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Iran's Top Nuke Scientist Assassinated

TEHRAN, Nov 27: Iran said one of its most prominent nuclear scientists was assassinated on Friday in an attack on his car outside Tehran that it accused arch foe Israel of being behind.

The scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was "seriously wounded" when assailants targeted his car before being engaged in a gunfight with his security team, Iran's defence ministry said in a statement.

It added that Fakhrizadeh, who headed the ministry's reasearch and innovation organisation, was later "martyred" after medics failed to revive him.

Fakhrizadeh, once described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the father of Iran's nuclear weapons programme, had been travelling in a car near Absard city in Tehran province's eastern Damavand county.

A state television report on the assassination described him as one "of our country's nuclear scientists" and said that Israel "had an old and deep enmity towards him".

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there were "serious indications of an Israeli role" in the scientist's assassination.

"Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today," Zarif wrote on Twitter.

"This cowardice -- with serious indications of Israeli role -- shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators," he added.

He also called on the international community to "end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror."

Fakhrizadeh's assassination comes less than two months before Joe Biden is to take office as US president.

Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under incumbent US President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.

Trump said at the time that the deal known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) did not offer sufficient guarantees to stop Tehran from acquiring an atomic bomb.

Iran has always denied it wants such a weapon.

Trump on Friday retweeted reports on Fakhrizadeh's assassination, without commenting on it himself.

The killing comes a day after Thailand said it had returned three Iranians jailed over a botched 2012 bomb plot in Bangkok that Israel had linked to a spate of attacks on its diplomats around the world.

Iran said the three were "a businessman and two" other Iranians detained abroad on the basis of "false accusations," without giving further information.

They killing of Fakhrizadeh is the latest in a series of assassinations of nuclear scientists in Iran in recent years that the Islamic republic has blamed Israel of carrying out.

The New York Times reported earlier in November that Al-Qaeda's second-in-command was secretly shot and killed in Tehran by two Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at Washington's behest.

The senior leader, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed in August along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden's son Hamza, the Times said, citing intelligence sources.

Iran said the report was based on "made-up information" and reaffirmed its denial of the presence of any of the group's members in the Islamic republic.

Iran's state news IRNA and Mehr news agency at the time reported a similar incident and identified the victims as Habib Dawoud, a 58-year-old Lebanese history teacher, and his daughter Maryam, 27, without giving further details.

Violent protests continue in Gilgit Baltistan against ‘rigged’ elections by Imran Khan govt

GILGIT BALTISTAN (PoK), Nov 26: People in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit Baltistan continue to hold violent protests across the region against Prime Minister Imran Khan-led Pakistan government over rigged assembly elections.

The protesters burnt tyres and blocked the roads to show their anger and frustration.

Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has won a majority of the 23 assembly seats and is poised to form the government.

The opposition has termed the elections rigged and accused the government of the blatant misuse of power.

Hundreds of people have joined the demonstrations following a protest call made by their political parties. They say they will not move until justice is delivered to them.

While all elections in the illegally occupied regions are important to Islamabad, this year’s elections were of uncommon prominence and desperation for Pakistan.

Pakistan’s all-weather friend China wants it to gain complete political control over the region for its strategic and ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).Under its growing pressure and demands only, Khan in the run-up to the polls had declared the status of a provisional province to Gilgit Baltistan (GB).

It was reported that both Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslims League-Nawaz have levelled allegations of rigging in the recent GB elections. A winner is yet to be announced from the Pakistan-occupied region.

The complete but unofficial results of all 23 constituencies, where polling was held on Sunday, indicate that the PTI has emerged as the single largest party with 10 seats, followed by seven independents.

The PPP won three seats, the PML-N two and the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen, which had a seat adjustment arrangement with the PTI, got one seat, Dawn reported.

India not only meeting Paris Agreement targets, but exceeding them: Modi at G20

NEW DELHI, Nov 22: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday emphasised on keeping the focus on climate change, saying it is an issue which needs to be fought in an integrated manner.

“It is equally important to keep our focus on fighting climate change. Climate change must be fought not in silos but in an integrated, comprehensive and holistic way,” he said while addressing the G20 Summit virtually.

“We aim to restore 26 million hectares degraded land by the year 2030. We are encouraging a circular economy,” he added.

The prime minister said that every single human being must prosper if the humanity as a whole aims to prosper.

“Inspired by our traditional ethos of living in harmony with the environment and commitment of my government, India has adopted low carbon and climate-resilient development practices. India is not only meeting our Paris Agreement targets but also exceeding them,” said Modi.

Saudi Arabia, which assumed the G20 presidency this year, is the host of the virtual summit that is bringing together leaders from the world’s richest and most developed economies, such as the US, China, India, Turkey, France, the UK and Brazil, among others.

Speaking at the summit on Saturday, Modi had called for a global index for the post-Covid-19 world based on four key elements - creation of a vast talent pool, ensuring reach of technology to all segments of society, transparency in systems of governance and dealing with Mother Earth in a spirit of Trusteeship.

He had also termed the Covid-19 pandemic as an important turning point in the history of humanity and the biggest challenge the world is facing since World War II.

Modi also called for greater transparency in governance systems which will inspire citizens to deal with shared challenges and enhance their confidence.

Pak Oppn alliance holds massive rally despite govt refusing permission

ISLAMABAD, Nov 22: The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an 11-party opposition alliance, held a massive rally in Peshawar on Sunday despite refusal of permit from the government which cited the rise in Covid-19 cases.

Doctors had warned that Peshawar was fast becoming a new hot spot for coronavirus.

In his address to the rally, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari predicted that the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan would be falling in January.

Earlier on Sunday, Khan accused the PDM leaders of “playing reckless politics with people’s safety”.

He tweeted that “the same PDM members who had wanted a strict lockdown and criticised me earlier [are] now playing reckless politics with people’s safety”.

He added, “They are even defying court orders and holding a jalsa (rally) when cases are rising dramatically.”

The opposition parties insist that they would observe safety precautions, and alleged that the government’s intentions to stop their rally was entirely political.

Information minister Shibli Faraz said that if Covid cases rose in Peshawar in the coming days, the government would register an FIR against PDM leaders.

In reply to the government’s insistence that the PDM postpone its rally, the joint leader of the opposition movement, Maulana Fazlur Rehman said that the Imran Khan government was a ‘big corona’ itself.

“This government is the representative of a stolen mandate. It is not the representative of the people,” said Rehman, while addressing a press conference in Peshawar.

Speaking of the government’s warnings against holding rallies, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) leader said that they found no other excuse, so started raising a hue and cry about the spread of coronavirus.

Besides Rahman and Bilawal, the rally was addressed by PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz, but not by former PM and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, who addressed the previous PDM rally from London via a video link, apparently due to severe kidney pain.

Covid-19 biggest challenge since World War II: Modi at G20 summit

NEW DELHI, Nov 21: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday called for greater transparency in governance systems and decisive action by the G20 to counter the impact of the Covid-19 crisis that should focus on both economic recovery and preserving the earth.

Modi participated in the two-day virtual summit being chaired by Saudi Arabia along with the heads of state and government of the 19 member countries and representatives of the European Union and international organisations.

Describing the pandemic as an important turning point in history and the biggest challenge faced by the world since World War 2, he called for decisive action by the G20 that should not be limited to economic recovery, jobs and trade, but also focus on preserving the earth.

