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Cynicism in Both India and Pakistan after Talks | U.S. Under Secretary Martha Kanter to Visit India | Tendulkar Revels in Record-breaking Display | Snub for Pen | Mutiny Suspects | Fonseka to Contest | Deadly Fire | UN, Nepal Lock Horns | Extradition Blocked | African Bid | Troops Die in Kashmir

Cynicism in Both India and Pakistan after Talks

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao shakes hands with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir prior to their meeting in New Delhi Feb. 25.

Commentators in both India and Pakistan Feb. 26 greeted the first official talks between their countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks with a degree of cynicism even though no breakthrough had been expected.

The two nations' top diplomats met in a former princely palace in a heavily guarded New Delhi neighborhood Feb. 25 and agreed to "remain in touch" to build trust.

But India, intent on keeping the focus on Pakistani efforts to tackle Islamist militants who attack into India, ruled out a resumption of a broad "composite dialogue" on all issues, including Kashmir.

India's Hindustan Times newspaper carried a headline reading: "India, Pak dialogue: new round, old story.” Pakistan's Nation newspaper said: "Meaningless talks end in meaningless way.”

Neither diplomat said if there would be another round of talks though their prime ministers have an opportunity to meet at a regional summit in Bhutan in April.

Expectations had been modest.

India broke off a tentative four-year-old peace process after the Mumbai attacks, saying dialogue could resume only if Pakistan acted against militants on its soil.

India blamed the attacks, which killed 166 people, on Pakistan-based militants.

Pakistan, facing its own surge of Islamist violence, says it has taken steps to fight the militants. Talks with India should not be held hostage to "non-state actors" but should be resumed on all outstanding problems, it says.

"It was a bit disappointing that they couldn't make much headway," said former Pakistani foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri.

"But on the other hand, that they decided to break the log-jam after a gap of about 15 months is a bit of progress and I hope the two prime ministers would meet in Bhutan."

Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor at India's Hindu newspaper, said in a commentary that the talks had served their purpose of opening a path for a new process of engagement.


U.S. Under Secretary Martha Kanter to Visit India

Martha Kanter

U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter and Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, will lead a delegation of a dozen American higher education leaders on visits to campuses in three cities in India during a week-long visit March 1- March 5, 2010.

The trip grew out of earlier meetings between U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Indian Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal to promote closer collaboration between the two countries on all aspects of higher education.

Kanter said she looks forward to visiting several of India’s great universities and addressing the shared goal of both nations of ensuring access to a quality education for all students.  “This approach,” Kanter said, “includes expanding higher education exchanges of students and scholars, encouraging grater academic collaboration between higher education institutions, and enhancing the role of the private sector.”

At each stop, Kanter and the delegation will meet with students, faculty, and administrators.

Kanter will also serve as the guest of honor and keynote speaker at the Inauguration of the EDGE (Emerging Directions in Global Education) 2010 conference in New Delhi, India's leading forum of higher education institutions and policymakers.


Tendulkar Revels in Record-breaking Display

Sachin Tendulkar after scoring his ODI double-century.

Sachin Tendulkar revealed any thoughts of a double ton were pushed firmly to the back of his mind as he set about crafting the greatest ever batting display in one-day international history against South Africa in Gwalior.

The Little Master smashed a sublime unbeaten 200 to record the first ever double century in a one-day match and power India to a series-clinching 153-run win over the beleaguered Proteas.

"I thought about the 200 mark for the first time when I was probably 175-plus and only 42 overs had been bowled," Tendulkar said after the victory which handed India an unassailable 2-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

"I felt I had a chance, but I didn't think of it seriously until I got really close. Only then I thought there was an opportunity to be had.

"I thought I could take the singles and give Dhoni the strike, because he was striking the ball very well."

The previous record for the highest individual score in an ODI was 194, a mark jointly held by Pakistan's Saeed Anwar and Zimbabwe's Charles Coventry, but Tendulkar wrested that honor for himself with a remarkable performance at the crease.

The 36-year-old was presented with a silver bat as a reward for 20 years in the game and will have a pavilion at the Gwalior ground named after him.

He added: "I'd like to dedicate this double hundred to the people of India who have stood by me no matter what for the last 20 years.

"There have been ups and downs, but they have supported me through it all."


Snub for Pen

Montblanc Gandhi pen

German pen maker Montblanc has apologized unconditionally to a court in southern India for a luxury pen containing images of Mahatma Gandhi.

The firm told the court in Kerala state it would suspend sales of the $24,000 pen until a ruling on whether it could continue to sell it in India.

Opponents of the pricey pen argue that it is an inappropriate way of honoring a man who was known for his austerity.

The gold and silver limited edition pen includes an engraving of Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi is seen as the father of Indian independence and revered as a global spiritual leader.

