PM arrives in Washington, to meet Obama on Sunday

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached Washington on Saturday on a four-day visit during which he will meet US President Barack Obama on Sunday and attend the Nuclear Security Summit on April 12-13.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, USA to attend the Nuclear Security Summit on April 10, 2010. Ambassador Meera Shankar can also be seen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, USA to attend the Nuclear Security Summit on April 10, 2010. Ambassador Meera Shankar can also be seen.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached Washington on Saturday on a four-day visit during which he will meet United States President Barack Obama for their first bilateral meeting since November last year and attend the 42-nation Nuclear Security Summit on April 12-13.

Dr Singh was received at the Andrews Air Force Base by White House Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall, Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar and other senior officials.

Apart from bilateral issues, Dr Singh's discussions with Mr Obama will cover the situation in Afghanistan. India is expected to make it clear that it will continue to maintain a presence in Afghanistan.

India is also likely to push for direct access to suspected Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operative David Headley to find out more about his role in the conspiracy behind the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, which claimed 166 lives.

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

Subsequent investigations have shown that Headley had travelled several times prior to 26/11 and surveyed the sites where the attacks were carried out. More recently, it has come to light that he had, during one of those visits, surveyed the area in Pune where a bomb explosion at a popular eatery in February had killed 17 people and injured about 50 others.

In mid-March, Headley entered into a plea bargain with the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illionois in Chicago. As part of this, he has agreed to testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, video conferencing or letters rogatory.

Dr Singh and Mr Obama are also likely to discuss the progress in the implementation of the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

The Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) being hosted by Mr Obama will focus on nuclear terrorism and the possible acquisition of nuclear devices and material by terrorist groups.

Before leaving Delhi, Dr Singh had said in a pre-departure statement that nuclear terrorism and proliferation of sensitive nuclear materials and technologies were legitimate concerns which required firm responses.

"India has a well developed indigenous nuclear energy programme, which dates back six decades. We have an impeccable record of security, safety and non-proliferation which reflects our conduct as a responsible nuclear power," he said.

"India welcomes President Obama’s initiative to hold a Summit on Nuclear Security. Nuclear energy is poised to play a growing role in addressing the developmental challenges of our times. This will be possible only if we, as individual nations, and as a global community ensure the highest standards of security which reinforce public faith in the benefits of nuclear science. India is an important stakeholder in this global endeavour," Dr Singh said.

He said India had been a consistent advocate of complete and universal global nuclear disarmament.

"We were among the first countries in the world to call for a world free of nuclear weapons. I am encouraged by the fact that this approach is finding greater resonance today. We will continue to call for more meaningful progress in this direction," he said.

Apart from Mr Obama, Dr Singh will also have bilateral meetings with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Canadia Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his stay in Washington.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will also be at the Nuclear Security Summit but there were no indications yet that there would be a bilateral meeting between him and Dr Singh.

From Washington, Dr Singh will travel to Brasilia in Brazil, where he will attend the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Summit on April 15 and the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) Summit on April 16 hosted by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.


Photos courtesy Embassy of India, Washington

India-Australia Education Council to be set up

Union Minister of Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal meeting the Indian students affected by violence, at Melbourne on April 08, 2010.
Union Minister of Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal meeting the Indian students affected by violence, at Melbourne on April 08, 2010.

India and Australia have agreed to constitute the India-Australia Education Council to bring together government, academia, business and industry of both the countries to further bilateral collaboration in the education sector.

The decision in this regard was taken at a meeting between visiting Union Minister of Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal and Ms Julia Gillard, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations of Australia in Melbourne yesterday.

The agreement recognises the fact that education is central to sustained, inclusive and equitable growth, an official press release said here today.

The two Ministers also agreed to set up a Joint Faculty Development Programme and an Inter University Convention of Vice-Chancellors.

These initiatives, together with the expansion of the existing Education Exchange Programme to include all levels of education, are aimed at greater cooperation in the education sector between the two countries, the release said.

The two sides signed three memoranda of understanding (MoU) in the field of education in the presence of the two Ministers. They include an MoU between the Association of Indian Universities and Universities Australia, another between India's Central Board of Secondary Education and the Australian Council of Education Research and the third between The Energy Research Institute (TERI) and Deakin University.

According to the release, the discussions between the two ministers also explored various ways to further the strategic partnership between India and Australia. Issues relating to the safety and well-being of Indian students in Australia and other related matters were also discussed.

The two Ministers emphasised that people-to-people contacts, including student interactions, are at the heart of the bilateral relationship, in building bridges of friendship and understanding and acting as a significant resource for future development of the relationship.

Mr Sibal also had a meeting with Victorian Premier John Brumby at which they discussed the steps taken so far by the Victorian Government to address the concerns of international students.

Mr Sibal expressed his deep concern on the continued incidents of assaults on Indian students and requested Mr Brumby for credible data on the incidents that have taken place over the past one year as also information relating to the status of the trials, the charges framed and convictions. He stressed the importance of setting up an institutional mechanism for sharing such information.

He also requested the Premier of Victoria to extend transport concession to international students and increase the accommodation facilities for them.


US Chamber's trade mission to India next week

A trade mission from the United States Chamber of Commerce will be in India next week to highlight opportunities for US and Indian companies to increase trade and investment, expand infrastructure, and leverage technology in order to create jobs in both countries.

The mission will be led by the chamber's President and CEO Thomas J Donohue, a press release from the organisation said.

"By looking to new markets abroad, American businesses remain at the point of the spear in strengthening U.S. international relations," Mr Donohue said.

"In no country is this more evident than India, but our work is just beginning. India is a vital market for American companies and increasing bilateral trade and investment ties is necessary to driving job creation and innovation in both countries," he said.

