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AFP photographer among 21 people killed in double Kabul blasts

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Kabul:Two blasts hit the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday, killing at least 21 people, including a photographer for French news agency AFP, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility, officials said.
The photographer, Shah Marai, was among a group of journalists caught in the second explosion as they were reporting on the initial blast.
The attacks came just a week after a blast at a voter registration centre killed 60 people, in the wake of warnings by security officials against the risk of increasing attacks ahead of parliamentary elections planned in October.
Monday’s first explosion in the Shashdarak area close to buildings of the NDS intelligence service was followed by one outside the ministry of urban development and housing, just as people were entering the government office.
Four people were killed and five injured in the first explosion, said Najib Danish, a spokesman for the interior ministry, adding that authorities had dispatched ambulances to the incident sites.
Soon after, a second explosion took place beside journalists who had gathered to cover the first blast, killing or wounding a number of photographers and cameraman, Reuters witnesses said.
Agence France-Presse’s chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, was killed in the blast, the agency confirmed in a Twitter message.
A Reuters photographer was slightly hurt by flying shrapnel.
A spokesman for the ministry of public health put the total toll at 21 dead and 27 injured.
Taliban militants, fighting to restore their version of strict Islamic law to Afghanistan, announced their usual spring offensive last week and there has been heavy fighting in several areas of the country since.
Hundreds of people have been killed and wounded in a series of high-profile attacks in Kabul since the beginning of the year, despite President Ashraf Ghani’s offer in February for peace talks “without preconditions”.


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Pakistan rules out India’s role in Afghan peace process

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Islamabad: Pakistan has ruled out any role for India in the Afghan peace process, the media reported on Friday.

“India has no role in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday while responding to a query about Islamabad’s position on New Delhi’s part in the reconciliation process.

Faisal acknowledged that Pakistan has a difficult relationship with India, saying that despite Pakistan’s efforts for normalisation, no concrete progress could be achieved in ties with India, Dawn news reported.

 

“You all know that India is not willing to engage with Pakistan,” he reminded.

Faisal’s remarks were in sharp contrast to what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told the National Assembly last month.

“Since India is present in Afghanistan, its cooperation in this regard (facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict) will also be required,” he had told legislators.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Thursday to discuss with the senior civil and military leadership the latest efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Khalilzad, who met Taliban representatives last month in Abu Dhabi, is leading an inter-agency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan from January 8-21 to “facilitate a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan”.

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US, India in talks over strategic missile defence cooperation: Pentagon

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Washington: The Trump administration has discussed a potential missile defence cooperation with India as part of its effort to deepen the bilateral strategic partnership, the Pentagon has said, asserting that New Delhi is a “key element” in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

The Pentagon’s announcement in the 81-page ”Missile Defence Review” report released by President Donald Trump gains significance in view of India placing a USD 5 billion order to purchase S-400 air defence system from Russia, for which the US had publicly expressed its displeasure.

Noting that the threats posed by offensive missile capabilities are no longer limited to a few regions around the world, the Pentagon in its report said there were now a number of countries in South Asia that are developing an advanced and diverse range of ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.

 

“Within this context, the United States has discussed potential missile defence cooperation with India. This is a natural outgrowth of India’s status as a Major Defence Partner and key element of our Indo-Pacific Strategy,” said the Pentagon report on Thursday.

The report, which identifies missile development projects by Russia and China as major threats to the US, did not give any further details about its potential missile defence cooperation with India.

The US has shown reluctance to offer its missile defence system to India.

Given the tough neighbourhood that India is in, New Delhi several years ago had approached US and expressed its desire to acquire a missile defence system from it, particularly the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system popular as THAAD.

The previous Obama administration was not very forthcoming in sharing its advance missile defence system with India, following which New Delhi went ahead to procure it from Russia.

As part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, the Trump administration now seems to be more than inclined to let India procure its missile defence system with talks between the two countries having already started.

“We will deepen our strategic partnership with India and support its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region,” said the 2017 National Security Strategy of the US, which has been mentioned in the Pentagon report.

The Missile Defence Review report said that the cornerstone of US’ security and diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region is its strong bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia, and emerging security relationships with others such as India.

Japan and South Korea are working with the US to build missile defence systems that are increasingly interoperable with American defences and increasingly capable against regional offensive missile threats and coercion.

This cooperation includes bilateral missile defence training exercises with the US.

Australia participates in a trilateral discussion on missile defence with the US and Japan. The US and Australia meet annually to discuss bilateral missile defence cooperation. New areas of focus include joint examination of the challenges posed by advanced missile threats, it said.

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400 migrants detained after crossing under fence into US

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Washington: Nearly 400 migrants burrowed under a fence on the US-Mexico border earlier this week and crossed into the US, informed sources told CNN. US Border Patrol officers stationed in Yuma, Arizona, took about 375 migrants into custody after they had made it into the US, the officials said on Thursday, calling it an unusually large apprehension.

It was not immediately clear if the migrants voluntarily surrendered to Border Patrol officials or if they were caught after attempting to evade authorities. The “vast majority” of the group were family members arriving from Guatemala, said National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd.

“It`s the largest I`ve ever heard of,” said Judd when asked if this was a significant number for a single group. There are often groups of 20 to 30 people, sometimes as large as 100, apprehended in the Yuma area, according to a Customs and Border Protection official.

 

The incident comes as President Donald Trump continues to demand funding for new barrier construction on the US-Mexico border as the government shutdown entered its 27th day , saying there was a “crisis” at the border that can only be solved with the construction of new border walls or fencing.

In November, a group of around 80 migrants from Guatemala — primarily families — were apprehended by Border Patrol after climbing over the legacy landing mat border wall east of the San Luis Port of Entry.

Hours later, another group of around 80 people entered the US by digging a shallow hole underneath the same portion of the wall, according to CBP. There has been a recent spike in total Border Patrol apprehensions in Yuma, up from 2,117 in fiscal year 2017 to 26,244 last year.

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