Modi called for greater transparency in governance systems to inspire people to deal with shared challenges and said dealing with the environment as “trustees rather than owners” will lead to a holistic and healthy lifestyle, a principle whose benchmark could be a per capita carbon footprint.

He also sought a new global index for the post-Coronavirus world consisting of four elements – creation of a vast talent pool, ensuring technology reaches all segments of society, transparency in governance systems, and dealing with the earth with a spirit of trusteeship. This can help the G20 lay the foundation of a new world, he said.

In the past few decades, there was an emphasis on capital and finance and the time has now come to focus on multi-skilling and re-skilling. This will enhance the dignity of people and make them more resilient to face crises, he said. He added any assessment of new technology should be based on its impact on ease of living and quality of life.

Since “work from anywhere” is the new normal in the post-Covid-19 world, Modi suggested the creation of a G20 “virtual secretariat” as a follow-up and documentation repository.

This was the third summit this month where Modi and President Xi Jinping were on the same platform amid the India-China border standoff. They had earlier joined the summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) grouping.

The summit with the theme “Realising opportunities of the 21st century for all” has assumed importance in the wake of the pandemic, and its agenda includes two sessions focused on overcoming the pandemic, economic recovery and restoring jobs, and building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future. There are also side events on pandemic preparedness and safeguarding the planet.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Gavi Board chair, told the event on pandemic preparedness: “The virus is winning. Only through adequate financing for a global exit strategy like Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) can economic vitality be restored at home and catastrophe in the poorest countries averted.”

A commitment by G20 leaders to invest $4.6 billion to fill the ACT Accelerator’s immediate funding gap will save lives, lay the groundwork for mass procurement and delivery of tests, treatments and vaccines, he said.

In his opening remarks, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz said the G20 countries pledged over $21 billion to support global efforts to combat the pandemic and injected over $11 trillion to support individuals and businesses.

“Although we are optimistic about the progress made in developing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics tools for Covid-19, we must work to create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these tools for all peoples. At the same time, we must prepare better for any future pandemic,” he said.

Normal Christmas out of question, says Trudeau as Toronto set to enter lockdown

TORONTO, Nov 21: A normal Christmas season in Canada is “out of the question” this year, warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he returned to daily briefings on the Covid-19 crisis that was a regular feature when the pandemic first struck the country.

“Here we are again,” Trudeau told reporters from his residence at Rideau Cottage in the capital Ottawa as the country witnesses a second surge in cases and its largest city Toronto is going back into lockdown from Monday.

Latest modelling figures from health authorities projected that Canada could see 60,000 cases per day if the current level of contact between people increased, and around 20,000 if they were maintained.

Confirmed cases touched 320,417 on Friday, up nearly 5,000 over the previous day and a nearly 40% spike over a fortnight. Deaths stood at 11,334, with the daily toll going up by over 50% when compared to 14 days earlier.

The provincial government of Ontario announced new lockdown measures beginning Monday including in Toronto. In-restaurant services will cease and non-essential businesses and malls will be impacted. These measures will remain in place for up to 28 days.

Trudeau also supported the re-imposition of restrictive measures in the coronavirus hotspots. “Going into lockdowns and supporting businesses while we’re in that lockdown is a better way of ensuring their success in a few months, in a few years, than trying to tough through a virus that is running around unchecked.”

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr Theresa Tam asked for “urgency” from the public to limit their contacts, adding, “We’re not on a good trajectory.”

In returning to the daily coronavirus update similar to this spring when cases first emerged, Trudeau said he was using his voice and position as PM to send out a clear message that “we’re in a serious situation.”

Australia will not bow to pressure from China: PM Scott Morrison

CANBERRA, Nov 19: Australia will not bow to pressure from China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted on Thursday after Beijing released a laundry list of complaints about the country.

A Chinese official gave a dossier to Australian media containing 14 grievances, highlighting the increasingly fractious relationship between the two nations.

“If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy,” a Chinese government official reportedly told three prominent outlets on Wednesday.

Among the complaints are Australia’s strict foreign interference laws, the country’s ban on Huawei’s involvement in its 5G network and decisions that blocked Chinese investment projects on “national security grounds”.

Morrison said the “unofficial document” came from the Chinese embassy and would not stop Australia from setting “our own laws and our own rules according to our national interest”.

“We won’t be compromising on the fact that we will set what our foreign investment laws are or how we build our 5G telecommunications networks or how we run our systems of protecting against interference Australia’s way we run our country,” he told Channel Nine.

The document also claimed Canberra had engaged in “incessant wanton interference” in China’s affairs while singling out Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

It accused Australia of “siding with the US’ anti-China campaign and spreading disinformation” about where the virus originated -- a particularly sore point for Beijing.

The United States weighed in on the diplomatic rift Thursday, with the White House National Security Council saying on Twitter that “Beijing is upset Australia took steps to expose and thwart Chinese espionage & to protect Aussie sovereignty”.

“It’s encouraging to see a growing number of countries following Canberra’s lead in taking such steps,” the tweet continued.

Relations between Canberra and Beijing have reached a new low in recent months, leaving Australian government ministers unable to persuade Chinese counterparts to even accept their phone calls.

The rift has left Australian exporters exposed as their largest trading partner places a series of retaliatory bans on agricultural goods including beef, barley and timber.

The latest diplomatic salvo comes just days after Morrison reached an in-principle agreement on bolstering defence relations with Japan’s leader Yoshihide Suga, a move widely viewed as aimed at countering Chinese influence in the region.

26/11 Mastermind Hafiz Saeed Gets 10-Year Jail Term In 2 Terror Cases

LAHORE, Nov 19: Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, has been sentenced to 10 years in two terror cases by a court in Pakistan.

This was not the first time that Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a front organisation for the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), was sentenced in a terror case by a Pakistani court. In February, Hafiz Saeed and some of his aides were convicted and sentenced to 11 years in a terror-financing case.

"The anti-terrorism court of Lahore on Thursday sentenced four leaders of Jamat-ud-Dawa, including its chief Hafiz Saeed, in two more cases," according to a court official.

Hafiz Saeed and his two aides - Zafar Iqbal and Yahya Mujahid - have been sentenced to 10-and-a-half years each, while his brother-in-law Abdul Rehman Makki has been sentenced to six-month imprisonment.

Hafiz Saeed is wanted in India for planning the attack in Mumbai in 2008, when 10 terrorists killed 166 people and injured hundreds more. He is also known as a "global terrorist" both by the United Nations and the US, which put a $10 million bounty on his head.

Hafiz Saeed was arrested in Pakistan in July last year in connection with terror-financing cases after international pressure built up on Pakistan to come clean.

He is being kept at Lahore's high-security Kot Lakhpat jail.

The global terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is instrumental in pushing Pakistan to take measures against terrorists roaming freely in Pakistan and using its territory to carry out attacks in India.

Pakistan's counter-terrorism department had filed 41 cases against Jamaat-ud-Dawa leaders and four cases against Hafiz Saeed have been decided so far. The rest are pending in several anti-terrorism courts across Pakistan.

India has for long been asking international agencies and friendly nations to apply pressure on Pakistan to make it stop sheltering terrorists on its soil. India gave proof to the Paris-headquartered FATF through several dossiers last year about how Pakistani agencies are funding the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed that was responsible for a car bomb attack on a CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama in February 2019.

