2 Indian-Americans to be honoured with Great Immigrants award

New York: Indian-Americans, Adobe chief Shantanu Narayen and former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, are among 38 immigrants to be honoured this year for their role in helping advance the country’s society, culture and economy. Narayen and Murthy will be honoured with the prestigious ‘Great Immigrants’ annual award on US’s independence day on July 4. Murthy, 39, born in the UK and a Harvard and Yale alumnus, was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2014, becoming the first-ever Indian-American to occupy the post and also the youngest ever surgeon general of the country.

However, Murthy was dismissed this year in April by the Trump administration. Narayen, 54, a native of Hyderabad has an undergraduate degree in electronics engineering, a master’s degree in computer science, and an MBA from UC Berkeley. He is a board member of Pfizer and US-India Business Council (USIBC). He was among a select group of CEOs who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington for a roundtable during the leader’s visit for first bilateral meeting with President Donald Trump this week.

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Among other honorees include Canadian-origin social entrepreneur Jeff Skoll, who has been awarded the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, PayPal cofounder of Ukrainian origin Max Levchin, Iranian-origin philanthropist and entrepreneur Hushang Ansary. Each year since 2006, the corporation has recognised the contributions of naturalised citizens, and for 2017, the honorees represent more than 30 different countries of origin, a wide range of personal immigration stories, and a high-level of professional leadership in numerous fields. “Our annual tribute to ‘Great Immigrants’ demonstrates the richness of talent, skills, and achievements that immigrants from around the world bring to every sphere of American society,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

“This campaign reminds us of the debt the United States owes to generations of immigrants who become citizens and contribute to the progress of this country. Today, we celebrate and thank them,” he said. The honorees will be recognised with a full-page public service announcement in The New York Times and an online public awareness initiative. The Carnegie Corporation of New York was established in 1911 by Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In keeping with this mandate, the corporation’s agenda focuses on the issues that Andrew Carnegie considered of paramount importance: international peace, the advancement of
education and knowledge, and a strong democracy.

FBI arrests man in disappearance of Chinese student

Washington: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has arrested a man in connection with the disappearance of a visiting Chinese graduate student last seen on June 9 in the University of Illinois campus, the media reported.

FBI nvestigators think the student, Yingying Zhang, 26, is probably dead, the US attorney’s office for Central Illinois said in a statement on Friday.  Brendt Christensen, 27, of Champaign, Illinois, was charged with kidnapping, CNN quoted the statement as saying.  Christensen was under surveillance on Thursday when agents overheard him saying he kidnapped Zhang. He said he took the Chinese student back to his apartment.

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“Based on this, and other facts uncovered during the investigation of this matter, law enforcement agents believe that Zhang is no longer alive,” the statement said, without offering further details.  The FBI says Christensen was driving the black Saturn Astra that was captured on security camera video picking up Zhang the afternoon of June 9.  She was seen entering the front passenger side of the vehicle, which then drove away.

On June 15, Christensen admitted picking up Zhang but he told the FBI that he let her out just a few blocks away, reports CNN.  Zhang had a year-long position at the university’s department of natural resources and environmental sciences. She graduated from Beijing’s Peking University last year with a master’s degree in environmental engineering.  Christensen’s first court appearance is on July 3.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hails Pakistan-China strategic ties

Islamabad, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed satisfaction over the status of strategic partnership with Beijing, the launch of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Islamabad’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Speaking at the Foreign Ministry, Sharif appreciated China’s role for improving Pak-Afghan relations, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Sharif visited the ministry to undertake a comprehensive review of Pakistan’s foreign policy priorities in the wake of the latest developments in and around the country. reports Xinhua news agency.  “The Prime Minister appreciated China’s role for improving Pakistan-Afghanistan relations and also recalled his recent meeting with President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of SCO Summit and their agreement to evolve a bilateral and quadrilateral mechanism for controlling cross-border terrorism,” the statement said.

He directed the ministry to prepare initiatives on Afghanistan and also on building economic and trade linkages to promote Pakistan’s development.  Sharif underscored the importance of securing peace and stability in the region through sustained dialogue and the high importance that Pakistan attached to its continued partnership with the US.  He reiterated his priority for a peaceful neighbourhood and resolution of disputes through dialogue.

