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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

From Today's Papers - 09 Dec 2015

In Pak, Sushma will find ways to improve ties
Islamabad, December 8
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today reached Islamabad on a first-ever visit to the country by a minister in the Modi government. She said the relationship between India and Pakistan should be better and that she would hold talks to find ways to improve bilateral ties.

“I have come with the message that ties between the two countries should be good and move forward,” said Swaraj immediately after arriving here on a two-day visit.

She will hold talks with her Pakistan counterpart Sartaj Aziz and call on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tomorrow.

Swaraj is in Pakistan to lead the Indian delegation at the “Heart of Asia” 5th Ministerial Meeting on Afghanistan tomorrow.

She refused to share what she would be discussing with Pakistan leaders, but said: “What will happen during the talks will be known after meeting.”

Invited by Pakistan to attend the multilateral meet on Afghanistan, Swaraj will attend the conference tomorrow before holding talks with Aziz, who said the focus would be on the resumption of composite dialogue process.

“Heart of Asia conference is very important for India because it is associated with Afghanistan. That is why I have come here to participate. Since it is happening in Pakistan, it is necessary and appropriate for me to meet PM Sharif and hold talks with my counterpart Aziz to talk about improving the bilateral ties and take them forward,” Swaraj said.

Adopting a cautious approach over the agenda of talks between Swaraj and Aziz, Indian officials said they would see how the meeting goes and if there would be any point of convergence.

Swaraj’s visit comes after talks between the National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan in Bangkok on Sunday, where they discussed terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and a range of key bilateral issues besides agreeing to carry forward the “constructive” engagement.

Aziz had yesterday said the deadlock in Indo-Pak ties had eased to some extent. During his talks with Swaraj, Aziz said he would discuss various matters with focus on resumption of composite dialogue process between the two countries.

Swaraj’s trip came three years after former external affairs minister SM Krishna’s visit here in 2012 when the two sides inked a visa liberalisation pact.

Swaraj is accompanied by Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, who was also present during the four-hour-long meeting between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Naseer Janjua in the Thai capital.

The joint statement after the meeting of NSAs said the talks were held pursuant to a meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of the climate meet in Paris, rejecting the version given by the Indian side then that it was a mere "exchange of courtesies".

Sharif had told Pakistani media that he had a "good meeting" with Modi and "doors of dialogue should open". Before Paris, Modi and Sharif had held bilateral meeting in Russian city of Ufa where they decided that their NSAs would meet to discuss all "terror-related" issues. However, Pakistan had called-off Aziz's visit after New Delhi had made it clear that he would not be allowed to meet Kashmiri separatist leaders in the Indian capital. — PTI
US aid to Pak will be used against India: Ex-diplomat
Washington, December 8
As the US prepares to sell F-16s to Pakistan, the country’s former top diplomat has warned the Congress that such fighter jets would end up being used against India and not against terrorists.

Describing sale of such military hardware and even reported talk of a civil nuclear deal as an appeasement policy towards Pakistani military, the former top Pakistani diplomat has urged the US to tell the leaders in Pakistan that their ambition of rivalling India is akin to Belgium trying to rival France or Germany.

“The Obama administration’s consideration of a nuclear deal with Pakistan, just like its decision a few months ago to sell almost USD 1 billion in US-made attack helicopters, missiles and other equipment to Pakistan will fuel conflict in South Asia without fulfilling the objective of helping the country fight Islamist extremists or limit its nuclear arsenal,” said Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the US.

In a prepared remark submitted ahead of a Congressional hearing on ‘Civil Nuclear Cooperation with Pakistan: Prospects and Consequences to the Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Affairs’, Haqqani said Pakistan’s failure to tackle its jihadist challenge is not the result of a lack of arms but reflects an absence of will.

“Unless Pakistan changes its worldview and its compulsive competition with its much larger neighbour even in violation of international commitments, American weapons will end up being used to fight or menace India and perceived domestic enemies instead of being deployed against jihadists,” he said.

Currently, director of South & Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, a top American think-tank, Haqqani said competition with India remains the overriding consideration in Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policies. — PTI
India-Pak progress: No to politics of brinkmanship
Sushma Swaraj’s visit should generate a positive quid pro quo. Tensions along the LoC and the boundary are unacceptably high. There has to be a movement to re-establish both sides’ commitment to upholding the January 2003 ceasefire.
FIRST the prime ministers exchanged a few words in Paris; then their national security advisers and foreign secretaries held a joint meeting in Bangkok. On Wednesday, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj arrives in Islamabad for a regional security conference.

