and Russia's state-controlled arms exporter Rosobornexport are expected to sign a fresh contract on Gorshkov during Mr Putin's visit.

Gorshkov is currently undergoing repairs and refit at the Sevmash shipyard in Russia. The two sides had initially agreed on a price of $ 970 million, but the Russians said the costs had gone up and an additional $ 1.5 billion would be needed. The new price was the subject of extensive negotiations between the two sides.

There is also be a $ 1.2 billion contract on delivery of MiG-29K/KUB carrier-based fighters, reports in the Russian media have said.

Other agreements likely to be signed by two sides are related to nuclear reactors in Kundankulam in Tamil Nadu and the new site of Haripur identified in West Bengal.

Agreements are also likely on the fifth generation fighter aircraft that the two sides are developing jointly as well as on a multi-role transport aicraft, the reports said.

Other areas in which the two countries are cooperating include the licensed assembly of T-90 tanks in India, the production of BrahMos missiles and the purchase of Smerch MLRS by India, the reports added.


India plans to open Consulate General in Jaffna

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao calling on President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on March 7, 2010.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao calling on President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on March 7, 2010.

India has conveyed to Sri Lanka that it was looking forward to opening a Consulate General in Jaffna and called for the initiation of a process of political reconciliation where all communities in the island-nation can live in peace and harmony.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who was on a three-day visit to Sri Lanka from March 6-8, also hoped the process of resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) could be expedited, especially in Killinochchi and Mullaithivu, so that they could resume normal lives in their original places of habitation.

Ms Rao met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday and he also hosted a lunch in her honour.

Jaffna was the stronghold of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which the Sri Lankan military finally managed to decimate some months ago.

India, which already has a consulate in Kandy, a Sinhala-dominated area, expects the mission in Jaffna to help it stay in touch with the local people and streamline its assistance programmes.

The Foreign Secretary also met Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Senior Adviser to the President Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe, Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera and Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal. In addition, she also met representatives of leading political parties, including Tamil and Muslim parties.

Ms Rao congratulated Mr Rajapaksa on his re-election as President and underlined that the elimination of terrorism and holding of elections provided Sri Lanka with a historic opportunity to initiate a process of reconciliation.

Mr Rajapaksa appreciated India's substantial assistance for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka and for the resettlement of IDPs. In particular, he welcomed the extension of $ 425 million as Lines of Credit for railway projects in Northern Sri Lanka.

The President mentioned that around 70,000 IDPs remained in the camps, many of their own volition. Ms Rao welcomed the relaxation of movement restrictions on IDPs.

The Foreign Secretary noted that the October 2008 Joint Statement of Fishing Arrangements had led to a decrease in incidents of apprehension of Indian fishermen and reiterated the importance of strictly adhering to this understanding. It was also agreed to convene a meeting of the Joint Working Group on Fishing to discuss issues related to fishermen on both sides.

According to an official statement, during her discussions with Mr Bogollagama and other senior officials of the Foreign Office, he thanked India for its generous assistance towards the ongoing rehabilitation, resettlement and reconstruction activities in northern Sri Lanka.

Ms Rao assured the Government of Sri Lanka of the Government of India’s intention to continue supporting the task of development and reconstruction in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

In this context, she announced India’s support for housing projects to be taken up in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts for the benefit of the IDPs. This will include setting up temporary shelters, repairing and rehabilitating damaged houses and building new houses.

The Government of India has also sanctioned the supply of 55 buses to various educational, social and cultural organizations and locally elected bodies in northern, eastern and central Sri Lanka with a view to supporting the transportation sector and strengthening connectivity in these areas.

The statement said Ms Rao also indicated that additional Lines of Credit were being considered for railways projects in Northern Sri Lanka.

The Foreign Minister also thanked India for its strong support to Sri Lanka during the latter’s chairmanship of SAARC.

As part of the efforts for cultural engagement and the preservation of shared heritage, Ms Rao announced that India had decided to participate fully in the setting up of the International Buddhist Museum in the Dalada Maligawa Complex. Work to set up the Indian gallery will be commenced soon under the direction of the National Museum of India.

Ms Rao also announced that India would assist the restoration of the famous Thiruketheshwaram Temple in Mannar. A team from the Archeological Survey of India and the College of Architecture in Mahaballipuram will visit Sri Lanka to take up this work.

The Foreign Secretary announced India's decision to enhance its contribution to the India-Sri Lanka Foundation by another Rs 15 million as a one-time grant. The Sri Lankan side welcomed the announcement. The Foundation is an inter-governmental mechanism that has provided crucial support to and helped catalyze a number of initiatives taken by civil society in the area of art, culture, education, human resource development and training, among other areas.

During the visit, Ms Rao also inaugurated the Sri Lanka-India Centre for English Language Training in Peradeniya, Kandy yesterday.

The Centre has been set up with the assistance of the Government of India in collaboration with the well-known English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad and is meant to support the Sri Lankan Presidential Initiative for English as a Life Skill. The Centre has a state-of-the-art digital language laboratory and has already trained over 4,000 teachers. In her remarks at the inauguration, Foreign Secretary expressed her happiness at participating in an initiative that was aimed at the empowerment of the ordinary people of Sri Lanka.


Photos courtesy Ministry of External Affairs website.

India, Russia likely to sign 3 military cooperation pacts during Putin's visit

India and Russia are likely to ink three agreements on military technical cooperation worth $ 4 billion, including one on retrofitting the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's visit to New Delhi on March 11-12.

During his stay, Mr Putin will hold wide-ranging discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders on bilateral cooperation as well as a variety of international issues.

Reports in the Russian media have indicatd that the visit would see the signing of a $ 2.35 billion contract between Russia's state-controlled arms exporter Rosoboronexport and the Indian Defence Ministry on refitting Admiral Gorshkov, which the Indian side has renamed as INS Vikramaditya.

There is also be a $ 1.2 billion contract on delivery of MiG-29K/KUB carrier-based fighters, the reports said.

Gorshkov is currently undergoing repairs and refit at the Sevmash shipyard in Russia. The two sides had initially agreed on $ 970 million, but the Russians said the costs had gone up and an additional $ 1.5 billion would be needed.

Other agreements would be related to nuclear reactors in Kundankulam in Tamil Nadu and the new site of Haripur identified in West Bengal. Agreements are also likely on the fifth generation fighter aircraft that the two sides are developing jointly as well as on a multi-role transport aicraft, the reports said.

