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Apple to cut iPhone production in first quarter of 2017: report | Reuters

Apple to cut iPhone production in first quarter of 2017: report | Reuters

Dec 30, 2016 23:43 IST

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Apple Inc (AAPL.O) will trim production of iPhones by about 10 percent in the January-March quarter of 2017, the Nikkei financial daily reported on Thursday, citing calculations based on data from suppliers.The company had slashed output by 30 percent in January-March this year due to accumulated inventory, the paper said. Apple’s shares were down 0.84 percent in midday trading, in line with the Nasdaq stock index.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

(Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 23:43 IST

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Israel warns on travel to India, citing immediate threat of attacks | Reuters

Israel warns on travel to India, citing immediate threat of attacks | Reuters

Dec 30, 2016 23:39 IST

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JERUSALEM Israel’s anti-terrorism directorate issued a travel warning for India on Friday, citing an immediate threat of attack to Western and tourist targets, particularly in the south-west of the country.”A particular emphasis should be put on events in the coming days in connection with beach and club parties celebrating the New Year where a concentration of tourists will be high,” part of the warning said.The statement recommended that tourists avoid participation in such parties. It also called on families in Israel to contact their relatives in India and tell them of the threat.In addition, it recommended avoiding markets, festivals and crowded shopping areas. Unusually, the warning was published on Friday evening in Israel, after the start of the Jewish Sabbath, when government offices close for business.

The directorate did not say what prompted the warning.In 2012, the wife of Israeli diplomat stationed in India, her driver and two others were wounded in a bomb attack on her car. Israel and India share close military ties.

(Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Larry King)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 23:39 IST

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British police say George Michael autopsy inconclusive, more tests needed | Reuters

British police say George Michael autopsy inconclusive, more tests needed | Reuters

Dec 30, 2016 21:32 IST

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LONDON The cause of singer George Michael’s death this week is unclear after an initial autopsy and more tests are needed, British police said on Friday.British singer Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist, died at his home in southern England on Sunday. He was 53.”A post mortem examination was carried out yesterday as part of the investigation into the death of George Michael,” Thames Valley police said.

“The cause of death is inconclusive and further tests will now be carried out. The results of these tests are unlikely to be known for several weeks,” they added in a statement.British police had said that Michael’s death was “unexplained but not suspicious”. Michael’s manager, Michael Lippman, said he had died of heart failure.

In the mid-1980s, “Wham! were one of the most successful pop duos with singles such as “”Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, “”Careless Whisper”, ““Last Christmas” and ““The Edge of Heaven”.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Stephen Addison and Alison Williams)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 21:32 IST

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Tata Sons asks Cyrus Mistry to return all confidential information | Reuters

Tata Sons asks Cyrus Mistry to return all confidential information | Reuters

Dec 29, 2016 20:20 IST

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MUMBAI Tata Sons demanded former chairman Cyrus Mistry return all confidential information and documents regarding the company in his possession, in its second legal notice in as many days.The letter, sent by Tata Sons’ lawyers, further demanded that Mistry sign a letter pledging not to disclose any confidential information regarding the company, including to affiliates, relatives and family members.”We have credible information that you have wrongfully and dishonestly taken movable property being confidential information,” said the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

The notice comes after Tata Sons, the holding firm for the $100 billion Tata conglomerate, on Tuesday accused Mistry of breaching confidentiality rules, and said it would take legal action against him.

(Reporting by Rafael Nam)

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First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 20:20 IST

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LIVE Australia Vs Pakistan Live Score

AUS vs PAK | Dec 26th, 2016

AUS 465 6 113.5

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LIVE South Africa Vs Sri Lanka Live Score

SA vs SL | Dec 26th, 2016

SL 240 5 83.0

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OVERS

LIVE New Zealand Vs Bangladesh Live Score

NZ vs BAN | Dec 29th, 2016

BAN 184 10 42.4

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Takata could pay up to $1 billion to settle U.S. criminal probe – WSJ | Reuters

Takata could pay up to $1 billion to settle U.S. criminal probe – WSJ | Reuters

Dec 28, 2016 22:42 IST

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Japan’s Takata Corp is nearing a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and is expected to pay up to $1 billion to resolve allegations of criminal wrongdoing in handling its faulty air bags, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.The final figure could be in the high hundreds of millions of dollars, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. (on.wsj.com/2htwr9V)

At least 184 people have been injured in the United States in incidents involving potentially deadly Takata air bags.

(Reporting by Arunima Banerjee in Bengaluru)

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First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 22:42 IST

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LIVE Australia Vs Pakistan Live Score

AUS vs PAK | Dec 26th, 2016

AUS 278 2 58.0

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LIVE South Africa Vs Sri Lanka Live Score

SA vs SL | Dec 26th, 2016

SA 351 5 80.0

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OVERS

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PM Modi should bring together India, Pakistan and Bangladesh: Sudheendra Kulkarni

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Observer Research Foundation chairman Sudheendra Kulkarni urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take the lead in bringing India, Pakistan and Bangladesh together in a “family reconciliation” for the better future of coming generations. “The idea of an India-Pakistan confederation was also mooted by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, the ideological guru of the BJP, and Dr Rammanohar Lohia, the great socialist leader, in 1964. In a recent speech, PM Modi has described Mahatma Gandhi, Deendayal Upadhyaya and Dr Lohia as three Great Indians of the 20th century,” Kulkarni said. “Since all three of them were in favour of a confederation, I urge PM Modi to take the lead in bringing India, Pakistan and Bangladesh together in a family reconciliation, leading ultimately to a family re-union,” he said addressing a gathering here at the launch of his book ‘August Voices: What they said on 14-15 August 1947’. He said that the people and governments of our three countries must refuse to live as prisoners of the past.”We must create a better future for our coming generations. A future of peace, shared progress, eradication of poverty, justice and dignity for every human being in our subcontinent. To do so is our moral responsibility towards humanity,” Kulkarni said. He added, that all three nations have the world’s largest number of poor, deprived and divided people with common civilisational ancestry.”Besides, neither India nor Pakistan nor Bangladesh can develop to their full potential without transitioning from discord to concord, from hostility to cooperation,” he said.Kulkarni said there is no lasting solution, acceptable to India and Pakistan, without some form of a confederal agreement between both nations.He said that neither the solution to the Kashmir issue, nor the larger idea of a confederation, can move even an inch without Pakistan taking firm measures to eliminate terrorism from its soil.”Pakistan must rid itself of terrorism and religious extremism for its own survival,” he said, adding that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh today have an unprecedented opportunity to move towards economic and infrastructural integration in a big way.”This can be done by India taking the lead in connecting the BCIM or Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and extending it further to Afghanistan and Iran,” he said.Kulkarni said new trade, business and people-to- people connectivities will create inter-dependence.

Scarlett Johansson is 2016 top-grossing movie star | Reuters

Scarlett Johansson is 2016 top-grossing movie star | Reuters

Dec 27, 2016 23:05 IST

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NEW YORK Scarlett Johansson was named the top-grossing actor of 2016 on Tuesday thanks to her roles in superhero movie “Captain America: Civil War” and Hollywood satire “Hail Caesar.”Forbes said Johansson just edged out her “Captain America” co-stars Chris Evans and Robert Downey with box-office earnings of her second 2016 movie, “Hail Caesar.”Johansson’s movies grossed a leading $1.2 billion at the worldwide box office this year, compared with $1.15 billion for “Captain America: Civil War.”Released in May and featuring a conflict between Marvel comic book heroes like Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow and Ant Man, Walt Disney Co’s “Captain America” was the biggest earner worldwide in 2016, according to data from Boxofficemojo.com.Australian actress Margot Robbie, who enjoyed a break-out year, placed fourth with $1.1 billion thanks to roles in two Warner Bros movies “Suicide Squad” and “The Legend of Tarzan.”

The Forbes list was dominated by superhero and comic book movies, including “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Deadpool.”

Britain’s Felicity Jones entered the Forbes list for the first time, with roles in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” thriller “Inferno” and magical children’s story “A Monster Calls.” Jones came in ninth place with $805 million.Forbes made its calculations based on global ticket sales from the films of top Hollywood actors, but it did not count animated movies such as Disney’s “Finding Dory,” the second biggest release of 2016 with $1.02 billion.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Richard Chang)

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First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 23:05 IST

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LIVE Australia Vs Pakistan Live Score

AUS vs PAK | Dec 26th, 2016

PAK 310 6 101.2

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LIVE South Africa Vs Sri Lanka Live Score

SA vs SL | Dec 26th, 2016

SL 181 7 57.0

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Jet Airways flight from Goa to Mumbai skids off the runway; all passengers safely evacuated

Jet Airways flight from Goa to Mumbai skids off the runway; all passengers safely evacuated

Dec 27, 2016 07:57 IST

#Flight #Goa #Jet Airways #Mumbai #NewsTracker

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On Tuesday, a Jet Airways flight from Goa to Mumbai skidded off the runway at Goa’s Dabolim airport, reported ANI. The flight 9W-2374 veered off the runway due to some technical glitch. There were 161 people onboard the flight, including the crew members.

Some people sustained minor injuries. According to ANI, all the passengers were safely evacuated.

Jet Airways issued a statement saying, “All guests and crew have been safely evacuated. Few guests have sustained injuries during the evacuation process.”

The airport will remain shut till 12.30 pm.

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 07:57 IST

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LIVE Australia Vs Pakistan Live Score

AUS vs PAK | Dec 26th, 2016

PAK 232 4 81.0

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OVERS

LIVE South Africa Vs Sri Lanka Live Score

SA vs SL | Dec 26th, 2016

SA 267 6 90.0

RUNS

WKTS

OVERS

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Egypt confirms Al Jazeera producer’s arrest for provoking sedition | Reuters

Egypt confirms Al Jazeera producer’s arrest for provoking sedition | Reuters

Dec 25, 2016 18:39 IST

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CAIRO Egypt confirmed on Sunday that it had arrested an Al Jazeera news producer, accusing him of “provoking sedition” on behalf of the Qatar-based broadcaster that it considers a mouthpiece of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Judicial sources said Mahmoud Hussain, who was detained on Friday, was being held on charges of disturbing public security and spreading false news.The Interior Ministry said in a statement that Al Jazeera officials “had ordered some individuals collaborating with the channel inside the country to continue implementing its media plan of provoking sedition, incitement against the state, and spreading chaos through broadcasting false news.” It identified Hussain as a person implementing that plan for the channel which is not allowed to operate inside Egypt.

Al Jazeera was not immediately available for comment.Egypt has arrested several Al Jazeera reporters over the past two years, raising concerns over media freedoms in the country.

In May, a Cairo court recommended the death penalty against two of them, charged in absentia with endangering national security by leaking state secrets to Qatar.The Brotherhood is a Qatar-backed movement that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has cracked down on since an army takeover in 2013 stripped former president Mohammed Mursi – a prominent member of the group – of power following mass protests against his rule.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters including Mursi are in jail and Egypt has designated the group, which says it is non-violent, a terrorist organisation. (Reporting by Haitham Ahmed and Ahmed Mohammed Hassan; Writing by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 18:39 IST

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Pakistani Hindus can now avail Indian citizenship at Rs 100

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The registration fees for Hindus and other minority community people from three neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, as Indian citizens have been drastically reduced to as low as Rs 100 from Rs 15,000. In a gazette notification, the Home Ministry said the new rules will be applicable to minority communities- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians- from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and living in India on Long Term Visa.However, for minority community people from countries other than the three, the fees will be Rs 10,000 for registration in India and Rs 15,000 if registered elsewhere. The changes have been made after amending various provisions of the Citizenship Rules 2009.The new rules also allow the minority members from the neighbouring countries to take oath of allegiance as an Indian citizen in front of Sub-Divisional Magistrate, in case of absence of Collector, Deputy Commissioner or District Magistrate.Welcoming the move, Hindu Singh Sodha, Chairman of the Seemant Lok Sangthan, a voluntary organisation fighting for the rights of the refugees, said the decision has come as a huge relief for minorities belonging to the neighbouring countries. “We had been demanding for delegating the citizenship powers of the District Collectors and reduction in the application fee to just Rs 100 per application for these poor people since long. “We are delighted that after series of meetings, our demand was honoured by the Home Ministry,” Sodha said.

Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt dies aged 68 | Reuters

Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt dies aged 68 | Reuters

Dec 24, 2016 17:32 IST

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LONDON Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt died in hospital on Saturday in Spain aged 68 after suffering from a severe infection, his manager said.”We are truly devastated to have to announce that Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt has passed away,” his family and Status Quo Manager Simon Porter said in a joint statement.

“He died in hospital in Marbella, Spain as a result of a severe infection, having been admitted to hospital on Thursday evening following complications to a shoulder injury incurred by a previous fall,” his family said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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First Published On : Dec 24, 2016 17:32 IST

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2017 Punjab Assembly elections: Congress releases second list of candidates

2017 Punjab Assembly elections: Congress releases second list of candidates

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New Delhi: The Congress on Friday released the second list of 16 candidates for the upcoming Punjab Assembly elections. The names announced by Congress General Secretary Madhusudan Mistry include Barinderjit Singh Pahra from Gurdaspur.

Pahra’s father Kartar Singh Pahra was an MLA from 1997 until 2002 and he has been working in the constituency for the last several years.

The Central Election Committee (CEC) of the Congress had on Tuesday finalised 25 candidates in the second round, but it announced names of only 16 of them.

The party announced the first list of 61 nominees for the Punjab polls last week.

In the first list, the party retained as candidates 31 of its 42 legislators.

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 17:20 IST

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Demonetisation: Narendra Modi ‘wants to destroy farmers’, says RLD chief Ajit Singh

Demonetisation: Narendra Modi ‘wants to destroy farmers’, says RLD chief Ajit Singh

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Muzaffarnagar: Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh in a rally on Thursday said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s motive behind the demonetisation decision was to destroy farmers.

File photo of RLD chief Ajit Singh. PTI

File photo of RLD chief Ajit Singh. PTI

“Demonetisation has created great problems for farmers and comman man. Modi’s policy is anti-farmers and he wants to destroy the farmers,” Singh said while addressing an election rally in Charthawal area of the district on Thursday evening.

Modi first failed to fulfill his promise of bringing black money from abroad and then came up with demonetisation. “And now has scrapped import duty on wheat to destroy the farmers,” he said.

Singh alleged, BJP was tring to divide farmers on communal lines and creating communal tension to get benefit in polls.

He appealed the people to beat BJP in UP assembly polls next year.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, JD(U) leaders Sharad Yadav and K C Tyagi also addressed the rally and attacked the NDA government’s policies.

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 14:46 IST

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IT department identifies 67.54 lakh potential non-filers for 2014-15

IT department identifies 67.54 lakh potential non-filers for 2014-15

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New Delhi: The Income Tax Department has identified 67.54 lakh potential non-filers, who carried out high value transactions in 2014-15 but failed to file returns for the assessment year 2015-16, an official statement said on Thursday.

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“The Income Tax Department has conducted the fifth cycle of data matching which has identified an additional 67.54 lakh potential non-filers who have carried out high value transactions in the financial year 2014-15 but did not file return of income for the relevant assessment year 2015-16,” said a Finance Ministry statement.

The information relating to the identified non-filers has been made available in the ‘compliance module’ on the e-filing portal of the income tax department. The information will be visible only to the specific PAN holder when they log into the e-filing portal at https://incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in.

“The PAN holder will be able to respond electronically and retain a copy of the submitted response for record purpose,” the statement said.

“While the Government urges all tax payers to disclose their true income and pay taxes accordingly, the department would continue to pursue the non-filers vigorously till all the high potential non-filers are covered,” it added.

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 19:49 IST

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Demonetisation: Army personnel deployed at Salboni & Dewas currency printing press

Demonetisation: Army personnel deployed at Salboni & Dewas currency printing press

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New Delhi: Around 400 army personnel have been deployed for security at the currency printing presses in Salboni in West Bengal and Dewas in Madhya Pradesh.

Army sources said that the soldiers were deployed in wake of security consideration around the press that prints the new currency notes.

The troops deployed are from army’s Eastern and Central Command.

The Dewas Security Press is printing new Rs 500 currency notes whereas new Rs 2,000 and Rs 100 notes are being printed in Salboni.

“Keeping in view the security consideration of such sensitive location, army personnel have been deployed at printing presses,” sources said. The government has already deployed transport aircraft C-17 Globemasters and C-130 J Hercules of the Indian Air Force to ferry currency from the printing presses across the country. The IAF continues to make sorties carrying new currency.

The Modi government had demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on November 8 and had introduced new Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 notes.

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 21:51 IST

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Congress leader Sajjan Kumar gets anticipatory bail in 1984 anti-Sikh riots case

Congress leader Sajjan Kumar gets anticipatory bail in 1984 anti-Sikh riots case

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New Delhi: A court on Wednesday granted anticipatory bail to Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in a case related to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Sajjan Kumar. File photo. APSajjan Kumar. File photo. AP

Sajjan Kumar. File photo. AP

Additional Sessions Judge Vikash Dhull allowed the anticipatory bail plea of Sajjan Kumar, accused of instigating a mob to kill two Sikhs — Sohan Singh and son Avtar Singh — in Janakpuri on 1 November, 1984.

The case was taken up recently by a Special Investigation Team.

Nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed, mostly in Delhi, in riots that followed the 1984 assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards.

Some Congress politicians, Sajjan Kumar included, have been accused of leading the killer mobs.

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 15:43 IST

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Mexico fireworks market blast kills at least 27, hurts scores | Reuters

Mexico fireworks market blast kills at least 27, hurts scores | Reuters

Dec 21, 2016 05:26 IST

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MEXICO CITY At least 27 people died in an explosion at a fireworks market outside the Mexican capital on Tuesday, according to a local emergency services official.The blast at the San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Mexico City, also injured at least 70 others, according to a tweet from federal police.Isidro Sanchez, the head of Tultepec emergency services, said the death toll was preliminary as rescue workers scoured the site.

Local television showed a flurry of multi-colored fireworks exploding in all directions as a massive plume of smoke rose above the market while people frantically fled.Aerial footage showed charred stalls and destroyed buildings.

