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Saturday, 19 September 2009

China strikes back on Arunachal

Anger over troop deployments, reports of border incursions, and a high-pitched media debate have reignited strains between China and India over long-festering border disputes in the Himalayas.

The details of whether boots actually crossed borders are murky, but experts in both countries agree that tensions have risen, highlighting the fragility of relations between the giant neighbours jostling for dominance.

The two Asian powers have disputed their 3,500 km (2,200 mile) border since a 1962 war. In that war China seized much of the Himalayan high ground, worrying India which traditionally sees the mountain range as a strategic buffer against invaders.

Despite decades of mistrust, trade is booming and China is now India's biggest trade partner. The value of bilateral deals is expected to pass $60 billion next year, a 30-fold increase since 2000, raising the stakes in maintaining peace.

While a new war is very unlikely, the unsettled border between the world's two most populous countries remains the biggest single impediment to better relations.

There have been 13 rounds of largely fruitless talks in recent years.

"The temperature on the border is rising," said former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. "The situation is disturbing political circles."

China has upgraded roads on its side of the border while India has boosted troop numbers on its more challenging terrain.

Beijing tried to block a $60 million Asian Development Bank loan sought by India for development in one contested area, and has protested activities of exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, who is based in India.

And in India, as the summer drew to a close, there were almost daily media reports of border incursions by China, presented as a sign China is growing more assertive.

Brahma Chellaney, professor at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, says Chinese cross-border forays nearly doubled from 140 in 2006 to 270 in 2008 and have kept that level in 2009.

"The situation is now hotter than the Pakistan border," he said.


China has not directly commented on the allegations, saying only that it sticks to an agreement to "safeguard peace and tranquility", but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu did obliquely accuse Indian media of stirring up tensions.

"I have noted that some Indian media are releasing inaccurate information; I wonder what their aim is?" she said.

Cheng Ruisheng, former ambassador to India and now adviser to the Chinese government on relations with its neighbour, told Reuters there were no incursions.

"China is dealing with so many things, it has no idea of having any kind of military conflict with India," he said.

Taylor Fravel, a specialist in China's border and security issues at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that even if the military are reporting border crossings, an apparent incursion can sometimes be a matter of perception.

"What one side views as a patrol along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), another side views as a violation, and vice versa."

Chinese experts say increasing tensions have been fuelled by Indian fears and nationalism rather than aggression from Beijing.

"I think that the immediate cause is that the Indian armed forces increased around the border, and this can easily increase the mutual suspicion," said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Beijing's Renmin University.

Delhi has officially denied the reports of border violations, and like Beijing, has little to gain from friction.

"Our borders are secure and it serves no purpose to create excessive alarm," said Foreign Minister S.M Krishna. With the two countries trading in everything from high-tech to steel, ties couldn't be better, according to one expert.

"China-India relations are probably the best in 45 years," said Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of the Hindu newspaper.


Some analysts say the news of incursions reflects leaks by an Indian military worried about the Chinese army's growing mobility and strength in the border areas. India lags China both in terms of infrastructure work and military strength.

To counter this, India is raising two new army divisions, some 30,000 soldiers, for deployment in Arunachal Pradesh. It is also beefing up air defences in the region.

The Indian buildup of troops on the one hand and beefed-up border patrols and roads by China on the other may be creating a cycle of mistrust that could undermine years of diplomatic work.

"If you ask me what is the major problem between China and India, it is neither the border question, nor the Tibet question -- it is the lack of mutual trust," said former ambassador Cheng. (Additional reporting by Biswajyoti Das in GUWAHATI, Bappa Majumdar in NEW DELHI, Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Sanjeev Miglani)

