India, Pakistan secretaries, ministers to meet next month

ISLAMABAD: The keenly awaited meeting of the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan is expected to take place in Sharm el Sheikh on the sidelines of the non-aligned summit next month.

The meeting may bring the two countries closer to resuming the peace process stalled since the Mumbai terror attack.

‘It has been agreed that the two secretaries would meet in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Shiekh on either July 13 or 14, on the sidelines of NAM summit and a formal announcement would be made shortly,’ a well-placed diplomatic source told Dawn on Friday.

The two secretaries would be reaching Sharm el Sheikh by July 11 for meetings of officials preceding the July 15-16 summit.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would also meet at the summit. Initially, President Asif Zardari was to attend the summit but he decided to pull out of the event.

The finalisation of the date and venue for the secretary-level talks came as foreign ministers of the two countries agreed in Trieste (Italy) to continue engagement for addressing the outstanding issues straining ties between their countries.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna, who were in Italy to attend the G-8 meeting, agreed in their unscheduled meeting that there was vast potential in India-Pakistan relations that needed to be harnessed for mutual benefit.

Emphasising the significance of the secretaries’ talks, Mr Krishna was quoted by Indian media as saying: ‘Forthcoming talks of foreign secretaries, as was decided by our leaders in Russia, is important as it will enable us to take stock of where we stand on the issue of terrorism and the fulfilment by Pakistan of its assurance that its territory would not be used for terrorist attacks on India.’

Despite the agreement on date and venue for the talks differences over the agenda persist and could even undermine the outcome of the meeting.

It is evident from the statements coming from the two countries that India would attempt to keep the Sharm el Sheikh dialogue limited to the issue of terrorism, while Pakistan would press for unconditional resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

Sources privy to preparations for the crucial talks say India was attempting to recast the entire framework of peace talks, which despite slow pace had made substantial gains.

Pakistan, they said, was trying to pre-empt the Indian design for wriggling out of the Composite Dialogue and reducing the engagement to one-point agenda.

This, it is feared, would nullify all progress made on Siachen, Sir Creek and other issues included in Composite Dialogue. Nevertheless, they insist that Pakistan wants to remain engaged with India.

Notwithstanding the intense differences between the two sides, Mr Qureshi after his talks with his Indian counterpart in Trieste expressed optimism about Pakistan and India ‘getting along in restoring’ the Composite Dialogue.

Mr Qureshi described his interaction with Mr Krishna as ‘very positive and fruitful’. Mr Qureshi, according to Reuters, described the meeting as ‘a re-engagement of the dialogue’.

‘When we restart the dialogue, obviously the Kashmir issue will come under discussion, but we have other issues as well,’ the minister said, including cooperation on ‘terrorism and extremism’.

Asked whether Pakistan intended to prosecute militants responsible for the Mumbai attacks, Mr Qureshi said: ‘We will do our utmost to take them to court, and if we can put together a legally tenable case, we would want them prosecuted and we would want them convicted.’


India sends commandos for Indian Embassy officials in Pak

NEW DELHI: The Indian government has sent a special unit of trained commandos to Pakistan to protect top diplomats of the Indian Embassy there, Indian official news reported Tuesday.

It said the batch of 16 personnel, trained in commando skills and unarmed combat, from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) was sent to the neighbouring country last month.

“They will perform VIP security duties after assessing the situation there,” CISF Director General N R Das told reporters here on the sidelines of the force’s 40th raising day.

The team includes few drivers who are trained in VIP security drills.

Das said the security of the Indian Embassy is looked after by the Pakistan government. The actual role of the CISF commandos would be finalised after an assessment report is prepared.

Some of the members of the team will also perform technical support duties.

The CISF commandos protect diplomats at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu while the ITBP earlier guarded the Indian Embassy officials in Afghanistan.

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India raises defence budget outlay by 34%

NEW DELHI: India has increased defence budget by 34 % to Rs.1,41,703 crore.

The stand-in Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has presented the interim budget in the Lok Sabha for the next fiscal.

Mukherjee said the increased plan expenditure for defence this year would be Rs 86,879 crore. Last year’s plan expenditure was only Rs 73,600 crore, thereby providing an increase of Rs 13,279 crore this year.

