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Sunday, 25 May 2014

From Today's Papers - 25 May 2014

India allowed partial withdrawal of Agusta bank guarantees

New Delhi, May 24
An Italian court has allowed India to partially cash bank guarantees worth Rs 1,818 crore deposited by AgustaWestland in a bank there in the VVIP chopper deal that has been scrapped because of bribery allegations.

“The Milan court partially upheld the complaint lodged by the Indian Defence Ministry and thereby revoked the order issued by the judge on last March 17,” said a statement by Finmecannica, parent company of AgustaWestland.

AgustaWestland had resisted India’s attempt for “calling of certain first demand bank guarantees provided with reference to the contract for the supply of 12 AW101 VVIP helicopters for 228 million Euros (Rs 1,818 crore) maximum against a call seeking to cash 278 million Euros (Rs 2,217 crore),” the statement said. After the Rs 3,600 crore deal was cancelled on January 1, India had initiated the process to seize bank guarantees deposited in banks in Italy and India.

While the money deposited in Indian banks was cashed, the Italian court had stayed the process of seizure in that country.

Finmeccanica said: “It (the company) will assert its rights to recover the aforesaid amounts in the arbitration process already initiated.”

India has been working on procedures to claim more than 650 million Euros (Rs 5,470 crore) from the company in the form of seizure of bank guarantees and imposing penalties. — PTI
SAARC agenda needs the big push
India’s role in South Asia has to be humble and constructive and caring — elitist vanity or self-congratulation alienates people and should have no place in regional diplomacy.
Sheel Kant Sharma
Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi’s swearing in on May 26 will have heads of SAARC countries as honoured guests. This will strike the right chord for his government’s reaching out to our neighbours. It will record an invaluable first in the evolution of South Asian regionalism. Responses from invitees are most forthcoming, including from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Bangladesh Speaker will stand in for Prime Minister Hasina.

This impromptu gathering of SAARC heads will be Mr Modi’s opportunity for not only breaking ice but for charting new vistas for conviviality in the region. Their visit would also make up for the absence of a formal SAARC summit since 2011. Since they all lead and cherish democratic polity, they appreciate the vital significance of the formal inauguration of an elected government, as reflected in the spontaneous acceptance of New Delhi’s invitation.
SAARC completes three decades next year. There were times (2002, 2004) when its summits modestly helped dispel frosty overhang from intra-regional diplomacy. The meetings in Delhi will go a long way in removing any apprehensions among neighbours about Mr Modi’s historic electoral triumph. His messages since have been unfailingly reassuring to his political opponents, to the poor and downtrodden, to all classes of society and to the aspiring youth across the board. As the basic premise of SAARC too lies in the quest for promoting welfare and improving the quality of life of the peoples of the region, it is natural that Mr Modi is starting with SAARC his diplomatic outreach, albeit with a largely ceremonial event and at short notice.

Impromptu meetings are no stranger to other regions in India’s extended neighbourhood or in Europe and Latin America. The Arab leaders and those in ASEAN often transcend protocol and travel to regional capitals informally, and so do the Europeans. The message from Delhi carries similar sentiment. This would be no occasion to venture into addressing threadbare a whole host of expectations from the meetings of the SAARC leaders; bilaterally or regionally. Going by past experience, most of media attention and commentary may focus on the body language of the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan. Doubtlessly, both sides will have been smart in unobtrusively availing this opportunity; leaving behind the tomes of futile discourse of past years on the point and purpose of a meeting or its venue.

While this in itself is important enough, some introspection may not be out of place to take stock of the substantive and constructive agenda that SAARC as well as bilateral processes already have at hand. All they need is a determined push by the leaders. This entire agenda is a win-win for all without any hint of the zero-sum. Trade and investment, tourism, energy, transport, people to people connectivity, climate change and common approach to disaster management, pandemics and so forth. While intra SAARC trade is low — less than 5 per cent of its global trade — this can be quickly expanded by moving on with SAFTA and SATIS and related mechanisms for reducing not only tariff, but also non-tariff barriers, improving border transits, customs facilitation and harmonisation of standards. Just tariff liberalisation with Bangladesh has served to treble India-Bangladesh trade in the past three years from around $2 to $6 billion. Similar openings await trade between India and Pakistan where business communities on both sides of the border are eager to tap the synergy in geographical contiguity and economies. Given the informal and third country trade their direct trade can be stepped up to $8 to $10 billion.

