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US criticises Taliban, Pakistan over peace talks

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KABUL: The United States has said the Taliban’s failure to engage in talks to end Afghanistan’s nearly 17-year conflict is “unacceptable” and called on Pakistan to exert more pressure on the militants.
US envoy Alice Wells made the remarks during a visit to Kabul , two weeks after an unprecedented ceasefire triggered spontaneous street celebrations involving Taliban fighters and security forces.
“I think it [the ceasefire reaction] creates this impulse for everyone to renew their efforts to find a negotiated political solution,” Wells, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, told reporters in remarks embargoed until Sunday.
Alice Wells says Islamabad should do more to bring militants to negotiating table
“Increasingly I think it’s becoming simply unacceptable for the Taliban not to negotiate.” The Taliban have so far ignored President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace negotiations. Instead, they have insisted on direct talks with the United States, which Washington has repeatedly refused.
One of the Taliban’s key demands for engaging in talks is the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Wells said that since the Afghan government and United States were willing to start talking without preconditions, the onus was now on the Taliban to respond. “Right now it’s the Taliban leaders… who aren’t residing in Afghanistan, who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement,” she said.
Ms Wells, who is due to hold talks in Pakistan on Monday, said Islamabad needed to do more to pressurise the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table.
“Pakistan has an important role to play… but we have not yet seen that sustained and decisive action on the part of Islamabad,” she said. “It’s going to be very hard for us to achieve our objectives… if Pakistan isn’t working with us.” — AFP
President Ghani has said that Afghanistan and Pakistan have forged a unique deal to root out terrorism from their region, Anwar Iqbal in Washington adds.
Ghani’s statement — made at a Saturday afternoon event in Kabul — came a day after the Afghan government formally ended the Eid ceasefire, allowing Afghan forces to resume fighting after more than two weeks of unprecedented peace.
“It has been agreed on paper for the first time. The Afghanistan-Pakistan negotiations framework is now on paper. Now, serious actions are required,” Mr Ghani said.
Afghanistan’s Tolo news agency reported that the Afghan president also talked about “some recent improvements” in counter-terrorism cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan but did not explain what those improvements were.
Ghani insisted that “the issue of Taliban should be solved in our relations with Pakistan,” said the Tolo report. “Some things have been done in this respect and some things are still needed to be done,” he added.
The report — reproduced by some US media outlets — also included a quote from Zahid Nasrullah, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, pointing out that Pakistan had strongly supported the Eid ceasefire.
“Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain was in China when he announced that Pakistan is strongly supporting the ceasefire. Pakistan knows its role well in peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and we will fulfil our role very well,” he said.


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International

US eyes Taiwan risk as China’s military capabilities grow

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Washington: The United States is closely watching Chinese intentions toward Taiwan, concerned that Beijing’s growing military prowess may increase the risk it could one day consider bringing theself-ruled island under its control by force, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The senior US defense intelligence official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, did not predict that China’s military, known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), would take such a step but said such a possibility was the top worry as China expands and modernizes its military capabilities.

“The biggest concern is that … they are getting to a point where the PLA leadership may actually tell Xi Jinping that they are confident in their capabilities,” the official said, referring to China’s president.

 

Pressed on whether the official was referring to Chinese confidence in its capabilities to be able to successfully win a battle with Taiwan, the official said, “Well, specifically that would be the most concerning to me.”

Taiwan is only one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, including a trade war between the countries, US sanctions on the Chinese military, and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.

However, in meetings with Pentagon leaders, PLA officials have long described Taiwan as China’s most sensitive issue.

China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and worked to isolate the island internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.

It has also strongly objected to U.S. warship passages through the Taiwan Strait this year, and issued a terse warning about Taiwan after talks in Beijing on Tuesday with the U.S. Navy’s top officer, Admiral John Richardson.

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High drama, few results as Donald Trump warns of ‘long’ shutdown

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Washington: Staring down the next deadline to pay federal workers, the White House shifted tactics Tuesday, trying to bypass House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to negotiate with rank-and-file lawmakers even as President Donald Trump dug in for a prolonged shutdown.

