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 WASHINGTON: A top American lawmaker, who was her country’s first female fighter pilot, has congratulated Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi for breaking India’s glass ceiling by becoming the first Indian woman to fly a fighter jet solo.

Chaturvedi became the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo when she flew a MiG-21 bison in her first solo flight from the IAFs Jamnagar base on Monday.

Congratulations to Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi for breaking India’s glass ceiling and touching the sky! The first Indian woman to fly a fighter jet solo,†Congresswoman Martha McSally said in a tweet.

Here’s to many more women joining our ranks,†said Congresswoman McSally who represents Arizona’s Second Congressional District and serves on the House Committees on Armed Services and Homeland Security and as the chair of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

Prior to serving in Congress, McSally served 26 years in the US Air Force, retiring in 2010 as a full Colonel. She is the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat and first to command a fighter squadron in combat in United States history. A distinguished graduate of the US Air Force Academy and after training to fly the A-10 Warthog, she flew her first combat mission to Iraq from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in 1995. During that assignment, she flew nearly 100 combat hours in support of Operation Southern Watch in the Middle East. McSally was next selected to become an A-10 Instructor Pilot in the 358th Fighter Squadron, becoming the first woman in US history to serve that role.

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ISLAMABAD: A global money-laundering watchdog has decided to place Pakistan back on its terrorist financing watchlist, a government official and a diplomat said on Friday, in a likely blow to Pakistan’s economy and its strained relations with the United States.

The move is part of a broader US strategy to pressure Pakistan to cut alleged links to Islamist terrorists unleashing chaos in neighbouring Afghanistan and backing attacks in India.

It comes days after reports that Pakistan had been given a three-month reprieve before being placed on the list, which could hamper banking and hurt foreign investment.

The United States has spent the past week lobbying member countries of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to place Pakistan on a so-called grey list of nations that are not doing enough to combat terrorism financing.

Pakistan had launched last-minute efforts to avoid being placed on the list, such as taking over charities linked to a powerful Islamist figure.

But the campaign proved insufficient and the group decided late on Thursday that Pakistan would be put back on the watchlist, a senior Pakistani official and a diplomat with knowledge of the latest FATF discussions told Reuters.

“The decision was taken yesterday. The chair (of FATF) is expected to make a statement some time this afternoon in Paris,” the diplomat said.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pakistan was on the list for three years until 2015.

PAINFUL CONSEQUENCES?

Earlier in the week China, Turkey, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were opposing the US-led move against Pakistan but by late on Thursday, both China and the GCC dropped their opposition, the diplomatic source said.

He added that the financial consequences would not kick in until June, which, in theory, could allow Pakistan time to fix financing issues.

“But the odds of that, particularly in an election year, seem slim,” he added.

Pakistani officials and analysts fear being on the FATF list could endanger Pakistan’s handful of remaining banking links to the outside world, causing real financial pain to the economy just as a general election looms.

Under FATF rules one country’s opposition is not enough to prevent a motion from being successful. Britain, France and Germany backed the US move.

Pakistan has sought to head off its inclusion on the list by amending its anti-terrorism laws and by taking over organisations controlled by Hafiz Saeed, a Pakistan-based Islamist accused by the United States and India of being behind 2008 militant attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai in which 166 people were killed.

 On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted that Pakistan had received a three-month reprieve, adding that it was “grateful to friends who helped”.

US President Donald Trump last month ordered big cuts in security aid to Pakistan over what the United States sees as its failure to crack down on militants.

Pakistan rejects accusations that it sponsors Taliban militants fighting US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan and says it is doing all it can to combat militancy.

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NEW DELHI: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeauarrived in India on Saturday for a weeklong visit aimed at enhancing business ties between the two countries.
Trudeau and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are also expected to focus on areas including civil nuclear cooperation, space, defense, energy and education.

Trudeau was received at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, minister of state for agriculture. A formal ceremony will be held on Feb. 23 before his talks with Modi, who visited Canada in April 2015.

“Wheels up for India and a busy visit, focused on creating good jobs and strengthening the deep connection between the people of our two countries,” Trudeau tweeted on Friday before leaving for New Delhi with his family.

