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Jethmalani’s 8 p.m. whisky time as solution to India-Pakistan conflict



New Delhi, April 12 : Let it be 8 p.m., “my whisky time”, noted nonagenarian lawyer Ram Jethmalani vowing to help resolve disputes between India and Pakistan at a meeting with former Foreign Minister from that country, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.

Kasuri, who was in the capital for a peace building initiative between the two countries, shot back: “It is a great honour, sir!”

And the tense atmosphere was filled with sounds of loud laughter at the Tuesday evening panel discussion “Improving Indo-Pak Relations” — organised by “Centre for Peace and Progress” — that was otherwise clouded by Pakistan’s sentencing of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav to death.

Kasuri, who has written an insider’s account of interaction with India on resolving Kashmir in a book “Neither A Hawk, Nor A Dove”, admitted that it was not a good time to be here “when the situation isn’t particularly good” between the two countries.

“But it is during these times that we must persist and talk about peace,” he said at the conference which was also attended by Pakistan High Commissioner here Abdul Basit.

There was a lot of talk about rhetoric, allegations and counter-allegations, cross-border terror, war and isolating Pakistan. But Kasuri, a moderate who boasts of being a Muslim with South Asian roots of Sufism, warned that war was “not good for either side”.

He was “quite hopeful” that India and Pakistan would restart working for peace soon, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi “must have a sense of history since he has risen so swiftly”.

He said “he (Modi) wishes to be part of the history of India and Pakistan relations”.

Kasuri said his hope emanated from his belief that the two countries had the capability of improving ties on their own and cited the 1960s Indus Water Treaty (IWT) that is regarded as one of the few successful implementations of a trans-border water basin conflict in the world.

Possibility of peace through another war — “after nine wars and near wars” — between the two countries was ruled out, he said.

“I have a purpose, a purpose of peace. I don’t want to generate negative headlines. I know peace is possible. Have you realised that peace process between the two countries started when guns were ready to blaze at the border,” he said, referring to the 2002 military buildup across the borders after Pakistani militants attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001.

Jethmalani, also a former BJP minister, said solution to every India-Pakistan dispute, including Kashmir, “is very, very easy”.

He claimed: “I have solved many disputes after 8 in the evening. My whisky time. And Kasuri sahib will meet me at 8 p.m. and we shall again meet. Believe me, it will be solved if not today then tomorrow,” said the lawyer, a veteran Track-II activist, known to be close to Kashmir separatists.

Kasuri accepted the invitation as “a great honour” and said he has had indeed “an amazing experience” of peace building initiatives between the two countries.

Even as he blamed Pakistan for the Kashmir mess right from 1947, Jethmalani was of the view that Kashmir had its own “independently drafted constitution” and issues could be solved within its framework.

As the discussion dragged on, reporters kept asking Kasuri and Basit about Jadhav’s death sentence. Both remained tight lipped about it.

Basit spoke but it was about his birthday on April 10 when the sentencing was announced. “There was no party but”, the envoy said in his two- sentence remark.

There was one man with a saffron tilak mark on his forehead standing in a corner of the jam-packed India International Centre hall who repeatedly interrupted speakers, including Congress’ Mani Shankar Aiyar, former BJP leader Sudheendra Kulkarni, Justice Rajendra Sachar and Saifuddin Soz, reminding them about how Pakistan was bombing India and why should anyone call for peace between them.

He was largely ignored.

After the meet, dozens of scribes mobbed Basit and Kasuri for their comments as they left the venue. But they kept their cool, smiled and didn’t utter a word.

Kasuri was escorted out from a backdoor and Basit moved briskly through the horde of mike- and camera-toting media persons. Questions were shouted at him, but he kept his counsel.

By : Sarwar Kashani

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at [email protected])

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Refugees found frozen in Lebanon near Syria border



Refugees found frozen

The bodies of nine Syrian refugees who crossed into Lebanon have been found frozen in a mountainous area near the border with Syria, according to the Lebanese army.

