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US-Pak row escalates as White house announces more ‘action’

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Washington, Jan 03: A day after Washington confirmed suspending $255 million of military aid to Pakistan, the White House said that further action against Pakistan would be announced in the next 24-48 hours.
Addressing a daily press briefing on Wednesday, US Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that the actions being taken against Islamabad by Washington are a follow-up to Trump’s South Asia policy announced last year.
“The president is simply following through on a commitment that he made,” she said, referring to Trump’s speech in which he had accused Pakistan of “not fulfilling its obligations”.
“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations,” Trump had said in August last year, warning that vital aid could be cut.
“We know that Pakistan can do more to fight terrorism, and we want them to step up and do that,” the press secretary said on Wednesday, adding that Trump feels Pakistan “is not doing enough” to combat terrorism.
She said that information on further action against Pakistan would be made available over the next couple of days.
“In terms of specific actions, I think you’ll see some more details come out on that in the next 24 to 48 hours,” Sanders told the US media.
The White House’s move to suspend military aid has been seen as the first step to implementing President Donald Trump’s pledge to tighten economic restrictions on Pakistan.
Military aid to Islamabad was cut after Trump, in a tweet, accused Pakistan of being a liar.
The tweet had come in the aftermath of an increasingly terse back-and-forth between Washington and Islamabad since Trump announced his administration’s latest national security strategy.
During the announcement, the US president had been quick to remind Pakistan of its ‘obligation’ to help America “because it receives massive payments” from Washington every year.
“We have made clear to Pakistan that while we desire continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory. And we make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help,” the US president had said.
A Pentagon report to the US Congress, released to the media on Dec 17, had said Washington would also take ‘unilateral steps’ in areas of divergence with Pakistan while expanding cooperation between the two countries where their interests converge.
Subsequently, US Vice President Mike Pence had, in a surprise visit to Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase on Dec 22, warned that Trump has “put Pakistan on notice” in what was the harshest US warning to Islamabad since the beginning of the Afghan war over 16 years ago.
The Pakistan Army spokesman, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, had at a press conference last week asserted that the aid Pakistan received from the US was “reimbursement for support we gave to the coalition for its fight against Al Qaeda.”
“Had we not supported the US and Afghanistan, they would never have been able to defeat Al Qaeda,” he had said.
“The armed forces are working with friends and want to continue doing so, but there can be no compromise on our national honour. We do not want a conflict with our friends, but will ensure the security of Pakistan,” he had added.
His briefing was considered perhaps the strongest-ever reaction from Islamabad since US functionaries began alluding to the possibility of unilateral action.
Hitting back at the US, the civilian-controlled Foreign Office (FO) had also warned against the “malicious campaign” being “used to trivialise Pakistan’s achievements in the war against terrorism”, and noted that “allies do not put each other on notice.”
The FO had further complained that recent US statements are “at variance with the extensive conversations we [Islamabad] have had with the US administration”.


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Lok Sabha elections: EVM ‘tampering’ reports abuzz

Fomer Prez ‘concerned’; ECI says all claims ‘false, factually incorrect’

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New Delhi, May 21: Two days before the results of Lok Sabha Election, several videos of EVMs being stored and moved from one unauthorised storage house to another surfaced on Twitter.
A number of videos have made rounds on social media since Monday night, allegedly showing EVMs being transported without any security.
While some machines are seen stored at local shops, others are seen stacked in the boot of private vehicles.
The most widely circulated video is said to be from Chandauli, in UP where a group of men can be seen unloading EVMs from a vehicle and stacking them up inside a shop.
Similar videos have surfaced from Ghazipur, Domariaganj, and Jhansi. Videos for suspicions transport of EVMs have also emerged from parts of Punjab and Bihar too.
In Jhansi, for instance, the officials claimed that the EVMS being transported were reserve machines. But they had no answer why the movement of EVM was not informed to candidates. And why reserve EVMs were transported in private vehicles a day after election?
Another video was shared by an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) worker, who alleged that the video was shot in Punjab and two EVMs and a VVPAT machine were found lying in a car. She even levelled allegations against BJP.
The situation took an interesting turn when former President Pranab Mukherjee expressed his concern at these allegations – described by him as tampering of voters’ verdict – and said the “onus of ensuring institutional integrity” lies with the Election Commission.
“The safety and security of EVMs which are in the custody of the EC is the responsibility of the Commission,” Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.
“There can be no room for speculation that challenge the very basis of our democracy. People’s mandate is sacrosanct and has to be above any iota of reasonable doubt,” said the former president. “A firm believer in our institutions, it is my considered opinion that it is the ‘workmen’ who decide how the institutional ‘tools’ perform,” he added.
Former Chief Election Commissioner Dr S.Y Qureshi too questioned the ECI’s delay in responding to the allegations.
“Why is EC not clarifying what the facts are? Speed is extremely important,” Qureshi tweeted.
Later, the Election Commission clarified that EVMs are “safe in sealed strong rooms under security, CCTV coverage, and surveillance of candidates.”
It however failed to address how stand-by EVMs were transported in violation of the rules, which say that all polled and reserve EVMs should be guarded by armed police at all times and even reserve EVMs should be returned at the same time when the polled EVMs are returned at the receipt centre.
“Certain complaints of alleged movement of EVMs, purportedly to replace the polled EVMs in the strongrooms, have been doing the rounds in sections of media. Election Commission of India would like to emphatically and unambiguously clarify that all such reports and allegations are absolutely false, and factually incorrect. The visuals seen viral on media do not pertain to any EVMs used during the polls,” the ECI said in a statement.
The allegations come at a time when a number of political parties including TMC, AAP, and others have raised concerns over EVM tampering.

