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India-Turkey relations under Erdogan: Back to square one?

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Turkey Pres Erdogan and PM Modi

New Delhi, Oct 20 : Turkey and India, though not the best of friends, have been trying for the past three decades to overcome their differences, and strike a balance in ties, with a little give and take from both sides. But the relation appears to have nosedived of late under the Presidentship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has taken on the mantle of becoming a “global Islamic leader”.

Bilateral relations have soured to an extent that India has decided to call off an upcoming visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Ankara later this month, which would have been his first stand-alone official visit to the nation since taking over in 2014.

Erdogan has been openly cosying up with Pakistan, especially its Prime Minister Imran Khan. His sharp statement on Kashmir at the UN General Assembly last month, where he raked up the UN resolutions, and accused the world of ignoring the plight of “eight million people stuck” in Kashmir, have not gone down well with India.

Turkey has also markedly increased its defence cooperation with Pakistan. Ankara is building four MILGEM medium-sized warships for the Pakistan Navy, in a deal estimated to be worth over $1 billion. According to the deal, two ships would be built in Turkey and the other two in Pakistan under technology transfer. The two countries last year also inked a $1.5 billion deal for the supply of 30 Turkish attack helicopters – in the largest defence deal between the two sides.

Other reasons for the drifting apart of India and Turkey are New Delhi declining to accede to Ankara’s request for backing of its nuclear ambitions, and also Erdogan’s ire at India for allegedly not cracking down on the institutes of his close rival – Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey blames the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO) for a failed coup to topple Erdogan in 2016. Ankara has alleged that FETO has “infiltrated” India, and Erdogan feels India is not doing enough to curb its activities.

Explaining the Turkey-India relations, Professor A.K. Pasha, Associate Dean, School of International Studies at the JNU, says that Erdogan’s statement on Kashmir at the UNGA came as a “surprise”.

“Over the last 30 years, during almost all presidential visits and other visits from both the countries, we had agreed that Kashmir will be bilaterally resolved through the Simla agreement. But now he has raised the international issue of UN resolutions, which has come as a real surprise,” Pasha told IANS.

“In the last three-four years, we thought they have de-hyphenated their ties between India and Pakistan. But now it appears that they are slowly reviving the military relationship with Pakistan too, which is a matter of concern.”

According to the expert, in the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars, Turkey “supplied substantial military equipment of American origin” to Pakistan. “The Pakistani weapons were largely of American origin, and they needed spare parts, ammunition and other equipment, for which America had given the green signal to pass on to Pakistan,” he said, adding that “the Saudis then had also financed a major part of it”.

However, India has been able to strike a good relationship with Riyadh, especially under Modi.

“The Saudis we have been able to disentangle from other relationships,” he said.

According to Pasha, India had kept the Turks on “short leash” by supporting the Greek Cypriots at the UN. “So it was a quid pro quo, give and take — that we will not raise the invasion and occupation by Turkey of northern Cyprus, and Turkey would not raise the Kashmir issue at the international forums.”

Even when Turkey became a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) contact group on Kashmir along with Saudi Arabia, and other countries, Ankara explained to India that “since there is no voting taking place and resolutions are passed by consensus, so we have explained our position – that bilaterally Kashmir should be resolved between the two countries”.

But the OIC resolution passed by the Kashmir contact group on the sidelines of the UNGA last month was very harsh.

“The contact group not only passed resolutions which were very critical of India during the UN General Assembly, but also they went many steps ahead by voicing concerns about human rights and the need to resolve Kashmir through UN resolutions,” he added.

“So now we are back to square one, despite 30 years of diplomacy, and all the high-level visits there, and several rounds of talks have been held – at the NSA level, the foreign ministers level etc. Both sides had wide consensus on a wide variety of issues, on Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Greece and Cyprus.

“But now suddenly Erdogan has become a sort of global Islamic leader, which has come as a real surprise,” Pasha said, adding that the strain in ties would be diplomatically resolved.