The military said in a statement that the bodies were found on a people-smuggling route in the early hours of Friday after a snowstorm hit the Masnaa area, where Lebanon’s largest official border crossing with Syria is located.

“The army saved six other displaced Syrians, one of whom died later in a hospital from frostbite,” the statement added, raising the death toll to 10.

“The bodies were taken to the hospitals in the area, and the army continues to search for other displaced people trapped in the snow, in order to evacuate them and provide medical treatment for them.”

The identities of the Syrian refugees were not immediately known. According to some reports, at least one child was among the bodies found.

Two other Syrian nationals were arrested and charged with people-smuggling, the army added.

‘We are deprived of everything’

Temperatures dropped on Friday as winter storms battered the Lebanon-Syria border, making the lives of the more than 357,000 Syrian refugees living in makeshift tents in the Bekaa Valley, some 60km north of Masnaa, even more difficult.

Reporting from the region, Al Jazeera’s correspondent Zeina Khodr said that Syrian refugees “face many challenges during the winter months”.

“They live in tents that are made out of plastic sheeting, which does little to protect them from the cold and the rain,” she said.

Hammadi Chelbi, a Syrian refugee who has been living in Bekaa Valley after he fled the Syrian conflict in its first year, told Al Jazeera that he and his family are living in misery.

“We have nothing but pain, sickness and suffering,” he said. “We are deprived of everything.”

There are one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, although government officials estimate that the number is closer to 1.5 million.

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not getting the money it needs to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon through another harsh winter.

Last year, it requested $228m but received less than 60 percent of that, prompting it to warn that life in the camps was getting worse.


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One vote can’t change dynamics of our relations: Netanyahu on India



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

New Delhi, Jan 14 : Just one negative vote at UN cannot change the dynamics of Indian-Israeli relations between India and Israel, visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said here on Sunday, terming relations with India as “marriage made in heaven”.

“I don’t think one vote affects a general trend you can see in many other votes and everything and these visits,” Netanyahu said when asked to comment on India’s vote at UN against US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in an interview on India Today TV channel.

“Yes, naturally we were disappointed, but this visit is a testimony that our relationship is moving on so many fronts, be it political, technological, tourism, security and so many other areas. Ultimately you see it reflected in all UN votes, not just now but soon,” he added.

In December last year, India voted in favour of a resolution brought by Turkey and Yemen in the UN opposing the United States’ decision recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution was approved with 127-9 at the UN General Assembly.

“First of all there is a special relationship between the two countries, between their people and then between the leaders. The partnership between India and Israel is a marriage made in heaven but consecrated on earth,” Netanyahu said, adding he respects his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi “as a great leader” because he is “impatient to bring future to his people”.

On cooperation in counter-terrorism, he said that intelligence is the key.

“And Israel has on the whole superb intelligence. I would say none is better. And we share with you our intelligence and have stopped over the last few years some 30 major terror attacks, which we shared vis-a-vis not India alone but with dozens of countries.

“Israel protects lives of so many people. When you board a plane you want to know that plane won’t be blown up mid air. It will take off and land safely. When that happens, usually Israel has something to do with it, not on every flight but on many flights,” he said.

Asked if he approves India’s terror strikes launched across the border with Pakistan, he said that India makes its own choices and “you fight terrorism by fighting it”.

As the interviewer persisted, a smiling Netanyahu said: “Well, I am trying to be a foreign minister. I am trying to be a diplomat, because I hold two portfolios — the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister at the same time.”

Asked if Israel can use his good offices with China to persuade it to not veto a resolution against Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, Netanyahu said: “I think these things are best discussed not on television, especially if you want to make progress.”

However, he also said: “But our defence relationship is quite significant and comprises many things. I think the key word here is defence. We want to defend ourselves, we are not aggressive nations. We are very committed to making sure that none can commit an aggression against the either one of us.”

