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JIT probe and China-Pakistan ties

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As the findings of the joint investigation team (JIT) have implicated the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family in the Panama gate Case and his disqualification and ouster is becoming inevitable day by day, his biggest friend and ally China is not concerned about him, but only concerned about the ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR)’ initiative, that includes China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as its “flagship” project.

As being widely reported in the Pakistani media, “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification or imprisonment by the full court bench sounds like the writing on the wall for not only concealing assets, but also for failing to reveal their sources of income and presenting a fake money trail,” the political situation in Pakistan has become fluid and volatile making China upset about future of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), A B Mahapatra of Think Tank said.

China is upset as the situation arises due to the Panamagate JIT  as political instability in Pakistan is the major risk to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).As the political situation in Pakistan has become fluid and if the PM Nawaz is compelled to resign or dissolve the assembly or even if there is a change of leadership, China would be looking at Pakistan only from a business point of view and will engage with who so ever occupies the central leadership as Beijing just believes in the business first.

PM Nawaz Sharif has also lost Chinese leaders faith because Some differences have emerged between Sharif and Chinese leadership: first on the issue of Karakoram toll tax collection and second on the tariff related to the coal power plants which China is constructing there. These issues emerged as major irritants in Sino-Pak relationship in the month of May in Beijing when Pakistani officials met Chinese leaders.

China is upset with PM Nawaz Sharif as Beijing has been dragged into court for charging higher tariff for the power plants.

Pakistan is of the view that when their government is providing security to the Chinese projects with manpower and maintenance support and also giving compensation to the owners of land that are being taken for the projects, then they are lawfully entitled to receive toll tax of the Karakoram Highway. But China contends that since it had built the Karakoram Highway in 1970s and is financing the current projects, they should receive the toll tax.

China is engaged in building several Roads, Railway and the power projects under CPEC which includes the Khunjerab railway, a high-altitude line that would run roughly alongside the Karakoram and link north-eastern Pakistan with the Chinese city of Kashgar, which has become the present bone of contention.

Another irritant in their relationship is the tariff related to the coal power plants which China is constructing in Pakistan and the matter has been moved to the court.

There are 17 energy projects being completed under the CPEC including the Port Qasim coal plant in Sindh and ZTE Energy Pakistan PV power plant in Punjab.

The National Energy Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) had approved tariff for the project at 71 paise/unit, while the government’s Private Power Infrastructure Board had filed a review petition on the tariff in order to address Chinese investors’ concerns who were demanding 95 paise/unit.

Minister for Planning and Development in the Pak government Ahsan Iqbal and Planning Commission Secretary Yousuf Nadeem Khokhar, who are the two point persons of Prime Minister Nawaz for CPEC projects, have expressed concern over the fixing of power tariff for CPEC-related power projects by the Chinese.

However, Chinese leadership is not much impressed by the mere expression of such concerns by the PM Nawaz’s team and expected better handling of the issue by his government.

China is also not worried by the possibility of change of guard in Pakistan, which is facing serious internal security threat from the various jihadi groups including Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), because China depends 80% on Pakistan Army and 20% on the civilian government for the fulfilment of their economic and strategic interests.

China has entered into a deal with Pakistan Army to provide security to the CPEC projects and General Qamar Javed Bajwa has ensured to provide fool-proof security to the said projects.

Observers in Islamabad believe that Pakistan will gradually become a colony of China and the civilian leadership should refrain from falling into the debt trap of Beijing as China has offered massive loans at six per cent interest rates to Pakistan, excluding insurance cost which is far higher than what is being offered by the world financial institutions. Pakistan will have to cough up $2billion to China annually to repay the loans.

Pakistan is of vital strategic importance to China to fulfil its ambition of reviving the ancient Silk Road (21st-century Maritime Silk Road) trading routes through its “One Belt- One Road,” China will remain benevolent towards Pakistan as Pakistan’s geographical location helps China to enlarge its sphere of influence in Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics and to increase connectivity between the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa, no matter who leads the country.

It’s also obvious that any government of Pakistan cannot live without having the full support of China whether it is ruled by Nawaz or by Military.

“Pakistan is also keeping an eye on imaginary external threat like India, as it considers that China will come to their rescue if India acts militarily against them and while Islamabad has antagonized Afghanistan, therefore Pakistan will always try to keep friendship with Beijing intact,” Dr Ashok Behuria, South Asian expert working with New Delhi based Indian Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) said.

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By : Arti Bali

Senior Journalist

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Fun & Frolic: The Topmost Destinations for Your Little Ones!

