Monthly Archives: DECEMBER 2016
Sartaj Aziz’s Heart of Asia Summit visit preponed; to arrive in Amritsar today
In a last minute change in schedule, Pakistan’s foreign secratary Sartaz Aziz’s visit to Amritsar for Heart Of Asia summit has been pre-poned by a day. The Pakistan NSA, who was scheduled to arrive on Sunday, will now come to India by Saturday evening.
Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said that Aziz is travelling by a special flight today evening.
Zakaria also said Aziz may attend the dinner hosted by the Punjab government in Amritsar, which is managing the global event. PM Narendra Modi is also likely to be present at the dinner.
Earlier, the Pakistan top diplomat was scheduled to reach Amritsar on Sunday for the conference and was supposed to return home the same day.
Aziz is leading the Pakistani delegation to the meeting that focuses on regional cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours to improve connectivity and tackle security threats in the war-torn country.
There are a lot speculation on whether the two countries will engage in bilateral talks on the sidelines of the event.
However, spokesman for ministry of external affairs, Vikas Swarup, has ruled it out.
"Talks cannot happen in a climate of continued terrorism. India will never accept continued terrorism as the new normal of the bilateral relationship,” Swarup said Yesterday.
Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Nafees Zakaria this week said the agenda for Aziz’s visit was mainly Afghanistan.
The Pakistani government decided to attend the conference this year despite a deep freeze in ties with India.
Pakistan’s decision came even though New Delhi had scuttled the Saarc summit that Islamabad was to host in November 2016.
There has been a surge in tensions between India and Pakistan since July when Pakistan described a Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist killed by Indian troops in Kashmir as a "leader” and a "martyr”. A terrorist attack on an Indian army garrison in September that killed 19 soldiers only frayed ties further. India retaliated with "surgical strikes” against six to eight terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on 29 September. Though Pakistan denied the strikes took place, there have been many instances of the 2003 ceasefire being violated since then. The tensions have been further aggravated by an attack on Tuesday by terrorists at an army garrison in India’s Nagrota town.
India, Afghanistan plan air cargo link over Pakistan, for bilateral trade
India and Afghanistan could firm up an air corridor connectivity project to enable the landlocked country to trade with India, the biggest country and market for Afghan goods in South Asia, given that Pakistan has refused direct trade between the two countries through its territory.
The proposal, which entails transport of goods as air cargo between one or two cities in Afghanistan to one or two destinations in India, could come up in a meeting on Saturday between Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be meeting in the city of Amritsar, a short distance from the Pakistan border, for the Heart of Asia conference aimed at stabilising Afghanistan.
Officials say the focus of the air cargo service is to improve landlocked Afghanistan’s connectivity to key markets abroad and boost the growth prospects of its fruit and carpet industries while it battles a deadly Taliban insurgency. Afghanistan depends on the Pakistani port of Karachi for its foreign trade. It is allowed to send a limited amount of goods overland through Pakistan into India, but imports from India are not allowed along this route.
Afghan director general for macro fiscal policies Khalid Payenda said the potential for trade with India, the largest market in the region, was far greater than allowed by land and so the two countries had decided to use the air route. "That would be air cargo between Afghanistan and India. We have a lot of potential for trade on both sides. On our side, it’s mostly fruit and dried fruit and potentially through India to other places for products like carpets and others.” He said that a joint venture involving an Afghan and an Indian cargo firm would be set up and that the two governments were working to set up infrastructure at Kabul and Delhi airports.
Indian foreign ministry official Gopal Baglay, who oversees Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, said several proposals were being discussed to improve Afghanistan’s trade and transport links. "There have been very many ideas on how to enhance connectivity, overcome current challenges and also expand the trade basket,” he said.
The Attari-Wagah border between India and Pakistan is less than 30 kilometres away from Amritsar. India is expected to use the Heart of Asia conference to separately press Islamabad to allow trucks, carrying goods from Afghanistan that transit through Pakistan, all the way to India and other south Asian markets. New Delhi has been arguing that war-ravaged Afghanistan would be able to achieve its economic potential only if it is allowed freedom of transit to major markets in south Asia.
An agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan on trade first signed in 2010, does not allow for Afghan trucks, that bring goods from Afghanistan to the Wagah border in Pakistan, to carry back products from India to Afghanistan. At Wagah, too, goods have to be unloaded from trucks coming from Afghanistan and reloaded again on other vehicles to be brought to Attari.
The trade and transit pact was revised earlier this year, but this too has no provisions for Indian goods to be taken to Pakistan.
The bilateral air corridor project is expected to underline the larger theme of connectivity among the Heart of Asia countries.
India’s choice of Amritsar as a venue also seems aimed at sending out a message to Pakistan which has been seen as the main deal breaker when it comes to integrating south Asia.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates are part of the Heart of Asia initiative launched in 2011 for encouraging economic and security cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours for dealing with the common problems of terrorism, extremism and poverty.
Organisers of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, founded in Istanbul in November 2011, said the aim was to strengthen confidence-building measures and initiate steps to counter narcotics and terrorism and to expand trade, commerce and investment opportunities in Afghanistan.
Over 40 foreign ministers and dignitaries of the participating countries, including Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, supporting countries like the US, Canada and France and international organisations like the European Union, will participate in the conference.
The last Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference was held in Islamabad in December 2015.