US warns Syria on ‘chemical attack plan’

Washington: The US says it has identified “potential preparations” for another chemical attack in Syria, and issued a stark warning to the Bashar al-Assad government, a media report said.

The White House on Monday said the Assad regime’s activities were similar to those made before a suspected chemical attack in April, the BBC reported.  Dozens died in that attack and prompted President Donald Trump to order a strike against a Syrian air base.

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The US statement warned Syrian President Assad of “a heavy price” if another strike occurred. It said “another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime” was likely to result “in the mass murder of civilians”, the BBC report said.  White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said: “As we have previously stated, the US is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State (IS). If, however, Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

Dozens of civilians, including many children, died in a suspected nerve gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, on April 4.  In response, US Navy ships in the Mediterranean fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat airfield, in western Homs, which it said was used to store chemical weapons.

70 percent of Pakistan an ideal breeding ground for Jihadis, says Pakistan government statistics

Islamabad: Poverty statistics of Pakistan for fiscal 2014-15 appear to suggest that at least seventy (70) percent of the country acts as an ideal breeding ground for militants and jihadis. Notwithstanding the fact that the country’s armed forces continue to seek ways to neutralise this threat, the civilian administration has not been able to effectively raise the standard of living of a majority of the people, due it being weakened by more than a decade of militancy and terrorism.

Last year, an estimated 60 million Pakistanis were said to be living below the poverty line, posing a significant development-related challenge to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government. Pakistan, according to last year’s UNDP report, has recognized the fact that poverty is a multidimensional problem that encompasses not only monetary deprivation, but also inaccessibility to healthcare, education and other amenities for all communities in the country.

Data from the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) survey for the 2014/15 period, has found that the country’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) stands at 0.197, which means that the poor people in Pakistan experience 19.7 percent of the deprivations that would be experienced if all people were deprived in all indicators. Using the same data from the 2014/15 PSLM survey, it was found that 38.8 percent of the population of Pakistan is poor according to the MPI and average intensity of deprivation per poor person was 50.9 percent.

A district map on the poverty levels in Pakistan in fiscal 2014-15 clearly shows that the most deprived areas were Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan (also known as the Northern Areas) and parts of Lower Sindh, where the poor account for more than 70 percent of the population. This is followed by parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the province of Punjab, where poverty levels were pegged at between 60 to 70 percent and 40 to 50 percent respectively.

Observers and experts who have analyzed this phenomenon of poverty and how it eventually leads to the surfacing of these militant and jihadist elements who willfully perpetrate horrific terror strikes, are convinced that Pakistan’s religious schools, madrasas, play a role contrary to what they were originally intended to do. Starting out as centers of learning, a minority of these schools have built extremely close ties with radical militant groups that essay critical roles in sustaining existing international terrorist networks.

The madrasa tradition dates back almost a thousand years, but within Pakistan; there has been a boom in their numbers over the last two to three decades. It can be said with certainty that militancy and jihadism took firm root in Pakistan from the 1980s, when then martial law administrator late General Zia-ul-Haq gained the support of religious groups by agreeing to administer a formalized Zakat (Islamic religious tax). Simultaneously, the war in Afghanistan resulted in millions of refugees crossing over into Pakistan and subsequently facilitated the emergence of a radical form of jihadism.

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Thousands of new madrasas surfaced. There are over 50,000 such schools within Pakistan (the exact number has never been determined), ranging in size from a few students to several thousands, each teaching extreme versions of Islam, Wahabism (which has its origins in Saudi Arabia) and Deobandism. These schools of fundamentalist Islam have never been under state supervision, allowing them to decide what to teach and preach by rote.

Experts are of the view that the radicalisation of madrasas, and thereby them emerging as breeding grounds for militants and jihadists, is also due to the state’s writ being weak, and also to the existence of a socio-economic system that is burdened by both debt and corruption. The law promises education for all, but Pakistan spends only two to three percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on public education, which is one of the lowest rates in world (just behind Congo as per UNDP data).