On the bilateral trade relations, the Israeli Prime Minister said that “there is a whole world that is erupting, exploding”.

Advocating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India to boost and deepen bilateral economic relations, he said: “Israel is changing so rapidly. We are creating industries. We have just created a car industry in just last five years. We have 500 start-ups dealing with automation of car.

“And there are other areas like water, agriculture, energy, health, transportsation. There is a whole world that is erupting, exploding. Future belongs to those who innovate… Israel is an innovation nation. India has innovations. In Silicon Valley there are two dialects you hear — Hindi and Hebrew and only a little English.”

He said that when he visited the iconic Teen Murti war memorial at Haifa circle, he felt “an expression of gratitude” because it was Indian soldiers who fell down while defending the city of Haifa (now in Israel) during WW-I.

“It’s closing of a circle 100 years later,” he said.

In a sign of growing importance to the ties with Israel, the government on Sunday renamed Delhi’s Teen Murti Chowk as Teen Murti-Haifa Chowk after the Israeli city.

Netanyahu is on a six-day visit to India, the first Israeli Premier to visit India after 2003 when Ariel Sharon came. Setting aside protocol, Modi went to personally receive Netanyahu.

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Full Court expected to resolve Supreme Court crisis




All 25 Supreme Court judges are expected to meet soon to resolve the crisis in the country’s apex court after four senior-most judges complained against Chief Justice Dipak Misra over allocation of cases.

Informed sources told IANS that a Full Court meeting of the Supreme Court judges will take place at the earliest to take a call on the issue and deliberate over the complaints highlighted in public by the four judges — Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — who are the senior-most after Justice Misra in that order.

The rebel judges criticised the Chief Justice over allocation of cases, saying the administration of the top court was “not in order”.

As there was no solution in sight, Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh met Justice Misra and gave him a copy of the resolution the Bar passed on Saturday. The resolution also suggested a Full Court meeting to resolve the matter.

Two days after the crisis began, a seven-member delegation of the Bar Council of India (BCI) on Sunday also met the Chief Justice to convey its concern over the issue. The BCI also met three of the four rebel judges.

“We hope that the issue will be sorted out amicably and no one from outside should interfere,” BCI President Manan Kumar Mishra told reporters.

“During the meetings with Justice Misra, Justice Chelameswar, Justice Lokur, Justice Joseph and other judges, each one of them assured us that the issues will be resolved. The meetings with the judges took place in a very cordial atmosphere.”

Justices Sharad Arvind Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao also met Justice Chelameswar at his residence.

As the crisis lingered, four retired judges wrote to Justice Misra on Sunday, throwing their weight behind the four rebel judges who “have brought to light a serious issue regarding the manner of allocation of cases, particularly sensitive cases, to various benches of the Supreme Court”.

The retired judges are Justice P.B. Sawant, a former Supreme Court judge, Justice A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice K. Chandru, a former judge of the Madras High Court, and Justice H. Suresh, a former judge of the Bombay High Court.

They appreciated the “grave concern” raised by the four Supreme Court judges that cases were not being allocated in a proper manner and “arbitrarily” allocated to “particular designated benches, often headed by junior judges”.

“This is having a very deleterious effect on the administration of justice and the rule of law,” read the letter by the four former judges.

They said they agreed with the view of the rebel judges that the Chief Justice despite being the master of roster cannot assign cases “in an arbitrary manner such that, sensitive and important cases are sent to hand-picked benches of junior judges by the Chief Justice”.

“This issue needs to be resolved… for allocation of benches and distribution of cases, which are rational, fair and transparent. Only such measures would assure the people that the Supreme Court is functioning in a fair and transparent manner and that the power of the Chief Justice as master of roster is not being misused to achieve a particular result in important and sensitive cases. We, therefore, urge you to take immediate steps in this regard.”

Meanwhile, the Co-ordination Committee of All District Bar Associations of Delhi on Sunday condemned the four senior Supreme Court judges for going public over their differences with Justice Misra.

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