A blast struck the popular market in September 2005 just before independence day celebrations, injuring many people.

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by James Dalgleish)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 05:26 IST

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State Bank of India staffer in Gujarat commits suicide, wife blames ‘work pressure’

State Bank of India staffer in Gujarat commits suicide, wife blames ‘work pressure’

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Ahmedabad: A 33-year-old cashier with the State Bank of India allegedly committed suicide on Tuesday by hanging himself from a ceiling fan at his residence at Tharad in Banaskantha district, police said.

Though the police refused to assign any motive to the extreme step taken by Prem Shankar Prajapati, his wife said he had talked about “heavy work pressure” at Tharad branch of the bank.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

He originally belonged to Barmer in Rajasthan.

“Prajapati was a native of Barmer and has been working as a cashier at SBI’s Tharad branch for last one-and-half-years. Due to some unknown reasons, Prajapati committed suicide by hanging himself from ceiling fan today morning. We have not found any suicide note from the spot,” said Tharad police inspector J G Chavda.

However, Prajapati’s wife Manjula claimed her husband had once complained about the work pressure.

“My husband used to remain tensed after coming home from the bank. He once said that there is so much work pressure. He did not talk much due to tension,” Manjula told reporters outside police station.

First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 17:43 IST

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LIVE India Vs England Live Score

IND vs ENG | Dec 16th, 2016

ENG 207 10 88.0

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Address support to terror from outside Afghanistan: India to United Nations

United Nations: In a clear reference to Pakistan providing safe havens to terror groups, India has told the UN that the international community must urgently address the issue of backing to outfits like LeT, JeM and the Haqqani Network by “shadowy supporters” outside Afghanistan.

“Experience, as well as academic research, provides ample support for the assertion that conflicts in which foreign assistance is available to shadowy entities that fight legitimate state authorities tend to be more severe and last longer than other types of conflict,” India’s Ambassador to the UN Syed Akbaruddin said in a Security Council session on the situation in Afghanistan.

Without naming Pakistan, Akbaruddin said sustainable peace in Afghanistan is contingent upon terror groups and individuals being denied safe havens in the country’s neighbourhood and the international community must address the issue of the support that terror outfits like the Taliban and al-Qaeda get from their supporters outside Afghanistan.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“If we are to bring sustainable peace to Afghanistan, groups and individuals that perpetrate violence against the people and the government of Afghanistan must be denied safe havens and sanctuaries in Afghanistan’s neighbourhood,” he said.

“We need to address, as an imperative, the support that terrorist organisations like the Taliban, Haqqani Network, Daesh, al-Qaeda and its designated affiliates such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed which operate entirely outside the fabric of international law draw from their shadowy supporters outside Afghanistan,” Akbaruddin said at the United Nations on Monday.

He pointed out to the meeting in the 15-nation Council that it is apparent that efforts by nations for rebuilding institutions, infrastructure and networks in Afghanistan are being “undermined, schools are being destroyed, mosques bombarded and religious gatherings targeted”.

“It is also evident that those who perpetrate these heinous crimes have survived and thrived only with support and sanctuaries on the outside,” he said, in a veiled but strong reference to Pakistan.

Akbaruddin noted with concern that while the international community recommits to standing by the Afghan people each time the UN members discuss the situation in the war-torn country, the number of Afghan civilian and security forces casualties keeps rising.

“While the Taliban sanctions regime remains split for more than five years, the designated terrorist group makes concerted effort to capture and hold territory. Therefore, for numerous Afghan women, men and children there is no respite from the plague of terrorism,” he said.

The Indian envoy emphasised that the international community must introspect about the way it is approaching the situation in Afghanistan and whether there is need for course correction.

First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 13:11 IST

Real survive scare to win club cup with Ronaldo hat-trick | Reuters

Real survive scare to win club cup with Ronaldo hat-trick | Reuters

Dec 18, 2016 21:43 IST

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By Chris Gallagher
| TOKYO

TOKYO Real Madrid suffered an almighty fright before a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick hauled them back from 2-1 down and gave them a 4-2 win over rank outsiders Kashima Antlers in the Club World Cup final on Sunday.Two goals from Gaku Shibasaki stunned the European champions as the Japanese hosts took a 2-1 lead early in the second half before a Ronaldo penalty brought Real level on the hour.The 11-times European champions then survived several more scares and a possible sending-off for captain Sergio Ramos before Ronaldo scored twice more in the first period of extra-time.Real, who won the tournament for the second time in three years and were crowned champions for a fifth time overall, appeared set for an easy victory when Karim Benzema gave them a ninth-minute lead but Shibasaki changed the story by levelling one minute before halftime.Kashima were the first Asian team to reach the final although they qualified for the tournament as champions of host nation Japan. Asian champions Jeonbuk Motors had lost in the quarter-finals.”We knew it was not going to be an easy one. They were very aggressive,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane told reporters. Real went ahead when Luka Modric’s volley was parried by Hitoshi Sogahata and Benzema tapped in the rebound.

Kashima refused to be overawed, continued playing their neat football and snatched a shock equaliser just before the break.Shoma Doi’s cross found Shibasaki, whose first touch was poor but he was gifted a second attempt when Raphael Varane failed to clear and he smashed the ball into the net.Shibasaki struck again six minutes after the break when he collected a poor Real clearance, got away from three opponents and fired a low shot past Keylor Navas from 25 metres.Real were facing their first defeat since they lost to VfL Wolfsburg in April, a run of 36 competitive games, until Lucas Vazquez was bundled over by Shuto Yamamoto and Ronaldo converted the resulting penalty on the hour.

Kashima continued to give as good as they got and had three good chances in the final minutes of normal time.Fabricio’s goalbound drive was tipped over by Navas and the Costa Rican goalkeeper came to the rescue again one minute later by blocking Mu Kanazaki’s shot after he got free of the Real defence.Yasushi Endo could have won it with the last kick but fired wide at the far post while Sergio Ramos was lucky to escape a second yellow card for a push on an opponent, a decision which Kashima coach Masatada Ishii said “lacked courage”.Ronaldo ended Kashima’s dream when he collected Benzema’s sliderule pass and fired past Sogahata eight minutes into extra-time, then settled the match six minutes later with an emphatic finish into the roof of the net.

“We gave Real Madrid problems,” said Ishii. “That’s what we were able to do. But we made small mistakes in positioning and judgment so it’s frustrating.” (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 21:43 IST

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PM Narendra Modi invites suggestions for Mann ki Baat

PM Narendra Modi invites suggestions for Mann ki Baat

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday invited suggestions on topics and themes from public for his monthly ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio address.

He asked the people to share their suggestions for this year’s last such programme, to be aired on 25 December, by calling on a toll free number or through a mobile application dedicated to inputs.

Those interested in giving their suggestions can either call the toll free number 1800-11-7800 and record their message in English or Hindi or download the ‘Narendra Modi‘ app from his website.

Modi’s year-ending ‘Mann Ki Baat’ address on 25 December — which besides being the Christmas Day also happens to be former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s birthday — will be aired at 11am on All India Radio.

First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 13:52 IST

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PM Modi, Tajikistan President Rahmon hold bilateral talks, agree to work together on trade through Iran’s Chabahar Port

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon issued a joint press statement after holding delegation level talks in New Delhi to discuss bilateral relations and issues of mutual interests. After the talks, the two sides are expected to sign agreements in various fields. Addressing the press, PM Modi said, “Tajikistan is a valued friend and strategic partner in Asia. Our strategic partnership is built on a foundation of mutual respect, trust and shared interests in regional security and development. President Rahmon and I had fruitful discussions earlier today.”Describing the relationship between the two countries as a “rewarding partnership”, the PM said, “President and I agreed on the need to increase the scope and scale of our economic engagement especially trade and investment traffic.”Touching upon the importance of peace in Afghanistan for the region, Modi said, “The threat from terrorism endangers not just our 2 countries. It casts a long shadow of violence and instability over the entire region.”Modi said that the two countries would work together on trade and transit linkages through Chabahar Port in Iran.President Rahmon is on a five day visit to India from 14th of this month. This is his sixth visit to India. During his last visit to India in 2012, the two countries elevated their bilateral relations to the level of a long-term strategic partnership.Bilateral relations span cooperation in a wide spectrum of areas – political, economic, health, human resources development, defence, counter-terrorism, science and technology, culture and tourism.Read the full joint statement here.

Italy’s top court orders retrial of ex-Finmeccanica executives in India bribery case | Reuters

Italy’s top court orders retrial of ex-Finmeccanica executives in India bribery case | Reuters

Dec 17, 2016 01:04 IST

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MILAN Italy’s highest court on Friday ordered a re-trial of former top executives at defence group Leonardo Finmeccanica (LDOF.MI) over allegations of bribery in a 2010 contract to provide a dozen helicopters to the Indian government.In April a Milan appeals court sentenced former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi to four and a half years in prison for corruption and falsifying invoices, overturning a previous lower court ruling.Bruno Spagnolini, former head of the group’s helicopter unit AgustaWestland, was sentenced to four years in jail over the 560 million euro ($585 million) contract.The case went to the highest court after the two executives launched an appeal. Both executives will now have to be tried again in front of Milan’s appeals court.

Last week India’s federal police arrested the former head of the air force S.P. Tyagi, 71, who was at the centre of allegations of impropriety in the order of 12 helicopters meant to fly senior Indian politicians.The deal was cancelled in 2014 after Orsi was arrested on suspicion of paying bribes to secure the deal.

AgustaWestland opposed India’s decision to cancel the order and the contract is currently suspended and the subject of international arbitration in Paris. The case against Finmeccanica itself was dropped by prosecutors back in 2014 while AgustaWestland agreed on a 7.5 million-euro settlement with the court the same year.

(Reporting by Valentina Errante, writing by Valentina Za; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 01:04 IST

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IND vs ENG | Dec 16th, 2016

ENG 284 4 90.0

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Obama says told Putin to ‘cut it out’ over cyber attacks | Reuters

Obama says told Putin to ‘cut it out’ over cyber attacks | Reuters

Dec 16, 2016 21:21 IST

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WASHINGTON U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday said he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in September to stop meddling in American political campaigns after hacks of Democratic Party emails in the lead-up to the Nov. 8 elections.In a pre-Christmas holiday press conference, Obama said he told Putin to “cut it out” during a face-to-face encounter in China where a G20 meeting was being held.Obama added that after warning Putin, there was no further evidence of Russian tampering. Russia has denied U.S. accusations of cyber attacks against U.S. political figures and institutions ahead of the presidential and congressional elections.Two senior government officials told Reuters that the FBI backs the CIA’s view that Russia intervened to help Republican Donald Trump win the presidential election.

Obama left open the door to U.S. retaliation against Russia to discourage it and other nations from further computer hacking.The president also said that he hoped that Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, should be similarly concerned about Russia’s actions and that the investigation should not become “a political football” between Republicans and Democrats.

Trump has maintained that he won the election fairly and has bristled at suggestions that Moscow influenced the outcome.But Democrats have repeatedly noted that Trump during his campaign has spoken glowingly about Putin and since winning the election has picked top aides in the incoming administration with ties to Russia.

At one point during the heated presidential campaign, Trump publicly encouraged Russia to hack Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s emails. (Reporting By Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason and Julia Harte; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 21:21 IST

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IND vs ENG | Dec 16th, 2016

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Russia’s Taliban outreach alarms Delhi

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Russia’s open admission that it was maintaining “limited political” contacts with the Taliban has set alarm bells both in Kabul and New Delhi. Russian ambassador to Kabul Alexander Mantytskiy’s revelation comes just two days after the first-ever Pakistan-Russia consultations on regional issues.Reacting cautiously to the development, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “We do not see any downward trend in our bilateral relationship. However, in so far as the Taliban is concerned, they have to respect the internationally agreed red lines, give up terrorism and violence, sever all ties with Al Qaeda, agree to follow democratic norms and not do anything which will erode the gains of the last 15 years. Ultimately, it is for the Government of Afghanistan to decide whom to talk to and how.”In Islamabad, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammed Nafees Zakaria welcomed the Russia move, saying Pakistan has repeatedly emphasised the need for a politically negotiated settlement between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.“Pakistan believes that Afghan conflict has to be resolved through peaceful and political means. The most apt way to move forward in this regard is serious talks between Afghan Government and the Taliban. For this, Afghan government needs to send positive signals to the Taliban inviting them to join the peace process along with necessary incentives. In our view, an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process is the best way and not the military option,” he added.It appears that Russia and Iran of late have been seeking Taliban help to prevent Daesh or ISIS taking roots in the war torn country. Taliban control the south western part of Afghanistan, while the ISIS has shown its presence in the north eastern part of country. Earlier this month, Russian special envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov at the Heart of Asia (HoA) conference at Amritsar had taken a stand at variance from India and Afghanistan, by extending support to support to Pakistan.The most severe reaction to Russia’s Taliban move on Thursday came from Kabul, where the legislative lower house, or Wolasi Jirga, passed a resolution, urging President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government not to allow neighbouring and regional countries to interfere in internal Afghan matters “on the pretext of supporting the Taliban to fight Islamic State.” Afghan foreign ministry also warned that maintaining “any kind of support or contacts” with groups destabilising Afghanistan would undermine regional stability as well.Russian officials allege the US military and its NATO allies have failed to achieve their security objectives in Afghanistan and contain IS activities there. He said the number of terrorist groups had increased in Afghanistan compared to the past. “We are concerned about Daesh but we don’t know who sponsor them, we want the Afghan intelligence to clear the issue,” Mantytskiy said.

Dozens of Afghans deported from Germany as Merkel takes firmer line | Reuters

By Mohammad Aziz and Madeline Chambers
| KABUL/BERLIN

KABUL/BERLIN A group of 34 rejected Afghan asylum-seekers arrived in Kabul from Germany on Thursday, the German interior ministry said, the first to be deported under an agreement reached between the two countries this year.Their expulsion is in line with a tougher approach from the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has faced domestic criticism for letting in more than a million migrants since the start of 2015. As she prepares to run for a fourth term next year, she is throwing out those who do not qualify as refugees.”It was early morning and I was sleeping when four policemen came to my home and arrested me,” said Ali Madad Nasiri, one of the men on board a charter plane that landed in the Afghan capital from Frankfurt.”I didn’t have a chance to take my clothes, cellphone and laptop – all left behind,” added Nasiri, who said he had been living in Germany for three years.Afghans made up a fifth of all migrants entering Europe last year, the second biggest share after Syrians. The deportations are taking place under an agreement reached between Germany and Afghanistan in October. Making clear that more would follow, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in Berlin that granting asylum to those who need it and ensuring that others leave are two sides of the same coin.Only people who can prove they are refugees fleeing persecution, war or violence are eligible for asylum.

“These deportations are right and necessary to keep the asylum system functional,” said de Maiziere.He added that one-third of those deported were criminals convicted of offences, from robbery and drugs crimes to rape and homicide. Of the 50 men due on the plane, 16 had disappeared.

“WHAT SHOULD I DO?”
In response to criticism that returnees may face reprisals in Afghanistan, de Maiziere said that while the security situation was “complicated”, there were large parts of the country that were safe. More than 3,200 Afghans had voluntarily left Germany this year, he added.The Afghan Ministry of Refugees will help returnees get back to their homes, a ministry spokesman said, adding that about 10,000 Afghans had returned from Europe this year.The mass influx of migrants and refugees to Germany has raised concerns about security and integration. The arrest this month of an Afghan refugee suspected of raping and murdering a student in the southern city of Freiburg has caused outrage.

Anti-immigrant groups such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party have surged in popularity, while support for Merkel has waned.Afghanistan’s Western-backed government is battling militants who have stepped up attacks since the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014. Western military officials estimate the Taliban control or contest nearly a third of the country. Civilian casualties are near record high levels, with thousands killed and wounded every year. The government is also struggling to develop the economy.”Everyone loves his country. I also love my country but what should I do here?,” said Mati Ullah, 22, who said he had no job prospects in Afghanistan. “Do I have to go and join the Taliban or Daesh?” he asked, referring to Islamic State militants. (Writing by Randy Fabi, Michael Nienaber and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Robert Birsel and Mark Trevelyan)

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First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 21:28 IST

India to contribute $500,000 to UN emergency response fund

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India has said it will contribute $500,000 to the United Nations’s emergency response fund for the year 2016-17 as it stressed that the international response is falling significantly short of the challenges posed by humanitarian crises across the world.Counsellor in India’s Permanent Mission to the UN Anjani Kumar said at the high-level Pledging Conference that the Government of India would be contributing $500,000 to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for the year 2016-17. India’s cumulative contribution to the fund so far has been $6 million. “Despite our own resource constraints, India has always been forthcoming within our ability and national circumstance in offering humanitarian assistance as per the needs and requests of our friends and partners,” Kumar said.Kumar added that the scale and instances of humanitarian crises around the world has been on the rise and the need for assistance to meet the challenges these crises pose has been unparalleled. Kumar said the number of people requiring urgent humanitarian assistance worldwide has quadrupled over the past 10 years and the international humanitarian response is falling significantly short of the challenges posed. “Addressing these needs require immediate attention. Any delay in providing assistance can have long term consequences. There is a need for coordination and partnership to meet these challenges,” Kumar said.Kumar said India has assisted in relief efforts in countries such as Afghanistan, Maldives, Nepal, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Yemen in a number of situations of natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes and cyclone. CERF pools contributions from donors mainly governments, but also, foundations, companies, charities and individuals into a single fund with a $450 million annual target. This money is set aside for immediate use at the onset of emergencies, in rapidly deteriorating situations and in protracted crises that fail to attract sufficient resources.In an average year, CERF allocates approximately $450 million to humanitarian operations in some 50 different countries. Since 2006, more than $3.7 billion has been allocated to help millions of people in 92 countries and territories across the world.