Canada has an estimated 1.4 million people of Indian origin.

During his visit, Trudeau will meet with top business leaders in Mumbai and visit key Indian monuments, including the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Jama Masjid in New Delhi.

At Davos last month, while President Donald Trump supported new tariffs on imports, Trudeau and Modi came out forcefully against a drift toward protectionism in the global economy.

 In 2017, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and India amounted to $8.4 billion, split equally between exports to and imports from India, according to Indian media.

Canada mainly imports pearls, organic chemicals, pharmaceutical products, textiles, bicycles and motorcycles from India. It exports vegetables, paper, fertilizers, wood pulp, iron and steel and precious stones to India.

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WASHINGTON: The US will not allow China to “bully” or “coerce” nations in Asia, a senior Trump administration official has said, amidst Beijing flexing its muscles in the region.

The Trump administration has made clear that the US wants a “productive” relationship with China, and the two countries must work to manage and resolve differences, Susan Thornton, Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing.

Susan Thornton, Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs

“We have been equally clear, however, that we will not abide Chinese attempts to displace the US in Asia, to coerce countries in the region and that we will not be taken advantage of,” she said.

“If the international system that has enabled China’s rise is to continue, then rules and standards must be observed and countries must not be bullied or threatened, but treated as equal players,” Thornton said.

The administration, under Trump’s leadership, is working to expand and deepen partnerships throughout the region via the Indo-Pacific strategy, she said.

“We also continue to prioritise work in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation to promote high-standards and fair trade and to support ASEAN-centered regional architecture, which underpins East Asian peace and security.

The US is a Pacific power and will remain committed to this regions success, Thornton said.

The Asia Pacific region has a “very real security” and economic challenges, including the menacing threat of North Korea, the rise of an authoritarian China, and the spread of terrorism and extremism, she said.

“Although the region has enjoyed peace and growing prosperity for years, the threat from North Korea continues to increase, tensions and extremism are on the rise, and the export-led model that underpinned,” Thornton said.

East Asia’s stunning growth is no longer viable. We must insist on fair and reciprocal market access, if we are to sustain the global trading system.

 Backsliding on democracy, governance and corruption, and human rights is also undermining prospects for stability and growth in some countries, she told the lawmakers.

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WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has a “strong relationship” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a State Department official said on Friday, emphasizing that India-US ties are important.
“President Trump, certainly has a strong relationship with Prime Minister Modi,” a State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters at a news conference.

“I know that his daughter (Ivanka) really enjoyed having been over in Hyderabad late last year, and so it’s an important relationship, an increasingly important relationship,” she said.

 Nauert also applauded India’s developmental role in Afghanistan.
 “This is a good example of the world coming together and working through places that may not have countries that may not have worked together in the past. This is an example of how that is now being done. Saudi Arabia is helping out in Iraq,” she said.

Early this month, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that “sky is the limit” for India-US ties and she praised Prime Minister Modi for being aggressive in pursuing economic and administrative reforms.

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A target of 205 against an in-form Indian top order was never going to be enough. Especially with the skipper being in a red-hot dream streak, it was a total that was tipped to be a walk in the park in India’s quest to clinch the series 5-1. And it panned out exactly the way it was predicted to be. Virat Kohli was the chief architect again with another hundred arriving in a successful run chase. In the process, he went about breaking a few records as well.

The chase began in style with Rohit Sharma cracking a couple of delightful cuts off Morne Morkel. But the extra bounce generated by Lungi Ngidi at the other end led to his downfall as he gloved one to the keeper while attempting a pull. South Africa clearly had a ploy to bowl short to the Indian skipper and they almost pulled it off by employing a leg slip, who was close to sending Kohli back to the dressing room very early in his innings. They overdid it as Kohli became increasingly severe on the pull fetching boundaries at will to race to 28 off 20 at the end of the powerplay.

