Volume 17 Issue 451- Muharrum 22, 1439 AH October 13, 2017

   :: International News
::Hamas, Fatah open reconciliation talks in Cairo

Representatives from the Palestinian political parties of Hamas and Fatah are meeting on Tuesday for reconciliation talks in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. The talks come a week after Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited the Gaza Strip to kick-start the process of transferring administrative responsibility for the besieged territory from Hamas to the national consensus government. The meetings in Cairo are centred around implementing the 2011 Cairo Agreement between the two political parties, in hopes of ending a 10-year political schism. Leading the delegations are the deputy head of Hamas’s political office, Saleh al-Arouri, and a member of the Fatah Central Committee, Azzam al-Ahmad. A member of Hamas in the occupied West Bank, Hassan Yousef, said that Israel blocked a delegation from travelling to Cairo through Jordan to participate in the talks. Khalil al-Haya, a member of the Hamas delegation, said the mission would discuss forming a national unity government with the participation of all Palestinian political parties and preparing for legislative, presidential and national council elections. Haya said the negotiations would focus on ending Palestinian division “to confront intransigence and the Israeli project”. The 2011 agreement stipulated that legislative, presidential and national council elections should be conducted within one year of its signing. The deal would see both Hamas and Fatah form a Palestinian government to appoint the prime minister and ministerial positions. Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasmeh told the official PA radio that the Egyptian-brokered talks would stretch for three days and would focus on enabling the national consensus government to exercise its political, security and economic functions in Gaza. Other issues on the agenda include Gaza’s electricity crisis, the salaries of PA employees in the coastal enclave, security and the administration of border crossings. Over the last few months, Hamas has been under heavy pressure from PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ measures against Gaza, aimed at pressuring Hamas to relinquish control of the territory. Punitive measures included cutting the salaries of PA employees living in Gaza and requesting Israel to reduce the electricity supply to the territory. If the reconciliation efforts are successful, they could temporarily ease Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation. Despite the latest Egyptian initiative to end the divide between the West Bank-based PA, led by Fatah, and the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, several potential obstacles could cause a national unity government to falter. Hamas’ preferred method of armed resistance in facing Israel is among the main obstacles, analysts say. Last week, Abbas called on Hamas to surrender its weapons. Speaking to Egyptian television, Abbas called for “one state, one regime, one law and one weapon”. Hamas, on several occasions, has stressed that the issue of armed resistance is not up for discussion. “The resistance’s weapons are legal,” spokesperson Hazem Qassem told the local Maan News Agency. “They are here to protect Palestinians and free their lands [from Israeli occupation].” Hamas has been Gaza’s de facto ruler since 2007, when the party defeated Abbas’ long-dominant Fatah party in parliamentary elections. Hamas then pushed Fatah out of Gaza in a bloody conflict. Hamas and Fatah have ruled the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively ever since. Hamas’ control over security and its nature as an armed resistance movement have constituted an obstacle for the PA, which cooperates with Israel on security-related matters as per the Oslo Accords. Ibrahim Abrash, a political analyst and Gaza’s former culture minister, said some issues, such as Hamas’ recognition of Israel and the 1967 borders, “will take time to iron out ... but the dire situation in Gaza cannot withhold waiting any longer”. Abrash told Al Jazeera that, while he believes Fatah is serious about carrying out presidential elections, the fear is that Israel will get involved. Abbas’ term expired in 2009, and presidential elections have not been held since. “The last time Hamas joined elections in 2006, Israel carried out a campaign of arrests against Hamas parliamentarians. There needs to be some Arab and international guarantees that things would go smoothly,” said Abrash. On the issue of armed resistance, Abrash said Israel would make it “very difficult” for the unity government to carry out its duties. “This would mean that the political system would be faulty, with some factions carrying weapons and others not. I think these issues will not be opened now, but in the end, this issue will explode if the root of it is not solved.” Source: Al-Jazeera

::Bajwa urges govt to expand tax base in order to break ‘begging bowl’

