5 Stories for Today(1) Manmohan, Gilani may meet in Bhutan
(2) After Karzai's outbursts, US lawmakers seek Afghan pull-out
(3) U.S., Russia sign nuclear treaty
(4) India one of our focus countries: Dutch official
(5) Three working groups to tackle food inflation
(1) Manmohan, Gilani may meet in Bhutan
While the possibility of India and Pakistan holding substantial discussions in Washington next week is bleak, officials said the two sides could hold Prime Minister-level discussions in Bhutan on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit towards the end of this month.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani would be spending two days in Thimphu and despite the absence of any breakthrough during the Foreign Secretary-level talks on February 24, the chances of the two leaders holding discussions on reopening bilateral dialogue on a number of issues are high, highly placed officials said.
Following the February 24 talks held here, the assessment is that that both Foreign Offices stuck to their agendas. India did not accept the Pakistani roadmap for improving bilateral ties which envisaged a meeting between the Foreign Ministers in Islamabad followed by the summit meeting in Thimphu. Officials said, at the current juncture, it was felt not much would be gained by restarting the composite dialogue.
India wants Pakistan to show sufficient resolve to curb anti-India statements by leaders of militant organisations and speed up the prosecution of those involved in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan, they feel, has so far shown no signs of controlling the activities of leaders of several organisations who of late “have started crawling out of the woodwork” to make anti-India observations.
Officials are of the opinion that resuming the dialogue, according to the Pakistani template, would mean resuming the Fifth Round of the Composite Dialogue under which main topics of concern to India — peace and security, confidence building measures and terrorism — were covered when the Mumbai attacks took place and the dialogue process was frozen. “If we go along with what they want, it means starting with Tulbul [barrage] and other water issues. The main topics have already been covered by the Foreign and the Home Secretaries during the first two rounds of the composite dialogue. Are we ready for that.” asked an official.
Although Pakistan has started prosecuting those accused in the Mumbai terror attacks, officials feel the pace of the trial is too slow. While the defence tends to come up with procedural objections, New Delhi feels Islamabad should encourage the speeding up of the case, especially in view of the fact that the prosecution has lined up a large number of witnesses.
Officials refute the charge that India is against normalisation of relations and point out the difference in approach on the two occasions when dialogue was cut off. The High Commissioner was recalled, people-to-people ties snapped and the armed forces mobilised on the borders after the attack on Parliament in December 2001. On the other hand, bilateral dialogue was the only casualty after the Mumbai attacks which indicates that India is open to resuming normal ties on the diplomatic-level, provided the issue of terrorism being directed from the Pakistani soil is addressed to its satisfaction, they added.
(2) After Karzai's outbursts, US lawmakers seek Afghan pull-out
Citing Afghan President Hamid Karzai's "outbursts," three US lawmakers urged US President Barack Obama on Thursday to set a flexible timetable for withdrawing US troops from the war-torn country.
Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, and Republican Representative Walter Jones said in a letter to Obama that US efforts should focus more on al-Qaeda's global terrorist operations.
"We urge you to set a flexible timetable for removing US troops from Afghanistan and transition to a sustainable counterterrorism strategy for the region," they said in the message, which Feingold's office made public.
"Such a timetable could be flexible, but it would need to clearly specify any variables that would warrant its alteration," they wrote.
The lawmakers, pointing to a recent war of words between Karzai and his Western backers, warned current US strategy "makes us dependent upon an unreliable partner in the Afghan government, as recent events highlight."
"While we appreciate your efforts to hold President Karzai accountable, his recent outbursts only raise more questions about his willingness to take the necessary steps to address corruption and security on which our current strategy relies," they wrote.
Karzai's increasingly strained relationship with the West has deteriorated over a series of outbursts in which he accused foreign powers of orchestrating massive fraud in the election that returned him to power last year.
"We need to recognize that corruption and lack of legitimacy in the Afghan government make our current approach unlikely to succeed," the US lawmakers warned.
They also said setting a timetable "does not mean ceasing our engagement in Afghanistan and the region," noting that Washington will need to help Afghanistan build a "responsive and capable" government.
Obama has set a firm July 2011 date for the start of a US drawdown in Afghanistan, but cautioned that the speed of such a withdrawal will depend on how successful Washington and its allies are in stabilizing the country. ,
The lawmakers also cited US budgetary woes and a need to refocus attention on al-Qaeda operations elsewhere, notably in Yemen, citing the failed Christmas Day bombing of a US-bound airliner.
(3) India one of our focus countries: Dutch official
“The Dutch economy has come out of recession. We did not have an economic growth rate like India's, but we are definitely growing,” said Marten van den Berg, Deputy Director General for Foreign Economic Relations, Ministry of Economic Affairs, The Netherlands on Thursday.