Trade and tourism across South Asia will benefit people all the way from tour operators, small traders, craftsmen, to hoteliers, aviation and transport, and families engaged throughout the value chain. Western Nepal, for example, treasures breathtaking but unexplored natural beauty for tourists. Tourism can contribute to alleviating poverty in that impoverished area bordering UP and Himachal Pradesh. The North East in South Asia cries out for connectivity, railways, roads and easy borders to promote economic activity. Similar opportunities abound in other sub-regions like India-Sri Lanka-Maldives for ferry service.

While global financial institutions and non-profit bodies are keen to spur regional cooperation in South Asia, it is the indigenous public and private sector of the countries that need to speed up involvement and commitment. The SAARC Development Fund has a modest kitty (about $300 million) for project-based cooperation but a leadership push may work its promise, for example, to upgrade border transit points for trade.

However, SAARC has limitations. It cannot be a substitute for what is needed to meet urgent domestic challenges. SAARC countries have large populations. Governance and public order are domestic imperatives for each. There must be no complacence about their shortcomings and no lowering of guard regardless of the success or failure of SAARC in word or deed. It is the mounting dearth of basic amenities for the millions across South Asia that breeds domestic turmoil. Meetings of South Asian leaders are opportunities to exchange notes and share experience on these burning problems, to engender empathy and build bridges — not grandstanding.

Mr Modi’s life spans a long journey from humble origins to lofty portals of successful governance. He sounds not only as genetically optimistic but also assimilative, problem-solving and large hearted. India’s role in South Asia has to be humble and constructive and caring — elitist vanity or self-congratulation alienates people and should have no place in regional diplomacy.
Nawaz Sharif fights off hawks at home, confirms historic trip to India
NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD: After three days of 'will he, won't he' speculation, the Pakistan government confirmed on Saturday Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had — in the face of opposition from hardliners at home — accepted India's PM-designate Narendra Modi's unanticipated invitation to Saarc heads of government to attend his swearing-in on Monday.

Sharif's confirmation, which comes a day after the terror attack on India's consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, and Lashkar boss Hafiz Saeed's warning against coming to New Delhi, sets the stage for an unprecedented visit and escalated the inaugural ceremony into a star-studded international show of strength for Modi even before his formal takeover.

It was an open secret, right from the beginning, that Sharif wanted to make the trip, and was heartily supported by his foreign office, his daughter and brother, and political colleagues on both sides of the aisle. But he had to weather a quiet storm within the military-intelligence establishment, which is what triggered the uncertainty over whether he would finally say yes.
The Pakistan army, which largely calls the shots on India, was reportedly not particularly enthusiastic. The new army chief Raheel Sharief belongs to the mould of the conservative general who is instinctively antipathetic to India. Also, Sharif and Sharief have not seen eye-to-eye on a number of issues.
Pakistan is expecting a substantive agenda for talks with Modi while India is pitching for a more "getting to know each other" kind of meeting. The bilateral, scheduled for a brief 30 minutes on Tuesday, can hardly be expected to cover the gamut of issues. But Pakistan, which will include (besides Sharif) foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz and party leader Tariq Fatemi, is likely to ask for the resumption of composite dialogue which was disrupted after the 26/11 attacks. The dialogue has long outlived its usefulness but nobody has yet found a replacement for it.

India, for its part, will be watching to see if Sharif meets the separatist Hurriyat group, which has been a regular feature in every Pak leader's visit. There is no formal word yet of such a meeting taking place.

The army remains the most important player in Pakistan although its powers are nowhere near what it used to be. Sharif may appear to be underperformer, but he remains the tallest Punjab-based leader with strong links to jihadi groups, and that gives him a certain leverage with the army.
Given the experience of 1999, when he was overthrown in a bloodless coup by Gen Pervez Musharraf, Sharif, say close observers, has matured as a politician, and may have found new ways of dealing with the army. While he is not likely to confront them openly, Sharif has been trying to chip away at their authority. The case against Musharraf is an example where Sharif is letting the judiciary continue to act against the man who deposed him, while the army would rather he were allowed safe passage out of the country.

