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The Afghan conundrum



After a relatively silent phase on Afghan situation, which was overtaken by the global geo-political concerns after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, it was once again on top of the agenda of regional and global powers in Moscow, last week.

At the Moscow Conference on Afghanistan, representatives and officials from more than 14 countries exchanged views on the current situation in Afghanistan. The meeting was hosted by Russia and participants discussed the political, economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.

The 10 countries, none of which was involved in military occupation of Afghanistan, were meeting after over a year in Moscow. The participants included representatives from India, Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Representatives of Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were also present.

At the start of the conference special Russian envoy Zamir Kabulov stated that we have to provide a comprehensive solution to the Afghan economic issue. To achieve this, the main responsibility lies with the collective West. Those who drove the country for 20 years to the current deplorable state, as well as shamelessly continued economically suffocating the country by holding the frozen national assets of Afghanistan, are not ready to step in, an obvious reference to the US, which was not present at the conference.

Regional views
At the conference, the MEA’s Joint Secretary J.P. Singh, who called for joint work to ensure that the “voice” of the Afghans is not lost, represented India. We all need to work together to ensure that the voice and aspiration of Afghans is not lost and reassure them that we are standing with them at this difficult time, he said.

The Chinese special envoy on Afghan affairs, Yue Xiaoyong said that the US has shamelessly seized the $7 billion assets of Afghan Central Bank and suspended all development aid, unilaterally.

The Iran special envoy for Afghanistan, Hassan Kazimi Qomi, said that there will be a meeting of the regional foreign ministers in Tehran very soon to discuss Afghanistan’s economic woes.

Right from the beginning India’s view has been that of engaging with the Taliban. Though after making an initial foray by engaging in dialogue with the leadership in Doha, before the formation of the Islamic Emirate, it acted rather slowly afterwards. Yet, it remains firm that development and reconstruction of Afghanistan should be dealt with its regional neighbours and those countries, which in the past have played a factitious role in Afghanistan politics, should be kept away from it.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Emirate has made clear that meetings in which there is no representative from Kabul are not effective. The Afghan Foreign Ministry in a statement said that, “We want to underscore that Islamic Emirate, just as it fought against the 20-year occupation posing a direct threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan and the region, as an independent government will not allow any third country to place military facilities in Afghanistan. Similarly, we strongly urge other countries to not put their land and airspace at the disposal of other countries against Afghanistan,”

It also said that the interim Taliban regime is an “accountable government” and has taken “serious steps against antagonistic groups”.

Pakistan’s criticism
However, in an unusual move, Pakistan gave a damning assessment of the Afghan Taliban regime’s 16 months in power, saying the interim government has done little to form inclusive government, protect the rights of women and eradicate terrorist groups.

Pakistan’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Sadiq Khan, called for support for Afghans. The lack of progress, he noted, means that the critical support needed by Afghanistan to deal with the humanitarian and economic crises and other challenges has faltered.

Sadiq said the progress report of the last 16 months was mixed, while some of the worst fears, including a rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, mass exodus of refugees and a prolonged period of instability and violence did not materialise, the interim Afghan government had also not made the kind of progress that the international community would ideally expected.

Despite assurances by the interim Afghan government, the rights of women and girls also appeared to have regressed, not progressed, according to the Pakistani envoy. He added that the footprint of terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, had yet to be fully eradicated.

He said that Pakistan has been the advocate of engaging with the Afghan Taliban government after the withdrawal of foreign forces. But the latest assessment suggests Islamabad is not happy with the interim government. Pakistan is increasingly frustrated over the Taliban’s lack of intent to eradicate threat posed by certain terror outfits to Pakistan.

But despite expressing strong reservations, Ambassador Sadiq made a passionate appeal for help to millions of Afghans, who he said, were in desperate need of urgent humanitarian support, including food, medicine and essential life supplies, before the advent of winter.

On top, he said, Afghanistan remained cut off from the international banking system and faces serious liquidity challenges. Billions of Afghan assets are frozen, thus deprived of being gainfully used for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan.

Though Pakistan wants to be a seen as an important and sincere player for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, yet there is a lot of bad blood between Pakistan and IEA. During the last 16 months, their forces have acted against each other on the border issue several times. Moreover, even the international comity does not seem ready to entrust Pakistan with any meaningful role in Afghanistan, which might be a replay of its earlier roles during the Soviet and American interference in the country.

In the given scenario, the Indian government should step up its diplomatic and outreach activities with the IEA and international players. India’s past role in Afghan affairs can’t be erased easily and now as the G20’s chair, India can definitely move forward in a resolute manner to start a meaningful and result-oriented outreach for Afghanistan.

Further IEA should be made a part of the consultative process of any future action on Afghanistan, as without their presence no one can guarantee the actions and provide legitimacy to any sincere intervention.

International News

China protects four key 26/11 perpetrators from UN sanctions




 China continues to defy the other members of the Security Council and the overwhelming anti-terrorism sentiments by protecting from UN sanctions four key leaders of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that carried out the 26/11 Mumbai attack.

