Bosnia, Serbia Pledge to Mend Ties, Lure Investors

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Maja Zuvela

2010-04-24T172727Z_1899635507_GM1E64P023V01_RTRMADP_3_BOSNIA

A Bosnian Muslim woman stands next to graves during a funeral in Vlasenica, in the Serb part of Bosnia, April 24, 2010. The remains of 34 Bosnian Muslims, killed by Serb forces during the country’s 1992-95 war, were exhumed from the Ogradice i Pelemis mass graves near Vlasenica and buried.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia and Serbia have agreed to make a fresh start in their relationship, soured over the past few years, and reassure investors concerned about regional stability, the Bosnian presidency chairman said on Sunday.

“We have to change the image of the Western Balkan region,” Haris Silajdzic said on his return from an Istanbul summit between the presidents of the two former Yugoslav republics and their host, Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Saturday.

Relations between Bosnia and Serbia have worsened since 2006, mainly because of Serbia’s arrest and trial of a Bosnian official for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 war, and other similar arrest warrants.

As part of its policy to heal relations between countries in the region, Turkey has intensified efforts to improve ties between the two Balkan neighbors.

While the three foreign ministers have met several times over the past six months, the Istanbul summit brought together their presidents for the first time.

“We have had different opinions about some issues but the meeting with Serbia’s President Boris Tadic was constructive… I believe it will yield good results,” said Silajdzic.

“Badly needed investments will come only if there is security and stability.”

Bosnia and Serbia signed a declaration pledging to settle the dispute over unresolved borders, property and debt, and discuss a joint approach toward international markets at a planned meeting in Belgrade.

Until now, Silajdzic, a Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite rotating presidency, has ignored invitations to visit Belgrade.

He said the Serbian parliament’s March resolution, apologizing for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which Bosnian Serb forces killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys, has paved the way for such a visit.

“I am ready to go there now,” Silajdzic said, adding that the Serbian pro-Western president has also promised to attend the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, seen as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

Tadic had said pre-occupation with war topics was counter-productive for the two countries which both aspired to join the European Union.

Bosnia’s presidency Serb member Nebojsa Radmanovic reacted angrily to Silajdzic’s meeting with Tadic, saying he did not have the consent of the other two presidency members to sign the Istanbul declaration and that he may dispute it.

“That is not in line with the constitution,” Radmanovic told reporters in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb Republic which, with the Muslim-Croat federation, makes up Bosnia. Silajdzic said he had informed the presidency about his plans.

Endless ethnic and political quarrels in the past three years have led Bosnia to a state of permanent political crisis, stalling any hope of joining the EU and NATO.

(Additional reporting by Olja Stanic in Banja Luka; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Louise Ireland)

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Muslim Business Leaders Invited by Democrats

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

The blowback of the Bush administration’s fierce pressure against Muslims has been the movement of once stalwart Republican Muslims over firmly to the Democratic camp.  Thus, 28 powerful Muslim businessmen and politicians flocked to a Democratic fundraiser in Washington, meeting with White House and Democratic Congressional leaders on April 14th and 15th–a project sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The event was organized by Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, the two Muslim congressmen.

It comprised on the first day (April 14) a visit to the White House, and on the second day (April 15) a breakfast and meeting with House Democratic Congressional leaders.

This meeting was actually the second annual DCCC “Leadership Summit.” The delegation of 28 Muslims went to the White House and met with White House senior advisor Valerie Bowman Jarrett (Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Relations), who interestingly was born to American parents in Iran and speaks Persian.

The delegation had a very friendly and fraternal meeting with congressmen including Keith Ellison and Andre Carson,  and the following Democratic congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Whip James Clyburn, DCCC Chaimran Chris Van Hollen, Chairman of the House Finance Committee Barney Fank, Chairman of Ways and Means Committee Sandy Levin, Chairman of the Homeland Securiity Committee Bennie Thompson, as well as seven other members of congress, and the DCCC executive director Jon Vogel.  The friendly nature of the meeting is evidenced by the testimony of attendees and also by the warmth of the discussions from pictures from the event.

Saeed Patel, a prominent New Jersey businessman, President of Amex Computers, said of the two days of meetings that “the main theme was making introductions, raising concerns, and the second thing was promotion of business.”

“Ellison now has been looking into arranging trade delegations to other countries, including India,” explained Mr. Patel–”he’s focusing on Muslim countries but there are also 150 million Muslims in India.”

