WB official in Delhi to break water treaty stalemate

WASHINGTON: The World Bank’s vice president for the South Asia region, Annette Dixon, is now in New Delhi for talks aimed at breaking the stalemate over a water dispute between India and Pakistan, official sources told Dawn.

They said Ms Dixon went to India on Tuesday, but the Indians did not publicise the visit as they discourage international mediation in their disputes with Pakistan.

The World Bank, however, is recognised as an arbitrator in the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT) that distributes waters of the Indus and its tributaries between India and Pakistan.

The latest dispute concerns two hydroelectric projects — Ratle and Kishanganga — that India is building over one of the tributaries. Pakistan views these projects as a violation of the treaty and wants the World Bank to appoint a court of arbitration. India opposes the proposal and has asked the bank to depute neutral experts to further probe the matter.

Pakistan sees the Indian approach as aimed at buying time to complete the two projects and argues that since a neutral expert has no legal authority, the expert’s decision is not legally binding.

As the two sides stick to their positions, the World Bank finds itself in a tight spot and is softly urging both sides to resolve the dispute through talks as it has the potential to undermine the water treaty.

Pakistan fears that India wants to go beyond the treaty by bringing in neutral observers. “We do not want to encourage any process outside the IWT, even showing an inclination to consider that option could hurt the treaty,” said a senior Pakistani official while explaining why Islamabad is reluctant to accept the Indian demand.

Sources in Washington say the World Bank also is against wasting more time and is trying to persuade both sides to start negotiations on the matter.

The decision to send Ms Dixon to New Delhi also shows the importance the bank attaches to the issue. Her assignment at the bank includes promoting poverty reduction projects in South Asia. She oversees lending operations and bank-funded projects worth more than $10 billion a year.

Pakistan and India were scheduled to hold three-day talks on the 850MW Ratle and 330MW Kishanganga hydroelectric projects at the World Bank headquarters in Washington on April 12, but India refused to send its delegation. Pakistan, however, had informed the bank that it would attend the talks, if held as scheduled.

Initially, the World Bank wanted to host secretary-level talks between Pakistan and India in Dubai, but Pakistan proposed that the venue be changed to Washington. Pakistani authorities had announced that Annette Dixon would personally attend the talks and facilitate both countries in resolution of disputes on run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects being constructed in India-held Kashmir.

The Indus water commissioners of both countries met in Islamabad last month to discuss the designs of three proposed hydroelectric projects — Pakal Dul, Lower Kalnai and Miya — in held Kashmir and flood supply data.

Pakistan says India has not shared the designs of the three projects.

The Ratle hydroelectric project is in initial stage and Pakistan has objections to its design. The Obama administration also played a supporting role in encouraging the talks, but so far the Trump administration has not indicated its approach.

US says ‘major conflict’ with North Korea possible, China warns of danger of escalation

US President Donald Trump said a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, while China said the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control.

Trump, speaking to Reuters on Thursday, said he wanted to resolve the crisis peacefully, possibly through the use of new economic sanctions, although a military option was not off the table.

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” Trump said in an interview at the Oval Office.

“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” he said, describing North Korea as his biggest global challenge.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there was a danger that the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control, China’s foreign ministry said.

Wang made the comments in a meeting with a Russian diplomat on Thursday at the United Nations, the ministry said in a statement.

China, the only major ally of North Korea, has been increasingly uncomfortable in recent months about its neighbour’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles in violation on UN resolutions. The United States has called on China to do more to rein in Pyongyang and Trump lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping for his efforts, calling him “a good man”.

“I believe he is trying very hard. I know he would like to be able to do something. Perhaps it’s possible that he can’t. But I think he’d like to be able to do something,” Trump said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that China had asked North Korea not to conduct any more nuclear tests. Beijing had warned Pyongyang it would impose unilateral sanctions if it went ahead, he added.

“We were told by the Chinese that they informed the regime that if they did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own,” Tillerson said on Fox News, without specifying what sanctions he was referring to.

Tillerson did not say when China made the threat and there was no immediate confirmation from Beijing. He is due to chair a meeting with UN Security Council foreign ministers on Friday, where he said he would stress the need for members to fully implement existing sanctions as well as possible next steps.

China banned imports of North Korean coal in February, cutting off its most important export, and Chinese media this month raised the possibility of restricting oil shipments to the North if it unleashed more provocations.

Missile defence, carrier group

In a show of force, the United States is sending the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula, where it will join the USS Michigan, a nuclear submarine that docked in South Korea on Tuesday. South Korea’s navy has said it will hold drills with the US strike group.

Admiral Harry Harris, the top US commander in the Pacific, said on Wednesday the carrier was in the Philippine Sea, within two hours’ striking distance of North Korea if need be.