Modi prisoner of his image, doing TRP politics: Rahul Gandhi
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Friday tore into the BJP-led NDA government’s demonetisation and Kashmir policies and asserted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi based his entire policy making strategy on TRPs.
Addressing the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting in the Parliament House in the absence of his mother Sonia Gandhi, who is indisposed, Rahul described the Prime Minister as being "a prisoner of his own image" and one who is inflicting "tremendous suffering" on the people of India to protect his own persona.
"The Prime Minister often asks what the Congress did in the last 60 years. The people of India know exactly what the Congress has achieved for this country. But I would like to tell the prime minister what the Congress didn’t do in 67 years,” Rahul said.
"The Congress never gave India a prime minister who was a prisoner of his own image,” he said. "We never gave India a prime minister who was ready to inflict such tremendous suffering on the people of India to protect his own persona. We never gave India a prime minister who based his entire policy making strategy on TRPs,” the Congress Vice President went on.
"We never gave India a prime minister who bypassed the experience of those sitting in the institutions. The country has suffered tremendous damage as a result of the vanity and incompetence of our PM,” said Rahul.
He claimed that the Congress-led UPA government’s Pakistan policy resulted in complete global isolation of Pakistan and brought peace — and tourists — to Kashmir. "Today, the same person who used to ridicule us sits silently while Kashmir burns. Narendra Modi will be judged by history as the man who gifted massive political space to anti-India forces by creating an opportunistic political alliance between the BJP and the PDP. He has created the political vacuum that gives the terrorists space to operate.”
As a result, Rahul Gandhi said, "Our brave soldiers and their families are paying the price. Eighty-five soldiers have been martyred. That is the highest number of men we have lost in almost a decade.”
The Congress had supported the surgical strikes against Pakistan, but "policy cannot be based on ad hoc responses to events. The price of not thinking actions through is simply too high. It is high time the government develops a coherent strategy. We were told that the idea… was to stop Pakistan from cross border attacks. There have been 21 major attacks and hundreds of ceasefire violations since the strikes”.
Within two days of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar claiming success, Mr. Rahul Gandhi said, "Terrorists walked into the most highly defended Army base in Jammu, straight into the officers mess and murdered our officers and men in cold blood. Is the government not responsible for maintaining the security of our bases? Are these young men just statistics destined to gather dust in the records of the Government of India? Does the government not owe them an apology?”
The Congress would "put its full weight behind any genuine move to fight corruption and black money.” What the Prime Minister has actually done was to "single handedly… declare war on the world's fastest growing economy.”
Mr. Rahul Gandhi pointed out that 94 per cent of black money is held in gold, real estate and dollars stashed away abroad. The government’s decision had not addressed that. Having failed to get back the black money in bank accounts abroad, "he decided to experiment with the financial future of 1.3 billion people. Instead of attacking black money, he attacked the very foundations of our economy. Even his chief economic advisor was not informed. The outgoing chief of the RBI warned him of the impending devastation, but he did not listen. As per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the Prime Minister's impromptu experiment has already cost India Rs. 1.28 lakh crores in lost wages, cost of printing and logistics.”
This "catastrophic” experiment has been condemned by every economist "of any repute”, "created a massive new corrupt black market that is working overtime to convert the black money to white” will devastate the GDP growth, crush migrant labourers and farmers and destroy industries, he said.
Demonetisation continues to stall Parliament with the opposition insisting that the PM should speak on his move in both Houses.
"The prime minister does not feel it is worth his time to sit in the house and listen to the views of its democratically elected members. Doing so could potentially prevent him from making the catastrophic policy mistakes he is currently making,” Rahul said.
"Listening to the voices of the people is the only thing that can free him from the clutches of his own image and make him an effective prime minister. Yet he consistently refuses to do so.”
Cash crunch will ease by year end: Arun Jaitley
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Friday that the cash crunch that followed the scrapping of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes would ease by December 30 with the release of new Rs. 500 and Rs. 2,000 notes.
Mr. Jaitley, however, said the amount of new bank notes being released would not be the same as that circulating before November 8, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation, a move aimed at purging black money.
"Obviously, one of the advantages of this exercise is going to be that you won't have the same level of paper currency which existed," Jaitley said.
Even as he admitted the demonetisation move is bound to create some disruption, he said it will have benefits in the long run.
"When you switch over, it creates disruption. I don’t see disruption lasting too long. You may see the impact for a quarter or so. Then when you look at next 12-15 quarters, it’s certainly going to benefit,” Jaitley said. "Of course, you will have some disruption created because of the switch-over, in the long run, advantages are going to be huge as far as the relative cost of disruption is concerned.”
Jaitley also repudiated a call by the left-wing government of India's state of West Bengal to delay a planned Goods and Services Tax (GST) to avoid inflicting another economic shock in the wake of demonetisation.
He said the plan was still to launch the new tax on April 1. Time was tight because, under a constitutional amendment that enabled the GST, India's old system of indirect taxation would lapse next September.
"If on September 16, 2017, there's no GST, then there's no taxation," he said. "Our intention is to make sure it gets implemented from April 1, 2017."
He also said that demonetisation was just "one step out of the many" that the Centre has taken to fight black money.
"We have taken a lot of steps in international financial co-operation to ensure real-time sharing of information. The impact of tax evasion is that budgets end up having deficits both at the Centre and in the states," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, announced the demonetisation of higher value currency to fight black money.