More funds sought to assist children, women in crisis situations
• The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released the Humanitarian Action for Children Report, 2011, requesting $1.4 billion in its appeal to donors to assist children and women caught in the throes of crises. The report highlights 32 countries and emphasizes the increasing importance of strengthening the resilience of communities.
• The world witnessed overpowering humanitarian crises in 2010: flooding in Pakistan submerged one-fifth of the country; the earthquake in Haiti claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced millions; the parched earth and lack of food across the Sahel continues to threaten hundreds of thousands of children with acute malnutrition.
• The 32 countries targeted in this appeal have been prioritised based on the scale of the crisis, the severity of its impact on children and women, the chronic or protracted nature of the crisis, and the potential to bring about life-saving and long lasting results.
India-U.S. defence meetings kick off
• In the backdrop of the approaching United States-India Strategic Dialogue meetings in New Delhi this spring, the 11th U.S.-India Defence Policy Group (DPG) met in Washington during March 34 for extensive discussion on strengthening bilateral defence ties, particularly in the areas of maritime security, counterterrorism, disaster relief, and personnel exchanges.
• In a statement, Indian embassy said that both sides had “welcomed the removal of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Bharat Dynamics Limited from the U.S. Entities List,” especially as this relaxation of restrictions would likely open up new opportunities for cooperation in the field of defence supplies and industrial and technological cooperation between the two countries more generally.
India to make determined bid for NSG membership
• Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao lead India’s bid for full membership in the four international export control regimes — the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Group.
• The Foreign Secretary was address representatives of the 45-member NSG on March 28 in Vienna.
• India is already an adherent to the NSG and MTCR guidelines but does not, as it is not a full member, have a direct say in deciding on changes in norms.
• India had already secured summit-level support — from the United States, Russia and France — which is expected to impart the initial momentum, for this endeavour. Several member countries in the four international export control regimes had been positive to India’s bid.
India abstains from U.N. vote on Libya
• Withstanding last-minute U.S. pressure, India abstained from voting on a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution approving “all necessary measures,” including imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. The resolution was passed with 10 members, including the U.S., France, the U.K. and Lebanon, voting in favour and five — Russia, China (both permanent members with veto rights), Brazil and Germany, besides India — abstaining.
• In a compromise, while approving the no-fly zone, the resolution excluded “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” It widened the earlier scope of sanctions passed unanimously by the UNSC by proposing the freezing of assets of seven more persons close to Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and five other entities, including state-owned companies. The earlier sanctions include an arms embargo, assets freeze and travel ban on Colonel Qadhafi and his loyalists and a referral to the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
• India contested the reasoning behind all these measures in its ‘Explanation of Vote.’ It felt that the UNSC should have focussed on ceasefire and bringing violence under control instead of choosing the option of “force based on relatively little credible information on the situation” from Libya.
• India said there was no clarity on details of enforcement measures, including “who and with what assets would they participate and how these measures will be exactly carried out.” Concern for civilians including its own nationals also weighed on India in deciding to abstain.
India set to play active role in oil game in Central Asia
• Amid talk of the New Great Game in Central Asia in which Western oil companies are pitted against Russians, India is set to play an active role in the emerging oil geopolitics in Central Asia and Russia. While a French think tank says the real game is between India and China, government sources maintained Central Asian countries and even Russia are trying to balance China by bringing in India.
• An early step could come during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Kazakhstan when an agreement on the Satpayev oil block is expected; giving India its first foothold in the oil-rich neighbourhood of the Caspian Sea basin. Officials are confident that this long-negotiated deal, in which ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) is likely to commit about Rs. 2,500 crore, will lead to prospects elsewhere in the vicinity.
• “This new game is not limited to oil but extends to other areas,” officials added. After inking a uranium supply agreement, India will discuss the possibility of Kazakhstan using Indian nuclear technology. Sparsely populated but accounting for 80 per cent of Central Asia’s land mass, Kazakhastan is ideal for the small and medium-sized civil nuclear power plants India specialises in.
Dr. Singh’s visit will also see Indian efforts to take advantage of Kazakhstan as the region’s number one destination for foreign investment — accounting for 80 per cent of the FDI accruing to all the five Central Asian countries.
• With Turkmenistan, India is actively discussing the four-nation (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) gas pipeline to select an operator for the project from among the American, Russian and Chinese companies likely to show interest. “The basic idea is for the operator to absorb the risks, build the pipeline, and transport the gas. The final delivery price would be important. This project will also be part of the new oil geo politics geopolitics,” the sources said.
• Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov is due in India before July. He is likely to hold talks on tapping India’s strengths in I.T., capacity building and development models. Political talks would cover Afghanistan, home to a sizeable Uzbek population. Its leaders are in the Northern Alliance with whom India has a great degree of comfort.
• No high-level interaction with the Tajikistan leadership is on the cards this year. The two countries remain close though Dushanbe is seeking to improve ties with Pakistan especially in the infrastructure sector. Tajikistan is said to host facilities for an Indian air base and this recently resulted in Pakistan creating the post of a Defence Attache at its embassy in Dushanbe.
• A high-level Indian visit to Kyrgyzstan could be on the cards later this year. The country has emerged as the most unstable but the most democratic country in the region and is of interest to New Delh more so because it shares the restive Ferghana Valley with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This region is said to be the upper end of the arc of instability that stretches down to tribal areas in Pakistan and southern Afghanistan.
• India will continue with efforts to develop stronger ties in the hydrocarbons sector with Russia. The OVL is seeking equity in two giant fields granted to Sistema-Bashneft, whose association with India has the Russian leadership’s backing. The sources are hoping for clarity on the OVL’s role in Trebs and Titov fields by April-end.
Manmohan: India for deepening ties with Saudi Arabia
• In the backdrop of unrest in the Middle-East, Secretary General of the Saudi Arabian of the National Security Council Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
• The Saudi envoy briefed Dr. Singh on recent developments in West Asia, North Africa and the Gulf regions. He particularly focussed on the efforts being made by Saudi Arabia and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries to bring peace and stability in the region.
• The Prime Minister expressed his deep appreciation to Prince Bandar for his visit and conveyed India’s firm commitment to further developing its strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia. The region was a major economic partner and source for energy for India and cooperation with India was a factor of peace and stability in the region, the Prime Minister said.
Bahrain appreciates Indians’ contribution
• Bahrain assured India of the safety and security of over 3.5 lakh Indians on its soil and appreciated their contribution to its progress and development.
• The Bahrain said that winds of transformation were sweeping across the region. Unlike other countries, the human development index in the six Gulf Coordination Council countries -Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudia Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar – was much higher.