“Mumbai attacks have given a new dimension to cross-border terrorism. In this context, I propose to raise defence allocation to Rs.1,41,703 crore,” said Mukherjee.

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Afghanistan to take part in US review: Karzai

KABUL: US President Barack Obama has accepted Kabul’s request to be part of a major review of US strategy in the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai and a US envoy said Sunday.

Karzai said he asked Obama by letter for Afghanistan to have a role in the review, which is under way amid concerns about worsening security in this country seven years after a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime.

US envoy Richard Holbrooke brought the message to Karzai on Saturday that Obama had accepted, the Afghan leader told a joint press conference. A delegation from Afghanistan chaired by Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta would travel to Washington “and will be working jointly with the US government in the review of the strategy in the war on terrorism,” he said.

Holbrooke arrived late Thursday and met with a range of Afghan officials and politicians, international military commanders and diplomats before holding talks with Karzai late Saturday. He has held similar wide-ranging meetings in Pakistan and is due to continue his tour of the region in India.

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India’s NTPC, NPC plan 2,000 MW nuclear power unit

MUMBAI: Indian state-run firms NTPC Ltd and Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd have agreed to form a joint venture to build 2,000 megawatts nuclear power plant in India.

NTPC, India’s largest power utility, will hold 49 percent stake in the venture, it said in a statement over the weekend. Nuclear Power Corp will hold the majority 51 percent stake. It did not disclose financial details, but Indian newspapers estimated investment in the join venture would total 150 billion rupees ($3 billion) over eight years, with the two firms bringing in 50 billion rupees as equity.

India signed a nuclear pact with the United States last year, giving New Delhi access to civilian nuclear fuel and technology for the first time in three decades, and opening up a potential multi-billion dollar market to global trade.

The country hopes to generate 20,000 MW through nuclear power by 2020, boosting supply for its power-starved economy, which currently faces shortages of up to 16 percent at peak hours. Existing nuclear power capacity stands at about 4,000MW.

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Pakistan arrests ‘main operator’ in Mumbai attacks

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan acknowledged for the first time that the Mumbai terrorist attacks were launched from its shores and at least partly plotted on its soil, saying Thursday that it had arrested most of the chief suspects including one described as “the main operator.”

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said Pakistan has started criminal proceedings against eight suspects — some of them also named by India as the masterminds of the attacks — but he reiterated that authorities needed more evidence from New Delhi to secure convictions.

The revelations suggest Pakistan is serious about punishing those behind the November attacks, which killed 164 people and stirred fear that the nuclear-armed neighbors could slide toward war and that Pakistan might be distracted from its struggle against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

India and the U.S. have pressed Pakistan hard to dismantle Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned Pakistan-based group fighting Indian rule in the divided Kashmir region that is widely blamed for the Mumbai carnage. Islamabad and New Delhi have fought two out of their three wars since 1947 over the region.

India’s Foreign Ministry called Pakistan’s announcement “a positive development” and said it would consider Islamabad’s request for further information.

Malik said investigators had traced a boat engine used by the attackers to sail from Pakistan to India and busted two hideouts of the suspects near the southern city of Karachi.

Other leads pointed to Europe and the United States, and Malik said Pakistan would ask the FBI for help.

“I want to assure the international community, I want to assure all those who have been victims of terrorism that we mean business,” Malik said, waving a copy of Pakistan’s initial findings at reporters gathered inside his ministry.

“We will continue our investigation, but we want tenable evidence from India. We want full cooperation from India so that this kind of ring be smashed.”

India says all 10 gunmen — only one of whom was captured alive — were Pakistanis and that their handlers in Pakistan had kept in close touch with them by phone during the three-day assault.

New Delhi provided a dossier of evidence to Islamabad, testing Pakistan’s insistence that it would do all in its power to punish those responsible — and that it has truly abandoned its past sponsorship of Islamist militants including the Taliban.

In Pakistan’s first detailed response, Malik said criminal cases had been opened against eight suspects on charges of “abetting, conspiracy and facilitation” of a terrorist act.

He said six of them were in custody, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, both Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders named by India as the masterminds of the attack, and a person who sent an e-mail claiming responsibility for the attacks.

