Saarc summit salvaged after handshake by Nawaz, Modi
Power pact signed; 36-pt declaration issued
Kathmandu: The 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit concluded Thursday issuing a 36-point Kathmandu Declaration.
The Kathmandu Declaration stressed on accelerating the process of creating free trade in the region, formulation and implementation of projects, programmes and activities of SAARC, launching regional and sub-regional projects in the agreed areas of cooperation, poverty alleviation, infrastructure building and connectivity and energy, among others.
Earlier in the day, the grouping signed a deal to create a seamless electricity grid, signalling an agreement to salvage a regional summit that had been overshadowed by hostilities between India and Pakistan.
This came a day after Pakistan held back its assent to some key pacts, as the summit stared at a flop show.
The 18th Saarc summit in Kathmandu was to witness three agreements -- on road connectivity, railways and a framework for energy cooperation.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi Thursday shook hands and met briefly during a retreat at the Saarc Summit.
"Yes, they have met and shook hands at the retreat," Nepal foreign minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey told IANS over phone from Dhulikhel, where the retreat held on the second day of the two-day event.
Indian External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told PTI, "The two leaders exchanged pleasantries when they met for the first time after arriving here (in Nepal)."
The leaders gathered at Dhulikhel in Kavre district, 30km east of the Nepalese capital, for the traditional Saarc retreat on the concluding day of the two-day summit.
They reportedly held private, unofficial talks in a relaxed and more informal atmosphere.
Sources said all the leaders met in informal settings and talked about various regional issues.
The Saarc foreign ministers, including Sushma Swaraj, India's external affairs minister, and Sartaj Aziz, Nawaz Sharif's advisor on foreign affairs and national security, were also present at the retreat.
Saarc retreats are ideally organised outside the summit venue in resorts and hotels where the leaders can relax and discuss the bilateral and multilateral agendas.
Sartaj Aziz had said Wednesday a 'structured dialogue' between Modi and Sharif was not planned as there was no request from Pakistan.
India suspended foreign secretary-level talks after the Pakistan envoy met Kashmiri separatists.
India had stressed in the past that it was open to dialogue with Pakistan only if the neighbour country took the first step. Sharif had said recently that "ball is now India's court for talks between both the countries".
Even as the energy-related agreement was signed, negotiations for the Saarc motor vehicle and railway accords might be completed within three months and signed during the next meeting of the Saarc Council of Ministers six months later.
The member states also agreed to strengthen the Kathmandu-based Saarc Secretariat and to set up a mechanism to curb terrorism, religious fundamentalism and religious extremism. Several sub-committees will be formed to implement the past accords and agreements.
The next summit will be held in Pakistan after two years.
All eight Saarc leaders expressed frustration on Wednesday with the slow pace of progress towards greater regional integration, which new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a failure of political will.
Bangladesh also confirmed a final push to convince Pakistan in time for the summit's closing declaration later in the day.
Analysts have blamed Saarc's failure on the mutual mistrust between Pakistan and regional powerhouse India, which has taken a more assertive stance toward its northern neighbour since the election of a new government in May.
Analysts blame their rivalry and poor infrastructure for the very low levels of regional trade among the eight Saarc nations -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Trade between them has grown from under $140 million in 2008 to $878 million in 2012, but still accounts for less than 5% of the region's total commerce.
India and Pakistan have been trying for years to reach a bilateral agreement for energy sharing across their heavily militarised border in Punjab.
Transit is so restricted across the border that large volumes of Indian goods can only reach Pakistan via Dubai.
Also last month, Pakistan agreed on electricity transit fees with Afghanistan, a step towards importing energy from Central Asia. - IANS/Reuters/AFP
Modi breached diplomatic norms: Nepal media
KATHMANDU: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'suggestion' to Nepal's political parties on how to write the new Constitution has been criticised by Nepal's leading newspapers and politicians.
On Thursday, the country's top Nepali dailies said Modi breached diplomatic norms and displayed the "old Indian habit of interfering in Nepal's internal matters".
During his remarks at the inauguration and hand over ceremony of Trauma Centre for Bir Hospital in Kathmandu on Tuesday, Modi, while pointing out the perils of delay in writing the new Constitution, urged political parties to write the statute by consensus. He went on to warn about the risks involved in deciding the statute through numerical strength in the Constituent Assembly (CA). The Opposition parties, which were defeated in November election for the Constituent Assembly, have been insisting on "consensus only" approach despite agreeing, in March this year, to go for voting if consensus failed.
"Indian PM breached diplomatic Lakshman rekha (norms)," the Kantipur wrote in its editorial. "He also has not taken into account provisions in our Interim Constitution by asking the parties not to decide on the Constitution on the basis of numerical strength." The Interim Constitution suggests writing the new statute through consensus but if that failed, process of voting needs to be adopted, a position taken by the ruling Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML.
