Indian PM heads to UAE, Bahrain and France for summits and visits

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a meeting with students at the Royal University of Bhutan on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 23 August 2019
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Indian PM heads to UAE, Bahrain and France for summits and visits

  • Indians comprise the largest expat community in Bahrain, where Modi will be between Aug. 24 and 25, and annual bilateral trade is around $1.3 billion

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is heading overseas for a hectic few days of international outreach, amid concern about the situation in Kashmir.
There has been a security crackdown in the territory following India’s decision to revoke its special status. Hundreds of activists, civil society leaders and politicians have been detained and there have been reports of protests, clashes and police using tear gas to quell crowds.
Modi goes to France for a bilateral summit on Aug. 22. His next stops are the UAE and Bahrain before returning to France to attend the G7 Summit, which India has been invited to for the first time.
International opinion is mixed on the current Kashmir turmoil, which has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence from Britain in 1947 although both claim it in full.
A furious Islamabad has been trying to drum up international support and the United Nations has held an informal discussion on the issue.
While the UAE says Kashmir is an internal affair for India, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) has condemned the “ongoing security clampdown, communications blockade and denial of religious freedom to Kashmiris.”
An Indian Foreign Ministry official told media he didn’t want to “second guess” if Modi would discuss Kashmir with the UAE’s leadership.
 The prime minister is meeting Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan “to discuss bilateral, regional and international matters of mutual interest.”
An Indian Foreign Ministry statement said Modi was going to receive the Order of Zayed, the highest civil decoration of the UAE, which was conferred in April in recognition of Modi’s “distinguished leadership ... and for giving a big boost to bilateral relations between the two countries.”
The UAE is India’s third-largest trade partner. It is the fourth-largest exporter of crude oil for India and more than 3 million Indians live in the Gulf state. Bilateral trade is around $60 billion.
Indians comprise the largest expat community in Bahrain, where Modi will be between Aug. 24 and 25, and annual bilateral trade is around $1.3 billion.
The presence of over 3,000 Indian-owned or joint ventures in Bahrain indicated the “intense economic engagement” between the two countries, according to New Delhi, and Modi’s visit would provide an opportunity to further cement “mutually beneficial bilateral ties.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• France, UAE and Bahrain on the itinerary.

• India invited to G7 for first time.

Pranay Kotasthane, from the Bangalore-based Takshashila Institution think tank, said that managing and growing partnerships with West Asia had been one of the “rare foreign policy successes” of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Modi’s leadership.
“The visit to the UAE and Bahrain should be seen as a continuation of this process rather than it being narrowly focused on isolating Pakistan,” Kotasthane told Arab News. “We don’t need to be very worried about the international angle on the Kashmir issue. It’s what we do now with Jammu and Kashmir going ahead that matters. We need to manage the security situation while rebooting the economic and political mechanisms going forward.”
Earlier this month India brought its part of Kashmir under direct rule, stripping the Muslim-majority region of its special status and sparking a backlash. Article 370 gave exclusive land rights to the people of Kashmir and blocked outsiders from seeking jobs and settlement in the state.
Subhajit Naskar, an assistant professor of international relations at Jadavpur University, said the major expectation from Modi’s visit to the UAE and Bahrain would be how effectively he could “re-energize the relationship” after India unilaterally withdrew the special status given to Kashmir.
There has been an armed rebellion against Indian rule since 1989, claiming tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilian.


Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

Updated 4 min 41 sec ago

Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

  • Nearly 1,500 schools closed as haze continues to plague the country

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia’s haze problem worsened on Wednesday, some areas of the country recorded readings above 200 on the Air Pollution Index (API), which officials told Arab News is considered “very unhealthy.”

More than a million primary and high-school students stayed home as 1,484 schools remained closed in seven states, including Selangor and Sarawak — the two worst-affected states. 

In some areas of Sarawak, API readings were above 300, which is considered hazardous to the environment and human health. 

The Ministry of Education advised all higher education institutions in the haze-affected states to postpone their classes, while some companies and institutions, including the Ministry of Youth and Sports, asked employees to work from home.

Responding to the worsening situation, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad stressed that Malaysia must deal with the haze issue on its own.

“We will have to find ways to deal with the haze, through cloud seeding, asking people to stay at home, and school closures,” he said at a press conference in Putrajaya. 

The Malaysia government also stressed that it will take legal action against Malaysian companies that own estates and plantations outside Malaysia which have contributed to the problem. 

“We will ask them to put out the fires (they have set). If they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law that holds them responsible,” the 93-year-old Malaysian leader said.

The ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre reported that forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatera and Kalimantan regions have intensified, leading to an increase in the haze across the Southeast Asian region. Those fires, coupled with the dry weather conditions in certain areas, mean the air quality is expected to continue to deteriorate. The general public have been advised to stay indoors and to wear facemasks if they do have to go outside.

Benjamin Ong, a Kuala Lumpur-based environmentalist told Arab News that many Malaysians are concerned about the ongoing and worsening issue of haze, which has become an annual occurrence despite efforts by Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast-Asian governments to tackle the transboundary problem. 

“Outdoor activities are badly affected, including environmental activities like hiking and outdoor classes for kids,” Ong said, adding that many families are especially concerned about the pollution’s impact on their children’s education.

“The haze has been hanging around for at least 20 years, but the root causes have never been systematically tackled,” he added. “Distribution of masks, school closures and cloud seeding are only treating the symptoms, so to speak, and do not in any way make society more resilient to haze if and when it returns.”