Other areas in which the two countries are cooperating include the licensed assembly of T-90 tanks in India, the production of BrahMos missiles and the purchase of Smerch MLRS by India, the reports added.


Holbrooke regrets comments on Kabul attack

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard C. Holbrooke
US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard C. Holbrooke

United Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke today regreted any misunderstanding caused by his comments on the recent terrorist attack in Kabul, which claimed the lives of 7 Indians and at least ten others.

"I did not say Indians were not targeted, but that initially it looked like the target was not an official Indian facility. Early reports on events like this are often unreliable, and I try not to jump to conclusions," he said.

"We all know that Indian citizens have and continue to be targeted by terrorists, including inside Afghanistan. My heart goes out to the families of all of the victims," he said.

Mr Holbrooke said the Afghan people and the international community deeply appreciated the very substantial humanitarian and reconstruction assistance that India provides Afghanistan.

"The willingness of India to take risks and make sacrifices to help Afghanistan is testament to India's commitment global peace and prosperity and a vital part of the international commitment to Afghanistan's future," he added.

Mr Holbrooke's statement came after reports that India was upset with his remarks on the attack at a briefing for newspapers in Washington on March 2.

Asked about the attack, he had said: "First of all, in regard to this attack, I don’t accept the fact that this was an attack on an Indian facility like the embassy. They were foreigners, non-Indian foreigners hurt. It was a soft target. And let’s not jump to conclusions. I understand why everyone in Pakistan and everyone in India always focuses on the other. But please, let’s not draw a conclusion which – for which there’s no proof."

According to media reports, Indian officials were extremely upset with the remarks because they felt the US official had ignored the fact that the terrorists' primary target was a building used by the Indian medical mission. The assessmet also ran counter to what Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, had established so far, they said.


PM urges King Abdullah to use good offices with Pakistan

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said he had urged King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to use his good offices to persuade Pakistan to desist from aiding, abetting and inspiring terrorist acts against India.

"Well I know Saudi Arabia has close relations with Pakistan. I did discuss the Indo-Pak relations with His Majesty on a one-to-one basis," Dr Singh told journalists accompanying him on his flight back from a three-day visit to the kingdom.

"I explained to him the role that terrorism, aided, abetted and inspired by Pakistan is playing in our country. And I did not ask for him to do anything other than to use his good offices to persuade Pakistan to desist from this path," he said.

Dr Sigh said his visit had been very productive and fruitful and pointed out that, apart from the King, he had held discussions with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Petroleum and Minerals Minister and Commerce and Industry Minister.

"As a result of our interactions, we have agreed to upgrade the quality of our relationship to that of a strategic partnership and this strategic partnership will cover economic, trade and investment issues. Also it will include issues relating to energy security, investments in each other’s country in upstream and downstream energy activities, investment in R&D in renewable energy resources and also it will cover issues relating to security cooperation in dealing with terrorism, strengthening arrangements for provision of information and intelligence," he said.

Asked about whether a solution to the Kashmir issue was at the top of the foreign policy agenda of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, he said the Congress election manifesto provides the broad guideline of what the Government wanted to do.

"In improving of our relations with neighbours, living in a neigbourhood of peace and stability is a very important issue which we will be working hard upon. I do recognize there are difficulties but we have to bite the bullet," he said.

Asked about his offer of being prepared to walk the extra mile if Pakistan cooperated with India, he said he hoped the world community got the message that India was a victim of terrorism, that it had a situation where its neighbour had promised unambiguously not to allow its territory for perpetrating terrorist attacks directed against India and yet, on the ground, progress had been "rather nil".

"We are living today in an increasing interdependent world and whosoever I meet, the world leaders, I convey to them, that all problems between India and Pakistan can be resolved through meaningful bilateral dialogue, if only Pakistan would take a more reasonable attitude in dealing with those terrorist elements who target our country," he said.

On Afghanistan, Dr Singh said his feeling was that the Saudi Arabian leadership had a better understanding of the predicament that India faced, both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. He said there was great deal of sympathy and support for India's point of view, that what India was asking was very reasonable.

Asked about reports that about 3000 young people want to cross back into India from across th Line of Control, he said that if there were any misguided young people who wanted to come back to the path of rectitude, the Government had to provide them an environment.

"At the same time, one has to recognize that the creation of these facilities also can be misused by terrorists, ideologically motivated people. So our task is to find practical ways and means to encourage those misguided young people who have a change of heart to come back, to enable them to lead a life of dignity and self respect. At the same time, also to ensure that these facilities are not misused by hardcore terrorist elements who want to destabilize our country," he said.

To a question about th problems faced by Indian workers in Saudi Arabia, he said these issues were taken up at various levels.

He said that all the Saudi leaders, from King Abdullah to the Ministers he had met, had shown great appreciation for the contribution of the Indian community, whom they described as honest and hard-working.

He the Embassyw as there to address various problems that crop up. "And I am hoping that, as a result of my visit, we have created an environment whereby when some representations have to be made to the Saudi authorities, they may take a more liberal view of the problems of the Indian workers. I have been successful in creating a climate of opinion to that direction," he remarked.


King Saud University confers honorary doctorate on PM

Saudi Arabia's King Saud University today conferred an honorary doctorate on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who described it as an exceptional honour bestowed on him by one of the premier centres of learning in the Arab world.

He noted that the University had been in the forefront of building a knowledge society and its contribution in promoting fundamental human values, academic freedom, learning and innovation had been second to none.

He also recalled his days as a university professor very fondly, not least because of the opportunity it gave him to interact with inspiring young minds.

Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh being felicitated by the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.
Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh being felicitated by the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.

Dr Singh spoke about the long intellectual and educational traditions of the Arab world and India's links with the region that went back several millennia. He said these links, which had weakened, needed to be revived.

Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh being felicitated by the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.
Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh being felicitated by the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.

"The confluence of Arab and Asian ideas and culture will help us to rediscover each other and in the process enrich human civilization," he said.

Referring to the King Abdullah's interest in the modernisation of the education infrastructure in his country, he said India had a similar vision for the development of education.

He said that almost 20 per cent of the total expenditure in India's current five-year plan was earmarked for education. He spoke about the plans for establishing 30 new Central Universities, of half would be conceived as world-class institutions, five more national institutes of science and more Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs).

