Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Every nation has an army, Pakistani army has a nation

Author: Tejinder Singh
16 December 2008 - Issue : 813

Pakistani establishments have acquired great tenacity to strongly believe their own bluffs even in the face of unquestionable proof. President Asif Ali Zardari's first statement that the sole surviving Mumbai terrorist is not a Pakistani to another statement of Foreign Minister that there is no proof against Jamaat ud Dawa proves the point.

The unmasking came in the form of an interview to the Pakistani Dawn newspaper by Amir Kasab, the father of Ajmal Amir Iman alias Ajmal Qasab, the lone Pakistani gunman arrested for the Mumbai terror attacks. The old man, a father of three sons and two daughters, from Faridkot in Okara district of Punjab in Pakistan, has unequivocally admitted that the captured terrorist, whose pictures were beamed across the world, was indeed his son.

Earlier, Britain's Observer correspondent had located Iman's home in Faridkot, Pakistan and got hold of the voters' roll which had the names of his parents Amir Kasab and Noor as well as the numbers on the national identity cards. BBC had also reported that Iman is indeed belonged to Faridkot and had joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba sometime ago.

Iman also revealed to Indian security personnel the identity of his nine other slain gunmen and their addresses in Pakistan. Despite all the accumulated evidence, Pakistani leaders, its expert commentators on electronic media and its diplomatic staff around the globe went to the town to prove that the terrorists are not Pakistanis but Indians. They shamelessly called the heinous terrorist attack as the handiwork of Hindu extremists or Indian Muslims or could be RAW or CIA.

Now, the UN Security Council has succeeded in placing not only Jamaat ud Dawa, the front organization of the Lashkar-e-Taiba on the list of terrorist groups but also four of its top leadership, including its chief Hafiz ul Mohammed Saeed. The earlier attempts by the UNSC to do so for the past three years failed as China conveniently came to the rescue of this terrorist organization by putting a "hold" on the resolution.

Hafiz ul Saeed demanded proof for he ever heading the Lashkar-e-Taiba or he ever promoting terrorism and jehadism. Had he cared to re-read the publications of the organization he is heading he would have got all the proof he needed.

Addressing a press conference in Lahore on December 24, 2001, Hafiz Saeed announced his resignation and the appointment of Maulana Abdul Wahid Kashmiri as the new LeT chief, stated the magazine, Jamaat ud Dawa. He made this announcement soon after the US State Departent had designated the Lashkar-e-Taiba a foreign terrorist organization, and a few weeks before the then President Musharraf was forced to ban the group on January 13, 2002.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa published in its April 10 edition an address by Hafiz ul Sayeed to convocation of students, where he proudly announced that his organization has sacrificed 4500 youth for the Jihadi cause and that preparation for Jihad was a must. He urged students to pray to God so that they could have a chance to sacrifice their lives for Jihad.

According the US Treasury Department, Hafiz Saeed "in 2005, personally determined where graduates of an LeT camp in Pakistan should be sent to fight and personally organised the infiltration of LET militants into Iraq during a trip to Saudi Arabia."

Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, who was one of the four Lashkar leaders placed on UN Security Council list of terrorists, was the supreme commander who had coordinated the Mumbai terrorist attacks and guided the gunmen on the action to be taken while they were holding the hostages. As Lashkar's chief of operations. Lakhvi has directed LeT military operations including in Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and southeast Asia. Lakhvi was born to Hafiz Aziz-ur-Rahman, a cleric linked to the neoconservative Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadis, on December 30, 1960. He lives in Chika 18L of the village of Rinala Khurd, in Okara—the same south Punjab district from where Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman, the terrorist arrested in the course of last month's massacre in Mumbai, grew up.

Mahmoud Bahaziq, another Lashkar leader to be declared a terrorist, is a Saudi citizen of Indian origin. He is considered the main financier of the LeT and its activities in the 1980s and 1990s and coordinated LeT's fundraising activities with Saudi non-governmental organisations and Saudi businessmen. He is allegedly the brain behind recruiting Indian expatriate Muslims in Arab countries, particularly in Saudi Arabia, and sending them to Pakistan for training and subsequently launching them into terrorist activities in India.

Haji Mohammad Ashraf has assisted the expansion of the LeT in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and coordinating the terror activities there. Ashraf was born on March 1, 1965, and holds Pakistani passport.

Producing evidence to prove the culpability of Pakistan-based terrorist groups and their handlers in the military establishment is not an issue. There is enough now on Mumbai attacks. There was enough evidence of the involvement of Pak military establishment and Lashkar elements in the attack on Indian mission in Kabul in which two senior diplomats were killed besides several others.

The problem is that Pakistani military leadership views the Jehadi groups as their first line of offence and defence and the most effective weapon to bleed India, while maintaining its deniability. The 1999 Kargil war, designed and executed by the former Army chief and President Musharraf, clearly established this strategy. The Northern Areas Scouts, a wing of the Pakistani army, were sent as part of the jehadi groups. President Zardari himself is a victim of the jehadi outfits that the Pakistani army and ISI gave birth and nourished to an uncontrollable giant.

Enjoying "tea" at a Pakistani restaurant in Brussels, Belgium, this journalist, Tejinder Singh was told by Cheema Saheb, Head Chef citing something he heard on a TV talk-show: "Every nation has an army while Pakistani army has a nation."

The day the political leadership tames the army, that day augurs well for Pakistani people and their status in the international community. Until that happens, the world community will have to do the dirty work of corking up these "middle age" mammals.

UN bans Pakistani outfit but logical follow-up action should speed up

Author: Tejinder Singh
16 December 2008 - Issue : 813

Pakistani melodrama failed to stop the international community from acting recently as the UN Security Council swiftly placed the Lashkar-front "Jamaat ud Dawa" and four of its top leadership on the list of terrorists. Pakistan's feeble attempts to draw the linkage to Kashmir had no takers. Its ally, China, which had helped Pakistan using its veto-powers in preventing similar action by the Security Council in 2006, choose to keep distance with the problematic client.

An editorial in "The Daily Times," a leading Pakistani media outlet wrote on December 13, "It is the Chinese "message" that has changed our mind. The Chinese did not veto the banning of Dawa on Wednesday, and they had reportedly told Islamabad as much beforehand, compelling our permanent representative at the UN to assert that Pakistan would accept the ban if it came."
The Pakistani economy has reached near bankruptcy stage, while the political stability remains a far cry. Provoking India and a roll-back in the peace process is a time-tested strategy to re-gain Army's pre-eminent position. The memory of Kargil has not faded yet.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Western political pundit summed it up: "Army's policy to maintain its pre-eminence has three key features, namely the power monopoly under a sham democracy, anti-India orientation modulated by deniable terrorist cadres, and a client regime in Afghanistan."

While the Pakistan Army succeeded in provoking India with the Mumbai attacks, international community has seen through its strategy and refused to buy its Kashmir-tilt. Even President-elect Obama's innocent remark on finding a solution to Kashmir issue was played up and words were put into his mouth on the prospect of former President Clinton being chosen as his man-Friday for the purpose.

However, the situation was getting untenable with the Army increasingly getting sucked into the tribal quagmire and incessant American drone attacks challenging the sovereignty of the country.

It is not difficult to see through the unfolding strategy of the Army/ISI to wriggle out of its reluctant partnership to fight against terrorism on the western frontier and get the international focus turned to eastern border. They have long been waiting for an opportunity for this "U" turn. Despite the assurance given by the then President Musharraf to the world community not to allow its territory for terrorist activities in India, terror infrastructure remained intact.

Musharraf cleverly played a hide and seek game with gullible President George W. Bush, convincing him of his sincerity in fighting Taliban and Al Qaida and making him to cough over USD 10 billion in military aid. For eight years, American field commanders have been constantly complaining of Pakistan ISI/Army double game but to no avail.

The fine balance that Musharraf succeeded in creating got upset with some Army elements, eager to have a quick "U" turn, encouraged Taliban-Jaish elements to make an attempt on his life which finally culminated in Lal Masjid confrontation. With Musharraf's departure imminent, the option of Benazir did not fit in the Army-ISI strategy for a "U-turn" and therefore she also had to go.

The intricate entwining of Pakistani jihadis and Al Qaeda-Taliban is best portrayed in the Dec 13 editorial in "The Daily Times" stating: "Pakistan will need to cooperate with the international community in the coming days. The trend among our jihadi outfits so far is not to surrender to bans but to make a beeline for the Kohat Road pockets of terrorism and join the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine to kill our soldiers. Our army discovered all the banned jihadis when it confronted the militants at Darra Adam Khel. If Jaish was let off the hook after it attacked General Musharraf in 2004, it should now be confronted for providing the bulk of suicide-bombers to the Taliban and Al Qaeda."

There has always been alleged proof in plenty for every single incident of terrorist action in India, designed and choreographed by Pakistani Army and its "rogue" agency. The sole surviving terrorist called the Pakistani bluff and denial. He not only revealed his identity, and place of origin, which have been confirmed by the BBC and Los Angeles Times, but also exposed the details of all other nine terrorists and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba commanders that trained them.

Pakistan's Army has again mis-read the mood of the international community against terrorism. Commenting on the UN move, a respectable political observer in Washington urged that the world rage against the terror attack by elements in Pakistan should not rest with the UN resolution and this has to be taken to its logical conclusion, adding on condition of anonymity, "The terror infrastructure in that should be eliminated to its last vestige. While this may not serve its army, it will perhaps lead the way for a peaceful and prosperous country serving the welfare of its people."