According to the release, during the seven-day mission, Mr Donohue will meet top business and Government leaders. Apart from Delhi, the mission will also travel to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Mumbai.

The release said Mr Donohue would highlight India's trillion dollar infrastructure challenge, which he hopes to convert into US business opportunities.

"Some of our best capabilities are in developing infrastructure and technologies that India critically needs," Mr Donohue said. "It's time to integrate American businesses of all sizes into this supply chain."

"To create these jobs, we're urging the governments to not only resist protectionism, but continue to open markets, embrace domestic reforms, and provide global leadership on trade, energy, and the protection of intellectual property," he said.

Mr Donohue pointed to the growth in two-way trade between the countries, which has crossed $40 billion annually and is expected to grow at double-digit rates well into the next decade.

"The private sectors of both our countries have been trailblazers in bringing together the two largest free-market democracies," he said. "Now it's time to press our governments toward accelerating mutually beneficial commercial relations."

The release said a major stepping stone toward expanding trading opportunities and enhancing energy security in India came from the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Initiative, which the Chamber resoundingly supported. The agreement represents $150 billion in business potential for U.S. companies and could generate as many as 250,000 high-tech American jobs.

"The Chamber will remain at the forefront in the effort to streamline export control rules that are a legacy of the Cold War," Mr Donohue said.

"Many of the problems facing our countries can be solved by prudent application of sophisticated technology. More than ever we need to collaborate as partners in this field. This area has already led to an explosion of growth in U.S. high-tech exports to India. But American businesses believe that there are more opportunities and jobs still to be created by leveraging technology," he said.

Mr Donohue will be accompanied by Mr Ron Somers, president of the US-India Business Council.

On April 13, Mr Donohue will address the Confederation of Indian Industy (CII) and other business organizations in New Delhi.


US rules out civil nuclear deal with Pakistan

U.S. Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley.
U.S. Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley.

The United States has made it clear that a civilian nuclear energy agreement with Pakistan was not on the cards shortly after Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that his country qualified for the kind of deal that the US had with India.

"We are focused on Pakistan’s energy needs. But as we said last week, right now, that does not include civilian nuclear energy," Assistant Secretary Philip J Crowley told reporters at the daily briefing at the State Department here on Wednesday.

Pakistan had raised the issue at its recent Strategic Dialogue here at the level of Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Later, at the joint media interaction with Mr Qureshi, Ms Clinton had skirted a question on the nuclear deal and said that the US would help Pakistan on some power projects.

Yesterday, Mr Gilani had said in Islamabad that Pakistan qualified for such a deal because it had in place effective security and non-proliferation measures.

In response to a question about India's role at the Nuclear Security Summit convened by US President Barack Obama in Washington next week, given that the country is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Mr Crowley said India would play an important role, both at the summit as well as the NPT Review Conference in May.

"We think that, as the Nuclear Posture Review reflected on its release yesterday, we are less concerned about the exchange of nuclear weapons among states. We’re more concerned about how we keep nuclear technology and know-how out of the hands of outlier states and rogue elements," he said.

"And India will have an important role to play in – both in terms of reinforcing and strengthening the Nonproliferation Treaty, but also demonstrating, as it is itself, how it can both protect nuclear technology, but – while also allowing the growth of civilian nuclear capacity," he said.

Asked if the US was concerned that the nuclear material in South Asia, Pakistan in particular, was more vulnerable to terrorist groups, he said, "I’m not going to break any new ground here. I think various U.S. leaders have expressed confidence in the security of the Pakistani weapons. I’m not going to go any further than that," he added.


Krishna: India, China can advance interests better through cooperation

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna interacting with media at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing on 6 April 2010.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna interacting with media at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing on 6 April 2010.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna today said India and China, given their shared interest in creating a more contemporary order, could advance their respective interests much better through active cooperation rather than a competitive relationship.

Addressing the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) in Beijing, he said that the two countries had only begun to impact seriously on the world, with both striving to rewrite the rules of the world a little more in their favour.

"A reshaping of the global architecture is underway, evident in new groupings like the G-20, BRIC, BASIC and the East Asia Summit. As developing societies, our convergence is manifest on issues like climate change and global trade rules," he said.
Mr Krishna said that, even on the complex issue of UN reform, it is perhaps time for China to review previously held positions and welcome the presence in the Security Council of a nation with which it has much in common, referring to India's bid to get a permanent seat in the council.
He said the two sides had to accept there would be outstanding issues between the two countries even as the relationship forged ahead.

"This is in the very nature of global politics and we should not get discouraged as a result. The true test of our maturity is how well we handle our problems," he said.
He said that, even on an issue like the unresolved boundary question that is often the subject of media speculation, it was not always appreciated that considerable progress had actually been made.
"The Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993, the Confidence Building Measures of 1996 and the Guiding Principles and Political Parameters of 2005 have all demonstrated that we have the ability to increase convergence and deepen mutual understanding on this complex issue through patient negotiation," he said.

Mr Krishna said there was a strong case for a global issues partnership between India and China as two large developing Asian economies and felt the countries could work together on key challenges that would define the 21st century.
"As rising powers, India and China are often projected to have a competitive relationship. In the final analysis, we all are what we want to be. It is upto us to disprove such scenarios, not through platitudes and wishful thinking, but by concrete examples of cooperation," he said.
Mr Krishna, who is on a four-day official visit to China, said the issues on which the two countries could cooperate included sustainable development, technology exploitation, water usage, climate change, rapid urbanization, migration, human development and building a pluralistic society.
"The 21st century will be increasingly driven by the quality of human resources. As the two largest human resource powers, our cooperation can accelerate that trend," he said.