He then went past Kevin Pietersen’s tally to score the most runs in a bilateral series in South Africa before breaking Rohit’s tally for most runs by a batsman in any bilateral ODI series. Sandwiched between the two was a tame dismissal for Shikhar Dhawan and a few more boundaries off Kohli’s blade. With a lot of talk surrounding India’s middle order, Ajinkya Rahane walked out to the middle with an easy target in front of him. With Kohli going all guns blazing, Rahane’s task became simpler. Kohli then played one of the gorgeous shots of the series through the covers to go past 500 runs in the series. No man in the history of the format had done that before in a bilateral series.

With Imran Tahir also failing to make a breakthrough, the result was a foregone conclusion by the halfway mark. The Indian skipper then hammered the leggie down the ground to bring up his 35th ODI ton was then in a mood to finish things off quickly. Tahir bore the brunt as the veteran got slammed for a couple of sixes and then another one straight past him that put South Africa out of their misery.

Earlier in the day, India had made only one change to their XI in the dead rubber, bringing in Shardul Thakur for Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Whereas South Africa on the other side, made wholesale changes as four players were replaced from the previous game including experienced middle order batsmen JP Duminy and David Miller. Shardul made an instant impact despite getting hit for boundaries early on as the seamer got rid of both Hashim Amla and Aiden Markram. While Amla gloved a rising delivery down the leg side to the wicketkeeper, Markram failed to get the required elevation as Shreyas Iyer at extra cover took a well-judged catch.

Khaya Zondo, who had looked decent against the wrist spinners earlier in the series, once again looked assured against both Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. He led South Africa’s revival alongside AB de Villiers, who had come in at number three but just when the hosts had appeared to gather some momentum, India applied the brakes. Chahal let one slip through de Villiers’ defence to castle him and the likes of Heinrich Klaasen, Farhaan Behardien and Chris Morris followed suit, leaving Zondo waging a lone battle.

Zondo managed to help himself to his maiden half-century but just when South Africa needed him to bat in the final ten overs, Chahal enticed him into playing a false stroke. Andile Phehlukwayo and Morkel did some damage but even 100 more runs on this surface against a rampaging Kohli wouldn’t have been enough.

Brief scores: South Africa 204 in 46.5 overs (Khaya Zondo 54, Andile Phehlukwayo 34; Shardul Thakur 4-52, Jasprit Bumrah 2-24) lost to India 206/2 in 32.1 overs (Virat Kohli 129*, Ajinkya Rahane 34*; Lungi Ngidi 2-54) by 8 wickets

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LONDON: India’s defence budget broke into the world’s top five, beating the UK for the first time, a new report by a London-based global think-tank has said, signalling a key shift in the military balance between the two countries.
India overtook the UK as the fifth-largest defence spender in the world in 2017 at USD 52.5 billion, up from USD 51.1 billion in 2016, according to the ‘Military Balance 2018’ report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

In contrast, the UK’s defence budget fell from USD 52.5 billion in 2016 to USD 50.7 billion last year.

“This represents a key shift in the military balance between India and the UK, with India allocating more capabilities to develop its regional resources than the UK in a global context,” said IISS Senior Fellow for South Asia, Rahul Roy-Chaudhury.

The report notes that while India continues to modernise its military capabilities, China with the world’s second-largest defence budget after the US remains far ahead with three times India’s defence budget at USD 150.5 billion.

China’s real defence spending increased by nearly 25 per cent in 2016-17, whereas India’s rose by just 2.4 per cent.

“Post-Dokalam, India’s military balance with China continues to be significantly in China’s favour. Since 2000, China has built more submarines, destroyers, frigates and corvettes than Japan, South Korea and India combined. China will continue to dominate the region militarily and seek to challenge the US in the region as well, Roy-Chaudhury notes.

According to the analysis, the Chinese army has over 600,000 more active personnel than India; it has nearly 1,200 tactical aircraft compared to India’s 785; and 55 more cruisers, destroyers and frigates than India.

The report takes note of the Indian government’s ‘Make in India’ policy, which aims to strengthen the defence-industrial base through measures such as “reforming the cap on foreign direct investment” (FDI) and that the country is one of the top troop contributors to UN peacekeeping operations.