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said Pakistan needs to expand its tax base, bring in financial discipline and ensure continuity of economic policies to be able to break the begging bowl, military’s media wing reported.“The economy is showing mixed indicators. Growth has picked up but the debts are sky high. Infrastructure and energy have improved considerably but the current account balance is not in our favour,” the army chief reportedly said while addressing a seminar on the interplay of economy and security on Wednesday.
“Our tax to GDP ratio is abysmally low and this needs to change if we are to break the begging bowl,” read the text of Bajwa’s speech shared by Inter-Services Public Relations.He also shared that economy remains a major concern during National Security Council meetings, also revealing that he reads the business and economy page of the newspaper right after the main page because of its importance. ”Pakistan is capable of creating sufficient fiscal space to address underlying structural problems through tax reforms, documenting economy, diversifying the export base, and encouraging savings to finance a level of investment that could sustain growth rate higher than the rise of population,” but the benefits should also reach all parts of Pakistan including interior Sindh, Fata, Balochistan and Southern Punjab, he said. Source:

::Amid harrowing tales of escape, death toll climbs to 17 as Northern California fires continue to rage

The death toll from the Northern California fires continued to rise Tuesday, reaching a confirmed total of 17 as multiple fires scorched upward of 100,000 acres.
Sonoma County alone has received about 200 reports of missing people since Sunday night, and sheriff’s officials have located 45 of those people, said county spokeswoman Maggie Fleming.
The majority of the fatalities are from Sonoma County, where huge swaths of the city of Santa Rosa were leveled by the Tubbs fire. Eleven people have died in Sonoma County as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Two people have died in Napa County, three in Mendocino County and one in Yuba County, Cal Fire officials said. As firefighters continued to battle one of the worst firestorms in California history, federal officials vowed to help.
Vice President Mike Pence said in a visit to California’s emergency management headquarters that President Trump has approved a “major disaster declaration” for California. When he spoke, 13 people had been confirmed dead.
“Let me first say our hearts and the hearts of every American go out to the families of the 13 who’ve lost their lives. It’s heartbreaking to think that many of the fallen represent our most vulnerable; in some cases senior citizens who simply were not able to escape the flames that overcame their homes,” he said. “They are in our prayers.”
As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, the two biggest blazes — the Tubbs fire and the Atlas Peak fire in Napa County — had burned 27,000 and 25,000 acres, respectively, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. Both fires were uncontained, he said. Firefighters are hoping that winds will lessen enough Tuesday to allow crews to get a handle on the fires. Some of the smaller fires had some containment as of Monday night, he said: The 2,500-acre Sulphur fire in Lake County was 10% contained, and the 2,000-acre 37 fire in Sonoma County was 15% contained.
About 20,000 people evacuated their homes Sunday night and Monday, and there were additional evacuations in the Tubbs fire area and in Yuba County overnight, Berlant said.
Red flag warnings in effect throughout much of Northern California had expired as of Tuesday morning, Berlant said. Winds of up to 50 mph Sunday night helped spread the flames.
“Overnight, the wind that had fanned these fires had really decreased, and that gave us an opportunity to really take a stand against these fires,” Berlant said early Tuesday. “We are again today hoping to see very little wind compared to Sunday.”
But the cool and quiet of night did not stymie the progress of the Atlas fire, which stretched across the hills east of Napa and sparked a chain of more fires to the west.