Another daily, the Nagarik, also accused Modi of practising "new diplomacy" with his remarks. The newspaper noted that the Indian Prime Minister had demonstrated respect and goodwill during his August bilateral visit and desisted from displaying "big brother" attitude. "But he was apparently under intense pressure this time to correct that approach and hence resorted to the old policy."
Both the papers also objected to the Indian PM's warning about the risks of deciding then Constitution through majority. Another national daily, Annapurna Post, noted that the PM should have refrained from appearing to side with one political faction in Nepal.
Kantipur laid the blame on Nepali political leaders' failure and dependence on outside powers for this interference. - Agencies
Pakistan has not declined signing pacts at Saarc: FO
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Office (FO) spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam on Thursday refuted Indian media reports which claimed that Pakistan had declined signing three regional cooperation agreements, saying the drafts of those agreements are yet to be finalised.
"The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit is still in progress and we have to wait for the formal conclusion of the summit," Aslam said during a news briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad.
Aslam dismissed Indian media reports which stated that Pakistan came off as isolated in the summit. She said Pakistan was playing a leading role, not only in the region but also in preparations of the summit.
The FO spokeswoman declined to comment on Defence Minister Khawaja Asif's statement on the US, saying Pakistan enjoyed a healthy relationship with the United States.
Asif's statement of Tuesday had drawn questions from several quarters after he said that Pakistan could not regard Washington as a reliable friend.
"The Americans have been our friends for a long time - since the 1960s and the 1970s - but their reliability is relative," he had told a packed audience at the Institute of Strategic Studies.
"American foreign policy has been disastrous for this region," he had said, referring to South Asia and the Middle East, adding that, "for all times to come, the geography of this region has been changed".
Commenting on the American media's allegations that Robin Raphel was spying for Pakistan, Aslam refuted the reports, saying Raphel is regarded as an expert on Pakistani affairs.
Aslam reiterated Pakistan's strong opposition to US drone attacks and refused to comment on the recent interview of former military ruler Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf.
"Pakistan is against drone strikes," she said.
In an interview to a BBC show earlier this week, the former president had stated that he had given permission for a US-led drone strike in the tribal areas during his term - an admission he has already made in earlier interviews.
WTO clinches historic deal
Geneva: The World Trade Organization adopted the first worldwide trade reform in its history on Thursday, after years of stalemate, months of deadlock and a final day's delay following an eleventh-hour objection.
Logo of the World Trade Organization (WTO), that deals with the global rules of trade between nations.
The agreement means the WTO will introduce new standards for customs checks and border procedures. Proponents say that will streamline the flow of trade around the world, adding as much as $1 trillion and 21 million jobs to the world economy.
"It's all agreed," a WTO official said outside the closed-door WTO meeting in Geneva, after trade diplomats applauded the end of their 19-year wait for a deal. Still, the agreement is just a fraction of the original Doha Round of trade talks begun in 2001, which eventually proved impossible to agree on. The WTO cut back its ambitions and aimed for a much smaller deal.
Even that was blocked by a four-month standoff caused by India, which had vetoed adoption of the reform package as the original deadline passed at midnight on July 31.
India demanded more attention be given to its plans to stockpile subsidised food, in breach of the WTO's usual rules. A compromise on wording reached by the US and Indian governments broke the deadlock.
The reform package adopted on Thursday was agreed at a WTO meeting in Bali in December last year. Its passage is widely seen as opening up progress towards further global negotiations, the content of which is due be laid down by July 2015.
That should reassure smaller nations in the 160-member WTO. Many had feared India's tough stance would prompt the United States and the European Union to turn their backs on the WTO and concentrate on smaller trading clubs instead, ending hopes of trade reforms benefiting all.
Thursday's deal had originally been due for agreement on Wednesday, but an objection by Argentina forced its postponement for 24 hours. - Reuters
‘Over Rs30m spent on PM’s recent trip to New York’
LAHORE: The federal government told the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday that Rs30.7 million were spent on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's recent trip to New York.
The deputy attorney general told the court that Parliament had approved a fund for the premier's foreign tours.
Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of LHC, during a previous hearing, had warned the government of the imposition of a fine if details of the visit's expenses were not submitted in court.
The judge observed that the court would see whether it has the jurisdiction to question the funds approved by Parliament.
Barrister Javed Iqbal Jafree had filed a petition, challenging the foreign tours of the prime minister along with his family and help.
The petitioner alleged that the premier travelled along with his family on a special plane, stayed at expensive hotels, made business deals for personal developments and shifted public money abroad. He also requested the court to put the prime minister's and his family members' names on the Exit Control List (ECL).