Mr Krishna said there was more to their prospects than issue-based cooperation, with the rise of the two countries promising to alter the configurations of the global order in a fundamental manner.
"We cannot accept incremental change in the way the world is currently run. The G-20 represents the first step in a new direction. Our combined efforts can help reform the systems of international financial governance much more effectively than we could by working alone. As Asian states, we must recognize that our continent lags behind Europe and the Americas in terms of economic and infrastructural integration and security cooperation. We have yet to find the right common denominators in many areas. If India and China work purposefully in this direction, the whole world stands to benefit," he said.
The Minister said the growth of the bilateral relationship would be determined by the extent of the awareness of the two countries that they are linked in the future, just as their destinies were linked in the past.

Mr Krishna's visit councides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of India's diplomatic relations with China.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna presenting a gift to Qu Xing, President of the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing on 6 April 2010.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna presenting a gift to Qu Xing, President of the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing on 6 April 2010.

Keeping that as the backdrop, he focused today on the common concerns of India and China and the future of their cooperation.
He said it was not surprising that the post-1945 order in the world was reluctant to recognise the legitimate concerns and interests of the two nations. He recalled that, in their early years as independent players, the two polities found themselves on the same page on de-colonization, national sovereignty and independence, and security of states.
Mr Krishna said that, in the 1980s, having overcome initial challenges, India and China saw that rapid economic growth would give them a stronger voice in the international community.
"Looking back, it is significant that Rajiv Gandhi actually sought to accelerate India’s modernization just a few years after Deng Xiaoping unveiled his reform policy in China. Unfortunately, it took us another decade to evolve a national consensus. But the point that I wish to underline is that the architects of modernization and reform in both countries – Rajiv Gandhi and Deng Xiaoping – were also the prime movers of normalizing our ties after a difficult interregnum. Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to China was the landmark event that put our ties on their present course. The underlying assumption that was clearly shared by both leaders was of the importance of growth at home and of cooperation abroad. Those still remain our guiding principles," he said.

He said that as India and China managed their domestic priorities well, it had huge implications for global prosperity because they were, between them, raising the living standard of almost one-third of humanity.
"Given the scale of what is underway, there is much that can be gained through our close cooperation. The economic models of India and China may be very different. But an exchange of best practices can still benefit both countries. After all, we do face similar challenges of urbanization, resource consumption, food and energy security, inclusive growth and skills development," he said.
Mr Krishna said the two countries must ask themselves whether, as neighbours and partners, each of whom are large and rising economies, they were making the best of opportunities?
"Put bluntly, is it possible that India and China can leverage each others’ strengths? After all, in their own past history, both nations have leapfrogged using international relationships," he remarked.

"There is a huge infrastructure demand in India, covering sectors like power, roads, rail and telecommunications. In the recent budget, 46% of the total plan allocations are assigned for physical infrastructure development. China has actually carried out many of the changes that India is still contemplating. As a result, it has capacities but less domestic demand. There is considerable scope for joint projects as we master the practice of working harmoniously together. On the Chinese side, the outsourcing of IT by state enterprises has only started recently. There is a potential waiting to be tapped, which would happen only by connecting Chinese users to Indian providers," he said.
Mr Krishna said India strongly felt the India-China relationship was grossly under-realised and the capacities for expansion were enormous.
He said the challenges to their peaceful periphery were not very different from the problems the two countries faced at home, which emanated from the two central issues of material poverty and intellectual poverty.
"To the extent that we can raise living standards rapidly at home and encourage similar progress in our neighbourhood, we will be more secure and stable. The more complex challenge is that of ideas. As pluralistic societies, we are threatened by political ideologies that are based on narrow loyalties, often justified by distorting religious beliefs. These forces are against progress and modernity and have only brought misery wherever they have dominated. States that use them as instruments to advance their political interests find themselves consumed by these very destructive ideas," he said.
The Minister said that, for both countries, stability at home stood in sharp contrast to extreme instability in their shared neighbourhood.
"We cannot afford to be passive spectators. It is critical for our future that we cooperate actively in meeting common challenges. Our ties were never a zero sum game. Today, it is all the more important that we take an enlightened and long-term view of our self-interest," he said.
Mr Krishna said a strong and stable relationship between India and China had consequences for the entire world.
"Because we are different, our divergences are often exaggerated. If truth be told, there are vested interests at work too. India and China must not just cooperate; they must be seen to be doing so by the rest of the world," he said.
"Our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, often emphasizes that the world is large enough to accommodate the aspirations of both countries. But this is not an inevitable outcome. It is a goal that requires strong political will, sustained engagement and a high degree of mutual sensitivity. What can we do to make this cooperation stronger? I believe that we need to work on a wide variety of fronts as progress on one will reinforce in the other," he said.

Mr Krishna said several dialogues and fora already existed between India and China that needed to keep meeting regularly and productively, including mechanisms to discuss bilateral, regional and global political issues.
"We have a separate set of talks for the boundary question. Annual consultations take place between our foreign offices, defence establishments, policy planners, consular officials and disarmament experts. There are also dedicated bodies to deliberate on trade matters and water management. Regular meetings lead to better communication, more understanding and strengthen confidence. I would, therefore, strongly encourage an intensive and sustained engagement between the two systems," he said.
He said the two sides must keep pushing the pace of the relationship with new ideas and more activity.
"On the political side, the support provided by growing track-2 dialogues is a welcome development. Our military-to-military cooperation is also expanding steadily. In trade, business events in 18 Chinese cities this year with IT, pharmaceuticals, engineering and agro-exports as thrust areas will surely make an impact. In culture, the Festival of India that will take our performing arts to 33 Chinese cities this year will be equally noteworthy. Growing exchanges of students and tourists speak of changing levels of comfort. Soap operas on Chinese TV and Bollywood dances in local restaurants confirm that we have transcended cultural barriers," he said.
Mr Krishna said the two countries needed to strengthen sentiment at the popular level and pointed out that the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic ties offered a great opportunity.