The editorial in "The Daily TImes," reconfirmed the expert view concluding: "Last but not least, Pakistan should act not because an "unfair international system" compels it to act; it should act out of conviction. Some commentators are already suggesting the kind of double-faced strategy adopted by Musharraf. It has been exposed as self-damaging and should not be embraced again."

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Dalai Lama blames “greed” for financial crisis

Author: Tejinder Singh
8 December 2008 - Issue : 811

A fter addressing an overflowing house of European Parliament December 4, the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, appeared at a joint press conference with Hans-Gert Poettering, the President of the only directly elected European institution, the European Parliament. Wit, humour, serenity and positive vibes were present in the packed environs of the Anna Politkovskaya European Parliament press room, named after the slain Russian journalist, as the Dalai Lama was at ease with international journalists.

Answering a question about economic crisis, the spiritual leader explained the ongoing market crisis around the world. Saying, “Market itself is a creation of human beings,” the Buddhist leader asked, “What is the real cause of this sort of economic crisis?” Citing answers from his business friends, the Dalai Lama told journalists: “Too much speculation and ultimately greed,” adding, “The pot - ential to help is: reduce greed and (increase) self-discipline. “Economic crisis is something urgent so it will be helpful to reduce some other conflict (that are going on) in the name of faith and nationality.”

Going down memory lane, the Dalai Lama listed the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, and Burma and North Korea as some of the instances that could not have happened or are still happening without China nodding its approval. Citing the “uncomfortable people of Hong Kong,” “reunification of Taiwan,” and the separatist factions in the southwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang as areas where such a moral authority should be displayed, the Buddhist leader insisted he only wants meaningful autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule.

The leader from Tibet told journalists, “actually the whole world knows we are not separatists and also many Chinese writers and thinkers and many Chinese students if they have the opportunity to know the reality really support it and are in fact very critical of their government policy. “If Chinese government still accuse us of being splitists, we ourselves are confused. We are not ‘splittists,’ but the Chinese government still accuses us of being ‘splittists,’” he said.

China cancelled the annual EU-China Summit slated for December 1 when French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced he would meet the Dalai Lama in Poland. Sarkozy also represents the EU Presidency as France holds the rotating EU Presidency till the end of the year before handing it over to the Czech Republic for next six months.

When asked to comment on his meeting with Sarkozy, the Dalai Lama, with a cheerful smile said, “I have met the wife (Mrs. Sarkozy) and will be meeting the husband.” Praising the Chinese people for their diligence and perseverance and citing “manpower, economic and military power” as positive desired contributors for China to becomes “a superpower,” the Dalai Lama pointed out, “Now one important factor is moral authority and that is lacking. “Because of its very poor record on human rights and religious freedom and freedom of expression and freedom of the press — too much censorship — the image of China in the field of moral authority is very, very poor,” he said.

“The sensible Chinese realise China should now give more attention to this field to get more respectability in world affairs,” the Nobel peace laureate said, adding, “My faith in Chinese people has never shaken,” while the top echelons of Chinese leadership is divided into hard liners and soft approach advocates.

The Dalai Lama called the Chinese regime a “capitalist totalitarian regime,” and urged the importance of trust and transparency telling journalists, “trust is the key factor and for that transparency (is) really very much needed.” Calling upon the Chinese authorities to “adjust to new reality,” the Buddhist leader suggested that the Chinese authorities also can change to fit into the changing world scenario. Earlier, he addressed the European Parliament during his second day in the Belgian capital, where he was greeted by loud applause and Tibetan flags.

President Poettering, assured that the parliament would “continue to defend the rights of the Tibetan people to their cultural and religious identity.” He called on Chinese leaders to hold meaningful talks with representatives of the exiled Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, and has sought “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet since he had to leave his homeland following a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule, nine years after Chinese troops invaded the region. Ruled by China since the 18th Century, Tibet became independent in 1911, but the new Communist regime in China reasserted control in 1951, and installed a Communist government in 1953.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pharma package seen for Dec 10

The European Commission will present the much-delayed “pharma package” on December 10 at a press conference.

Ton van Liero, spokesman for Gunter Verheugen, European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, told me, “We foresee a press conference on Wednesday on the pharma package.”

Moreover, the Commission announced that the College of Commissioners (27 Commissioners) will be presented with it next Wednesday.

Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio told journalists: “On the agenda of the Commission meeting next Wednesday, will be a major pharmaceutical package. It has been subject of many draft directives, amendments, existing directives and Commission communications by Mr. (Gunter) Verheugen and various proposals and drafts and regulations, so the whole package that is for pharmaceutical industry.”

Earlier today addressing a joint press conference with health ministers from G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, US), Mexico and the World Health Organisation, European Health Commissioner Andrroulla Vassiiou also had expressed hope that the pharma package will come out soon.

The Commissioner was hosting Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI) to forge stronger global collaboration on health security.


Replying to a question about disagreements within the Commission, Commissioner Vassliou said, “It (Pharma package) is one of the most difficult packages and it is natural that all cabinets are very interested about it and there is a lot of discussion so that our purpose is to reach a final agreement on a package which will be in agreement with everybody,” adding, “I am hopeful that it will come up with something which will be satisfactory to everybody and useful to everybody.”

The European Commission has repeatedly delayed since October 21, the publishing draft regulations which could overhaul the pharmaceutical sector, amid rumours that divisions within the Commission are leading to the delays.


European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Gunter Verheugen had denied that his package of proposed new regulations for the pharmaceutical industry will be substantially altered despite its publication being delayed but APM understands there are disagreements within the College over such subjects as banning the repackaging of medicines, which is widely practiced by parallel traders.

The pharma industry has been pushing to ban repackaging of medicines saying it is the only way to stop trade in counterfeit products.

But supporters of parallel trade believe it could damage the legitimate practice of traders buying low-price drugs in markets such as Greece and selling them at a profit in other countries where they can command a higher price.

A report published recently on the website of the Commission's directorate general for Enterprise and Industry said that repackaging and relabelling medicines posed an inherent risk to patients but banning the practice would result in a dramatic reduction in the level of parallel trade and in the loss or redeployment of some 10,000 jobs across Europe.

The sources recently told me that a revamped package is now being prepared that will not ban repackaging. "Those proposals are history," said one.

This is in line with comments from a Commission spokesman earlier. "There is no ban foreseen on repackaging or relabelling ... Parallel trade is a legal economic activity in the European Union (and) the commission does not intend to change that."


But other measures in the pharmaceuticals package are also controversial, such as a proposal to allow companies to provide information on their drugs to patients, which some commentators believe is tantamount to permitting direct-to-consumer advertising.

The Association Internationale de la Mutualité, Health Action International (HAI) Europe and Medicines in Europe Forum today in an open letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: “The proposals on “information to patients” represent yet another tactic to delay generic competition by enabling the pharmaceutical companies to communicate directly to the public on their respective prescription-only medicines, thereby building "brand loyalty" and market share for their own originator products at the expense of affordable medicines for the public.”

Greg Perry, Director General, European Generic Medicines Association (EGA) had told me: "We understand the reason for the delay is due to lack of agreement on ITP (information to patients virtual network) proposal."

Perry said the EGA's main concern was now that the proposed legislation will not make it through this session of the European Parliament, particularly the pharmacovigilance package which is "a good proposal in terms of  improving patients safety, harmonisation and better regulation."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Zardari faults on promises, terrorism crisis brews on

Author: Tejinder Singh,
3 December 2008 - Issue : 810

Will relations between India and Pakistan deteriorate again in the wake of Mumbai mayhem, just like when Pak militants attacked Indian Parliament in December 2001? President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan holds the key to the question but he must remember: "Half measures avail us nothing," a warning from a Western diplomat in Brussels on condition of anonymity.
If the first interview of President Zardari on CNN Larry King Live on December 2 is an indicator, then the Pakistani politician fell flat on his face as he even denied that the person arrested was a Pakistani, saying, "I very much doubt, Larry, that he's a Pakistani."

On the other hand, world Vox Populi is demanding accountability with people of India seething with anger on "live" TV while the Westerners are too shocked to react yet. Like many countries around the globe, this is an election year in India and the present incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government can not afford to ignore public mood beyond a point, said a political commentator adding, "Restraint has a limit. That too in the face of mounting evidence of Lashkar-e- Taiba and al Qaeda in the attack on the country's iconic hotel, 105–year-old Taj in Mumbai."

"The siege of Taj, the adjoining Oberoi Trident hotel and Nariman House (a Jewish centre) lasted 48 hours. Live TV coverage delivered the threat of urban terrorism globally especially to every Indian home in real time," another Western political analyst told Tejinder Singh in Brussels on condition of anonymity.

President Zardari had earlier told Karan Thapar in the Devil's Advocate programme on CNN-IBN (Nov 29): "Let me assure you ... if any evidence points to any individual or group in my part of the country, I shall take the strictest of action in the light of the evidence and in front of the world."

Even as he was giving the interview "live," the TV channels were beaming the confessions of Lashkar terrorist Amjad Amir Kamaal, the lone survivor of the 10-man Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) fidayeen (suicide) squad which sieged Mumbai. Every media outlet in the world has by now carried his "song."


A class four drop out, Amjad Amir Kamaal hails from a small village of Faridkot in the Okara district of Pakistan's Punjab province. Top Lashkar commander Zakir-ur-Rehman allegedly promised to pay his family more than 2,500 Euro for participating in the fidayeen attack.