Patel attended a recent such trade commission to Turkey.  “We went to Turkey last year–one week, different places, to promote trade.  We were hosted by the US ambassador in Ankara.  We met quite a few people… made a lot of contacts.”

“I am hopeful,” he said.  There can be “a lot of business between here and Turkey.”

The delegates, as described by Mr. Patel, included “a lot of people, some social activists, some doctors.”

“I felt that [Democratic leaders] were very gracious–they went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable.  Pelosi, Jarrett, all were very nice.  Very sympathetic.”

The honorable Mohammed Hameeduddin, a city councilman of Teaneck NJ, explained that his  agenda was “racial profiling.”

As an example, Hameeduddin cited the recent visit by Saeed Patel to Turkey–saying Patel on his return trip was “treated harshly by the TSA.”

“I expressed my views to Pelosi, Frank, and Benny Thompson,” said Hameeduddin.

Patel explained that the meeting was “very promising, Ellison and Carson both mentioned that, and Jarrett–this is not just hello and goodbye, this is hello and more hello, more interaction.”  The democrats communicated that “You are more than welcome, give us your personal opinions and experiences to take into account.”

“It was a good exchange,” said Patel.  “Nobody was holding back, everyone was speaking his mind.”

Some of the delegates expressed some consternation, he said, that Obama and the Democrats have been in office more than a year and yet there is still harassment in travel.

Benny Thompson, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, explained in seriousness that if a person is mistreated by airport security personnel he should “always get the name of the person disrespectful to you.”  But he also quipped, “Not too long ago your community was Republican, was it not?”

Patel explained that a follow-up meeting is in the works with Attorney General Eric Holder, on the subject of civil rights abuses against Muslims.

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Consensus Eludes Women’s Reservation Bill

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Euphoria raised over Women’s Reservation Bill’s passage in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) appears to have virtually lost its importance within less than a month. The bill was passed by Rajya Sabha, last month on March 9, a day after the Women’s Day. The bill proposes to reserve 33% seats for women in the Parliament and State Legislatures. Prospects of the bill securing passage in the Lower House (Lok Sabha) seem fairly limited. This was indicated by the failure of the all-party meeting held in the capital city to reach any consensus. During the meeting (April 5), chaired by leader of Lok Sabha, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, leaders of different parties expressed their stand on the controversial bill.

A brief note, issued after the all-party meeting by Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, stated: “The leaders of various parties expressed their views on the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 pertaining to the Reservation of Seats for Women in the House of the People and State Assemblies.” “Further discussion will continue,” the note said, signaling that stalemate over the controversial bill has not yet been resolved.

The Congress party, heading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition, is on stickier ground than before, as at the all-party meeting, its key ally – Trinamool Congress Party (TCP), also voiced opposition to the bill. During the meeting, TCP chief Mamata Bannerjee, supported the demand of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) for a “quota-within-quota,” as per which the bill should include reservation for women, who are Muslims, belong to backward classes and Dalits.

“The Muslim interest should not be ignored,” Bannerjee said during the meeting while joining the chorus raised by opponents of the bill.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also emphasized that the party would oppose the bill, if it was presented in its present form without a “quota-within-quota.”

Prospects of parties arriving at any agreement on the bill seem fairly limited. A key supporter of the bill, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has indicated that it would oppose it, if it included the demand for “quota-within-quota.”  Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, said that her party (BJP) was “totally against quota-within-quota.”

Interestingly, the left bloc legislators, supporters of the bill in its present form, have not clarified their stand on “quota-within-quota.”  While stating that his party was not opposed to “consider” the proposal for “quota-within-quota,” Basudeb Acharia (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said: “Under the constitutional set up, there is no provision in election either for OBC (Other Backward Classes) or Muslim minorities.” He laid stress that his party favored passage of the bill in its present form; in other words- without “quota-within-quota.” 

When questioned on his party’s stand on “quota-within-quota,” Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India) said: “We have not raised it.” At the same time, he said that his party was against the bill being “dumped.” The CPI is not against the government taking time “to arrive at a consensus” but was against “any kind of deferment if the intention is to dump the bill,” he said. 

The question of a “consensus” being reached on the bill seems practically impossible as the three parties (RJD, SP and JD-U) remain firm on their demand for a “quota-within-quota.” Their stand was supported at the all-party meeting by TCP and BSP. RJD chief Lalu Prasad said after the meeting: “I thank the government for this all-party meeting. But Muslim, backward classes and Dalit women must be given quota. Our stand has not changed. We have requested the government to rethink the issue and call for a second meeting.”