::Race review reveals gaping inequality in the UK

Black and ethnic minority (BME) individuals are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as white British adults, a government-backed review of racial issues in the UK has revealed. The audit, published Tuesday by the government’s “Ethnicity Facts and Figures” website, also shows that police are three times more likely to stop and search non-white Britons. Black and Arab Britons are more than 40 percent less likely to own their own home, compared with white Britons, the report said. British Prime Minister Theresa May had ordered the review. “If these disparities cannot be explained then they must be changed,” May said following the report, calling on government and the UK’s institutions. “People who have lived with discrimination don’t need a government audit to make them aware of the scale of the challenge,” she added. “But this audit means that for society as a whole - for government, for our public services - there is nowhere to hide.” The audit covers areas including health, education, employment, and crime. The Department for Work and Pensions is expected to set up some 20 “hotspot” areas to help ethnic minority individuals find employment. The Ministry of Justice, meanwhile, says it will attempt to ensure prisoners of all ethnicities are treated appropriately. Rehman Chishti, Conservative Party MP for Gillingham and Rainham, called the review a “step in the right direction”, but admitted “it could have been done a lot earlier in the seven years since we have been in government”. “[Now] I want the government to look at finding bottom up solutions, to engage with diverse communities across the country and work with them to get the best answer in addressing the challenges they face,” he told Al Jazeera from London. Chisthi is one of 52 ethnic minority MPs who account for just eight percent of the UK’s parliament. In the UK as a whole, BME Britons make up about 13 percent of the population, according to the last official census in 2011. The government’s report on Tuesday follows research released on October 8 suggesting that higher levels of education among certain ethnic minority groups has not led to more employment or higher salaries. The UK’s Resolution Foundation, a non-partisan think-tank, said the number Britons of Chinese, Indian and Black African heritage - aged between 16 and 64 years old - with a degree has more than doubled since 1999, but employment rates and income have not reflected that change. Kathleen Henehan, a policy analyst for the think-tank, said Tuesday’s findings have again shown the extent of economic inequality affecting BME groups in the UK. “BME families are disproportionately represented in poorer households, despite experiencing relatively strong income growth over recent decades,” she told Al Jazeera. “Despite astounding progress in terms of getting degrees, BME graduates still face a jobs gap and pay penalty when they enter the workforce.” Following the release of Tuesday’s report, social media users shared their views. Actress Kelechi Okafor wrote on Twitter: “The extent of racism in Britain is only ‘Shocking’ to those who haven’t been paying attention.” Seema Chandwani, supporter of the opposition Labour Party, wrote: “#RaceAudit is a collection of *existing* data from public bodies. The evidence has existed for a long time & required action a long time ago.” Twitter user Funmi Adebayo said: “The #raceaudit sadly only looks into the public sector. I imagine the racial disparities are much worse within the private sector.”
Source: Al-Jazeera

::Gunbattle leaves 4 dead in India-held Kashmir

Two Indian air force commandos and two suspected militants were killed during a gunbattle on Wednesday in India-held Kashmir, the Indian army claimed, during an upsurge in violence in the disputed region.
The fighting started when soldiers searching for militants cordoned off a neighbourhood in the northern town of Hajin.“It was a difficult operation. Two militants were killed in the encounter. Unfortunately two air force commandos also died,” an Indian police officer told AFP. The deaths came two days after a leader of the banned militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) — accused of organising a string of suicide attacks across India-held Kashmir — was killed in a shoot-out with government forces. Separatist groups have for years been fighting Indian soldiers deployed in the region, demanding that Kashmir be given independence or merged with Pakistan.
The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, most of them civilians and earlier this year, India launched “Operation Allout” to hunt down the separatists.
Indian police say at least 160 militants and 59 security officials have been killed so far this year.Source:

::Don’t look at CPEC from Indian perspective, Pakistan asks US

WASHINGTON: Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal urged the United States on Wednesday not to look at CPEC from the Indian perspective as it was an economic plan for bringing peace and stability to South Asia and adjacent regions and not a security strategy.
At a separate meeting on Tuesday evening, Pakistan’s ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary said that recent meetings between US and Pakistani officials have paved the way for the process to normalise relations between the two countries.
Mr Iqbal urged the United States to deal with Pakistan on its own merit, instead of tagging it to other states and issues in the region.“CPEC is not a conspiracy against anyone. It is not a security plan. It’s a plan for economic prosperity, which is bringing investment in the energy, infrastructure and other key sectors,” said Mr Iqbal when reminded of US objections to the plan to build a corridor. Defence Secretary James Mattis last week said the CPEC passes through disputed territory and the United States could not ignore this fact. This was seen in Islamabad as a direct endorsement of India’s position on the project, which passes through Pakistan’s northern areas. India insists that since the northern part of Pakistan was once associated with the former Kashmir state, it’s a disputed territory. Pakistan rejects the Indian claim.
However, Mr Iqbal, who was the keynote speaker at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, said US concerns about CPEC were unfounded. “It will benefit all and will provide a platform for bringing together South and Central Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries by physically joining them through an economic corridor,” he said. “So, I think, the US should not look at CPEC from the Indian perspective, but as a source for peace, stability and prosperity in the region. CPEC can bring the much-needed stability to a region that has suffered from war for the last several decades.”

