The Indian defence budget for FY 2006-07 is Rs 89, 000 crore (cr). This is 7.23 per cent more than the budget in FY 2004-05. As a percentage of GDP, the budget is 2.29 per cent as against 2.39 per cent in the previous year. Taking the revised allocation of Rs 81, 700 at RE (Revised Estimate) stage in FY 2004-05, the increase is 8.94 per cent.
While much analysis has gone into the recently held talks at Geneva on February 22 and 23, 2006, the consensus lies in the recognition that the talks were an important beginning to make a political solution possible to this intractable conflict. At Geneva the two sides had taken divergent positions prior to the talks, with the government desiring an amendment of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and the LTTE seeking better implementation of the same.
The All Party Hurriyat Conference's (APHC) refusal, apparently under 'outside' pressure, to participate in the February 25 roundtable can be held to be detrimental to none but itself and the people of Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi for its part justifiably went ahead as per schedule, driving home the point that the creation of a 'Naya' and 'Khushaal' Kashmir will not be held hostage to the whim and moods of any individual or group.
President George W. Bush will be on his first official trip to India from March 1 to 3. India has travelled the road from natural partner to strategic partner to a global partner of the US in merely a few years. The new equation between India and the United States depends to a large extent on the manner in which business and trade ties progress in the future.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's state visit (February 12-14, 2006) to Pakistan after a gap of a decade signals subtle changes that are driving bilateral relations. Both sides are consciously moving away from the political issues that had undermined ties for long and are looking to economic cooperation as the engine of change. The composition of the delegation accompanying the Prime Minister and the focus of the official dialogue reveal a focus on strengthening economic ties.
Baluchistan is back in news. Most resolute among the Baluchis would tell you they are fighting a last ditch battle against Pakistan. They would try to convince you the flame of Baluchi resistance would live on. Will the Baluch resistance live on or will it be put out by the might of the Pakistan military for the time being only to rise again in the future.
As a fresh attempt to kick start the Sri Lankan peace process takes shape, the future of this strife-torn island swings uncertainly between no war and new war. Formal talks between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been stalled since 2003. After much dispute over a mutually acceptable venue, the two sides finally agreed on Geneva, and talks are set to take place on February 22-23, 2006. But both sides are looking at only a limited mandate for the upcoming talks.
In the last month tensions had mounted in Nigeria's oil rich Delta region due to the kidnapping of four expatriate oil workers and attacks by militant youths at two oil flow stations at Bayelsa state, owned by the energy giant Shell. The violence caused a shock in the Delta. Shell had to evacuate 326 staff and contract workers from four remote oil facilities and shut down production of 211, 000 barrels per day in the western Delta region. This move had led to price increase in the already jumpy oil market.
Russia's concern over Iran's nuclear programme is increasing with every passing day. Iranian authorities are showing un-willingness to accept Russia's proposal to enrich uranium in Russian territory. Russia is trying to resolve an international crisis over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme, though its position on Iran has rhetorically moved closer to the European "Troika" (France, Germany, UK). Russia agreed to Iran's referral to the UN Security Council on the condition that the council would take action only after the March 6 IAEA meeting.
In the post Yasser Arafat era, politics in the Gaza Strip is taking a completely different turn. For the last few years Ariel Sharon had taken a very tough stand against the militant group Hamas. However, now, particularly when Sharon is fighting for his life in the hospital, the Hamas's overwhelming victory in the Palestinian elections is likely to change the political dynamics of the region incalculably.