The Centre for Consumer Education in Kerala filed a lawsuit to try to stop the Montblanc pen being distributed.

It argues that the pen is in breach of a 1950 Indian law prohibiting the improper use of emblems and names.

While the court deliberates, the company has promised to put sales on hold.

Just 241 of the handmade pens will be sold, reflecting the number of miles Gandhi walked in his famous march against salt taxes in 1930.

A Montblanc spokesman said 42 of the 70 pens "allotted" for India had already been sold since they were launched in early October.

Gandhi's great-grandson Tushar Gandhi has endorsed the idea. His charitable foundation has already received a donation of $145,000 from Montblanc and will receive between $200 and $1,000 for each pen sold.

For those who find the pen a little out of their price range, there is a more affordable version — there are 3,000 roller ball and fountain pens on sale for about $3,000 each.


Mutiny Suspects

File photo of Bangladeshi soldiers gathered outside the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka last year.

A special Bangladesh court has agreed to hear a case against 86 border guards charged with taking part in a mutiny last year against senior army officers that left 74 people dead.

The suspects have been charged with directly participating in the mutiny, not resisting other mutineers, and not informing superiors of the incident. They face up to seven years in prison.

Shahnaj Tipu, one of the prosecutors, said the special court is only dealing with the mutiny charges, and the suspects will be tried separately on charges including murder at other tribunals.

The Feb. 25-26, 2009, mutiny by members of the country's Bangladesh Rifles border guards apparently stemmed from discontent over pay and the force's command structure. It began at the guards' Dhaka headquarters and spread to border camps across the country. At least 57 army commanders were killed during the two days of carnage.

The government has so far arrested 2,136 members of the border force in connection with the mutiny. The government has set up six special courts to hear the cases, and the trials of two other groups of suspects began months ago outside Dhaka.

At the hearing for the latest 86, authorities are to present 84 of the suspects before the court, said Col. Aziz Ahmed, a spokesman for the border agency. Two suspects remain at large.

The Bangladesh Rifles is a paramilitary force that operates under the Ministry of Home Affairs, but its commanding officers come from the armed forces.


Fonseka to Contest

Sarath Fonseka

Sri Lanka's detained ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka has filed nomination papers as a candidate of a new opposition alliance for the April 8 Parliamentary poll, which is set to witness a three-cornered fight also involving the ruling UPFA and former premier Ranil Wickremesinghe's UNF.

Fonseka, 59, filed his nomination from the Colombo District constituency under the Democratic National Alliance this morning and it has been accepted by the election commission, said Somawansa Amarsinghe, the chief of Marxist JVP, which is a key constituent of DNA.

Feb. 26 was the last day for filing nomination papers. Fonseka's papers were filed by DNA general secretary Vijitha Herath.

Campaigning has already begun for the crucial polls, which are being held more than two months after the January 26 presidential election in which incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated Fonseka, who was the candidate of the joint opposition.

Fonseka's wife Anoma will join the campaigning for DNA soon. "We will be campaigning across the country. North and East (of Sri Lanka) are important for us and we did well there during the Presidential elections," Amarsinghe told PTI.

Fonseka, who was arrested on conspiracy charges, is being detained at the Naval Headquarters in Colombo.


Deadly Fire

Smoke billows from Carlton Towers in Bangalore.

Nine people have died and more than 40 have been injured in a fire in an office block in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, officials say.

Police said most victims had broken windows and jumped from upper floors.

More than 150 people have been moved out of the burning building. Local hospitals are treating people for burns and the effects of smoke inhalation.

Bangalore's fire chief told the BBC the fire was under control and officials would investigate its cause.

Fire fighters were delayed by peak-hour traffic jams when trying to reach the seven-storey high Carlton Towers, which is located in a busy part of the city.


UN, Nepal Lock Horns

A former Maoist soldier marches in Kathmandu. Nepal and UN are in a dispute involving data about former Maoist soldiers.

Nepal's coalition government has locked horns once again with the UN, stung by the world body's refusal to provide "confidential data" about Maoist soldiers on the ground that it would compromise its obligations and impartiality.

Nepal's Peace and Reconstruction Minister Rakam Chemjong fired a retaliatory salvo at the United Mission in Nepal, the political wing of the UN that as per a peace agreement in 2006 has been supervising the Maoist army and the arms they surrendered after the end of the 10-year "People's War" after UNMIN refused to divulge the information his ministry is seeking.

After the peace agreement was signed between the Maoist guerrillas and the ruling parties, UNMIN carried a headcount of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army and verified its number to be a little more than 19,600. However, the government, that has been providing a monthly allowance to the PLA, now suspects that many fighters have left their cantonments, which are supervised by UNMIN. It also suspects that the Maoist leadership is pocketing part of the money the finance ministry pays to the former guerrillas.