"We are keen to build our human resources for the next generation. Every year India produces among the largest number of scientists and engineers in the world. We wish to expand India’s knowledge economy and to build world class facilities for research and cutting edge science in the country," he said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being conferred the honorary doctorate by the King Saud University, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 01, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being conferred the honorary doctorate by the King Saud University, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 01, 2010.

The Prime Minister said he was happy that the two countries were seeking closer cooperation in the field of higher education.

He said the Riyadh Declaration he and King Abdullah had signed yesterday had laid special emphasis on the increasing role and importance of youth in consolidating relations between the two countries. It had also reaffirmed their common desire to forge greater cooperation in the areas of education, culture, information technology and frontier areas of science and technology, he said.

He said India would like to see greater number of students in our universities from Saudi Arabia. India was already receiving Saudi students under the prestigious "King Abdullah Scholarship Programme", he said, and called for the expansion and popularisation of such programmes.

Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh speaking after receiving the honorary doctorate conferred by the King Saud University, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 01, 2010.
Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh speaking after receiving the honorary doctorate conferred by the King Saud University, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 01, 2010.

Dr Singh also expressed happiness that the King Saud University had entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore and hoped this would inspire similar collaborations between other centres of excellence in both countries.

He said he saw many possibilities for cooperation between the two countries in the area of human capital formation and skill development.

"We are both countries with young populations and our educational system should be geared to making every student employable. The knowledge economy offers many opportunities for creative young minds and we should collaborate in nurturing them.

"I am continually inspired by the creativity, energy and dynamism of the younger generation," he added.


India, Saudi Arabia raise ties to strategic partnership, sign extradition treaty

India and Saudi Arabia have decided to raise their cooperation to a strategic partnership covering security, economic, defence and political areas and signed as many as ten agreements, including an Extradition Treaty.

India and Saudi Arabia have decided to raise their cooperation to a strategic partnership covering security, economic, defence and political areas and signed as many as ten agreements, including an Extradition Treaty and an Agreement for Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud signing the documents of the Riyadh Declaration in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud signing the documents of the Riyadh Declaration in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.

At talks in Riyadh yesterday between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the two countries renewed their condemnation of terrorism, extremism and violence, affirming that they were global phenomena that threatened all societies and not linked to any race, colour or belief.

The two leaders noted that tolerance, religious harmony and brotherhood, irrespective of faith or ethnic background, were part of the principles and values of both countries. These are the same principles advocated by the initiative of King Abdullah for dialogue among different faiths and beliefs, they said.

In the Riyadh Declaration signed by the two leaders after their talks, they said the international community must resolutely combat terrorism. The two sides agreed to enhance cooperation in exchange of information relating to terrorist activities, money laundering, narcotics, arms and human trafficking, and to develop joint strategies to combat these threats.

In this context, they welcomed the signing of the Extradition Treaty and the Agreement for Transfer of Sentenced Persons. The other agreements signed between the two sides during the visit were in the field of Research and Education, Information Technology and Services, Science and Technology, and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Dr Singh reached Riyadh on February 27 on a three-day visit that is the first by an Indian Prime Minister to Saudi Arabia in 28 years after the last visit by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1982.

In January 2006, King Abdullah had paid a state visit to India, the first visit by a Saudi ruler to this country in half a decade. During that landmark visit, he was the Chief Guest at India's Republic Day celebrations.

Dr Singh was accompanied on the visit by his wife, Ms Gursharan Kaur, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor and senior officials.

During his visit, Dr Singh addressed the Majlis al-Shoura and met the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali bin Ibrahim al Naimi and Commerce and Industry Minister Zainal Ali Reza who called on him for discussions on various bilateral issues.

An honorary doctorate was conferred upon the Prime Minister by the King Saud University.

According to the declaration, Dr Singh and the Saudi monarch held in-depth discussions on a wide range of issues in an atmosphere of utmost warmth, cordiality, friendship and transparency. They asserted that strong bilateral ties between Saudi Arabia and India were to the benefit of their peoples and of all humanity.

Both leaders felt that King Abdullah's visit to India in 2006 and the curent visit of Dr Singh to Saudi Arabia heralded a new era in Saudi-India relations, that is in keeping with the changing realities and unfolding opportunities of the 21st century. This would be in accordance with the civilizational, historic and cultural links which bind them and their regions, they said.

Dr Singh and King Abdullah reviewed the progress in the implementation of the historic Delhi Declaration they signed on January 27, 2006 and expressed satisfaction at the steady expansion of bilateral relations since then. They re-emphasized the importance of full implementation of the Delhi Declaration through exchange of visits at the ministerial, official, business, academia, media and other levels.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud exchanging the signed documents of the Riyadh Declaration in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud exchanging the signed documents of the Riyadh Declaration in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.

The statement said the two countries reiterated their mutual desire to develop as knowledge-based economies based on advances in the areas of information technology, space science and other frontier technologies.

The Prime Minister and King Abdullah emphasized the importance of developing a broad-based economic partnership that reflects the ongoing transformation of their economies, and the changes such transformation are bringing about in the global economic order, including continuous coordination within the framework of the G-20 process. They welcomed the outcome of the 8th Session of the India-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission for Economic, Trade, Scientific, Technical and Cultural Cooperation held in Riyadh in October last year.

The two leaders stressed on the need for continuing to work towards strengthening their strategic partnership by meeting the two countries' vast requirements relating to infrastructure, energy and development, by augmenting the flow of their investments into each other’s countries, and enhancing the bilateral trade in accordance with the potential and size of their economies.

In this regard, they invited the private sector in the two countries and the Saudi–India Business Council to increase their efforts to take advantage of the investment opportunities provided by the two countries.

The two leaders emphasised the importance of strengthening the strategic energy partnership based on complimentarity and interdependence, including meeting India's increasing requirement of crude oil supplies, and identifying and implementing specific projects for cooperation, including in the areas of new and renewable energy. India invited Saudi Arabia to participate in crude storage facilities in India. The two leaders directed their Joint Working Group on Energy to continue adopting all appropriate means to achieve these objectives.

King Abdullah and Dr Singh agreed on the role and importance of the youth in consolidating and strengthening the relations between their peoples, and directed the concerned authorities to prepare necessary programmes for activating this role and also provide all necessary facilities to their students studying in each other's countries.

The two leaders mandated the Saudi-India Joint Commission to continue follow-up of the implementation of the Riyadh Declaration to build the strategic partnership between the two countries.