Oppn demands verification of VVPAT slips
Press Trust of India
New Delhi, May 21: Leaders of as many as 22 opposition parties met the Election Commission (EC) on Tuesday and demanded verification of VVPAT slips of randomly-selected polling stations before the counting of the votes polled in the just-concluded Lok Sabha election begins on May 23.
They also demanded that if any discrepancy is found during VVPAT verification, 100 per cent counting of the paper slips of VVPATs of all polling stations of that particular Assembly segment should be done and compared with the electronic voting machine (EVM) results.
“We told the EC that the VVPAT machines should be counted first and if there is any discrepancy, then all of them in that segment should be counted,” Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters here after meeting EC officials.
Azad’s party colleague Abhishek Singhvi said despite requests to the EC since months, the poll body has now said it will meet on Wednesday to discuss the issue.
“We are asking the EC to respect the mandate of people. It cannot be manipulated,” Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP) N Chandrababu Naidu told reporters.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Satish Chandra Mishra alleged that “there is large-scale bungling relating to EVMs in Uttar Pradesh. We demand deployment of central forces”.
The opposition parties also raised concerns over the transportation of EVMs ahead of counting of votes and urged the EC to probe the issue.
The opposition parties are seeking transparency and fairness in the counting of votes and respecting the mandate of the people of the country.

 
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Chopper crash probe confirms ‘friendly fire’

4 IAF personnel to be booked for ‘crime’

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New Delhi, May 21: A senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer and three other personnel of the Srinagar Air Base could be booked for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” in the 27 February crash of a Mi-17 helicopter that killed six IAF personnel and a civilian, media reports suggested on Tuesday.
The crash, which took place while the Indian forces were on hair-trigger alert in light of an incursion by Pakistan Air Force planes, has almost been confirmed as a result of friendly fire, the reports added.
The report about possible action against IAF personnel comes even as the Court of Inquiry (CoI) into the incident is still underway. The inquiry will shortly move to the next step, ‘summary of evidence’, which is akin to a charge sheet.
The inquiry is said to be looking into the role of the Terminal Weapons Director (TWD) of the airbase, who cleared the launch of the missile. The sources said the Chief Operations Officer (COO) was in charge at that point of time.
The probe seeks to find out whether the order was issued by the officer concerned on phone or if he was present in the control room.
“The IAF is very clear that whoever is guilty will face the music,” a senior officer was quoted as saying. “They could be charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder but this has not been established yet,” the officer said.
Meanwhile, according to the sources, the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of the Srinagar Air Base, the most senior officer of the base, has been moved out as part of the probe into the crash.
The AOC, the sources added, was moved out immediately after the incident to ensure an impartial probe.
Reports said that at the time the chopper was hit by a missile fired by the Israeli-made Spyder air defence system, it had been in contact with air traffic control (ATC) as it was approaching the air base.
“The ATC was in touch with the helicopter and knew it was coming back. However, the weapon operators fired because they felt it was an unmanned aircraft coming their way,” one of the sources said. “There was lack of coordination. These are some of the issues that the CoI is looking into.”
It has been learnt that the IAF’s Barnala-based Integrated Air Command & Control System (IACCS), which is tasked with monitoring incoming aircraft from Pakistan, had not designated the helicopter a ‘Red’, the classification for enemy aircraft.
The helicopter’s Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF) — a transponder-based identification system — was switched off. However, sources said the system was switched off because it interferes with civilian aircraft transmissions, and because the aircraft could be identified by the enemy during battle.
Six IAF personnel, one civilian were killed as an Mi-17 chopper was shot down in Kashmir on 27 February while Indian and Pakistan air forces were locked in a dogfight 100 km away

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India cuts off UN panel after JK report

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New Delhi, May 21: Reacting angrily to a submission from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) on the alleged violations in Jammu and Kashmir, India has informed the United Nations body that it will no longer entertain any communication with the HRC’s Special Rapporteurs on its report.
The report from the UN body came at the same time a report from two NGOs in the State on the alleged cases of torture was released in Srinagar, which was endorsed by a former UN Special Rapporteur.
The current Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Executions, Torture, and Right to Health — Agnes Callamard, Dainius Puras and Nils Melzer — had referred to a June 2018 report of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) and written to the government in March 2019, asking about steps taken by New Delhi to address the alleged human rights violations listed in the report.
In addition, the Special Rapporteurs had listed “13 cases of concern” from 2018 alone, in which “four children were among eight civilians killed by members of the security forces.”
Rejecting all the claims, the Indian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva replied to the OHCHR on April 23, saying that “India… does not intend to engage further with these mandate-holders or any other mandate-holders on the issue,” whom it accused of “individual prejudice”.
India had also rejected the OHCHR’s report on the ‘Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir’ — the first-ever such report on Jammu and Kashmir that came out in June 2018 — and accused the High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of “clear bias” in bringing it out.
When asked, the Ministry of External Affairs clarified that India’s stand on not engaging with the Special Rapporteurs was only for those wishing to refer to the OHCHR report.
However, UN officials say that India is already in contravention of several Conventions it has committed to, including a “Standing Invitation” signed in 2011 to all special rapporteurs to visit India. According to the UN records, more than 20 such visit requests, including to Jammu and Kashmir, are pending at present. UN sources also said that between 2016-2018, the OHCHR Special Rapporteurs had sent as many as 58 communications, and had received no response other than the April 23 letter on Jammu and Kashmir.
“The only response so far has been to the communication relating to Jammu and Kashmir….The last visit was by the Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation, in October-November 2017,” a UN communications official said in reply to queries from The Hindu.
The UN submission on Jammu and Kashmir coincided with the release of an extensive 560-page report on Monday, prepared by the J&K based Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and the J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). The report, entitled ‘Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in J&K’, documented 432 cases of suspected human rights violations and brutality by security forces of which only 27 had been investigated by the State Human Rights Commission.

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