Barrister Jafree also requested that a mental examination of the prime minister be carried out as "he conveyed a bad image of the country by serving people local food items in foreign countries".
The hearing was adjourned for a week as the petitioner's counsel failed to appear before court on Thursday.
Saudi beheads 9th Pakistani since mid-October
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Thursday beheaded a Pakistani for heroin smuggling, bringing to nine the number of people from his country executed since mid-October.
Mohammed Rahman Mohammed Asghar had been “tried and found guilty of smuggling a large quantity of heroin into the kingdom,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.
The sentence was carried out in the Eastern Province city of Khobar.
Asghar was the latest of 74 people, foreigners and Saudis, to be executed in the kingdom this year, according to an AFP tally. - AFP
Ten dead as Indian army attacked in held Kashmir
9 soldiers indicted for killing two civilians
SRINAGAR: Gunmen wearing army uniforms on Thursday attacked an Indian army base near the border with Pakistan, leaving ten people dead. The incident came as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi had a brief meeting at the 18th Saarc summit in Nepal that clinched a deal to create a regional electricity grid.
Four or five gunmen split into two groups upon arriving in the town of Arnia, about four kilometres from the border, with one group attacking an army bunker and the other holed up in a house, a senior army officer said.
Three soldiers and three civilians were shot dead, said Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, adding, "My condolences to the families." He said four militants were also killed.
The gunmen did not infiltrate from the Pakistani side of the border, a senior Border Security Force official said.
"They came in a car to Arnia and took shelter in a bunker and targeted the army," he said.
Meanwhile, the Indian army on Thursday indicted nine soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer, after the soldiers had shot dead two civilians on the outskirts of Kashmir earlier this month, Times of India reported.
On November 3, soldiers fired at a private car in Budgam killing two passengers and critically wounding another two. The incident led to clashes between protesters and police in Indian Kashmir ahead of state elections.
Following the shooting, police registered a criminal case against the soldiers, while the army ordered an enquiry into what it called the "unfortunate loss of lives."
As per the findings of the panel probing into the incident, the soldiers were responsible for the deaths.
Earlier, on November 13, the Indian Army convicted seven soldiers, including two officers, and sentenced them to life imprisonment for the staged killing of three civilians in Jammu and Kashmir in 2010.
On April 30, 2010, three civilians - Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Mohammad Shafi Lone and Riyaz Ahmad Lone of Nadihal, Rafiabad in Sopore - were lured to work as porters for the army in Kupwara district. Instead, the army killed them in a fake encounter, applied black paint on the clean-shaven faces of the slain, placed weapons on them and said they had killed foreign militants. It was later found out that they were the three civilians missing from Rafiabad.
The staged killings became one of the important reasons for the 2010 mass protests in Kashmir. - Agencies
Karachi police recover 7 more missing girls but fail to arrest main accused
KARACHI: A day after at least 33 young girls were recovered from a house in Karachi, police in the metropolitan city have failed to file a case or arrest main accused on Thursday.
Police on November 26 recovered 33 girls from a house in the city's Liaquatabad area, while ten more were recovered from two different places late at night.
These girls, originally from Bajaur Agency, reportedly went missing three days ago from Jamshed Road near Guru Mandir.
The lady, a woman who the girls refer to as Baji, who owned the school ran it like a boarding school where they girls used to live. She had been running the unregistered school from home for years.
Polio drive in North Waziristan initiated
WHO denies halting Balochistan campaign
PESHAWAR: Pakistan Thursday launched a polio vaccination campaign in the restive North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants have sanctuaries.
The campaign, targeting 39,000 children, was initiated under huge international pressure to vaccinate every child in the country, despite more than two years of a dangerous security situation in the region.
The military has been carrying out an offensive against militant strongholds in the area since June.
"The campaign has been started in the region where military is not fighting against the militants. There is no timeframe for this campaign and it will continue until we vaccinate all 39,000 children," doctor Sadiq Khan, in charge of the health department in North Waziristan, told AFP.
Adnan Khan, a government spokesman, told AFP that the authorities had not set a timeframe for the campaign due to the security situation.
On Tuesday, a similar campaign was started in the neighbouring South Waziristan tribal district along the Afghan border.
A day later, gunmen killed four members of a polio vaccination team in the outskirts of Quetta city.
Officials say the number of polio cases recorded in Pakistan has reached 246 for the year -- a 14-year high and more than double the total for the whole of 2013.
Among the new cases detected, 136 are in the troubled northwestern tribal areas at the border with Afghanistan, the stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday denied that it was suspending operations in Balochistan province a day after the cold-blooded murder of four polio vaccinators in Quetta.
"WHO would like to categorically dispel the notion of closing down or withdrawing its operations in Balochistan or anywhere else in Pakistan," said a statement sent to the press from Dr Michel Thieren, WHO representative in Pakistan.
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