Structurally, though, little has changed in Pakistan, say analysts. The army-ISI combine still has disproportionate say in India policy. While the army chief has overridden Sharif's 'talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban' plan to start military action against them along the Afghan front, Sharif is unlikely to take any action against jihadi groups that are focused on India. So if Modi expects Sharif to roll up the terror infrastructure against India, he may be in for a disappointment, say observers. Saeed may rail against Sharif's visit to India, but it is unlikely to hurt him.

Modi may play the "fight against poverty" card with Sharif to coax him to open up trading relations with India. By all accounts, the NDMA (non-discriminatory market access) deal is waiting to be signed. Pakistan was reluctant to do it with a Manmohan Singh government that it (rightly) thought was in decline. There's speculation that Islamabad might dangle it as a carrot in return for New Delhi's engagement on "outstanding issues" like Kashmir.
Youth turn up for army recruitment rally at Leimakhong in large numbers
Enthusiastic young men recently gathered at the Kendriya Vidyalaya football ground in Leimakhong in Manipur's Senapati District to participate in a recruitment rally organised by the Indian Army.

Thousands of youth from different districts of Manipur and Nagaland took part in the process that started on May 15 and continued till May 25.

The preliminary screening took place district-wise.

Through this recruitment drive, hundreds of people will be selected and absorbed into the different regiments of the Indian Army.

Recruitment Officer Brigadier R.V. Singh said: "In the last four to six rallies, we have never had more number of candidates than those who have passed. We don't go below a certain level. A person has to pass in everything for him to be recruited. And, we are happy with the response."

The candidates were selected after rigorous physical and health screenings.

The Indian Army and other security forces regularly conduct such recruitment programmes in the region with an aim to increase the presence of youth from the northeast in the armed forces.

Currently, a number of vacancies are available for candidates from Manipur and Nagaland for soldier general duty, tradesmen and various other categories.

The recruitment rally not only provides these youth with a chance to serve their country, but also gives them a good employment opportunity.

Candidate Chittaranjan Singh said: "I just want to serve my people and my country."

Candidate Ningthoukohongjam Ranjan Singh said: "I want to get into defence .I don't want to join any insurgent outfit as people don't accept them.Instead, I want to serve in defence all my life."

The enthusiasm displayed by the youth to join the armed forces reflects their keen interest to be a part of the mainstream and work towards the development of the country.
India Backs out from Joint Army Drills with Thailand

NEW DELHI: In a major snub to the Thai military that toppled a democratically elected government in a coup earlier this week, India on Friday withdrew its 45-man Army contingent participating in a bilateral joint exercise at Thailand’s Chiang Mai Hills.

“Our troops, currently in Thailand for Maitree  exercises, have been advised to return to  India,” an official spokesperson from the Ministry of External Affairs said here.

On the situation in Thailand, he stated: “India is concerned with the recent  developments in Thailand. We are monitoring the evolving situation closely. The Indian community in Thailand is safe. As a friendly neighbour, with civilisational affinities, we hope for an urgent political resolution and restoration of normalcy based on the principles of democracy, the will of the people and the rule of law in Thailand.”

The Indian government move, at a time when New Delhi is in a political transition with a new government under Narendra Modi set to take charge on Monday, came a day after the Defence Ministry officials asked the Ministry of External Affairs to take a call on the withdrawal of the Army contingent, sources said.

The Indian contingent comprises 45 personnel, including three officers and five Junior Commissioned officers, from 21 Punjab battalion, which has its base in Kapurthala in Punjab.

The contingent had left for Thailand only on Tuesday night to participate in the joint exercise ‘Maitree’ that had counter-terrorism as its focus and was slated to begin on Saturday. After the situation worsened in Thailand over martial law being declared and the civilian government toppled in the military coup, the MoD was concerned over the developments, but still sent the contingent, as it was too late to back out after scheduling the joint exercise months in advance. India has wooed Thailand to strengthen military ties for long, to counter China’s moves in the neighbourhood.

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