"But this needs to be a continuous and widening process. There are powerful symbols of connectivity between our societies. Xuan Tsang is one from distant history. We are now completing the construction of an Indian temple at the White Horse Temple complex in Luoyang which is associated with him. This will be a powerful symbol of our shared history. Asia’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore too evokes positive sentiments among Chinese intellectuals. His 150th birth anniversary next year offers a unique opportunity to build stronger cultural bonds. We have, of course, examples from more contemporary times like the young and heroic Dr. Kotnis and the Indian medical mission to Yenan. We must appreciate the power of culture to bring about perceptional changes in society as a whole," he said.

India denies hindering water flows into Pakistan

India today rejected allegations that it was hindering water flows into Pakistan and developing the infrastructure to stop and divert these flows to serve its own needs.

"Such accusations bear no relation whatsoever to the reality on the ground," Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal said at a function organised by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations and Pakistan-India Citizens Friendship Forum yesterday.

He regretted that public discourse in Pakistan had, of late, increasingly focused on certain alelged acts of ommission and commision on the part of India as being responsible for the water scarcity in Pakistan.

The "water issue" was also being spoken of as an issue whose resolution is essential to build peace between the two countries, he noted. "Preposterous and completely unwarranted allegatins of 'stealing water' and waging a 'water war' are being made against India," he said.

Mr Sabharwal said the fact was that India had been scrupulously providing Pakistan its share of water in keeping with the Indus Water Treaty.

"We have never hindered water flows to which Pakistan is entitled, not even during the wars of 1965 and 1971 as well as other periods of tense relations and we have no intention of doing so. Those, who allege that India is acquiring the capacity to withhold Pakistan’s share of water, completely ignore the fact that this would require a storage and diversion canals network on a large scale. Such a network simply does not exist and figures nowhere in our plans," he said.

Going into the background, Mr Sabharwal said the issue of water sharing that arose between the two countries in 1947 was settled with the coming into force of The Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, which was voluntarily accepted by the two sides as fair and equitable.

He said those who question the fairness of the Indus Waters Treaty to Pakistan need to note that it assigned 80% share of water of the Indus system of rivers to Pakistan.

"The Treaty gave the use of Eastern Rivers (Sutlej, Beas and Ravi) - with a mean flow of 33 million acre feet (MAF) - to India, while giving the use of the Western Rivers, viz. Indus, Jhelum and Chenab – with a mean flow of 136 MAF - to Pakistan. Since Pakistan was dependent on water supplies from the Eastern Rivers until the 15th of August 1947, India also agreed to pay a sum of 62 million Pounds Sterling to Pakistan to build replacement canals from the Western Rivers and other sources. These were clearly not the gestures of an upper riparian bent upon depriving the lower riparian of water, as is alleged by some today," he said.

The envoy said the Treaty also permitted limited use of water of Western Rivers by India as follows:

a) Domestic use: - This includes use for drinking, washing, bathing and sanitation etc.

b) Non consumptive use: - This covers any control or use of water for navigation, floating of timber or other property, flood control and fishing etc.

c) Agricultural use: - India can draw water from the Western Rivers in terms of maximum permissible Irrigated Crop Area. The total area permitted to be irrigated by India is 1.34 million acres.

d) Generation of Hydroelectric Power :- India can use water from the Western Rivers for run -of- the river hydroelectric projects as well as for hydroelectric projects incorporated in a storage work, but only to the extent permitted in the provisions regulating storage of water by India from the Western Rivers.

e) Storage of water by India on the Western Rivers: - The Indus Waters Treaty allows India storage capacity on Western Rivers to the tune of 3.6 MAF, in addition to the storage that already existed on these rivers before the coming into force of the Treaty. Out of this, 1.25 MAF is general storage. The remaining quantity is split between 1.6 MAF for generation of hydroelectricity and 0.75 MAF for flood control. In terms of rivers, 0.4 MAF storage is allowed on the Indus, 1.5 on Jhelum and 1.7 on Chenab.

Mr Sabharwal said this limited use of water from Western Rivers by India was subject to the conditions laid down in the Treaty to protect the interests of both countries.

He said that, however, India was yet to use fully its entitlement to the waters of Western Rivers. As against its storage entitlement of 3.6 MAF, India has built no storage so far.

Out of the area of 1.34 million acres, permitted for irrigation, India is currently irrigating only 0.792 million acres, he said.

"We have exploited only a fraction of the hydroelectric potential available to us on these rivers. Out of a total potential of 18,653 MW, projects worth 2324 MW have been commissioned and those for 659 MW are under construction. In any case, even after India starts using its full entitlement of water from the Western Rivers under the Treaty, it will amount to no more than 3% of the mean flow in these rivers," he said.

The High Commissioner said that the Permanent Indus Commission, charged with the responsibility to establish and maintain cooperative arrangements for implementation of the Treaty, to promote co-operation between the Parties in the development of the waters of the Rivers and to settle promptly any questions arising between the Parties, undertook a general tour of inspection of the rivers once in five years and special tours in the interim. He said the Commission also met regularly at least once a year and in the interim as required.

He said the Commission had shown tremendous potential in ensuring smooth functioning of the Treaty. In the 50 years of the Treaty, only once was an issue, Baglihar, referred to a neutral expert.

"We believe that the potential of the Permanent Indus Commission can and ought to be used more effectively. In fact, we could even have the Commission sit in the nature of a consultative dispute avoidance body and take the views of experts – national and international – with a view to bringing up-to - date technology to the notice of the Commission to help it reach correct and acceptable solutions," he said.