::(R) justice Javed Iqbal takes charge as new NAB chief

Retired justice Javed Iqbal on Wednesday assumed command as the new chief of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Iqbal, who is replacing Qamar Zaman Chaudhry as the bureau’s chief, met with senior officials including NAB’s director general operations and members of the prosecution wing during his first day in office.Giving the officials their first task, the new NAB chief asked for the details of all outstanding cases, references and records.
In a brief conversation with the media, Iqbal said that he would complete his previous assignment as the head of the missing persons commission by submitting the report his team has compiled, before giving up his post as the commission’s head, DawnNews said. ”I have worked hard on the report and it will be submitted soon,” he said. Source:

::Pakistanis invested $8 billion in Dubai real estate in last 4 years, NA committee told

Pakistanis invested a whopping $8 billion in Dubai’s property market in the last four years, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance was informed by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
FBR, however, has so far failed to determine names of the people who invested their money in the United Arab Emirates.
While briefing the finance committee, FBR Chairman Tariq Pasha said that they had written several letters to UAE authorities to seek details of Pakistani investors, but did not receive a response.
Under the agreement with the UAE, information can only be obtained if a company is registered in someone’s name, FBR officials told the body, adding that it was not possible to acquire the general data of all Pakistani investors. The committee was not satisfied with the FBR’s response, and forwarded the matter to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
On the other hand, State Bank officials clarified before the committee that no one had sought proper permission from them for investment in Dubai real estate.
The committee formed a three-member sub-committee headed by Dr Shezra Mansab Ali Khan Kharal to reach the depth of the issue. The sub-committee’s main task will be to probe the matter by seeking reports from the FIA about how the money went abroad and who are the Pakistani citizens who invested the money in Dubai.
In August this year, Pakistan emerged as the third largest real estate investor in Dubai, data from the Dubai Land Deparment (DLD) showed. The data spanned 18 months — from January 2016 to June 2017.
According to the details, Pakistani nationals made 5,398 real estate transactions pumping about AED 7 billion in Dubai’s real estate sector.
Separately, the standing committee also reviewed problems faced by the real estate sector.Deputy governor of the State Bank while briefing the committee revealed that a letter of credit (LC) is in the process for imports and exports between Pakistan and Iran. He said although the cabinet has already given approval in this regard, the delay is being caused on the Iranian’s government’s side.
::IMF tells Saudi Arabia: ‘You’re well on track, no need to go so fast’
By:Frank Kane
It is not often you hear the International Monetary Fund (IMF) urging “spend, spend,” while the client country replies “well, actually we’d rather hold on to the money for a while, if it’s all the same to you.” But something like that seems to have happened during the IMF’s recent country visit to Saudi Arabia.
The IMF has a well-deserved reputation as an austerity merchant and usually seeks to impose a rigid regime of fiscal control. “Cut spending, increase taxes,” is the ritual formula.Saudi Arabia is not in the same league as countries that have to go begging to the IMF. It has no need to borrow money from the fund, because it is sitting on some $470 billion of reserves from the years when oil was $100-plus per barrel. There is no risk of Saudi Arabia going bust any time soon.
But it is in a fiscal fix. Because of the halving of oil prices, there has been a budget deficit for the past two years, a rare enough occurrence in Saudi economic history to warrant serious action.The government’s response has indeed been radical. Scrapping public sector perks, cutting subsidies on fuel and utilities, and imposing taxes, excise duties and levies were drastic measures in a country with a low tax regime, high government employment and big subsidies on essentials.
The accompanying strategy to reduce oil dependency and public sector economic domination were truly transformational. The Vision 2030 strategy and the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 envisaged balancing the budget by 2019 and minimizing oil’s contribution to the economy a year later, as part of a massive privatization program.
There has been some dilution of these plans — witness the reinstatement of some public sector benefits and the emergence of NTP 2.0 recently — but evidently the measures are still sufficiently drastic for the IMF to warn that economic growth, forecast as negligible this year and only 1.1 percent in 2018, was at further risk if the country continued to press its foot firmly on the brake.
“Most directors noted that Saudi Arabia has the fiscal space to allow a more gradual consolidation than envisaged in the fiscal balance program,” was the IMF-speak take on it. The message was, “you don’t have to be quite so tough, so soon.”