Pakistan police raid US-employed security firm

Pakistani police raided a local security firm contracted by the U.S. Embassy on Saturday, officials said, seizing dozens of allegedly unlicensed weapons at a time when American use of private contractors is under unusual scrutiny here. Two employees of the Inter-Risk company were arrested, Islamabad police official Rana Akram told a news conference. Reporters were shown the disputed weapons -- 61 assault rifles and nine pistols.
He said police were searching for the owner of the firm, which has been mentioned recently in local media reports that have been trying to establish the types of private security firms that American diplomats use in Pakistan.
In particular, Pakistani reporters, bloggers and others have suggested that the U.S. may be using the American firm formerly known as Blackwater, which was refused an operating license by Iraq's government early this year amid continued outrage over a lethal 2007 firefight involving some of its employees in Baghdad.
The U.S. Embassy denies it uses Blackwater -- now known as Xe Services -- in Pakistan, but the accusations have been part of a deepening sense of anti-Americanism in a country where that feeling is already pervasive.
Much of it hinges on U.S. plans to expand its embassy, adding hundreds more staff and more land in what it says is a move to allow it to disburse billions of dollars more in humanitarian aid to Pakistan.
Akram said police are investigating whether any other private security firms are using illegal weapons.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire confirmed that the embassy signed a contract with Inter-Risk last year and that it took effect at the start of 2009. It is believed to be the first contract the local firm has signed with the U.S., said Snelsire, who did not have a figure for the contract's worth.
"Our understanding is they obtained licenses with whatever they brought into the country to meet the contractual needs," Snelsire said. "We told the government that we had a contract with Inter-Risk, that Inter-Risk would be providing security at the embassy and our consulates."

Stronger, Smarter, and Swifter" Europe Missile Defenses"

Russia says it has scrapped plans to deploy missiles in a region near Poland after U.S. President Barack Obama canceled plans for a missile defense system in Central Europe.

In a radio interview Saturday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said Mr. Obama's move has made the deployment of Iskander short-range missiles in the Kaliningrad region unnecessary.

President Obama said Thursday he is replacing the planned missile defense system with what he called a new approach for defending the United States and its NATO allies from a missile threat from Iran.

Russia had fiercely opposed the earlier planned system as a threat to its security.

Some U.S. Republican leaders and East European politicians have criticized the change as misguided.

Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States is not shelving missile defenses but implementing a more comprehensive defense system. She insisted the United States is not walking away from its allies.

Thursday, U.S. Republican Senator John McCain called the decision a step backwards at a time when Eastern European countries are increasingly wary of what he called "renewed Russian adventurism."

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have both praised Mr. Obama's decision.

Some Czech and Polish officials said the development will not endanger the security of their countries. But others, such as former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose government negotiated the missile deployment accord, said the decision threatens Czech security.

Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorsky called the timing of the announcement clumsy, noting that it came on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of his country during World War Two.

In his announcement, Mr. Obama said the change follows a new assessment of Iran's missile program. The missile defense system planned for central Europe was supposed to counter an attack from Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush first proposed building a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic in 2006

Younus confident for second major title of year

Having already won the Twenty20 World Cup, Pakistan is targeting a second major 2009 title at the upcoming Champions Trophy despite a less-than-impressive history in the competition.
"Our past performance in Champions Trophy is not that much encouraging, but the way we have trained for this year's tournament, I'm sure we can perform well," coach Intikhab Alam told reporters on Thursday.
Pakistan has not reached the final in any of the five previous editions of the Champions Trophy - the biggest 50-over tournament behind the World Cup.
"It's a tough tournament, but we are going to South Africa with a target to win it," Alam said as the team prepared to leave for Johannesburg.
Pakistan will play two warm-up matches before taking on the West Indies in its first group game on Sept. 23.
Pakistan, which has never beaten India in a major ICC tournament, takes on its neighbour and archrival on Sept. 26 before rounding off its group matches against defending champion Australia on Sept. 29.
South Africa, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka form the other group, with the top two teams from each qualifying for the semifinals.
India and Australia both have hit peak form ahead of the Champions Trophy. India won a triangular series over Sri Lanka and New Zealand, while Australia is on verge of whitewashing England in their seven-match one-day series.
However, Alam is not worried about the form of his group opponents.
"The team which handles the pressure on the given day wins in a 50-over game," Alam said.