In October last year, Erdogan had declared that “Turkey is the only country that can lead the Muslim world”.

Turkey has a fairly advanced defence industry, which manufactures small arms and ammunition. India was planning to buy two naval ships from Turkey, but the deal has been cancelled over Erdogan’s raking up Kashmir at the UN and other fora.

In terms of bilateral trade too, it lies in India’s favour. “There is nothing much we can import from Turkey. For the last 30 years, we have been buying pulses, cotton, machinery, and other things; but there is very little else we can buy from them. So the balance of trade is in our favour. Turkey has been maintaining that both sides should bring the balance to more acceptable levels.”

“The Turks were a little upset. They felt that the advantages were only accruing to India, and that they were at the receiving end,” which led to building up of animosity.

According to him, Turkey was also keen that both countries should cooperate in the construction industry in the West Asia and North Africa region. “But that did not work out.”

Turkey had two requests of India. It wanted India’s help in the nuclear field. “Turkey has nuclear ambitions, and India has huge thorium reserves in Kerala, and we have a fast breeder reactor which we have developed using thorium. Turkey wanted our technical skills, but the India government declined.”

“And the last straw that broke the camel’s back” was India’s refusal to close down the Gulen-controlled schools and other institutes in India, said Pasha.

The Gulen-controlled schools and institutes are spread across many parts of India, from Delhi, to Bengaluru, to Mumbai. “Some are disguised as schools, some as research centres,” he said.

“The Erdogan government was really upset that we have done nothing. He feels that America is using Gulen, and will bring him back to Turkey and organise a coup against him.”

“These are some of the issues that have led to cancellation of the visit of Modi,” says Pasha.

Gulen, a leading figure in the politics and religious affairs of Turkey, is exiled in Pennsylvania. Erdogen alleges that Gulen played a pivotal role in the attempted coup against his regime in 2016. His government has demanded Gulen’s extradition, but the US State Department has asked for “credible evidence of his terrorist” activity.

Gulen, who lives in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, since he was forced to flee Turkey in 1998 to escape trial for treason against the state, is known to be linked to the CIA.

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Trump impeachment: Key witness says he was offered Ukraine defence minister’s post

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Donald Trump MSNBC

New York, Nov. Nov 19 : A key witness in the impeachment hearing against US President Donald Trump said on Tuesady that he had been offered the post of Ukrainian Defence Minister.

National Security Council official Lt Col Alexander Vindman said while being questioned during his testimony that Oleksandr Danyliuk, an influential Ukrainian politician, had made the offer.

At that time Danyliuk was close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but subsequently had a falling out and was ousted as Finance Minister.

Vindman was born in Ukraine and his family fled to the US when he was a child.

He and another official, who had officially listened on the contentious call between Trump and Zelensky, testified that they were concerned about the request he made to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son with regard to their involvement in a Ukrainian business.

Vindman said that Trump’s request was “improper” and could affect bipartisan support for that country leading to undermining “national security, and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region.”

“It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent,” he said.

He also said that when he met Zelensky, he advised him to stay out of US domestic politics.

Vice President Mike Pence’s foreign policy staffer Jennifer Williams said that she found the request to Zelensky for the investigations as political.

A dramatic moment came when House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff was preparing to question Williams about a call between Trump and Zelensky on September 18. A lawyer said Pence had declared it classified which could not be discussed in a public hearing.

The impeachment case centres around Biden’s son Hunter becoming a director of the Ukraine gas company Burisma and receiving $83,000 a month from it, and the Vice President’s successful effort to have a prosecutor looking into the company removed.

Hunter, who was allegedly removed from the Navy for drug use, had no expertise in energy or Ukraine when he was appointed.

The Republicans want Hunter Biden to testify at the impeachment hearing, but the Democrats, who control the House, have blocked it.