Since then Pakistan has been facing possible blacklisting by the FATF, which could lead to downgrading of the country by lenders like International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and European Union.

Hold countries backing terror guilty: Modi at Brics

NEW DELHI, Nov 17: As the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) grouping adopted a new counter-terrorism strategy on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for countries that help and support terrorists to be held guilty.

Participating in the virtual Brics Summit chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Modi called on members of the grouping to back a move by India and South Africa to secure exemption of Covid-19 vaccines from intellectual property agreements.

Multilateralism, Modi said, is facing a crisis and questions are being raised about the functioning of global institutions since they haven’t kept pace with the times and are based on the mindset of 75 years ago.

In a tacit reference to Pakistan-backed terrorism, Modi, who was speaking in Hindi, said: “Terrorism is the biggest problem the world is facing today. We must ensure that countries that help and support terrorists are also held guilty and this problem is dealt with in an organised manner.”

He described the finalisation of the Brics Counter-Terrorism Strategy as an “important achievement” and said India, as the chair of Brics from next year, will take this work forward.

In a subsequent intervention, Modi suggested the national security advisers of Brics states should discuss the formulation of a counter-terrorism action plan.

The Brics Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which will allow member states to work out common measures and coordinate more closely at the UN and other forums and promote the implementation of UN’s global counter-terrorism strategy, was adopted at the conclusion of the summit.

Modi’s remarks on terrorism were endorsed by Putin, who said some countries were like the “black sheep of the family” and the world cannot afford any complacency in dealing with problems such as terrorism and the pandemic.

With a group of developing nations led by India and South Africa set to urge the World Trade Organization (WTO) this week to waive patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines so that they become accessible to poor countries, Modi said: “India and South Africa have proposed that Covid-19 vaccines and treatments be exempted from intellectual property agreements. We hope that other Brics countries will support this.”

He added that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to benefit humankind.

Noting that significant geo-strategic changes taking place around the world will impact security, stability and growth, Modi said Brics will play an important role in tackling these issues.

The multilateral system is going through a crisis and questions are being raised about the credibility of global institutions since they haven’t changed with the times and are operating with outdated mindsets, he said. Besides the UN Security Council, reforms are needed in the WTO, IMF and WHO, he added.

The Brics countries, with 42% of the global population, will play a key role in post-Covid-19 economic recovery and there is scope to increase mutual trade, Modi said. India’s Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, which aims to make the country self-reliant and resilient, can be a force multiplier for the post-Covid-19 economy and contribute to global supply chains, he added.

This was the second time in a week that Modi and President Xi Jinping were on the same virtual platform since the India-China border standoff emerged in the open in May. The theme for the Brics Summit was “Global stability, shared security and innovative growth” and its agenda included global issues such as reforming the multilateral system and measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

Xi Jinping offers to cooperate with India, BRICS countries to develop Covid-19 vaccine

BEIJING, Nov 17: Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday offered to cooperate with India and other BRICS nations in the development of vaccines against the coronavirus and called for holding a symposium by the five-member bloc on traditional medicine to explore its role in the Covid-19 prevention and treatment.

“As we speak the Chinese companies are working with their Russian and Brazilian partners on phase three clinical trials for vaccines. We are prepared to have cooperation with South Africa and India as well,” Xi said while addressing the 12th BRICS summit via video link.

The virtual summit, hosted by Russia President Vladimir Putin, was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“China has joined the COVAX facility and will actively consider providing vaccines to BRICS countries where there is a need,” Xi said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said nine candidate vaccines, including two from China, are currently being evaluated for inclusion in the COVAX Facility. The COVAX is co-led by Gavi, an international vaccine alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the (WHO). Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines.

So far the coronavirus has infected more than 54 million people around the world and killed more than 1.3 million people even as governments implemented strict lockdowns and restrictions to slow the spread of the virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

“To support the development of BRICS Vaccine R&D centre, China has designated its own national centre. I propose we convene a BRICS symposium on traditional medicine to explore its role in coronavirus prevention and treatment,” Xi said.

He also said that China will open the BRICS partnership on a new industrial revolution innovation centre in the Chinese city of Xiamen. “We welcome the active participation of fellow BRICS countries”, he said.

Xi said the BRICS countries need to “overcome divisions with unity and pool the maximum global synergy to beat the virus.” In his speech, Xi focussed on the need for the BRICS countries to support multilateralism, globalisation which faced headwinds from growing nationalism in the US and other developed countries and advanced five proposals for the five-member bloc.

He said BRICS countries should uphold multilateralism and safeguarding world peace and stability, deepen solidarity and cooperation in jointly coping with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, uphold openness and innovation to boost global economic recovery, prioritising people’s livelihood and promoting sustainable development across the world and promote green and low-carbon development and advancing the harmonious co-existence of man and nature.

“History teaches us that multilateralism, equity and justice can keep war and conflict at bay. While unilateralism and power politics will inflate dispute and confrontation. We BRICS countries must hold high the banner of multilateralism. We must endeavour to safeguard the UN centred internationals system and international order underpinned by international law,” he said.

“It is impossible to reverse the trends of world multi-polarity and economic globalisation,” he said.

“The practice of using the pandemic to pursue de-globalisation will end up hurting one’s own interests,” he said.

The BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) is known as an influential bloc that represents over 3.6 billion people, or half of the world’s population. The BRICS countries have a combined GDP of USD 16.6 trillion.

Imran Khan’s party wins 8 seats in Gilgit-Baltistan polls; Opposition says election ‘stolen’

ISLAMABAD, Nov 16: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Monday won eight of 23 constituencies and was leading in one seat in the legislative assembly polls in Gilgit-Baltistan, prompting Opposition parties to dub the election as “stolen.” India has slammed Pakistan for its decision to hold elections in Gilgit-Baltistan and said any action to alter the status of the militarily-occupied region has no legal basis.

Elections were held on 23 seats of the third legislative assembly on Sunday amidst tight security due to the threat of militancy. Polling on one seat was postponed after the death of one of the contestants.

Unofficial results compiled by the various media outlets showed that PTI won at least 8 seats and was ahead in one, but it was still well short of majority to form the government. However, it was in a position to form the government as 6-7 independent candidates also won.

Geo TV reported that PTI won 8 seats, independent candidates 7, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) 3, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) 2, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JIU-F) and Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) 1 seat each.

The official results were still not known as election authorities may take some time to announce the final outcome.

Both the Opposition parties PPP and PML-N have alleged poll rigging by the ruling PTI.

Commenting on the unofficial results, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari alleged that the “election was stolen”.

“Our candidates were asked to leave PPP and join PTI,” Bilawal said while addressing a protest rally at Gilgit’s DC Chowk against the alleged “rigging” in the elections.

“The people of this region will not allow you to steal their votes,” he said.

PML-N also rejected the election results, saying the party would protest against them.

“The people are being robbed of their rights,” PML-N’s secretary-general Ahsan Iqbal said, adding that independent candidates won against PTI candidates. “ “The success of the independent candidates means that the people have rejected the PTI,” he added.

As many as 330 candidates, including four women contested the election.

Out of 1,141 polling stations, 577 have been declared sensitive and 297 highly sensitive. Over 15,000 security personnel from Gilgit-Baltistan, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan were deployed at the polling stations.

It is the third election for the current legislative assembly after political reform introduced in 2010.

