Panetta urges India to take a 'more robust' role in Afghanistan



NEW DELHI // Leon Panetta, the United States defence secretary, is urging India's leaders to play a more robust role in Afghanistan as US tensions with Pakistan, continue to churn.

India has not been a major military player in the war but US officials said Mr Panetta will talk with Indian leaders about possibly helping to train the Afghan army and police.

Such discussions come at a fragile time and risk further roiling US relations with Pakistan. Washington and Islamabad have been deadlocked over ground supply routes into Afghanistan, which were shut down late last year after a US airstrike mistakenly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.

Nato reached an agreement with other Central Asia nations that would bypass Pakistan to move military equipment in and out of Afghanistan.

Defence officials travelling with Mr Panetta said the US would like India and Pakistan to work in concert to help stabilise Afghanistan.

Pakistan, however, is likely to view any increased Indian role in Afghanistan with suspicion and worry that it may dilute its influence on the Afghans' future.

Mr Panetta's stop in New Delhi will also gain attention in Islamabad, particularly since in his previous job as CIA chief he directed many of the drone attacks on insurgents in Pakistan.

Mr Panetta yesterday met the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and Shiv Shankar Menon, the national security adviser. Today he will meet AK Antony, the defence minister.

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Place of Birth: Dubai, UAE
Marital Status: Single
School: Al Sufouh in Jumeirah, Dubai
University: Emirates Airline National Cadet Programme and Hamdan University
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December 9 - 24: Handicrafts competition, from 4pm until 10pm, Heritage Souq

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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