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US warship transits Taiwan Strait

BEIJING, Nov 23: China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed surveillance ships and aircraft to tail a US warship which sailed through the narrow strait dividing the mainland and Taiwan on Tuesday morning.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday his administration's policy on Taiwan was unchanged and that the United States was not encouraging independence for Taiwan.

It was the first such passage through the Taiwan Strait after President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden held a video summit earlier this month, and where the Chinese President warned Biden that encouraging Taiwanese independence would be “playing with fire”.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Milius’s passage through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday was a routine transit, the US Seventh Fleet said in a statement.

“Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit November 23 through international waters in accordance with international law,” Lieutenant Nicholas Lingo from the US Seventh Fleet said in the statement.

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows,” Lingo added.

US warships periodically conduct exercises in the strait, almost always triggering angry responses from Beijing, which claims Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy, and surrounding waters as its own territory.

The PLA’s eastern theatre command issued a statement saying it had deployed ships and aircraft to follow the US vessel.

“This move by the US creates security risks and undermines regional stability. The theatre troops will take all necessary measures to resolutely counter all threats and provocations, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” spokesperson Colonel Shi Yi said.

In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry echoed Yi’s views.

“US warships have repeatedly flaunted their strength and made provocations in the Taiwan Strait under the guise of freedom of navigation. This is not a promise of freedom and openness, but a deliberate interference and destruction of regional peace and stability,” ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at the ministry briefing.

“The US should immediately correct its mistakes, stop provoking troubles and playing with fire across the border, and play a constructive role for regional peace and stability,” he added.

China has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year or so, provoking anger in Taipei.

British, Canadian, French and Australian warships have all made passages through the Taiwan Strait in recent years, sparking protests from China.

“Nine were conducted in 2019 followed by 15 in 2020. So far this year there have been 11, including the USS Milius crossing,” news agency AFP reported, quoting Collin Koh, a research fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who keeps a database of declared US transits through the strait.

Russia conducts anti-satellite test; blows up own satellite in low Earth orbit

BENGALURU, Nov 16: The Russian military conducted an anti-satellite test (ASAT) this week, shooting down one of its own satellites in low Earth orbit. The test was likely conducted with a missile launch on 13 or 14 November, and the satellite broke up on 15 November when trackable debris started to appear in orbit.

More than 1,500 large pieces of trackable debris were generated from the explosion of the satellite, as well as potentially hundreds or thousands of untrackable smaller pieces, according to the US government.

The satellite that was blown up was the Kosmos 1408, a defunct Soviet-era ELINT (Electronic and Signals Intelligence) satellite that was launched in 1982. It had an approximate mass of 1,750 kg.

The satellite was in orbit just above the ISS at 480km, and the space station passed through the debris field every 93 minutes, putting the astronauts and cosmonauts stationed there in danger, and drawing flak from American space agency NASA. Chinese taikonauts at the country’s under-construction space station Tiangong-3 were also put in danger.

The missile used was likely an A-235 PL-19 Nudol anti-ballistic anti-satellite weapon, launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrone, which is located 800 kilometers north of Moscow. The missile is capable of operating at long-range (1,500 km), medium range (1,000 km), and short range (350 km). It was designed to shield Moscow from a nuclear attack.

There were seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) at the time when the satellite was shot down — three American, one French, and one Japanese astronauts, and two Russian cosmonauts. They were asked by NASA to take refuge in their docked spacecraft capsules for two hours as a precaution, to prepare for a quick emergency exit from the station if required, the American space agency said in a statement.

After the third pass of the ISS through the debris, NASA deemed it safe for the astronauts to return inside the ISS.

The test also endangered the Chinese space station Tiangong-3 that is currently being assembled in orbit, and is holding three Chinese taikonauts. No details have been released about the precautionary measures taken by the Chinese taikonauts.

“With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos said in a tweet that the debris has moved away from the ISS and the station is “in the green zone”.

In the 1960s and 1970s, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union conducted a series of ASAT tests, declaring them a success.

Since the end of the Cold War, this is the fourth ASAT test conducted in space by any country with missiles launched from Earth.

India was the most recent, conducting an ASAT test under Mission Shakti in 2019, shooting down MicroSat-R, a low-cost DRDO satellite. Over 400 pieces of trackable debris were generated, and put ISS potentially at risk, but most burned up in the atmosphere within a few weeks.

In 2007, China conducted a similar test blowing up a satellite at a much higher orbit, with it breaking up into over 35,000 pieces, with debris spreading across the entire width of low Earth orbit — from 200km to 3,850 km altitude. This test too put at risk the astronauts who were aboard the ISS at the time, including Indian-American Sunita Williams.

In 2009, the US conducted Operation Burnt Frost, where a defunct satellite was hit at a height of 220km, generating hundreds of pieces of debris. Most of it burned up in the atmosphere, but some were blown into higher orbits and remained there for over 18 months.