The sources familiar with the investigation point to the evidence: "There are the records of phone calls made by the fidayeen from a satellite phone, which was recovered after the attacks. These calls were made to LeT operations chief, who is known by code-names Muzammil, Yusuf and Abu Hurrera. Also to Zaki-ur-Rahman, whom the gang addressed as Chachu (Uncle), amongst others. There were at least three calls to 'Amir,' who frantically instructed the militants to take a hostage (at Nariman House) to 'make a point'."

Yusuf talked to his killer squad even during the bloodbath. The Sunday Express, Mumbai, reported (Nov 30) that each conversation lasted two to three minutes and the terrorists were given instructions in "Punjabi Hindi" with heavy use of military terminology. "Use cover fire," "use single burst fire," and "use your rounds sparingly" are some of Yusuf's instructions, for instance.

The sources divulged, "an intercept shows, on Nov 27 morning, when the Taj fight was on, his direction was: "Hotel mein aag laga do. Jab public bhaage gi, tum escape kar lena (burn the hotel down and in the pandemonium, you can escape)."

Calling it another give away proof, the reliable sources within the intelligence point to the GPS device that the Jehadis had used to navigate their way to Mumbai from Karachi's Azizabad is another give away, if President Zardari wants any more tell-tale proof.

There are also several other items, to wet his curiosity, like Namaz cap from a shop with the phone code of Multan, packet of wheat flour from a Karachi shop, an empty diesel can of a petrol filling station with a Karachi address, Made in Pakistan dental gel, medicam, Touchme shaving cream and Nestle milk packet, and Toilet paper packet of Zik brothers, Karachi.


Ahmad Rashid, one of Pakistan's sane voices, and an authority on al-Qaeda and Jihad, sees a pattern between the attack on Indian Parliament and Mumbai icons. In an interview to the Forbes Network 18, he said: "I think the attacks were strategically planned by al-Qaeda through LeT militants they train. It is trying to work out space for itself in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, FATA. If tensions between India and Pakistan escalate, the (Pak) army will be moved to the Indian borders, as happened in 2002. This will buy a few months to al-Qaeda before the new US administration sends 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan."

This "relocation" plan is in the works, Geo News, a private Pak TV reported Nov 29 quoting a briefing of Pakistan's military and intelligence sources to a select group of journalists.

Geo News also reported (Nov 29) the military establishment decided not to send the ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha to India. Only a day earlier President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani promised to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Pasha would visit Delhi as requested by him. Gilani's Press Secretary Zahid Bashir told a news agency: "Initially, Indian Prime Minister made a request to our PM that he should send the ISI chief to help in investigations and further intelligence sharing. The PM of Pakistan responded positively."

Nirupama Subramanian in The Hindu (Nov 30) also attributed the "roll back" to the army. "That there could be a change in the government's decision was evident when the military spokesman distanced the army from the announcement by the Prime Minister's office that ISI chief would go to India," she said in her despatch from Islamabad. The "new" decision was taken at 1.30 am on Saturday Nov 29 at a meeting of the troika – President, PM and army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, according to The Nation of Lahore.

"Our hands are clean," Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference in Islamabad on Nov 29 evening. "We have nothing to hide, we have nothing to be abashed of," he went on to say, and, like President Zardari, asked India to "come up with evidence to take strictest action."


Now that there is clinching evidence with India, and American intelligence, and counter-intelligence officials, as reported by the New York Times, are "convinced of the mounting evidence" of LeT responsibility for the brutal attack on Mumbai, Pakistan must come out of denial mode.

President Zardari must end talking his way out of trouble. And deliver on his promise. Not for avoiding trouble on the borders with India but to assert his authority as the head of the state, and to rein in his country's intelligence agency, ISI, which has been allowed to "go out- of –control" by his predecessors as a matter of deliberate state policy and as an insurance against American pressures.

Even Zardari could not deny it on the CNN Larry King Live show. On the question of the support of the Pakistani intelligence apparatus for militant movements, President said: "In the past, lots of mistakes have been made, I cannot deny that. But the present government does not support any such action."

A historic opportunity for not only Zardari, but also for Pakistan, to undo the past and to undo the designs of Islamists at home and thus abroad tarnishing the image and reputation of Pakistan on the global canvass. Instead Zardari is singing the old favourite song of Pakistani military asking for evidence, then denying it and the show goes on but the question is till when?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lashkar-E-Taiba`s audacious siege of Mumbai

Author: Tejinder Singh,
1 December 2008 - Issue : 810, New Europe

The Indian sub-continent is up in flames again and the alleged hand of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) with the blessings of al Qaeda is there to see in the siege of Mumbai's iconic hotels, the Taj and the Oberoi Trident, and the lone Jewish centre, the Nariman House among other targets.

Operation Black Tornado may have lasted more than forty hours trying to end the siege and to eliminate the dozen or so militants in their twenties but it made crystal clear to what great lengths the alleged LeT operatives and their handlers have gone to plan, coordinate and mount their attack on the symbols of resurgent India in its very financial capital.

Audacity? Yes, in a way.

So far the LeT has been content with IEDs and RDX induced blasts in crowded market places and railway stations to inflict maximum damage and to incite a flare up, though without success between the Hindus and Muslims.


The ongoing interrogation of alleged LeT operative Ismail alias Zakiruallah, a Punjabi from Faridkot in Pakistan, shows that the Murdike, Lahore headquartered outfit with pan-South Asia network and presence in some 18 countries, had fine tuned the Mumbai attack plan over several months.

According to sources familiar with the ongoing investigation, the final go ahead came recently at a conference in Murdike. On the conditions of anonymity, the sources confided that Prof Hafiz Saeed, the LeT founder with direct access to GHQ and to political masters launched a frontal verbal attack on India at the meeting and declared that India ought to be punished for its activities in Afghanistan. Ismail was arrested by the Mumbai police on Nov 26 night during the terror attacks.


The reliable sources told this journalist that Ismail divulged some chilling details of the attack by the hitherto unknown marine wing of the Lashkar –e-Taiba. They have been trained for months at Karachi, he told the police.

Another LeT operative, Ajmal Amir Kamal, who was nabbed as he was injured during the fighting at the Taj hotel, has corroborated Ismail evidence. Two other Pakistani nationals had also been held in the course of intense fighting on Nov 27 and their interrogation shows that at least 12 terrorists reached Mumbai; the key man has been identified as Imran Babbar.

According to details provided by sources close to interrogations, Lashkar operatives left Karachi in a merchant ship early on Wednesday, Nov 26. Late that night, the fidayeen left the ship in an India fishing trawler which was hijacked off Gujarat coast earlier, and rowed some 10 nautical miles to Mumbai's Gateway of India area. Once they reached close to the alighting point near Colaba, where heritage Taj hotel is located, they had lowered themselves into a smaller inflatable boat with a 20 HP engine and split into two groups for their raid.

Based on their interrogation, Mumbai police believe that the fidayeen unit of which Kamal was a part then split up into at least six groups, each focussing on a separate target: Mumbai's Nariman House, which is home to a large number of Israeli families and a Jewish prayer house; the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus rail station; the Cama hospital –a 500-bed hospital specialising in pre and postnatal care, the Girgaum seafront; and the Taj and Oberoi Trident hotels.


Police across Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Kashmir working in close coordination have since traced the LeT plans to do something as daring as attacking Indian stock exchange in Mumbai in February itself. These reports were initially not given much credence though. Now after the Mumbai seize, the February interrogation of Uttar Pradesh resident Fahim Ahmed Ansar is being seen in a fresh light.

Ansari was arrested in February along with seven other suspects. A one-time activist of banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), he became a LeT man during a visit to Dubai in 2003. His front is a small enterprise of making paper-envelopes in Rampur in Uttar Pradesh.

Ansari has confessed to the police that he had carried out reconnaissance operations at the Oberoi Hotel — one of the targets in the Mumbai siege. The idea of strike at the Mumbai hotels and Bombay (Mumbai) stock exchange (BSE) was a sequel to a fidayeen attack on a police camp and training centre at Rampur on December 31, 2007.

Two specially-trained Pakistani nationals - Imran Shehzad from Bhimber in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Mohammad Farooq Bhatti from Gujranwala in Punjab carried out the attack though unsuccessfully. Both are being tried in an Uttar Pradesh court.

The sources told Tejinder Singh that Ansari disclosed that Imran and Bhatti have been asked to undertake the Mumbai mission. "I and my superiors entrusted the task of attacking the stock exchange to them. In all, we formed three assault teams," said he, the sources quoted from his interrogation report.

The Uttar Pradesh police records show Ansari returned to India through Kathmandu in late 2007. He stayed at the Sunlight Guest House in Mumbai from November 28 to December 10 before renting a room off Falkland Road. He became Samir Sheikh to secure a driving license, and enrolled himself as a student in a computer institute near the BSE.

All three BSE assault-team volunteers held Pakistani passports, which they hoped would enable them to escape by catching flights through Nepal. Shehzad carried a passport (number EK5149331), issued on March 14, 2007, while Bhatti used a passport with the number AW3177021, issued a day earlier. Ansari's Pakistani passport, BM 6809341, issued on November 1, 2007, bears the pseudonym Hammad Hassan.

Moreover the sources alleged that these fidayeens, like all other suicide squads of Lashkar-e-Taiba, have received special training to storm the gates of premises using grenades, following it up with indiscriminate assault rifle fire — tactics used with effect at Rampur police camp, and in dozens of similar operations in Jammu and Kashmir.