Mr Sabharwal said the Treaty did not require India to deliver any stipulated quantities of water to Pakistan in the Western Rivers. Instead, it requires India to let flow to Pakistan the water available in these rivers, excluding the limited use permitted to India by the Treaty, for which it does not need prior agreement of Pakistan.

He said reduced flows into Pakistan from time to time were not the result of violation of Indus Waters Treaty by India or any action on its part to divert such flows or to use more than its assigned share of water from Western Rivers.

"Water flows in rivers depend, inter alia, on melting of snow and quantum of rainfall. India itself suffered serious draught conditions in 2009, with around 250 districts bearing the brunt of draught. Rainfall during the monsoon season was 20% less than normal countrywide, with many states in the North experiencing a much higher percentage of shortfall. Even winter rains have fallen far short of normal. The quantum of water flow in Western Rivers, as indeed in any other river, varies from year to year, dipping in certain years and recovering in some subsequent years," he said.

On the oft-heard accusation that India is building hundreds of dams/hydroelectric projects to deny Pakistan its share of water, he said this did not correspond to the reality on the ground.

"There are no quantitative limits on the hydroelectricity that India can produce using the Western Rivers. There is also no limit to the number of run-of- the river projects that India can build. However, India has so far undertaken a limited number of projects. We have provided information to Pakistan, as per the Treaty, in respect of 33 projects. Out of these, 14 are in operation, 13 are under construction, 2 are still at the proposal stage, 3 have been dropped or deferred and work on one project stands suspended. Out of these 33 projects, as many as 20 have a capacity of 10 MW or less. Projects identified for implementation in the coming years number 22. This certainly does not make for hundreds of dams/ hydroelectric projects," he said.

Mr Sabharwal said the Treaty required India to provide certain specified technical information to Pakistan at least six months before the commencement of construction of river works for a hydroelectric or storage project (the period is two months for a Small Plant), in order to enable Pakistan to satisfy itself that the design of a plant conforms to the provisions of the Treaty.

If Pakistan raises any objection, it has to be resolved in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty. India has been meeting its obligation to provide the specified information as necessary, he said.

He said that, in all the cases in the past, India had responded to all queries from Pakistan about such projects, even if these were not strictly in keeping with the Treaty, in order to address Pakistan’s concerns.

"This has resulted in endless delays and cost overruns. The Tulbul Navigation project is a case in point. India provided information to Pakistan on this project as a matter of goodwill. As a further gesture of goodwill, works on the project were unilaterally stopped by India in October, 1986 and remain suspended to this day. However, infinite queries from Pakistan could amount to a virtual veto on Indian projects. This is not the intention of the Treaty in requiring India to provide information in advance of the river works. India is within its rights to proceed with the construction of a plant at the end of the period of advance notice, even if Pakistan raises objections, subject to any subsequent changes in design or any other consequences that may flow from resolution of the matter under Article IX of the Treaty," he said.

Mr Sabharwal said India had communicated information concerning Baglihar project on Chenab to Pakistan as early as in 1992. Pakistan’s objections were referred to a neutral expert in 2005 at the request of Pakistan. The expert upheld India’s design approach and suggested only minor changes in the scope of construction. Pakistan subsequently objected to the initial filling of the Baglihar reservoir. However, this was done by India in keeping with the Treaty provisions, he said.

"In fact, the Pakistan Indus Commissioner was invited to India at his request in July, 2008 to be briefed about the procedure of initial filling. The actual filling was done in August the same year within the time window specified in the Treaty," he said.

"The Kishanganga hydroelectric project on a tributary of river Jhelum has also been objected to by Pakistan, inter alia, on the ground that Pakistan has existing uses on the waters of Kishanganga (Neelum). The matter has been under discussion since 2004. However, details of the claimed existing uses are yet to be substantiated. We believe that the matter should be resolved at the Commission level, keeping in mind the provisions of the Treaty and the findings of the neutral expert in the Baglihar case. In August 2009, we also informed Pakistan that in case technical experts were unable to resolve the issue, efforts could be made to take it up at government level," he said.

Mr Sabharwal said India had all along adhered to the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty and would continue to do so.

"Since the Indus Waters Treaty provides an elaborate framework for distribution of water and resolving any questions, differences or disputes, we fail to understand attempts by some quarters in Pakistan to inflame public passions on the subject. Angry statements targeting India can neither increase the quantity of available water, nor can such statements become a substitute for the mechanism in the Treaty to resolve differences regarding its implementation," he said.

He asserted that there were strict norms for projects under India's Environmental Protection Act and Forests Protection Act, which include Catchment Area Treatment Plans and compensatory afforestation.

He said there was no truth in the "bizarre allegation", often heard, that India wanted to deprive Pakistan of water to dry up its canals and drains, which also serve as defensive features in times of war.

"There is no truth in this allegation. It is clear from what I have mentioned so far that India has not taken any action to deprive Pakistan of its share of water and consequently to dry up its canals," he said.

He also denied that a dam/hydroelectric project was being built by Afghanistan on the Kabul river with India's assistance which would adversely affect the flows of this river to Pakistan.

"I would like to inform you that there is no truth in this allegation. Those who make it ought to know that a dam or hydroelectric project is not something that can be built surreptitiously. It is highly undesirable to mislead people by making such baseless allegations on issues, which are easily verifiable on the ground," he said.

Mr Sabharwal said the issue of water scarcity in Pakistan could not be analyzed fully without looking at the picture in the large part of the Indus basin – around 65% - that lies in Pakistan’s territory or territory controlled by Pakistan.

He said a preponderant portion of the water of the Western Rivers flowing through Pakistan is generated in the catchment area within Pakistan or territory under Pakistan’s control.