Pakistan will splinter into 10 pieces if it doesn’t stop conspiring against India: Rajnath Singh

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday accused Pakistan of “conspiring” to divide India along religious lines and warned the neighbouring country that it would be “splintered” into 10 nations if it failed to quell terrorism.”Pakistan is conspiring to divide India on religious lines but it will not succeed. We were divided in 1947 on religious basis. We have not been able to forget that… All Indians are brothers, whether they are born from the womb of a Hindu mother or a Muslim mother,” he said addressing a Martyrs’ Day function in Kathua district.”We want to live in peace with Pakistan but it has indulged in sponsoring a proxy war against India. Every Prime Minister of India wanted to mend relations with Pakistan but it did not understand the language of peace and attacked India four times. But our brave soldiers gave them a befitting reply.”The Home Minister said Pakistan was waging the proxy war through terrorism, which is a weapon of the weak.”Terrorism is the weapon of the weak and not the brave,” he said.”Pakistan came into existence after India got divided on religious lines but it could not keep itself united. In 1971, it got split into two and, if it does not mend its ways, it will get splintered into 10 pieces and India will have no role in it,” he said.Singh said terror groups ISIS had the whole world worried because of its activities but failed to spread its roots in India because of the Muslims.”When the entire world is worried about ISIS, I can say it as the Home Minister of the country, as I know the reality that ISIS has not been able to spread its roots in India and the credit for this goes to the Muslims of the country, the followers of Islam,” he said.He said people might not know but when a member of somebody’s family got radicalised, others came to him to seek his help to save the child from the clutches of the ISIS.He also offered India’s cooperation to Pakistan to help eradicate the menace of terrorism from its soil.”If Pakistan is serious about eradicating terrorism but is incapable of doing that and wants cooperation, we are ready to help it eradicate terrorism from there,” the Minister said.Singh said India always wanted to have friendly relations with all its neighbours but Pakistan betrayed India and returned peace initiatives with terrorist attacks. “Narendra Modi, before the formation of his government, had held a party meeting and we decided if we want to make India a powerful country we need cooperation of all the neighbouring countries. So we decided to invite all the neighbouring heads of state/government and we invited Nawaz Sharif also, and he had come,” Singh said.”Sharif was invited not just to shake hands but let the hearts of the two countries to meet,” he said, adding Pakistan should understand “our intentions but it has failed to do so”.He also said Modi, “breaking all protocol”, went to attend a function in Sharif’s family while returning from Afghanistan.”We try our best that our neighbours live in peace with us. We want development of India as well as that of Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. All should progress. We want this. But what has Pakistan given us in return for our large-heartedness?”We got Gurdaspur, Pathankot and Uri where terrorists entered and launched cowardly attacks on our soldiers,” Singh said. “But we also showed them what we are capable of,” he added.”I thank our soldiers who succeeded in giving the message we cannot only hit them here but if need arises we can hit them anywhere,” Singh said, referring to the surgical strikes carried by the army inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.He said after Gurdaspur and Pathankot terror attacks, Pakistan had stated it wanted to cooperate and sent a team to India. “But after the team’s return to Pakistan, they refused to allow Indian SIT to visit Pakistan,” he said.

Stone causeway of Grand Trunk road discovered in Bihar

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials have discovered a 4km long and 20ft wide stone causeway built over Sone river in Bihar, which they say is a part of the Grand Trunk (GT) road built by Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri.”The ASI is currently mapping the GT road or Uttarpath, as it was known in the ancient times, across the country, and the causeway has been discovered during this exercise,” a senior ASI official said. The project of tracing the Uttarpath is being headed by ASI DG Rakesh Tewari, who is currently out of India and was unavailable for comment.According to historians, the Uttarpath was reconstructed during Sher Shah Suri’s reign in the 16th century from present-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh and was renamed GT road by the Britishers in the 17th century. It was one of Asia’s oldest and longest road and promoted trade and commerce in the southern and central parts of the continent.The ASI official termed it one of the most important discoveries of recent times and added, “In fact, this is the first time that we have actually discovered an original part of the ancient or medieval GT road,” he said.Located between Kanbaheli in Aurangabad district and Bansa in Rohtas district, the discovered causeway (a raised road or track across a water body) is built out of 10ft long dressed sandstone slabs, and parts of it are still undamaged. “The structure and style indicate that the causeway was built in the medieval times. So far as we know, its last mention is found in Sir William Wilson Hunter’s A Statistical Account of Bengal in 1876,” another archaeologist said.Officials attributed the discovery to heavy monsoon rains in Bihar and discharge of lakhs of cusecs of water on Sone river from the Indrapuri barrage that likely washed away the sand and silt deposits on the causeway and revealed its surface.”The causeway is around one kilometre away (to the west) from the current alignment of the GT road, which may be because of the British slightly changing the alignments of the road in the late 1800s,” he said.

After Ghani raps Pak on terror, Sartaj Aziz says Afghanistan’s comments meant to please India

Islamabad: India’s efforts to “spoil” Pak-Afghan ties will not succeed, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has said as he downplayed Afghan President’s criticism of Pakistan’s support to terrorism, saying it was meant to “please” India.

“Ashraf Ghani’s (Afghan President) statement is regrettable. It shows anxiety in Kabul and is understandable due to deteriorating law and order situation,” Aziz said, adding that Ghani’s “statements were meant to please India”.

Sartaj Aziz. File photo. ReutersSartaj Aziz. File photo. Reuters

Sartaj Aziz. File photo. Reuters

He said India’s efforts to divide Afghanistan and Pakistan will not go far as “we are next-door neighbours”.

“Indian efforts will not succeed to spoil Pakistan ties with Afghanistan, as our ties are religious and cultural. That is why we want that terrorism should end in Afghanistan,” he said on returning home after attending the Heart of Asia meeting in Amritsar.

“But our ties with Afghanistan are independent and we need to cooperate on several issues,” Aziz said. He claimed that India was trying to use Afghanistan for its own advantage “but it will not succeed”.

Aziz also accused India of not treating the Pakistani media properly at the Heart of Asia meeting and said he was not allowed to have a press conference.

“The attitude towards media was not good. I wanted to have press interaction with our own media. But we were not allowed,” he alleged. Afghan President Ghani had accused Pakistan of launching an “undeclared war” against his country by covertly supporting terror networks including the Taliban, and asked it to use its $500 million aid to check extremism on its soil.

He had also demanded an Asian or international regime to verify Pakistan-sponsored terror operations. Aziz said Pakistan had reassured Ghani that its territory will not be used against Kabul.

“I reassured Ghani that we will not allow out territory to be used against Afghanistan. But also emphasised better border management,” said Aziz.

Aziz said the Afghan leader had a different idea about USD 500 million assistance pledged by Pakistan and proposed a trilateral commission with China to utilise the amount for welfare of Afghanistan.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 15:14 IST

India’s bid to ‘spoil’ Pak-Afghan ties will not succeed: Sartaj Aziz

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India’s efforts to “spoil” Pak-Afghan ties will not succeed, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has said as he downplayed Afghan President’s criticism of Pakistan’s support to terrorism, saying it was meant to “please” India.”Ashraf Ghani’s (Afghan President) statement is regrettable. It shows anxiety in Kabul and is understandable due to deteriorating law and order situation,” Aziz said, adding that Ghani’s “statements were meant to please India”.He said India’s efforts to divide Afghanistan and Pakistan will not go far as “we are next-door neighbours”.”Indian efforts will not succeed to spoil Pakistan ties with Afghanistan, as our ties are religious and cultural. That is why we want that terrorism should end in Afghanistan,” he said on returning home after attending the Heart of Asia meeting in Amritsar.”But our ties with Afghanistan are independent and we need to cooperate on several issues,” Aziz said.He claimed that India was trying to use Afghanistan for its own advantage “but it will not succeed”.Aziz also accused India of not treating the Pakistani media properly at the Heart of Asia meeting and said he was not allowed to have a press conference.”The attitude towards media was not good. I wanted to have press interaction with our own media. But we were not allowed,” he alleged.Afghan President Ghani had accused Pakistan of launching an “undeclared war” against his country by covertly supporting terror networks including the Taliban, and asked it to use its US $500 million aid to check extremism on its soil.He had also demanded an Asian or international regime to verify Pakistan-sponsored terror operations.Aziz said Pakistan had reassured Ghani that its territory will not be used against Kabul.”I reassured Ghani that we will not allow out territory to be used against Afghanistan. But also emphasised better border management,” said Aziz.Aziz said the Afghan leader had a different idea about US $500 million assistance pledged by Pakistan and proposed a trilateral commission with China to utilise the amount for welfare of Afghanistan.

Heart of Asia conference: Pakistan ’embarrassed’ on terrorism, but policy will continue

Rarely in a multilateral meeting or conference does a participating country become the principal target of attack by a country that is the “chair” or “co-chair”. But this was precisely what happened on Sunday at Amritsar during the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia — Istanbul Process (HoA-IP), attended by 14 partner countries and more than 30 supporting countries and international organisations. The ‘hapless’ country happened to be Pakistan — the target of a hard-hitting attack by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, whose country was the co-chair along with India of this edition of HoA-IP.

In fact, Afghanistan was just simply not the co-chair. It is the heart of the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference. This is because the principal goal of the HoA-IP, which was launched in November 2011 in Turkey, is to galvanise regional cooperation for peace, security and development in Afghanistan. That in the process it will also contribute to the stability and prosperity to Afghanistan’s extended neighbourhood in South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia is equally important, but Afghanistan remains the heart of the Istanbul process. And in this process of promoting peace and prosperity, the previous five Ministerial Conferences in Istanbul (2011), Kabul (2012), Almaty (2013), Beijing (2014), and Islamabad (2015) have facilitated both bilaterally and multilateral aid and developmental assistance worth billions of dollars.

However, peace and stability of Afghanistan remain elusive; the nascent Afghan democracy continues to be attacked by the religious extremists of various hues, Afghan soldiers continue to die on the battlefields and the Afghan people continue to be victims of terror attacks. And as long as this remains the state of affairs, there cannot be any secure development in Afghanistan. In other words, true realisation of the aid and economic assistance to Afghanistan depends most critically on the security of the Afghan people and the stability of the Afghan government. And that is not possible until and unless terrorists and sources of terror in Afghanistan are not taken care of.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, MoS for External Affairs VK Singh and other delegates, poses for a group photo before the inauguration of the 6th Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference, in Amritsar on Sunday. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, MoS for External Affairs VK Singh and other delegates, poses for a group photo before the inauguration of the 6th Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference, in Amritsar on Sunday. PTI

It is understandable therefore why the menace of terrorism dominated the Amritsar meet. While deliberating on this theme, various dimensions of terrorism came under discussion — identification of its source, base, networks, training and support. Terrorism is a multifaceted phenomenon; therefore, to tackle it requires a multifaceted approach. And in this endeavour, the Afghan president took the initiative in his inaugural speech at the Amritsar meet. He was at his candid best by saying that terrorism in this part of the world is a regional creation, the nerve centre being Pakistan.

Ghani was absolutely clear Pakistan has launched an “undeclared war” on his country by covertly supporting several terror networks including the Taliban. Pakistan is supporting the terror infrastructure and encouraging cross border terror attacks. In fact, he called for setting up of international mechanism to verify reality of such increasing attacks of late. “There should be an Asian or international regime, whatever is acceptable to Pakistan, in place to verify frontier activities and terrorist operations. We do not want blame games, we want verification,” he said.

But that was not all. He literally embarrassed Pakistan’s foreign policy advisor Sartaz Aziz, who was in the audience and who, as the representative of his country had already pledged $500 million for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

“We thank Pakistan for their pledges. This fund could very well be used to contain extremists because without peace any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of our people,” Ghani said, asserting that no amount of money can assist Afghanistan if there is support to terrorists by Pakistan.

In fact, 4 December must be considered a bad day for Pakistan’s diplomacy as its diplomats could not prevent the Amritsar Declaration from naming the terrorist organisations jeoparadising the security situation in Afghanistan. The declarations named Taliban, Islamic State/Daesh and its affiliates, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist fighters. Almost all of them are based in Pakistan. And the whole world knows that organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are the creations of the Pakistani Army.

We strongly call for concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, including dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism. In this regard, we call upon all states to take action against these terrorist entities in accordance with their respective national counter terrorism policies, their international obligations and the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy 2006,” the declaration said.

Importantly, the declaration has spoken of the dangers emanating from “the increase in production and cultivation of opium in Afghanistan, the volume of drug trafficking and demand in the HoA Region and beyond”. And here too, it is a common knowledge that the southern Afghanistan region bordering Pakistan is the main area where poppy is cultivated under the control of the Pakistan-based terrorists. When harvested, most of it is sent via Pakistan’s Balochistan province to the rest of the world (through land route to Iran and beyond) and water routes through Pakistan’s ports. In fact, poppy happens to be an important source of finance to the Pakistan-based terrorists, the other source being Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two countries in lead to promote Wahhabism (fundamentalist Islam) all over the world.

The sixth Ministerial Conference of the HoA-IP has wisely suggested that “a regional approach” to eliminate terrorism, a manifestation of radicalisation of the societies in the region, must:

“(U)tilise the capacities of men and women throughout the cross section of society of the region that includes political figures, religious leaders, educational institutions, opinion makers, youth, civil society, mass media and social networks. We undertake to develop such a regional approach to counter radicalisation by tasking our relevant experts from the fields of security, education and local governance to meet in the first half of 2017 to identify key areas to be addressed for developing this regional approach and provide recommendations to be presented to the Senior Officials Meeting of the HoA-IP in the first half of 2017 for further action on this critical issue.”

However, the key question is – will Pakistan listen? It is true that terrorism is also afflicting Pakistan, but then Pakistan cannot afford to do away with terror as an instrument of foreign policy against India and Afghanistan. Because, peace and stability in India and Afghanistan can never be the foreign policy goals of Pakistan in foreseeable future. We all know about India. But why so in the case of Afghanistan? There are many reasons for this, including the so-called strategic depth that Afghanistan provides to Pakistan in its war against India. But most important is the fact that once Afghanistan becomes strong, secure and stable, it will demand the return of its territories, particularly Waziristan (even Peshawar region). And this is something Pakistan will not easily allow.

Waziristan covers an area of 11,585 square kilometres (4,473 square miles) and is divided into what are defined as North and South Waziristan agencies. The total population today is estimated to be around a million. The region is one of the most inaccessible, has an extremely rugged terrain and has remained outside the direct control of the Pakistani government. The Wazir tribes, along with the Mehsuds and Dawars, inhabit the region and are fiercely independent. They did not bother the Pakistani government till the fall of the Taliban government in neighboring Afghanistan, when the region became a sanctuary for fleeing Al Qaeda and Taliban elements. In fact, they do not realise that the Durand Line, which marks the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, has made them Pakistanis.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani shake hands at 6th Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar on Sunday. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani shake hands at 6th Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar on Sunday. PTI

For them, the Durand Line is artificial in every sense of the term. The other side of the line, which is Afghan territory, is as much their land as the Pakistani side. They have never seen or accepted any restrictions on their movements or those of their “guests” across the Durand Line, nor are they in a mood to accept such restrictions.

In fact, going by history and ethnicity, they have more affinity with the people of present-day Afghanistan than those in Pakistan. And most importantly, no government in Afghanistan has formally accepted Waziristan as part of Pakistan. Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, who was foreign secretary in the colonial government of British India, signed a document with the king of Afghanistan Abdur Rahman Khan on 12 November, 1893, relating to the borders between Afghanistan and modern-day Pakistan, which was then India. The International Boundary was named the Durand Line. However, no legislative body in Afghanistan has ever ratified the document and the border issue is an ongoing contention between the two countries.

The Durand Line, which runs though areas inhabited by the Pashtuns, was never accepted by either the Afghan government — which signed it under duress — or the Pashtuns that sought to create their own homeland called Pashtunistan. In fact, in April 1919 during the Anglo-Afghan war, Afghan General Nadir Khan advanced to Thal in southern Waziristan to reclaim Afghan rights over the region. The area was recovered after a long fight where many were killed by the British Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer.

Besides, Afghanistan’s loya jirga or political meetings of 1949 had declared the Durand Line invalid as they saw it as ex parte on their side, since British India had ceased to exist in 1947. It proclaimed that the Afghan government did not recognise the Durand Line as a legal boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This being the situation, every government in Islamabad, military and non-military, has desperately tried to reach a bilateral agreement with successive regimes in Kabul to convert the Durand Line into an international border, but without success. Even when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Pakistan, which aided and abetted the Taliban during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and was one of the few countries to have recognised the Taliban government in Kabul and allowed it to have an embassy in Islamabad, expected, in vain, a favourable response.

This explains why Pakistan will always want a dependent government in Kabul, which is more likely to ensure the de facto preservation of the lapsed and abrogated Durand Line even if it cannot be converted into an international border. But this is something no Afghan government can afford to agree with.

So, Pakistan will continue to perpetuate instability and chaos in Afghanistan.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 09:03 IST

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Heart of Asia declaration which named Pak-based terror outfits LeT, JeM was unanimous: Sartaj Aziz

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The declaration adopted at the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference, which named Pakistan-based terror outfits LeT and JeM, was unanimous, said Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the country’s Prime Minister, who attended the meet in Amritsar.On his return home, Aziz sought to play down its significance by highlighting that other groups were also mentioned in the declaration along with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, the terror groups blamed for attacks in India.Addressing a press conference, he said the emphasis of the conference was on tackling all regional outfits to stamp down militancy. HOA is a platform for discussing reconstruction of the trouble-torn Afghanistan.The HoA declaration expressed serious concern over gravity of the security situation in Afghanistan and in many parts of the region, holding that united efforts are required to contain terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e- Mohammad, Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaida, IS and its affiliates, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist groups.Aziz said the declaration was unanimous and not only Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad were mentioned but several groups were named.”We are not under pressure to deal with militancy. It is not true as we are already doing it in our own interest,” he said.”I put forward the objective situation in my statement. I said that we need holistic approach, as there are different groups and foreign elements. Afghanistan is complex and needs careful handling,” Aziz said.He also defended the Pakistan government’s decision to attend the HoA conference.”It was good decision to attend HoA. It was good to attend multilateral forum…to show solidarity with Afghanistan. If we had boycotted, then India would say that first they expelled Pakistan from SAARC and now from HoA,” he said.Aziz also said that on the sidelines of the conclave he met Iranian foreign minister Jawad Zarif, foreign minister of Turkmenistan and Chinese assistant foreign minister.To a question, he said India had restricted movements of the Pakistani delegation.”Our interactions were not structured but overall there were constructive,” he said.