Traditionally, the party ruling in Islamabad have won the Gilgit-Baltistan polls. The first election was won by PPP when it got 15 seats, followed by the PML-N, the then ruling party, in 2015 when it won 16 seats.

The voters kept the tradition but with a difference as PTI failed to get an outright majority. PML-N emerged as the biggest loser as it ruled from 2015-2020 and was popular in the region.

PPP Secretary General Nayyar Bukhari on Sunday demanded disqualification of ruling PTI candidates from the election.

It is expected that some changes in the status of the region would be announced after the new government was formed in the region.

In a ruling earlier this year, the Pakistan Supreme Court allowed Islamabad to amend a 2018 administrative order to conduct general elections in the region. The Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018 provided for administrative changes, including authorising the prime minister of Pakistan to legislate on an array of subjects.

Following the verdict, India issued a demarche to a senior Pakistani diplomat in New Delhi and lodged a strong protest over the apex court ruling.

India also clearly conveyed to Pakistan that the entire Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of the country.

The polls in Gilgit-Baltistan were to be held on August 18, but Pakistan’s election commission on July 11 postponed them due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The five-year term of the previous assembly had ended on June 24, bringing an end to the five-year rule of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Afghan forces kill 70 Taliban commanders; 152 Pakistani fighters

KABUL, Nov 15: At least 70 Taliban commanders were killed in Helmand and Kandahar by Afghan forces in operations carried out in retaliation to the attacks started by the group more than a month ago. According to Kabul’s ministry of interior affairs, 152 pakistani fighters were also killed in the operations in the Helmand region.

The ministry released the list of commanders killed in the operations on Sunday, according to which 20 of them belonged to different parts of Helmand and were heading groups of 45 to 100 associates.

It said 10 of the commanders killed belonged to Uruzgan, Kandahar and Ghazni and had come to aid the fight in Helmand. Forty of the commanders were killed in the Kandahar region, as per the data of the ministry.

Interior ministry spokesperson Tariq Arian said 54 bodies of fighters were transported to Helmand, 65 across Durand Line, 35 to Farah province, 13 were taken to Zabul as well as 13 to Uruzgan province.

The Afghan forces also warded off Taliban attacks in Helmand, Kandahar and other provinces in the south through their active defense mechanism, the spokesperson said.

Though the strikes in parts of Kandahar, Helmand and south were ongoing, Arian said that the Taliban forces in the southern provinces have been defeated.

Chief of Army Staff Gen. Mohammad Yasin Zia led the southern war. The spokesperson added that the clashes that have been going on over a month have claimed the lives of 134 civilians and wounded 289 others in the last 25 days.

The Taliban has rubbished the government’s claims of casualties.

15 Asian Nations Sign China-Backed Trade Pact, India Pulled Out Last Year

HANOI, Nov 15: Fifteen Asia-Pacific countries on Sunday signed the world's biggest free trade deal, seen as a huge coup for China in extending its influence.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) includes 10 Southeast Asian economies along with China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, with members accounting for around 30 percent of global GDP.

First proposed in 2012, the deal was finally sealed at the end of a Southeast Asian summit as leaders push to get their pandemic-hit economies back on track.

"Under the current global circumstances, the fact the RCEP has been signed after eight years of negotiations brings a ray of light and hope amid the clouds," said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after the virtual signing.

"It clearly shows that multilateralism is the right way, and represents the right direction of the global economy and humanity's progress."

The agreement to lower tariffs and open up the services trade within the bloc does not include the United States and is viewed as a Chinese-led alternative to a now-defunct Washington trade initiative.

The RCEP "solidifies China's broader regional geopolitical ambitions around the Belt and Road initiative", said Alexander Capri, a trade expert at the National University of Singapore Business School, referring to Beijing's signature investment project that envisions Chinese infrastructure and influence spanning the globe.

"It's sort of a complementary element."

But many of the signatories are battling severe coronavirus outbreaks and they are also hoping the RCEP will help mitigate the crippling economic cost of the illness.

Indonesia recently tumbled into its first recession for two decades while the Philippine economy shrunk by 11.5 percent on-year in the latest quarter.

"Covid has reminded the region of why trade matters and governments are more eager than ever to have positive economic growth," said Deborah Elms, executive director of the Asian Trade Centre, a Singapore-based consultancy.

India pulled out of the agreement last year over concerns about cheap Chinese goods entering the country and was a notable absentee during Sunday's virtual signing.

It can join at a later date if it chooses.

Even without India, the deal covers more than two billion people.

Crucially, it should help shrink costs and make life easier for companies by letting them export products anywhere within the bloc without meeting separate requirements for each country.

The agreement touches on intellectual property, but environmental protections and labour rights are not part of the pact.

The deal is also seen as a way for China to draft the rules of trade in the region, after years of US retreat under President Donald Trump which have seen Washington pull out of a trade pact of its own, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Though US multinationals will be able to benefit from RCEP through subsidiaries within member countries, analysts said the deal may cause President-elect Joe Biden to rethink Washington's engagement in the region.

This could see the US eye the potential benefits of joining the TPP's successor deal, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), said Rajiv Biswas, APAC chief economist at IHS Markit.

"However, this is not expected to be an immediate priority issue... given the considerable negative response to the TPP negotiations from many segments of the US electorate due to concerns about US job losses to Asian countries," he added.

India trashes Pak’s claims of Delhi sponsoring terrorism

NEW DELHI, Nov 15: India on Sunday rubbished Pakistan’s dossier with so-called evidence of Indian sponsorship of terrorism, saying it was a propaganda exercise that will find few takers as the world community is aware of Islamabad’s role in supporting terror.

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and chief military spokesman Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar had on Saturday released the dossier along with they said were intelligence intercepts that purportedly showed the involvement of Indian intelligence operatives in acts of terrorism.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava responded to the allegations levelled during the “press conference by the Pakistani establishment” by saying: “This is yet another futile anti-India propaganda exercise.”

He added, “The so-called claims of ‘proof’ against India enjoy no credibility, are fabricated and represent figments of imagination. This desperate attempt will find few takers as the international community is aware of Pakistan’s tactics and proof of its terror sponsorship has been admitted by none other than its own leadership.”

Srivastava noted that al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, the “face of global terror”, was found in Pakistan, and Prime Minister Imran Khan had “glorified him as a ‘martyr’” on the floor of Parliament.

Khan also “admitted the presence of 40,000 terrorists in Pakistan”, and Pakistan’s science and technology minister Fawad Chaudhry “proudly claimed involvement and success of Pakistan, led by its Prime Minister, in the Pulwama terror attack” in 2019 in which 40 Indian troopers were killed, he said.

“Despite repeated calls for restraint and adherence to the ceasefire understanding of 2003 for maintaining peace and tranquillity, Pakistani forces continue to engage in providing supporting cover fire to infiltrators. The incessant infiltration of terrorists and induction of weapons to fuel terror activities continues unabated,” Srivastava said.

These activities are not possible without the support of Pakistani forces deployed along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, he said.

The news conference on Saturday by Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership was a “deliberate attempt on the part of the Pakistani establishment to shift focus from its internal political and economic failures”, Srivastava said. It also sought to “justify cross-border terrorism, including ceasefire violations and infiltration across the LoC and international boundary”, he said.

“We call upon Pakistan to end its support to cross-border terrorism. Pakistani leaders have never hidden the fact that it has become a factory for producing terrorists,” Srivastava said.

