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.


King Saud University confers honorary doctorate on PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PM seeks Saudi investment in India's infrastructure sector

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tharoor in controversy over "interlocutor" remark in Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Emirates Airline opens luxury lounge at Mumbai airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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