They welcomed the level of existing cooperation in the field of defence and agreed to continue strengthening these ties in a way that realized their common interests.

Turning to regional and international issues, Dr Singh and King Abdullah reviewed ongoing efforts and the latest developments in the Middle East. They expressed hope for the early resumption of the peace process in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and the Arab Peace Plan with a view to address all the key issues of the dispute comprehensively and within a definite timeframe leading to the establishment of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestinian State, in accordance with the two state solution.

According to the declaration, the two leaders emphasized that continued building of settlements by Israel constituted a fundamental stumbling block for the peace process.

The two leaders emphasized the importance of regional and international efforts focusing on making the Middle East and Gulf Region free of all nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction.

The statement said the two leaders reiterated their support for ongoing international efforts to resolve the issues relating to Iran’s nuclear programme peacefully through dialogue and called for continuation of these efforts. They encouraged Iran to respond to those efforts in order to remove regional and international doubts about its nuclear programme, especially as these ensure the right of Iran and other countries to peaceful uses of nuclear energy according to the yardsticks and procedures of International Atomic Energy Agency and under its supervision.

Dr Singh and King Abdullah discussed the situation in Afghanistan and called for the preservation of the strife-torn’s sovereignty and independence. They expressed their full support for the efforts aimed at helping Afghanistan to develop its infrastructure and achieve social and economic development. They supported the efforts of the people of Afghanistan to achieve stability and security, protected from exploitation by the terrorist organizations, while upholding the values and principles of the Constitution of Afghanistan.

The two leaders discussed the situation in Iraq and expressed hope that the forthcoming elections will enable Iraqis to realize their aspirations by achieving security and stability, strengthening territorial integrity and consolidating its national unity on the principle of equality of rights and obligations among all Iraqis irrespective of their faith and sect.

Dr Singh expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the excellent efforts made and services provided by the Saudi authorities to the Haj and Umra pilgrims from India, the statement added.


PM seeks Saudi investment in India's infrastructure sector

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday invited Saudi businessmen to explore investment opportunities in India, given its vast needs for high quality modern infrastructure.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at King Khalid International Airport-Royal Terminal, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 27th February, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at King Khalid International Airport-Royal Terminal, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 27th February, 2010.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today invited investors and entrepreneurs from Saudi Arabia to explore investment opportunities in India, given its vast needs for high quality modern infrastructure.

"We have opened our doors to foreign investment...I would specifically refer to the construction, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, health, agriculture, energy, telecommunications, tourism and other service sectors," he told the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Riyadh today.

Dr Singh reached Riyadh yesterday evening at the start of a three-day visit aimed at imparting a strategic character to the bilteral relationship beyond the traditional areas of cooperation between the two countries.

He said the two countries should also look at new areas of cooperation and pointed out that education and skill development were of primary importance to both of them.

He said India had a proven track record in the field of knowledge-based industries, which had great potential for improving the skill set of the work force.

"India would be happy to share her experience with Saudi Arabia in the area of human resources development. Cooperation in the areas of science and technology and space technology are other areas for future cooperation," he said.

The Prime Minister also called for greater exchanges among the Chambers, industry associations and business houses of both sides. He said more frequent participation in trade fairs and exhibitions would create greater awareness of each others’ capabilities, he said, assuring his government's full support to the expansion of business-to-business links between the two countries.

He said the integration of their economies with the rest of the world had created new opportunities but also brought new challenges. He said the global financial crisis had thrown up a broad agenda for global action and reforms.

"The role of emerging economies such as India and Saudi Arabia within the G-20 framework and otherwise will be crucial to the restructuring of the global economic and financial architecture," he remarked.

Dr Singh said India viewed its economic cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the wider context of its interactions with the entire Gulf region.

"This is an area with which we have deep and historical ties. The Gulf countries are our natural partners in every sense of the term. Indians are the largest expatriate community in every country of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Our businesses should work together across the region, develop cross-country linkages and leverage economies of scale," he said.

He hoped the interaction between the two sides would bring vitality and dynamism in the cooperation between our two economies.

"India sees Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner for promoting peace, stability and economic development. Such a partnership will bring benefits not only to our two countries but to the region we both belong to, and to the world at large," he said.

Saudi Commerce and Industry Minister Zainal Ali Reza and Mr Abdul Rahman al-Jeraisy, Vice-Chairman of the Council, were amongst those present on the occasion.

Dr Singh said he had had some association with the evolution of the India-Saudi Arabia economic partnership, having attended the 4th session of the India-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission as Finance Minister in 1994/

"A lot has changed between then and now in our bilateral relations, in our two economies and in the global environment," he said.

According to him, the visit of King Abdullah to India in January 2006 was a defining moment in the relations. The landmark Delhi Declaration that the two leaders signed had identified higher flows of trade and investment, better connectivity and exchange of ideas as the central pillars of the joint vision for an enhanced economic partnership.

He said he looked forward to his dialogue later today with King Abdullah to carry forward the momentum and take the entire gamut of the relations to even greater heights. "I believe this is not only eminently possible, but also necessary," he said.

Dr Singh noted that, since 1990, Saudi Arabia's economy had quadrupled in size. He said it had undergone substantial diversification with the strengthening of the non-oil sector. The ambitious economic cities that are proposed to be set up have the potential to further transform the Saudi economy. All these developments have and will widen employment opportunities for the growing young population in Saudi Arabia, and enhance Saudi Arabia’s economic weight globally, he said.

He said India, too, had registered significant grwoth and was in the midst of a major socio-economic transformation. He said the Indian economy had grown at an average annual rate of over nine per cent in the last few years.

"Despite the global economic slowdown, we hope to achieve a growth rate of over 7 per cent in the current financial year. We expect to get back to the growth level of about 9 per cent per annum within two years. Our domestic saving rates are high, and can support investment rates of as high as 38 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product. India is an economy with a huge market, and a young and expanding work force. We have a vibrant and innovative private sector," he said.

The Prime Minister pointed out that both countries had in place a sound institutional mechanism to facilitate trade and investment, including a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement.

"Eight meetings of the Joint Commission have been held, the last having met in October 2009. We cooperate within the framework of the India-GCC Industrial Conference, and negotiations are in progress to finalise a India-Gulf Cooperation Council Free Trade Agreement," he said.

He said India deeply valued Saudi Arabia's role as a reliable partner in meeting its energy needs.