Afghan Prez gives Pak a $500mn-snub on terror

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>It doesn’t get more direct than what Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani had to say in Amritsar on Sunday.”Pakistan,” he told representatives of nearly 50 countries or organisations attending the Heart of Asia conference, including Pakistan Foreign Affairs and Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz, “has pledged 500 million dollars for Afghanistan’s development. This amount, Mr Aziz, can be spent to fight terrorists and extremists in Pakistan.”TV cameras did not capture Aziz’s expression, but the sting in Ghani’s words was not lost on anyone.The Afghan President did not stop at that.”A key Taliban leader,” the Afghan President said, “has himself admitted to getting sanctuary in Pakistan. He said that without Pakistan support, we would had not lasted for more than a month.”As if on cue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who co-chaired the conference with Ghani, called for action “against those who support, shelter, train and finance” terrorists.”Silence and inaction against terrorism in Afghanistan and our region will only embolden terrorists and their masters,” he continued in the same vein.This double-barrelled attack on Pakistan, by the Afghan and Indian leaders, was in keeping with India’s attempts of late to shame their common neighbour and further isolate it diplomatically.The bonhomie between Kabul and New Delhi extended to the bilateral talks between Ghani and Modi on the margins of the conference.Economic partnership via trade and connectivity, development assistance and security cooperation were among the bilateral, regional and global issues that came up for discussion in their meeting.Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said that Ghani and Modi agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation to combat especially the cross-border nature of the scourge which had caused immense suffering to the people of India and Afghanistan.Both countries decided to operationalise the additional one billion meant as Indian development assistance for infrastructure and connectivity projects. They also plan to introduce an air transport corridor between India and Afghanistan to give India and Afghan consumers and producers unimpeded access to each other’s products and services.Modi was to amplify it later by saying that “Afghanistan should be at the centre of our connectivity networks, not peripheral to them. On our part, we see Afghanistan as the hub for strengthening links of connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia.””We,” he said, “cannot deny that the more connected Afghanistan is with the regional arteries of trade, capital and markets, the more assured would be its economic growth and progress. President Ghani and I have converged on the priority of strengthening trade and transport linkages with other partners in the region.”For his part, Ghani said that all the countries in Afghanistan’s neighbourhood and beyond “need to identify cross-border terrorism and a fund to combat terrorism”. He lauded India’s development role in his war-torn country by saying that Indian assistance is transparent and came without any strings attached. “There are no hidden agreements or secret conditions… it is convergence of interests and values of two states inspired by the belief in cooperative advantage.”Aziz defended by saying in his intervention afterwards at the conference that “it is simplistic to blame only one country for the recent upsurge in violence” in Afghanistan. In an oblique reference to the continued India-Pakistan tensions, he said that peaceful resolution of outstanding disputes will further improve regional cooperation and connectivity in the region. (Pakistan does not allow India access through its territory for exporting goods to Afghanistan.)However, at a joint news conference with Afghanistan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley (standing in for Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is indisposed) said that terrorism was at the very core of the deliberations and that the tone had been set by Ghani and Modi earlier in the day.Karzai, in turn, spoke about how Pakistan, without naming it, is nurturing and flirting with terrorism, which has consequences not only for Pakistan itself but also for the region.The participating countries, Jaitley added, recognised that terrorism was the biggest threat to peace and stability and the Amritsar Declaration adopted towards the end of the summit expressed concern over violence perpetrated by terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.If there were fears that India-Pakistan tensions would hijack the conference agenda, it was not to be. In the end, Aziz’s engagements did not go beyond the customary handshake and photo-op with Modi. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup maintained that there was no pull-aside or bilateral meeting between Aziz and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval either.

Heart of Asia conference: PM invokes Amritsar’s close links with Afghanistan

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Amritsar nurtures an old and steadfast connection of warmth and affection with Afghanistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday invoking the economic and spiritual links of the holy city, which is hosting the 6th Heart of Asia conference.Inaugurating the conclave, he told the gathering about Amritsar’s role in prosperity of Afghanistan, underscoring that the city “reinforces the value of restoring connectivity which is crucial for the overall growth, stability and economic prosperity” of the war ravaged country. Noting that the city’s character has been shaped by proud patriotism and generous philanthropy of its residents, he said, “Amritsar also happens to nurture an old and steadfast connection of warmth and affection with Afghanistan”.Among the earliest disciples of the first Guru of Sikhs, Guru NanakDev, were Afghans. He had preached in Kabul in the 15th century, he said at the conference which is a platform to help Afghanistan in its transition. The 6th Heart of Asia ministerial conference is being held at Amritsar, which is barely 20 kms from the Indo-Pak border. “Even today, the shrine of an Afghan origin Sufi saint Baba Hazrat Sheikh in Punjab is revered by all faiths, including visitors from Afghanistan,” he said.Modi said that the flow of trade, people and ideas through the region has often intersected in Amritsar on one of Asia’s oldest and longest surface arteries the Grand Trunk road. He defined residents of the city as people with spirit of enterprise, creativity and hard work. Modi begin his inaugural speech with Namaskar and Sat Sri Akal”, the traditional Sikh greeting. Welcoming the delegates to the holy city, he said that Amritsar is blessed with simplicity, beauty and spirituality, and is abode to the Golden Temple, the holiest shrines of Sikhs.It is a place made sacred by Sikh Gurus who meditated here, he said adding that it embodied peace and humanism, and was open to all people and religions. “It’s streets and parks tell stories of great valour and immense sacrifice,” he said. Talking about Amritsar, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the city used to be a centre of commerce and business which connected India to Central Asia, Russia and beyond.Ghani visited the Golden temple last evening with Modi.

Heart of Asia: Amritsar Declaration calls for dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Combating terrorism was at the centre-stage of Heart of Asia (HoA) conference which sent a clear message to Pakistan,holding terror and violent extremism as the biggest threat to peace, but could not firm up a regional framework proposed by Afghanistan to effectively deal with the menace.After the two-day deliberations, attended by 40 countries including major regional and global powers and blocs, the HoA, a platform to help Afghanistan in its transition, issued the Amritsar Declaration which called for dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terror networks. Held in the backdrop of number of cross-border terror attacks on India and elsewhere, the HoA expressed serious concern over gravity of the security situation in Afghanistan and in many parts of the region, holding that united efforts are required to contain terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaida, IS and its affiliates, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist groups.Addressing a press conference, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who headed the Indian delegation, said the declaration recognises terrorism as the biggest threat to peace and stability and demands immediate end to all forms of terrorism and all support, financing, safe havens and sanctuaries to it. “For the first time, a Heart of Asia Declaration expressed concern at the violence caused in Afghanistan and the region by terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Daesh, LeT and JeM etc,” Jaitley said. Incidentally, HOA’s Islamabad declaration had mentioned Al Qaeda and Daesh.Apart from calling for concerted cooperation to combat the terror groups, the declaration sought early finalization of the a draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. It also favoured an early meeting of experts to discuss a draft Regional Counter-Terrorism Framework, recently prepared by Afghanistan, for its early finalization. Afghanistan had pushed hard for adoption of the framework but as many countries had not given their inputs, it could not be firmed up.Afghan President Ashraf Ghani slammed Pakistan for providing support and safe sanctuaries to terror groups including Taliban, accusing it of engaging in an “undeclared war” while many other leaders sought firm and decisive action to deal with the challenge. Jaitley said three major issues deliberated upon at the conference were countering terrorism to create stability and security in Afghanistan, providing it with connectivity and ensure the war-ravaged country s development.”We recognize that terrorism is the biggest threat to peace, stability and cooperation in our region. We encourage the international community to continue to assist the Government of Afghanistan.”We strongly call for concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, including dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism,” said the declaration. In this regard, “we call upon all states to take action against these terrorist entities in accordance with their respective national counter terrorism policies, their international obligations and the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy 2006.”Furthermore, we encourage early finalization of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism with consensus,” said the declaration. In an indirect reference to Pakistan, the declaration said the HoA acknowledged the support that terrorism derives in the region and demands an immediate end to all forms of terrorism, as well as all support to it, including financing of terrorism.The declaration, which also mentioned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and East Turkistan Islamic Movement, said it was “recognising once again that terrorism, violent extremism, radicalization, separatism, and sectarianism and linkages among them are the gravest challenges that the Heart of Asia region and the rest of the international community face” These problems would continue to pose a severe threat to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, economic development and bilateral and regional cooperation. “We renew our strong commitment to strengthening comprehensive cooperation among the Heart of Asia countries and intensify our efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations through solidarity and collective action,” the declaration said.It said the countries recognised the necessity of taking serious measures to address recruitment of youths to extremist and terrorist networks and underlined the need for effective de-radicalization and counter-radicalization strategies. The HoA felt combating terror will not succeed without a concerted and coherent regional approach and decided to develop such a regional approach by tasking experts to meet in the first half of 2017 to identify key areas for such initiative.The experts will give recommendation to the HoA in the first half of 2017 for further action. Calling for dismantling nexus between revenue and its financial support for terrorist entities in the region, it said dialogue between relevant ministries and agencies of the HoA countries were necessary to tackle the menace. The Conference was attended by delegations from practically every participating country, supporting countries and international organizations 45 in all.The delegations of Afghanistan, India, Iran, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan, and of the European Union were led by the respective Ministers. The Conference also saw the presence and participation of guest countries Austria, Bulgaria, Latvia and Uzbekistan.Jaitley said the discussions and the declaration reiterated the strong support from the Heart of Asia countries for Afghanistan’s efforts to use its geographic location to enhance wider regional economic cooperation. Specific initiatives in this regard including the India-Iran-Afghanistan Trilateral Agreement on developing Chabahar were acknowledged. He said during the Conference various delegations expressed appreciation for the constructive role that India has been playing in supporting Afghanistan and its people in the past decade and a half. In the press conference, Jaitley said terrorism was at the “core” of the deliberations and that it took the centre-stage with tone being set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Stressing on the connectivity projects, he said India was considering a number of road and rail projects to establish direct link between the two countries. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai termed the deliberations “extremely productive” and said his country was looking to enhance connectivity with India via land routes.In the declaration, the HoA also commended the Afghan government for successfully pursuing peace talks with Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar resulting in the “signature of a peace agreement that sets a good precedent for future peace talks with all other armed groups”. It also appreciated Iran and Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees for over three decades.The HoA countries also urged all Afghan Taliban groups and other armed groups to enter into peace talks with the Afghanistan government. “We acknowledge the crucial role of Afghanistan as a natural land bridge in promoting regional connectivity and economic integration in the Heart of Asia region, and we reiterate our strong support for Afghanistan’s efforts to use its geographic location to enhance wider regional economic cooperation.”We further stress that economic development will contribute to achieving lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region, and enhance regional economic integration. “In this regard, we welcome the practical implementation of TAPI and completion of the first stage of the Asian International Railway Corridor between Imamnazar, Turkmenistan, and Aqina, Afghanistan — the initial stages of TAT linking Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan,” the declaration read.It also welcomed the MoU on jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road between the China and Afghanistan. “All these will lay the foundations for a successful Seventh Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) planned for November 2017 in Ashgabat,” it said. Next year, the Heart of Asia conference will be held in Azerbaijan.