Harris also said a US missile defence system being deployed in South Korea to ward off any possible North Korean attack would be operational in coming days.

However, Beijing has been angered by the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, missile defence system, complaining that its radar can see deep into China and undermines its security.

Trump said in the interview he wants South Korea to pay the cost of the THAAD, which he estimated at $1 billion. South Korea, one of Washington’s most crucial allies in the region, said the US would have to bear the cost, pointing to possible friction ahead.

The spokesman for Moon Jae-in, the frontrunner in South Korea’s May 9 presidential election, said on Friday that deployment of THAAD should be “immediately suspended” ahead of a decision by the next government.

Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the US with a nuclear missile, a capability experts say Pyongyang could have some time after 2020.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and numerous missile tests, including one this month, a day before a summit meeting between Trump and Xi in Florida.

Any direct US military action would run the risk of massive North Korean retaliation and huge casualties in Japan and South Korea and among US forces in both countries.

Trump, asked if he considered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be rational, said he was operating from the assumption that he is rational. He noted that Kim had taken over his country at an early age.

“As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational,” he said.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on North Korea and other countries on Thursday to avoid behaviour or rhetoric that could increase tensions around Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

North Korea, technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, regularly threatens to destroy the US and says it will pursue its nuclear and missile programmes to counter perceived US aggression.

Facebook says it will act against ‘information operations’ using false accounts

Facebook Inc acknowledged on Thursday that it has become a battleground for governments seeking to manipulate public opinion in other countries and outlined new measures it is taking to combat what it calls “information operations” that go well beyond the phenomenon known as fake news.

In a report and summary of response plans on its website on Thursday, Facebook describes well-funded and subtle efforts by nations and other organisations to spread misleading information and falsehoods for geopolitical goals.

These initiatives go much further than posting fake news stories to include amplification ─ essentially widening the circulation of posts through a variety of means ─ carried out by government employees or paid professionals, often using fake accounts.

Reuters reviewed an advance copy of the 13-page report, which was written by two veteran security analysts who joined Facebook from cyber security firms FireEye Inc and Dell SecureWorks, along with Facebook’s chief security officer.

Facebook said its security team would now fight information operations, which it regards as a more complex problem than traditional hackers and scammers, by suspending or deleting false accounts after identifying them with a combination of machine learning and intelligence agency-level analysis.

The new efforts build on the company’s recently expanded campaigns to identify fake news and crack down on automated profile pages that post commercial or political spam. Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France ahead of last Sunday’s first-round presidential election.

In addressing the US presidential election as a “case study,” the Facebook team said fake Facebook personas had spread stolen emails and other documents as part of a coordinated effort, which U.S. intelligence agencies have attributed to Russia. Other false personas pushed stories that expanded on that material.

“From there, organic proliferation of the messaging and data through authentic peer groups and networks was inevitable,” Facebook said. It said its data “does not contradict” the US director of national intelligence’s conclusion that Russia was behind efforts to interfere with the US election. The report does not name any other countries.

‘False amplification’

Facebook has faced pressure to clamp down on fake news, and has begun warning about suspected hoax stories. In its latest report, Facebook focused on how it will fight “false amplification” and targeted data collection, carried out through methods such as impostor accounts and password-collection schemes.

Facebook employees said the information operations it had seen included techniques such as carefully crafted friend requests sent under the appropriated names of real people. If those requests are accepted, the false friends can glean more information about the target.

That information in turn can be used to send convincing web links leading to malicious software or to map the social networks of the targets for further spying.

Facebook said it would go after amplifier accounts based on behavioral analysis that shows signs of inauthenticity, such as sudden bursts of activity or repeated posting of the same material, without regard to the politics of the content.

Facebook said that other amplification techniques it had discovered include coordinated “likes” to boost the prominence of key postings, the creation of groups that camouflage propaganda by including legitimate items, and the spread of inflammatory and racist material.

Most of the false amplification is driven by people with local language skills and a basic knowledge of the relevant political situation, the study said.

Though the goals may often be to promote one cause or candidate or to denigrate another, another objective appears to be sowing distrust and confusion in general, the authors wrote.

In some cases, they said, the same fake accounts engaged with both sides of an issue “with the apparent intent of increasing tensions between supporters.”

Facebook’s new crackdown reflects a striking change in perspective from November, when Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the argument that fake stories on Facebook could have influenced the US presidential election “in any way” as “a pretty crazy idea.”

Vinod Khanna had roots in Peshawar

Legendary Bollywood film actor, Vinod Khanna, who died on Thursday at the age of 70 in Mumbai after protracted illness, had roots in Peshawar.

