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US pullout may lead to Taliban takeover, fears ex-US secretary

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WASHINGTON: If American troops pull out of Afghanistan, the Taliban might retake control of the country, warns former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
Gates, who served under two presidents — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — from 2006 to 2011, also believes that Taliban want to take over Afghanistan and that’s why they are not negotiating with the Afghan government.
In an interview to CBS, which was broadcast on Sunday, Mr Gates agreed with the suggestion that the Afghan war might also end like the Vietnam war if the US troops were to pull out now. The war in Vietnam ended with the US withdrawal and a subsequent communist takeover of the country.
“The former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who you know well, compared this to Vietnam. He said, ‘You pull out your troops, it doesn’t end the war. That hands the battlefield to your adversaries.’ Do you see that?” the host asked.
“I think there’s a very real risk of that, yes,” Mr Gates replied.
“A repeat of Vietnam?” she asked.
“Well, a repeat of the government that we have supported being unable to sustain itself,” he said.
Gates urged Washington to ensure that the government in Kabul is stable before bringing American forces home. There are currently 12,000 US service members stationed there.
“I think that the circumstances under which you bring them home matter.
And I think trying to give the Afghan government the best possible shot at survival is really important for the future of Afghanistan,” he said.
Gates also outlined potential consequences of the Taliban retaking control of Afghanistan and claimed that a Taliban takeover would be particularly bad for Afghan women.
The present Afghan constitution, made with the US assistance, gave Afghan women some rights, such as attend schools and hold jobs. Women activists in Afghanistan fear that Taliban will take away those rights if they return to power.
Recently some Taliban representatives have that said they will not undo the rights granted under the Afghan constitution and will allow them to work and attend schools. Most Afghan women, however, are reluctant to trust them.
“So the question is, can you negotiate an arrangement whereby the Taliban agree to operate under the Afghan Constitution, become a part of the political process?” he asked.
When asked if Taliban have interest in joining a broad-based government in Afghanistan or just want to restore their rule, Mr Gates said they want to “take over Afghanistan”.
“If they agree to any kind of a compromise deal, it’s really up to the other Afghans at the end of the day to resist any moves, to get rid of those changes, to go backward, if you will,” he said.
Tired of a war that has continued for almost 18 years, the Trump administration is currently holding peace negotiations with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar.
The talks are focused on two key points, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and a Taliban assurance that they will not allow militants to use the Afghan soil for attacking other countries.
US negotiators, headed by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, have also tried to persuade Taliban to include the Afghan government in the peace talks but they are refusing to do so.
But Mr Gates urged US negotiators to arrange a deal between the insurgents and the Afghan government before US troops leave, although he admitted that ultimately it will be up to the Afghans to enforce it.
“I think it’s up to us after all this time to at least try and put the Afghan government in as positive a position for that contest that will come at some point as we can. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to admit, it’s going to be up to the Afghans themselves,” he said.


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International

US slaps sanctions on Myanmar army chief over Rohingya abuses

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Washington: The United States announced sanctions on Myanmar’s military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders due to their role in the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya minority.

The State Department said it took action against army chief Min Aung Hlaing and three others after finding credible evidence they were involved in the violence two years ago that led about 740,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

“With this announcement, the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

 

“We remain concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country,” he said in a statement.

Also sanctioned were Deputy Commander-in-Chief Soe Win, Brigadier General Than Oo and Brigadier General Aung Aung as well as the families of all four officers.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar refuses to grant the mostly Muslim Rohingya citizenship or basic rights and refers to them as “Bengalis,” inferring that the Rohingya are undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh.

UN investigators say the violence warrants the prosecution of top generals for “genocide” and the International Criminal Court has started a preliminary probe.

Pompeo, issuing a statement during a major meeting at the State Department on religious freedom, repeated the 2017 finding of his predecessor Rex Tillerson that the killings amounted to “ethnic cleansing” – while stopping short of using the term genocide.

The sanctions notably do not impact Aung San Suu Kyi, the former political prisoner who has risen to become the country’s de-facto civilian ruler.

The Nobel laureate has been criticised over her “indifference” to the atrocities committed by the military against the Rohingya, considered “the most prosecuted minority in the world”.

The sanctions are the most visible sign of US disappointment with Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, since it launched political reforms in 2011, with the military rulers reconciling with Washington and eventually allowing an elected political leadership.