LeT has been active in India and most dastardly attacks in Indian cities in the past seven-eight years have been traced to LeT, which has re-invented itself in December 2001 to duck the American eyes as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). Global Jihad is the goal of LeT and its parent, MDI and its pamphlets preaching virtues of jihad have been found from Kashmir to Palestine, Chechnya, Kosovo, and Eriteria.

LeT, which is closely aligned with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, has the most extensive network in Pakistan with estimated 2, 200 cells across the country and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Its cells have been discovered in more than 18 countries including US, UK, France and Bangladesh. According to sources in the Afghan intelligence the LeT is facilitating the movement of suicide operatives, fabricating improvised explosive devices, both independently and in conjunction with the Taliban.


Focus on westerners in the Mumbai siege suggests al-Qaeda is pulling strings of the LeT, which is known for its trade mark suicide attacks.

LeT has denied any involvement in the Mumbai siege. It has always denied any role in the fidayeen attacks in India over the past five-six years and has, in fact, been inventing outfits which are neither here nor there, like, for instance, the Indian Mujahideen, and Deccan Mujahideen. This is an ingenious attempt to create more plausible deniability for Islamabad. And also deflect attention of the United States away from its activities and thus avoid more pressure on Islamabad.

LeT's involvement is bound to cloud the US strategy for South Asia, as Jane Perlez says in his despatch from Islamabad to the New York Times on November 28 saying: "Reconciliation between India and Pakistan has emerged as a basic tenet in the approaches to foreign policy of President-elect Barack Obama, and the new leader of Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus. The point is to persuade Pakistan to focus less of its military effort on India, and more on the militants in its lawless tribal regions who are ripping at the soul of Pakistan."Put bluntly, the United States wants Pakistan to move its military's focus away from India to an all-out effort against the Taliban and their associates in Al Qaeda. This is to weaken the militants who are fiercely battling American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.


Hard-liners in and outside the Pakistan army and ISI, which is an extension of army, appear determined to foil the American plan. According to Western defence experts in Brussels, ISI is an agency dominated by officers, particularly in the middle level, and other ranks who subscribe to Islamist hard-line. It acts independent of the political executive with an agenda of its own in entire South Asia, and answerable only to the army headquarters. The agency also undermines the authority of President Asif Zardari, who is willing to reach out to India. He has already called for a visa-free travel between India and Pakistan. How much turf space he has even otherwise is doubtful since his plate is full – what with the meltdown of the economy and Islamists spreading their tentacles across the country.

Stratfor has put the issues in perspective. "The shape of the crisis will consist of demands that the Pakistanis take immediate steps to suppress Islamist radicals across the board, but particularly in Kashmir. New Delhi will demand that this action be immediate and public. This demand will come parallel to US demands for the same actions, and threats by incoming US President Barack Obama to force greater cooperation from Pakistan," it said in a commentary even as the Mumbai events were unfolding in their full terrorist fury.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Journalists denied visas for India after critical reporting

European journalists in Sweden are complaining that Indian diplomats are refusing visas for visits to India to a “blacklist” of journalists who have been identified as writing negative stories about the country. Freelance journalist Ulrika Nandra and a foreign correspondent of the daily newspaper Goteborgs- Posten, Marina Malmgren, are two of the Swedish journalists whose visa applications have been rejected. After journalists were denied visas in the wake of writing critical reports about the country, Reporters Without Borders (reporters sans frontieres - RSF) condemned actions of the Indian embassy in Sweden.

Jesper Bengtsson, chairman of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders said, “in both cases, the rejections appear to be linked to articles they wrote about social problems in India, according to Swedish radio programme, The Media. Journalists are blacklisted if their reports about India are seen as too negative, according to sources quoted by the programme. This has happened to several other Swedish journalists.

This points to a lack of understanding of the basis of press freedom which is deeply worrying. If there is also a blacklist of inconvenient journalists, it is in fact outrageous. It means India has a lot of work to do on respecting press freedom.” Bengtsson told New Europe over the phone, “There was no response to our request to the Indian embassy in Stockholm to clarify the subject but the Swedish foreign ministry has confirmed that they had discussion with (the Indian) embassy in Stockholm,” adding, “still there is no public response (from the Indian embassy).”

Other Indian embassies around the world have also rejected visa applications from journalists, said Vincent Brossel, head of the Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders’ head office in Paris. He confirmed that foreign journalists have also had difficulty returning to India, usually after reporting on sensitive social issues. Reporters Without Borders cited Nandra as saying “I am sincerely shocked that a democracy should tell journalists what to write.”

According to information provided by RSF, Nandra’s problems began in autumn 2007 when she was about to make a second visit to India as a freelance journalist. She submitted a visa application in September but more than one year later had still received no response. Representatives of the media for which Nandra worked, state-run Sveriges Television and daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, held a meeting with the Indian embassy in February 2008 at which the embassy said they were displeased with her reports, including one about the sex trafficking in Bombay and a series of articles about changing gender roles in India, carried by Svenska Dagbladet in the summer of 2007.

“India is going through a sensitive phase at the moment and I think they are nervous that negative reports will frighten potential investors. Also, writing about sexuality is very much a taboo in India. Moreover, there may be expectations of me because I am half-Indian that I should be more loyal to India than other journalists,” Nandra said. Reliable sources had told Nandra that it is uncertain that she will ever be able to return to the country, even on a tourist visa. Apart from working in India as a journalist, Nandra also has relatives there, making the visa rejection a strong personal blow as well.

The SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association, posted the item on its website adding that the SAJA would also like to hear from the Indian embassy in Stockholm about this issue but there was no response to the SAJA or to an email request from Tejinder Singh (a member of SAJA) till going to press. Moreover, as the public service Swedish radio is preparing an investigation about denial of journalist visas by Indian embassies and the undersigned is also interested to investigate further, please do not hesitate to contact the following if you are interested to tell publicly or anonymously your story.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Migrants now under open skies in chilly Brussels

The media frenzy generated in Belgium with major media outlets carrying the story of a dawn raid on a Gurdwara (a worshipping place for Sikhs) obscured the real cause “human smuggling,” behind the police action in Brussels. 

The police found in different houses nearly 200 people who are in Belgium illegally and living in inhuman conditions. In one house in Brussels 24 people were packed into a room of 12 meters-squares, according to Information provided by the government sources.

Culminating an investigation of almost a year, the Belgian authorities had found that a network of traffickers in humans have been operating in Belgium for the past year and a half. Hundreds of illegal immigrants from India and Pakistan have allegedly been smuggled through Belgium into the UK. The investigation into the network started after a couple of human traffickers operating from India were arrested. 

Belgium authorities in keeping with usual practice, released all the detained migrants except marked human smugglers, who were arrested after raids last month by the Belgian federal police on 19 houses in Brussels’s Vilvoorde regions including one gurdwara (Sikh Temple) and Tubize (just outside Brussels).

After taking their finger-prints and delivering a written order to leave the country, the illegals without any legal documents were released within eight to 12 hours after the initial arrests. With the safe houses raided and agents behind bars, the illegals were left to fend for themselves for now.


Catching up with them in many green local parks on the benches under the open skies, Tejinder Singh interviewed dozens of them finding a heart-rendering story of tears, desperation and clinging to survival with hope to move onto greener pastures in United Kingdom. With his hands in his jeans pockets and wearing all the clothes that he owns, Bittu from Indian Northern state of Haryana says in Haryanavi Hindi, “Now I regret leaving home. There was food and shelter there and love of parents.”

The open environs of Brussels parks have equated all and the sad expressions in the eyes say it all as Sukha from neighbouring state of Punjab nods in agreement adding in Punjabi, “These agents are to be blamed. They go and spread all these stories of how the legalisation papers have opened and how it’s very easy to get legal once one lands in England.” Contrary to earlier press reports, some of the migrants have been arrested more than once but released within a few hours after the usual procedure of finger-printing and issuance of written orders to leave the country.


Moreover, there are two ways the migrants are trying to cross into the UK: 

First and more costly one is when the agents on the main land Europe talk to a few drivers who take the risk and take one or two boys ready to pay up to 6000 Euro across the English Channel by hiding them in specially designed cabins around the driver’s cabin. 

The other cheaper method is run by Albanian and Kurdish gangs who scout the highway rest places for trucks and are experts in opening the back of trucks to put migrants in without the knowledge of the resting drivers. These gangs charge anything between 1000 Euro to 2000 Euro on arrival at destination and the illegal migrants talked of the ruthlessness of smugglers in extracting money and professionalism in operating the hide and seek game with the drivers.

After the raids and arrests, Brussels assistant prosecutor Tim de Wolf had told journalists that two of those arrested were “the brains behind the trafficking operations ... They controlled a whole series of little groups. We hope we have broken up the core of the network.”

Kaka from Punjab told this journalist, “The main kingpin called Pahlwan, a jat from Punjab, was arrested a week before the raids and he along with another person named Baja are the master-minds of these operations.” “Pahlwan came to Belgium more than a year ago and is still illegal but operated this clandestine smuggling ring, successfully ferrying thousands across to England,” Kaka added in his Punjabi punctuated with English words.


