Islamabad :Pakistan has released Mullah Baradar, a senior Taliban commander, as a “confidence-building” measure requested by the US, which is engaged in so-called peace talks with the insurgents.
Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former right-hand man of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, had been held in Pakistani detention for over eight years, sources said.
The move is said to be aimed at aiding the so-called peace talks between the US and the militant group, after the two sides agreed in Doha, Qatar to continue the secretive negotiations.
Less than two weeks ago, US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban representatives in Qatar to discuss a “peace” deal.
“Baradar was freed yesterday afternoon and he joined his family,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP in a WhatsApp message.
A Pakistani intelligence official also noted that Baradar was “released a couple of days ago”.
Baradar was the most high-profile Taliban leader detained by Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. He was arrested in the southern port city of Karachi in 2010, reportedly in an operation that was described as a huge blow to the militant group.
Apart from Baradar, several other senior Taliban leaders were freed this week following direct talks with Khalilzad on October 12, a senior Taliban official told AFP, adding that they believe the releases were made at US request.
According to the official, Baradar will likely stay in Pakistan and shuttle between the group’s Doha office, Kabul and Islamabad.
The Taliban announced on October 13 that they would continue talks with the US, even though no tangible agreement was reached in the first round of meeting in Doha.
Washington’s repeated outreach to the Taliban contradicts its efforts to link other countries, including Iran and Russia, to the militant group.
Early this week, the US Treasury Department blacklisted nine men, including two Iranian military officers, over allegations that they were “linked with the Taliban”.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed that the Iranians were providing financial and material support to the Taliban.
Washington has a long history of liaison with the Taliban, starting with the militant group’s years of war with the Soviets over their occupation of Afghanistan.
Following the Soviet withdrawal, the US saw the group as a counterbalance to Iran’s Islamic Republic and maintained its links with the Taliban.
The Taliban government, however, was toppled during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 because the group refused to expel the al-Qaeda which Washington blames for the 9/11 attacks.
Senior US politicians have said the CIA also created al-Qaeda with the help of British, Pakistani and Saudi intelligence agencies to counter Iran.
Almost 100 dead as Iraq ferry sinks on spring holiday trip
Mosul: Almost 100 people, mostly women and children, died as a ferry packed with families celebrating Kurdish New Year sank in a swollen river in the former jihadist stronghold of Mosul, in Iraq’s worst accident in years.
There was an outpouring of grief among residents who only this year resumed the annual festivities on the banks of the Tigris after the northern city’s recapture from the Islamic State group.
Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi decreed three days of national mourning as he visited the site of the tragedy. He ordered a swift investigation “to determine responsibilities”.
The vessel was crammed with men, women and children crossing the Tigris on Thursday to go to a popular picnic area to celebrate Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year and a holiday across Iraq marking the start of spring.
The accident, which struck as the overloaded vessel turned back, also coincided with Mother’s Day in Iraq.
The interior ministry, issuing a fresh toll, said 94 people had died and 55 were rescued, after its spokesman Saad Maan said at least 19 children were among the dead.
The premier said 61 women had died in the accident.
While war and jihadist attacks have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq in recent years, such accidents are relatively rare.
“It’s a disaster; no one expected that,” said a young man who had just managed to reach the shore.
“There were a lot of people on the boat, especially women and children,” he told AFP.
A Mosul security source said the high water levels and overcrowding on the boat, with well over 100 people on board, had been to blame for the disaster.
“The boat sank because there were too many passengers on board,” another security official based in Mosul told AFP.
Iraq’s justice ministry said it had ordered the arrest of nine ferry company officials and banned the owners of the vessel and the tourist site from leaving the country.
Theresa May urges parliament to back her on Brexit
London: Prime Minister Theresa May made an impassioned appeal to British lawmakers to support her on Wednesday after the European Union said it could only grant her request to delay Brexit for three months if parliament next week backed her plans for leaving.
May had earlier asked the EU to let Britain delay its departure date from March 29 to June 30, a question that leaders of the remaining 27 member states will discuss at a summit on Thursday.
