Washington:Some steps, including the curbs on freedom of expression and association taken by authorities in Pakistan ahead of the general elections, were at odds with their stated goal of a free, fair and transparent polls, the Trump administration has said as it voiced its concern over the July 25 poll process. Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan led his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party to victory in the parliamentary elections this week, amid a growing consensus among South Asia experts and Pakistan-observers that it was greatly influenced and meddled by the strong Pakistani Army.
The development of strong democratic and civilian institutions of governance and a vibrant civil society is critical to Pakistan’s long-term stability and prosperity, US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said in the first official US statement since the general elections in Pakistan on Wednesday. “In that context, the United States shares concerns about flaws in the pre-voting electoral process, as expressed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan,” she said.
Malaysian politicians from both government and opposition camps complained of “dirty tricks” after voting in a general election began on Wednesday, as non-stop spam calls to their mobile phones disrupted communications with party organisers.
“These included constraints placed on freedoms of expression and association during the campaign period that were at odds with Pakistani authorities’ stated goal of a fully fair and transparent election,” Nauert said.
Khan was today inching closer to form a government in Pakistan with the support of allies and independents even as a multi-party meeting rejected the poll results alleging rigging and demanded “transparent” re-election.
So far Khan’s PTI has bagged 115 of the 270 National Assembly seats on which elections were held. The US also joined the European Union in expressing concern over the pre-poll violence and restrictions posed on freedom of expression and association ahead of the general elections that were conducted in Pakistan and noted that it looks forward to working with the new elected government in Islamabad.
“The United States concurs with the conclusions of the European Union Election Observation Mission, whose report notes that while there were positive changes to the legal framework for elections in Pakistan, these were overshadowed by restrictions on freedom of expression and unequal campaign opportunities,” she said.
“The US also has deep reservations over the participation of terrorist-affiliated individuals in the elections, but we commend Pakistani voters for fully rejecting these candidates at the ballot box on Wednesday,” Nauert said. She said the US, along with its international partners, will continue to encourage a broadening of opportunities for political participation for all Pakistanis and for the further strengthening of legitimate, democratic institutions.
“As Pakistan’s elected leaders form a new government, the United States will look for opportunities to work with them to advance our goals of security, stability, and prosperity in South Asia,” Nauert said.
Taking note of the election results in Pakistan, Nauert said the US commends the courage of the Pakistani people, including many women, who turned out to vote and showed resolve to determine their country’s future. “We condemn the horrific acts of terrorist violence that marred this process, including the latest attack outside a polling station in Quetta on election day. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families, and wish a speedy recovery to those injured,” she said.
Taliban resumes peace talks with US envoy in Qatar
Islamabad :The Taliban and the United States resumed talks in Doha, Qatar with an aim to end the stalemate over the participation of Afghan government in the negotiations for a political settlement of the conflict.
Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman in a statement said, “Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha.”
Doha meeting happened as the Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan intelligence agency — National Directorate of Security — installation in Maidan Shahr, Kabul, killing and wounding dozens of security personnel.
The two sides — US and Taliban — had last met in December 2018 in Abu Dhabi in a meeting facilitated by Pakistan and observed by Saudi Arabia and UAE. It had been agreed at the meeting that the engagement process would be continued. But, arranging the next round of talks became difficult due to the Taliban’s inflexibility over negotiating with the Afghan government. The Taliban have, meanwhile, been insisting that US should instead withdraw its forces and release Taliban prisoners.
There was no word from the US side on the Taliban claim after the latest meeting in Doha that US had agreed to discuss withdrawal plans.
Recently, the Afghan Taliban while rejecting media reports of possible talks with the US in Islamabad and reiterated that they will not deal directly with the Afghan Government.
11 die as ships with Indian, Turkish crews catch fire in Kerch Strait
Moscow:Two ships carrying Indian, Turkish and Libyan crew members had caught fire in the Kerch Strait separating Crimea from Russia, killing at least 11 people, media reports said on Tuesday.
The fire broke out off Russia’s territorial waters. Both vessels were flying Tanzanian flags. One of them was a liquefied natural gas carrier and the other a tanker. The fire broke out as the two ships were transferring fuel from one to the other.
One of the ships, the Candy, had a 17-member crew–nine Turkish citizens and eight Indian nationals.
The other, the Maestro, had a 15-member crew–seven Turkish nationals, seven Indian citizens and an intern from Libya, Russian news agency Tass quoted maritime authority as saying.
At least 11 sailors had died, Russian Maritime Agency was quoted by RT news, a Russian television network.
“Presumably, an explosion occurred (on one of the vessels). Then the fire spread to another vessel. A rescue tug is en route,” said a spokesman for the Russian Maritime Agency.
Some three dozen sailors managed to escape the burning ships by jumping off the vessels.
Twelve people have so far been rescued from the sea. Nine sailors were still listed as missing, the spokesperson said.
Severe weather conditions at sea had prevented rescue ships from taking victims to the shore for medical treatment, the report added.
The Kerch Strait is a key waterway that holds strategic importance for both Russia and Ukraine.
It is an important economic lifeline for Ukraine that allows ships leaving the port city of Mariupol to access the Black Sea.
It’s also the closest point of access for Russia to Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014. A Russian-built bridge over the Kerch Strait opened in May last year. PTI
Pak shares Kartarpur draft pact, calls India ‘urgently’ to finalise deal
Lahore/New Delhi: Pakistan said it has shared a draft agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor with India and invited New Delhi to “urgently” send a delegation to Islamabad to “negotiate and finalise” the proposal.
The proposed agreement aims at facilitating travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims to Darbar Sahib Kartarpur Gurudwara in Narowal, nearly 4 km away from Gurdaspur border on the Indian side.
“The draft agreement between the two governments has been shared with New Delhi through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said in a statement.
The move is in line with Pakistan’s policy of promoting inter-faith harmony and religious tolerance and Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a peaceful neighbourhood, he added.
Pakistan has appointed Director-General (South Asia and SAARC) as the focal person on its side and requested India to designate its focal person soon.
Pakistan also invited India to “urgently send a delegation to Islamabad to negotiate and finalise the agreement”, Faisal said.
He also tweeted, “Continuing with PM Imran Khan’s initiative, Pakistan, today, shared the proposed draft agreement on Kartarpur Corridor with India. Indian delegation invited to visit Islamabad for an expedited conclusion of the agreement. Keeping promises – Work in progress on Kartarpur Corridor on Pakistan side.”
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on November 26 last year laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Gurdaspur district.
Two days later on November 28, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the corridor at Narowal, 125 km from Lahore.
The decision to build the corridor – from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the international border – was taken by the Union Cabinet on November 22.
The much-awaited corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur – the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev – with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur.
The corridor was a long-pending demand of the Sikh community. Pakistan had committed to open the corridor in November on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.