"This share of water is completely controlled by Pakistan. Therefore, it is difficult to understand the excessive and, in many cases, exclusive focus of the public discourse on water scarcity in Pakistan on flows from India. Moreover, as water gets increasingly scarce, the issues of water management and avoidance of wastage of water assume greater significance," he said.

The High Commissoner cited daa to point out that there was an urgent need for Pakistan to take a closer look at the management of available water resources, deal with the problem of salinity and raise its storage capacity.

"India has nothing to do with these issues of water management that are internal to Pakistan, but which nevertheless ought to be integral to any discourse on water scarcity. Only Pakistan can seek solutions to these matters," he added.


Fatima Bhutto alleges Zardari involved in her father's murder

Karan Thapar interviewing Fatima Bhutto.
Karan Thapar interviewing Fatima Bhutto.

Fatima Bhutto, niece of slain former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has alleged that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari was involved in the killing of her father, Murtaza Bhutto, and that her aunt had a role to play in it.

"She presided over a state of lawlessness. My father was one of thousands killed under her second government so certainly she bears a moral responsibility," Fatima said in an interview to journalist Karan Thapar on the Devil's Advocate show on television channel CNN-IBN.

"And after his murder, my aunt played a strong role in the cover-up. We were forbidden from filing an FIR. All the witnesses were arrested. They had no access to their lawyers, their families. In fact, they were kept in jail till her government fell," she said.

Fatima is in India to promote her just-published memoir, "Songs of Blood and Sword" in which she has talked about her father's death and other events of those times in Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto's father and Fatima's grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was executed in 1979 after he had been deposed by then army chief Gen Zia ul Haq.

Fatima's uncle and Benazir Bhutto's brother, Shahnawaz, 27, was found dead in Nice, France on July 18, 1985 in mysterious circumstances.

Murtaza, Benazir Bhutto's other brother, was killed on September 20, 1996. Benazir Bhutto herself was assassinated on December 27, 2007.

Fatima said she had tried calling up her aunt, who was the Prime Minister of Pakistan on the day her father was killed.

"Eventually I was connected to her husband, the current President [of Pakistan], Asif Ali Zardari who said I cannot speak to my aunt. When I insisted that it was important, he said she can't come to the phone, she is hysterical. I was fourteen years old and I had no idea what he was talking about. I said: look it's very urgent. At that point of time he, very calmly, and very coldly said to me: don't you know? Your father has been shot. At that point I dropped the phone," she said.

"To say that to a child who was so attached to her father was so unbearably cruel that I convinced myself immediately that it must not be serious. Otherwise why would he have said this to me?" she said.

In reply to another question, she said none of the seven men killed that night were taken to emergency hospital.

"They were all taken to different locations. They were all taken past the time when they could have been saved. My father was taken to a dispensary where the doctors had their outpatient facility. It was a place which had sign outside its front door saying -no emergency. It was very clear that that was not a hospital where doctors could be found to save anybody's life," she said.

She further alleged that the police just dropped his father at the hospital and left.

Fatima said former Pakistan President Farooq Leghari had come out recently and said that Mr Zardari had gone to him, when he was the President, and said that this man (Murtaza) had to be eliminated.

"He has given the interview in Urdu, in English and Saraiki, and he said on television that Asif Zardari has the blood of Murtaza Bhutto on his hands and god knows how many other people," he said.

Fatima Bhutto being interviewed by journalist Karan Thapar.

Fatima said that Masood Sharif, at that time head of the Intelligence Bureau, was at the scene of the crime that night. Several years later, he was inducted into the central committee of Benazir Bhutto's party.

"Now, to induct a man who has been publicly accused of your brother's murder sends a certain signal," she said.

Fatima said her aunt remained committed to the police line about Murtaza's death. "And just before her own murder, she tried to insinuate on television that not only Murtaza had himself killed, that he had a suicidal wish, but that his own guards killed him. She said that he was shot from the back which certainly he was not, and that his body bore tales of his death, which it certainly does but it has nothing to do with the claims that Benazir was making," she said.

She alleged that, one year after Shahnawaz's "murder" in 1986, Benazir Bhutto had begun to negotiate with the military establishment in Pakistan to take power. "And she was preparing, one would assume, to be General Zia's Prime Minister, who was still alive at that time. The differences really started then. My father couldn't understand how she was willing to negotiate with the very establishment that had killed their father, that they believed had their brother killed, all for the sake of power. She was willing to accept the IMF dictate; she was willing to let the army control foreign policy," she said.

Asked why, after Gen Zia dead, Benazir Bhutto continued to stop Murtaza from returning to Pakistan, she said, "I think because the compromises remained. She was Prime Minister to Zia's number two, who assumed the office of President after Zia-ul-Haq was killed. One of the men she appointed as Governor of Sindh had signed her father's death warrant," she said, suggesting that she did not want another Bhutto to share the limelight, power and legacy.

Fatima described as a betrayal Benazir Bhutto's decision to deny her father the Larkana seat, which was given instead to "a Zardari crony, a Zia crony".

"Not only an ultimate betrayal but the very reluctance of Benazir to allow her brother who had been a member of the party since it had been founded, a single party ticket shows her fear and how threatened she felt," she said.

Fatima said he had spent years researching her father's death and she had no doubt in her mind about Benazir Bhutto's role. "In terms of her younger brother Shahnawaz's death, this is a possibility. According to Jacques Verges who represented the family, according to Shahnawaz's family, it is a possibility," she said.

She said Benazir Bhutto was a very complex person to her. "There was also a time when she was my favourite aunt. She was a very complex person but I think, in answer to your question, perhaps this is the nature of the beast. I think power is an overwhelming, transformative, and very often, a destructive force. And Benazir was not immune to its power," she said.