Space debris can build up exponentially in a cascading process called Kessler’s Syndrome, where a piece of debris hits another satellite, which in turn creates thousands of more pieces of debris.

Anti-satellite tests are considered a form of military technology, equipped to shoot down intelligence satellites, and their use is not covered by international laws. It is a matter of contention whether ASAT tests violate the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

Article 9 of the treaty states that all space activities are to be guided by the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance, with regard to interests of all parties of the treaty. The treaty also forbids weapons of mass destruction and nuclear warheads in outer space, but does not explicitly prohibit conventional weaponry.

This week’s test follows closely on the heels of increased tensions between the US and Russia, with US officials publicly warning Europe about Russia’s increasing military presence at Ukraine’s borders.

Russia starts delivery of S-400 air-defence missiles to India

NEW DELHI, Nov 15: In a big boost to India’s air-defence capabilities, Russia has started delivery of the much awaited S-400 missile system for deployment on schedule this year, official sources have confirmed.

India had bought the system for over US$ 5 billion in 2018, in a deal that became contentious amid a threat of sanctions from the US on countries engaging in defence deals with Russia.

“Russia has started delivering the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems to India, the deliveries are going as planned,” Sputnik, the Russian news agency, reported.

“The supplies of the S-400 air defence system to India have started and are proceeding on schedule,” the agency quoted Dmitry Shugaev, director of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, as saying.

There was no official word from the Indian side. The delivery of the weapons system was expected to begin before the end of this year. The delivery of parts has already begun through sea and air routes, sources said.

India had bought five units of the system in 2018, and had made the first tranche of the payment, $800 million, a year later.

The S-400 is among the most advanced air-defence systems in the world, with a range of around 400 km. It is capable of protecting its air defence bubble against rockets, missiles, cruise missiles and even aircraft.

The system is already available with China, which has deployed it along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh amid the 18-month military standoff.

Speaking to reporters last month, Chief of the Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Marshal V R Chaudhari, had said that the first S-400 unit would be inducted this year, as per the contract.

The deal with Russia has been a thorn in the relationship between India and the US as several American officials have, in veiled messages, raised the spectre of sanctions if India goes ahead with the purchase.

In January, the then outgoing US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster had raised issues of “interoperability” in a veiled reference to the S-400 deal.

India’s External Affairs Ministry had stated that “India and the US have a comprehensive global strategic partnership” and that “India has a special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia”.

The ministry had said, through its spokesperson, in January that “India has always pursued an independent foreign policy. This also applies to our defence acquisitions and supplies which are guided by our national security interests.”

A few days before Juster’s comments, a US Congressional report had warned that “India’s multi-billion dollar deal to purchase the Russian-made S-400 air defence system may trigger US sanctions on India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”.

The US had imposed sanctions on Turkey in December 2020 over its purchase of the same system.

Last month, two US senators had reportedly written to US President Joe Biden, urging his administration to waive any sanctions against India over the purchase.

Yet to decide on potential waiver of sanctions against India for S-400: US

WASHINGTON, Nov 15: The United States has not made a determination on a potential waiver of sanctions against India for its purchase of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia, a state department spokesperson said, noting that the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) does not have a blanket or country-specific waiver provision.

The Joe Biden administration also urges "all of our allies, partners" to forgo transactions with Russia that risk triggering sanctions under the CAATSA, the spokesperson said in response to reports that Russia has started delivering the S-400 to India.

India had signed a USD 5.43-billion deal with Russia for the purchase of five S-400 surface to air missile systems during the 19th India-Russia Annual Bilateral Summit in New Delhi in October 2019, for long-term security needs.

Washington had indicated that the Russian S-400 systems may trigger CAATSA sanctions. The CAATSA is a United States federal law that imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia.

CAATSA authorises the US administration to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

Amid calls from US senators to waive sanctions against India, the spokesperson clarified that the CAATSA does not have a blanket or country-specific waiver provision.

"We urge all of our allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that risk triggering sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). We have not made a determination on a potential waiver with respect to Indian arms transactions with Russia. CAATSA does not have a blanket or country-specific waiver provision," the spokesperson said.

"The US-India defence partnership has expanded significantly in recent years, commensurate with India's status as a major defence partner. We expect this strong momentum in our defence partnership to continue. We value our strategic partnership with India," the spokesperson added.

Delhi Declaration calls for inclusive Afghan govt

NEW DELHI, Nov 10: Eight regional countries, including India, Iran and Russia, pledged on Wednesday to combat terrorism emanating from Afghanistan and called for an open and inclusive government in Kabul with representation from all sections of Afghan society.

In an apparent reference to Pakistan’s backing for the Taliban, a declaration issued at the conclusion of the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan – which was attended by top security officials from the eight countries – emphasised respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and non-interference in its internal affairs.