The migrants, mostly from Punjab, had been brought to Belgium through Moscow, De Wolf said. “We found 24 people crammed inside one windowless room, measuring around 12 sq m,” he said. Most of the migrants, I spoke to have come through the route Delhi (India) - Moscow (Russia) - Kiev (Ukraine) - Slovakia - Italy - Belgium. After arriving in Moscow on visas - about which they hardly want to talk, the migrants were moved by trucks most of the time in connivance of the drivers and agents, they disclosed. For this purpose, the well-organised smuggling rings provide seaman’s book for around Indian Rs 60,000 (about 900 Euro) and the person flies to a port city to join the ship as “crew.”

Sometimes there is no ship and the person is routed along the land routes. And if there is a ship, it is usually the ones operating with not much of sea-worthiness left in them and which transport illegal aliens to somewhere along the thousands of kilometres of unmanned Greek and Italian coastline. In all cases, the passports which have the airport stamps of departure from India and arrival at some transit destination are destroyed by the human smugglers as soon as the person finishes legal part of the journey.


The documents are destroyed to make sure that the authorities cannot tie a person down to the country of his origin and in that case the authorities cannot immediately deport him. They need to establish his nationality, which is a time-consuming process.

Indian embassy in Brussels refused to comment on the fate of the migrants as embassy official R K Goel (First Secretary, Education and Culture with the responsibility to handle media) had told this journalist over the phone, “The ministry (Indian Foreign ministry) is looking into the matter so we can not comment on the subject.”

Resham Singh, President of Gurdwara Guru Nanak Sahib, Vilvorde said, “There should be cooperation and programmes to educate people in Punjab about the futility to take these risks,” adding, “May be European Union and the European governments can cooperate with Punjab and Indian governments to take the message to masses there.”

Sunil Prasad, President of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin said, “One of the main reasons why economic mi gr ants from India want to migrate to UK is because UK is more fri endly than many countries in Europe with respect to giving asylum.”

“Also, because of a large Indian community in UK, it is natural that these immigrants want to come to UK and seek better life,” Prasad, who is also the Secretary General of the Brussels Europe India Chamber of Commerce (EICC) added.

The dream lives on as is evident when speaking to Sucha, who was one of the few lucky ones to survive the clutches of law and order authorities. He shares an unhygienic dwelling with seven more. His eyes sparkle when questioned if he would make a dash to more promising lands. He replies, “I am looking for a good opportunity to go to England or maybe Canada.” (Names changed to hide identities)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New EU countries getting US Visa Waiver Programme

The European Union citizens from more EU countries will be able to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme according to officials in Brussels.

“Beginning Jan. 12, 2009, eligible citizens or nationals from all Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries must obtain approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to traveling to the United States under the VWP, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a November 13 statement. 

According to the US mission to the EU in Brussels, the DHS is scheduled to announce on November 17 its decision to add “seven allies to the list of countries authorized to participate in the VWP.”

The seven countries are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. “We are especially pleased to welcome these allies into the Visa Waiver Program,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “Expanding the number of countries whose citizens can travel to the U.S. without a visa increases business and social ties between our countries and at the same time deepens cooperation on required security measures.”

“Beginning Nov. 17, eligible citizens or nationals from the new VWP countries may travel to the United States under the program provided they have an e-passport and an approved authorization via ESTA, a web-based system that determines the preliminary eligibility of visitors to travel under the VWP prior to boarding a carrier to the United States,” the statement from US mission added..

Commissioner Borg tries to clear murky waters of EU fishing industry

The European Commission proposed today (Nov 14) tougher measures including crackdown on illegal fishing with a penalty point system to restore threatened fish stocks.

Launching the Commission plans, European Fisheries Commissioner told journalists in Brussels, “Control and enforcement should be the cornerstone of the Common Fisheries Policy. Instead it is our Achille's heel,” adding, “the proposed framework we have adopted today will provide effective deterrence, reduce the administrative burden and costs, and ensure we have a system in place which is simple, transparent, and fair.”

Expanding the range of powers of EU inspections, the Commissioner said: “The new control regulation will ensure that inspection activities are no longer almost only focused on operations at sea, where the chances of detecting a breach of the rules are often remote, but are present at every link of the chain - in port, during transport and whilst marketing.”

Calling on all the stakeholders in the sector to give their inputs and then respect the rules, Borg said, “the rules we make are seen to be fair and for the common good,” adding, “we need to ensure that there is a genuine level playing field for all operators.”

Reiterating the importance of the role of member states in the implementation of the rules, Commissioner Borg also proposed, “to give the Commission itself the power it needs to do the job.”

The Commission has pointed that even after spending 400 million Euro a year on fishing controls, there is no reliable data on fish catches. Commissioner Borg told journalists, “without accurate data on catches and landings, the very scientific advice on which we depend becomes unreliable.”

Under the new tough system, the holders of fishing permits face losing their basic right to fish if suspended for six and then 12 months. The point system will govern EU vessels even outside EU waters and non-EU vessels in EU waters and it will be applicable to the fishing vessel, and to the crew's master and officers.

Expanding the present system of “only own country” inspections, Borg proposals will give power to each EU country to inspect other country vessels, if or when needed.

The points register will be maintained in the vessel’s flag country with the EU countries asked for mandatory inspection of fish landings, processing, transport and marketing, as well as to monitor criteria such as a vessel's fishing capacity and its engine power.
Toughening the stand against lenient EU countries, the Commission threatened to cut or suspend the EU subsidies, cut quotas or in an extreme case forbidding fishing in the EU waters, Commissioner Borg said.

The Commissioner concluded, “Control is not the solution to all fisheries management problems. But there can be no sustainable fisheries, without a fair, effective and transparent control system.” The proposals still await agreement from fisheries ministers from all 27 member states.

European Parliament launches voice for Sikh causes

Liz Lynne, British member of European Parliament today (November 10) launched the All- Party Sikh Interest Group in the European Parliament amid controversy of whether to allow “Kirpan” (small dagger) wearing Sikhs to access the main parliament building.
In a press statement, the European Parliamentarian said, “This new Parliamentary group is intended to look in particular at how Sikhs are treated within Europe. Unfortunately it would seem that we do not have to go very far to find examples of the discrimination that many Sikh’s face everyday.”
MEP Lynne, who is also a member of the European Parliament’s Sub- Committee on Human Rights said, “I am deeply disappointed that the European Parliamentary authorities refuse to recognise the right of Sikh people to wear the Kirpan. The Kirpan is not a weapon, it is a religious symbol. This is not a question of security but one of religious freedom.”

Citing the case of United Kingdom, one of the 27 member states of the European Union, MEP said, “In the UK the right to wear the Kirpan is enshrined in law. This includes allowing Sikh’s wearing the Kirpan to enter the Palace of Westminster. Therefore I do not see why the rules should be different in the European Parliament.”  
MEP Lynne, whose initiative it was to launch the new interest group lamented that they had hoped to hold the first meeting within the parliament but parliamentary authorities refused to allow Sikh members entry, adding, "I very much hope that now we have this all party interest group on Sikh issues that a number of problems facing this community across the EU can be addressed."
This is the third time that leading Sikhs have been denied entry to the Parliament due to wearing the ceremonial Kirpan (the dagger).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Court of Auditors have hiccups as EU budget shadows lengthen

Time is running out for the European Commission’s vice-president Siim Kallas, responsible for administration, audit and fight against fraud, as the Commissioner had sworn to get the EU accounts a clean bill of health by the time the Commission’s mandate ended in 2009.

Presenting the report to the Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament, the European Court of Auditors said on Monday (Nov 10) that although the accounts themselves have been approved without qualification, the same cannot be said of the "transactions underlying the accounts." The Court said that for the 14th year in a row it was not able to issue a "statement of assurance" that the EU money had been spent well and according to the rules in all policy areas.

The damaging report provided an indication of things to come as the budget moved through the labyrinth of the EU decision making process. The auditors concluded the accounts were a “fair presentation” of the Commission’s financial position but added there were unacceptable spending errors in all but two of the seven policy areas covered under the 114 billion Euro EU budget.

Commissioner Kallas said in a statement: “The Commission welcomes the auditors' constructive analysis and will continue efforts to improve its financial management to address the weaknesses identified. I do hope the report will also mobilise member states to do their job better so that errors on the ground are prevented and corrected.”


On the other hand, financial experts and political pundits went down the memory lane to express sympathy for the former chief accountant Marta Andreasen, sacked by Kallas’ predecessor British Commissioner Neil Kinnock for going public with the Commission’s lax accounting in 2002.

Last week the Commission statement called the report, “a clean bill of health,” adding, “the Court also found that the majority of EU payments it checked were regular, though errors were still too frequent in some areas, particularly in spending on EU regions and to boost employment (cohesion policy), where grants are managed by national authorities.”


EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Danita Hubner said her department which covers structural and cohesion funds, had reclaimed 843 million Euro in irregular payments this year, with 1.5 billion Euro more in the pipeline for recovery.

Commenting on the audit report, Hubner said, “Errors do not mean fraud. When the Court and the Commission's auditors talk about errors, they mean non-compliance with conditions for receiving EU funds. Where there are problems, in 99 percent of cases they are the result of errors which can be fixed and not a result of fraud,” adding, “and in all cases, the Commission always takes action to recover funds which have been misused.”

Citing that the report had found “the highest rates of error in structural funds, which are managed by the member states,” Commissioner Kallas said, “the Commission shall not hesitate to take a tough stance and suspend payments until all member states implement adequate corrective measures. And where errors have financial impact, we shall recover the money.”