“Vinod Khanna was the son of Mehr Chand Khanna, a prominent businessman and former minister from Congress Party. He was born in Peshawar on Oct 6, 1946 at Sardar area in the Cantonment’s jurisdiction,” Mohammad Ibrahim Zia, a known film historian from Peshawar, said.

Mr Zia said that he had met Vinod Khanna in 2014 during a visit to India being a member of the delegation which went to enquire after the top Indian film industry legend, Dilip Kumar, who also belonged to Peshawar.

“During the visit, we had a meeting with Vinod Khanna in New Delhi, who was very happy over reunion with people of his birthplace (Peshawar),” he recalled.

He said that Mehr Chand Khanna was a well-off person of Peshawar and had migrated to India in 1947. At the time of migration, Vinod Khanna was an infant, but he had love for the city of his birth.

Mr Zia recalled that in late 1990s during a function held in Dubai Vinod Khanna had announced on the stage with pride that he was a ‘Peshawari’.

He said that the ancestral home of Vinod Khanna was intact and presently in use of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter of All Pakistan Women’s Association.

During the meeting with Vinod Khanna, Zia recalled, the delegation presented him gifts, including ‘Peshawari Chappal’ (sandals) and traditional dress, which he accepted very happily. Mr Zia added that he also presented a copy of his book, Peshawar Kay Funkar (The Artists of Peshawar), to the legend star.

No bearing on Champions Trophy if India boycotts: Shaharyar

LAHORE: Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan reckons majority of the member countries of the International Cricket Council are ready to face the reaction from their Indian counterpart, including the possible boycott of the upcoming Champions Trophy by the BCCI, in the wake of vote-triggered changes made at the ICC Board meetings in Dubai.

“Yes India has strongly opposed the resolution at the ICC meeting. However, it received the support only from Sri Lanka while the rest were in favour of getting rid of the ‘big three’ formula,” Shaharyar said while talking to Dawn from Dubai where he went to attend the ICC Board meetings, which passed the resolution in favour of the new ICC constitution.

“India has warned the ICC about its likely reaction which may come in the form of Champions Trophy boycott but let me clear it that it will not work as most of the member countries are ready to play without India. And in that case [India boycotting Champions Trophy], West Indies or any other team could be included in the fray by the ICC,” Shaharyar underscored.

“The ICC may face financial losses due to [possible] Indian absence at the Champions Trophy. However, most of the member countries are ready for it. Therefore, hopefully the [likely] boycott by India will not be enough to press the ICC for accepting BCCI demands,” Shaharyar affirmed.

The ICC Board has voted to pass a new financial model that will reverse a 2014 decision which effectively put India, England and Australia in control of the game’s finances and administration.

Under the new financial model and governance structure, the split of revenues from the ICC for the 2016-2023 period will be altered to address the imbalance presently favouring the three boards.

According to the ICC statement on Thursday, the measure was passed by 13 votes to one after the meetings of the game’s world governing body at its headquarters in Dubai.

The BCCI also asked to defer the resolution on the new constitution till June in order to give itself more time to study it but it was also rejected, revealed the PCB chief.

The PCB chairman further said that majority members of the ICC had also requested its chairman, Shashank Manohar, not to resign after June this year, and requested him to complete his two-year term.

“In March this year, Manohar took back his resignation as ICC chairman, with the decision that he will only work till the end of June. However, now several member countries have requested him to complete his two-year term [ending in November 2017],” he said.

“Yes, Manohar played a vital role in ending the ‘big three’ formula and the PCB has also requested him to complete his tenure as ICC chairman.”

Interestingly, Manohar is the ex-BCCI president who fought against the ‘big three’ formula to restore equality among member countries at the ICC in revenue sharing. With change in ICC’s revenue-sharing formula following ICC Board meetings, India is bound to lose $277 million in revenues over the next eight years.

To a question, Shaharyar said the PCB and the BCCI also held a meeting on the sidelines of the ICC meeting in Dubai.

“We conveyed it in clear terms to the BCCI in the meeting that as they have failed to implement the MoUs signed between the two countries in 2014 to resume the bilateral series, now the PCB has the right to file a legal case against them to recover the losses,” Shaharyar said.

“India has [kept] the same old stand for not implementing the MoUs that their government is not giving them permission but we have cleared to them that it is your government — not ours — which is creating the hurdle. Therefore, we have the right to take legal action, which we don’t want, but considering it as an only option to solve the issue,” the PCB chairman maintained.

Shaharyar said, Giles Clarke, the ICC Task Force chief, had conveyed to him that the security arrangements for the successful hosting of this year’s Pakistan Super League final at Lahore were satisfactory, and that he was ready to bring a World XI to Pakistan to play some matches against Pakistan in September this year.

The PCB chief said the intended visit of World XI, in which one or two players of all the cricket-playing countries would be included, could pave the way for international cricket revival in Pakistan.