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Challenges in South Asia to grow due to elections in Afghanistan, India: US report

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Washington: United States Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats expects challenges facing the South Asian region to grow in 2019 due to elections in Afghanistan and India, large-scale Taliban attacks and “Pakistan’s recalcitrance in dealing with militant groups”.

In a public testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Coats presented a threat assessment report outlining significant global security threats facing the US.

The National Intelligence director in his remarks predicted that in the coming year, “militant groups in Pakistan will continue to take advantage of their safe haven there to plan and conduct attacks in neighbouring countries and possibly beyond.”

 

Coats’ report holds Pakistan responsible for supporting and providing terrorists safe haven “to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests”. It also accuses Islamabad of “using some groups as policy tools and confronting only the militant groups that directly threaten Pakistan”.

The report claims that Pakistan’s “narrow approach to counter-terrorism cooperation […] almost certainly will frustrate US counter-terrorism efforts against the Taliban”.

The comments come at a time when Pakistan is playing a pivotal role in aiding talks between the Taliban and the US in order to further the Afghan peace process and end the 17-year-long war. Islamabad has consistently denied allegations that it provides safe haven to terrorists or engages in cross-border terrorism.

The report predicts that neither the Taliban nor Kabul will be able to gain a strategic military advantage in the Afghan war in 2019 “if coalition support remains at current levels”.

It notes that the Taliban has stepped up large scale attacks although Afghan forces “generally have secured cities and other government strongholds”.

“Afghan security suffers from a large number of forces being tied down in defensive missions, mobility shortfalls, and a lack of reliable forces to hold recaptured territory,” the report adds.

Coats in his remarks before the Senate committee had said: “We remain concerned about Pakistan’s continued development control of nuclear weapons,” but did not express any concern about India’s nuclear programme, although the report notes that India had, in 2018, conducted its first deployment of a nuclear-powered submarine armed with nuclear missiles.

The 2019 report mentions that “Pakistan continues to develop new types of nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer range ballistic missiles.”

A 2016 Harvard Kennedy report on prevention of nuclear terrorism states that India’s nuclear security measures “may be weaker than those of Pakistan”. However, the risk of theft across the border “appears to be moderate”, while in Pakistan it “appears to be high”.

The overall threat from weapons of mass destruction is expected to continue growing in 2019, according to the US threat report, which claims that Pakistan and India’s growing nuclear arsenals “increase the risk of a nuclear security incident in South Asia”. It adds that new types of nuclear weapons “will introduce new risks for escalation dynamics and security in the region”.

‘Pak-India tensions to persist in 2019’The report speculates that strained relations between Pakistan and India will persist “at least through May 2019, the deadline for the Indian election, and probably beyond”.

It attributes this supposition to cross-border terrorism, firing across the Line of Control, divisive national elections in India, and Islamabad’s perception of its position with the US relative to India.

“Continued terrorist attacks and cross-border firing in Kashmir have hardened each country’s position and reduced their political will to seek rapprochement,” the report says, adding: “Political manoeuvring resulting from the Indian national elections probably will further constrain near-term opportunities for improving ties.”

The Indian elections are also expected to play their part in stoking communal violence within the country which “could alienate Indian Muslims and allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence,” the report warns.

Furthermore, the US expects relations between India and China to remain tense “despite efforts on both sides to manage tensions since the border standoff in 2017, elevating the risk of unintentional escalation”.

Although Chinese and Indian leadership held an informal summit in April 2018 to defuse tensions and normalise relations, border issues were not addressed, the report notes. “Misperceptions of military movements or construction might result in tensions escalating into armed conflict.”


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Pakistan among the few countries to successfully turn tide against terrorism: Imran

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Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the country condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including state-terrorism against people under illegal occupation. The PM stated that Pakistan is “among the few countries to have successfully turned the tide against terrorism”.

Addressing the 19th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit at Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Khan reiterated that Pakistan is ready to share its experience and expertise in counter-terrorism. He added that growing intolerance and Islamophobia are threatening to accentuate religious fault-lines. He further said that Pakistan will remain actively engaged in SCO’s counter-terrorism initiatives.