“India is not the only neighbour to be targeted as underlined by the statements of countries similarly targeted. Distant parts of the world have seen the terror trail lead back to Pakistan. Concocting documents and peddling false narratives will not absolve Pakistan of such actions. We are confident the world will hold it to account,” he added.

India, China to hold another round of talks on border standoff soon: MEA

NEW DELHI, Nov 12: The external affairs ministry on Thursday declined to comment on reports that India and China are discussing proposals for disengagement in the finger area and around Pangong Lake in Ladakh sector, saying the two sides will soon hold another round of talks on the border standoff.

The two sides are reportedly discussing proposals to withdraw tanks and artillery from along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), creating a zone between fingers four and seven where there will be no patrolling by both sides, and thinning troops on the south bank of Pangong Lake, which will be followed by a joint verification.

Asked about the matter at the weekly news briefing, ministry of external affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava declined to go into details and said: “Discussions are ongoing.”

During the eighth round of talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders, held in Chushul on November 6, the two sides held “candid, in-depth and constructive” talks and exchanged views on disengagement at all friction points along the LAC in the western sector, he said.

“India and China have agreed to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels, and, taking forward the discussions at this meeting of the senior commanders, push for the settlement of other outstanding issues. They have also agreed to have another round of the meeting soon,” Srivastava said.

The border standoff has entered its seventh month and tens of thousands of troops from both sides have dug in for the winter along the LAC in Ladakh sector.

Modi-Biden call will happen in ‘due course’: MEA

NEW DELHI, Nov 12: A telephone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US president-elect Joe Biden will happen “in due course” at a mutually convenient time, the external affairs ministry said on Thursday.

Statements issued by Biden’s transition team over the past two days said the president-elect had so far spoken on the phone with the leaders of France, Germany, Ireland, the UK, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

Responding to a question at the weekly news briefing on a call between Modi and Biden, ministry of external affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said it would “happen in due course at a mutually convenient time”.

He noted that the Prime Minister had congratulated Biden through a tweet on November 8 and also appreciated the president-elect’s contribution to strengthening India-US relations in his former capacity as vice president.

Modi had also conveyed that he “looks forward to working with [Biden] to take India-US relations to greater heights”, Srivastava said.

Srivastava said the foundation of the India-US relationship is strong and the comprehensive global strategic partnership between the two countries has bipartisan support from the Republican and Democratic parties in the US. “It has also been seen that every successive US president and administration has raised the status of these relations,” he said.

Modi had tweeted separate congratulatory messages to Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris, the first woman and the first Indian American person to be elected to the position.

“Congratulations @JoeBiden on your spectacular victory! As the VP, your contribution to strengthening Indo-US relations was critical and invaluable. I look forward to working closely together once again to take India-US relations to greater heights,” he said.

“Heartiest congratulations @KamalaHarris! Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership,” Modi added.

Biden’s outreach to and contacts with world leaders has been affected by the lack of cooperation from the outgoing Donald Trump administration, which has refused to accept the results of the US elections.

Pak updates terror list, but omits key 26/11 Mumbai attackers

NEW DELHI, Nov 12: India on Thursday dismissed Pakistan’s updated list of wanted high profile terrorists, which includes 19 suspects linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, saying the document “glaringly omits the mastermind and key conspirators” of the carnage in the financial hub.

The list of wanted terrorists, posted on the website of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), names mostly members of the crew of two boats used by the attackers to travel to Mumbai and those who helped finance the attacks through money transfers. Most of the 19 men are members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Ministry of external affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava noted there were media reports in Pakistan about the FIA releasing an updated list of most wanted and high profile terrorists that included “several Pakistani nationals involved in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks”.

“While the list includes a select few members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a UN designated terror entity based in Pakistan, including the crew members of the boats used to execute the 26/11 attacks, it glaringly omits the mastermind and key conspirators of the heinous terror attack,” he told a weekly news briefing.

India has accused LeT founder Hafiz Saeed, who is currently in jail in Lahore after being convicted of terror financing, of masterminding the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan has repeatedly contended that it has found no evidence linking Saeed to the attacks of November 2008.

Srivastava pointed out that the Mumbai terror attacks were “planned, executed and launched from Pakistan’s territory” and said: “The list makes it clear that Pakistan possesses all the necessary information and evidence on the conspirators and facilitators of the Mumbai terror attacks based in Pakistan.”

The Indian government has “repeatedly called on the government of Pakistan to give up its obfuscation and dilatory tactics in discharging its international obligations in the Mumbai terror attacks trial”, he added.

Several other countries have called on Pakistan to “expeditiously bring the perpetrators of the dastardly terror attacks to justice”, Srivastava said.

It is a “matter of serious concern that, despite its own public acknowledgement as well as the availability of all necessary evidence, including that shared by India, Pakistan is yet to show sincerity in delivering justice to the families of 166 victims from 15 countries...even as we near the 12th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks”, he said.

Pakistan arrested seven men, including LeT operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, for planning, financing and supporting the attacks. Lakhvi was released on bail in 2015 and his current whereabouts are unknown. There has been no progress in the trial of the seven men in an anti-terrorism court despite testimony from dozens of officials and witnesses and information shared by India and the US.

The 19 men named in connection with the Mumbai attacks in the FIA’s updated list of wanted high profile terrorists include Muhammad Amjad Khan, a LeT member who purchased the boat Al Fouz and other equipment used in the attacks, Iftikhar Ali, a LeT member who paid for a VoIP connection used by the attackers, and Shahid Ghafoor, a LeT member who was captain of the boats Al Hussaini and Al Fouz that were used by the attackers.

The list also includes Abdul Rahman, Muhammad Usman, Ateeq-ur-Rehman, Riaz Ahmad, Muhammad Mushtaq, Muhammad Naeem, Abdul Shakoor, Muhammad Sabir Salfi, Muhammad Usman and Shakil Ahmad (all LeT operatives who were crew members of the two boats), Muhammad Usman Zia, Muhammad Abbas Nasir, Javed Iqbal, Mukhtar Ahmed and Ahmed Saeed (all LeT members who helped finance the attacks), and Muhammad Khan, a LeT member who provided the boat Al Hussaini.

The updated list has a total of 1,210 terrorists wanted for various crimes and attacks.

Modi says bilateral issues should not be raised at SCO meet

NEW DELHI, Nov 10: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said India has been closely sticking to the charter of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and raised concerns over attempts to bring in bilateral issues into the agenda of the eight-nation regional grouping that primarily focuses on security and defence issues.

Pakistan is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or SCO.

"There is an effort to bring in bilateral issues into the SCO agenda... That is against the spirit of the charter of the SCO. India has always been resolute in working in sync with principles laid out in the SCO charter," Modi said in a virtual summit of the SCO, where his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping were in attendance.

"India believes that to enhance connectivity it is important that we move forward while respecting one another's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Modi said at his first meeting of the SCO after border tensions in eastern Ladakh escalated to a violent face-off in June, when 20 soldiers gave their lives for India and over 40 Chinese troops were killed or injured.

The comments are also significant as China is backing a massive 3,000-km-long infrastructure project, the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, which connects Kashgar in western China with Gwadar port in Pakistan and passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or PoK. India has right from the start protested against China's CPEC push as the corridor passes through PoK.

