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Swaraj leaves SAARC meeting midway; Pak reacts: You’re the obstacle in dialogue

Press Trust of India

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New York, Sep 28: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi termed India an “impediment” to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) progress after his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, left a SAARC meeting before hearing Pakistan’s statement.

Swaraj attended the Informal Meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers held in New York on the margins of the 73rd UN General Assembly and chaired by foreign minister of Nepal Pradeep Kumar Gyawali on Thursday.

After making her statement, she left the meeting early, prompting criticism from Qureshi who later told reporters, “No, I didn’t have any talk with her (Swaraj). On the positive gesture, I can say she left the meeting mid-way, maybe she was not feeling well”.

 

Indian diplomatic sources told PTI that it was quite normal in a multilateral meeting to leave early after one has delivered the country’s statement.

The sources said that Swaraj was not the first minister to leave the meeting as her counterparts from Afghanistan and Bangladesh had also left before her.

They added that Swaraj had other engagements as well and foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale was present throughout the SAARC meeting.

Swaraj and Qureshi were slated to meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly session.

However, India called off the meeting last week, citing the brutal killings of three policemen in Jammu and Kashmir and Islamabad releasing postage stamps “glorifying” slain Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani.

Qureshi said he saw that there was this thinking in the meeting that “if we have to achieve something from this forum we have to move forward”.

“What is the way to move forward. We have to decide the next step – I have no hesitation in saying that in the way of SAARC’s progress and success and in the region’s connectivity and prosperity, there is only one obstacle and one attitude.

“The attitude of one nation is making the spirit of SAARC and the spirit of the founding fathers of SAARC unfulfilled and unsuccessful,” he said, in a veiled reference to India.

He said that he heard the Indian Minister’s remarks at the meeting “very carefully”.

“She talked about regional cooperation. My question is how will regional cooperation be possible when the region’s nations are ready to sit together and you are the obstacle in that dialogue and discussion,” he said.

Qureshi said he judged from the SAARC meeting that most of the members present there understand the significance and value of the grouping.

“They want to move on. I can’t speak for them but I can deduce from their body language disappointment because if you do not move and if you do not sit and convene meetings how do you move on. You are talking of SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area), you are talking of regional trade, how do you have regional trade when you are unwilling to sit and talk. When you fail to agree on a date for a summit where is regional trade going,” he said.

He cited other regional blocs like ASEAN and the EU and said “look at this (SAARC) atmosphere”.

India had boycotted the 2016 SAARC summit citing Islamabad’s unrelenting support to “terrorist” activities in India and after militants attacked an Indian Army base in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir.

Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan had also joined India in boycotting the summit.

Qureshi called the Foreign Secretary’s comments, made after Swaraj had left, as a “very vague statement”.

“You say the next summit will not happen until there is conducive environment. How do you define what conducive environment is? It can vary from country to country. It can vary from person to person. On the basis of an imaginary thing, you are becoming an obstacle in the way of the entire region and its prosperity,” he said.

Qureshi added that 1.78 billion plus people of the SAARC grouping have to ask in whose hands their fate and future are being kept as a mortgage.

On Qureshi’s remarks that India is an obstacle in SAARC’s prosperity and regional connectivity, the Indian diplomatic sources said the answer to this was in Swaraj’s statement.

In her statement, Swaraj voiced India’s commitment to regional cooperation, saying it attaches highest priority to the development and prosperity of the region, under the government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

“Development of seamless physical connectivity is key for achieving regional growth, employment and prosperity,” she said.

SAARC summits are usually held biennially. The member-state hosting the summit assumes the Chair of the association. The last SAARC Summit in 2014 was held in Kathmandu, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


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JK’s liability swells

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, Jan 17: Similar to previous years, Jammu and Kashmir has accrued a liability of over Rs 7,000 crore in the ongoing fiscal even as experts blame state’s political leadership for not finding a solution to the issue.

Official documents of the finance department reveal that the state is running a liability of Rs 7,531 crore so far this fiscal, a figure close to the annual build-up J&K witnesses every year.

The total liabilities for the state have now swelled up to over Rs 68,000 crore.“The three fiscal parameters–revenue deficit, fiscal deficit and outstanding liability–indicate the extent of overall fiscal balance in the finances of the state government during the specified period. The nature of deficit is an indicator of the prudence of budgetary policy of the state government. Another useful measure of the deficit-base in a state’s fiscal policy is the State’s Own Deficit (SOD),” the documents reveal.