The security officials pitched for collective efforts to counter extremism, radicalisation, separatism and drug trafficking in the region.

The meeting, chaired by India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, was attended by Iran’s supreme national security council secretary, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Russia’s security council secretary Nikolai Patrushev, and the security council heads of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

“We all have been keenly watching the developments in [Afghanistan]. These have important implications not only for the people of Afghanistan, but also for its neighbours and the region,” Doval said in televised remarks.

“This is a time for close consultations amongst us, greater cooperation, interaction and coordination among the regional countries,” he said.

This was the first regional meeting on Afghanistan convened by India since Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15. However, the dialogue was the continuation of a mechanism whereby Iran hosted two meetings in 2018 and 2019.

Pakistan and China were invited to the meeting but chose not to participate. Pakistan’s NSA Moeed Yusuf said last week he wouldn’t attend because India was being a “spoiler” in the region, while the Chinese side cited scheduling problems.

The Delhi Declaration on Afghanistan, issued after the meeting, said the eight countries are committed to “combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including its financing, the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure and countering radicalisation, to ensure that Afghanistan would never become a safe haven for global terrorism”.

It said that “Afghanistan’s territory should not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing any terrorist acts”.

The declaration stressed the need to form “an open and truly inclusive government that represents the will of all the people of Afghanistan and has representation from all sections of their society, including major ethno-political forces in the country”. The inclusion of all sections of Afghan society in the administrative and political structure is “imperative for the successful national reconciliation process”, it said.

The eight countries said they backed a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan while emphasising “respect for sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and non-interference in its internal affairs”. They expressed concern at the suffering of the Afghan people because of the security situation and condemned terror attacks in Kunduz, Kandahar and Kabul.

The declaration emphasised the protection of the rights of women, children and minorities, and expressed concern at the deteriorating socio-economic and humanitarian situation. In this context, the declaration highlighted the need to provide urgent humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.

While pointing to the UN’s “central role” in Afghanistan, the eight countries said humanitarian assistance should be provided in an “unimpeded, direct and assured manner”, and distributed in a non-discriminatory manner to all sections of Afghan society.

The representatives of the eight countries, in brief opening statements, pushed for collective efforts to cope with threats such as terrorism and drug trafficking emanating from Afghanistan, and to provide humanitarian aid to Afghans before the onset of winter.

Shamkhani referred to the challenges of terrorism and a refugee crisis, and said: “The solution comes only through the formation of an inclusive government with the participation of all ethnic groups.”

Patrushev noted the proliferation of dialogue mechanisms on Afghanistan, including the Moscow Format and Turkic Council, and said it was important that these forums do not duplicate work but complement each other.

Kazakhstan’s national security committee chairman Karim Massimov said his country is closely monitoring threats from Afghanistan. “With the Taliban movement coming to power, the situation inside the country remains complicated. There are many obstacles to form an effective government system,” he said.

“Terrorist organisations are intensifying their activities. We are strongly concerned with the operations of the Central Asian fighters,” he added.

Tajikistan’s security council secretary Nasrullo Rahmatjon Mahmudzoda said his country is concerned about developments following the Taliban takeover because it has a long border with Afghanistan.

“The current situation creates extra risk and possibility for growth of drug trafficking, terrorism and criminality. The situation on the Tajik-Afghan border remains complicated currently under the influence of many negative factors,” he said.

The security officials also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the dialogue.

The meeting in Delhi coincided with the Taliban foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, beginning a three-day visit to Pakistan. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid expressed optimism over meetings on Afghanistan held in Islamabad, Moscow, Tehran and New Delhi.

“We are optimistic because the whole region needs stability and security in Afghanistan...the meetings...pave the way to understanding, and they are hopefully in the benefit of Afghanistan,” Mujahid said.

China’s special envoy for Afghanistan Yue Xiaoyong will attend a meeting of the “extended troika” to be hosted by Pakistan on November 11. The meet will also be attended by the senior envoys of the US and Russia. Muttaqi’s delegation is expected to meet senior officials of all four countries while in Islamabad.

Pakistan’s security establishment, with its close ties to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, has gained influence in Kabul since August. At the same time, the Taliban are looking towards China for investments following the withdrawal of Western assistance.

China Delivers Largest, Most Advanced Warship To Pakistan: Report

BEIJING, Nov 10: China has delivered to Pakistan the largest and most advanced warship that Beijing has ever exported, Chinese state media reported.

Designed and built by China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited (CSSC), the frigate was delivered to the Pakistan Navy in a commissioning ceremony in Shanghai, according to Global Times.

The Type 054A/P frigate was named the PNS Tughril, according to a statement the Pakistan Navy sent to the Global Times on Monday.

The PNS Tughril is the first hull of four Type 054 frigates being constructed for the Pakistan Navy, the Pakistan Navy said.