“The overall capability of the (Indian) army is limited by inadequate logistics, and shortages of ammunition and spare parts. Defence cooperation with the US continues to grow, with an increasing level of exercising and sales of US equipment.

“Development and procurement programmes across the services are aimed at replacing ageing equipment, but many projects have experienced significant delays and cost overruns, particularly indigenous systems, the report finds.

IISS says the new Indian Joint Armed Forces Doctrine issued last year sees an “emerging triad” of space, cyber and special-operations capabilities complementing conventional land, sea and air capabilities as India continues to modernise its strategic forces, particularly its delivery systems.

Overall, the report found that China and Russia, with the world’s fourth-largest defence budget at USD 61.2 billion, are challenging the military supremacy of the US (USD 602.8 billion) and its allies and that the West can no longer rely on the strategic advantage it has enjoyed until now.

Saudi Arabia, with a defence spending of USD 76.7 billion, came in third to complete the world’s top five” the US, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and India.

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PARKLAND: A 19-year-old gunman opened fire on Wednesday at a Florida high school he had previously been expelled from, killing 17 people before he was arrested by police, authorities said.
The violence erupted shortly before dismissal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 45 miles (72 km) north of Miami. Live television footage showed students streaming out of the building as dozens of police and emergency services personnel swarmed the area.

The gunman was identified as Nikolas Cruz, who previously attended the school and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a news briefing hours later.

“It’s a horrific situation,” Broward Country Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters separately.

The gunman surrendered to police without a struggle, Israel said.

“It’s catastrophic,” he said. “There really are no words.”

Twelve of the dead were killed inside the school building, two others just outside, one more on the street and two other victims died of their injuries at a hospital, Israel said. He said the victims comprised a mixture of students and adults.

It was the 18th shooting in a US school so far this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. That tally includes suicides and incidents when no one was injured, as well as the January incident when a 15-year-old gunman killed two students at a Benton, Kentucky, high school.

 More than five years have passed since a gunman killed 20 first graders and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, stirring the long US debate about gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

 

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WASHINGTON: Geo-political alignment and strategic consonance between the United States and India is proceeding apace going by the phone call initiated by President Trump to Prime Minister Modi on Thursday. The White House said in a read-out about the call that both leaders ‘pledged to continue working together to enhance security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,’ and while ‘affirming President Trump’s South Asia strategy, they reiterated their commitment to supporting Afghanistan’s security and stability.’

Two other regional issues (the situation in Maldives and Myanmar) appeared to be triggers for the telephonic talks, and the read-out suggested the two sides also agreed on common ground on both issues. “Both leaders expressed concern about the political crisis in Maldives and the importance of respect for democratic institutions and rule of law,” the White House read-out said, while revealing “They also exchanged views on Burma and ways to address the plight of the Rohingya refugees.”

Carrying on from where the Obama administration left off on the India relationship and enhancing it even further, the Trump administration appears comfortable ceding a larger regional role to New Delhi amid periodic challenges from Beijing with its support to an increasingly feeble and unstable Pakistan.

The White House readout seemed to pointedly refer to the ‘Indo-Pacific region,’ a formulation that is scoffed at by China, which sees itself as an Asia-Pacific power without an Indian role in East Asia even as it pushes into the Indian Ocean, which India sees as its sphere of influence.

In fact, the White House readout went so far as to reveal that “President Trump and Prime Minister Modi then discussed further steps to ensure denuclearization of North Korea,” drawing India into a crisis that the US has been trying to handle with surrounding powers such as China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.

 US recognition of India’s primacy in the region, including in Afghanistan, is driving Pakistan and China crazy, but the read-out makes it clear there is no rethink on President Trump’s South Asia strategy that includes holding Pakistan’s feet to the fire for its support of terrorism.
 The exchanges come just ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Palestine – the first by an Indian PM – as New Delhi undertakes a feat that has won it many admirers: Of managing antagonistic forces such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and Israel and Palestine.

Senior officials from US and New Delhi will themselves be engaged shortly at the ministerial level. The White House readout said Trump and Modi “agreed to strengthen security and economic cooperation as they look forward to the 2+2 ministerial dialogue between their defense and diplomatic officials in April.”