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Saturday, 1 February 2014

From Today's Papers - 01 Feb 2014

War divides, trade unites
Wagah border trade can boost India-Pakistan relations
Davinder Kumar Madaan
The recent meeting of the Commerce Minister of Pakistan with his Indian counterpart on the margin of the 5th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Business Leaders Conclave in New Delhi decided that Non-Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) and normal trade relations between India and Pakistan would be implemented by the end of February 2014. Both countries agreed to open the Wagah-Attari Land Customs Station operational on all seven days of each week, and liberalisation of the business visa regime. Further, on January 22, 2014, Pakistan approved the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a deal to buy electricity from India for which an inter-connection will be built between Amritsar and Lahore. Earlier, India offered to export electricity to the tune of 500 MW to Pakistan. In fact, the important milestone for their mutual trade took place on March 20, 2012, when Pakistan switched over from this Positive List of 1,963 items to the Negative List of 1,209 items that cannot be imported from India. Thus, more than 7,500 items became importable from India. All steps by the two countries are expected to accelerate the process of their mutual trade relations as there are tremendous gains due to their geographical proximity and contiguity of territories, which can help in saving the transportation and transhipment costs.

Though enormous trade potential between India and Pakistan exists, still they realised less than 8 per cent of the potential. Nearly 70 per cent of what Pakistan consumes is from imports, but its imports from India are very less. During 2012, the official trade between India and Pakistan could have increased from US$ 2.1 billion to US$ 29.8 billion (14.2 times), provided both had removed certain irritants in the way of trade. Pakistan's tariff on import from India was as high as 100 per cent on black tea, 70 per cent on cardamoms, 31.9 per cent on woven fabrics, and 30 per cent on tomatoes, chickpeas and cumin seeds. India's tariff was as high as 42.8 per cent on cotton fabrics, 30 per cent on sesamum seeds, and 24 per cent on dates.

The Wagah border is very important for exploiting the trade potential between India and Pakistan. During 2012-13, 34 per cent of the total bilateral trade was via this land route. Both countries resumed the truck movement at the Attari/Wagah border on October 1, 2007. With the inauguration of the Integrated Check Post (ICP) on April 13, 2012, the number of trucks crossing the Attari/Wagah border increased from 51 in 2009-10 to 207 per day in 2012-13. The items imported included cement, chemicals, gypsum, dry dates, dry fruits, float glass, marble stone and sand. The items that were exported to Pakistan were potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cotton, meat, ginger, garlic, green chillies, soyabeans, newsprint, polypropylene, carbon dioxide in liquid form, etc.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has a Positive List that allows only 137 items for import through the land route of the Attari-Wagah border from India. But the potential is huge from Punjab and North India. These 137 items include livestock, meat, vegetables, raw jute, cotton yarn, pineapple, black pepper, raw cane & beet sugar, oil cake, cement & clinker, pure terephthalic acid, polyethylene, polypropylene, newsprint, paddy harvesters and dryers. The actual potential will be exploited when Pakistan expands its import list, which could open a gateway of opportunity for Indian Punjab. It will open a new era for the industrial development of Indian Punjab. The industries like hosiery, textiles, carpets, blankets, shawls, engineering units, tractors, auto parts, metal and alloy, bicycles, foundries, sports, steel, etc. will flourish. The new Guru Gobind Singh Refinery in Bathinda could also export petroleum products to Pakistan through the land route.

In fact, India and Pakistan were highly dependent on each other for trade during the time of partition on August 14, 1947. Right from partition, Kashmir has been a bone of contention between the two countries even after four wars of 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999. As such, both India and Pakistan resorted to deliberate measures to minimise their trade dependence on each other, and were forced to import many items from the world market at much higher prices. In 1948-49, India's share in Pakistan's global imports was 50.6 per cent, which went down to 4.6 per cent in 2012-13. Pakistan's share in India's global imports was 1.1 per cent in 1951-52, which went down to 0.1 per cent in 2012-13. There was an embargo on bilateral trade during 1965-74.

SAARC, established on December 8, 1985, has played an important role in boosting the trade ties between India and Pakistan. It led to the establishment of SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) on 1st July. The base rate tariff for sensitive lists will be reduced to 0-5% by 1st Jan 2015 under SAFTA Phase II. Though the average annual trade between them was US$ 492 million only during 1975-2012, but in the post-SAFTA period (2006-12), it increased to US$ 2,016 million.

