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Taliban being used as ‘hedge’ against India: US Army officer

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Washington/ New Delhi: Days after US President Donald Trump sought Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s help in the Afghan peace process, a top American commander has told lawmakers that Islamabad’s policy seems to be unchanged and it continues to use the Taliban as a hedge against India.

“Pakistan is an essential element in long-term stability in Afghanistan,” Marine Corps Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie Jr told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday during his confirmation hearing for commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM).

Pakistan could play a key role in facilitating talks between the Taliban and government of Afghanistan, he said, adding, “I would welcome that development. At this time, however, Pakistan does not appear to be using the full extent of its influence to encourage the Taliban to come to the table.”

 

“We continue to see the Taliban being utilised as a hedge against India rather than as part of a stable, reconciled Afghanistan,” McKenzie told the lawmakers during his confirmation hearing.

His answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee in response to a set of written questions come a day after it became public that Trump has written a letter to Imran Khan, seeking his help in the Afghan peace process.

“President Trump sent a letter to Prime Minister (Imran) Khan, requesting Pakistan’s full support to the US-led Afghan peace process and Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s upcoming trip to the region,” a spokesperson of the National Security Council, White House, told PTI.

“In the letter, the President recognises that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory,” the spokesperson said.

“The letter also makes it clear that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring US-Pakistan partnership,” the spokesperson said.

McKenzie told lawmakers that he did not see much of a change in Pakistan’s behaviour towards Afghanistan or its stand against terrorist groups.

Despite Pakistan’s positive rhetoric in support of the South Asia Strategy, violent extremist organisations or VEOs operate along its border with Afghanistan, he said.

While Pakistan has conducted some operations against VEOs in the country, they must continue to expand these operations and remain aggressively engaged, McKenzie said.

“Taking concrete steps that deny VEO safe havens in Pakistan, as well as VEO freedom of movement from Pakistan to Afghanistan, remains an important ask that Pakistan needs to fulfil. Pakistan must leverage their influence over the Taliban leadership to help compel them to come to the table for reconciliation negotiations,” he added.

McKenzie said the US CENTCOM would continue to support the State Department as it works towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Afghanistan which includes ensuring that Islamabad’s equities are acknowledged in any future agreement.

Pakistan’s action or inaction, as it relates to stability in Afghanistan, has often led to US’s frustration, he said, adding that stability in the South Asia region remains the most important mutual strategic interest for both the US and Pakistan.

“We must continue to engage with the Pakistani leadership to realise how we can achieve this mutual interest,” McKenzie said.


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Pakistan among the few countries to successfully turn tide against terrorism: Imran

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Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the country condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including state-terrorism against people under illegal occupation. The PM stated that Pakistan is “among the few countries to have successfully turned the tide against terrorism”.

Addressing the 19th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit at Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Khan reiterated that Pakistan is ready to share its experience and expertise in counter-terrorism. He added that growing intolerance and Islamophobia are threatening to accentuate religious fault-lines. He further said that Pakistan will remain actively engaged in SCO’s counter-terrorism initiatives.

Speaking on Afghanistan, PM Khan said that “the conflict in Afghanistan has no military solution”, adding that Pakistan is fully supporting efforts for “peace and reconciliation, through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process”.

 

“Excellencies, The world stands at a crossroads. For the first time in ages, we are seeing the advent of a multi-polar global order. Epicentres of economic power and growth momentum are shifting eastwards. Regional integration is speeding up. Disruptive technologies are maturing. Threats from terrorism to climate change to narcotics to bacterial resistance continue to loom large,” said PM Khan.

“There are increasing barriers to open trade and innovation. Meanwhile, growing intolerance and Islamophobia are threatening to accentuate religious fault-lines. For its part, Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including State-terrorism against people under illegal occupation. We are among the few countries to have successfully turned the tide against terrorism,” added the Pakistan PM.

“Pakistan remains ready to share its experience and expertise in counter-terrorism. We will also remain actively engaged in SCO’s counter-terrorism initiatives. Excellencies, There is finally a realization that the conflict in Afghanistan has no military solution. Pakistan is fully supporting efforts for peace and reconciliation, through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process,” further said Pakistan PM Khan.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reiterated India’s strong stand against terrorism and appealed that countries supporting, aiding and funding terrorism must be held accountable. PM Modi highlighted the spirit and ideals of SCO to strengthen cooperation in the fight against terrorism even as Khan looked on.

Without naming Pakistan, a country that has made state-sponsored terrorism its biggest policy to counter India for the last several decades, PM Modi said every country needs to come together, unite and fight against the scourge.

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Putin says Russia will fight for the right of Palestinians to their own state

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Moscow: Vladimir Putin has said Russia will fight for an independent Palestinian state, and called for the issues of the Middle East to be resolved through peaceful means.

Despite international criticism over Russia’s own role in the Ukrainian crisis, Mr Putin was hailed last week by a St Petersburg Cossack group for his ability to “bring order and stop wars”.

In an address to the Arab League summit in Egypt on Saturday, Putin spoke against foreign intervention in countries’ internal disputes and spoke of the role Russia can play in diplomatic channels.

 

While Russia openly opposes the stance of US-backed Israel on the Gaza crisis, its position in the Middle East is complicated. Putin is one of Iran’s key allies, but as he spoke on Saturday the core nations of the Arab League engaged in air strikes on the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

His attempts to urge a peaceful solution in Yemen haven’t had much of an immediate impact – on Sunday, the Arab League agreed to the creation of a joint military forces comprised of around 40,000 elite troops to resolve the future “challenges” of the Middle East.

As one of the “Quartet” entities involved in Middle East peace negotiations, Russia has played a key role in talks about the fallout of last year’s Gaza crisis.

He told the summit this weekend: “Palestinians have the right to establish an independent and habitable state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

“Russia will continue to contribute to achieving this goal through bilateral and multilateral channels,” he said.

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Trump claims Queen had fun with him during his UK visit

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Washington: US President Donald Trump claimed that Britains Queen Elizabeth II had more fun during his state visit to the UK than in the last 25 years."I have such a great relationship, and we were laughing and having fun. And her people said she hasnt had so much fun in 25 years. Then I got criticized for it because they said we were having too much fun,” the Hill quoted Trump as saying.

Trump`s comments come two weeks after his first state visit to London to meet the 93-year-old monarch. During his three-day visit, the president dined with the Queen, members of the British royal family and other British politicians at Buckingham Palace.

Trump and the queen reaffirmed the importance of the Washington-London relationship during an elaborate state banquet.”On behalf of all Americans I offer a toast to the eternal friendship of our people, the vitality of our nations and to the long cherished and truly remarkable reign of her majesty, the queen,” Trump said in his toast during the event.

 

He also met Prime Minister Theresa May. Opposing Trumps visit, thousands of people hit the streets. TheTrump Baby` blimp was flown by the demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament, according to CNN, alongside a 16-foot robot version of Trump sitting on the toilet and tweeting.

Other activists came dressed as gorillas, with signs reading that they “only eat chlorinated chicken” — a nod to concerns in Britain that a post-Brexit trade deal with the US would mean a decline in food standards for imported produce.

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