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Pakistan releases top Taliban commander ‘at US request’

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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.


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Pakistan puts major CPEC power project on hold, asks China to delete it from list

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Islamabad: In a setback to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Pakistan government has decided to put on hold a major power project, Rahim Yar Khan power project, and has reportedly informed the Chinese government about the same. According to a report in Pakistan-based Dawn News, the Pakistan government will shut down several other schemes under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

The report further said that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government has asked Beijing to “formally delete the project from the CPEC list”. The same was communicated to China in a meeting of the CPEC Joint Coordination Committee by Pakistan on December 20, 2018. According to the report, the project was pushed by the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz government in the past.

The development comes months after China refuted charges that Pakistan’s current economic crisis crumbled because of projects under CPEC. China had said that blaming CPEC was uncalled for and that the corridor in fact was something that would bolster Pakistan economy in the years to come.

 

The defence of CPEC was necessiated after rising voices in Pakistan against it. Several people questioned the loans taken from China and asked the terms for their repayment. Even the United States has said that the current state of Pakistani economy is a result of loans it has taken from Beijing and has made it clear that it won’t allow any bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which would be used by Islamabad to repay Chinese debt.

The IMF also later observed that increasing Chinese involvement in Pakistan’s economy could be disastrous on the latter’s future.

Islamabad has already cut the size of the biggest Chinese “Silk Road” project in Pakistan, a reconstruction of the main rail line between the port city of Karachi and Peshawar in the northwest by $2 billion, citing government concerns about the country’s debt levels. The changes are part of Islamabad’s efforts to rethink key Belt and Road Initiative projects in Pakistan, to which China has pledged about $60bn in financing.

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Trump threatens to ‘devastate’ Turkey’s economy if it attacks Kurds

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Washington: US President Donald Trump said that America would “devastate Turkey economically” if the NATO-allied country attacks Kurds in the region. “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining IS (Islamic State) territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms,” the President tweeted.

“Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” but followed up in a second tweet, “Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

Turkey views some Kurdish groups in the region as terrorist organisations and Kurds make up the majority of US-allied fighters operating in Syria in the civil war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad`s regime, CNN reported.

 

It`s a stark threat toward an ally in the region that has partnered with the US in the fight against the IS. CNN reported on Thursday that the first US military ground equipment has been withdrawn from Syria, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly lashed out at US National Security Adviser John Bolton for saying the US withdrawal was contingent upon Ankara`s pledge not to attack US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria once troops leave.

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Bill for delisting Pakistan as major ally tabled in US Congress

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WASHINGTON: A bill seeking to remove Pakistan from a list of America’s major non-Nato allies has been introduced in the US Congress, even though the Trump administration enhances its contacts with Islamabad in its pursuit of a peaceful end to the Afghan war.

The resolution — introduced by Congressman Andy Biggs who, like the Trump administration, is a Republican — sets new conditions for future re-designation.

If a US president desires to put Pakistan back on the list, he or she will have to certify to Congress that Pakistan continues to conduct military operations that are contributing to significantly disrupting the “safe haven and freedom of movement” of the Haqqani Network in the country.

 

The president also has to certify that Pakistan has shown progress in arresting and prosecuting Haqqani Network’s senior leaders and mid-level operatives.
Take a look: Pakistan has given us nothing but lies and deceit, says US President Donald Trump

The re-designation will require another certification from Congress that Pakistan has taken steps to demonstrate its commitment to preventing the Haqqani Network from using any Pakistani territory as a safe haven and that Pakistan actively cooperates with Afghanistan to restrict the movement of militants along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Known as Resolution H.R. 73, the bill has been sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for necessary action.

Mr Biggs, a second-term legislator, has no cosponsor and his move will need a strong support from the Trump administration and the Democratic Party to pass a House dominated by the Democrats.

In recent statements, President Donald Trump has clearly expressed his desire to withdraw at least half of the 14,000 US troops still stationed in Afghanistan.

Senior Democrats — both in and outside Congress — have also said that the United States cannot remain involved in these apparently unending wars in Afghanistan and Syria.

But before an ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Trump administration wants to ensure that the pullout does not lead to the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government in Kabul.

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