Heart of Asia: Full text of Amritsar Declaration

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Combating terrorism was at the centre-stage of Heart of Asia (HoA) conference which sent a clear message to Pakistan, holding terror and violent extremism as the biggest threat to peace, but could not firm up a regional framework proposed by Afghanistan to effectively deal with the menace.After the two-day deliberations, attended by 40 countries including major regional and global powers and blocs, the HoA, a platform to help Afghanistan in its transition, issued the Amritsar Declaration which called for dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terror networks.Held in the backdrop of number of cross-border terror attacks on India and elsewhere, the HoA expressed serious concern over gravity of the security situation in Afghanistan and in many parts of the region, holding that united efforts are required to contain terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaida, IS and its affiliates, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist groups.Here is the full text of the Amritsar Declaration:December 04, 20161. We, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and high-level representatives of the participating and supporting countries, joined by high level representatives of the international and regional organizations, have met in Amritsar, the Republic of India, on 4 December 2016 at our Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process (HoA-IP). The Conference was co-chaired by HE Shri Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister of the Republic of India and HE Mr. Salahuddin Rabbani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.2. We express our gratitude to HE Mr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and H.E. Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India for inaugurating the Sixth Ministerial Conference.3. We recall the five Ministerial Conferences in Istanbul (2011), Kabul (2012), Almaty (2013), Beijing (2014), and Islamabad (2015) and we reaffirm our commitment to the principles, objectives, and outcomes enshrined in the Declarations of these Conferences that have defined the ideals for the working of the HoA-IP aimed at promoting regional peace and prosperity.4. We reaffirm the importance of the HoA-IP as an important regional platform for political dialogue and close regional cooperation aimed at promoting stability, peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the entire Heart of Asia region, and for enhancing Afghanistan’s connectivity with the entire Heart of Asia region. We recognize the role of cultural heritage as a catalyst for social and economic development of the Heart of Asia region.5. We reaffirm our commitment to the United Nations Charter and its enshrined principles of sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, sovereign equality of nations and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states as well as universally recognized principles and norms of international law. Further, we reaffirm our commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We reiterate the importance of increased political dialogue and consultations between countries of the Heart of Asia region for a stable, peaceful and prosperous region.6. We remain committed to resolving our differences peacefully, and refraining from threat or use of force against the political independence, territorial integrity, or sovereignty of any state. We will also work towards regional consensus on non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, which is critically important for good neighborliness between countries of the region, and for peaceful co-existence as independent and sovereign nations, and re-affirm our commitment to these principles.7. We stress the need for advancing regional cooperation as an effective means to address common challenges and to promote security, stability and socio-economic development in the Heart of Asia region. We, therefore, renew our commitment to strengthening enhanced cooperation among Member States in a sincere and effective manner.8. We reaffirm our appreciation and express strong and unequivocal support for the ongoing constructive efforts of the Government of Afghanistan towards regional engagement and its commitment to building an increasing environment of trust and confidence throughout the region.9. We appreciate the commitment of the international community for supporting the Government and people of Afghanistan and stress the crucial need for continuation of such support for achieving a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.10. We welcome the assumption of full responsibility for security by the ANDSF and for their role in fighting terrorism andviolent extremism in Afghanistan. We welcome the agreements between the International Community and the Government of Afghanistan, and relevant decisions, which allow for continued financial support to the ANDSF until 2020 and assistance to them by the Post-ISAF Mission, in support of long-term security and stability in Afghanistan. We also pay tribute to the sacrifices made by the ANDSF and international forces.11. We commend the European Union and Afghanistan for convening the October 4-5 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, and recognize the importance of the development assistance commitments made by over 100 countries and international organizations, and of the Self-Reliance through Mutual Accountability Framework (SMAF) and its deliverables. We call on the international community to further strengthen international and regional cooperation towards sustained efforts for a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.12. We appreciate the continued efforts by the OIC and Afghanistan to convene the International Ulema Conference in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with inclusive representation of the Islamic countries and hope a positive outcome would contribute to lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.13. We recognize the significance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and its subsequent resolutions on the role of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and post-conflict processes in the Heart of Asia region.14. We remain concerned by the gravity of the security situation in Afghanistan in particular and the region and the high level of violence caused by the Taliban, terrorist groups including ISIL / DAISHand its affiliates, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaida, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist fighters. Acknowledging the support that terrorism derives in our region, we demand an immediate end to all forms of terrorism, as well as all support to it, including financing of terrorism. We recognize that terrorism is the biggest threat to peace, stability and cooperation in our region. We encourage the international community to continue to assist the Government of Afghanistan. We strongly call for concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, including dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism. In this regard, we call upon all states to take action against these terroristentities in accordance with their respective national counter terrorism policies, their international obligationsand the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy 2006.Furthermore, we encourage early finalization of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism with consensus.15. We commend the government of Afghanistan in successfully pursuing peace talks with Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar resulting in the signature of a peace agreement that sets a good precedent for future peace talks with all other armed groups.16. We commend countries in the region and beyond, particularly Iran and Pakistan, for their hospitality in hosting millions of Afghan refugees for over three decades. We call on all these countries to continue hosting the Afghan refugees until their sustainable repatriation and reintegration in Afghanistan can take place in a voluntary, safe, gradual and dignified fashion, in accordance with the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees to Support Voluntary Repatriation, Sustainable Reintegration and Assistance to Host Communities. We are concerned by the recent spike of Afghan refugee returns and the challenges that this sudden influx presents for returnee re-integration programmes. We therefore urge the international community to provide generous support and targeted assistance for Afghan refugees, returnees and host communities in the region, with emphasis on youth, education and livelihoods. We welcome the Afghanistan-Pakistan-UNHCR and Afghanistan-Iran-UNHCR Tripartite Commissions on Voluntary Repatriation of Afghan Refugees from Iran and Pakistan, as vital steps in the Solutions Strategy. We support the Final Statement of the UNHCR Executive Committee High Level Segment refocusing the international community’s attention on the Afghan refugee situation in this critical period.Addressing Challenges17. Recognizing once again that terrorism, violent extremism, radicalization, separatism, and sectarianism and linkages among them are the gravest challenges that the Heart of Asia region and the rest of the international community face, and these problems would continue to pose a severe threat to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, economic development and bilateral and regional cooperation, we renew our strong commitment to strengthening comprehensive cooperation among the Heart of Asia countries and intensify our efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations through solidarity and collective action.18. We reaffirm our recognition made in Islamabad last year that violent extremism facilitates, encourages and justifies acts of terrorism and violence and we undertake to introduce measures to curb the spread of violent extremism and terrorism. We recognize the necessity of taking serious measures to address recruitment of youth to extremist and terrorist networks. We realize that the radicalization of disaffected elements of the population, especially youth, can only be prevented by effective de-radicalization and counter-radicalization strategies involving all the HoA countries.19. We, therefore, believe efforts to eliminate the menace of terrorism and violent extremism will not succeed without a concerted and coherent regional approach involving all HoA countries. This approach will have to utilize the capacities of men and women throughout the cross section of society of the region that includes political figures, religious leaders, educational institutions, opinion makers, youth, civil society, mass media and social networks. We undertake to develop such a regional approach to counter radicalization by tasking our relevant experts from the fields of security, education and local governance to meet in the first half of 2017 to identify key areas to be addressed for developing this regional approach and provide recommendations to be presented to the Senior Officials Meeting of the HoA-IP in the first half of 2017 for further action on this critical issue. We encourage HoA member countries to share their experiences and best practices in the area of counter radicalization with a view to helping evolve their national counter radicalization strategies.20. We welcome and support Afghanistan’s initiative in taking the lead in exploring a regional counter-terror strategy, in accordance with the established principles of the UN charter, which we agreed was necessary when we last met in Islamabad in December 2015. We note the progress that has been made since the last Ministerial with an Ambassadorial meeting of the CT-CBM participating countries at which a draft framework strategy was shared by Afghanistan for further consideration and development. We call for convening an early meeting of experts to discuss the draft framework strategy with the view to its finalization for consideration by senior security officials.21. We are concerned about the increase in production and cultivation of opium in Afghanistan, the volume of drug trafficking and demand in the HoA Region and beyond. This requires further eradication efforts and poses a threat to the socio-economic development, security and stability not only in Afghanistan, but also in the surrounding region and the world as a whole. We understand that acuteness and global scale of the drug threat requires appropriate international efforts aimed at intensifying measures to fight drugs production and trafficking in Afghanistan and the region of HoA. We also stress the urgent need to respond to the serious challenges posed by the nexus between revenue and its financial support for terrorist entities in Afghanistan, the Heart of Asia region and globally. To disrupt these links, the HoA countries intend to increase dialogue between their relevant ministries and agencies to tackle this menace. In this regard, we believe it is essential to integrate a comprehensive approach in addressing the drug problem of Afghanistan and the HoA region.22. We recognize that a politically negotiated settlement remains important for durable peace in Afghanistan. We reiterate our support to the Government of Afghanistan in its efforts to advance an Afghan led Afghan owned peace process. We urge all Afghan Taliban groups and all other armed groups to enter into peace talks with the Government of Afghanistan. While recognizing the importance of the contributions of neighboring countries and regional partners in this process, we urgeall those countries in the region and beyond who have leverages and influence to help bring the Taliban to the negotiation table.Achieving Prosperity23. We acknowledge the crucial role of Afghanistan as a natural land bridge in promoting regional connectivity and economic integration in the Heart of Asia region, and we reiterate our strong support for Afghanistan’s efforts to use its geographic location to enhance wider regional economic cooperation. We further stress that economic development will contribute to achieving lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region, and enhance regional economic integration. In this regard, we welcome the practical implementation of TAPI and completion of the first stage of the Asian International Railway Corridor between Imamnazar, Turkmenistan, and Aqina, Afghanistan — the initial stages of TAT linking Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Further, we encourage the early implementation of the multinational energy and connectivity projects of CASA-1000, TUTAP, Chabahar Agreement, the Five Nation Railway, TAT linking Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan by rail, all of which would play a central role in strengthening regional cooperation between Central Asia and South Asia and further forge economic connectivity and growth in the region. We welcome the MoU on Jointly Building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. All these will lay the foundations for a successful Seventh Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) planned for November 2017 in Ashgabat.24. We are encouraged by the continued commitment of regional countries to establish significant North-South and East-West corridors within the Heart of Asia Region with a focus on the development of infrastructure connecting Afghanistan and the region to seaports. We recognize the crucial significance of enhanced and assured sea-land access for Afghanistan to region’s biggest markets. In this context, we note the significant step taken by Afghanistan, Iran and India by signing their trilateral transport and transit agreement based on sea access through Chabahar. Once implemented, this corridor will provideadditional and dependable access for Afghanistan and Central Asia to regional and global markets.We also welcome the progress made on the Lapis Lazuli corridor, and believe that this will further increase the connectivity of Afghanistan.25. We appreciate the necessity to maximize the speed of movement of goods across the region, and in this context we agree to collaborate more closely in removing the non-tariff barriers to trade, establishing and implementing bilateral and multilateral regional transit-trade framework agreements. In this regard, we stress on the urgent need to integrate, through the land route, South Asia and Central Asia through the expansion of existing bilateral trade and transit agreement both northwards and southwards.26. We recognize the importance of the role of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) in the economic growth of individual countries and the region as a whole. We commit to undertake measures to strengthen the growth of SMEs, including women entrepreneurship, and enable their expansion across borders into other countries of the region. To realize these objectives, we task the members of the Trade, Commerce and Investment Opportunities CBM to explore measures, such as simplifying customs procedures, exchanging information on regional markets and addressing tariff and non-tariff barriers, and submit a report to the Senior Officials Meetings, so as to take these ideas forward for implementation.Confidence Building Measures27. Reiterating our collective support to promote the implementation of six CBMs identified in the HoA-IP, we note with satisfaction that a number of activities under various CMBs that were carried out since we last met in Islamabad in December 2015.28. We request the lead countries of CBMs that did not hold their Regional Technical Group meetings as we stipulated in Beijing (2014) and in Islamabad (2015) to reflect on how they could strengthen their capacity to play a lead role, as per their commitments, in advancing the work of the CBM that they lead. We also call upon participants and supporters to collaborate closely to implement prioritized activities under the CBMs of which they are members. We urge lead countries, participating and supporting countries and organizations to ensure the implementation of the activities prioritized by each CBM.29. We appreciate the valuable support of the international community to the HoA-IP. In this context, we look forward to continued contributions of the supporting countries and organizations to realize the implementation activities prioritized under each CBM. In order to have a more precise picture of the contributions by the international community to the Heart of Asia Process, we request the co-Chairs to provide us with an annual report on the activities of each CBM and the contributions made by the participating countries and supporters of this process. In this context, an assessment of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process from its inception in 2011, including on the CBMs, was carried out by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and presented to the Senior Officials’ Meeting of the Heart of Asia- Istanbul Process in New York. We encourage participant countries and supporters to consider the recommendations of this assessment.Conclusion30. We task our Senior Officials to hold the first 2017 SOM of this process, within three months of this Conference, and engage in substantive discussions on various important subjects in accordance with our commitments in Beijing and Islamabad and also to review the plans submitted by the RTGs.31. We express our sincere appreciation to the Government of the Republic of India for hosting the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process in Amritsar. We welcome the willingness of Republic of Azerbaijan to host the next Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process as Co-chair in 2017.32. We welcome the presence of guest countries Austria, Bulgaria, Latvia and Uzbekistan in this Conference and note their interest in the Heart of Asia Istanbul process.33. This Declaration was adopted in Amritsar, India on 4 December 2016, by the Foreign Ministers and high-level representatives of the participating countries of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Republic of Azerbaijan, People’s Republic of China, Republic of India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Russian Federation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Republic of Tajikistan, Republic of Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Nations. This Declaration was welcomed and supported by the Foreign Ministers and high-level representatives of the supporting countries of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, and the high-ranking representatives of the supporting international and regional organizations: Commonwealth of Australia, Canada, Royal Kingdom of Denmark, Arab Republic of Egypt, European Union, Republic of Finland, Republic of France, Federal Republic of Germany, Republic of Iraq, Republic of Italy, Japan, Republic of Poland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Collective Security Treaty Organizations (CSTO), Economic Cooperation Organizations (ECO), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

DNA Evening Must Reads: Pak’s Sartaj Aziz under fire at Heart of Asia, new Rs 20, Rs 50 notes to be issued by RBI, and more

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Simplistic to blame Pakistan for Afghanistan’s troubles: Under-fire Sartaj Aziz at Heart of AsiaUnder severe attack over terrorism emanating from its soil, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz hit back saying it is “simplistic” to blame one country even as he raked up the issue of strain in Indo-Pak ties at the Heart of Asia (HoA) conference on Afghanistan. Read more here.Heart of Asia Conference: Silence, inaction will only embolden terrorists and their masters, says PM ModiIn a clear message to Pakistan, Modi called for “resolute action” not just against forces of terrorism but also against those who support, shelter, train and finance them, saying silence and inaction will only embolden terrorists and their masters. Read more here.Mithali Raj helps India pound Pakistan to complete Asia Cup double hattrickIndian women maintained their supremacy in the Asia Cup by beating arch-rivals Pakistan for their sixth title in as many editions in Bangkok on Sunday. Read more here.Full Text: New Rs 20, Rs 50 notes to be issued by the RBIThe Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will issue new Rs 50 and Rs 20 notes, announced the apex bank on its website on Sunday. The new notes for both the denominations will bear the signature of the new governor Urjit Patel along with the year, ‘2016’ printed on the reverse side of the note. Read more here.Bromance Alert: This picture of Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan twinning will make your day!The two are going to be seen together at the Star Screen Awards 2016 for which, they were spotted rehearsing last night. See the picture here.

Heart of Asia summit as it happened: Amritsar Declaration recognises terrorism as the biggest threat, says Arun Jaitley

Heart of Asia summit as it happened: Amritsar Declaration recognises terrorism as the biggest threat, says Arun Jaitley

By Updated: Dec 4, 2016 18:20 IST

Dec 4, 2016

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Pakistan Premier’s foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz along with foreign ministers of four countries on Sunday called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who told them that it was important to end terrorism and violence for fostering stability in Afghanistan and the region.

The Foreign Ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Slovakia, which holds the European Union Presidency this month, along with Pakistan Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Aziz called on Modi ahead of the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process on Afghanistan.

PM Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif. PTI file imagePM Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif. PTI file image

PM Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif. PTI file image

Modi welcomed the Foreign Ministers and stressed it was the collective responsibility of all those in the region to work together to help Afghanistan out of its current difficulties, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.

The Prime Minister stated that his several interactions with both the common people of Afghanistan and the country’s leadership had convinced him that the Afghan people were tired of the continuing violence and terrorism. Prime Minister Modi stressed on “the need to end terrorism and violence for fostering stability, security and development in Afghanistan and our region,” Swarup said. In this context, the Prime Minister hoped that discussions in the Ministerial Conference tomorrow will produce good results.

Agreeing with the Premier on the need to end violence in Afghanistan, the Foreign Ministers shared Prime Minister Modi’s view that Afghanistan’s stability, security and prosperity are integral to the region’s, Swarup said. “They greatly appreciated the continued commitment and engagement of India and its leadership for these ends.

The Foreign Ministers warmly thanked India for hosting the Conference and expressed confidence that all friends of Afghanistan will work together for realising the aspirations for peace and development,” he said.

First Published On : Dec 4, 2016 18:20 IST

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Simplistic to blame Pakistan for Afghanistan’s troubles: Under-fire Sartaj Aziz at Heart of Asia

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Under severe attack over terrorism emanating from its soil, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz hit back saying it is “simplistic” to blame one country even as he raked up the issue of strain in Indo-Pak ties at the Heart of Asia (HoA) conference on Afghanistan. Aziz asserted his attending the meet despite “escalation” along the LoC was testimony to Pakistan’s “unflinching” commitment for lasting peace in Afghanistan and expressed unhappiness over cancellation of SAARC Summit in Islamabad in November, terming it as a setback to regional cooperation.He did not mention the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Noting that Pakistan was aware about serious challenges being faced by Afghanistan, Aziz said, “The first and foremost in our view is continuing violence and acts of terrorism claiming scores of human lives. This needs to be addressed urgently and effectively through collective efforts.”The security situation in Afghanistan is very complex. It is simplistic to blame only one country for the recent upsurge in violence. We need to have an objective and holistic view.”His strong response came after India and Afghanistan hit out at Pakistan for sponsoring and supporting terrorism and called for “resolute action” against terrorists as well as their masters.Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who jointly inaugurated the annual Ministerial conference here along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, directly hit out at Pakistan for “launching an undeclared war” against his country and demanded an Asian or international regime to verify Pak-sponsor terror operations. In his address at the HoA conference, a platform for Afghanistan’s transition, Aziz said,” My participation in the event, despite escalation on the Line of Control and the Working Boundary with India, is testimony to Pakistan’s unflinching commitment for lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region.”I look forward to meaningful deliberations today towards this objective,” he said and pressed for a politically negotiated settlement of the Afghan issue.Observing that regional cooperation plays an important role in ensuring political stability and promoting economic cooperation, he said postponement of the SAARC Summit scheduled in Islamabad in November was a setback to these efforts and “undermined the spirit of regional cooperation”.”SAARC is an important forum, not only for promoting regional cooperation but also for the improvement of relations,” he said.India had pulled out of SAARC Summit, citing cross-border terror strikes emanating from Pakistan. Afghanistan and other SAARC countries had also sought cancellation of the eight-nation meet on the grounds that there was incitement of terrorism in the region.Aziz arrived here last night amid heightened tension between India and Pakistan over a series of cross-border terror attacks on India by Pakistan-based terror outfits and India’s surgical strike across the LoC two months back.

Heart of Asia Summit: Full Text of Narendra Modi’s inaugural address at the 6th annual conference

The Prime Minister, on Sunday said there was a need to demonstrate strong and collective will to defeat terror networks that cause bloodshed and spread fear.

In a clear message to Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for “resolute action” not just against forces of terrorism but also against those who support, shelter, train and finance them, saying silence and inaction will only embolden terrorists and their masters.

He was speaking after jointly inaugurating the 6th conference of Heart of Asia, a platform to help Afghanistan in its transition, in Amritsar along with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani which is being attended by Pakistan Prime Minister Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz along with representatives of around 30 countries.

In his address at the annual Ministerial conference, Modi said the growing arc of terrorist violence is posing the gravest threat to the region.

Expressing India’s strong commitment to Afghanistan’s transition, the Prime Minister also touched upon the deepening India-Afghanistan ties, reinstating that India was committed to a developed and stable Afghanistan. Modi said, “On India’s part, our commitment to our brave Afghan brothers and sisters is absolute and unwavering. The welfare of Afghanistan and its people is close to our hearts and minds.”

Here is Prime Minister Modi’s full inaugural address at the 6th Heart of Asia Summit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani. PTI

Your Excellency Dr Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,

Your Excellency Salahuddin Rabbani, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,
My colleague Minister Arun Jaitley ji,
Foreign Ministers, Heads of Delegations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Namaskar. Sat Sri Akal.

It is an honour to speak at the inaugural session of the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia- Istanbul Process on Afghanistan.

And, it is a particular pleasure to jointly inaugurate this Conference with our friend and partner, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan.

I thank Excellency Ghani for accepting my invitation and for gracing this conference. It is also a great privilege for me to welcome all of you in Amritsar, a city blessed with simplicity, beauty and spirituality, and abode to the Golden Temple, the holiest shrines of Sikhs.

It is a place made sacred by Sikh Gurus who meditated here. It embodies peace and humanism, and is open to all people and religions. Its streets and parks tell stories of great valour and immense sacrifice.

It is a city whose character has been shaped by proud patriotism and generous philanthropy of its residents. And, by their spirit of enterprise, creativity and hard work. Amritsar also happens to nurture an old and steadfast connection of warmth and affection with Afghanistan.

Among the earliest disciples of the first Guru of Sikhs, Baba Guru Nanak Dev ji, were Afghans he had preached to in Kabul in the 15th century.

Even today, the shrine of an Afghan-origin sufi saint Baba Hazrat Sheikh in Punjab is revered by all faiths, including visitors from Afghanistan.

The flow of trade, people and ideas through our region has often intersected in Amritsar on one of Asia’s oldest and longest surface arteries, the Grand Trunk Road. Amritsar reinforces the value of restoring connectivity which is so crucial for the overall growth, stability and economic prosperity of Afghanistan.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since the turn of this century, the international community has extensively engaged in Afghanistan.

Major powers, regional countries and concerned nations from around the world have cooperated through multiple programmes of political, social, military, economic, and developmental support.

Our gathering today re-affirms the commitment of the international community to durable peace and lasting political stability in Afghanistan. Our words and actions remain focused at advancing a critical unfinished mission of our time.

And, that is to help Afghanistan:

—  Build and strengthen its social, political and institutional fabric

—  Secure its territory and citizens from external threats

—  Spur its economic and development activity

—  Stitch a stable and prosperous future for its people

Indeed, this is also the intent of this conference, aptly captured in its theme, “Addressing challenges; Achieving prosperity”.

We have no doubt about the scale of the challenge. But, we are equally determined to succeed.

The results of our collective efforts thus far have been hard-won, but mixed. There have been important successes. Much more remains to be done.

The need of the hour is to stand our ground and continue with our line of effort. We must protect and build on the gains of the last fifteen years and march ahead.

Because, at stake is not just the future of Afghanistan that has invested in a vision of development, democracy, and pluralism. But, the peace and stability of this entire region, and beyond.

Let us also reflect with urgency on what more must be done and what we must avoid in Afghanistan so that its citizens can self-sustain peace and economic growth. The answers are all there. The question is of resolve and action. And, of putting Afghanistan and its people first.

For this, First, an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled process is key. It is the only guarantor of durability of solutions. Second, we must demonstrate strong collective will to defeat terror networks that cause bloodshed and spread fear.

Terrorism and externally induced instability pose the gravest threat to Afghanistan’s peace, stability and prosperity. And, the growing arc of terrorist violence endangers our entire region. As such, support for voices of peace in Afghanistan alone is not enough.

It must be backed by resolute action. Not just against forces of terrorism, but also against those who support, shelter, train and finance them.

Silence and inaction against terrorism in Afghanistan and our region will only embolden terrorists and their masters. Third, our bilateral and regional commitments of material assistance for Afghanistan’s development and humanitarian needs must continue and increase.

Our cooperative endeavours in Afghanistan should contribute to its infrastructure and institutional capacity, and self-propelling engines of growth.