The Republican leader on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, tried to put the focus on Hunter Biden by asking several leading questions to the two officials about his activities and Burisma’s corruption.

They asserted that they had no direct knowledge of the matters involving the Bidens, but the issue got a public hearing on national television and got on the record.

Another matter that Trump wanted to be investigated was if Ukraine was involved in leaking embarrassing Democratic Party emails during the 2016 elections, rather than Russia.

Schiff in his questioning of the witnesses emphasised that the US Intelligence Committee’s conclusion was that it was only Russia, and that Moscow was trying to shift the responsibility to Kyiv.

Vindman agreed that it was Russia and not Ukraine that was involved in the leaks.

Schiff also brought up the withholding of $1 billion in aid to Ukraine — which was subsequently released.

He said that releasing the aid was made conditional on Ukraine launching the probe — a point Democrats had made linking it to accusations of bribery against Trump.

The witnesses were non-committal on this aspect.

In his opening statement, Schiff said, “To press a foreign leader to announce an investigation into his political rival, President Trump put his own personal and political interests above those of the nation. He undermined our military and diplomatic support for a key ally, and undercut US anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.”

Nunes began with a scorching criticism of the mainstream media accusing it of being “puppets” of the Democratic Party.

After highlighting accusations since discredited about Trump’s campaign involvement with Russia during the 2016 elections as “hoax”, he said the mainstream media outlets are now playing up the impeachment hearings and the Ukraine factor.

Schiff has blocked the Republican request to call the anonymous whistleblower, who had set off the impeachment probe by complaining that from what he had heard about the July 25 call that an improper request had been made .

Nunes asked a series of questions about Vindman’s contacts with a member of the intelligence community regarding the call.

Vindman refused to answer it, and the refusal was upheld by Schiff.

Earlier in a tweet, Trump had hinted that Williams was a “Never Trumper,” one of those vehemently opposed to this his election.

His tweet said, “Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released statement from Ukraine. Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!”

Last month, Trump had also called Vindman a “Never Trumper”. He had tweeted, “Was he on the same call that I was? Can’t be possible! Please ask him to read the Transcript of the call. Witch Hunt!”

Schiff reiterated at the start of the hearing that the committee would protect witnesses against reprisals and cautioned against threatening them.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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Shiv Sena pushing Aditya Thackeray for CM delaying Maha govt formation

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Yuva Sena president Aditya Thackeray

New Delhi, Nov 19 : As talks between the Congress and NCP continue on a Common Minimum Programme, one factor causing unease is of Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray pushing for his son Aditya Thackeray to be the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

A top source told IANS that Uddhav’s pushing for his son at the helm has caused uneasiness in the Nationalist Congress Party with most NCP leaders not willing to work with a greenhorn like Aditya.

The NCP is also pushing for a rotational chief ministerishp for its party. The leaders of both the parties are ready to work with Uddhav.

A top source said the delaying of government formation in Maharashtra is not because of Congress but NCP chief Sharad Pawar “who is more apprehensive of the Sena than Congress”.

A source said the NCP chief has rightly said that they have not discussed government formation with Sonia Gandhi.

The NCP leader is wary of ideological contradictions with the Sena and its style of functioning.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut has also said that “understanding Pawar’s statement is not an easy task”.

As per the deal on the table, the Congress will get the Speaker’s post and a Deputy CM post in the government, while the NCP will get the Deputy CM post along with that of legislative council chairman. All the three parties are likely to get the same share in the council of ministers.

The parties are negotiating portfolios of Home, Finance, Revenue, Housing and Cooperatives in the state.

The Congress is likely to pitch for Home and Revenue, while NCP wants Finance and Cooperatives.

The Ministry of Cooperatives is perceived very important in the state as most of the sugar mills are controlled by cooperative societies. Shiv Sena will get the CM post, said a senior leader.

The Congress wants finalisation of the Common Minimum Programme before moving forward with an official announcement.