Some examples are not only simple but glaring in nature as found in the Puglia region of southern Italy, certified organic olives were found to be growing in a waste dumpy while the owners of a charitable horse-riding school received 400,000 Euro in EU funds from the Lombardy region of Italy by providing inflated numbers.


Court of Auditors President Vítor Manuel Da Silva Caldeira told European Parliament’s Budget Control Committee that the Court is not a judicial authority and can only notify others, i.e. the EU fraud-fighting office OLAF, when it finds clear indications of possible fraud. This year, the Court had done so nine times. He also stressed that 80 percent of the EU budget is managed at the final beneficiary level by the member states.
Asked for suggestions to improve the situation, Caldeira advocated more on-the-spot checks, although it should be considered, he added, whether the cost of making such checks would outweigh the benefits. The budgetary authority - Parliament and the Council - should take a political decision on what would be a level of "appropriate tolerable risk.” Caldeira also called for a simplification of the regulatory framework.


Conservative budgetary control spokesman in Brussels, James Elles MEP, said the ongoing inability for national governments to take urgent and rigorous action to achieve a clean opinion from the Court of Auditors is unacceptable, and the European Commission should now 'name and shame' those countries failing to live up to their commitments.
Chris Davies MEP, a Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament’s Budget Control Committee, commented: "This report is very disappointing for the European Union, but we shouldn't forget that national governments are responsible for 80% of EU spending ... The public will again assume that fraud is widespread and the Brussels bureaucracy incompetent but in fact the EU administration is now subjected to greater scrutiny than that of any government in Europe." 


Although the European Union last year paid out six billion Euro wrongfully, in the highest ever overclaims being reviewed by the European Court of Auditors, there were also some positive points to cheer for like expenditure on administration and for economic and financial affairs (enterprise, internal market, etc.) got a clean bill of health, as did the revenue side of the EU budget. There were improvements in internal policies and external actions, though not enough to affect the overall judgement.

However, the Court of Auditors was unable to state whether the EU accounts were clean for ''most spending areas.'' ''The court still finds that payments made to financial beneficiaries, such as farmers and project promoters running EU-funded projects, have a too high level of error,'' they said.

The Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament will now proceed to have a series of hearings of Commissioners while the final vote on the 2007 discharge is scheduled to take place at the April 2009 plenary session of the Parliament.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Afghanistan set to benefit from Obamania in Europe

Afghanistan will stay on top of the list of priorities of US President-elect Barack Obama as he taps into the post-US election euphoria in Europe, reaching out to grass root level European sentiments to coax Europe to do more to help defeat the Afghanistan insurgency, political pundits observed in Brussels last week.

David Ignatius, associate editor and columnist for the Washington Post said, “Obama has to deliver on his promise to end war in Iraq along with, to move early on Arab-Israeli conflict so as not to lose momentum,” adding, “intensity of enthusiasm of Obama supporters can be tapped into to get much needed support for Afghanistan policies.”

Addressing a select audience of journalists, diplomats and civil society representatives, Ignatius said, “The essence of Obama’s style is that he is Mr. Cool to an unusual level and is not yet knocked off from center point ... I have never seen a campaign better run than this one.”

“Depending on the recommendations of US General (David) Petraeus coming later, I have the impression from Obama’s advisors at this moment that the policy will be go for a surge and then negotiations,” Ignatius told an event titled, “Transatlantic Relations after the US elections: What now?” organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States on November 7 in Brussels.


On relations with militants and Iran, he said, “Saudi Arabia is trying to meditate with Taliban and it seem there will be talks with reconcilable elements of Taliban. There can also be broad dialogue with Iran but on the assumption that Iran may not be ready for yes yet,” adding, “Obama has an unusually gifted sense of timing.”

Warning, “The clock is ticking,” Ignatius asked Europeans to be prepared to impose tough sanctions if diplomatic efforts fail, saying, “We need to make tougher sanctions - much to what really hurts.”

Citing the upcoming “renewal of NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty),” Robert Cooper, Director General for External and Politico-Military Affairs at the Council of the European Union said, “If we wish to maintain it, its not just about dealing with Iran but its also about providing all countries with nuclear options for peaceful uses.”


“With Russia and China,” there is a “need to have a fundamental relationship,” Ignatius stressed.

Cooper called the events in Georgia, “a profound shock,” saying, “that changed the context of relations with Russia.” He, however, ruled out the military solutions saying, “solutions to problems are always political and that involves talking to people.”


On the issue of fight against climate change the speakers agreed that the US will be able to take the lead as the recent falling apart of the EU consensus on the issue was pointed out.

In a lighter tone, Cooper said, “Europe is always divided on something then agrees and then gets divided on something else but in Europe being divided means Europe is in the process of making a decision.”

Ignatius pointed at the “intensity of enthusiasm of young supporters of Obama,” with their passion and suggested that this can be involved both in the US and Europe,” along with Asian giants China and India, to address the climate change on a global scale.

Commission announces plans for sale of Polish shipyards

European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes today (Nov 6) announced plans for sale of the Polish yards saying, "Clearly, today's decision is not the one which the shipyard workers would have liked. This is without a doubt one of the hardest proposals to the Commission that I have had to make as Competition Commissioner."

Blaming the Polish authorities for the present state of affairs the competition commissioner said, "The sad reality is that the very large subsidies received were consistently used for day to day operations, to keep the yards going in the short term rather than invested to make the yards viable in the long term," adding, "...even though shipbuilding has been booming worldwide and prices for new ships rising, the yards in Gdynia and Szczecin were still making a loss on every ship they produced."

"In particular, despite further large amounts of state aid and substantial job losses, the plans would not ensure the yards' commercial viability," the Commissioner lamented.

Asked if she will go to Poland to fulfill the promise of delivering the plans to the Polish shipyard workers in person, Commissioner told journalists, "I am planning to go to Poland and visit three shipyards as soon as possible (to present the plans as promised by me)," adding, "It will be in early December but earlier the better."


Outlining the sale procedures, the Commissioner said, "The assets have to be sold at market price to the highest bidder. The tenders must be non-discriminatory, ensuring access to all types of potential buyers, irrespective of the purpose of their investment. No conditions can be attached to the tenders (for example, a requirement that a bidder purchases all the assets of a given yard)."

"The sole award criterion for the selection of the winning bid will be revenue maximisation for the benefit of the yard's creditors," said the Commissioner adding that investment companies and real estate developers will also be allowed to bid in these tenders.


Trying to sooth the frayed nerves of shipyard workers, Commissioner Kroes told journalists, "The Commission can help workers at these yards to find alternative employment. My colleagues Commissioners Vladimir Spidla and Danuta Huebner have offered assistance in devising flanking measures under existing EU programmes to find solutions for the shipyards' workers and these regions that will help them through the potentially difficult times ahead."


Regarding the Gdansk shipyard, the Commissioner said, "we have not yet taken a decision. Gdansk is in a slightly different situation than the two other yards because it is smaller, it is already privatised and the level of subsidies received is considerably lower than in the case of Gdynia and Szczecin. Moreover, the new owner has already invested considerable sums in the Gdansk yard."

Throwing the ball back into the court of Warsaw, Kroes said, "The Polish authorities now have an opportunity to submit a restructuring plan for Gdansk alone for the Commission to examine."


Since 2002, Gdynia Shipyard benefited from various aid measures (in particular capital injections, loans and tax write-offs) amounting to 700 million Euro and from production guarantees of 916 million Euro, the Commission stated, adding, "Szczecin Shipyard received aid of one billion Euro as well as production guarantees of 697 million Euro."

The Commission concluded, "the decisions require that Poland recovers from the yards all state aid unlawfully granted since May 2004."

Adding his voice to the decision, Commission President José Manuel Barroso said in a statement, "We have worked long and hard to find a solution that is fair and sustainable. For the workers and businesses in Poland, but also for people working and doing business elsewhere. The solution that we have agreed with the Polish authorities offers the best possible prospects for future jobs and viable activities at these historic sites."


Comparing the decision with the approvals that the Commission has given to rescue aid in the banking sector, the Commissioner said, "we have been authorising rescue aid for banks whose failure could have had catastrophic knock-on effects on Member States' financial sectors, and in turn Member States' economies as a whole, potentially harming seriously every citizen and every business in Europe."

"The rescue aid for banks has been authorised for relatively short periods. If the banks concerned receive aid going beyond pure rescue, they too will have to undergo restructuring to restore their viability, just as the shipyards were supposed to do," Kroes, the competition Commissioner concluded.

Opportunity to air opinions on state funding for public service broadcasting

The European Commission today (Nov 4) opened public consultations on a draft Communication laying down the rules that it intends to apply to state funding of public service broadcasting.

Announcing the proposals, Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement: "I am pleased to submit the draft Broadcasting Communication for public consultation. My goal is to help stakeholders in the broadcasting sector to meet the challenges of the new media environment, allowing a high quality and modern public service, while at the same time maintaining a fair level playing field between the different actors."

Putting the deadline of submissions at January 15, 2009, the Commission invited member states and stakeholders to submit their views on the proposed text, listing the key issues for discussion as, "more flexibility for public broadcasters to meet the challenges of the new media environment, the principles underpinning the definition of the public service remit by the member states as well as supervision of public service activities at national level."

On the basis of the comments received, the Commission is expected to adopt a modernised Broadcasting Communication in the first half of 2009.

According to the submitted draft there would be "increased flexibility for public service broadcasters to build up reserves to help them deliver on their public service mission and to withstand cost fluctuations." "At the same time, the suggested rules would require reinforced control mechanisms at the national level to avoid overcompensation and cross-subsidisation of commercial activities," the draft added.