Fourth,we should all work to build stronger positive connectivity between Afghanistan and other countries of the region.

Afghanistan should be at the centre of our connectivity networks, not peripheral to them. On our part, we see Afghanistan as the hub for strengthening links of connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia.

We cannot deny that the more connected Afghanistan is with the regional arteries of trade, capital and markets, the more assured would be its economic growth and progress. President Ghani and I have converged on the priority of strengthening trade and transport linkages with other partners in the region.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On India’s part, our commitment to our brave Afghan brothers and sisters is absolute and unwavering. The welfare of Afghanistan and its people is close to our hearts and minds.

The successful record of our partnership in projects, big and small, in Afghanistan speaks for itself. The principal dimension of our cooperation has always been its people centric nature.

Our joint efforts:

—  educate Afghanistan’s young and nurture their skills

—  provide health care and improve agriculture

—  build infrastructure and institutions

—  allow traders and small businesses in Afghanistan to connect with immense commercial and economic opportunities in India.

And, the reach and benefit of such efforts extends to all corners of Afghanistan.

Herat’s India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam, also called the Salma Dam, that was launched a few months ago, will help revive economic activity for the people there.

The Parliament Building in Kabul represents our strong commitment to Afghanistan’s democratic future. Zeranj-Deleram highway and India-Afghanistan-Iran cooperation on Chahbahar would enable Afghanistan to link its economy with centres of strong economic growth in South Asia and beyond.

We also plan to connect Afghanistan with India through an air transport corridor

President Ghani and I have discussed additional measures for deepening our bilateral cooperation. We are making progress in developing plans for utilization of the additional 1 billion US Dollar earmarked by India for capacity and capability building in Afghanistan.

It will extend to areas like water management, health, infrastructure, energy and skill development. As India implements its additional commitments, we are open to work with other like-minded partners for the development of Afghanistan.

We are also happy to note the international commitments at the Brussels Conference in October and Nato’s Warsaw Summit in July this year. We will continue efforts to scale up our ambition and dedication to assist Afghanistan.

In this, we draw upon lessons learned and best practices derived from our shared experience in working on projects.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Let us remember that every passing day we help Afghanistan to achieve successful political, security and economic transitions, we are also helping ourselves create a more peaceful region and world.

I hope that your deliberations will produce constructive and forward looking pathways for action that:

—  promote cooperation in place of conflict

—  development in place of need

—  security in place of terrorism.

Let us re-dedicate ourselves to making Afghanistan a Geography of Peace. A place where reason and peace succeeds; progress and prosperity prevails and democracy and plurality wins.

Thank you.

Thank you very much.

First Published On : Dec 4, 2016 17:06 IST

Heart of Asia: Afghan President Ghani slams Pak’s denial of cross-border terror

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In a hard hitting attack on Pakistan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused it of launching an “undeclared war” on his country by covertly supporting several terror networks including the Taliban, and noted that there were no hidden deals in India’s growing engagement in the war-ravaged country. In his address at the 6th annual conference of Heart of Asia, Ghani, who severely criticised Islamabad, said an Asian or international mechanism must be put in place, without “playing games”, to find out who was benefiting from terror, extremism and other illicit activities.He said time has come for concrete action against terror infrastructure and those support it, and quoted a top Taliban commander saying unless terror sanctuaries were allowed in Pakistan, the outfit will not last even a month.He said despite Afghanistan’s bilateral and multilateral ties with Pakistan, the “undeclared war” that started in winter of 2014, has intensified after the recent Brussels conference on Afghanistan’s transition.Slamming Pakistan’s habit of denying cross border terror attacks, the Afghan President called for setting up of international mechanism to verify reality of such attacks which have increased in the last few months.He also sought setting up of a global fund to contain terrorism. “There should be an Asian or international regime, whatever is acceptable to Pakistan, should be put in place to verify frontier activities and terrorist operations. “We do not want blame game, we want verification,” he said, without mincing words. “We need to set up a fund to combat extremism,” Ghani said. Pakistan Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz was among representatives of 30 countries who attended the conference inaugurated jointly by Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Hailing India’s role in Afghanistan’s transition, he said “India’s assistance is transparent and with no strings attached”, adding “there are no hidden deals between India and Afghanistan.””We thank Pakistan for their pledges of USD 500 million for reconstruction of Afghanistan. “This fund Mr Aziz could very well be used to contain extremists because without peace any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of our people,” he said. Asserting that no amount of money can assist Afghanistan if there is support to terrorists by Pakistan, he said military operations in Pakistan have brought about selective displacement of terrorists. Ghani said Afghanistan witnessed highest levels of violence between October 5 and November 20, after the Brussels Conference, demanding dismantling of the state sponsored sanctuaries in Pakistan. Talking about Amritsar, he said the city used to be a centre of commerce and business which connected India to Central Asia, Russia and beyond. Ghani visited the Golden temple last evening with Modi.Referring to Modi’s visit to Afghanistan, he said there were spontaneous celebrations all over Afghanistan following the inauguration of Salma Dam.He also thanked India for further assistance of USD 1 billion apart from USD 2 billion. “India’s assistance is transparent and with no strings attached, ” Ghani said, adding an air corridor between India and Afghanistan will be soon launched to deepen trade ties.

Heart of Asia summit: Narendra Modi-Afshar Ghani talk terrorism, connectivity

Amritsar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday held bilateral talks on a range of key issues including cross-border terrorism and decided to strengthen counter-terror cooperation between the two countries.

During their meeting, the two leaders agreed to operationalise the additional amount of US Dollar One Billion for bilateral cooperation especially in capacity building, skill development, infrastructure building and connectivity linkages, including through a possible air corridor.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani

The corridor will give India a leverage in Afghanistan as Pakistan continues to deny transit link through its territory.

The two leaders discussed several aspects of the “close and friendly” relations between the two countries, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, adding they also reviewed the progress on recent decisions to deepen bilateral economic cooperation and strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries.

“Both leaders exchanged views on the common threat of terrorism, especially the cross border nature of the scourge which had caused immense suffering to the people of India and Afghanistan.

“In this context, the two leaders agreed to strengthen counter terror cooperation between the two countries, and enhance coordination at the UN and other relevant fora,” he said.

India had pulled out of SAARC Summit, to be held in Islamabad last month, citing cross-border terror strikes emanating from Pakistan. Afghanistan and other SAARC countries had also sought cancellation of the eight-nation meet on the grounds that there was incitement of terrorism in the region.

Noting with satisfaction the prospects for bilateral relations, Modi and Ghani agreed that both countries would continue to work ever harder for further strengthening them.

“Both leaders agreed to operationalise the additional amount of US Dollar One Billion for bilateral cooperation especially in capacity building, skill development, infrastructure building and connectivity linkages, including through a possible air corridor between India and Afghanistan to overcome obstacles to promotion of bilateral trade,” Swarup said.

Ghani, who arrived here last evening to attend the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process conference, also recalled his visit to Golden Temple yesterday, describing it as “a moving experience”.

In the meeting, Modi assured Ghani of India’s continued support for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Also, Afghanistan is learnt to have sought enhanced supply of military hardware from India.

Afghanistan has been trying to revamp its military to fight the resurgent Taliban after drawdown of NATO forces began nearly two years back.

Sources said both India and Afghanistan were keen to finalise the air cargo agreement as soon as possible and that the broad contours of the pact were already finalised.

India and Afghanistan have been exploring various connectivity projects for greater two-way trade.

First Published On : Dec 4, 2016 14:29 IST

PM Modi, Afghan President Ghani hold bilateral talks; focus on trade, security

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday held bilateral talks focusing on a range of key issues including boosting trade and investment, India’s reconstruction activities in the war-ravaged country and ways to strengthen defence and security partnership.The issue of firming up an air cargo service pact between the two countries is understood to have figured in the talks which will give India a leverage in Afghanistan as Pakistan continued to deny transit link through its territory.Ghani arrived here last evening to attend the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process conference which began here yesterday.In the meeting, Modi assured Ghani of India’s continued support for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan.Also, Afghanistan is learnt to have sought enhanced supply of military hardware from India.Afghanistan has been trying to revamp its military to fight the resurgent Talibans after drawdown of NATO forces began nearly two years back.Sources said both India and Afghanistan were keen to finalise the air cargo agreement as soon as possible and that the broad contours of the pact were already finalised.India and Afghanistan have been exploring various connectivity projects for greater two-way trade.In May, India, Iran and Afghanistan had signed an agreement to set up a trade and transport corridor with Chabahar in Iran as the hub with an aim to develop a transit corridor.The sea-land route of Chabahar Port was designed to bypass Pakistan and the project was seen as India’s effort to counter China’s plan to develop Gwadar port in Pakistan.Afghanistan was very keen on deeper defence and security cooperation with India and there were indications that Ghani may press for ramping up supply of arms and military hardware from India though Pakistan would be unhappy if there was closer Indo-Afghan military cooperation.Last week, India had given to Afghanistan the last of the four military helicopters.India has trained hundreds of Afghan security personnel but has been adopting a cautious approach in providing weapons as it did not want to antagonise Pakistan.Afghanistan has also been seeking India’s assistance in making functional Soviet-era helicopters and transport aircraft which were not in flying condition.India has a strategic partnership with Afghanistan and is implementing projects worth USD 2 billion to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure.India has been supporting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, broad-based and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation, and advocating the need for a sustained and long-term commitment to Afghanistan by the international community.

Heart of Asia summit LIVE: Narendra Modi tells Aziz terror must end for stability in Afghanistan

Dec 4, 2016

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Pakistan Premier’s foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz along with foreign ministers of four countries on Sunday called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who told them that it was important to end terrorism and violence for fostering stability in Afghanistan and the region.

The Foreign Ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Slovakia, which holds the European Union Presidency this month, along with Pakistan Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Aziz called on Modi ahead of the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process on Afghanistan.

PM Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif. PTI file imagePM Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif. PTI file image

PM Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif. PTI file image

Modi welcomed the Foreign Ministers and stressed it was the collective responsibility of all those in the region to work together to help Afghanistan out of its current difficulties, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.

The Prime Minister stated that his several interactions with both the common people of Afghanistan and the country’s leadership had convinced him that the Afghan people were tired of the continuing violence and terrorism. Prime Minister Modi stressed on “the need to end terrorism and violence for fostering stability, security and development in Afghanistan and our region,” Swarup said. In this context, the Prime Minister hoped that discussions in the Ministerial Conference tomorrow will produce good results.

Agreeing with the Premier on the need to end violence in Afghanistan, the Foreign Ministers shared Prime Minister Modi’s view that Afghanistan’s stability, security and prosperity are integral to the region’s, Swarup said. “They greatly appreciated the continued commitment and engagement of India and its leadership for these ends.

The Foreign Ministers warmly thanked India for hosting the Conference and expressed confidence that all friends of Afghanistan will work together for realising the aspirations for peace and development,” he said.

First Published On : Dec 4, 2016 09:30 IST

Heart of Asia: Narendra Modi and Ashraf Ghani likely to hold talks in Amritsar

Amritsar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani will reach Amritsar on Saturday evening to take part in the annual conference of the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process.

They are also likely to hold bilateral talks to strengthen India-Afghanistan ties, an official said here.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ashraf Ghani. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. PTI

They are also scheduled to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple, the official said.

Modi and Ghani will jointly inaugurate the ministerial deliberations of Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, which is being attended by nearly 40 countries and leading groupings like the European Union.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Foreign Policy Advisor Sartaj Aziz is scheduled to reach Amritsar on Sunday to attend the ministerial conference. Aziz will return on the same day.

With External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj indisposed, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will represent India in the ministerial conference. He is reaching here on Sunday.

To showcase rich culture and heritage of Punjab, the state government is hosting a dinner for the visiting dignitaries at a heritage village, named ‘Sadda Pind’ or ‘our village’, located on the outskirts of this holy city.

Modi and Ghani will also attend the dinner hosted by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

First Published On : Dec 3, 2016 14:28 IST

Heart of Asia Summit: Pakistan to be singled out for supporting terror at Amritsar meet

Over two months after India’s decision to stay away from Saarc summit in Islamabad, Pakistan was virtually sidelined in the South Asian regional group; the Heart of Asia Summit on 3 and 4 December will further reinforce that when representatives from 14 countries gather in Amritsar.

Afghanistan is the permanent chair and India as a co-chair will use the summit to yet again focus spotlight on Pakistan’s explicit connection with terror groups in fomenting trouble in both the countries. President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, a firm believer that Pakistan does not support establishment of peace in his country will, set the tone of the conference.

The draft declaration on counter-terrorism circulated by Afghanistan will call upon Pakistan (without naming it) to stop harbouring and supporting terror groups on its soil. Both India and Afghanistan have joined hands to nail Pakistan on this issue once again at an international conference. Modi and Ghani will leave no stone unturned to hold Islamabad responsible for poor connectivity in every sector across the South Asian region.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Pakistan’s government under domestic pressure from sending a delegation to Amritsar Summit has decided to send just a two-member team headed by advisor to prime minister Nawaz Sharif, former foreign secretary Sartaj Aziz.

Nawaz Sharif decided to send Aziz given the fact that ‘Heart of Asia’ is an international conference on bringing stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan believes it has an important say in that landlocked country’s future. Aziz days before the summit publicly announced that Pakistan was in touch with “anti-India elements” to keep New Delhi under pressure on the Kashmir issue.

The Pakistani team will arrive in India on Sunday for a few hours and Sartaj Aziz is bound to rake up the issue of tension with India and blame Modi government for spiking tensions in the region.
Arriving in India on Saturday, President Ghani will hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi later in the day in Amritsar, carefully selected to remind everyone that a city that stands on the historic Grand Trunk Road route that once linked Kolkata to Kabul via Delhi and Lahore, provides an opportunity to break connectivity barriers.

It will remind the world that as they gather in Amritsar, a city that sits on the now infamous GT Road, Pakistan remains a major obstacle in their dream to reconnect and rebuild Afghanistan with rest of South Asia.

President Ghani today loses no opportunity to emphasise Pakistan’s continued support to terror groups operating in Afghanistan, the role of its military and ISI in their steadfast refusal to help connect his country with India across Pakistan.

The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was founded in 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Heart of Asia, the official website claims, “provides a platform for sincere and results-oriented regional cooperation by placing Afghanistan at its center, in recognition of the fact that a secure and stable Afghanistan is vital to the prosperity of the Heart of Asia region”.
The Heart of Asia has 14 participating countries, 17 supporting countries, and 12 supporting regional and international organizations.

On the eve of the summit the Afghan ambassador in India set the tone when he told journalists in Delhi that “as we all know, terrorism is a creation of this region and the solution lies within this region only”. Therefore the upcoming Heart of Asia is very well timed and very well placed to discuss how we should find solutions to the theme that we have already put forward, he remarked.
Afghanistan is angry at Pakistan’s continued refusal to allow India overland access to their country. At the last summit in Islamabad foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had asked for India’s admission to Afghanistan Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement but, that was turned down, as expected.

The Chahbahar Port agreement between India-Iran-Afghanistan is seen as a serious initiative to help landlocked Afghanistan to get access to global market by connecting Persian Gulf with Kabul and beyond to Central Asia through a road network.

Given its geography Pakistan has held Afghanistan to ransom, by controlling land access to and from the country and using unstable security situation over the decades to help and sustain terror groups in that country.

Afghanistan heavily leans on India today for its moral, diplomatic, political and material support as it seeks to fight Afghan Taliban, Islamic State groups and Pakistan’s military establishment to rebuild a war-torn nation.

First Published On : Dec 3, 2016 09:02 IST

DNA Exclusive: First Indian al Qaeda fighter killed in Syria

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Internationally designated terrorist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al Nusrah, the affiliate of al Qaeda in Syria has publicly announced the first casualty of an Indian fighter in the group. One Abu Salim al Hindi, also known as Abu Salih, was identified as an Indian national by the group in an obit. He is believed to have died in August in the bloody battle between Syrian coalition forces and jihadi rebel groups to break the siege of Aleppo.This is the first time an Indian fighter with al Qaeda splinter group is known to have died in Syria.Fursan al Sham media, an outlet based in Syria run by fighters affiliated with al Qaeda and JFS, released the obit of Abu Salim late Wednesday evening on Telegram channel. The group released details of his death after a three-month delay as it was seeking permission from the family to make the announcement public. “Abu Salim had asked his family be informed upon his death. Before releasing details of his martyrdom through media channels we asked his family’s permission,’’ an Indian fighter who was friends with Abu Salim told DNA. The release says that Abu Salim was the youngest child of his family and had kept contact with them before and after reaching Syria. His family in India is aware that he was in Syria with al Qaeda and he died in August.The obituary written by fellow fighters—known by their social media profiles as Pashtun and Life in Syria—provides a short background and glimpse of an Indian’s journey to the jihadi battlefield in the war-ravaged Levant region. “Abu Salim like many Indians was working for a company outside,” the release says without revealing his real name, identity or background. It however adds that before joining the jihad, Abu Salim was helping families of ‘martyrs’ with funds and logistics. “He once delivered money which reached 15 martyrs’ families,” the obit says. It is not known whether these families were Indian or of other nationalities, but indicates that Abu Salim was in close contact with terrorist groups before joining the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. The armed conflict in Syria that began in 2011 after the mass protests of Arab Spring and the brutal crackdown by President Bashar Assad-led government forces, made Abu Salim determined to “fulfil his obligation of jihad which he had been guided to,” the obit says, adding, “Since a young age he was interested in jihad and after the invasion of Afghanistan, he decided to be a Mujahid… the events in Sham gave him this opportunity.”A large number of foreign fighters, not just from the Arab world but also from Europe, Canada, Australia and Asia, fled to Syria to join jihadi and rebel groups fighting the forces of President Assad. It is estimated that the conflict in Syria has led to the largest mobilisation of foreign fighters—over 40,000—since the Afghanistan jihad.The Islamic State’s ideology of Caliphate and call to all Muslims to join the holy war has also lured Indian Muslims who have fled to Syria from their homes in India or from abroad. According to Indian security agencies, around 68 Indians are fighting or staying in Syria as supporters of the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Many of them have joined from foreign countries including the Gulf, which has a large Indian diaspora. Abu Salim is one such case.Salim reached Syria via Turkey, making use of his contacts on social media platform of Twitter, where he found help from another Urdu-speaking foreign fighter. From the time he reached Syria, Abu Salim joined the battle in frontline even without proper military training, the release says. As the battle of Aleppo became intense, he spent days fighting the Syrian-Russian forces. In the first week of August, backed by Russian airstrikes, government loyal forces pounded the rebel held East Aleppo with ground assault. In a bloody confrontation between the JFS militants and pro-regime troops at ‘1070 building complex’ Abu Salim and his commander died. He was newly married.So far seven Indian nationals have died fighting with the Islamic States, including Kalyan resident Aman Tandel whose family received news of his death in Syria. Abu Salim is the first known casualty with IS’ rival group JFS. Canada-based researcher Amarnath Amarsingham, who studies violent extremism and foreign fighters, said many people assume that all foreign fighters are travelling to join ISIS, perhaps because of the media attention the group gets. “But many also join other groups in Syria including JFS. This includes Indians,” he said. Through his research, Amarsingham estimates that around 8-10 Indians have joined JFS in Syria. “The choice of joining IS, JFS or other rebel groups depends on the individual. What’s common amongst Nusra (JFS) fighters is they went to help Sunni Muslims against the regime of Assad. Like Abu Salim, who died during the brutal siege of Aleppo.’’Interestingly, while India banned the Islamic State under Section 35 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in 2015, thus making any individual joining the group or supporting its activities to be charged with terror offences, AQ-linked Jabhat Fateh al Sham and its affiliates are not proscribed yet.