What seemed impossible just weeks ago, has turned into a remarkable, almost unprecedented round of diplomacy at the very highest levels.

The meetings must, first and foremost, be welcomed by every right-thinking Indian and Pakistani. Not talking to each other should be an unacceptable state of affairs when it comes to the two South Asian neighbours.
Unhappily, prompted by Indian intransigence and partly reinforced by Pakistani reluctance, diplomatic engagement had eluded the two countries.

Instead, dangerous brinksmanship by both sides pushed the relationship towards a new low. Now, and not a moment too soon, the relationship seems set to be revived and reinvigorated. And an old truth stands validated: without a strong and bold leadership, the India-Pakistan relationship will forever remain hostage to old suspicions and hostilities. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi appear willing to try again. What is particularly encouraging is that both sides seem prepared to learn from the mistakes and choices of the recent past.

The Ufa agreement called for a meeting between the NSAs in New Delhi, but that became untenable after the Indian side refused to allow the Pakistani delegation to meet friendly leaders from India-held Kashmir. Choosing a neutral venue like Bangkok allowed both sides to avoid public embarrassment. Furthermore, prior secrecy and the post-meeting public statement helped achieve several things: they prevented hawks on either side from scuttling the meeting; presumably allowed both sides to talk about substantive issues instead of indulging in rhetoric for domestic political consumption; and established a precedent for further meetings. The inclusion of references to terrorism as well as Jammu and Kashmir will presumably have satisfied both sides. In real terms, however, the reference to "tranquillity along the LoC" in the joint statement is of perhaps more immediate relevance.

Tensions along the Working Boundary and LoC are still unacceptably high and there has to be some major movement to re-establish both sides' commitment to upholding the January 2003 ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Ms Swaraj's visit to Islamabad could set the stage for a rather positive quid pro quo. The Heart of Asia conference is being jointly hosted by Pakistan and Afghanistan and is just the platform for India to make some kind of an important gesture on Afghanistan — a gesture that would enhance the likelihood of stability and peace in Afghanistan and the region.

The gesture that India, and the world, is seeking from Pakistan? Expediting the Mumbai attack-related trials. It is a scandal that the trials in the Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court have ground to a halt. Pakistan needs to do more on that front.
Navy, MoD botched sub refit: CAG
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 8
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) today slammed the Navy and the Ministry of Defence for the delay in carrying out the refit of diesel-electric submarine INS Sindhukirti — a Russian origin vessel.

The CAG said the Navy has not been able to operate one of its lethal platforms since June 2004. The CAG in its report submitted to Parliament today said that the ‘medium refit’ of the submarine was due for commencement in 2001 but was carried out from January 2006 by which the submarine witnessed extensive deterioration.

It noted that though it was scheduled to be completed by January 2009, due to the deficiency in manpower deployed by the Hindustan Shipyard Limited, lack of protection to main line cables, delayed supply of yard materials and modernisation of equipment, the submarine was delivered by the shipyard to the Navy in June this year with sea acceptance trials to follow.

“As a result, the Navy is unable to operate one of (its) lethal platforms since June 2004,” the report said.

It also noted that the cost of the refit was enhanced from Rs 629.50 crore (June 2005) to Rs 999.52 crore (August 2013) with additional liabilities of Rs 92.17 crore still being claimed (September 2015) by the yard.

“This apart, improper financial management led to the diversion of funds to the tune of Rs 92 crore,” the report said.

In its recommendations, CAG said planning and commencement of refits of submarines should be as per schedule to avoid excessive exploitation of submarines as well as extended refit schedule. “The Ministry should ensure that efforts are augmented to improve the scale of utilisation of indigenous materials in line with its own directives. The Navy should establish a dedicated Project Team, the expertise of which is available to each indigenous offloaded refit.”