We believe that conditions are ripe for moving beyond a traditional buyer-seller relationship to a comprehensive energy partnership. Indian companies are well equipped to participate in upstream and downstream oil and gas sector projects in Saudi Arabia. We should also establish new partnerships in the area of new and renewable energy through sharing of clean technologies and joint collaborations," he said.

Dr Singh said the robust growth of the two economies offered immense opportunities for the business communities from both sides.

"Our bilateral trade has reached almost 25 billion US dollars in 2008-09. Indian investments into the Kingdom have risen considerably and today stand at more than 2 billion US dollars covering over 500 joint ventures. Several major Indian companies have already established their presence in the Kingdom. Our public sector company, RITES has recently won a contract to participate in the North-South Railways project. There is however potential for doing much more," he added.


Tharoor in controversy over "interlocutor" remark in Saudi Arabia

File photo of Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.
File photo of Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, who is accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to Saudi Arabia, today found himself in the middle of a controversy, clearly caused by a misunderstanding of the word "interlocutor" that he used during a conversation with journalists.

"We feel that Saudi Arabia, of course, has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia an even more valuable interlocutor for us," Dr Tharoor was quoted as saying.

"When we tell them about our experience, Saudi Arabia listens as somebody who is not in anyway an enemy of Pakistan but rather is a friend of Pakistan and therefore I am sure will listen with sympathy and concern to a matter of this nature," he said.

He was answering a question on the kind of cooperation that India could expect from Riyadh given its close relationship with Islamabad.

The problems for the Minister began when some media reports used Dr Tharoor's remark that "that makes Saudi Arabia an even more valuable interlocutor for us" was taken to mean that he said that the kingdom could be a "valuable interlocutor between India and Pakistan".

What Dr Tharoor had said was that Saudi Arabia was a valuable interlocutor for India, which was misinterpreted. From then onwards, it was just one short step before it was made out in some media reports that he had suggested that Saudi Arabia could be a mediator between India and Pakistan.

That was enough to stir up a political hornets' nest, given the fact that India has always opposed any suggestion about a role for a mediator to help sort out the differences between India and Pakistan.

For the record, the dictionary says "interlocutor" means a person who takes part in a conversation or dialogue. A "mediator" is a person who mediates, especially between parties at variance, one who reconciles differences between disputants.

"No chance of my saying Saudi Arabia should be a mediator. Never said that or anything like it," Dr Tharoor told a television channel.

And in one of his tweets on micro-blogging site Twitter, the Minister said, "Good day of mtgs, marred in someIndian media by misunderstanding of word 'interlocutor'. An interlocutor is someone u spk to, nothing more.

"If I speak to u, u are my interlocutor! I mentioned the Saudis as OUR interlocutors, ie the people we are here to speak to. Some misinterpretn," he added in another tweet.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, condemned Dr Tharoor's reported remarks, describing them as "utterly irresponsible"/

BJP spokesman Ravishankar Prasad said Dr Tharoor appeared to have floated a trial balloon. He said the remarks were an attempt to "internationalise" the issue.

Mr Prasad said the BJP would seek a clarification on the issue from the Prime Minister in Parliament.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) also described Dr Tharoor's remarks as "irresponsible" and a deviation from India's stated position. The party, too, felt the Prime Minister owed an explanation to Parliament in this regard.

Late in the evening, Dr Tharoor issued a statement in Riyadh: "A section of the media has misread the remarks made by me in Riyadh last evening. What I basically said was that Saudi Arabia is a valuable interlocutor for India. Any other interpretation was neither meant nor warranted," he said.


Emirates Airline opens luxury lounge at Mumbai airport

The Dubai-based Emirates Airline has become the first international airline to open a dedicated passenger lounge in India when it launched one at the Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

A press release issued by the airline said the lounge would play host to Emirates' first class and business class passengers as well as members of Skywards Gold, its frequent flyer programme.

"This lounge is part of our commitment to provide world-class services to our passengers. With the exclusive Emirates lounge in Mumbai, combined with our trademark Chauffeur Drive Service, our First and Business Class passengers will enjoy greater comfort and convenience when travelling from their doorstep through to their final destination," Mr Mohammed Mattar, Emirates' Divisional Senior Vice President - Airport Services, said.

Set over an area of more than 650 square metres, the lounge can accommodate 100-plus guests at a time, including 38 fine diners and seven in the business centre, the release said.

Emirates operates five daily flights from Mumbai. Among other facilities, the lounge has complimentary broadband Internet connections, telephones, designer leather sofas and massage recliners. The wi-fi enabled lounge also has flat-screen televisions, designer bathrooms with shower facilities, including one exclusive provision for the physically challenged, and an extensive collection of international and local newspapers and magazines. Additionally, the Emirates lounge has two widescreen displays alerting passengers of their flight schedules.

Guests can treat themselves at the 24-hour buffet serving Indian, Arabic, Italian and Continental cuisine, the release said.

Emirates operates 35 weekly flights from Dubai to Mumbai and an overall 184 weekly flights to 10 Indian cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.


PM in Saudi Arabia on visit aimed at imparting strategic character to ties

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached Saudi Arabia on Saturday on a three-day visit aimed at imparting a strategic character to the bilteral relationship between the two countries.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at King Khalid International Airport-Royal Terminal, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 27th February, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at King Khalid International Airport-Royal Terminal, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 27th February, 2010.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached Saudi Arabia today on a three-day visit aimed at imparting a strategic character to the bilteral relationship beyond the traditional areas of cooperation between the two countries.

In a rare honour and setting aside protocol, Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, brother of King Abdullah and the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the kingdom, and the entire Saudi cabinet received Dr Singh on his arrival at the Royal Terminal of the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.

Among others, Second Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, President of General Intelligence, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Muhammad Al Saud, Minister of Education, Prince Dr. Mansour bin Mit'eb bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Municipal and rural Affairs, Prince Mit'eb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Commander of the National Guard for Executive Affairs and other princes and senior, civil and military officials.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz and other members of the Saudi Cabinet at the Royal Airport of King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on February 27, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz and other members of the Saudi Cabinet at the Royal Airport of King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on February 27, 2010.

The Prime Minister, who was given a red carpet welcome, shook hands with the Saudi Ministers. He will be accorded a formal reception by King Abdullah tomorrow at the Al Rawdah Palace, where their talks will be held.

It may be recalled that Dr Singh had gone to the airport to personally receive King Abdullah when he made a State Visit to India in 2006.

