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‘Modi’, ‘Barack’ chatted like old friends

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New Delhi:  The friendly warmth and camaraderie between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama was on full display Monday as the two chatted and laughed like old friends over a two-hour period while watching India’s Republic Day parade and pageantry.

A day after the two leaders – one the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy and the other the president of the world’s oldest democracy – got down to referring to each other in first person terms – “Barack” and “Modi” respectively – their easy friendship was visible for the world to see.

Amid a steady drizzle that at times almost threatened to spoil the celebration of India’s military might, cultural diversity and technological prowess, Modi was seen carrying on a steady conversation with Obama, explaining to him the different facets of the Republic Day parade as it marched down Rajpath.

The two leaders chatted, mostly without the help of an interpreter, who was seated within the bullet proof enclosure. Within the enclosure was also President Pranab Mukherjee, US president’s wife Michelle Obama, Vice President Hamid Ansari and his wife Salma.

Modi, whose sartorial vibrancy was also remarked on by Obama, was attired in a dark bandhgala and topped with a colourful tricolour Rajasthani turban. Modi is known to pay special attention to his attire and has become known for changing his dress for different occasions.

On Sunday, during the presidential banquet, Obama had complimented Modi’s dressing style and said “Tonight I was thinking about wearing a Modi kurta myself” – a reference to the popularity that Modi has brought to the kurta, matched with differently coloured sleeveless jackets.

While Obama was wearing a formal dark grey suit, with a lavender coloured tie, Modi topped his attire by donning a pair of stylish shades.

Michelle was seen chatting with Salma Ansari, but mostly kept quiet and watched the proceedings.

In the initial moments of the parade, when the tanks, missiles and armoured cars were wheeled on Rajpath, Obama looked on with interest, and continued to look interested in the long march past by different wings of India’s armed forces.

Towards the end of the march past, when the mounted floats from different states and the folk dancers came in a steady stream to showcase their cultural splendour, the attention of the US president appeared to flag.

But his companion, in Modi, kept up a lively chatter – explaining each bit with an expressive show of his hands.

Ironically, many of the showpieces exhibited at the parade are of Russian vintage – an indication of India’s reliance on an old ally for its important weaponry and armaments.

Among the exhibits were the BrahMos, the world’s fastest short range ramjet supersonic cruise missile, jointly developed by India and Russia. The T-90 Tank, Bhishma, was also exhibited. It is originally a Russian third-generation main battle tank and a mainstay of the military. The Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters from Russia swooped down on the sky towards the finale.

Obama did get to see some of the US-made acquisitions of India – the Indian Air Force’s C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III – that flew down at low level formation over the Rajpath.

The daredevil motorbike stunts by men of the Border Security Force had the US president and his wife visibly interested and both clapped with enthusiasm.

On Sunday, Modi and Obama had taken a stroll in the lawns of Hyderabad House and chatted over tea — in informal talks without aides, in what was called a “Chai pe Charcha” moment.

The talks Sunday also saw the two sides announce clinching of the agreement for implementation of the civil nuclear agreement, a major highpoint in India-US ties and the elevation of the bilateral relationship with a new India-US Delhi Declaration of Friendship.

The successful holding of the Republic Day parade, which marks perhaps the longest period of time that the US president has spent in the open in any country, went off without a hitch — marking a high point for the security detail put in place for the VVIP guest who has the highest level of security in the world.

Modi’s invite to Obama to be chief guest, and the latter’s acceptance of the invite, has been described as a major triumph in diplomacy by the Modi government that has taken major strides in foreign policy since it came to power seven months ago.

Obama did come in his own car, The Beast, to the Rajpath, in a break from protocol and not in President Mukherjee’s black limo.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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SOUTH ASIA

Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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