Delivering the keynote address at a seminar on ‘Doing business with the Netherlands,' organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, he said: “We are forecasting a growth rate of 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent next year. India is one of our focus countries and we wish to continue to expand our relationship. International trade and investments are the driving force for economic recovery and future growth.”
Leading a 35-member business delegation to India, Mr. Berg said that the bilateral trade between the countries had tripled between 2001 and 2008. In the welcome speech, The Netherlands Ambassador to India, Bob Hiensch, said that business visas were given to reliable and respectable companies in two days and his task was to make Indian tourists stay longer in Holland.
J.N. Amrolia, CII-SR, chairman, sub-committee on International Business Promotion and Networking, said, “India and the Dutch have considerable business with each other and this could be increased. The Dutch firms can help us in the fields of biotech, environmental issues, food processing, hospitality management, ICT and infrastructure.”,
(4) U.S., Russia sign nuclear treaty
Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty for the reduction of their nuclear weapons stockpiles on Thursday.
The new START deal, which will last for ten years, was signed at a meeting in Prague, where President Obama outlined his vision for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation around a year ago.
President Obama said, “This day demonstrates the determination of the United States and Russia - the two nations that hold over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons - to pursue responsible global leadership.”
President Obama further said that the treaty would significantly reduce missiles and launchers and puts in place a “strong and effective verification regime.” He added that it would also maintain the flexibility needed to protect and advance the U.S.’s national security and guarantee its “unwavering commitment to the security of our allies.”
Describing the deal as a “win-win” for both countries, President Medvedev said, “This agreement enhances strategic ability and, at the same time, allows us to rise to a higher level of cooperation between Russia and the United States.”
Specifically, the treaty agrees to aggregate limits of 1,550 warheads; a combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile launchers, Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments; and separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
The White House noted that the warheads on deployed ICBMs and deployed SLBMs will count toward the limit and each deployed heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armaments would count as one warhead toward this limit. The warhead limit itself was 74 percent lower than the limit of the 1991 START Treaty and 30 percent lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty, a White House statement added. Further, the limit on launchers and bombers is less than half the corresponding strategic nuclear delivery vehicle limit of the previous START Treaty.
In terms of verification and transparency, the new treaty has a verification regime that combines the appropriate elements of the 1991 START Treaty with new elements tailored to the limitations of the Treaty. In this regard, the White House also stated that measures under the new treaty include “on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the Treaty.”
The signing of the new treaty came two days after the announcement of the Obama administration of its Nuclear Posture Review, in which the U.S. forswore nuclear attacks on all nuclear states compliant with the Non-Proliferation treaty.
However, the U.S. reiterated its commitment to maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent.
The agreement also comes less than a week before before a 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit that President Obama will host in Washington. On April 12-13, leaders from a range of nuclear and non-nuclear powers, including India, will gather to discuss issues surrounding the question of nuclear proliferation and security.
(5) Three working groups to tackle food inflation
Seeking greater coordination with States on tackling food inflation and distribution of foodgrains, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set up three working groups of Chief Ministers.
This was announced after a four-hour meeting of the core group on price rise, comprising 10 Chief Ministers, Union Ministers and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, here on Thursday.
Dr. Singh, who chaired its debut meeting, said the primary concern of the government was to insulate the poor and the vulnerable from rapid rise in prices. For this, food production must grow at a higher rate to keep pace with population growth and satisfy the food and nutritional needs of people. State-specific strategies would be best for reducing gaps between potential and actual needs.
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar laid stress on extending the green revolution to eastern India, raising productivity of pulses and oilseeds and investing in climate-resilient agriculture. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee reiterated the government's resolve to ensure food security.
With a national food security Bill on the anvil, the Chief Ministers raised the issue of difference in the poverty estimates of the Centre and the States. Some of them wanted pulses and sugar supplied, along with rice and wheat, under the public distribution system. More than one Chief Minister raised the issue of the high price of pulses.
There was also a demand for rolling back the hike in petrol and diesel prices.
The working group on agriculture production will be headed by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and will have the Chief Ministers of Punjab, West Bengal and Haryana as members. It will focus on long-term policies for sustained farm growth and issues relating to inputs.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will head the group on consumer affairs with the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh as members. It will work on strategies for reducing the gap between farmgate and retail prices and for better implementation of the Essential Commodities Act.
Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission M.S. Ahluwalia will head the working group on food and public distribution. The Chief Ministers of Chhattisgarh and Assam, and Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council Chairman C. Rangarajan will be its members. This group will finalise the number of Below Poverty Line beneficiaries and streamline the PDS and storage capacity. The working groups will submit their reports in two months.