In a pre-departure statement here before embarking on the trip, Dr Singh said he and King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud would also explore ways of promoting greater stability and security in the region.

"My visit carries special significance. I am conscious of the fact that this will be only the third visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Saudi Arabia. I, therefore, have a vast agenda for discussions with the Saudi leadership," he said.

Dr Singh said his visit reflected the strong mutual desire of both countries to reinvigorate bilateral relations as manifested in King Abdullah's historic visit to India in 2006 as the Chief Guest of India's Republic Day celebrations.

"The Delhi Declaration that we signed on that occasion constitutes a valuable blueprint for our cooperation in the future," he said.

The Prime Minister said the Gulf region was an area of vital importance for India's security and prosperity. He pointed out that India and the kingdom had enjoyed special relations based on several millennia of civilisational and cultural linkages and people-to- people exchanges.

He also noted that the Gulf state was India’s largest and most reliable supplier of its energy needs from the region. Saudi Arabia is home to an Indian community numbering about 1.8 million. As many as 165000 Indian pilgrims perform the Haj annually. India's trade and investment linkages have grown though they remain much below the potential of our two economies, and must be broad based, he said.

Dr Singh said there was great scope for opening new frontiers of cooperation in the areas of security, defence, science and technology, space, human resources development and knowledge-based industries.

"I believe India and Saudi Arabia have much to gain by cooperating with each other in combatting extremism and terrorism. I expect to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and other regional issues of mutual interest," he said.

The Prime Minister said he also looked to addressing the members of the Majlis al-Shura. He said a business delegation of CEOs was accompanying him, and he would address the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry. In addtion, he will also meet members of the Indian community.

Dr Singh is accompanied on the visit by his wife, Ms Gursharan Kaur, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor and senior officials.

Cooperation in counter-terrorism measures and security matters would be high on the agenda of the visit, the first by an Indian Prime Minister to the kingdom in 28 afters after then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's visit in 1982.

Apart from King Abdullah, Dr Singh will also meet several senior Saudi Ministers who are scheduled to call on him.

The two sides are expected to sign several agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoU) on a broad range of cooperation in the areas of security, including an extradition treaty and a pact on exchange of sentenced prisoners, science and technology, culture and media during the visit.

Bilateral trade between India and Saudi Arabia exceeded $ 25 billion in 2008-09 and many Indian companies are active in various sectors in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia meets nearly 20 per cent of India's crude oil requirements and India is looking at expanding ties with the kingdom in the area of hydrocarbons.

It is learnt that India has invited the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), one of the largest manufacturers of chemicals, petrochemicals and fertilisers, to invest in petrochemical and fertiliser projects in India. Similarly, it is understood to be keen on invstment from oil giant Saudi Aramco in refineries in this country.

The two sides are likely to announce the setting up of a Saudi-India investment fund during Dr Singh's visit.

Since King Abdullah's landmark visit in 2006, the two countries have exchanged as many as 19 ministerial visits, indicating the close bilateral relationship is developing between the two countries. Bilateral trade has tripled in this period.


Karzai calls PM, promises full probe into Kabul terrorist attack

Afghan President Hamid Karzai today called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and expressed his condolences on the loss of Indian lives and injuries sustained by many others in yesterday's terrorist attack in Kabul yesterday.

An official statement said here that Mr Karzai promised a full investigation into the attack.

Dr Singh convyed India's outrage at the incident. He thanked the Government of Afghanistan for the assistance being given and requested Mr Karzai to ensure full security for Indian nationals in Afghanistan.

The two leaders agreed to stay in touch with each other, the statement added.

The attacks were carried out early yesterday morning on two guest houses in the Afghan capital which were popular with Indians and other foreigners.

There were some Indians in the 32 others injured in the attacks, but most of them were reported to be out of danger.


US commends India, Pakistan for FS-level talks

File photo of US Assistant Secretary P J Crowley at a State Department daily briefing in Washington.
File photo of US Assistant Secretary P J Crowley at a State Department daily briefing in Washington.

The United States has commended the political leadership in India and Pakistan for holding talks between their Foreign Secretaries in New Delhi yesterday and hoped the two countries would build on this dialogue in the weeks and months ahead.

"As we have long encouraged the restoration of dialogue, it is an important step for Pakistan and India, and we commend the political leadership in both countries," US Assistant Secretary of State Philip J Crowley told journalists here on Thursday, hours after the talks in New Delhi.

"I think it’s the highest-level meeting between India and Pakistan since the tragedy in Mumbai. And we certainly hope that both countries will build on this dialogue in the weeks and months ahead," he said.

When a journalist remarked that nothing had come out of the meeting, Mr Crowley said that, given the fact there were some events recently where some elements were trying to derail the prospect of the meeting, because they recognised it had bee beneficial to both countries in the past, it was a courageous step to open the door to dialogue again.

"And we certainly commend the leadership of political courage and making sure that the meeting takes place. Now, the challenge is to build on this going forward," he added.


9 Indians among those killed in Kabul suicide attacks

At least nine Indians were among 18 people killed and 32 others injured in suicide and car bomb attacks on two guest houses in Kabul which were popular with Indians and other foreigners in the Afghan capital.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna described the attacks as "heinous" and said that, as per the preliminary information provided by Afghan Government officials, upto nine Indians were among those who had lost their lives.

He said the deceased Indians included Government officials. He also said that there were a few Indians among those injured, most of whom were reported to be out of danger.

The Minister said arrangements were being made for providing them adequate and expeditious treatment, if necessary, by evacuating them to India. He said further details about the incident were being ascertained.

India has strongly condemned the attack, the third on Indian officials and interests in Afghanistan in the past 20 months. The attacks on the Embassy of India in Kabul in July 2008 and October 2009 had claimed the lives of Indian diplomats and officials and several Afghan nations, he said.

"These barbaric attacks are a matter of deep concern and are clearly aimed against the people of India and the people of Afghanistan. These are the handiwork of those who are desperate to undermine the friendship between India and Afghanistan, and do not wish to see a strong, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan," Mr Krishna said.

He said the international community and the people of Afghanistan faced a clear danger from the perpetrators of such acts of terrorism and their patrons.

"The scourge of terrorism must be resolutely opposed, resisted and overcome through undiluted commitment and effort by the international community," he said.