Af-Pak policy on anti-terrorism war in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Pakistan Foreign Office on Thursday said Islamabad does not agree with the term Af-Pak, applied to Pakistan and Afghanistan under President Barack Obama administration's strategy in war on terror.     The report came in the wake of last week's rejection by Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari of the U.S. strategy to link policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan in a bid to stamp out Taliban insurgency and bring stability to the region.
    "Afghanistan and Pakistan are distinctly different countries and cannot be lumped together for any reason," Zardari said in an interview with the London-based Financial Times, on September 10.
    Political observers in the region attach great significance with Islamabad's fresh assertions coming ahead of Zardari's upcoming visit to the United States and the scheduled meeting between President Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in New York later this month.
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also scheduled to visit Islamabad next month. This obvious change in Islamabad's mood follows Pakistani media's sharp criticism of U.S. drones attacks in the Pakistani tribal areas close to the Afghan border.
    Recent reports in Pakistani newspapers also took exception to alleged activities of Black water, a private American security firm, which in recent years had shot up to notorious eminence after reports of its prisoners' abuses in Iraq.
    Gen. Hamid Gul, the former chief of Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), has even claimed that Black water is operating in Islamabad and Peshawar cities with the changed name of Zee Securities.
    However, Pakistan government circles sharply declined the reports.
    "Pakistan's interior minister has already made it clear that there is no existence of Black water in Pakistan," Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit Khan said.
    Basit said Pakistan will not allow U.S. forces to carry out actions inside the country.
    Addressing a function in Islamabad on Wednesday, the Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, said: "Pakistan condemns (U.S.)drone attacks, considering them as violation of our sovereignty."
    His remarks came simultaneous with a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, in which, according to U.S. intelligence sources, two important al-Qaida leaders were killed.
    U.S. President Barack Obama had, in his new strategy about Afghanistan, interlinked the issues of terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    Last week, the U.S. State Department reiterated its position defending its approach in this connection.
    "The United States treats Afghanistan and Pakistan as two countries, but facing a common challenge presented by violent extremism," Ian Kelly, U.S. State Department spokesman, said.
    "Our efforts center on the president's goal to dismantle, disrupt, and defeat the extremist threat faced in both countries."     
    A report in the Rawalpindi-based English newspaper, The News, said earlier this month that Zardari and his senior officials "draw a distinction between a Pakistan with functioning institutions, diversified economy and a powerful national army, and Afghanistan, a state shattered by decades of conflict and ethnic divisions."
    Under the new strategy, Washington had been talking of direct strikes of U.S. forces inside Pakistan but the plan was later abandoned in the face of serious reaction from Islamabad.
    Later, Washington and Islamabad agreed that only Pakistan Army will take action against militants inside the Pakistani territories.
    While Pakistan has since the beginning been criticizing drone attacks, media reports suggest that Islamabad has accorded a tacit approval to these strikes. There have even been reports that the drones are flown from Pakistan air bases.
    However, the latest outcry by Pakistani leaders shows that the country is now coming clear in opposition to the drone attacks.
    Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani said "Pakistan will take up the issue (of drone strikes) with the United States, urging it to change its policy. Rather, Islamabad will ask U.S. to transfer drone technology to Pakistan so it is able to take action if needed."
    Regional analysts doubt if Pakistan's changed posture is a prelude to some major shift in its policy of extending cooperation to the United States in tackling insurgency in Afghanistan.

Pak, China agree to develop new satellite

Pakistan and China signed an agreement on Friday to develop a new satellite, PAKSAT-1R, in about three years period, Pakistan's Economic Affairs Division (EAD) said in a press release.
According to the framework agreement signed by EAD Secretary Farrakh Qayyum and Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Luo Zhaohui, China will fund the satellite project with a soft loan of 1.35 billion RMB (about $200 million) carrying maturity period of 20 years.
The communication satellite will have 30 years transponders, 12 in C-Band and 18 in Ku-Band, each of 36 MHz Bandwidth. The program is in line with Pakistan's Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF 2005-10) objectives and may provide better satellite communications for Pakistan, said the press release.
Pakistan Space and Upper Atmospheric Research Commission (SUPARCO) and China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) will jointly develop the new satellite to replace the Pakistan Space Craft, which is likely to expire in 2011.