Speaking on Afghanistan, PM Khan said that “the conflict in Afghanistan has no military solution”, adding that Pakistan is fully supporting efforts for “peace and reconciliation, through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process”.

 

“Excellencies, The world stands at a crossroads. For the first time in ages, we are seeing the advent of a multi-polar global order. Epicentres of economic power and growth momentum are shifting eastwards. Regional integration is speeding up. Disruptive technologies are maturing. Threats from terrorism to climate change to narcotics to bacterial resistance continue to loom large,” said PM Khan.

“There are increasing barriers to open trade and innovation. Meanwhile, growing intolerance and Islamophobia are threatening to accentuate religious fault-lines. For its part, Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including State-terrorism against people under illegal occupation. We are among the few countries to have successfully turned the tide against terrorism,” added the Pakistan PM.

“Pakistan remains ready to share its experience and expertise in counter-terrorism. We will also remain actively engaged in SCO’s counter-terrorism initiatives. Excellencies, There is finally a realization that the conflict in Afghanistan has no military solution. Pakistan is fully supporting efforts for peace and reconciliation, through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process,” further said Pakistan PM Khan.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reiterated India’s strong stand against terrorism and appealed that countries supporting, aiding and funding terrorism must be held accountable. PM Modi highlighted the spirit and ideals of SCO to strengthen cooperation in the fight against terrorism even as Khan looked on.

Without naming Pakistan, a country that has made state-sponsored terrorism its biggest policy to counter India for the last several decades, PM Modi said every country needs to come together, unite and fight against the scourge.

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Putin says Russia will fight for the right of Palestinians to their own state

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Moscow: Vladimir Putin has said Russia will fight for an independent Palestinian state, and called for the issues of the Middle East to be resolved through peaceful means.

Despite international criticism over Russia’s own role in the Ukrainian crisis, Mr Putin was hailed last week by a St Petersburg Cossack group for his ability to “bring order and stop wars”.

In an address to the Arab League summit in Egypt on Saturday, Putin spoke against foreign intervention in countries’ internal disputes and spoke of the role Russia can play in diplomatic channels.

 

While Russia openly opposes the stance of US-backed Israel on the Gaza crisis, its position in the Middle East is complicated. Putin is one of Iran’s key allies, but as he spoke on Saturday the core nations of the Arab League engaged in air strikes on the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

His attempts to urge a peaceful solution in Yemen haven’t had much of an immediate impact – on Sunday, the Arab League agreed to the creation of a joint military forces comprised of around 40,000 elite troops to resolve the future “challenges” of the Middle East.

As one of the “Quartet” entities involved in Middle East peace negotiations, Russia has played a key role in talks about the fallout of last year’s Gaza crisis.

He told the summit this weekend: “Palestinians have the right to establish an independent and habitable state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

“Russia will continue to contribute to achieving this goal through bilateral and multilateral channels,” he said.

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Trump claims Queen had fun with him during his UK visit

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Washington: US President Donald Trump claimed that Britains Queen Elizabeth II had more fun during his state visit to the UK than in the last 25 years."I have such a great relationship, and we were laughing and having fun. And her people said she hasnt had so much fun in 25 years. Then I got criticized for it because they said we were having too much fun,” the Hill quoted Trump as saying.

Trump`s comments come two weeks after his first state visit to London to meet the 93-year-old monarch. During his three-day visit, the president dined with the Queen, members of the British royal family and other British politicians at Buckingham Palace.

Trump and the queen reaffirmed the importance of the Washington-London relationship during an elaborate state banquet.”On behalf of all Americans I offer a toast to the eternal friendship of our people, the vitality of our nations and to the long cherished and truly remarkable reign of her majesty, the queen,” Trump said in his toast during the event.

 

He also met Prime Minister Theresa May. Opposing Trumps visit, thousands of people hit the streets. TheTrump Baby` blimp was flown by the demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament, according to CNN, alongside a 16-foot robot version of Trump sitting on the toilet and tweeting.

Other activists came dressed as gorillas, with signs reading that they “only eat chlorinated chicken” — a nod to concerns in Britain that a post-Brexit trade deal with the US would mean a decline in food standards for imported produce.

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