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Any agreement on Afghan crisis to address Pakistan’s equities: US

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WASHINGTON: The US military strategy for South Asia includes assuring Pak­istan that its “equities” are acknowledged and addressed in any future agreement in Afghanistan, says a key American general.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week, Gen Joseph Votel also said that “some military cooperation activities” between the US and Pakistan have continued even though the Trump administration has suspended security assistance to the country.

“Our posture with Pakis­tan involves supporting our colleagues at the Department of State as they pursue a diplomatic solution with Islamabad to end the conflict in Af­ghanistan while ensuring that Pakistan’s equities are acknowledged and addressed in any future agreement,” he said.

 

Islamabad has never hesitated in sharing its concern with Washington that it feared a hostile setup in Kabul would be used, particularly by India, for stirring troubles in Pakistan. American analysts in Washington claim that it’s this fear that has prevented Islamabad from severing its ties to the Taliban.Gen Votel, however, told the committee members that Pakistan was an important regional player — not just because of the Afghan conflict — and that’s why Washington wants to retain its relationship with Islamabad. “As a state possessing nuclear weapons that sits at the nexus of Russian, Chinese, Indian, Iranian, and US geopolitical interests, Pakistan will always be a country of importance to the United States,” he said.

Gen Votel also acknowledged the positive role Pakistan has played in arranging the ongoing dialogue between US and Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar, and hoped that this cooperation would continue.

Noting that ‘regionalisation’ was a key part of the US strategy for Afghanistan, the general said: “Pakistan, in my estimations, has played a more helpful role, a more constructive role in helping us move forward towards this objective.”

As head of the US Central Command, Gen Votel is directly responsible for US military and anti-terrorism operations in the Pak-Afghan region. “Pakistan presents the US with challenges and opportunities in the execution of our South Asia Strategy,” he told the Senate panel, but also complained that Pakistan’s actions were “often a source of frustration” to US regional efforts in Afghanistan.

Gen Votel said that Pakis­tan has taken positive steps to assist Special US Repre­sentative of Afghanis­tan Zalmay Khalilzad in support of Afghanistan reconciliation by facilitating talks with the Taliban. But Pakistan “has avoided taking any concrete or irreversible steps such as arresting or expelling Taliban leaders who do not cooperate with reconciliation efforts”, he said.


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Trump’s confidence on lawsuit, calls it ‘open-and-closed case’

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Washington D.C. (USA): President Donald Trump expressed confidence on Tuesday that he would prevail against a lawsuit filed by 16 US states seeking to block his declaration of a national emergency to fund a wall along the US border with Mexico.

The group of states, including California and New York, has charged the president and top officials in his administration with taking away taxpayer funds for their communities to fulfil a promise from his 2016 campaign to curb illegal immigration and the flow of drugs.

Trump’s remarks to reporters in the Oval Office suggested he was not concerned or surprised by the states’ legal challenge.

 

“I think, in the end, we’re going to be very successful with the lawsuit,” Trump said. “It’s an open-and-closed case.”

The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed its own lawsuit in a US District Court in California, alleging that “Trump disregarded the will of Congress with his emergency declaration.”

Legal experts have said challenges to Trump’s emergency declaration, which critics have called unconstitutional, face an uphill and probably losing battle in a showdown likely to be decided by the conservative-majority US Supreme Court.

Trump declared the national emergency under a 1976 law after Congress declined to give him the USD 5.7 billion he wanted to build parts of the barrier this year.

The president’s demand for wall funding triggered a historic 35-day government shutdown that ended in January. Democrats and Republicans later agreed on a deal to avoid another shutdown with USD 1.4 billion allocated toward border fencing. Trump agreed to sign that and then declared a national emergency, redirecting an additional USD 6.7 billion beyond what lawmakers authorized for the project.

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Michigan joined forces for the lawsuit.

The states said Trump’s order would cause them to lose millions of dollars in federal funding for National Guard units dealing with counter-drug activities and that redirection of funds from authorised military construction projects would damage their economies.

Texas landowners and an environmental group also filed suit against the move.

Trump predicted the legal challenges when he made the announcement in the White House Rose Garden last week, and he defended his right to make the declaration on Tuesday.

“We need strong borders. We have to stop drugs and crime and criminals and human trafficking. And we have to stop all of those things that a strong wall will stop,” he said.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the country’s top Democrat, has called a wall immoral. The issue is likely to be a flashpoint in the 2020 presidential campaign, just as it was when Trump, a Republican, ran for president in 2016.

The ACLU suit, filed on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said that in addition to diverting taxpayer money from other federal projects, Trump’s barrier would affect “ecologically sensitive habitats” and disturb wilderness areas along the border.

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China closes Tibet to foreigners for sensitive anniversaries

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Beijing: China is keeping foreign travelers out of Tibet during sensitive political anniversaries. Travel agencies contacted Wednesday said foreign tourists would not be allowed into the Himalayan region until April 1.

It’s not clear when the ban started, although some monitoring groups said it started this month.

March 10 is the 60th anniversary of an abortive 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, while anti-government riots occurred March 14, 2008, in the regional capital Lhasa.

 

While the foreigner travel ban is an annual occurrence, the occasion of the 60th anniversary is drawing special attention from the authorities.

Amid heavy security on the ground, Tibet is almost entirely closed to foreign journalists and diplomats and information about actual conditions there is hard to obtain.

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Theresa May in Brussels again, seeking Brexit movement

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Brussels: British Prime Minister Theresa May makes another trip to Brussels on Wednesday, hoping European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker may prove more yielding than of late to salvage her Brexit deal.

With Britain set to jolt out of the world’s biggest trading bloc in 37 days unless May can either persuade the British parliament or the European Union to budge, officials were cautious on the chances of a breakthrough.

The key sticking point is the so-called backstop, an insurance policy to prevent the return of extensive checks on the sensitive border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

 

May agreed on the protocol with EU leaders in November but then saw it roundly rejected last month by UK lawmakers who said the government’s legal advice that it could tie Britain to EU rules indefinitely made the backstop unacceptable.

She has promised parliament to rework the treaty to try to put a time limit on the protocol or give Britain some other way of getting out of an arrangement which her critics say would leave the country “trapped” by the EU.

A spokesman for May called the Brussels trip “significant” as part of a process of engagement to try to agree on the changes her government says parliament needs to pass the deal.

But an aide for Juncker quoted the Commission president as saying on Tuesday evening: “I have great respect for Theresa May for her courage and her assertiveness. We will have friendly talk tomorrow but I don’t expect a breakthrough.”

EU sources aired frustration with Britain’s stance on Brexit, saying Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay brought no new proposals to the table when he was last in Brussels on Monday for talks with the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Anil Ambani guilty of contempt in Ericsson case, SC says 3 months jail if he fails to pay Rs 453 cr

On Tuesday, the EU responded to UK demands again: “The EU 27 will not reopen the withdrawal agreement; we cannot accept a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause,” said Margaritis Schinas, a spokesman for Juncker.

“We are listening and working with the UK government … for an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU on March 29.”

May’s spokesman again said it was the prime minister’s intention to persuade the EU to reopen the divorce deal.

“There is a process of engagement going on. Tomorrow is obviously a significant meeting between the prime minister and President Juncker as part of that process,” he said.

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