Government-run schools are considered horrendous, as they don’t have enough teachers, books, infrastructure like electricity and running water, or even roofs. Jobs in the education sector are acquired through political connections. So, it comes as no surprise that Pakistan’s literacy rate is estimated to be only around 40 percent. Private schooling is a dream for the poor, lower classes and refugees. So, where do they head except to madrasas, which provide food, clothes and even pay parents to entice them to send their children?

According to one report, the primary worry with this explosion of madrasas, is them promoting a distorted view of Islam, a view where hatred is permissible, and where the launch of a jihad allows for the murder of innocent civilians, including men, women, and children, and where terrorists, militants and jihadists are treated as heroes and martyrdom through suicide attacks is praised and serenaded. Some of these radicalized institutions give weapons and physical training to the deprived, uneducated, young and dependent, who by and large, have been denied parental affection or guidance, and thus are, highly susceptible to be programmed to and for violence.

Radical Islamic militants in Pakistan and in other parts of the world see these schools (in Pakistan) as the new breeding and training ground for the next generation. It would not be far from the truth to say that graduating classes are seen as a recruiting pool for transnational terrorist and conflict networks such as the Taliban and Kashmiri terrorist groups. This yearly pipeline of recruits has dangerous implications for Pakistan and the international community’s security, as a number of these schools fan the idea of jihad. Foreigners joining these radical madrasas, ensures a global identity to this virulent influence, helping to worsen levels of violence in home states.

In overall terms, it highlights decay in governance, affecting regional stability, both in the short and long term.

Trump hails Supreme Court decision as victory for US security

Washington: US President Donald Trump hailed the Supreme Court decision to allow the entry into force of some portions of his travel ban denying entry to refugees and citizens of six Muslim-majority nations, saying that it will allow him to “protect” the country. “Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision is a clear victory for our national security,” Efe news quoted Trump as saying on Monday. “It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective.”

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear the Trump administration’s appeals of lower court rulings blocking the travel ban. It allowed parts of the travel ban to stand and agreed to hear the case in the fall. The travel ban had been blocked by two lower courts, which ruled that Trump abused his authority and discriminated against Muslims as a religious minority by issuing the ban by executive order.

However, until it can issue a definitive ruling, the court authorized the Trump administration to deny US entry to people affected by the ban who do not have relatives in the US or who have no previously established plans to work at companies or study at educational institutions in the US. “My number one responsibility as Commander in Chief is to keep the American people safe. Today’s ruling allows me to use an important tool for protecting our Nation’s homeland,” Trump said in his statement.

Thus, the decision will allow the 120-day ban on refugees to be implemented, given that those people are fleeing their countries of origin and have no prior relationship with US individuals or institutions. The other basic portion of Trump’s initiative, which will remain partially blocked, will be the prohibition on US entry to citizens of Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Libya, although entry will be allowed for people from those countries who have relatives or job contracts in the US.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a communique that it will provide more details regarding implementation of the ban after consulting with the State and Justice Departments. After Trump’s original January 27 executive order, several states, including Hawaii, sued in federal court and got it blocked, prompting the administration to craft a new order in March that included changes aimed at allowing the measure to pass muster in the courts. The March 6 executive order, revised from the earlier version that was blocked by courts, called for a 90-day ban on travellers from six countries — Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

US clears sale of Guardian drones to India

Washington: The US has cleared the sale of predator Guardian drones to India, as President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged today to deepen their defence and security cooperation. The US and India look forward to working together on advanced defence equipment and technology at a level commensurate with that of America’s closest allies and partners, said a joint statement issued after the India US Summit at the White House.

“President Trump and Prime Minister Modi pledged to deepen defence and security cooperation, building on the United States’ recognition of India as a Major Defence Partner. “Reflecting the partnership, the US has offered for India’s consideration the sale of Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial Systems, which would enhance India’s capabilities and promote shared security interests,” the joint statement said. Resolving to expand their maritime security cooperation, they announced their intention to build on the implementation of their “White Shipping” data sharing arrangement, which enhances collaboration on the maritime domain awareness. Trump welcomed Modi’s strong support for the US to join
as an Observer in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. Noting the importance of the upcoming MALABAR naval exercise (involving the US, Japan and India), the leaders determined to expand their engagements on shared maritime objectives and to explore new exercises.