"In this difficult time of unprecedented epidemic, India's pharma industry sent essential medicines to over 150 nations," PM said at the summit that deals with all the main areas of the activity of the SCO, including political, security, trade, economic and cultural issues.

Every annual meeting of the SCO heads of state ends with a declaration that contains the joint position of member states on issues of global and regional significance.

India, Maldives sign 4 pacts including $100M grant for key connectivity project

MALE, Nov 9: India and the Maldives on Monday signed four agreements, including one for a $100-million grant for a connectivity project, as visiting foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and the Maldivian leadership discussed ways to boost economic recovery amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shringla is on a two-day visit to the Indian Ocean archipelago as part of New Delhi’s outreach to key countries in the neighbourhood and beyond. The Maldives is the sixth country he has visited in the aftermath of pandemic-related travel restrictions, the others being Bangladesh, Myanmar, France, Germany and the UK.

One of four memorandums of understanding (MoUs) signed by the two sides was for the grant of $100 million by India for the $500-million Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP) that will link capital Male with three islands. India will also provide a $400-million line of credit for the project, the largest such infrastructure venture undertaken in the Maldives.

The other MoUs were for setting up soil and plant testing laboratories through a grant of 1.71 million Maldivian rufiyaas, establishing a drug detox facility through a grant of 7.7 million Maldivian rufiyaas and cooperation in sports and youth affairs.

The GMCP, “an economic lifeline connecting Male with Villingili, the new commercial port at Gulhifalhu and industrial zone at Thilafushi” will “conform to the hallmarks of Indian development cooperation – transparency, full participation and ownership of the host country, and competitive pricing”, Shringla said while speaking at the foreign ministry in Male.

“We deeply appreciate the government of President [Ibrahim] Solih for its ‘India First’ foreign policy. This is reciprocated in full measure by our ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy in which the Maldives enjoys a very special and central place,” he said.

Talks between Shringla and his Maldivian counterpart Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed focused on economic recovery. They emphasised “resilience efforts to curb the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, including boosting tourism, accelerating the implementation of the ongoing development cooperation projects across the Maldives, and the means of elevating connectivity and bilateral trade”, according to a statement from the Maldives’ foreign ministry.

India has unveiled a slew of measures to boost economic recovery in the Maldives, where the tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. In September, India provided a soft loan of $250 million as budgetary support. The two sides also launched a cargo ferry service to cut transportation costs.

Shringla began his visit with a meeting with President Solih, seen as one of India’s strongest allies in the neighbourhood.

The two sides discussed ways to enhance regional trade and connectivity, economic cooperation, tourism and overcoming the pandemic. Solih thanked the Indian government for agreeing to implement an air bubble between the two sides and noted that increasing numbers of Indian tourists had visited the Maldives since it reopened its borders.

Solih thanked India for backing development projects through a line of credit agreements, including the GMCP, Gulhifalhu port project, water and sewerage projects on 34 islands and a cancer hospital.

Shringla also met Speaker Mohamed Nasheed and defence minister Mariya Didi, whom he assured of India’s “continued assistance to safeguard our shared interests in the Indian Ocean”, according to a tweet from the Indian high commission.

Can resolve all issues through dialogue: Nepal PM Oli

KATHMANDU, Nov 6: India and Nepal can resolve all problems between them through dialogue as they have a long-standing special relationship, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli told visiting Indian Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Friday.

Oli’s remarks came against the backdrop of a border row that took bilateral ties to a fresh low earlier this year. Naravane’s visit, during which he was conferred the honorary rank of general of the Nepali Army in keeping with a long-standing tradition, was seen as an effort to improve the relationship.

Naravane’s meeting with Oli was seen as the most important engagement during his three-day visit, apart from his talks on Thursday with his Nepali Army counterpart Gen Purna Chandra Thapa.

Rajan Bhattarai, the foreign affairs adviser to Nepal’s premier, tweeted that Oli said during the meeting that Nepal and India have a “long-standing special relationship”. Oli also expressed confidence that there is real friendship between the two countries and all problems between them could be resolved through dialogue, Bhattarai said.

Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Narravane conveyed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s best wishes to Oli and the two sides exchanged views on their bilateral partnership. Naravane said he would work to strengthen bilateral defence cooperation, according to a statement from the Indian embassy in Kathmandu.

The Indian Army added in a tweet that Oli and Naravane discussed the strengthening of bilateral defence and strategic ties.

Naravane also addressed student officers and faculty of the Nepali Army Command and Staff College at Shivapuri earlier on Friday. He recalled the historical linkages between both countries and said these transcend professional exchanges and annual joint exercises.

Before winding up his visit, Naravane visited the Indian embassy, where he was briefed about welfare activities for more than 230,000 Indian Army veterans and their families in Nepal.

Nearly 30,000 Gurkhas serve in seven regiments of the Indian Army.

As a reflection of the importance attached by India to these ties, Naravane presented the second tranche of ₹5 lakh out of the total aid of ₹10 lakh announced for Lance Havaldar (retired) Dil Bahadur Chettri, who won the Mahavir Chakra for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the 1971 war with Pakistan.

Chhetri quit service on his own request in 1976 due to personal reasons before reaching the age of retirement. However, he had no major source of income and survived solely on his gallantry award allowance. The financial assistance was approved as a welfare measure to alleviate his hardships and he was given the first tranche of ₹5 lakh in November last year.

The Indian Army chief’s visit came months after bilateral ties were hit in May, when defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a key border road to Lipulekh region, which is claimed by Nepal.

Kathmandu responded by issuing a new map that showed Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, all controlled by India, as part of Nepalese territory, exacerbating the row.

The visit was expected to prepare the ground for more political engagements and talks on the border issue.

US revokes terror tag for Xinjiang group

WASHINGTON, Nov 6: The United States has revoked the terror tag for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Islamic extremist organization that has been blamed by Beijing for attacks in its western region of Xinjiang. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo signed off on the order removing ETIM from the list of terrorist groups on October 20. The order was, however, made public on Thursday.

The ETIM is a small Islamic separatist group believed to be active in Xinjiang province, home to China’s ethnic minority Uighur Muslims. It was founded by Hasan Mahsum, a Uyghur from Xinjiang’s Kashgar region, who was shot dead by Pakistani soldiers in 2003.

The group, which was once alleged to have links with al Qaeda and the Taliban, however, continues to be designated under the United Nations Security Council resolution 1822.

Pompeo’s decision is seen in the context of the Donald Trump administration’s sharp criticism of China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, formally called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Rights groups say China uses the ETIM threat as an excuse to impose restrictions on Uyghurs and discredit human rights activists outside China.

People line up at what China calls a vocational skills education training service center at the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China’s Xinjiang region.

Beijing frequently blames the shadowy group for inciting violence in the country’s far west, saying the group wants to create an independent state of East Turkestan in Xinjiang.

As news of Pompeo’s order move emerged on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry insisted that the ETIM had long been engaged in terrorist and violent activities and posed serious threats to the security and stability in China, the region and beyond.

“China deplores and firmly opposes the US decision… Fighting the ETIM is a consensus of the international community and an important part of the international endeavour against terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

Dolkun Isa, president of World Uyghur Congress, the world International umbrella organization promoting Uyghur human rights, said China justified its mass detention of 1 to 3 million Uyghurs in concentration camps as a counter-terror measure. “Today’s revocation removes any Chinese justification that it is fighting terrorism in East Turkestan,” he told Radio Free Asia.