European Council President Donald Tusk said it would be possible to grant Britain a short postponement if parliament next week backs May’s divorce agreement, which it has already voted down twice.
Should that happen, Tusk said no extraordinary EU summit would be needed next week before the current Brexit date. Otherwise, he said he might convene the leaders again.
“I believe that a short extension will be possible, but it will be conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons,” Tusk told journalists.
He did not comment on the possibility – which he himself has suggested – that another option such as a longer delay might be offered to avoid a painful no-deal exit if May’s deal was voted down again.
May said British lawmakers had spent long enough saying what they did not want from Brexit, and that people were tired of their infighting, political games and arcane procedural rows.
“I passionately hope MPs (lawmakers) will find a way to back the deal I have negotiated with the EU,” May said in a televised address.
She said lawmakers had a choice: leave the EU with a deal, leave without a deal, or not leave at all.
“It is high time we made a decision,” May said, telling Britons: “I am on your side.”
Earlier, she had told a rowdy session of parliament that she could not countenance the prospect of a long delay – which could give time for notional alternative approaches to emerge, but would infuriate Brexit supporters in her own party.
“As prime minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30th of June,” she said.
May did not say when the next vote on her deal would happen.
If she cannot win over enough reluctant lawmakers next week, Britain faces the choice of requesting a longer delay or leaving the EU as planned on March 29 – without a deal to cushion the economic upheaval.
Some EU states, including Germany, had given a largely positive response to May’s well-flagged request.
But French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said May would need to make her case before EU leaders.
“Our position is to send the British a clear and simple message. As Theresa May has repeatedly said herself, there are only two options to get out of the EU: ratify the Withdrawal Agreement or exit without a deal,” he told the French parliament.
May’s initiative was the latest twist in more than two years of negotiations that have left British politics in chaos and her authority in tatters.
After the defeats in parliament opened up the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, May told parliament on Wednesday that she remained committed to leaving “in an orderly manner”.
Her announcement that she was asking for a three-month delay caused uproar in the chamber. The opposition Labour Party accused her of “blackmail, bullying and bribery” in her attempts to force her deal through, and one prominent Brexit supporter in her own Conservative Party said seeking a delay was “betraying the British people”.
World War II aircraft carrier discovered beneath surface of South Pacific
Honiara: Aircraft carrier USS Wasp, that had not been seen since 1942, has been spotted nearly 14,000 feet below the surface of the South Pacific.
The aircraft was sighted after remote controller research glimpsed the hull of an aircraft carrier. The sighting follows the discovery of another World War II-era shipwreck, the USS Hornet, which sank not far away, off the Solomon Islands by Research Vessel Petrel, funded by the late Microsoft founder Paul Allen.
Many other dozens of wrecks of ships that once flew the flags of the American, British, Japanese and Italian navies have also been discovered by the Petrel in recent years, CNN reported.
Consisting a crew of 10, the Petrel sits on the surface plotting the last known locations of old warships and sending robots to the depths to rediscover them.
According to the US Navy’s policy of leaving its shipwrecks untouched — considering them as the sailors’ hallowed graves — the Wasp’s hull will remain in the murky depths.
According to a US Navy account, it was back then in April 1942 when the USS Wasp arrived to supply a badly needed contingent of dozens of warplanes to the beleaguered Allied forces at Malta. Under fire, the aircraft carrier retreated to a safe harbour in Gibraltar.
However, in September 1942, a Japanese submarine fired a number of torpedoes, two of which had hit two ships — USS O’Brien and the USS North Carolina. A few of them had struck Wasp’s hull, leading to a massive blaze. The Wasp’s impact was so severe that it did not remain afloat for long and sank thereafter.
Retired Rear Admiral Samuel Cox, who leads the US Naval History and Heritage Command, said in a statement, “Wasp represented the US Navy at the lowest point after the start of WWII.”
“Her pilots and her aircrew, with their courage and sacrifice, were the ones that held the line against the Japanese when the Japanese had superior fighter aircraft, superior torpedo planes and better torpedoes,” he added.
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