Citing that the media sector is an important area for the Commission's state aid policy, the Commission stated, "Public broadcasters receive more than 22 billion Euro annually from license fees or direct government aid, placing them third, after agriculture and transport companies, among recipients of state aid."

Based on an earlier public consultation between January and March 2008, on the general principles of the Broadcasting Communication, Commissioner Kroes announced in July her intention to modernise the current Communication, which dates back to 2001.

Commission proposals outline raw material policy

The European Commission today (Nov 4) launched a "long term sustained" approach to make sure that the raw material supplies to Europe do not suffer for different reasons.

Stressing that the EU industrial sector is facing a decline in the global supply of raw materials, Gunter Verheugen, the European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry said, "We must act, to ensure that access to raw materials for enterprises will not be hampered. We need fair play on external markets, a good framework to foster sustainable raw materials supply from EU sources as well as improved resource efficiency and more use of recycling."

Presenting the proposals to journalists in Brussels, Verheugen, Vice President of the European Commission said, "It is our aim to make sure that Europe's industry will be able to continue to play a leading role in new technologies and innovation."

Talking to New Europe later after the press conference, Commissioner Verheugen said, "I stressed integrated approach from the beginning. As the there are two groups of the European Commission involved: External Relations group and Competitive group, we will need co-ordination structure."

Commissioner further said, "As the instruments needed to are not in my hands, there is a strong support I have from the other commissioners on the subject."

"I have agreed with my colleagues, notably Cathy Ashton, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Louis Michel and Stavros Dimas, to closely cooperate to implement the proposed strategy," Verheugen earlier told the press conference.

In his presentations, Commissioner Verheugen said, "Americans and Japanese have a stockpiling policy," adding that the Europeans, who lack such a policy, will have to develop it over the coming years. "We are committed to improve the conditions of access to raw materials, be it within Europe or by creating a level playing field in accessing such materials from abroad," the Commissioner said.

Moreover, the importance of recycling got due attention as the Commission said, "Recycling presents a huge opportunity to reduce import dependency for raw materials," lamenting that many end-of-life products are "illegally shipped outside the EU and are hence not recycled within the EU."

Outlining the three major pillars for its policy development, the Commission listed:

"Access to raw materials on world markets at undistorted conditions;

The right framework to foster sustainable supply of raw materials from EU sources;

Increase resource efficiency and promoting recycling in the EU."

Earlier presentation by the Commission of a "European strategy for the sustainable use of natural resources" had met with strong criticism in the European parliament and now the Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has the mandate from the Competitiveness Council of the EU to develop a "coherent political approach" to address the raw material problems in different sectors.

EU leaders call for international financial reform

By Tejinder Singh

Brussels, Nov 8 (IANS) European Union leaders have agreed that next week's emergency summit in Washington must lead to a reformed international financial system, declaring: "We cannot fail'.

Meeting ahead of the Nov 15 summit, leaders of the 27-nation EU agreed to "defend the common vision for restructuring the financial system", French President Nicolas Sarkozy, current holder of the rotating EU Presidency, told journalists.

Leaders of 20 of the world's richest nations and biggest emerging economies, including India, are set to attend the summit in Washington DC to discuss how to prevent a financial crisis happening again.

Addressing a joint press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso Friday, Sarkozy said: 'We should be able to come up with answers to the crisis. The international summit must pave the way for reform of the international financial system."

Barroso added: 'We cannot fail. It has to be a historic meeting."

"Apart from financial issues, global challenges also should be integrated,' he said, listing them as food shortages, the fight against poverty, climate change, and the relaunch of Doha Round of world trade negotiations.

'We have to look beyond the financial crisis, to the economic crisis. We need specific measures to cope with the slowdown and maintain growth and employment,' Barroso said.

The EU leaders agreed to four guiding principles:

- No financial institution, market segment and/or jurisdiction must escape proportionate and adequate regulation or at least supervision;

- The new international financial system must be based on principles of accountability and transparency;

- The new international financial system must allow risks to be assessed so as to prevent crises;

- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) must be given a central role in a more efficient financial architecture.

Sarkozy said he had discussed the summit with US President-elect Barack Obama Thursday, when he apprised him of European leaders' view that since the transition in the US government will take time there needs to be a strong follow-up.

EU leaders say a period of 100 days starting Nov 15 'should be used for drawing up measures to implement the principles' before holding a follow-up summit.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama loses grandmother on the eve of elections

Madelyn Dunham, grandmother of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, died today after a battle with cancer. She was 86.

Dunham, who lived in Hawaii, died on the eve of an election in which her grandson was leading in the race to become president.

"She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility," Obama said in a statement released by his campaign. "She was proud of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and left this world with the knowledge that her impact on all of us was meaningful and enduring."

Obama flew to Hawaii for two days in the final stretch of the campaign to be with the woman he called "Toot," short for "tutu," the Hawaiian word for grandmother. He has credited her with his success in life, saying she "poured everything she had into me."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Gurdwara raid casts shadow on Belgian king's visit to India

By Tejinder Singh

Brussels, Nov 2 (IANS) King Albert II of Belgium arrives in India on a nine-day visit Monday amid a row in his country over a raid on a gurdwara by police seeking to bust an illegal immigration racket.

The Belgian monarch, accompanied by Queen Paola, leads a high-powered delegation, including Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, top business leaders and academics.

The royal visit comes shortly after police raids last month on 19 properties, including a gurdwara, in the Brussels suburbs of Vilvorde and Tubize in connection with an investigation into an illegal immigration racket.

The 5,000-6,000-strong Sikh community in Belgium expressed outrage at the raid on the Vilvorde gurdwara, alleging police went in with their shoes on and forced a priest to stop the continual recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib held to mark 300 years of the Sikh holy book.

Mejindarpal Kaur, legal director of United Sikhs, an international coalition of organisations and individuals, told IANS: 'United Sikhs is writing to the Belgian prime minister, seeking a full investigation of the incident, an apology from Belgian police and changes to the police procedures when handling places of worship of all communities.'

Avtaar Singh, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) in Amritsar, has written to the United Sikhs extending his support.

'The Belgian government should seek an explanation and apology from the police department for the action inside the gurdwara. I will write a memorandum to the Indian prime minister and the government of Belgium to investigate the police action in the gurdwara when the 300 years celebrations were going on in Belgium,' he wrote.

Said Resham Singh, president of the Vilvorde gurdwara: 'Our gurdwara is a place of worship open to all. We do not inquire about the immigration status of the people coming to worship at the gurdwara.'

He added: 'Every year on Nov 11, at Ypres (Belgium), we participate in the commemorations for the 35,000 Sikhs who shed their blood here during the two World Wars. How can you expect us to understand the way the police has treated us?'

Ines Wouters, a Brussels-based lawyer who is investigating the matter on behalf of the United Sikhs, said: 'The same result could have been reached in a different way by respecting the feelings and dignity of the Sikh community. A society which does not respect religious belief and sensitivity is losing its fundamental values.'

The Indian embassy in Brussels refused to comment on the incident.

'The (external affairs) ministry in New Delhi is looking into the matter, so we cannot comment on the subject,' embassy spokesman R.K. Goel told IANS.

The mayor of Vilvorde, accompanied by the local police chief and other officials, has visited the gurdwara to meet the management.

The Oct 18 dawn raids led to the arrest of 18 people from properties other than the gurdwara. Police also found 200 illegal Indian immigrants, mostly Punjabis, who were being hidden in safe houses on their way to Britain.

Assistant prosecutor Tim de Wolf told journalists that two of those arrested were 'the brains behind the trafficking operations... They controlled a whole series of little groups. We hope we have broken up the core of the network'.

Friday, October 31, 2008

MEP in Seoul predicts EU Trade Agreement possible in 2008

South Korea and the European Union are ready to sign the free trade agreement (FTA) according to visiting European lawmakers in Seoul. The Chairman of the European Parliament's Korea delegation, Austrian conservative Member of European Parliamnet (MEP) Hubert Pirker said in a statement from Seoul, “The trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea is practically ready for signing.”

After a range of meetings in Seoul, Pirker said, “In our meetings and negotiations with the South Korean Prime Minister, the ministers for foreign affairs and trade as well as with the responsible Korean negotiators for the trade agreement, we were able to come to an agreement on concluding the negotiations. Some fine points will have to be ironed out over the next month, but I expect a final agreement ready for signature before the end of this year.”

The statement from the MEP came as a surprise to business observers in Seoul and Brussels as during the FTA talks in August, South Korean Trade Ministry sources had hinted at differences on those “sticky issues,” while EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero told New Europe on August 30 in Seoul, “We had a very fruitful discussion and we agreed to continue talks.”

South Korean Deputy Trade Minister Hye-min Lee and Deputy chief negotiator in August told New Europe about the “sticky” issues and expectations on both sides, lamenting, “On the services sector, the EU expects we should give more than what we have given to the US - but when we negotiated with the US - we already had EU FTA in mind.” “What we have agreed with the US is not just for the US but also for the EU. The Europeans are asking for more than that which is very difficult,” he said. “We will be obliged to change our regulations but European will not change anything while Europeans are set to gain from the FTA,” the Korean negotiator added.

According to business sources speaking to New Europe the EU had during talks in August flatly rejected the demand of South Korea with a booming auto-industry, to drop tariffs on South Korean cars within three years after the bilateral talks take effect.