“We have opposed the bill in its present form. We are not opposed to reservation for women,” SP leader Mulayam Singh said.

With 441 members out of 544 members in Lok Sabha in favor of the bill, the Congress would lose majority in the House, if TCP withdraws its support. Interestingly, chances of the bill being presented in the Lok Sabha, without a consensus being arrived at seem fairly limited. The TCP legislators had abstained from discussion and vote on the bill in Rajya Sabha last month.

Developments suggest that bill is likely to be pushed to the backburner till a “consensus” is reached among the different political parties. In fact, the bill may not be introduced in the Lok Sabha without a “consensus” being arrived at. This is suggested by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s reply to how would she handle the chaos and stormy scenes in the House over the bill. Laying stress that there was need for a “consensus first” among all parties on the bill, Kumar said: “There has to be a consensus about that for which they (the parties) are trying. Lets see what happens.” 

Ironically, differences prevailed even on the wording of the statement issued by the government at the end of the meeting. Initially, the government wanted to state that the meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and that decency and decorum would be maintained in the Parliament. The government was also keen to state that efforts would be made to find an amicable solution to the issue. Objections raised by Lalu Prasad, however, compelled the government to redraft the statement, deleting these points and instead state: “Further discussions will continue.”

During the two-hour meeting, the government was represented by Mukherjee, Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Defense Minister A.K. Antony and Law Minister Veerappa Moily. Among others who attended the meeting were leaders of BJP, SP, RJD, BSP, CPI-M, CPI, JD-U, Telegu Desam Party, TCP and Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam. 

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Indo-Azerbaijan Ties With a Filmy & Romantic Touch!

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Bollywood icons, particularly Raj Kapoor and Nargis, may be viewed as actors of the past by Indian society, they still remain a favorite in Azerbaijan. This was revealed by members of Azerbaijani delegation who were in India last week. Led by Huseyn Bagirov, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, the delegation was here for the first meeting of India-Azerbaijan Intergovernmental Commission, which was held on 26th November. The Indian side was led by Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya M. Scindia. Though held after being postponed a few times, the meeting is viewed by both sides as a major milestone in strengthening India-Azerbaijan ties. On sidelines of the meeting, members from both sides dismissed the delay in the meeting as an insignificant issue. Rather, they gave emphasis to the meeting being held, which they were “absolutely confident” would enhance their bilateral ties.

During their meeting, held in “an atmosphere of mutual understanding and traditional friendship,” the two sides “exchanged information on the current economic situation in their respective countries and opportunities that exist for further development of bilateral economic relationship,” sources said. They agreed to deliberate on measures to be “undertaken to increase the volume of bilateral trade on a balanced basis and to widen the trade basket of bilateral trade for mutual benefit.”  India is keen on entering into a long term contract with Azerbaijan for supply of crude oil, sources said.

India and Azerbaijan agreed “to develop economic ties” and explore “opportunities of implementation of mutual investment projects.” They aim to create a “friendly and positive atmosphere among businessmen of the two countries and contribute to enhancing mutual trade relations,” sources said.” The two sides decided to through “mutual diplomatic channels” develop “cooperation in field of oil-chemistry industry, especially oil treatment,” enhance technical cooperation and find possibilities for exchange of views in the field of agriculture, and explore opportunities for participation of Azerbaijan at workshops and trainings organized by India’s International Technical Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program and other technical assistance programs.

India and Azerbaijan also touched on issues such as their membership of International North-South transport corridor (INSTC). They expressed the need to “make joint efforts towards identifying issues and impediments in the smooth functioning of the Corridor and to further develop their relations in the area of transportation,” sources said. With Azerbaijan well endowed with good reserves of non-ferrous minerals like gold, aluminum, zinc, copper, molybdenum, chrome, rock salt, gypsum, limestone, bitumen, clay, marble, etc, they also viewed cooperation in the field of non-ferrous metallurgy as “mutually beneficial,” sources said
In the field of Communication & Information Technology, as India plays a leading role, the two sides deliberated on inking an agreement on bilateral cooperation. The delegates also agreed on their being “potential” for strengthening bilateral ties by expanding cooperation in areas such as agriculture, tourism, environment protection, health, education, customs issue, chemical & petrochemical sector and the engineering industry.

