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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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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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