The ship is a technologically advanced and highly capable platform with enormous surface-to-surface, surface-to-air and underwater firepower, besides extensive surveillance potentials.

It is equipped with state-of-the-art combat management and an electronic warfare system along with modern self-defence capabilities.

The Type 054A/P frigate can simultaneously execute a number of naval warfare missions in a highly intense multi-threat environment, the Pakistani statement said.

The frigate is the largest and most advanced warship China has ever exported, CSSC said.

Taliban must seek legitimacy within Afghanistan before international recognition

NEW DELHI, Nov 9: On the eve of the Delhi Afghanistan conference, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met his Tajik and Uzbek counterparts and concurred that the Taliban regime in Kabul should first seek internal legitimacy within the country before international recognition.

While China and Pakistan have decided to stay away from the Delhi dialogue so that India is kept out of Afghanistan affairs, the NSA dialogue today clearly indicates that Central Asian Republics also want the Taliban to seek recognition from Loya Jirga (tribal council) and the religious council in Afghanistan before getting recognised by the international community.

The Delhi conference is not against the Taliban as it recognises the Sunni Pashtun force as a contender of power in Kabul but it must have the trust of the people of Afghanistanncluding Shia Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and most importantly the women of the country.

Pakistan is not attending the Delhi conference as it sees India as a spoiler, China has “scheduling issues” but the fact is Pakistan is hosting a troika conference on Afghanistan with China, Russia, the US, Taliban participating in it. It is quite evident that Pakistan and its principal backer China do not want India, which has been part of the humongous humanitarian effort in that country for the past two decades, anywhere in the picture as it eats into their “strategic space.”

Doval exchanged views with the Tajik counterpart on Afghanistan, with significant convergence of assessments.

They also expressed concerns regarding the sharp rise in terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the war-torn country in mid-August and announced an interim government in early September. The Tajik side, which has been witnessing the influx of refugees and officials in the previous Afghan government, highlighted the gravity of the situation in Afghanistan.

The looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan was also discussed.

Apart from the crisis within Afghanistan, discussions on deepening cooperation in areas like defence, border management and border infrastructure development also took place.

During the meeting with the Uzbek NSA Victor Makhmudov, Afghanistan remained the major focus of discussion and both sides agreed that the future of Afghanistan must be decided by the people of Afghanistan themselves. The two top security advisers shared the view that the legitimacy of any Afghan government within Afghanistan was “important before the issue of its international recognition.”

As Pakistan has been acting as a major impediment in humanitarian access to Afghanistan, they stressed the need for Afghanistan’s neighbours to ensure unhindered access to humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. They agreed that neighbouring states must play a constructive role in Afghanistan. During the bilateral meet, the NSA highlighted the need for long term economic development of Afghanistan.

19 Dead, 50 Injured In Kabul Hospital Attack

KABUL, Nov 2: At least 19 people were killed and 50 others wounded in an attack on a military hospital in Kabul on Tuesday, the latest assault to rock Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power.

The attack got under way when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the entrance of the sprawling site.

Gunmen then broke into the hospital grounds, firing their weapons there, the Taliban said.

"Nineteen dead bodies and about 50 wounded people have been taken to hospitals in Kabul," a health ministry official who asked not to be named told AFP.

The Taliban spent 20 years waging an insurgency against the ousted US-backed government.

Now they face the struggle of bringing stability to Afghanistan, which has been hit in recent weeks by a series of bloody assaults claimed by the Islamic State group's local chapter.

Tuesday's attack has not yet been claimed by any group.

"All the attackers are dead. The attack was initiated by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle who blew himself up at the entrance of the hospital," a Taliban official from the media team said.

"Some attackers entered the hospital compound."

Two explosions targeted the hospital area, he had earlier said in a statement.

People in the city heard a second explosion some 30 minutes after the first was reported.

The hospital, which treats wounded soldiers from both the Taliban and former Afghan security forces, was previously attacked in 2017, when gunmen disguised as medical personnel killed at least 30 people in an hours-long siege.

Although both IS and the Taliban are hardline Sunni Islamist militants, they differ on details of religion and strategy.

IS have claimed four mass casualty attacks since the Taliban takeover on August 15, including suicide bomb blasts targeting Shiite Muslim mosques. The group regards Shiite Muslims as heretics.

In the 2017 attack on the military hospital, militants went room to room killing people, switching to knives when they ran out of ammunition.

That attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, and the Taliban denied responsibility.

However, survivors said that the attackers chanted "Long live Taliban" in Pashto and attacked all but two wards on the hospital's first floor where Taliban patients were admitted.

An Italian NGO which runs a separate hospital in the capital tweeted on Tuesday that it has received nine patients with injuries from the blast site.

Pictures shared on social media showed black smoke billowing into the air after the explosions, the first of which went off at around 1:00 pm (0830 GMT).



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