The IMF said: “The authorities were not convinced, believing that a relatively fast pace of price increases would minimize implementation risks.” In other words, Saudi policymakers thought about it, but were actually quite happy to keep the brake pedal on the floor for the time being.
The Kingdom has the flexibility to ease off if the austerity gets too severe, or if global and regional conditions make it necessary.
Frank Kane
So, while that is a reversal of the usual IMF-client role, it is actually quite a healthy scenario for Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has the flexibility to ease off if the austerity gets too severe, or if global and regional conditions make it necessary.
Maybe it has more leeway than it currently realizes. The shrewd analysts at Emirates NBD Asset Management in Dubai reckon that it can cover the deficit next year with a mixture of reduced subsidies and increased levies, even allowing for expensive items like the Citizens’ Account measures to help the Kingdom’s less wealthy.
They also think that Saudi Arabia’s creditworthiness is such that any shortfall in the public account can be quite easily made up in the international debt markets. The Kingdom tapped the bond markets for $39 billion in the past year, but its debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio is still only 12 percent, much healthier than other A-rated sovereigns.
The IMF does make a cogent point, however, when it explains that the multiplier effect of capital spending is bigger than current spending, meaning that Saudi policymakers would be better advised to direct investment to big infrastructure projects rather than day-to-day expenditure like public sector pay or subsidies. Again, the IMF is advising the Kingdom to spend big.
The other potential game-changing event on the Saudi financial horizon is the further opening up of financial markets with inclusion in the two global indices — the MSCI and the FTSE Russell — that have so far eluded them. Both could come next year, and would mean an immediate jump in the quantity of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country, as global investors scramble to get up to weight in Saudi assets. Other Arabian Gulf countries enjoyed a doubling of FDI once they were included in the big global indices.
You might ask, if the financial scene is so potentially rosy, why bother at all with the program of state asset sales, which including potential $100 billion initial public offering (IPO) proceeds from Saudi Aramco, could eventually bring in $300 billion to the Kingdom’s coffers?
The answer is that the Vision 2030 policy is designed to transform the economy and society of the Kingdom, by making its economy and workforce more productive and efficient, rather than just providing a short-term financial fix. It is transformational, rather than remedial.
The IMF is saying to the Kingdom, “Don’t worry, you’re on track and you can afford to be less aggressive in economic and fiscal policy.” That is a good position to be in.
• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai.
::EU proposes shunning Myanmar generals over Rohingya crisis
DHAKA: The EU has proposed cutting back contacts with Myanmar’s top generals as a first step to increasing sanctions over atrocities committed by the army against Rohingya Muslims. According to the draft, the EU “will suspend invitations to the commander in chief of the Myanmar armed forces and other senior military officers.”
Rashed Ahmed Chowdhury, former Bangladeshi special envoy to the UN, welcomed the proposal, calling Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi a “puppet” of the country’s military.
“Currently, Myanmar is getting arms from many Western countries, including Israel. Once the supply line is cut, it will create immense pressure on Myanmar. Only then will Bangladesh be able to repatriate refugees,” Chowdhury told Arab News, suggesting more comprehensive measures.
“The world should consider economic sanctions on Myanmar. The UN Security Council should pass a unanimous resolution to stop this ethnic cleansing, which is completely unacceptable. If the situation persists, many countries will throw the minority population out of their land.”
Bangladeshi diplomat Q. A. M. A. Rahim told Arab News: “From the onset, the EU has taken a rational approach against these atrocities. This time as well, it didn’t wait for any call from anyone. The EU has made its stand very clear, and is taking decisions independently.”
The former foreign secretary of Bangladesh and former secretary-general of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) said he believes the EU will take further measures if Myanmar continues its atrocities against the Rohingya.
Bangladesh should intensify efforts to convince countries that support Myanmar “that this ethnic cleansing must be stopped,” he added.
“Without consistent and comprehensive pressure from the international community, there won’t be a sustainable solution to the refugee crisis.”
Former Ambassador Sohrab Hossain told Arab News that the EU’s initiative is “very good,” and that “Myanmar is under immense diplomatic pressure.”
Such pressure should be maintained to “compel” Myanmar to take back Rohingya who have fled, he said, lauding Bangladeshi
diplomacy in this regard.



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