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No talks with Taliban, India attends Moscow conference on Afghanistan in ‘non-official’ capacity

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Moscow : India made it clear that its participation in the multilateral conference in Moscow, Russia, was in sync with its Afghan policy and asserted that attending the meeting was not talking to the Taliban at all. It also said that it attended the conference in a “non-official” capacity in a bid to bring back peace in Afghanistan.

Initially, the meeting was proposed for September 4 but it was called off after the Afghan government pulled out of it. India had also declined an invitation to the meeting then. The Afghan government is learnt to have sent the country’s High Peace Council.

The one-day conference was hosted by Russia and participated by the Taliban as well as representatives from several countries including Pakistan, China and Iran.
Asked why India sent representatives to the meeting when the Taliban was participating in it, the spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Raveesh Kumar said in New Delhi that India will be part of any peace process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.

“We will participate in any process which is consistent with the policy we have for Afghanistan… It was decided by the government that our participation will be at non-official level,” he said.

To a question on participation of Taliban in the meeting, he said, “Where did we say that there will be talks with Taliban? We did not say that.” “In our policy on Afghanistan which we have articulated and which has been consistent for quite sometime that we will be supportive of any process in Afghanistan is a party to the process,” said Kumar.

India’s consistent policy has been that the peace talks should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the government of Afghanistan. India has been actively engaged in reconstruction activities in war-ravaged Afghanistan and has already spent USD 2 billion in various projects there.

India’s former envoy to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan T C A Raghavan were representing New Delhi at a “non-official” capacity.

In his opening remarks at the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia and the countries of the region will continue to do everything possible to launch dialogue between Afghan government and the Taliban, which is banned in Russia. “We are determined to make every possible effort to facilitate the opening of a new page in the history of Afghanistan,” he was quoted as saying by the state-run Tass news agency.

Lavrov said the conference was “aimed at building an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue in order to advance the national reconciliation process”.

The US Embassy in Moscow has sent a diplomat to observe Friday’s discussions at the meeting which is being attended by representatives from Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, Pakistan and some other countries.


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International

US adds Pakistan, China to its blacklist for religious freedom violations

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Washington: Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia are among countries added to a US blacklist of nations that violate religious freedom, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Pompeo said he has designated Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as “Countries of Particular Concern” in a congressionally mandated annual report.

The development comes a year after the US State Department put Pakistan on a watchlist without legal consequences.

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Netanyahu threats Hezbollah with ‘unimaginable blows’

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Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the Lebanese Hezbollah militia will be dealt “unimaginable blows” if it resists Israel’s recent operation to destroy cross-border tunnels.

The remarks were made by Netayahu during a tour along the northern border, where the Israeli army has uncovered three Hezbollah tunnels crossing from southern Lebanon into Israeli territory, reports Xinhua.

“The most important thing is the readiness here for a much stronger response if Hezbollah makes a major mistake and decides to attack us or oppose our action,”

Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office.

“Hezbollah will be dealt unimaginable blows,” he said.

During the tour, Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s defence minister, held a security meeting with Israeli army’s Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eizenkot.

“We are systematically dismantling the tunnels,” he said, adding the operation will continue “as long as necessary.”

“We are carrying out exactly what we planned but we are ready for the unexpected. There is great firepower here,” he added.

Israel launched the “Northern Shield” operation on December 4 in order to locate and thwart the cross-border tunnels built by Hezbollah, a Shiite militia backed by Iran. Israel has claimed that Hezbollah plans to use the cross-border tunnels to infiltrate into Israel.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 that ended in a ceasefire.

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100 injured in BD poll campaign violence

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DHAKA: Bangladesh’s election campaign turned violent with scores injured at political rallies across the country, as police fired pellet guns into crowds and stick-wielding mobs attacked rival candidates.

Police said clashes broke out in at least seven major towns on just the second day of campaigning, injuring nearly 100 people who turned out to cheer the two major parties contesting the December 30 poll.

The unrest follows a crackdown on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in recent weeks, with hundreds of supporters from the main opposition movement thrown behind bars before campaigning had even begun.

In Thakurgaon, a northern district, a motorcade for the BNP’s secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was set upon by a huge crowd swinging batons.

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