Ironically, though the meeting is viewed as a major beginning towards developing stronger bilateral ties between India and Azerbaijan at the diplomatic level, it served as an eye-opener to strong cultural and historical ties between the two countries. On sidelines of the meeting, the Azerbaijani members drew attention to the traditional folklore Laila-Majnu, on which several Hindi movies have been made. It can be traced to Azerbaijan, with Nizami Ganjavi, known as the greatest Azerbaijani poet, who lived in 12th century, having begun a new trend in poetry- the epic-romantic genre. The historic linkage is also marked by Azerbaijani-origins of Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty in India. The outstanding monuments constructed during the Mughal period, include the Humayun tomb in Delhi. The architect of the tomb was from Azerbaijan.

What is perhaps most amazing is that cultural linkage between people of the two countries remains strong. Bollywood movies and film-stars are extremely popular in Azerbaijan. It was a pleasant surprise to find the visiting Azerbaijani delegates enjoying Hindi film songs being sung at a reception hosted in their honor by their country’s envoy to India, Tamerlan Karayev. Even though for several Azerbaijani delegates, it was a first visit to India, they seemed fairly familiar with Hindi movies as they easily voiced the names of films from which the various songs were being played. Elshad Nassirov, Vice President, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, who has been to India before, revealed that amongst the most popular names used in his country, were Indian names, including that of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and film star Nargis. In his words: “You will find quite a few Indiras in Azerbaijan. It is a popular name there. So is Nargis. My wife’s name is Nargis.”

Muslims constitute more than ninety percent of Azerbaijan’s population. Earlier, a part of former superpower Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared its independence on 18th October 1991. India recognized Azerbaijan in December 1991 and established diplomatic ties with it on 28th February 1992.

Notwithstanding the diplomatic formalities taking their own time in strengthening cooperation between India and Azerbaijan at the official level, there is little doubt that people have let their cultural ties remain undisturbed.  While Laila-Majnu, Shireen-Farhad and other romantic folklores traced to Azerbaijan remain popular here, Bollywood superstars, including Raj Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan are a favorite there!

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Indian Diplomacy Towards Pakistan

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI: History, internal politics, regional factors as well as diplomatic pressure from other quarters play a great role in shaping India’s diplomatic ties with Pakistan. Within less than two months of inking a joint statement with his Pakistani counterpart Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani in Sharm El Sheikh on July 16, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent a totally different message to people at home. The joint statement described the two prime ministers’ meeting as “cordial and constructive,” during which “they considered the entire gamut of bilateral relations with a view to charting the way forward in India-Pakistan relations.” While accepting that terrorism posed a serious threat, they “recognized that dialogue is the only way forward.” “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed,” according to the joint statement.

On Mumbai-terror strikes, which have had a negative impact on Indo-Pak ties, while Singh “reiterated the need to bring perpetuators of Mumbai attacks to justice,” Gilani “assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.” They also agreed that, “real challenge is development and elimination of poverty.” They resolved to “eliminate” such factors and “agreed to work to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence.”

Later, expressing satisfaction on his meeting with Gilani on sidelines of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Egypt, Singh said that he had “good discussions” with him. During the meeting, “We discussed the present condition of India-Pakistan relations, its future potential, and the steps that are necessary to enable us to realize the potential,” Singh said.

Within less than two months of his talks with Gilani and just ahead of another top-level Indo-Pak meeting, Singh almost ruled out possibility of improving ties with Pakistan in the near future. “Until relations between India and Pakistan don’t improve and brotherhood does not increase, the atmosphere is not right for moving ahead,” Singh said at a function in the border district of Barmer in Rajasthan (August 29). At the same time, expressing his desire for improvement in Indo-Pak ties, Singh said: “I want our relations to improve.” “If relations between India and Pakistan improve, a lot of things can happen. I think border-states like Punjab, Rajasthan and other states will benefit if relations improve,” he pointed out.

Earlier in the week, while addressing the conference of Indian heads of missions, Singh said: “India has a stake in prosperity and stability of all our South Asian neighbors. We should strive to engage our neighbors constructively and resolve differences through peaceful means and negotiations” (August 25).