Both India and Pakistan should resolve their political problem on Kashmir and exploit their vast mutual trade potential on the pattern of the Indo-China model. Since war divides and trade unites, the time has come to gain from each other. The opening of more land routes between them will give a big boost to trade and bring down freight cost. Therefore, trade traffic can be encouraged through the Hussainiwala, Khem Karan, Fazilka, Amruka, and Karachi routes in Punjab, and other land routes in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Kashmir. Earlier, all these trade routes were operational. With the grant of MFN/NDMA status to India, Pakistan can legalise the unofficial importable goods through third countries, which are worth more than $10 billion per annum. It will increase the customs' revenue of Pakistan. The promotion of trade relations, joint-ventures, joint marketing, joint study groups on trade and other issues, strengthening of SAARC, joint patrolling of the LoC, frequent meetings of civil and political bureaucrats and political leaders, people-to-people contact, a liberal visa regime, etc., could be some formidable steps towards confidence-building exercises between India and Pakistan.
Indian Kashmir shuts down to protest military court verdict
SRINAGAR: Large parts of Indian Kashmir shut down on Friday to protest a military court verdict last week that exonerated five army officers involved in the killing of five civilians 14 years ago.

Most shops and businesses were closed and public transport halted in the main city of Srinagar and other areas of the restive region after separatist groups called a one-day strike over the court's decision.

Hundreds of police and paramilitary forces were patrolling the normally congested old parts of Srinagar ahead of protests called by the region's chief cleric and expected to start after Friday prayers.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who also heads the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a grouping of separatist organisations, urged Kashmiris to "raise our voice against the verdict", in a statement this week.

Showkat, who gave only one name, said he had shuttered his shop in the old part of Srinagar for the strike, but doubted whether justice for the dead civilians would eventually prevail.

"India is telling us again and again that there will be no justice for Kashmir people," said Showkat standing outside his shop.

"We keep protesting but no one listens," he added.

The five civilians were killed in Pathribal village, in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, days after the massacre of 35 Sikhs in the remote village of Chattisinghpora in March 2000.

The army claimed the victims were "foreign militants", accusing them of being responsible for the massacre.

But a subsequent probe by India's top investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, described the killings as "cold blooded murder", paving the way for a trial in a military court held behind closed doors.

The five soldiers were however cleared last Thursday as "the evidence recorded could not establish a prime facie case against any of the accused persons", according to an army statement.

In its verdict, the court did not dispute the CBI's findings that the victims were civilians but it added that they were killed during an operation "based on specific intelligence".

The decision has been denounced by rights groups and Kashmiri separatists and fuelled anger in the already tense region.

Security forces, particularly paramilitaries and army personnel, in Indian Kashmir are routinely accused by human rights groups of using excessive force and torture.

The local government was preparing a "legal recourse" to try to reopen the case, but it is unclear how this could be achieved since the military court handling the case was outside of civilian jurisdiction and scrutiny.

Kashmir, a picturesque Himalayan region, is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both.

About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or for its merger with Pakistan.
Army jawan commits suicide in J&K
 JAMMU: An Army jawan has allegedly committed suicide by consuming poison in Udhampur district of Jammu and Kashmir, police said on Friday.

Balwant Singh, a Territorial Army jawan, committed suicide yesterday near village Lanu in Udhampur district.

Singh was rushed to a district hospital at Udhampur by the family members where doctors declared him as brought dead, they said.

The body has been handed over to his family members after conducting legal formalities, they said.

Police have registered a case and a probe is on.
Tata leads race to sell mini UAVs to Army
NEW DELHI: The Tata Group is set to ink an agreement with the government to sell 1,200 trucks to the defence forces in a deal valued at close to Rs 1,000 crore. In addition, it has emerged as the lowest bidder for a contract for mini-unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from the Indian Army's Northern Command, although the terms of the deal are yet to be finalized.

The twin deals come at a time when the group is looking to ramp up its presence in the defence segment through several of its group companies and has managed to generate an order book of close to Rs 8,000 crore. The salt to software conglomerate saw revenues of close to Rs 1,700 crore during the last financial year and is expecting a growth of around 40% during the current financial year, Mukund Rajan, member - group executive council and brand custodian, Tata Sons told reporters.