Indian media said at the time that they received an e-mail in the name of the previously unknown Deccan Mujahideen — a name which suggested an Indian rather than Pakistani group was behind the attacks and which now appears to have been a decoy.

Malik said the culprits were “non-state actors,” a phrase used by Pakistani authorities to counter allegations that its intelligence agencies had a hand in the attacks.

Malik said the assailants used three boats to travel from Pakistan to Mumbai.

He said detectives had traced an engine recovered from one of the vessels to a shop in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. He said the shopkeeper had provided the phone number of the buyer which led to a bank account in the name of Hammad Amin Sadiq.

Malik said authorities had arrested Sadiq and obtained from him information that led them to bust two “hide-outs of the terrorists,” one in Karachi and one about two hours drive away.

He described Sadiq, a 37-year-old who had been living in Karachi, as “the main operator” but didn’t elaborate.

He said the detainees had told of how the group used a spot on the Pakistani coast to practice their sea-borne attack.

To stiffen its case, Pakistan was sending 30 questions to India about the attacks, Malik said. Among the additional details sought are the DNA of the 10 gunmen and information on intercepted phone conversations between the militants and their handlers.

He also asked New Delhi to investigate what contacts — and help — the attackers had inside India. The terrorists also used phones with Indian SIM cards, he noted. Their two suspected handlers are still at large.

India’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the government will consider Islamabad’s request. “After that examination, we will share whatever we can with Pakistan,” the statement said.

On Thursday, Malik also suggested a wider international dimension to the crime.

One suspect, Javed Iqbal, had been “lured” back from Barcelona, Spain, where he had been living, and was now in Pakistani custody. While in Spain, Iqbal had arranged Internet telephone accounts used in the attacks and bills had been paid in Italy, Malik said.

Suspects also used a digital teleconferencing system whose service provider is based in Houston, Texas, while a Thuraya phone was issued in a Middle Eastern country, he said.

Other bills were paid by a company in Islamabad and two people have been arrested as a result, Malik said.

“It is not only Pakistan, but the system of the other countries has also been used,” Malik said.

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Sri Lanka elects to bat in final India one-day

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene won the toss and elected to bat in the fifth and final one-day international against India here on Sunday.

India, leading 4-0, made two changes from the side, which won the fourth match by 67 runs here on Thursday, bringing in all-rounder Ravinder Jadeja and pace man Lakshmipathy Balaji in place of Pragyan Ojha and Praveen Kumar. Jadeja is making his debut, while Balaji returns to the one-day side after three years. The hosts replaced pace man Dilhara Fernando and all-rounder Angelo Mathews with unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis and Thilan Thushara.

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Yusuf Pathan, Ishant Sharma, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Irfan Pathan.

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Sanath Jayasuriya, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Chamara Kapugedera, Thilina Kandamby, Farveez Maharoof, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Nuwan Kulasekara, Thilan Thushara. Umpires: Brian Jerling (RSA) and Tyron Wijewardene (SRI)

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India needs 321 runs to win

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka scored 320 for eight against India in the fifth and final one-day international on Sunday.

Sri Lanka batted first after winning the toss in the last match of the series being played here. Opener Dilshan and Jayasuria provided 66 runs opening stand. Dishan was unfortunate, as he narrowly missed the century being run out at 97.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka (Dilshan 97, Sangakkara 84; I. Sharma 3-60)

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India defends ban on Chinese toys

NEW DELHI: India on Friday defended its ban on the import of Chinese toys following a report which said Beijing could challenge the move before the World Trade Organisation.

India prohibited the import of Chinese toys in January for six months.

The ban was implemented on the grounds of “public health and safety”, Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath said, adding that the action was “compliant” with WTO rules.

“India is a responsible country and before we take any action we make sure that it should be WTO-compatible,” Nath told reporters in the Indian capital.

Some Indian analysts have suggested the move was aimed at shielding India’s struggling toy industry against a flood of Chinese imports.

According to the Mumbai-based All India Toy Manufacturers Association, Chinese products make up more than half of India’s retail toy market, which was estimated to be over 25 billion rupees (500 million dollars) in 2007.

Earlier this week, the state-run China Daily reported Beijing would be likely to ask the WTO if the Indian ban violated the trade body’s rules.

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