"We have been told by various sources that now there are less than the 19,600 PLA combatants in the cantonments and we need to ascertain how many are actually left in the camp to facilitate the payment issue," Chemjong told the media. "The documents about the PLA are in a bad state with many ID photos now tattered. We need fresh data."


Extradition Blocked

A policeman escorts Abdullah, a Pakistan Taliban commander. A Pakistani court has barred the government from handing over captured Taliban leaders to Afghanistan.

A Pakistan court has barred the government from sending captured Afghan Taliban leaders abroad a day after Afghanistan said Pakistan had agreed to hand over a top militant commander.

U.S. ally Pakistan has captured at least four senior Taliban members in recent weeks, including the militants' top military strategist and number two leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office said Pakistan has agreed to hand Baradar over.

Pakistan said the previous day Baradar was being investigated for crimes in Pakistan and would be tried there in the first instance.

Islamist rights activist Khalid Khawaja lodged a petition in the Lahore High Court expressing concern that Baradar and other captured Taliban leaders would be extradited to the United States.

"They should not be handed over to any other country," Judge Khawaja Mohammad Sharif said as he issued notices to authorities blocking the extradition of five people including Baradar.

Khawaja said in his petition the militants were Muslims and had been arrested in Pakistan so they should be tried under Pakistani law.

Pakistan has only confirmed the arrest of Baradar but Afghan government officials have said three other senior Taliban members, Abdul Salam, Mir Mohammad and Abdul Kabir, had recently been picked up in Pakistan.

As well as those four, the fifth person on the list included in the petition was identified as Ameer Muawiya.

The capture of the Taliban leaders comes as U.S. forces are spearheading one of NATO's biggest offensive against the Afghan Taliban.


African Bid

Indian mobile phone company Bharti Airtel has offered to buy Kuwaiti telecommunications firm Zain's African assets for $10.7 billion.

In a statement, Bharti said the two companies would now enter into talks which would last until 25 March.

The offer does not include Zain's operations in Morocco or Sudan, Bharti said.

Zain operates in 15 African countries including Nigeria and Chad. About 60 percent of Zain's customers are in Africa.

Zain has a total of 65 million customers, but Africa contributes only 15 percent to the group's net profit.

"This acquisition is a long-term strategic necessity for Bharti to grow its revenues abroad with the domestic market saturating," telecom analyst Harit Shah at Karvy Stock Broking told the AFP press agency.

The announcement follows the breakdown in September of a $25bn deal between Bharti and South Africa's MTN.

Last summer, Zain turned down a bid by French telecom group Vivendi, said to be worth between $10bn and $11bn, saying the offer was not high enough.


Troops Die in Kashmir

India says three of its soldiers have been killed in clashes with militants in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Clashes began the Chinkipora area in Sopore town, 33 miles north of Srinagar city.

Indian border guards in Kashmir said they came under fire from Pakistan, a claim denied by Islamabad.

The Kashmir dispute has been at the centre of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan and the cause of two of their three wars since independence from British rule in 1947.

Thousands of Indian troops are fighting a two decade-old separatist insurgency in Kashmir.

The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says these are the highest casualties suffered by Indian forces in an operation in the disputed territory so far this year.

A police officer told the BBC that the militants were armed with grenade launchers and other sophisticated weapons and were putting up a tough fight in Sopore.

"The firing from across the border started early morning. A BSF [Border Security Force] personnel was injured," Vinod Sharma, a spokesman for the border guards, told Reuters news agency.

Nadeem Raza, a spokesman for Pakistan's paramilitary Rangers, told Reuters: "Our troops were not involved in any firing. There may be some problem on their own side."



Click here to read the Current Issue in PDF Format

Be Counted!
U.S. Census 2010

It is imperative that all members of the Indian community participate in the forthcoming 2010 U.S. Census, writes Inder Singh.

Picking the Pieces: After the Pune Attacks
The recent terror strike in brought a rude reminder of the role of indigenous terror groups and in orchestrating militant strikes in India, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Making Your Case:
U.S. Visitor's Visa

To avoid the frustration of being denied a visitor’s visa to the United States, an applicant needs to be honest and prepare meticulous documentation, writes attorney Mahesh Bajoria.

EDITORIAL: Be Counted!
U.S. Census

NEWS DIARY: February
REMEMBRANCE: Remembering Ekushey
SPORTS: Battleground Cricket
RECIPE: Hot and Sour Soup
REAL ESTATE: Strategic Default
SUBCONTINENT: The Kidnapping Menace
TRAVEL: Deutsches Museum
AUTO REVIEW: 2010 Ford Fusion SEL
BOLLYWOOD: Film Review: My Name is Khan
TAMIL FILM: Theeratha Vilaiyattu Pillai
BUSINESS: News in Brief
COMMUNITY: News Briefs

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