Uttarakhand’s Ramnagar a true delight for migratory birds

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India, blessed with geographical diversity, is home to diverse wildlife, which sets it apart from other countries.Being a home to multitude of animals and impressive number of birds gracing its skies, India also acts as a temporary shelter for a whole host of migratory birds. Bird watchers and adventure lovers get a treat due to the numerous bird sanctuaries found across the country.India has a lot to offer to those who want to come out of their concrete surroundings and spent some leisure time in the lap of nature. Being home to more than 1000 bird species, out of which 100 found exclusively in India, the country has a lot to offer.Ramnagar in Uttarakhand is a place where you can enjoy the beautiful sight of seeing a variety of migratory birds. Now is the season when migratory birds flock to warmer areas to avert the extreme cold of the Arctic region. It is the entrance to the world famous Jim Corbett National Park, the oldest national park and one of the most famous destinations in northern India.The migratory birds have already started arriving here, and the first stoppage point for these birds in their journey is the Kosi barrage. Migratory birds, especially from Siberia and Ladakh flew here. In the last few years, more than 100 wetland birds have been reported to migrate here.Ramnagar serves as the place for temporary nests of non-native birds such as mallards, graylag geese, gadwells, teals, shovelers, pochards and coots.Narrating his beautiful experience of bird-watching, a bird watcher Amitabh said, ‘Generally the birds sighted here are water cormorant and grand cormorant. The one which I was clicking a photograph of is known as Surkhab (golden pheasant). You must have heard a saying in Hindi which translates to – ‘Are you as valuable as a Surkhab bird?’ So this is that duck. I’m an ardent bird watcher so I am enjoying watching birds here and if I manage to click a good photo, then even better.’The journey of the migratory birds starts right from Siberia and travel through Afghanistan and Central Asia before coming to a halt in India. The arrival of the birds is witnessed November onwards and continuing till December and their return is marked by the spring season.Siberian cranes, Rosy Pelican, Ruff, Bluethroat, Eurasian Golden Oriole and Asian Koel are some of the popular varieties of migratory birds.To make it merrier for the bird-watchers, ponds and wetlands of South Gujarat, including Surat have already turned into shelter for many migratory birds. One can easily spot Lesser Flamingo, Dermoisel Crane, Spot Billed Duck, Brahminy Duck, Common Coot, Mallard, Shoveller, Crested Pochard, Comb Duck, Cotton Teal, Lesser Whistling Teal Brown-headed gulls flying over the Tapi River.Since Surat has ample water, the migratory birds come and stay here. Many of the birds migrate to the coastal areas and marshlands in Gujarat, due to the abundance of water in these places. The wetlands are used as transitory camps by the birds from Siberia and Central Asia.

Mending Asia’s heart: Tackling terror together

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Taliban are returning to Afghanistan along with refugee families which are being pushed out from the border areas of Pakistan under operation Zarb-e-Azb purportedly to fight terrorism.In 2015, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, confirmed this to DNA.In 2016, the Afghan Analyst Network reported that these Taliban spent time in Spin Ghar range on AfPak border and formed Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). ISIS has claimed responsibility for some of the recent lethal attacks on Afghan soil but it is unclear if ISKP is connected structurally to ISIS or is just using ISIS’s brand name. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani told DNA last year that ISIS is already in Afghanistan and that is because the group believes a prophecy which says “the mahdi will emerge with black flags from the Khorasan”. Some Afghan watchers have a different take, like the director of the Afghan journalist centre in London Zabihullah Noori. He says “ISKP isn’t linked to ISIS but to the ISI”.In short, the arteries of the heart of Asia are facing new blockages at a faster pace than the clogged ones heal. The background is driving the current situation as it is the failure of Saarc to take off because of Pakistan’s reluctance on a collective developmental agenda.Regional visionAs India hosts the 6th ministerial conference of the ‘Heart of Asia’ summit, the question many Afghans are asking is a rather basic one — What is India’s vision for the region? Davood Moradian, the director-general of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies says “China’s vision is one belt one road, Russia’s is Eurasia, Pakistan’s idea is to promote terrorism. But what is India’s vision?”.Afghanistan was one of the first nations to support India when Delhi decided to opt out of the Saarcsummit that was to be held in Islamabad. India managed to diplomatically isolate Pakistan in the South Asia group but didn’t offer an impressive alternative. Sub regional groups such as BBIN and BIMSTEC were already in existence and have been facing several obstacles.Will India utilise the Heart of Asia summit to define its regional goals? Countries like Afghanistan have found India helpful but reluctant. The timing for India to come out of its shell, Moradian says, has never been better, “Pakistan is a common problem that we should deal with together”.Modi and Ghani’s peace overtures towards Pakistan have proved futile, the two are now changing their strategy and synchronising it. Moeen Marastial, a former Afghan Parliamentarian says, “Pakistan should be confronted, the region must declare it a terror state. Talking with Pakistan is not an option, Afghanistan has been talking to them for a decade and a half and gained nothing”. Delhi and Kabul though would have to make a tough decision on how much to corner Islamabad, that thankfully still enjoys an elected government. At Habib hair salon in Delhi’s posh Khan market, everyday a bunch of Afghan girls learn hair styling. Afghan restaurants are a hit and from scholarships to Afghan students or training to Afghan soldiers, India is determined to support Afghanistan. But, in the Afghan mind this makes India a well-wisher not a loyal friend. Unless India backs Kabul against its enemy Pakistan in matters like defence, Afghanistan finds it difficult to depend on Delhi. India’s former PM Dr Manmohan Singh was excessively shy as the United States feared Washington might upset “ally” Islamabad. That has now changed. The Modi government decided to give four lethal choppers to Ghani after US’s nod and recently Commander of the resolute support mission John W Nicholson has asked Delhi to help arm Afghan forces. Afghan journalist Qais Mowafaq says, “We welcome Trump’s statement on increasing cooperation with India to deal with Pakistan”. Perhaps, it’s time for an “India-Afghan Defence Treaty” which moves the cooperation from the currently ad hoc basis to a more institutionalised form. The author is a senior journalist

Sartaj Aziz’s India visit: No request from Pakistan, bilateral talks unlikely, says MEA

Chances of an India-Pakistan dialogue, during Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz’s India visit appears grim as Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup on Thursday talked tough on cross-border terrorism.

It was expected that Aziz’s visit may thaw out the India-Pakistan relations that have hit a new low since skirmishes along the Line of Control and terror attacks on army camps have increased. However, the MEA has shown little signs that a bilateral dialogue could be in the offing.

A file photo of Vikas Swarup. Photo credit: Twitter @MEAIndiaA file photo of Vikas Swarup. Photo credit: Twitter @MEAIndia

A file photo of Vikas Swarup. Photo credit: Twitter @MEAIndia

Swarup, who was addressing a weekly press briefing on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia Summit, to be held on 3 and 4 December said that India does not sense any willingness to talk on Pakistan’s part, while clarifying that it has not received any request to start a dialogue.

“We have not received any requests for talks. India is always open for talks, but they obviously cannot be held with continued terrorism,” Swarup told reporters in New Delhi.

It was largely being speculated that the dialogue would finally inch forward, after months of deep freeze in the relations during Aziz’s visit, as earlier in the week, Pakistan had sent out mixed signals on the issue.

Pakistani newspaper, Dawn quoted a foreign ministry official as saying, “For now, we don’t see any willingness on their part… the ball is in India’s court, for they know we are willing but we don’t know whether they are willing.”  However, Aziz himself had said that although India scuttled the Saarc summit, Pakistan would not do the same —  leaving many guessing that the two nations may indulge in dialogue.

Swarup clarified that Pakistan has not officially raised a request for any talks while dismissing Aziz’s comments that India was responsible for the failure of Saarc summit.

“It was not India that scuttled the Saarc process but all the member nations wrote to Nepal (who was hosting the summit) to state that the summit will not be conducive in the present circumstances,” Swarup said.

He also added that India too shares Pakistan’s sentiment to hold dialogue without any preconditions, but he stated that talks were not possible with repeated instances of cross-border terrorism.

“When Pakistan says talks should be unconditional, we also say the same thing. But all we say is that there should be no cross-border terrorism,” Swarup said.

“India is always open for talks, but they obviously cannot be held with continued terrorism. India will not accept continued terrorism. It was India that has taken all initiatives to start dialogue with Pakistan. But what have we got in response to those initiatives,” Swarup added.

Pakistan and India, at the last Heart of Asia ministerial meeting in Islamabad, had agreed to start “Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue” that was to cover all outstanding issues. The resumption of the dialogue could, however, not take place due to the Pathankot attack in January earlier this year.

Bilateral relations further deteriorated in July following the commencement of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir and India placed the blame for the 18 September Uri military camp attack and continuing infiltration attempts on Pakistan.  Another instance that further froze ties between New Delhi and Islamabad was when the body of one army soldier was found mutilated in Machhil sector near the border, while three soldiers were killed in the attack.

Moreover, Tuesday’s attack on Army’s 166 Field Regiment at Nagrota, which killed seven Indian soldiers, including to two Major-rank officers, apparently further extinguished any chances of improvement in relations between the two neighbours, in the near foreseeable future.

Things turned worse with the spike in ceasefire violations at the border that have left dozens of people dead in barely two months.

Pakistan has, however, denied India’s claims that it was behind these incidents.

The Pakistan government decided to attend the Heart of Asia conference despite a deep freeze in bilateral ties, even though as it alleged that India had “scuttled the Saarc summit” that Islamabad was to host in November this year.

Aziz will be leading the Pakistani delegation to the two-day meeting that will focus on cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours for improving connectivity and tackling security threats in the region.

With inputs from IANS

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 19:21 IST

DNA Morning Must Reads: RBI’s steps to save payday blues; Karunanidhi hospitalised & more

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>RBI, banks take steps to save payday bluesFinance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are keeping a close watch as the payday approaches. Viewing the first week of the month as salary time, the central bank has released less cash in the past two days to ensure larger availability from December 1, sources said. Read detailsNagrota attack: Terrorists did recce of Army base for a week, local recruits believed to have aided themPost the Nagrota attack in Jammu, where seven Army men were killed on Tuesday, an assessment carried out by intelligence agencies reveals alarming findings. Intelligence officials believe that the terrorists had not only been in Indian territory for over a week, but also had the support of freshly recruited local militants. Read moreChinese govt reacts to WION expose, rejects accusations of military activity deep inside eastern AfghanistanChina’s Defence Ministry has rejected accusations of military activity deep inside eastern Afghanistan, after a report by WION last month about regular patrols by Chinese security forces there. Read full storyDMK chief M Karunanidhi admitted to Kauvery Hospital in ChennaiDMK chief M Karunanidhi was on Thursday morning admitted to Kauvery Hospital at Alwarpet in Chennai for allergy related issues. The 92-year-old former Tamil Nadu chief minister was reportedly rushed to the hospital at around 5.50 am. Read moreDemonetization: In Patna, Mamata calls Nitish Kumar a traitor; says country in a state of ‘super emergency’West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday called Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar a ‘traitor’ for deserting the anti-demonetization camp. She alleged that the country was in a state of ‘super emergency’ due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy of banning high currency notes. Read more

Pakistan-backed terror to be focus of Heart of Asia conference, say India, Afghanistan

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In the wake of the brazen Nagrota attack, India and Afghanistan would seek to isolate Pakistan on terror at the two-day Heart of Asia conference beginning Saturday in Amritsar as the two countries on Wednesday pitched for a regional counter-terror framework to effectively deal with the menace.Identifying terror emanating from Pakistan as the “greatest threat” to regional peace and stability, India and Afghanistan said the Heart of Asia — Istanbul Process, a platform to assist the war-ravaged country in restoration efforts, provides an opportunity to face the challenge “head on”.Afghanistan has been pushing for finalising an effective counter-terror framework to deal with terror at the conference which will be attended by representatives from over 30 countries including China, the US, Russia, Pakistan and Iran.Pakistan Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz will represent Islamabad at the conference amid heightened tension between the two countries in the wake of the Nagrota army camp attack in which seven officers and jawans were killed. Asked during a briefing on Pakistan’s willingness for a bilateral meeting with India on the sidelines of the conference, Joint Secretary in the MEA Gopal Baglay said,”We have not received any request for a bilateral meeting.” There was indication that possibility of an Indo-Pak bilateral meeting was remote.Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will jointly inaugurate the ministerial deliberations on Sunday where the Indian delegation will be led by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the absence of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is ill. “Terrorism is the biggest challenge which has beset the whole region. It (terror) is responsible for the situation in Afghanistan. It is a major threat to regional peace and stability. We have to discuss this question and we have to face it very squarely. I think the HoA Ministerial conference provides us with the opportunity required to face the challenge head on,” Baglay said, addressing a joint press conference with Afghan ambassador to New Delhi Shaida M Abdali.On his part, the Afghan envoy said there was a need to take collective measures to fight terrorism and uproot the “breeding ground” of the menace and its “safe sanctuaries”, in obvious reference to Pakistan. “Terrorism is the greatest threat to the region and we expect the HoA to approve the regional counter terrorism framework that has been drafted by Afghanistan and circulated to HoA countries. We hope the conference will adopt it,” he said, strongly condemning the Nagrota attack.Abdali said Afghanistan was pushing for “binding” clauses in the counter-terror framework to effectively contain terror infrastructure. Afghanistan has been facing terror strikes by militant groups based in Pakistan. Asked what role HoA can play in containing terror, Baglay said specifics on what should be done and how to deal with those who “support and glorify” terrorists will be discussed. “Threat of terrorism is the biggest challenge to peace and stability to the region. There is support to it in our region and where the problem lies we all know. It needs to be sqaurely addressed,” he said. A declaration will be issued at the conclusion of the conference and is expected to focus on ways to deal with terror. Asked how India was looking at the challenge and what steps it will push for to tackle terror in the wake of the Nagrota attack, Baglay said these are matters of detail and under discussion at inter-governmental level. India is also likely to ask countries in the region to show strong resolve to tackle terrorism.Abdali said terrorism is “creation of the region and the solution lies in the region. Therefore the upcoming HoA is very well timed”. He said terrorism is a multifaceted phenomena which requires a “multifaceted approach” and should include dismantling the “terror matrix”, tackling drug trafficking and effectively dealing with radicalisation. The Afghan envoy said terror must be dealt with effectively not only for sake of countries like India and Afghanistan but also for people in the country where “terrorism is nurtured.” The conference, whose theme is security and prosperity, will also deliberate on major connectivity iniatives including Chabahar project, a five nation railway project. There may be deliberations on TAPI (Turkmenistan Afghanistan-Pakistan India) gas pipeline project.President Ghani is schedule to arrive on Saturday and he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have a bilateral meeting, possibly on that day itself. Thanking India for providing the last of the four military helicopters to his country last week, Abdali said bilateral talks between the two leaders will be very important, adding security cooperation will be part of the discussion. On HoA helping Afghanistan in its transition, Baglay said six baskets of Confidence Building Measures are being considered and India has tried to bring in more consultation in the groupings initiatives.The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was launched in 2011 and the participating countries include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.Swaraj had attended last year’s conference in Islamabad.The platform was floated to encourage security, political and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours.The countries which support the initiative are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Finland, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Britain and the US. Four countries Uzbekistan, Latvia, Bulgaria and Austria are attending the conference as guest nations.

Nagrota attack: Strike near 16 Corps HQ shows proxy war is only just starting

The proxy war attack close to the Indian Army’s 16 Corps headquarters in the Jammu region has several lessons for us. The most obvious of these is that a lot more violence lies ahead.

Just the other day, a top officer rued the fact that the Centre still does not seem to realise the seriousness of the challenge in Jammu and Kashmir. We are already in the middle of another proxy war. The ‘surgical strikes’ did absolutely nothing to halt Pakistan’s unfolding war plans. There have been major attacks in Baramulla, Srinagar and now at Samba (again) and Nagrota (where the Corps is headquartered). Like those other attacks, this one has gone on far longer than it would have in the very worst phase (1999 to 2001) of the earlier proxy war. Three army men had been killed at Nagrota in the first five hours of the attack on Tuesday.

Army personnel take position during the encounter after militants attacked an army camp in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday morning. PTI

Army personnel take position during the encounter after militants attacked an army camp in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday morning. PTI

Such attacks will not only continue, they will get much worse — probably next summer, when we can depend on one trigger or another to cause public demonstrations in tandem with the attacks. It is a multi-pronged war, with fronts at the Line of Control and at any point where militants decide to strike.

