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Pakistan needs to earn the money it gets, says US

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WASHINGTON: The US State Department has said that Pakistan needs to earn the money it gets from Washington while the White House warned that President Donald Trump can follow through his pledge to stop US assistance to Pakistan if it does not change its Afghan policy.

The two statements were part of the regular news briefings at the White House and the State Department o where reporters appeared perturbed about the timing of the tweet Mr Trump sent out at 4am on Monday, threatening Pakistan with dire consequences of its alleged support to the militants.

At the State Department, Spokesperson Heather Nauert seemed aware of the unpopularity of the “do more” phrase and avoided it, at least once. “I don’t want to say that Pakistan can do more, but Pakistan knows what it needs to do,” she said.

 

But Ms Nauert minced no words when asked why President Trump was threatening to stop US economic and military assistance to Pakistan.

White House’s press secretary says President Trump ‘does what he says’

“They need to better earn, essentially, the money that we have provided in the past in foreign military assistance, they need to show that they are sincere in their efforts to crack down on terrorists,” she said.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reminded Pakistan that President Trump “does what he says” and he will follow through the commitment he made.

Both statements emphasised the point that there’s no immediate reason behind the tweet that seems to have stirred a wave of anti-American sentiments across Pakistan. Mr Trump was only re-emphasising his frustration with Pakistan’s Afghan policy.

“The president is simply following through on a commitment that he made, because this is a president that does what he says he’s going to do,” said Sanders when asked what precipitated President Trump’s tweet about threatening to withhold future US aid to Pakistan.

“We know that Pakistan can do more to fight terrorism, and we want them to step up and do that,” she added, negating the State Department’s effort to avoid using an unpopular phrase.

Despite her denial, reporters at the White House briefing continued to ask Ms San­ders what caused Mr Trump to send out a tweet at 4am.

Some reminded that the US-Pakistan disagreement on the Haqqani network was a long-running dispute between the two governments, so there has to be a reason for sending such a harsh message to Islamabad.

Sanders traced it back to the new Afghan strategy President Trump outlined in August reminding Pakistan that it was not fulfilling its obligations. Another journalist looking for a cause for the tweet referred to Mr Trump’s UN envoy Nikki Haley’s statement, saying that the aid cut for Pak­is­tan was not tied to the United Nations vote on Jerusalem.
“First, in terms of Pakistan, as I said, our goal is that we know that they can do more to stop terrorism, and we want them to do that. That seems pretty simple,” Ms Sanders said.

Responding to the second part of the question — when would the US announce sanctions on the nations that voted against it in the UN on the Jerusalem issue last month — the White House official said: “I think you’ll see some more details come out on that in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

At the State Department, Ms Heather too had to face the same question — “why did the administration choose this week to announce it is withholding aid from Pakistan”?

“Actually, no, we didn’t. That was an announcement that came out back in August, and for some reason, people got interested in it again. But that is not a new announcement that we would hold back on that money,” she responded.

“Pakistan is an important partner. We have a lot of issues in that region. Pakis­tan knows that, we all know that, and we try to work carefully together on some of those issues,” said Ms Hea­ther.

“The president has made clear in the past also… that the US expects Pakistan to take decisive action against the Haqqani network and other militants who are operating from its soil,” she added.


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International

US confirms Taliban talks in Qatar

Press Trust of India

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Washington:The United States confirmed Wednesday that its envoy is meeting in Qatar with the Taliban, seeking to negotiate an end to the Afghanistan war despite a new major attack claimed by the insurgents.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative on Afghan reconciliation, met Tuesday in the Qatari capital Doha with Taliban representatives, the State Department said.

“We can confirm that Special Representative Khalilzad and an interagency team are in Doha today talking with representatives of the Taliban,” a State Department spokeswoman said, adding that the talks were taking place over two days.

 

Khalilzad has sat down several times with the Taliban but it marks the first time that the United States has confirmed his meetings so directly.

The meeting came even though the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack Tuesday against an Afghan intelligence base in central Wardak province.

A local official said that at least 65 people were killed, in the latest high-casualty attack in Afghanistan.