The CAG also criticised the Coast Guard and the MoD for the delay in acquisition of inshore patrol vessels. It said that eight of the 13 IPVs decommissioned between December 2008 and July 2013 could be replaced after a delay of four to sixty months, while replacement of the remaining five had not been received.
Ahead of winter, militants making desperate attempt to breach LoC
Majid Jahangir

Tribune News Service

Srinagar, December 8
Militants from across the border are making desperate attempts to breach the Line of Control before snow seals mountain passes in the Kashmir region.

This time around there is “additional pressure” on militants, who are waiting at launch pads across the LoC, as not many of them have been able to sneak into the Valley this year.

Defence sources said this period of the year was critical for both the Army guarding the LoC and the militants waiting to infiltrate into the Valley.

Though there has been light snowfall almost all along the LoC in Kashmir, the mountain passes remain open and the possibility of infiltration still exists.

“We are always vigilant along the LoC. However, the period before the snowfall is most critical as far as infiltration is concerned,” said a senior Army officer.

“There are challenges as terrorist groups always try to push more men in Kashmir before snowfall to add to their depleting numbers. However, we are ready for these challenges,” the officer said.

The weather along the LoC has turned hostile as night temperatures have plunged to a minimum of 20 degree Celsius at places like Gulmarg. In the Machil and Gurez sectors, the night temperature has dipped to minus 10 degree Celsius. However, it is during these chilly nights that militants try to sneak in as the visibility drops considerably due to foggy conditions.

In Kashmir, the 344-km LoC is manned by soldiers of two divisions — one based in Baramulla and another in Kupwara.

The LoC in Kashmir runs from Gulmarg in Baramulla district to Gurez in Bandipora district and passes through lofty peaks, rugged mountains, thick forests and fresh water streams.

The LoC, which has been a battleground for the last over two decades, is fenced with barbed wires and sophisticated equipments like the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, high-power cameras, thermal sensing cameras and long-range observation system to keep a tab on all movements.

An Army officer in Srinagar, meanwhile, said this time, they were facing a bigger challenge as very few militants had managed to sneak into the Valley this year.

“We have inputs that nearly 300 militants are waiting at the launch pad close to the LoC across the Kashmir region. There is a lot of pressure on them as they have not been able to enter into the Valley so far. With snow expected in coming days, there is additional pressure on militants who have stepped up their efforts,” the officer said.

The assessment made by the Multi Agency Centre has revealed that 25 militants had infiltrated into Kashmir this year but most of them were killed.

“As per the MAC, 25 infiltrations took place this year. It means 25 terrorists infiltrated into the Valley. However, in most of these incidents, we have been able to neutralise them in the vicinity of the LoC…,” General Officer Commanding of 15 Corps Lt Gen Satish Dua had said recently.

Srinagar-based defence spokesperson Col NN Joshi said there has been a trend that militants step up efforts to sneak into the Valley before winters. “But we are fully prepared,” he said.
Afghan Taliban fighters attack Kandahar airport
Kandahar, December 8
Taliban militants stormed the airport complex in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar city today, triggering gunfights and explosions as a conference kicked off in Pakistan with hopes of reviving peace talks with the insurgents.

There was no immediate information on casualties in the ongoing attack, the second major assault in a span of 24 hours in the city recognised as the birthplace of the Taliban. Taliban gunmen were targeting residential blocks housing government employees and the joint Afghan-NATO military base at the airport, said Samim Khpalwak, a spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor.

“Several insurgents managed to breach the first gate of the complex,” he said, as the battles continued. “They have taken up position in a school inside the complex.”

Local residents, who were told to hunker down in their homes, reported loud explosions and a volley of gunfire.

Mohammad Mohsin Sultani, the military spokesman in Kandahar, Afghan troops were engaged in a heavy firefight to beat back the attackers, although their exact numbers were unclear.

The Taliban appear to be ramping up attacks on government and foreign targets despite the onset of the harsh winter season, when the fighting usually winds down.

Today’s attack comes after days of fevered speculation about the fate of Taliban Mullah Akhtar Mansour following reports that he was critically wounded in an internal firefight.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for today's attack, which comes on the eve of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's high-profile visit to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia regional conference.

“A number of martyrdom seekers armed with heavy and light weapons entered the Kandahar airbase undetected and have begun engaging the large number of foreign invaders and their hirelings inside,” the Islamist group said on their website. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Twitter claimed that “150 Afghan and foreign soldiers” had been killed in the fierce fighting. — AFP

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