"It's very complicated. I can't think of her except as the two sides. I can't see her alone as one. While she was out of power, she was a woman who faced great suffering, who was incredibly vulnerable and brave. But, on the other hand, when she was in power, she inflicted much of the suffering that she endured on thousands of people," she said.

Asked if there was a bit of her that still loved Benazir Bhutto, she said, "Of course. There is a bit of me that remembers that young woman who use to read me bedtime stories and who I felt safe around. But there is still a part of me that is very frightened of her." She, however, said that she did not hate her.

Fatima said she was not in touch with the larger Bhutto family and that the door between her and her cousins had been shut a long time ago.

Asked if that meant Fatima Bhutto was a Bhutto on her own, she said, "It certainly has felt like that for the last fourteen years. We have been denied access to our grandmother repeatedly. After my father's death, it was like we lost his entire family. My aunt filed cases against my brother Zulfikar and I when we were children. When Zulfikar was nine, my aunt filed case against him. So, I think we lost them a long time ago."


Deora meets US, Kuwaiti, Mexican, Indonesian oil officials in Cancun

Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora meeting Mexican President Felipe Calderon at Cancun on March 30, 2010.
Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora meeting Mexican President Felipe Calderon at Cancun on March 30, 2010.

An Indian team led by Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora has held bilateral meetings with delegations from the United States, Kuwait, Mexico and Indonesia on cooperation in the oil sector at Cancun in Mexico.

The meetings were held in Cancun yesterday on the sidelines of the 12th International Energy Forum (IEF), an official press release said here today.

At his meeting with US Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, the US offered to continue its cooperation in the area of gas hydrates. Similarly, Mr Deora and Mr Poneman felt that the US' success in utilising Shale gas to significantly augment its natural gas production was seen as a potential area where the US experience could come in handy for identifying such resources in India.

Mr Deora underlined the important role played by the US in stabilising oil prices. As both countries are dependent on oil imports, this could serve common interests, mutuality of interests, he said.

During his meeting with Kuwaiti Oil Minister Sheikh Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Mr Deora said India was interested in more crude oil supplies and investments from the Gulf State.

He said India was raising its refining capacity significantly, which would soon rise to about 250 million metric tonnes. He invited Kuwaiti oil companeis to invest in petrochemical projects of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and the Indian Oil Corporation at Mangalore and Paradip, respectively. He also invited Sheikh Ahmad to visit India.

In discussions with Mexican Energy Secretary Georgina Kessel Martinez, Mr Deora said India was keen to participate in the Mexican upstream sector. He also told her about India's increasing need for crude oil with the increase in its refining capacity on a service contract basis. She said the Mexican government was considering an incentive-based system which would offer more attractive investment opportunities to Indian companies.

Mr Deora informed her of the presence of Indian oil companies in the upstream countries in the region such as Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia.

Mr Deora also had a bilateral meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Darwin Zahedy Saleh and conveyed to him India's interest in sourcing LNG from Indonesia.

Mr Saleh said that the present LNG capacities were tied up and said there could be a possibility later for cooperation in this area.

About the Indian interest in the Indonesian upstream sector, he said Indonesia would soon invite new bids for exploration blocks, when Indian oil companies would get an opportunity to participate in the process.

Mr Deora was accompanied on the visit by Petroleum Secretary S. Sundareshan and the heads of ONGC, IOC and ONGC Videsh.


17 Indians sentenced to death in Sharjah for murder

As many as 17 Indians have been sentenced to death by the Sharjah Shariah Court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for murdering a Pakistani national and injuring three others during a fight last year, a UAE newspaper reported on its website today.

The fight took place in January last year over control of an illegal liquor business in the Al Sajaa area of the emirate of Sharjah, the Khaleej Times report said.

According to it, the sentence was pronounced by the court on Sunday. An official of the Consulate General of India in Dubai, when contacted, said they had seen the media reports and were trying to get more details. "We are also trying to get consular access to the men," the official told NetIndian over the telephone.

The report said Judge Yousuf al Hamadi sentenced the 17 men to death after all evidence, including DNA tests, showed that they had knifed the Pakistani national to death. The victim had died of his wounds after being repeatedly stabbed in different parts of his body. He had also suffered damage to his brain, police told the court.

The accused had also attempted to kill three of the victim's compatriots, but they managed to escape and were rushed to the Kuwaiti Hospital in Dubai for treatment.

The report said the convicted men were between the ages of 17 and 30 years.

The three Pakistani men who survived the attack told the police they were attacked by a group of about 50 men, who set upon them with knives.

Police rushed to the area and arrested the 17 Indians who allegedly led the attack. The others were let off due to lack of evidence.

The newspaper report said all 17 men had confessed to fighting with and murdering the victim.

Sharjah is one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE federation. The others are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Umm al Quwain and Ajman.

Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, the Ministry of Justice said today that the court's verdict could be appealed against.

WAM, the Emirates News Agency, quoted an official source at the Ministry as saying that the verdict was a preliminary sentence and under the judical procedures in the country it would be submitted to the Court of Appeals for confirmation or rejection. "And, therefore, it can be appealed against," he said.

The official also said that the Ministry provides attorneys for those sentenced to death or life imprisonment if they cannot afford to hire one.


British cabs to carry imagery from God's Own Country

Kerala Tourism's taxi branding in UK.
Kerala Tourism's taxi branding in UK.

The iconic British cabs will carry attention-grabbing images from "God's Own Country" with the Kerala Government launching yet another innovative branding exericse to woo tourists from abroad to the South Indian state.

Kerala, already one of the top destinations in India as far as foreign tourists are concerned, is using images of its scenic grandeur, classical dances and martial arts to showcase its tourism products in various parts of the United Kingdom.