Another major obstacle to the FTA negotiations is the legal sector as Doo-Sik Kim, an international trade lawyer told journalists at a lunch organised by the Korea Press Foundation on August 25. Addressing the fear of Korean legal sector about the take-over and expansion of the European law firms in the Korean market, Kim said it was one of the least highlighted subjects but there is a strong opposition from the concerned lawyer lobbies.

After meeting with Korean Prime Minister Dr. Han Seung-soo and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Kim Hyeong-o, responsible for the ratification of the agreement, all involved ministers of President Lee Myung-bak's government, Pirker, “In view of the international financial crisis and the regional and global security implications, this visit of the EU delegation is of high importance, also in the eyes of our South Korean counterparts.”

The EU is South Korea’s second largest trade partner after China. In 2007, the bilateral trade volume between South Korea and the EU amounted to USD 89.8 billion.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

EU sets out ambitious plans to tackle financial crisis

The European Commission announced on Wednesday (October 29) it will outline late November an economic recovery plan for the European Union to guide it from the present “financial crisis” to the “sustainable development” to avoid the prospect of recession.

“We will bring forward on November 26, a comprehensive EU recovery plan, based on the framework we have approved today,” Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told journalists, adding, “that recovery plan will include targeted short-term actions to add to the medium-term reform agenda.”

Outlining a four-pronged framework as the basis of the plan, Barroso highlighted pragmatic measures to help families and households across Europe, coordination and solidarity among member states, full use of flexibility allowed by EU rules and global governance.


"Our top priority is to minimise the impact on jobs, purchasing power and prosperity of our citizens," he said. “We must keep unemployment to the absolute minimum and support those who have lost their jobs," Barroso added.

In a commission communication relating to the financial crisis, released after the press conference, the Commission stressed the need for social solidarity, saying that households and employees need to be cushioned from the full effects of the economic downturn.

The communication stated the chances for reviewing the terms for releasing money from the European Social Fund, which aims to provide educational opportunities and improve job skills, and review the effectiveness of the Global Adjustment Fund, which was established in 2007 to help workers laid off by companies that have moved their operations outside Europe.

Addressing a joint press conference with Barroso, European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said, “We are now facing not only a financial crisis but a serious slowdown in our economies that is hitting households, businesses and jobs.”


Calling on member states to use flexibility provided in European fiscal rules in the case of sharp slowdowns, Almunia said, “They should use the room for manoeuvre they have to cushion the impact," adding, “we have red lines, we cannot put an excessive burden on the next generation.”

Almunia said: "Given that inflationary pressures are now easing, monetary and fiscal policy can contribute to supporting demand ... member states can now use the room for maneuver they have created.”

Almunia insisted that the Stability and Growth Pact is the appropriate policy framework for the EU, adding that in case of extra-ordinary condition like present, the pact will be interpreted flexibly, allowing budget deficits to exceed three percent of gross domestic production provided the deviation is small and temporary.

“The pact is about peer support in a difficult situation as the one we are living in and not only about peer pressure,” he said.

Echoing Almunia, Barroso said EU countries should use to its full potential the flexibility that exists within the EU fiscal discipline, as well as within the competition, state aids and internal market rules.

Warning, “We need to swim together or else we will sink together,” Barroso also acknowledged that the member states held the "main instruments" for reviving growth and not the European Union adding, “Europe must confront the economic downturn with the same robust and coordinated approach we have taken on the financial crisis.”

Commission President Barroso, however, cautioned against using the financial crisis to bring in protectionism saying, “Trade barriers shut out prosperity and open the gates instead to short-term, economic populism. So yes to pro-activism, but no to protectionism.”


Barroso and Almunia also urged the member states to look at the possibility of strengthening supranational financial institutions. Barroso said governments should also consider giving more money to the European Investment Bank that could direct funding to infrastructure projects or provide loans for small businesses hit by the credit crunch.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) could also receive more capital. The commission communication stated, “The EBRD has been playing a key role in financial sector reform and in financing the private sector in our newer member states. In the current financing environment its activities in these countries could be strengthened.


In the spirit of solidarity, EU governments agreed late Tuesday (October 28) to lend Hungary 6.5 billion Euro in a joint bid with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help the country deal with the financial crisis.

Barroso said the EU stands ready to provide substantial medium-term financial assistance to other member states experiencing balance of payments pressures or serious financial stability risks saying, “we need to be prudent but also vigilant.”

Amid fears that several new EU member states and other countries might eventually need assistance, Commissioner Almunia confirmed that no other country has asked for a rescue package similar to one provided to Hungary.

Hinting at the crisis-situation in Ukraine and others, Commission President Barroso said, “neighbours are under stress but EU institutions are ready to provide.”


Barroso promised EU support to improve cooperation and coherence at international level saying, “When you have global interdependence, you need global governance.”

Commenting on the Summit of Group of 20 in Washington on November 15 to reform the global financial system, Barroso said the summit must deliver the first results so as to rebuild a climate of confidence, which is part of the solution to the current crisis.

Urging China to be part of the solution, Barroso said, “China has been benefiting from this globalisation and has made big financial reserves and its time to show that they can help in this time of crisis.”

Barroso called on the IMF to be prepared to intervene with emergency financing as there were signs that the crisis is spreading to emerging markets. China and the Gulf countries could do more to help the IMF support countries hit by the financial crisis, Barroso said adding, “The idea put forward by (British) Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and I completely agree with him, is that China and others could help more the IMF ... Not only China but also the Gulf countries could maybe give a concrete demonstration of their sense of responsibility.”

On the subject of overhaul of the relevant financial institutions, the commission communication stated, “Europe is well placed to play an active role in designing the new global architecture and making it work effectively,” based on key principles of efficiency, transparency plus accountability and representation.

Commenting on the plunging stock markets even with the pumping of liquidity in the banking system, Barroso blamed it on lack of confidence in the economy, Barroso said, “People are expecting the negative effects on the so-called real economy and that's why it's important ... that we are acting in a coordinated way to address the problems of the real economy.” Barroso sounded positive as he declared, “Europe will come through this financial storm and will emerge stronger.”

Almunia said that he had made a proposal to raise the maximum EU aid to member states facing financing troubles to 25 billion Euro as according to a 2002 rule, the EU can provide up to 12 billion Euro in total financial assistance to member states that do not use the Euro when they run into a balance of payments crisis.

"We sent to the council (of member states) proposals for increasing this ceiling to 25 billion Euro," Almunia told journalists. EU officials later said that it will be on the agenda of the meeting of the EU finance ministers on Tuesday (November 4) in Brussels.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

European leaders to meet ahead of financial summit

European leaders are set to gather in Brussels Nov 7 to try and agree to a consensus ahead of a global financial summit to address reforms to international financial institutions.

France, which holds the rotating European Union presidency this year, said in a brief statement Friday that the informal meeting of EU heads of state and government will prepare the EU's 27 member-states for an upcoming financial summit Nov 15 in Washington on the global financial crisis.

The summit was announced by the White House after a meeting last weekend between US President George W. Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

The White House said President Bush would host leaders of 20 of the world's richest nations and biggest emerging economies, including India and China.

At an emergency EU Summit Oct 15-16 here, EU leaders had agreed that a massive overhaul of the world's financial system is needed to prevent another financial crisis and asked Sarkozy and Barroso to hold further discussions with the US administration.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, however, failed to answer questions from journalists over what preparations were in place for the Nov 7 summit.

Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said European Commission members are to meet Oct 29 to prepare for the upcoming global summit in the US.

The US-hosted talks are expected to draw leaders from the Group of 20: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, Britain, the US, and the European Union.

European managers learn 'good guanxi' in China

The European Union (EU) has teamed up with China in a two-way partnership for training professionals and managers. The programme offers high-level training for EU managers and professionals interested in gaining China expertise, as well as Chinese managers with an ambition to train in Europe.

According to a survey published recently by the human resource consultancy Hewitt Associates, 55 percent of corporations with a presence in China plan to hire new staff in 2008.

For the EU-based companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the EU-China Managers Exchange and Training Programme (METP), financed by the EU and China, offers the possibility to train their employees to become qualified experts in the Chinese market.

Stefan Hell, team leader in Beijing said: 'Despite the strong coverage China has received through the Beijing Olympics, the country and its business culture remain unknown to most European managers.'

"To be successful in China, one needs a profound knowledge of economy, culture and business ethics. And this is what METP offers applicants. At the same time, the programme functions as a platform where Europeans and Chinese meet and build long-term relationships - the basic foundation for successful business in China,' he added.

Julius Daujotas from Lithuania, who has already travelled to China and participated in the programme, told IANS: 'The company I am working for (Umega AB) manufactures heating equipment for industrial and laboratory purposes. Mainly it's heating furnaces up to 1,800 degrees Celcius.'

'Our company is selling quite a lot in Asian markets, for example Pakistan, India, Indonesia, but the Chinese market was still unexplored for us. So, one of the main objectives was to enter China with our production. To do that is a lot easier when you are able to speak Chinese, when you are familiar with local traditions and customs,' Daujotas explained.

'During the cultural training, we had a chance to meet each other more closely. For doing business in China, to have good 'guanxi' (relations) is very important,' he said.

'The most interesting experience during my stay was seeing the bargaining in markets - and the way salesmen try to attract your attention. Initially I was shocked, but then I understood the way of doing this and it became fun. Also it's a really good practice for your Chinese language,' Daujotas added.