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Exciting yet frustrating, fun-filled yet a task of sorts; travelling with your little ones can be all this and so much more. That’s why, when the destination itself is interesting, unique and full of happening activities, half the battle is won right there. So starting with Prague and ending at South Africa, here are the amazing, yet largely unexplored, destinations you can plan for in 2018.

A European hotspot and full of charming little lanes and alleyways, Prague is a treasure trove of ancient architecture, brilliant art galleries, exciting neighbourhoods and unique sights such as the Lego museum, coupled with a quaint fairytale ambience. Here, your little ones can befriend the animals at the famous Prague zoo, explore the Petřín, the classic outdoor play area, with a host of exciting sights for little eyes, go for a joy-ride on one of the many trams, experience kiddie nirvana at the Toy Museum and experience the best of international cuisine.

Moving on to Italy, let your little ones’ history books come to life with a tour of the magnificent Colosseum, the legendary ruins of Pompeii and the awe-inspiring Leaning Tower of Pisa. In this fabulously beautiful country, you and your little ones can explore subterranean ruins, breathtaking seaside scapes and towns, gladiator battlefields, thermal pools, coastal caves and so much more. You can also climb a volacano in Sicily or Naples, go on a behind-the-scenes tour of an authentic pizzeria or enjoy a peaceful Venetian boatride. Complete with cultural riches, endless feasts, spectacular landscapes and an unending style quotient, Italy is definitely a destination you cannot ignore.

If Europe is already off your bucket list though, and if you’re in the mood for something more offbeat and exciting, then check out the other-worldly sights of Iceland. Right from the smoking geysers, bubbling mud pots, gigantic waterfalls, live volcanoes, thermal pools and the amazing Northern Lights, Iceland is the perfect option for some unique family fun.

For little ones fascinated by fairytales and magic, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Florida or Disney World is where you should be. Step into majestic Hogwarts, explore Hogsmeade village, enter the magical Diagon Alley, dine at the Leaky Cauldron, ride the thrilling rides at Disney’s Magic Kingdom or have the time of your life at the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.

Last, but not the least, step into Vietnam and give your kids a chance to experience life as a Viet Cong soldier at the Cu Chi Tunnels, enjoy the vibrant fruit orchards, coconut farms and honey bee hives of the Mekong Delta, get a taste of a bygone era at Angkor Wat and explore the charming lanes and quaint shops of Hanoi.

“As parents, the first thing we think about while making travelling plans is what would work best for our little ones,” says Viren Batra, co-founder of Nirvana Travel. “Most of the time, we tend to go with tried and tested options that we know will work, and shy away from experimenting. But when you know the best child-friendly destinations out there, and have a reliable travel firm on hand, there’s really nothing to stop you from ticking the world off your bucket list.”

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How India has retrograted under Modi’s rule

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has set a record of not addressing a single press conference during his three and a half years tenure was seen giving interviews to channels before his departure to Davos and primarily because of the eight Assembly elections that are scheduled for this year.

But Modi was asked comfortable questions and no controversial matters were raised for which people seek answers.
Modi said he should not be judged merely on demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax. This shows his acceptance that he has been a failure in observing that his decisions will give a boost to economy.

The type of questions that were asked shows that the mainstream media is completely supporting Modi.Modi must answer the 360 degree transformation of India and the crumbling of democratic institutions such as media ,Parliament and the latest victim Judiciary under his rule.

The country has been transformed from an integrated nation to a divided society on the basis of caste and religion(going back to medieval period).Modi should be asked questions like why the community of cow vigilantes have suddenly cropped up under his rule and there have been many incidents of Dalits, Muslim men beaten up on suspicion for possessing beef.These Gau rakshaks groups have never been charged or arrested rather the vigilantes have been acting with impunity .The cow protection groups are linked to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Modi will give a go ahead to each and every move of RSS whether it divides the society or bring cracks in the nation.

There have been innumberable instances when BJP ministers were seen giving controversial or hate speeches.

Dalits are being lynched countrywide and when the elections loom, Modi and BJP leaders start talking praising BR Ambedkar.Modi should be asked about the use of polarisation during elections , the worsening situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the North east .

Domestically, India is suffering with high degree of polarisation, division ,lawlessnes, crime against women,increase in joblesness has increased the graph of crime, high inflation,deepening of poverty.

Modi’s financial reforms have drastically affected the country’s growth as small traders have been virtually wiped out,industries have been shut and agriculture is in dire straits.

Modi is compeletly focussing on FDI for economic growth which is again a faulty decision as the FDI involves return of interest.The foreign companies are not in favour of investment or forging any partnership under “Make in India program citing poor quality and missing the deadlines.