Among other things, the taxis will carry pictures of Kerala's famous backwaters and Kathakali dancers.

A press release from Kerala Tourism said as many as 120 cabs with images of Kerala are now operating in Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham under a branding exercise launched by it.

British tourists account for about one-third of the 650,000 foreigners who visit Kerala every year, the release said. Arrival figures from the United Kingdom have been steadily going up and stood at 141,147 tourists in 2008.

Last month, Kerala Tourism had launched another major branding exercise when it wrapped the Delhi-Thiruvananthapurm Rajdhani Express with scintillating pictures of Kerala, encapsulating the best the state has to offer.

"This is the first time Kerala-branded taxis are running in European cities other than London," Kerala Tourism Director M Sivasankar said here today.

Glasgow has 20 such cabs with pictures showing houseboats, elephants and Mohiniyattam dancers. Manchester and Birmingham have 50 each. The branding exercise in Britain, which has borrowed eight images from its Rajdhani experiment aimed at domestic tourists, will run up to April 15.

Kerala Tourism's taxi branding in UK.
Kerala Tourism's taxi branding in UK.

Two more images have been specially created to showcase Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India that attracts tourists in hordes from across the globe.

In an aggressive campaign to raise the profile of Kerala’s tourist potential, the state has brought out all its famous symbols associated with tourism to draw the British tourist.

Pictures of houseboats are used to promote bed and breakfast (B&B) schemes while images of Kathakali dancers are painted on both sides of taxis to highlight the strong cultural traditions of the state.

"The images are generating curiosity among the people in these three British cities," Mr Sivasankar, who has just returned from Britain after the launch of the branding exercise, said.

The campaign coincided with road shows in London, Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham. The shows, which were held during March 15-18, provided 22 trade partners from Kerala with a platform to motivate and educate 270 wholesale industry partners, retail travel trade and independent travel counsellors from the four cities.

The branding exercise and road shows in "tier 2" cities are a shift from the Kerala Tourism’s previous promotion strategy of targeting big cities like London and Paris.

"The retail agents and tour operators in the ‘tier 2’ cities are happy to connect Kerala with potential visitors there," Mr Sivasankar said.

For Kerala Tourism, the tie-up with British cabs comes after forging a deal with Indian Railways on the tracks, with Jet Airways in the skies and with Louis Cruises on the high seas. It has also tied up with Google to create a buzz about the state as an amazing tourist destination.

In an aggressive campaign to hard sell its tourist destinations, Kerala Tourism had also conducted road shows in all the four Scandinavian countries in November last year.

At the same time, Kerala Tourism has renewed its focus on domestic tourism and is using malls and other such places to drive home the brand message.

"We are trying to ensure brand visibility using innovative strategies," Mr Sivasankar said. Interestingly, while the number of domestic tourists has gone up, the inflow of foreign visitors is also increasing, he added.


Patel in US for talks on cooperation in aviation sector

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel addressing the audience at USIBC event on Air Indias Capital to Capital Connectivity: Bringing Washington and Delhi Closer in Washington, DC on March 25, 2010.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel addressing the audience at USIBC event on Air Indias Capital to Capital Connectivity: Bringing Washington and Delhi Closer in Washington, DC on March 25, 2010.

India has invited aviation companies in the United States to seriously explore the possibilities of establishing manufacturing bases and investing in infrastructure like airports in India.

At talks in Washington on Thursday with US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, visiting Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said such companies needed to show a long-term commitment beyond just exporting to India.

Mr Patel also urged Mr Locke to explore the possibility of liberalising the export controls regime for India.

During his stay in Washington, Mr Patel also had discussions wth Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt.

At the meetings, both sides acknowledged the positive role of aviation in improving connectivity between the two countries, since the signing of the Open Skies Agreement in 2005.

The civil aviation sector had emerged as the fastest growing component of bilateral trade, accounting for about 15 per cent of US exports to India, they noted.

Mr Locke and Mr LaHood told Mr Patel that US companies were very impressed with the growth displayed by India's aviation sector and were keen to contribute to its growth.

Mr Patel invited both Mr Locke and Mr LaHood to visit India and see for themselves the numerous opportunities that India offered for mutually beneficial partnerships in general and in aviation, in particular.

The Minister also addressed a luncheon round table at the US Chamber of Commerce, where a large number of the major US companies engaged in aviation-related activities were present. He gave them an update on recent developments and encouraged them to deepen their technological collaboration with India. The event was organized by the US-India Business Council.

Later, Mr Patel addressed a 200-strong gathering of US government officials, US business representatives, NRIs, and Indian Americans at the celebration "Air India's Capital to Capital Connectivity: Bringing Washington and Delhi Closer"; a cultural reception organized by the US-India Business Council with a few partners to publicize the new Air India link between Washington DC and New Delhi.

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel meeting US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in Washington, DC on March 25, 2010.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel meeting US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in Washington, DC on March 25, 2010.

Congressman Jim McDermott was a special guest on the occasion. The service, that commenced from December 1, 2009, provides the only single-plane link between the two capitals.

According to an official press release, as both the countries take their bilateral strategic partnership to a new level of multi-faceted and a broad based relationship, there is a shared appreciation of the importance of robust cooperation in the aviation sector as it makes possible the flow of people, goods and services.

This led to the establishment of the bilateral Aviation Cooperation Programme, a trilateral cooperation among the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Federal Aviation Administration, US Trade Development Administration and US industry which has been most successful.

The number of companies in the programme has gone to 32 from 7 at inception. The US has participated actively in both the Civil Aviation exhibitions that have been organized in India. The second bilateral Aviation Summit held in Washington DC in December 2009 had large participation from both sides and provided an excellent forum for dialogue and cooperation, the release added.


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.


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