The Minister extended sincere condolences, on behalf of the Government, to the families of all those who had lost their lives in the dastardly attack, including the families of the Indian officials who laid down their lives in the line of duty.

"Though the irreplaceable loss of these families can never be recompensed, all necessary steps will be taken for the welfare of the dependants of the deceased officials," he said.

The Government is in close touch with the Government of Afghanistan on all aspects concerning the safety, security and welfare of Indians in that country, Mr Krishna added.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, which has come at a time when the American-led coalition forces have launched a major offensive against militants in the southern Afghan province of Helmland.

Residents in Central Kabul first head a loud explosion around 6.30 am, which was followed by gunfire and two smaller explosions.


Rao says talks with Pakistan sincere attempt to initiate dialogue

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao today said the February 25 talks with her Pakistani counterpart in New Delhi was another "sincere attempt" by India to initiate dialogue with Pakistan and hoped the two countries could build, in a graduated manner, better communication and a serious and responsive dialogue to address issues of concern to them.

"Our relationship with Pakistan is complex," she said in an address on "Perspectives on Foreign Policy for a 21st Century India" at the 3rd MEA-IISS Seminar in London.

She said India had, out of its desire for peaceful and good-neighbourly relations with Pakistan, repeatedly taken initiatives in the past two improve the relationship.

"You are aware that the dark forces of terrorism sought to erase the good that stemmed from such well-intentioned initiatives. We are now making another attempt of dialogue with Pakistan. However, calls of jihad, hostility and aggression continue to be made openly against India," she said.

Ms Rao said this reflected the real and tangible difficulties that India faced in dealing with Pakistan.

"If the process of normalization that we desire with Pakistan, is to be sustained and taken forward, effective action against such groups by the Government of Pakistan is an absolute must," she said.

She said Pakistan had, under pressure and faced with the threat of terrorism in its own country, had initiated some steps to fight this scourge.

But she said these steps were selective and that distinctions between the Taliban, al Qaeda and terrorist outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba were now meaningless, since they were now in effect fused both operationally and ideologically.

"We have consistently maintained that Pakistan should bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack to justice expeditiously and in a transparent manner. It should act decisively to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its territory," she said.

In the course of her address, Ms Rao first delineated India's foreign policy priorities and how its approach was shaped by a globalising wold. She then spoke about climate change, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and terrorism, issues which formed part of the seminar. She also dwelt at some length on India's neighbourhood.

She said India's foreign policy aim was to secure an enabling environment to achieve the overriding domestic goal of all round, socially inclusive development.

She said the corollary to this was that a free and democratic India was a source of stability and a force for moderation in the region.

She pointed out that India accounted for more than 70% of the population and more than 80% of the GDP of South Asia.

"We want to widen our development choices. We have a keen sense of our potential to be a great power by virtue of our population, our resources and our strategic location. A fundamental goal of India’s foreign policy is to create an external environment that promotes the fulfillment of our economic growth targets and ambitions. And, these include three dimensions – capital inflows, access to technology and innovation, as well as the promotion of a free, fair and open world trading system that recognizes the development imperatives of a country like India. This requires a peaceful and stable neighbourhood and external environment, a balanced relationship with the major powers and a durable and equitable multilateral global order," she said.

Ms Rao said that, at the global level, India had worked with its international partners to address the complex challenges to revive the global economy.

"The 2008 global economic and financial crisis triggered the further evolution of the G20, of which India is a key constituent. At the Pittsburgh Summit, the G-20 was designated as the premier forum for international economic cooperation. We see the G-20 process as a move towards a more representative mechanism to manage global economic and financial issues," she said.

She felt the new global realities required that the existing governance models, put in place over six decades ago, be revisited and reorganised. In this regard, a dynamic global political and security order required the urgent reform of the UN Security Council as well, she said, adding that India saw its case for permanent membership of the Security Council as valid and legitimate.

Ms Rao spoke about the growth achieved by India in recent years but acknowledged this was not enough.

"To abolish poverty in India and to meet our development needs, we need to keep our economy growing at 8-10% every year for the next 20 years," she said.

On Climate Change, she said there was need for stable and predictable financing from the developed countries. There was also need for a global mechanism whereby climate friendly technologies could be disseminated to the developing countries.

Referring to the Copenhagen Accord, she said the world's collective effort should now be to bring the significant points of convergence reflected in the Accord into the larger multilateral process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in order to ensure a balanced, comprehensive and above all, an equitable outcome, at the Mexico Conference by end-2010.

She also said that nuclear power generation, despite its high entry level costs, provided a way out, particularly in relation to the wider issues of global warming and climate change.

The Foreign Secretary said India had been affected by clandestine nuclear proliferation in its neighbourhood and was, naturally, concerned about the possibility of nuclear terrorism.

She said India beleived that the Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010 hosted by United States President Barack Obama would be an important milestone in the efforts to build international cooperation to prevent nuclear terrorism.

She said India had identified some initiatives that could be the building blocks of a new global, verifiable nuclear disarmament framework. "These include: a global agreement on ‘no-first-use’ of nuclear-weapons and non-use against non-nuclear weapon states; measures to reduce nuclear danger through de-alerting, reducing salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and preventing unintentional or accidental use; a Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibiting development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and on their destruction etc.," she said.

She said India would support the emerging consensus in the Conference on Disarmament to adopt a programme of work.

"Last year, we supported the work plan including commencement of negotiations on the multilateral FMCT. On this latter issue, which we see as an important non-proliferation measure, India has had a consistent position – we are willing to negotiate a multilateral, non-discriminatory, effectively and internationally verifiable FMCT," she said.

Ms Rao spoke at length on terrorism, which she said posed an existential threat to the civilised world.

"It is a pivotal security challenge for India and in our neighbourhood. Terrorists have sought to undermine our sovereignty, security and economic progress, aided and abetted by forces beyond our borders. Our embassy in Kabul has faced vicious suicide bomb attacks twice, in 2008 and 2009. The Mumbai attacks of November 2008 and the more recent outrage in Pune, have once again demonstrated the barbaric face of terrorism. Terror groups implacably opposed to India continue to recruit, train and plot attacks from safe havens across our borders," she said.

She said open democratic societies such as India faced particular challenges in combating the threat of terrorism and listed the steps taken by the Government in recent times to address this through legal, institutional and administrative measures.