 

Noted economist, Professor Nisar Ali said the state’s expenditure and revenue system has been “mismanaged”.“The power purchase has been an important factor for swelling liabilities. The GST has further increased the mismanagement between expenditure and tax revenue,” he said.

Prof Ali also blamed J&K’s political leadership for increasing liabilities.“The annual liabilities increase due to power purchases despite the state having huge hydro resources. The state’s leadership has failed to fight for the return of power projects.

“It also depends upon the government of India how it wants to find a solution to this problem,” he added.

Endorsing Prof Ali’s views, a senior official of the finance department said that little or no use of revenue generation avenues, increasing power purchases and bulging expenditure on salaries are the main contributors to the escalating liabilities of the state.“There is a steep rise in salary and pension bills, power deficit, rising interest liabilities, loan repayments, and deficit on account of non-tax revenue,” the official said.

 

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Conducive atmosphere inevitable for dialogue: Farooq

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Srinagar, Jan 17: Former Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) president, Dr Farooq Abdullah on Thursday said that the favourable atmosphere is inevitable for dialogue, which is the only way out to settle the issues.
Addressing party workers in Jammu, Dr Farooq said that the dialogue is the only way out to resolve the issues but there is a need of conducive atmosphere which is inevitable. He added that “under the shades of gun, no dialogue process is possible. We have to stop bullet culture for lasting peace in the region.”
“NC has also given priority to the people. When I became Chief Minister in 1996, I fought with many things as the school were shut, no bridge was there, no office was functioning as the people were frightened by the turmoil then, but I stood up to fight against the forces who were inimical to peace.”
About 35 percent reservation in other states, Dr Farooq said that the incumbent Chief Minister of Odissa, Naveen Patnayak has written to him, suggesting there should be reservation of 35 percentfor women in Jammu and Kashmir also. “We will implement the law, which will ensure 35 percent reservation to women in the State once getting into the power,” he said.
However, he said that it is not easy to take such decisions as when his government took a decision to make 50 percent reservation for girls in Medical College then some people knocked the door of Supreme Court to put halt over the decision.
Dr Farooq also appealed the party workers to work hard and ensure the win of NC leaders who will be contesting the elections.

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Abundant snowfall in January makes Gulmarg the perfect winter-destination for tourists

Bisma Bhat

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Srinagar, Jan 17: Unlike last January, the abundant snowfall so far this month has attracted a lot of tourists to Gulmarg as the destination is brimming with over 90 per cent occupancy these days.

The valley has received at least four moderate to heavy snowfalls this year with an even stronger wet spell predicted from January 19 to 23.
Tourists from across the world are cherishing this and making their way to Gulmarg, whose slopes offer a perfect destination for skiing.

Speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, CEO Gulmarg Development Authority, Syed Hanief Balkhi said that most of the hotels are fully occupied as people are heading to Gulmarg to enjoy the charismatic scenery offered by the snow-covered hills.“Gulmarg is under 4-5 feet snow and is looking like a playground these days. Tourists from India and abroad enjoy skiing, snow cycling, ice skating, snow-sculptor activity, sledge-racing and other games here,” he said.

 

Apart from the hoteliers, the rush of the tourists, Balkhi said, has provided good workdays for sledge keepers, skating guides, local cab drivers and many others associated with tourism.

In 2018, as per the official figures, Gulmarg received 5.76 lakh tourists as compared to 5.69 lakh in the preceding year.

The tourism players also expressed satisfaction over the rush of tourists heading to the valley.

President Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation, Wahid Malik said that snowfalls have pushed up the number of tourists visiting the valley.
“Gulmarg saw lesser arrival when winters begun, however, now the snow has ensured all the hotels and resorts are booked,” he said adding that Gulmarg hotels are running on 90 per cent occupancy so far this season.

Gulmarg is declared the ‘heartland of winter sports in India’ by the Winter Games Federation. This year too, Gulmarg Tourism Authority is going to organise winter sports carnival starting from the first week of February.

Additional Director Tourism Department, Nasir Khan said that Gulmarg is “rocking these days as it has received 34,712 and 35,022 tourists in the month of November and December”.

“We are going to organize the winter carnival from the next month to make the place more attractive,” he said.

He added that night market and cultural shows will also be arranged by the department.

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