Earlier in his remarks to the press, Modi said there is increasing possibilities for enhancing cooperation in order to protect “our strategic interests (that) will continue to determine the dimensions of our partnership”. “With regard to security-related challenges, our enhanced and growing defence in security cooperation is extremely important. We have spoken at length on this subject as well. “The strengthening of India’s defence capabilities with the help of USA is something that we truly appreciate. We have also decided to enhance maritime security cooperation between the two nations,” the prime minister said.

“President Trump and I have also spoken about strengthening bilateral defence technology and our trade and manufacturing partnership, which we believe will be mutually beneficial to us. We also discussed international issues and our common strategic interests in this country,” he said. Trump said the security partnership between the US and India is incredibly important. “Our militaries are working every day to enhance cooperation between our military forces, and next month they will join together with the Japanese navy to take part in the largest maritime exercise ever conducted in the vast Indian Ocean, Trump said. On June 22, media reports here said that ahead of Modi’s visit, the US has cleared the sale of 22 predator Guardian drones, a force multiplier that will boost the Indian Navy’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The deal was estimated to be worth USD two to three billion, the reports said, adding that the decision was communicated to the Indian government and the manufacturer by the State Department. “On defence cooperation, there was a sense that combination of convergence and regular exchanges on policy, the fact that today we are major partners in exercises with each other, all these underline the fact that India and the US recognise each other key defence partners,” Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar told reporters at a news conference.

“This was really an occasion for us to send a message that India was a reliable dependable partner, that was fully reciprocated on the American side,” he said. In a late night statement, the White House said completion of these sales would increase bilateral defence trade to nearly USD 19 billion, supporting thousands of US jobs. “If selected, United State offer to sell F-16 and F/A-18 fighter aircraft to India would represent the most significant defence cooperation between the US and India to date,” the White House said.

According to the White House, the United States remains a reliable provider of advanced defence articles in support of India’s military modernisation efforts. United States-sourced defence articles, including the Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial System, Apache attack helicopters, and C-17 aircraft will further enhance the capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces and provide additional opportunities for interoperability. The US-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) remains the premier forum for deepening collaboration on defence co-development and co-production, it said. The seven DTTI Joint Working Groups continue to discuss a range of technologies and platforms for potential co- development, including India’s participation in the Future Vertical Lift program, it added.

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DTTI representatives met most recently in April. Key military and civilian defence leaders continue to meet via reciprocal counterpart visits and strategic and policy dialogues, promoting closer service ties and improving interoperability among our forces, the White House said. The annual MALABAR naval exercise, occurring in July in the Indian Ocean, will be the most complex to date, including participants from the US Navy, Indian Navy, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force. The United States and India also participate in the VAJRA PRAHAR Special Forces exercise, the RED FLAG air force exercise, and YUDH ABHYAS army exercise, it added.

According to General Atomics, the Predator Guardian UAV, a variant of the Predator B, can be used for wide-area, long- endurance maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. It can stay in the air for up to 27 hours and can fly at maximum altitude of 50,000 feet.
The Indian Navy made the request for this intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform last year. This maritime capability will be a force multiplier for the Indian Navy who has procured other advance technologies including Boeing P-8 aircraft. The Guardian has cutting edge technologies that do not exist in the current Indian Navy arsenal.

Trump criticizes Republican healthcare reform

Washington: US President Donald Trump has called the healthcare reform bill approved in May by the Republicans in the House of Representatives “petty”. The President also called on his colleagues in the Senate to make it “more generous,” sources from Congress told the media on Tuesday, Efe news reported.

A month after praising the House-approved bill and ensuring it was “incredibly well-crafted,” Trump urged the senators to make substantial changes to the same bill, which has been designed to replace President Barack Obama’s health reform implemented in 2010, but still needs the Senate’s approval, according to legislative sources cited by media outlets CNN and The Hill. In particular, Trump believes the bill approved by the House does not go far enough to protect Americans who depend on health insurance under Obama’s Health Care reform.