A Taliban spokesman announced the meeting with Khalilzad on Monday, saying that the United States accepted an agenda of “ending the occupation of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future.”

President Donald Trump has ordered a halving of the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan as he voices eagerness to end America’s longest-ever war, launched in 2001 after the September 11 attacks.

The Afghan-born Khalilzad, a key US policymaker under former president George W Bush, met the Taliban after talks in Afghanistan as well as stops in key regional players China, India and Pakistan.

In Kabul, Khalilzad spoke with President Ashraf Ghani and vowed that the United States would maintain security support to Afghan forces.

“We agreed military pressure is essential while we prepare to engage in negotiations for peace,” he tweeted.

 

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China to pick Afghan Taliban as political force: envoy

Agencies

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PESHAWAR: Chinese Ambas­sador in Islamabad Yao Jing has said that his country will “pick Afghan Taliban as a political force” in the backdrop of their participation in the ongoing peace talks with the US and at other forums.

Speaking at a roundtable conference at the Area Study Centre, University of Peshawar, , he said that Beijing supported Pakistan’s fresh initiatives for facilitating efforts for political settlement of the Afghan conflict and confidence-building measures in relations with Kabul.

Asked about apparent lack of eagerness on the part of China in the ongoing talks for political settlement of the Afghan issue, the envoy said that his country had contacts with both the Taliban and the Afghan government. China had deputed a special envoy who was visiting the Taliban’s political office in Doha, he added.

 

“China will pick them (Taliban) as a political force because they are now part of the Afghan political process and they have some political concerns. They have to be allowed to play a legitimate role in the future political settlement,” he further elaborated his government’s policy on the Afghan peace process being discussed at different forums.

“If possible, China can exert pressure on the Taliban to join the peace process,” said the ambassador who had served in Kabul and New Delhi before taking over his new assignment in Pakistan. He urged all external stakeholders, including Afghanistan’s neighbours, to play their role for peace in the war-ravaged country.

“Afghans have been suffering for the last 40 years and they deserve peace and stability,” he said.

Supporting Pakistan’s fresh initiatives for facilitating talks between the Taliban and US administration, he said that China backed this ongoing process and had also played its role in the Moscow meeting and at other forums.

Mr Yao said that Afghans were very friendly towards China which had close relations with their country. “When we look towards west, the immediate challenge for us is Afghanistan having many international terrorist organisations.”

He said that Central Asian states had their own version and vision about Afghanistan and the same was the case of Russia, Iran and Pakistan.

“We are very much hopeful about a peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue, but this is a very complicated issue, which requires a lot of patience,” the envoy said. The US might announce withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan where elections were around the corner, he added.

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Four held in New York state for ‘plotting’ against Muslims

Agencies

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New York:Three men and a teenage boy have been arrested and charged for an alleged plot against a small Islamic community in New York state, police said.

The suspects have been accused of possessing homemade bombs and firearms, and planning to attack Islamberg, founded by a Pakistani cleric in the 1980s.

The three men — Andrew Crysel, 18, Vincent Vetromile, 19, and Brian Colaneri, 20 — were due to appear in court on Wednesday.

 

All were charged with criminal possession of a weapon and conspiracy. A 16-year-old boy is also facing charges, the police said, adding that at least three of them served together as boy scouts.

Investigators say the group, based in the city of Greece in the northwest of the state, made at least three improvised explosive devices using duct tape and large jars and cylinders containing nails and other projectiles.

They were found in the 16-year-old’s home, a police officer added. Some 23 firearms were also found at various locations. The alleged plot was revealed following a tip-off from a school student, the BBC reported.

Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan said the investigation was launched after comments made by the 16-year-old at school on Friday were overheard by a fellow student.

The Islamberg community, located west of the Catskill mountains near the city of Binghamton, has become a target for conspiracy theorists.

The mainly African American group settled there to escape crime and overcrowding in New York City. The community has been described as peaceful and friendly, but right-wing conspiracy-led media outlets keep suggesting that it was a training camp for Islamist militants, the BBC said.

In 2017 Robert Doggart, from Tennessee, was jailed for plotting to burn down the community’s mosque. In 2015, Arizona man John Ritzheimer threatened the community with an armed confrontation.

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