"At the same time, it is clear that the threat from terrorism cannot be dealt with through national efforts alone. Global outreach and linkages among terror networks are now quite evident and they are becoming more active. The global nature of the threat has been recognized widely. Global efforts to tackle the problem also need to be intensified. Terrorism needs to be countered collectively and expeditiously. It is time that the international community works towards early adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that was tabled at the UN over a decade ago in 1996. We must act jointly and with determination to meet the challenges posed by terrorism and to defend the values of pluralism, peaceful co-existence and the rule of law," she said.

Turning to India's neighbourhood, Ms Rao said the country's goal of ushering in a peaceful, stable and prosperous neighbourhood was predicated on enabling each of its neighbours to pursue the shared objective of the development of their peoples.

"We do not see this as a zero sum game but as a cooperative endeavor, requiring collaboration rather than confrontation, so as to enable each of our neighbours to grow. We do not see this as a compulsion but as a natural choice voluntarily made; a corollary of the inter-dependent world we live in. We believe that our strengths place us in a unique position to actively support the socio- economic development in our region," she said.

Ms Rao said the greatest threat to peace and stability in the region emanated from the shelter terrorists find in the border of Afghanistan-pakistan and in Pakistan itself.

"The recent international approaches to Afghanistan, in particular the London Conference last month, are focusing on security and reintegration, development, governance and regional and international cooperation. The issue of reintegration should be tackled with prudence, the benefit of hindsight, foresight and caution. We believe that any integration process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led, and should include only those who abjure violence, give up armed struggle and terrorism and are willing to abide by the values of democracy, pluralism and human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution," she said.

She went on to provide details of India's engagement with Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and other members of SAARC.

She also spoke about India's relations with China, Japan and ASEAN and its role in the IBSA and BRIC groupings, among others.



India-US partnership can help meet challenges facing world: US official

Robert O. Blake.
Robert O. Blake.

A senior United States official has said that few relationships around the world mattered more or held greater promise for constructive action on the challenges that mattered most to all than the partnership between India and the US.

"That doesn’t mean that we will always agree, because we won’t," Mr Robert O Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs said at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Friday.

"But together we can build on the solid foundation that already exists, an even stronger partnership that serves not only the interests of our two countries, but of the rest of the international community," he said.

He said the US and India shared common ideals and complementary strengths reflected in their very close people-to-people contacts, their shared embrace of democratic principles and their willingness to work together on issues that matter not only to them, but to the global community.

Mr Blake's address was the on theme of seizing on the opportunties before the US in its relations with India and he used the opportunity to tell his audience why India was such an important partner for the US and the ways the two countries were seeking to build this partnership.

He said India was the fourth largest economy in the world, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, thanks to the reforms begun by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and had a vibrant private sector and the largest number of billionaires in Asia.

He also pointed out that India faced serious challenges, with large sections of its population still suffering from poverty, malnourishment, illiteracy and lack of access to clean water, among other problems.

"But as we look at the web of challenges we face from North Korea to the Middle East and beyond, we see India as a model of a tolerant, pluralistic society with a democratic system of government. We see a country where increasingly convergent values and interests have allowed us to forge a strategic friendship that benefits both Indians and Americans. And we see promise that as India’s economy grows and its stature rises, it will be an increasingly important, and influential friend of the United States, buttressed in part by our strong people to people ties," he said.

Mr Blake said the India-US partnership would be one of the defining relationships in American foreign policy. He said that, in recognition of India's importance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had visited the country last July to launch with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna a Strategic Dialogue which called for increased collaboration under five foundational pillars: strategic cooperation; energy and climate change; education and development; economics, trade and agriculture; and science, technology, health and innovation.

He also pointed out that, in a further signal of India's importance to the US, President Barack Obama had hosted Dr Singh in November for the first state visit of the Obama presidency. He said Mr Obama had further underscored the importance of India to the US by promising to make a reciprocal visit to India, most likely later this year.

"Both countries believe we now have a unique opportunity to make progress on our broad bilateral agenda," he said.

Mr Blake said the Congress Party’s unexpectedly strong showing in last year’s elections gave Dr Singh a mandate to proceed with his agenda "without the brake of unhelpful coalition allies like the Left that he had in his first term."

"We have bipartisan support in both countries for pursuing stronger ties. And we have in Prime Minister Singh a leader with vision, experience, and a firm commitment to deepening the warm ties between our two peoples," he said.

Mr Blake said the India-US civil nuclear deal turned probably the most significant irritant in bilateral relations into an opportunity for cooperation.

"This has the potential to lead to billions of dollars worth of opportunities for American companies, and many thousands of jobs as a result of that. A few more steps are still required, and we expect them to be completed in the next few months," he said.

On defence cooperation, he said the bilateral exercise programme continued to grow and to strengthen. He said defence sales were also of great interest to American companies. "We’ve already seen some very important defense sales just in the last year or two of C-130Js and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. The Indian government also recently submitted a Letter of Request for 10 C-17 aircraft worth about $2.5 billion. And that’s not the end of it," he said.

Mr Blake said there were large numbers of important potential deals, up to $18 billion worth of new opportunities that will become available in the next several years, most notably the multi-role combat aircraft purchase which by itself is a roughly $10 billion sale in which two American companies—Boeing and Lockheed Martin—were competing.

"That the Indians are now considering U.S. manufacturers and U.S. technology to meet their military aircraft requirements—which would have been unimaginable just 10 years ago—is just one measure of how far and how rapidly our relationship is evolving," he said.

He said a critical component of the strategic cooperation framework was counterterrorism and the two countries were cooperating more and more, particularly since the horrific November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

He also spoke about the area of nuclear non-proliferation, in which the two countries could work more closely as partners.

Referring to regional dynamic between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr Blake said all three countries faced the common threat of terrorism.

"While we would like to see India and Pakistan reach a stable relationship, they will do so on their terms at the appropriate time.

"At the same time, India has become a valuable, in fact, a top five contributor to Afghanistan’s reconstruction. India has contributed valuable assistance to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, both in infrastructure, such as construction of the Parliament building and highways, and humanitarian, such as food aid to 2 million schoolchildren. It has pledged over $1.2 billion in assistance," he said.

Mr Blake also spoke at length on the bilateral cooperation in the areas of agriculture and trade, education, health, science and technology, innovation, energy and climate change.


Syndicate content
© Copyright 2012 NetIndian. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of NetIndian content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of NetIndian Media Corporation. Write to info[AT]netindian[DOT]in for permission to use content. Read detailed Terms of Use.