South Korea, Japan, US security officials discuss key areas of cooperation

SEOUL, Nov 6: Top security officials from South Korea, the United States and Japan held virtual talks to discuss denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and security cooperation after the US elections, the South Korean presidential administration said on Friday.

The talks were held by US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, South Korean National Security Chief Suh Hoon and Japanese National Security Council Secretary General Shigeru Kitamura.

“During the talks, the three sides discussed various security issues, including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of the peace settlement, and agreed to continue cooperation on these issues. They also exchanged views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and discussed an agenda for a possible resumption of dialogue with North Korea,” the statement from the presidential administration of South Korea said.

The three countries agreed that the trilateral security cooperation should go on “with no vacuum” regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election.

The South Korean side emphasised the need to resume the US-North Korea dialogue as soon as possible.

Representatives of the three countries also agreed to strengthen cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus and development of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.

India to work towards rule-based order in Indo-Pacific: Shringla

LONDON, Nov 3: The rise of China and the need for global rebalancing have contributed to the current focus on the Indo-Pacific, a region through which 90 percent of India’s international trade travels, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the think tank Policy Exchange in London on the theme “India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific”, Shringla outlined New Delhi’s plans to work with other countries across the region to ensure a rules-based order, maritime security and stability.

“The Indo-Pacific ocean system carries an estimated 65 percent of world trade and contributes 60 percent of global GDP. Ninety percent of India’s international trade travels on its waters, he said, noting that the shift in the economic trajectory from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific has been “hugely consequential”.

He added, “The rise of China and the imperative for a global rebalancing have added to the mix. A rules-based international order is achievable only with a rules-based Indo-Pacific.”

India, he said, will work for an “Indo-Pacific guided by norms and governed by rules, with freedom of navigation, open connectivity, and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states”.

Shringla, who is in the UK as part of a three-nation tour that also took him to France and Germany, focused on the growing cooperation between India and its neighbours as well as countries such as the US, Australia and Japan across the Indo-Pacific, both to protect freedom of navigation and to boost trade.

“We have sought to strengthen security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific by becoming a net security provider – for instance in peacekeeping efforts or anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden,” he said. In the past six years, India has provided coastal surveillance radar systems to Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Myanmar and Bangladesh, and all these countries, as well as Mozambique and Tanzania, use Indian-made patrol boats, he said.

Mobile defence training teams have been deputed to 11 countries, from Vietnam to South Africa and Myanmar, and the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region has enhanced maritime domain awareness among partners.

India has also developed capacities for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), and notable missions in the Indo-Pacific included “Operation Rahat” in Yemen in 2015, when India evacuated 6,710 people, including 1,947 citizens of more than 40 countries.

Amid the pandemic, India sent rapid response medical teams to countries as far apart as Kuwait and the Maldives and maintained food supply lines for Gulf nations and smaller island states such as Seychelles and Comoros.

In a tacit reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Shringla said India has promoted infrastructure, connectivity, economic projects and supply chains while “prioritising the needs of the host community and the ethic of equity, environmental sustainability and social viability”. Like Germany, India too believes in fair competition, avoiding over-indebtedness on the part of recipient countries and ensuring transparency and sustainability while developing connectivity, he added.

For India, the Indo-Pacific stretches from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa, and the country’s strategy for the region was spelt out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech in Singapore in 2018 as the “SAGAR” or “security and growth for all in the region” doctrine, Shringla said. This includes securing supply chains, “no disproportionate dependence on a single country” and ensuring prosperity for all stakeholder nations,” he said.

UK raises terror threat level to ‘severe’ after shooting in Vienna, attacks across France

LONDON, Nov 3: The Boris Johnson government on Tuesday raised the UK’s terrorism threat level from “substantial” to “severe”, soon after recent attacks in Vienna and France.

The “severe” category means that a terrorist attack is highly likely, according to the official description of the threat level.

Home secretary Priti Patel said: “The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has changed the UK terror threat level from substantial to severe. This is a precautionary measure and is not based on any specific threat.”

“The public should continue to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the police,” she added.

Patel had earlier expressed shock at the terror attack in Vienna on Monday. England is due to go into a month-long lockdown on Thursday.

“The British public should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security,” she said.

India-China ties under ‘severe stress’, LAC changes unacceptable: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Oct 31: India-China ties are under “severe stress” and normalcy can be restored only if bilateral agreements on border management are respected in their entirety, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Saturday, with the border standoff in Ladakh set to enter its seventh month.

Jaishankar made the remarks while delivering the Sardar Patel Memorial Lecture on the theme “India and the post-Covid world”. The speech contained an overview of India’s relations with major powers such as the US, Russia and China, and outlined the government’s vision to enhance the country’s standing in the world order emerging from the Covid-19 crisis.

Noting that relations with China had remained stable for three decades, he said peace and tranquillity on the border had allowed the two sides to expand cooperation in other domains. “But as the pandemic unfolded, the relationship has come under severe stress,” he said.

“To restore normalcy, agreements between the two countries must be respected scrupulously in their entirety. Where the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is concerned, any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo is unacceptable,” Jaishankar said.

“The relationship cannot be immune to changes in the assumptions that underpinned it. Large civilisational states re-emerging in close proximity will not have naturally easy ties. Their interests are best served by a sustained engagement based on mutual respect and mutual sensitivity,” he added.

India has said Chinese troops had hampered patrolling by its forces along the LAC since April this year and violated border agreements and protocols. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in a violent clash in June and warning shots have been fired by both sides – the first time guns were used along the LAC since 1975. With winter approaching, tens of thousands of troops mobilised on both sides are set to remain deployed in Ladakh region as several rounds of military and diplomatic talks have been unable to take forward the disengagement process.

Jaishankar also highlighted the importance of border infrastructure in national security, saying the periphery will reflect the capabilities of the heartland. Leaving parts of the border underdeveloped has its risks and “safeguarding borders is a 24x7 exercise [and] not only an appropriate response to an emerging situation”, he said.

India’s experience in the past few years in expediting the creation of border infrastructure in the north shows how much difference sharper focus and better implementation can make, and the shift from declarations to delivery is in keeping with the outlook of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, he added.

“Underlying it is, of course, a basic willingness to fully recognise the challenges that the nation faces. By playing down issues like cross-border terrorism or competitive geopolitics, there has been a tendency to look away from the hard choices. In a more difficult world, that is going to be less possible,” Jaishankar noted.

With the US, successive governments on both sides have pursued a “non-partisan endeavour”, and strong economic and technological complementarities have laid a strong foundation for the relationship, he said. “But it is in the face of emerging multi-polarity that both nations have developed a serious interest in more intensive engagement,” he added.

India’s relations with Russia have held remarkably steady and the “strategic logic that has sustained this relationship since its early days still remains largely relevant”, Jaishankar said, adding that India has also ramped up its engagement with European states, which are taking a greater interest in the Indo-Pacific region.

There is also a strong case for accelerating the partnership with Japan, which has been responsible for catalysing many aspects of India’s modernization, he said.

Looking at the world order emerging out of the Covid-19 crisis, Jaishankar said it was apparent even before the pandemic that the existing international system was under great stress due to multiple and complex reasons, including the disenchantment with a globalised economic system that created unequal gains. “The Covid-19 pandemic could well be the last straw on the back of a fraying global consensus,” he said.