While Tata Motors is expected to sign the deal for the 6x6 trucks after Tatra was blacklisted over its alleged involvement in the irregularities, Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) is the top contender for the mini-UAV contract. TASL vice-president Sukaran Singh said that the company has been approached by several original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) work related to aircraft components.

"We would need to have a separate unit, possibly expansion at our existing facility in Bangalore, to produce the UAV," Singh said.

For Tata Motors, Vernon Noronha, who heads the company's defence and government business wing, the focus is on armoured vehicles from its traditional strongholds of producing trucks. "Our aim is to operate in the entire range, from back up logistics vehicle segment to the battle front with frontline armoured vehicles."

He said the company is working on a DRDO funded project for wheel-armoured amphibious platform, which will be ready in about two years.
Inside a Pakistan army bomb school
RISALPUR, Pakistan: Militants in Pakistan have found clever ways to hide homemade bombs. They’ve been strapped to children’s bicycles, hidden inside water jugs and even hung in tree branches. But the most shocking place that Brig. Basim Saeed has heard of such a device being planted was inside a hollowed-out book made to look like a Quran, Islam’s holy book. A soldier who went to pick up the book from the floor was killed when it exploded.

“Normally if that book is lying somewhere on the floor, you tend to pick it up immediately just for respect,” said Saeed, the chief instructor at a school training Pakistani forces how to detect the so-called improvised explosive devices, which have become increasingly popular in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the insurgency in Pakistan’s northwest, near the Afghan border.

The Associated Press was the first foreign media outlet to be allowed access to the facility, according to the Pakistani military.

Saeed and other instructors at the military’s Counter IED, Explosives and Munitions School say it is important to constantly come up with new ways to prevent such homemade bombs because that’s exactly what the militants are doing.

“Terrorists are also very brainy,” Saeed said. “They are using different techniques to defeat our efforts also. So we need to be very proactive.”

The Pakistani military has sharply ramped up efforts to deal with such devices in recent years as they have emerged as the militants’ preferred weapon. So far, 4,042 soldiers from the army and Frontier Corps have been killed and more than 13,000 wounded in the war on militants in the country’s northwest since 2002, according to the Pakistani military. The homemade bombs account for most of the casualties.

The U.S. military, which in the past has said Pakistan hasn’t done enough to restrict the use of certain fertilizers used in bombs in Pakistan and targeting foreign and government troops in Afghanistan, welcomed the bomb squad school, which formally opened in 2012 on a military base in the northwestern city of Risalpur.

“We’re very encouraged by the efforts that we understand the Pakistanis are taking there,” said the head of the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization, Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson.

The Pakistani military also has moved to restrict the availability of calcium ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers frequently used in Afghanistan, and to develop a fertilizer dubbed CAN+ that would work on Pakistan’s soil but not detonate. And it signed an agreement with the U.S. last year designed to help the two countries work together to fight the roadside bombs by sharing information in areas such as militant tactics and funding. U.S. experts are to travel to Pakistan to supply it with hard-won knowledge earned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Separately, the British military has provided instruction.

The school’s goal is to teach security forces where bombs can be hidden, how to look for them and their components and how to gather intelligence from them such as fingerprints so that authorities can track down militants.

“The success lies in identifying the network and busting them,” said Lt. Col. Mohammed Anees Khan, an instructor. “We need to go after those people who are making and planting those IEDs.”

During a recent visit, students were practicing using equipment to search for devices planted in the ground or using remote-controlled vehicles to approach possible explosive devices. Others cleared a path to a suspected militant house and marked the path with yellow flags so that troops coming behind them would know where to walk.

The school includes a mock urban environment with a market, a gas station and other buildings, and explosive devices are even hidden in a pond and a graveyard. Troops practicing a search of a residential compound may accidentally open a cupboard, setting off a loud buzzing that signals an explosion. An escape tunnel leading from one of the houses is rigged with trip wires.

“We face it whenever we travel or if there is a compound, a path or some other place, it is always in our mind that there could be some IED,” said one soldier at the school, Noor ul Ameen, who has served in the northwest and the insurgency-plagued Baluchistan province.

Most of the students are from the military, but officials are trying to include police and other security agencies because they are often the first on the scene when a bomb goes off or an unexploded device is found.

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