Difference in the diplomatic tone used by Singh on India’s approach towards Pakistan at different levels cannot be ignored. The joint statement inked in Sharm El Sheikh was certainly not confined to the Indian audience. It was released on sidelines of a multilateral summit, apparently to convince the world leaders that India and Pakistan are keen on normalizing their ties. A different message would certainly have been sent had the two prime ministers not held talks. Not only did they meet, held talks but they also released a joint statement. In other words, they exercised all diplomatic moves essential on the sidelines of another summit to assure the world that India and Pakistan are keen on improving their relations. Besides, the meeting was held a few days ahead of United States’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s India-visit. India apparently was keen to convince US about its positive approach towards Pakistan. Had Singh and Gilani not held talks on an optimistic note, there prevailed the risk of United States using diplomatic pressure during Clinton’s visit for improvement in Indo-Pak ties. Thus, though the joint statement later invited strong criticism from opposition parties in India, it was framed and issued for the world leaders, including the United States. A similar diplomatic message was conveyed in Singh’s address at the conference of Indian envoys in the capital city (August 25).

The change in Singh’s tone stands out in the comments he made in Rajasthan, laying stress that atmosphere is not conducive for “moving ahead” with Indo-Pak talks. Similarly, while speaking at the inauguration of three-day conference of Indian envoys, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said that meaningful talks with Pakistan would only be possible after Islamabad ended cross-border terrorism. Krishna also laid stress that India was keen to resolve its differences with Pakistan through talks. “We are still to see Pakistan take effective steps to end infiltration and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism. We have maintained that a stable Pakistan at peace with itself is a desirable goal and we wish to address our differences with Pakistan through dialogue,” Krishna said (August 24). It cannot be missed that foreign ministers of the two countries are expected to meet in September in New York on sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meet.

Clearly, at one level the pause in resumption of Indo-Pak composite dialogue process gives the impression that two countries are still a long way off from normalizing their ties. Diplomatic significance of their holding top-level talks on sidelines of multilateral summits cannot, however, be ignored. They have not backtracked from their decision to normalize ties nor have restrained from making use of available diplomatic opportunities to shake hands and talk. While India is keen to let the world know about it favoring talks with Pakistan, at home, the government is apparently more concerned about convincing the people that cross-border terrorism remains a hurdle in normalizing ties with Islamabad!

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Jews Plan Israel Boycott

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Leon Symons

The JC has revealed plans developed by Jews For Justice For Palestinians (JFJFP) to cause maximum damage to Israel by extending boycotts.

At the anti-Israel organisation’s recent annual meeting, activists discussed a survey of its members which showed clear support for a comprehensive boycott. More than 400 JFJFP activists responded to the survey.

The meeting considered three options, based on the survey results: “1. That we maintain our present position; 2. That we will consider, on a case-by-case basis, smart boycotts against the occupation; 3. That we will consider, on a case-by-case basis, smart boycotts but not restricted to the occupation.”

The meeting voted for the third option, which would enable JFJFP to initiate or support boycotts of all Israeli goods and services.

In a letter sent to members on Monday, after the meeting, the executive recommends option two, which would widen the group’s activities beyond its current focus on the settlements to taking in everything connected to what it terms the “occupation”.

This would mean boycotting companies, goods and services that could be shown to be connected directly to the Occupied Territories. That would include targeting those who refuse to say whether or not they worked in the Occupied Territories.

In explaining the detail of this option, the JFJFP executive s ay: “By targeting Israel’s policy of colonisation, this also avoids the accusation — important for an organisation like JFJFP — of being anti-Israel.”

Recommending option two, the executive say it is, among other things, best “for minimising the inevitable misrepresentation of our position in such a way as to make work directed at those who belong to Jewish communal organisations much harder than it is at present”.

The survey shows that the executive is worried about the impact of adopting a wider boycott strategy on the group’s reputation among Jews. Question two asks: “Do you think adopting a broader boycott position would make JFJFP more, or less, attractive to Jews in Britain who take issue with Israeli policy but have not chosen to express that concern by becoming a JFJFP signatory?”

Two-hundred and forty seven out of the 417 respondents said they thought JFJFP would be much less attractive. Another 96 stayed neutral.

JFJFP currently supports a ban on the importation of all settlement produce and claims it was “a very significant contributor to the process whereby the UK government strongly objected to the mislabelling of goods produced in the occupied Palestinian territories”.

It also supports the boycott of companies such as Caterpillar, which it says is “involved in home demolitions and the destruction of, for example, olive groves in order to build the barrier”.

It backs the boycott of companies involved in supporting settlements and demands “an end to the sale of arms to Israel and any purchase of arms or security equipment from Israel”.

The meeting also included a series of workshops exploring how anti-Israel activists should respond to various situations, using recent events as the basis for discussion.

These included the Zionist Federation’s hire of the Bloomsbury Theatre, the Edinburgh Film Festival’s acceptance of Israeli sponsorship and the announcement of a Leonard Cohen concert in Israel.

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