Fourteen years after the attack that killed at least 166 people, Beijing works with Islamabad to undermine anti-terrorism measures against Pakistan-based terrorists behind the carnage.

The four from LeT who got China’s umbrella this year were the group’s commander Sajid Mir, who orchestrated the 26/11 attack; deputy chief Abdur Rehman Makki; deputy chief of the LeT front Falah-I-Insaniyat Foundation Shahid Mahmood, and LeT commander Hafiz Talha Saeed, who is LeT chief Hafiz Muhammed Saeed’s son.

China also put a hold on sanctions on the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group’s deputy leader Abdul Rauf.

China had initially allowed eight LeT leaders to be sanctioned, four in the month after the 26/11 attack, and four later, before taking a hardline in support of other LeT leaders in a show of solidarity with Pakistan.

“Our efforts to sanction the perpetrators and facilitators of these terror attacks were blocked in the past for political reasons,” India’s Permanent Representative Ruchira Kamboj said last week at the Security Council.

“These actors continue to walk free and have been organising further cross-border attacks against my country,” she said.

US Permanent Mission’s Political Coordinator John Kelley at the same meeting regretted that only one entity was added to the sanctions list this year and said, “The important work of this committee must remain free from politicisation that only benefits the terrorists.”

The committee paralysed by China’s intransigence was only able to add Khatiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a terror group operating in Syria to the sanctions list this year, while the LeT leaders and another Pakistan-based terrorist have been spared.

The Security Council’s panel, known as the 1267 Sanctions Committee for the resolution setting it up, places individuals and groups under sanctions that include travel bans and financial restrictions for terrorist activities involving the al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and affiliated organisations like the LeT.

The committee includes all the 15 members of the Security Council and gives every one of them the right to place a hold on sanctions, which amounts to a veto.

When the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) met in Mumbai last month, an audio clip of Mir directing the 26/11 terrorists at the Jewish centre was played to focus on the role of the terrorist under Beijing protection at the UN.

At the CTC’s special session in the terrorists’ killing field, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, “The key conspirators and planners of the 26/11 attacks continue to remain protected and unpunished.”

This, he said, “undermines our collective credibility and our collective interests” and until “the masterminds and perpetrators of this attack” are brought “to justice, this task remains unfinished”.

In a video message to the meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “That is what the US has been working to do, together with India and other partners for the last 14 years because when we allow the architects of these attacks to go unpunished, we send a message to terrorists everywhere that their heinous crimes will be tolerated.”

In the first flush of global fury against the horror of the 26/11 attack, China in December 2008 did not stand in the way of sanctioning LeT boss Saeed, operations head Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, finance chief Haji Muhammad Ashraf and financier Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq.

Later, four others from the LeT were added to the list: Muhammad Arif Qasmani and Mohammad Yahya Aziz in 2009, and Hafiz Abdul Salam Bhattvi and Malik Zafar Iqbal Shahbaz in 2012.

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International News

Lt Gen Asim Munir named Pakistan’s new army chief




The Pakistan government on Thursday announced that Lieutenant General Asim Munir will replace General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the country’s new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS).

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, using his Constitutional right, has also appointed Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), reports Geo News.

Aurangzeb added that the summary of the appointments has been sent to President Arif Alvi for ratification.

The decision was announced after the Prime Minister held a federal cabinet meeting to mull over the appointments after the allied parties authorised him to pick the officers for the top slots, Geo News reported.

Both the officers picked for the slots were the senior-most military officials.

Although the summary has been sent to the president, who belongs to the PTI, the coalition allies had warned him beforehand that he should avoid being loyal to his party and work in the interests of the state.

In his conversation with reporters after the meeting of the federal cabinet, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also confirmed that the summary has been sent to the president.

“All the matters have been settled in line with the Constitution of Pakistan and hopefully the president will not create a controversy,” Asif said.

The minister added that he expects President Alvi to approve the premier’s advice.

He also expressed hope that the said appointments would not be viewed politically.

The minister refused to comment on PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s consultation with President Alvi over the matter.

He said that the Pakistan Air Force, navy, and army shouldn’t be made controversial.

Asif said that a detailed press release regarding the development will be issued.

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International News

Turkey plans to produce flour from Russian wheat to supply poor nations: Erdogan




 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country planned to produce flour from Russian wheat for free delivery to the least developed countries.

Erdogan said he had agreed with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on such a plan, in an effort to tackle the global food crisis, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Putin made the following offer to me, ‘Let’s send this grain to the least developed countries, that is, to the poor countries for free’. We agreed too,” the President was quoted as saying on Monday on his flight back from Qatar.

“We even made such a plan that we will buy the wheat if necessary, make it flour in Turkey, and then send it to the least developed countries,” he added.

On July 22, Russia and Ukraine separately signed a document in Istanbul with Turkey and the US to ensure grain and fertilizer supplies to the global market amid Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Kiev.

The deal was extended last week for another 120 days.

Since July, nearly 11.2 million tonnes of essential foodstuffs have been shipped.

However, 300,000 tonnes of Russian fertilizer remain stranded in various European ports, according to UN Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan.

Ankara says it has been making efforts to pave the way for the resumption of Russian grain and fertilizer export to world markets as well.

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