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Doubts over the future of the bill in the Senate rose after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report in May predicting that if the Republican reform is to go ahead, 23 million people in the US will lose their medical coverage within a decade. In addition, the Republican majority in the Senate is much narrower than in the House of Representatives and, according to current rules, Trump would need the votes of the 52 Republican Senators plus eight Democrats on his side.

Realizing the difficulty of the reform’s approval, the President suggested two weeks ago that the Senate changes its rules in order to pass the health law with a simple majority of 51 votes instead of 60 which are needed under current rules.

Trump has also vaguely suggested investing more money into the reform to make the US health care system “the best anywhere,” something that may throw conservative Republicans who want to use the law to reduce the budget deficit further.

Uber CEO takes leave of absence amid scandals

New York: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has said he was taking a leave of absence for personal reasons, an announcement that comes at a time when the company is dealing with a series of workplace scandals. As part of a note announcing policies to improve its corporate culture, Kalanick said on Tuesday he would step aside for an unspecified period of time to focus on personal matters and reflect on how to build a world-class leadership team, Efe news reported.

“The ultimate responsibility for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders,” Kalanick said. “There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve.” Kalanick’s decision to step aside comes after an internal investigation conducted by a former US Attorney General, Eric Holder, a probe the company launched due to allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.

On Tuesday, a report by Holder containing recommendations for improving the company were made public. Uber’s board unanimously accepted those suggestions. Among them, Holder said that Uber should “review and reallocate the responsibilities of Travis Kalanick” and search for a chief operating officer who would work closely with the new CEO to improve Uber’s corporate culture.

Holder also recommended that COO candidates have backgrounds in diversity and inclusion, saying that would reinforce “actions resulting from recommendations … relating to tone at the top and the need to focus on diversity and inclusion at Uber.” San Francisco-based Uber, the world’s largest ride-hailing app, last week fired 20 employees – including some in senior positions – after evaluating more than 200 claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying and unprofessional conduct.

On Monday, a senior vice president at Uber, Emil Michael, stepped down ahead of Holder’s recommendations. The company has been under fire since February, when a former site reliability engineer, Susan Fowler, levelled numerous allegations of sexism against her former superiors in a lengthy blog post.

Her blog was widely shared online and prompted the company to launch an internal investigation. The ride-hailing app, which has roughly 12,000 employees, hired the services of Holder to look into the company’s work culture and contracted law firm Perkins Coie to review the specific harassment allegations.

Toll rises to 125 in Bangladesh landslides

Dhaka, The deaths in devastating landslides triggered by heavy rains in southeast Bangladesh rose to 125, an official said on Wednesday. Heavy rains since Monday morning swept through Bangladesh’s three southeastern districts — Chittagong, Bandarban and Rangamati — and triggered huge landslides early on Tuesday and damaged hundreds of homes, Xinhua news agency reported.

Disaster Management Ministry official G.M. Abdul Quader said that they received highest casualty information from Rangamati district, around 391 km from capital Dhaka. “Eighty-eight bodies have so far been recovered in the Ranganati district,” said Quader who supervises the Disaster Ministry control room in Dhaka.

He said 37 more deaths have been reported from Bandarban, around 316 km away of capital Dhaka, and Chittagong district, 242 km southeast of Dhaka. He said rescuers pulled at least 30 bodies out from the mud and earth in Chittagong while seven people were killed due to landslides in the country’s southeastern Bandarban district.

Scores of people were hurt and some people including a soldier still remained missing.  Officials said the Rangamati death toll included four members of Bangladesh Army including two of its officers. Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) of Bangladesh Army said 10 more army personnel were also injured in the incident while another still remained missing.

Lieutenant Colonel Md. Rashidul Hasan, director of ISPR, told Xinhua that army personnel died while they were working to clear a road in a worst landslide hit area in Rangamati district. Rangamati Police Chief Sayeed Tarikul Hassan told Xinhua that rescue operation is still underway.

He said flood caused by the incessant rain inundated many areas of the Rangamati since Monday.  Rescue teams, using shovels and bare hands, are still searching for more bodies under tons of mud and debris, he said. But rescue operations were delayed due to bad weather. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced after unusually heavy rain on Monday triggered a string of mudslides.

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