And these attackers typically have far more sophisticated military training than most of the militants who operated in Kashmir in the early and mid-1990s.

Another thing that has become clear over the past couple of years is that this proxy war is being engaged across the Kashmir and the Jammu regions, and neighbouring districts of Punjab such as Gurdaspur and Pathankot too.

For a while a couple of years ago, Pakistan had tried hard to stoke the fires of the Khalistan movement afresh. That did not catch, but this has not deflected Pakistan from its war effort in the north.

Indeed, a very senior member of the Jammu and Kashmir government expressed what is unfolding in dire terms. Pakistan wants to turn Kashmir into ‘another Afghanistan’, he said — referring to the violence and chaos that has become commonplace in various parts of that country over the past three decades.

In this context, those who crow over the ‘return of normalcy’ in Kashmir are shameless propagandists trying to conjure a fool’s paradise.

Taking a cruise or other vacation to celebrate ‘peace’ not only highlights how little has been learnt over the years about how things unfold in Kashmir, we are witnessing deep cynicism. For, those who allowed the situation to deteriorate when it could have been controlled in the second half of July ought to be working in overdrive now to sort things out at the ground level, when they have a (probably brief) window of opportunity.

One of the factors that those who claim peace have pointed out is the change in guard in the Pakistan Army. They say it is a positive sign, having seized on a remark of the new army chief, General Javed Ashraf Bajwa, that extremism is a more serious threat to Pakistan than any threat from India.

The fact is that he is only stating the obvious.

It does not mean he intends to suspend militant operations in Kashmir. A senior Indian Army officer pointed out that the apparently less aggressive mien of Pakistan’s new army chief did not mean that the basic anti-India institutional disposition of the Pakistan Army has changed.

Analysts will get nowhere unless they focus on the fact that we are already in the middle of a  proxy war. We have been for some time now. Indeed, things have been gradually unfolding towards the strategic challenge for the past eight years.

With apologies to propagandists of various hues, one must acknowledge the unfortunate fact that the near future seems very bleak.

First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 12:57 IST

Pakistan PM Sharif names General Qamar Javed Bajwa as new army chief | Reuters

By Drazen Jorgic and Mehreen Zahra-Malik
| ISLAMABAD

ISLAMABAD Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday picked Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa to replace outgoing army chief Raheel Sharif, the popular military leader credited with improving security and driving back Islamist militant groups.The army chief is arguably the most influential person in Pakistan, with the military having ruled the country for about half of its 69-year history since independence from Britain and enjoying extensive powers even under civilian administrations. General Bajwa will likely take charge of the world’s sixth-largest army by troop numbers in a formal handover on Tuesday, when General Sharif, who is no relation to Prime Minister Sharif, formally retires.The appointment of Bajwa is expected to help reset fraught relations between the military and the civilian government in a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people.Lieutenant General Zubair Hayat has been appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee.”On the advice of Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, President Mamnoon Hussain has approved the promotion of Lieutenant General Zubair Mehmood Hayat and Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa,” the prime minister’s office said.As well as controlling security, the army operates a vast business empire in the country and often dictates key areas of Pakistan’s foreign policy, including relations with historic foe India and its war-torn western neighbour Afghanistan.General Sharif, 60, becomes the first army chief in more than 20 years to step down on time. Several previous military leaders had obtained extensions to their three-year terms. Though security across Pakistan has vastly improved under General Sharif, with number of reported “terrorist” attacks down, Bajwa will face vast challenges at home and abroad.Islamic State (IS) is trying to make inroads into the country and militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban continue to stage large-scale bomb and gun attacks.Since August, 184 people have been killed in three major attacks in the restive Baluchistan region alone.

There are fears that if violence in Baluchistan escalates it could disrupt work on the road, rail and energy projects central to the $54 billion China-funded economic corridor which aims to link Western China to the Arabian Sea at Pakistan’s deepwater port of Gwadar in Baluchistan.Abroad, Pakistan’s relations with the United States, a long-time ally, as well as nuclear-armed rival India, have worsened over the past year.Both countries accuse Pakistan of harbouring Islamist militant groups, with Afghanistan incensed by the presence of Afghan Taliban leaders inside Pakistan. Islamabad denies all such charges.LOW-KEY STYLE
Little is publicly known about Bajwa, who has been heading the army’s Training and Evaluation Wing. It is also not clear how he would approach sensitive issues such as military-civilian relations or his ideological stance towards India.

The military, in a statement, only sent out a brief army history of Bajwa, who was commissioned in 1980 and was partly educated abroad, including staff college training in Canada and naval post-graduate studies in the United States.Bajwa had also served abroad, commanding the Pakistan Contingent in Congo, and had spent time commanding infantry divisions.One cabinet minister told Reuters that Prime Minister Sharif picked Bajwa because of his low-key style, and felt the incoming general would be more willing to cede control of key areas to the civilian government. “He is essentially a very low-profile person and after our last experience (with General Sharif) this is just a very important consideration; someone who doesn’t want the limelight at all,” said the minister, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.”FINEST MILITARY LEADER”

When Prime Minister Sharif chose his namesake as army chief in 2013, it was because the general was the most apolitical figure among the candidates, sources close to the premier said at the time.But once appointed, General Sharif maintained the army’s strong influence within Pakistani politics. Though he did not overtly meddle and rarely made public political statements, he was seen as a key player in behind-the-scene decision making.Analysts say the political tussle is likely to occur again with the new chief, saying that all military leaders have ended up challenging the prime minister’s authority in some way once they began to represent the interests of the army.General Sharif, who hails from a military family, built a huge following among ordinary Pakistanis who saw him as a protector against Islamists, corruption and foreign aggression.His popularity came on the back of the military operation Zarb-i-Azb, which drove back Pakistani Taliban militants from their tribal strongholds and improved security.An army-led crackdown in Karachi also drastically reduced crime in the country’s biggest city.But General Sharif’s popularity, enhanced by the army’s slick media unit, also unnerved members of the ruling PML-N party who were suspicious of efforts to glorify the army chief.After their final official dinner together on Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif praised the departing general.”He proved beyond a shadow of doubt that he is one of the finest military leaders of his generation,” the prime minister said. “Pakistan today is much safer and stronger than in 2013.” (Additional reporting by Asad Hashim; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Alexander Smith and Mike Collett-White)

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First Published On : Nov 26, 2016 20:16 IST

Environment not conducive for talks with Pakistan: VK Singh

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Government on Friday said there have been a series of cross border terror attacks from Pakistan controlled territories across the LoC recently which has created an environment not conducive for holding a meaningful dialogue.Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh while replying to a written question in the Rajya Sabha also said that Pathankot Air Base terror attack mounted from Pakistan and the subsequent intensification of anti-India cross-border terrorism including Poonch and Uri strikes have “eroded” the necessary environment free from terror and violence. He was asked whether it is a fact that India’s relationship with its immediate neighbours in the recent past is not so smooth and if so, the reasons thereof and the steps proposed to be taken to improve it? While he termed the ties with Afghanistan, Bhutan, the Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka as smooth, in case of Nepal, Singh described the ties as “unique and special”.He also said India attaches importance to developing good relations with China and both sides, during their meetings in past, have agreed to make efforts for further strengthening of Closer Developmental Partnership on the basis of mutual sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations. On Pakistan, he said, “Yes. India intends to have normal and peaceful relations with all its neighbouring countries including Pakistan. However, Pakistan has supported armed insurgency and terrorism in the State of J&K. Cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan endangers security and stability not only of India but of the entire region.”Pakistan covets territory of J&K which is an integral part of India. Recently there have been a series of cross border terrorism attacks from Pakistan controlled territories across the Line of Control which has created an environment not conducive for holding a meaningful dialogue.” He further added that as a result of Pakistan’s assurances to take steps for expediting Mumbai terrorist attack trial undergoing in Pakistan, the two sides agreed on Composite Bilateral Dialogue (CBD) to resolve all outstanding issues as well as humanitarian issues.”Pathankot Air Base terrorist attack mounted from Pakistan and the subsequent intensification of anti-India cross border terrorism including Poonch terrorism attack on 11 September 2016 and Uri terrorism attack on 18 September 2016, have eroded the necessary environment free from terror and violence,” Singh asserted. India is non-committal about holding bilateral talks with Pakistan Prime Minister’s foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz, who will be travelling to Amritsar next week to attend the Heart of Asia Conference.

Pakistan ‘apprises’ China of ‘grave’ situation in Kashmir: Foreign Office

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Pakistan on Monday “apprised” China about the “grave” humanitarian situation in Kashmir and hoped the global community will play its role in calling on India to put an end to the “blatant” rights violations in the Valley.The issue was discussed between Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, who is on a two-day visit to Pakistan.During the bilateral meeting, the USD 46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and regional and global issues of mutual concern were discussed, the Foreign Office said.Chaudhry apprised Kong of “the grave humanitarian situation” in Kashmir. “He expressed the hope that the international community would play its role in calling on India to put an end to blatant human rights violations in the Valley,” it said.The two sides agreed to remain engaged and strengthen cooperation for the mutual benefit of the two countries.Chaudhry also briefed Kong on the latest situation in Afghanistan. He underscored the imperatives of reaching a sustainable and lasting peace in Afghanistan through reconciliation and dialogue, it said.The two sides agreed that the international community should remain engaged with Afghanistan, especially through the Quadrilateral Consultative Group (QCG) in support of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political reconciliation.Kong briefed Chaudhry “noted” that timely completion of CPEC’s early-harvest projects would significantly uplift of the region and improve regional connectivity.The Chinese official also called on Pakistan Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz.Aziz underscored the importance that Pakistan attaches to its ties with China and called for regular high-level exchanges.Kong thanked Pakistan for its consistent and strong support on issues of vital interest to China. He also reaffirmed China’s continued support to Pakistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.Acknowledging the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in fighting terrorism and extremism, he assured China’s full support against these menaces.

India should speed up commitments in Chabahar port as China renews interest

During his recent visit to Japan, Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe welcomed the prospects of cooperation between the two countries for promoting peace and prosperity in South Asia and neighbouring region such as Iran and Afghanistan.

President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani (R), Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi (L) and President of Iran Hassan Rouhani (C). Getty Images  (Photo by Pool / Iran Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani (R), Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi (L) and President of Iran Hassan Rouhani (C). Getty Images  (Photo by Pool / Iran Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani (R), Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi (L) and President of Iran Hassan Rouhani (C). Getty Images
(Photo by Pool / Iran Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This, as agreed upon by both the countries, would be done through bilateral and trilateral cooperation, inter-alia, in the development of infrastructure and connectivity for Chabahar, the port in southeastern Iran, directing their officials to expeditiously work out details for such a cooperation.

The trilateral engagement between India, Iran and Afghanistan during the visit of PM Modi’s visit to Iran in May 2016 was historic, expanding avenues of trade for India with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia through the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC). Chabahar is Iran’s only oceanic port and consists of two separate ports named ‘Shahid Kalantari’ and ‘Shahid Beheshti’, each of which has five berths – overall 10 berths. India and Iran first agreed upon plans to further develop ‘Shahid Beheshti’ port in 2003, but India was deterred by sanctions against Iran. Under the Indo-Iranian agreement of May 2016, India would refurbish one of the berths at ‘Shahid Beheshti’, and reconstruct a 600-meter long container handling facility at the port. The bilateral agreement between India and Iran gives India the right to develop two berths of the Chabahar port as agreed in 2015, allowing them to be operated for 10 years by India Ports Global, which is a joint venture between Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and Kandla Port Trust, in partnership with Iran’s Aria Banader.

Along with the development of Chahabar port, India is also to construct a railway line linking Chahabar with Zahedan on the Iran-Afghanistan border, which beyond Zahedan will be linked to the Iranian Railway running west and then north close to the Iran-Afghanistan border, avoiding the volatile Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

India’s development of Chabahar will be at a cost of $85 million over the course of 18 months. Upon completion of upgrade works as agreed to in May 2016, Chabahar’s capacity will be increased to 8 million tonnes from the current 2.5 million tonnes capacity. India’s investment is supplemented with a $150 million credit line to Iran through Exim Bank of India. India has also offered to supply $400 million worth of steel towards the construction of the rail link Chabahar-Zahedan.

Chabahar port and the INSTC give India the strategic access for trade with Afghanistan and Eurasia, faced with denial of the land route by Pakistan. Recent operationalising of Gwadar port, as also the CPEC, makes this even more significant. Gwadar port has been leased for operations to a Chinese company (read China) for 49 years. In December 2011, regional Pakistani newspapers reported Chinese military taking over Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan considering leasing Gilgit-Baltistan to China for 50 years. In all probability, this would have happened secretly, what with Chinese digging 22 tunnels in this area capable of housing strategic weapons.

Though China wants India to join CPEC, it gives advantage India without opening the land access to Afghanistan. Conversely, such a move would raise the enormous India-China bilateral trade balance even more in China’s favour. Recent reservations shown by Pakistani senators against India joining CPEC could well be ruse to lure India joining the CPEC, thereby legitimising Chinese presence and projects in Gilgit-Baltistan, which is Indian territory.

It is not just blockading India’s NSG membership, protecting Masood Azhar at UN or denying visa to India’s badminton team manager on grounds he hails from Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese stance indicates constraining India at every opportunity. India may feel there is enough space for both India and China to grow economically but China doesn’t feel that way at all, as demonstrated time and again by her. Iran’s recent refusal to accept the proposal by ONGC Videsh to develop Iran’s Farzad-B oilfield at a cost of $10 billion doesn’t bode well. This agreement was to be signed in October 2016. The 12.8 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves named Farzad-B was discovered by a consortium of OVL, Oil India Ltd and Indian Oil Corporation in 2008. Though India is still hopeful of pulling off the deal by February 2017, Iran’s action may have been influenced by China.

In 2011, Beijing and Tehran signed a deal giving China exclusive rights to multiple several Iranian oil and gas fields through 2024, including rights to build necessary infrastructures. In return, China promised to treat any foreign attack against these regions as attacks against its own sovereign territory, and defend them as such. China needs no prior permission from the Iranian government to maintain and increase its military presence in Iran and will control the movement of Iranians in and out of these territories. According to Green Experts of Iran, this agreement was the basis for PLA’s General Zhang Zhaozhong stating, “China will not hesitate to protect Iran even with a third World War.” China and Iran aim to increase bilateral trade to $600 billion within the next decade, even though economists feel it is not attainable.

Prior to the Indo-Iranian agreement on Chabahar, Iran had offered the same project to China and Pakistan also in addition to India, with China, Pakistan not responding. But lately Iranians at international forums have been conveying: India agreed to develop Chabahar in 2003 but despite the US being amenable to India doing so, India remained complacent. There are no plans to link Chabahar and Gwadar by road or rail, and China and Pakistan are now evincing interest in developing Chabahar. The implication of this should be very clear. There may be multiple reasons why India refrained from developing Chabahar after agreeing to do so in 2003, but it did emerge in 2015 that there were problems in clearing backlog payments for imported Iranian oil even through European banks because of the sanctions.

The US House of Representatives has now voted to renew the Iran Sanctions Act for an additional 10 years. The act is scheduled to expire by year end, barring its renewal. As of now, there is no word on when the US Senate intends to vote on the extension. However, Iran maintains that even non-nuclear sanctions, particularly the prohibition on Iranian access to the American financial system and use of the dollar discourage foreign companies from investing in Iran, subverts the economic rewards it expected from the nuclear agreement. When India physically commenced developing Chabahar and how much has been completed is not known, but there is clearly need for speed, in addition to quality.

Early leveraging the Indo-Japanese partnership into the project and ironing out problems of fiscal investment, if any, on account of continuing sanctions (of whatever form) is the need of the hour. Considering that the development work by India was to be completed in 18 months, we should actually aim to deliver it by September 2017.

The author is veteran Lieutenant General of the Indian Army.

First Published On : Nov 19, 2016 15:54 IST

UN should do more to send right message to terror groups: India

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Asserting that the UN should do more to send the right message to terror groups, India has said that the inconsistent implementation of sanctions on some of the terrorist outfits eats away at the UN’s authority.”The United Nations must do more to send the right message. Inconsistent implementation of sanctions on some of these terrorist outfits eats away at the UN’s authority and needs to be addressed,” Indian Ambassador to the UN Syed Akbaruddin said in his address to the UN General Assembly. “The leader of the Taliban – a proscribed entity – needs to be designated as a terrorist individual. The international community is impatient for action,” the Indian diplomat said.Earlier this week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani himself asked a delegation of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee to include the new Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah (Akhundzada) and such others, in the list of terrorists. “Unless the Security Council and its subordinate organs are part of a cohesive response to global terrorism they run the risk of becoming marginalised from the most fundamental security priorities of Member States whose fabric is being torn as under by terrorists,” Akbaruddin warned.Addressing the UN General Assembly as it adopted an unanimous resolution on Afghanistan, he said the security challenges faced by the Afghan people and Government have not receded. “We note that Afghanistan, along with the Resolute Support Force, continues to make efforts to combat terrorism,” he said. “However, the shadowy supporters of some of these terrorist organisations like the Taliban, Haqqani Network, ISIS, AI-Qaeda and its designated affiliates such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed have not been deterred, as is reflected in the upwards trend in the toll of causalities,” the diplomat said.The resolution unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly pledged its continued support, in particular as the Afghan Government rebuilt a stable, secure and economically self-sufficient State free from terrorism and narcotics while strengthening the foundations of its constitutional democracy. At the same time, it heard expressions of alarm over recent spikes in civilian casualties and the influence of violent extremists.In her address, Pakistan Ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi said the presence of large numbers of terrorists, foreign fighters and militant groups in the vast ungoverned areas of Afghanistan presents an imposing challenge to the` long-term stability of the war-torn country. “They pose a threat not only to Afghanistan but also to Pakistan and indeed the entire region. Afghanistan could once again become a source of global terrorism, with grave implications for the region and the world,” Lodhi said. “A dialogue between the Afghan Government and the Afghan Taliban remains the only way to end Afghanistan’s long night of suffering,” she added.