Matthew Smith, the cofounder and Chief Executive Officer at Fortify Rights, welcomed the sanctions but said the US could do more.

“This is good news if this is the first measure the US will take in addressing genocide in Myanmar against the Rohingya people. It’s bad news if this is all secretary Pompeo and the US administration are planning to do. We are hopeful they will do more,” Smith told Al Jazeera from Washington, DC.

“The impact [of the sanctions] can be serious. This will flag the responsibility of these individuals for international prosecutors, for example, the International Criminal Court, and it will give pause to business leaders going to Myanmar in doing business with military-owned enterprises.

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US House Condemns Trump ‘Racist’ Tweets In Extraordinary Rebuke

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WASHINGTON: In a remarkable political repudiation, the Democratic-led U S House voted to condemn President Donald Trump’s “racist comments” against four congresswomen of colour, despite protestations by Trump’s Republican congressional allies and his own insistence he hasn’t “a racist bone in my body.”

Two days after Trump tweeted that four Democratic freshmen should “go back ” to their home countries though all are citizens and three were born in the USA Democrats muscled the resolution through the chamber by 240-187 over the near-solid GOP opposition.

The rebuke was an embarrassing one for Trump even though it carries no legal repercussions, but the highly partisan roll calls suggests it is unlikely to cost him with his die-hard conservative base.

 

Despite a lobbying effort by Trump and party leaders for a unified GOP front, four Republicans voted to condemn his remarks: moderate Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Will Hurd of Texas and Susan Brooks of Indiana, who is retiring.

Also backing the measure was Michigan’s independent Rep. Justin Amash, who left the GOP this month after becoming the party’s sole member of Congress to back a Trump impeachment inquiry.

Before the showdown roll call, Trump characteristically plunged forward with time-tested insults. He accused his four outspoken critics of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician” and added, “If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!” echoing taunts long unleashed against political dissidents rather than opposing parties’ lawmakers.

The president was joined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and other top Republicans in trying to redirect the focus from Trump’s original tweets, which for three days have consumed Washington and drawn widespread condemnation.

Instead, they tried playing offense by accusing the four congresswomen among the Democrats’ most left-leaning members and ardent Trump critics of socialism, an accusation that’s already a central theme of the GOP’s 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.

Even after two-and-a-half years of Trump’s turbulent governing style, the spectacle of a president futilely labouring to head off a House vote essentially proclaiming him to be a racist was extraordinary.

Underscoring the stakes, Republicans formally objected after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said during a floor speech that Trump’s tweets were “racist.” Led by Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, Republicans moved to have her words stricken from the record, a rare procedural rebuke.

After a delay exceeding 90 minutes, No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Pelosi had indeed violated a House rule against characterising an action as racist.

Hoyer was presiding after Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri stormed away from the presiding officer’s chair, lamenting, “We want to just fight,” apparently aimed at Republicans.

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Death toll due to Nepal floods reaches 67

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Kathmandu: The death toll from the monsoon floods and landslides in Nepal has increased to 67, while 32 people were reported missing and over 40 others injured, officials said.

The Nepal Police said in a statement that the victims comprised 41 men and 26 women, reports Xinhua news agency.

“At least 1,445 people from different districts have been rescued successfully and evacuated to safer destinations,” the statement said.

 

According to the Home Ministry, around 35,000 people were affected by the disasters particularly in the low-lying areas known as Terai region. More than 20 of Nepal`s 77 districts were worst-hit due to the floods and landslides.

The Nepal Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force were deployed in the disaster-hit districts to carry out rescue and relief operations.

Residents were displaced after the swollen rivers breached the embankment and gushed into human settlements, especially in Province 2. Over 13,000 families were displaced in Province 2 alone where around 3,500 houses were completely damaged.

The provincial governments announced separate relief packages for the victims, including cash for the families of those who lost their members and free treatment of the injured. The local governments in coordination with different agencies distributed food items, clothes and tarpaulins to the highly affected communities.

The Health Emergency Operation Centre said that different medical teams with doctors were mobilized in the hard-hit districts to ensure health services to the affected people.

“There is a high risk of possible outbreaks of different water-borne diseases like diarrhea, dysentery, dengue, typhoid among others,” Ghanashyam Pokharel, health official at Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told Xinhua.

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