Besides rampant joblessness, Modi’s foreign policy has failed miserably in foreign policy as countries in India’s neighbourhood have knit close ties with China ,thus causing grave concerns for New Delhi.

Modi has attained a mastery in diverting from the main issues and misguiding the people of the country. Modi warned political parties to refrain from the Supreme Court crisis but eventually government was seen meddling in judiciary .

Earlier,the government had tried to influence the appointment and transfer of judges through the National Judicial
Appointment Commission (NJAC) but a five-member constitution bench of the Supreme Court struck down the NJAC by a majority of 4:1 in 2015.

Therfore ,there is face off between the judiciary and the government. Finance minister Arun Jaitley had stated in the Rajya Sabha on May 11, 2016: “The manner in which encroachment of legislative and executive authority by India’s judiciary is taking place, probably financial power and budget making is the last power that you have left.”

PM Modi remained silent in all the issues and he is even tightlipped on the corruption issues that were raised against BJP President AMit Shah’s son.Twenty Aam Aadmi Party legislators from the Delhi assembly were disqualified by President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday, January 21, following the Election Commission’s recommendation in the office of profit case.

The Aam Aadmi Party has described President Kovind’s decision as ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘dangerous for democracy’.

The Congress sought answer from Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he will dismiss senior cabinet ministers like Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu and two junior ministers Jayant Sinha of Civil Aviation Ministry and M J Akbar of External Affairs Ministry for allegedly holding the posts of directors in India Foundation, a think-tank run by NSA Ajit Doval’s son Shaurya Doval.

Last but not the least, Prime Minister who poses to be a clean man, does not shy away to tarnish the image of India’s previous prime ministers. Just to win the elections, the BJP government can go to such low that Modi accused former PM Manmohan Singh of conspiring with former Pakistani foreign ministerto wipe out BJP in Gujarat.

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By: Arti Bali

Senior Journalist

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India’s growing rich-poor divide: Richest 1% gross 73% wealth in 2017

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India’s richest, just 1 per cent of its 1.3 billion people, grossed 73 per cent of the wealth generated in 2017 while the wealth of the poorest half of Indians — some 67 crore — rose by only one per cent, according to a report by Oxfam.

The report, launched on Monday ahead of the gathering of some of the world’s richest at the World Economic Forum here, said the wealth of India’s elite went up last year by Rs 20,913 billion — an amount equivalent to the government’s total budget in 2017-18.

The Davos event is being attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Oxfam India has urged him to ensure that the “economy works for everyone and not just the fortunate few” in line with the government’s ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ slogan.

“It is alarming that the benefits of economic growth in India continue to concentrate in fewer hands. The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” said Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India.

“Those working hard, growing food for the country, building infrastructure, working in factories are struggling to fund their child’s education, buy medicines for family members and manage two meals a day. The growing divide undermines democracy and promotes corruption and cronyism.”

The report, ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’, has also found that India’s top 10 per cent of population have 73 per cent of the total wealth in the country.

“Indian billionaires’ wealth increased by Rs 4,891 billion – from Rs 15,778 billion to over Rs 20,676 billion,” it said, adding the amount of Rs 4,891 billion was sufficient to finance 85 per cent of the budget on health and education in all Indian states.

It said India added 17 new billionaires last year, raising the number to 101. But 37 per cent of the these billionaires inherited the wealth from their families.

It said 51 billionaires out of the total 101 were aged 65 or above.

“If we assume that in the next 20 years, at least Rs 10,544 billion will be passed on to the inheritors and on that if 30 per cent inheritance tax is imposed, the government can earn at least Rs 3,176 billion.”

This will be sufficient to finance six crucial services — medical and public health, family welfare, water and sanitation, housing, urban development and labour and labour welfare in the country.

The report said at least one in every two workers in the garment sector in India were paid below the minimum wage. By those standards, the report said, “it will take 941 years for a minimum wage worker in rural India to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian garment firm earns in a year”.

Oxfam called upon the government to promote “inclusive growth by ensuring that the income of the bottom 40 per cent of the population grows faster than of the top 10 per cent” to close the income gap.

“This can be done by encouraging labour-intensive sectors that will create more jobs; investing in agriculture; and effectively implementing the social protection schemes that exist.”

It said the government must also seal the leaking wealth bucket by taking stringent measures against tax evasion and avoidance.

The income gap can also be reduced by “taxing the super-rich by re-introducing inheritance tax, increasing wealth tax, reducing and eventually do away with corporate tax breaks and creating a more equal opportunity country by increasing public expenditure on health and education”, it said.

The charity said the government must also bring data transparency, produce and make available high quality data on income and wealth and regularly monitor the measures it takes to tackle the issue of rising inequality.

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