“India will approach the world in a more proactive way in the aftermath of the pandemic...The pressures of the pandemic will naturally impart a different urgency to such engagements...Indian diplomacy will be more integrated with our defence and security needs, more supportive of our economic and commercial interests, more aware of our technology capabilities and offerings, and more sensitive to the diaspora,” he added.

The annual lecture has been organised by All India Radio since 1955 to commemorate Sardar Patel.s

Army Chief Naravane’s Nepal visit to break ice, Oli wants Pancheshwar project revived

NEW DELHI, Nov 1: The results of 45 days of discreet back channel diplomacy with Kathmandu will be put to test this week when Indian Army Chief General M.M. Naravane calls upon Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and formally buries the orchestrated controversy over road construction via Lipulekh for pilgrimage to Mansarovar in Tibet.

Gen Naravane will be formally conferred the title of Honorary Chief of Nepal Army by Bidya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal, during his three-day visit beginning November 4.

PM Oli is scheduled to meet Army chief in his capacity as Defence Minister after the investiture ceremony.

There are all indications that Gen Naravane will receive a red carpet treatment from Kathmandu as the Oli government wants to revive the Pancheshwar multi-purpose project on river Mahakali as well as other hydro-electric projects with India.

According to official sources, the Pancheswar draft detailed project report is under discussion of the technical teams by two governments with 80 per cent of the outstanding issues resolved through mutual consultation. India’s SJVN is already constructing a 900 megawatt river Arun III project and another 900 MW Upper Karnali hydroelectric project by GMR is on steam with no issues raised from Kathmandu.

As India firmly believes that Kalapani map controversy was a result of Nepal’s own domestic politics, it is willing to shake extended hand of friendship from Kathmandu and go above internal party wrangling to restore the age-old relationship between two close neighbours. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is interested in deepening ties with Nepal and has made it clear to all that Kathmandu has a special place with New Delhi irrespective of the party in power.

In fact, India is considering a plan to contribute significantly in education, health and infrastructure development sectors in Nepal. The following can be done with Nepal:

• Education: Even though India has invested significantly over the years, there is a desperate need for assisting Nepal in setting up schools and academic institutions. India could also cater to education facilities in the eastern and western regions of Nepal while extending a large number of scholarships to Himalayan region children to study in India.

• Health: India can help Nepal by catering to health facilities in the form of specialised small hospitals for the remote northern areas. There needs to be intense engagement between physicians of both countries to bridge the deficiency of trained doctors in the Himalayan Republic as well as support for critical medicine supply from New Delhi.

• Infrastructure: India and Nepal need to join hands to build road and bridges infrastructure in remote areas on a long term basis. China has already moved into this area and has constructed the ring road around Kathmandu. The two countries also need to jointly identify the points where the embankments have to be strengthened to prevent flooding of trans border rivers.

• Water Shortage: India needs to share expertise with Nepal to remove serious drinking water shortages in high altitude areas.

• Agriculture: India has been supplying fertilizers to Nepal but this has been halted with Kathmandu blaming New Delhi for not renewing an old agreement for such supplies. This issue needs to be sorted out on a priority basis as Kathmandu is looking towards China and Bangladesh to plug the gap.

The two countries need to look at increased trans-border connectivity by enhancing the number of trading points on the border with immigration and customs facilities. Besides, India and Nepal could work together to develop Simikot and Nepalgunj airports, used by Indians for Mansarovar pilgrimage.

While Gen Naravane’s visit is expected to break ice between two age old friends, one seriously hopes that it does not turn out to be a false dawn.

Super typhoon Goni batters Philippines, 1 million in shelters

MANILA, Nov 1: A super typhoon slammed into the eastern Philippines with ferocious winds early Sunday, knocking down power in several towns and prompting the evacuation of about a million people in its likely path, including in the capital where the main airport was shut down.

Typhoon Goni hit the island province of Catanduanes at dawn with sustained winds of 225 kilometers (140 miles) per hour and gusts of 280 kph (174 mph) — equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane. It was blowing west toward densely populated regions, including Manila, and rain-soaked provinces still recovering from a typhoon that hit a week ago and left at least 22 dead.

There were initial reports of deaths, including a man who was reportedly pinned by a fallen tree in Albay province, but authorities said they were still verifying the details.

About two hours after it blew ashore, the typhoon battered Albay with a slightly weaker sustained winds but more powerful gusts of 310 kph (193 mph), forecasters said.

Diane Joco scrambled with her husband, parents, siblings and cousin out of their flimsy houses on stilts on the shores of Calauag town in Quezon province when the wind began to batter their wooden homes. Goni was forecast to hit parts of Quezon Sunday afternoon.

Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara told a televised meeting of top disaster-response officials that at least two people died in his province while mudflows from Mayon volcano endangered some villagers. Other officials, however, said they were still checking those reports.

Ricardo Jalad, who heads the government’s disaster-response agency, said the typhoon’s destructive force can cause major damage. “There are so many people who are really in vulnerable areas,” he said.

The Philippine weather agency reinforced those concerns, saying that within the next 12 hours, people will experience “catastrophic violent winds and intense to torrential rainfall associated with the region of the eyewall and inner rain bands.”

Residents have been warned of likely landslides, massive flooding, storm surges of up to 5 meters (16 feet) and powerful winds that can blow away shanties.

One of the most powerful typhoons in the world this year, Goni has evoked memories of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, which left more than 7,300 people dead and missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines.

Jalad said nearly a million people have been pre-emptively moved into emergency shelters. He warned of storm surges that could inundate coastal villages, including in Manila Bay.

Forecasters said the typhoon’s eye may pass about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of metropolitan Manila, the sprawling capital of more than 13 million people, around nightfall on Sunday.

Manila’s main airport was ordered shut down for 24 hours from Sunday to Monday and airlines canceled dozens of international and domestic flights. The military and national police, along with the coast guard, have been put on full alert.

Hundreds of Covid-19 patients were moved to hospitals and hotels from tent quarantine centers, Jalad said. The war-like typhoon preparations will further strain government resources, which have been drained by months of coronavirus outbreaks. The Philippines has the second-largest number of confirmed infections in Southeast Asia.

The Philippines is lashed by about 20 typhoons and storms a year. It’s also located in the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common and makes the poor Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.

French prez Macron says he understands Muslim feelings on Prophet image

PARIS, Oct 31: French President Emmanuel Macron told Al-Jazeera Saturday he understood that cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed could shock people but that violence was unacceptable, days after a Tunisian migrant killed three people in an attack on a church in Nice.

Macron’s interview comes amid widespread protests in Muslim countries and calls to boycott French products over the cartoons that many Muslims find offensive. A row is also escalating with Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the French leader needs to undergo a mental examination.

Macron, who had earlier said Islam faced a “crisis,” told broadcaster Al-Jazeera that his remarks have been distorted to make it appear as though he were supportive of the cartoons, which he said were published by independent media.

“I understand that one can be shocked by cartoons, but I will never accept that violence can be justified. Our freedoms, our rights, I consider it our vocation to protect them,” Macron told the broadcaster, according to an official at the presidency. Al-Jazeera will air the full interview later on Saturday.

Macron’s government has vowed to crack down on Islamist radicals after an assailant beheaded a teacher in Paris earlier this month who had showed the cartoons in a class discussion about freedom of expression.

Al-Jazeera reported that Macron said most victims of terrorism are Muslim, and the acts committed in the name of the religion were a blight on them.

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