The House and Senate announced they would stay in session, cancelling an upcoming recess week at home if the shutdown continued, which seemed likely. On the shutdown’s 25th day, Trump did not move off his demand to have Congress provide $5.7 billion to build his promised border wall with Mexico. Democrats say they will discuss border security once the government has reopened, but Pelosi is refusing money for the wall they view as ineffective and immoral.

The president, on a conference call with supporters, showed no signs of backing down.

 

“We’re going to stay out for a long time, if we have to,” Trump said. “We’ll be out for a long time.”

Nancy Pelosi says House Democrats will quickly pass legislation to re-open the government – without border wall funds – when Congress convenes on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls the plan a total nonstarter.

With some 800,000 federal employees furloughed or working without pay, Trump suggested the partial shutdown that has clogged airport security lines and shuttered federal agencies was going smoothly.

“People are very impressed with how well government is working with the circumstances that we’re under,” Trump said.

Behind the scenes, though, the administration _ and its allies on Capitol Hill _ are warily eyeing the next payday, hoping to reach a resolution before next week’s Tuesday deadline when they’ll need to prepare the next round of paychecks for workers who have been seeing zeros on their pay slips.

“There is definitely a sense that there is a deadline approaching, which would be next Tuesday, to make sure that we’re able to solve this problem,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a White House spokeswoman.

Tuesday brought another day of high theatrics, but low substance, as the shutdown dragged into its fourth week.

The president, who a week ago seemed intent on declaring a national emergency in order to build the wall, has turned his attention back to Congress as polling shows he is taking much of the blame for the standoff.

The White House invited rank-and-file lawmakers to lunch with Trump at the White House as part of a strategy to build support from centrist Democrats and newly elected freshmen, including those from areas where the president is popular with voters.

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China takes lead in hypersonic weapons and missiles technology: Pentagon

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Washington: China is on the cusp of fielding some of the world’s most advanced weapons systems — and in some cases already has surpassed its rivals, a Pentagon assessment released on Tuesday found.

An unclassified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency says Beijing has made enormous military strides in recent years, thanks partly to domestic laws forcing foreign partners to divulge technical secrets in exchange for access to China’s vast market.

As a result of “acquiring technology by any means available,” China now is at the leading edge on a range of technologies, including with its naval designs, with medium- and intermediate-range missiles, and with hypersonic weapons — where missiles can fly at many times the speed of sound and dodge missile-defense systems.

 

“The result of this multifaceted approach to technology acquisition is a PLA (People’s Liberation Army) on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world,” states the report, entitled “China Military Power.”

“In some areas, it already leads the world.”

China’s increasing military might means it has advanced capabilities in the air, at sea, in space and in cyberspace that will “enable China to impose its will in the region,” the report notes.

A particular focus for Beijing has been the prospect of an eventual conflict with Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory.

Beijing has said it will not hesitate to use force if Taipei formally declares independence, or in the case of external intervention — including by the United States, the island’s most powerful unofficial ally.Speaking to Pentagon reporters, a senior defense intelligence official said he was worried China’s military is now advanced enough that PLA generals could feel confident they could invade Taiwan.

“The biggest concern is that as a lot of these technologies mature… (China) will reach a point where internally within their decision-making they will decide that using military force for a regional conflict is something that is more imminent,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Taiwan is a self-ruled island and has its own currency, flag and government, but is not recognized as an independent state by the United Nations.

Still, the official noted, China has not fought in a war for 40 years and its massive military and joint command structure lacks experience in real-world conflict.

“It will take a while for (the PLA) to be able to work these (military) services together, to be able to work these joint theaters and to be able to deal with a large, complex operation,” the official said.

The intelligence report said China is developing new medium- and long-range stealth bombers capable of striking regional and global targets.

Such planes will likely reach initial operational capability by about 2025, the report notes.

The official added that China keeps a lot of its military development secret by conducting research in underground complexes, away from the prying eyes of satellites.

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