The CMP will have clear-cut objective on the issue of core agenda of Shiv Sena, as Congress is apprehensive about the behaviour of the Sena leaders.

(Saiyed Moziz Imam Zaidi can be contacted at [email protected])

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RBI affidavit details how it was ‘fooled’ by scam-hit PMC Bank

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PMC Bank

Mumbai, Nov 19 : In a detailed affidavit filed before the Bombay High Court on Tuesday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has virtually admitted that it was ‘fooled’ by the management of the scam-hit Punjab & Maharashtra Cooperative (PMC) Bank.

The affidavit, filed by Rajlaxmi Sethi, Assistant General Manager, Department of Co-operative Bank Supervision, RBI, states that PMC Bank had submitted fraudulently manipulated data to the central bank for sample checks, but “the sample of accounts picked for inspection did not contain undisclosed HDIL accounts.”

While the HDIL accounts shown by PMC Bank were seen by the RBI inspection team, a majority of them were declared as non-performing assets.

It added that the PMC Bank had also sanctioned mortgage limits to a wholly-owned subsidiary of the HDIL when the bank’s Chairman, the now arrested S. Waryam Singh, was also a director of the company — a clear conflict of interests and violation of the RBI’s Master Circulars to the effect of July 2010 and July 2012.

S. Waryam Singh also chaired a PMC Bank board meeting to approve the mortgage overdraft in which he was interested, again contravening RBI norms.

The RBI inspection team established the links between Waryam Singh and HDIL promoters/directors (now arrested), which could have helped them get credit facilities, and later to pay off one-time settlement of dues with other lenders, the affidavit said.

The scale of violation and the connected lending that was established, based on available records, was much lesser due to the ‘camouflaging’ resorted to by the PMC Bank, and hence what was noted was ‘flagged’, though it was not found to be significantly affecting the bank’s financial health.

On September 19, 2019, the RBI sent a team for the annual financial inspection of the PMC Bank and a thorough scrutiny of the HDIL accounts, with specific focus on the dealings and/or exposure of the bank with the HDIL group, besides other aspects.

The inspection was completed on November 2, 2019 and the report is currently being prepared, the affidavit said.

As per the preliminary findings, due to various financial irregularities, the PMC Bank’s networth had turned negative, with a significant erosion in deposits.

Detailing the “modus operandi of hiding the information related to HDIL exposure” employed by the PMC Bank, the RBI affidavit said they tampered with Management Information Systems and NPC Identification Process.

In this, the bank had given special access codes to the HDIL accounts with restricted visibility to less than 25 out of PMC Bank’s 1,800 staffers.

While running the script for system identification of the NPAs, it deliberately excluded the HDIL accounts which were thus omitted from the system generated reports of NPA accounts, and ditto with the Overdrawn Accounts list.

The PMC Bank’s own MIS software called ‘Opine’ had a script for generating lists of newly sanctioned/disbursed accounts, but the undisclosed loan accounts were missing from this list.

These irregularities were not highlighted by the PMC Bank’s concurrent auditors at the Sion Branch, where all these undisclosed accounts were parked though concurrent audits were carried out every month, the affidavit pointed out.

Besides, the undisclosed loan accounts to HDIL group, sanctioned and renewed by then PMC Bank Managing Director K. Joy Thomas (now arrested), were not recorded in the minutes of the Loan Committee, Recovery Committee, or the Board of Directors, though they constituted a vital source of information during inspection.

The affidavit said taht PMC Bank falsified information of offsite returns submitted to the RBI, false indent information provided to the RBI inspection team, and resorted to fictitious booking of profits, etc.

However, following a tip-off by an insider, a senior PMC Bank official, the RBI moved at top speed to arrest the slide and protect depositors/customers interests by slapping sanctions on the bank on September 23. It suspended its BoD and appointed an Administrator to evaluate the securities/collaterals provided by HDIL to auction them to recover the dues.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: [email protected])

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