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India looks to host NSA-level meet on Afghanistan next month; China, Pakistan invited: Report

NEW DELHI, Oct 17: India is likely to host a national security advisor-level meeting on Afghanistan in New Delhi next month, which will be the first-of-its-kind dialogue to be hosted by New Delhi.

The tentative dates of the proposed in-person dialogue are November 10-11 and the format will be similar to the regional security conference held in Iran in 2019, the reports said. Pakistan and China are likely to be invited to take part in the meeting, apart from Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

A report said that the invitation has been extended to Pakistan's NSA Moeed Yusuf, though there is no official confirmation.

Reports said that the conference was on the cards even before the Taliban takeover of the country. New Delhi was planning to hold a conference on Afghanistan before, but the move was derailed during the pandemic and then the Afghanistan government was toppled by the Taliban.

If Pakistan agrees to attend the NSA-level conference, it would mark the first visit by incumbent NSA Yusuf to India, the report said. It is, however, contrary to Pakistan's policy to attend a conference on Afghanistan where there will be no representation from the Taliban.

The conference will take place after New Delhi and Taliban representatives meet face-to-face in Russia on the Moscow Format, to be held on October 20. There will be no Taliban representative attending New Delhi's conference as reports said that India is wary of hosting the Taliban as the group is yet to address international concerns of inclusivity on the government and human rights by the government.

On the question of recognising the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, India has clarified its stance that it will stand by the Afghan people. PM Modi has urged the international community to ensure that Afghan territory does not become a source of radicalisation and terrorism.

The first official contact between New Delhi and the Taliban was on August 31 when the ambassador of India to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of Taliban's political office in Doha. That meeting took place at the Embassy of India in Doha at the request of the Taliban side.

47 Killed, 70 Injured In Blast At Mosque In Afghanistan's Kandahar

KANDHAR, Oct 15: Suicide bombers attacked a Shiite mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar during Friday prayers, witnesses said, killing at least 47 people and injuring scores more.

The assault came just a week after a suicide attack on Shiite worshippers at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz, which was claimed by the Islamic State group

There has not yet been any claim of responsibility for the attack in Kandahar, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban.

"Our initial information shows it was a suicide bomber who blew himself up inside the mosque. We have launched an investigation to find out more," a local Taliban official said.

Hafiz Abdulhai Abbas, director of health for Kandahar, told AFP: "Information from the hospitals shows 41 killed about 70 wounded in today's mosque attack."

At least 15 ambulances were seen rushing to and from the scene, as Taliban security threw a cordon around the area.

"We are overwhelmed," a doctor at the city's central Mirwais hospital said.

"There are too many dead bodies and wounded people brought to our hospital. We are expecting more to come. We are in urgent need of blood. We have asked all the local media in Kandahar to ask people to come and donate blood."

Eyewitnesses spoke of gunfire alongside the explosions, and a security guard assigned to protect the mosque said three of his comrades had been shot as the bombers fought their way in.

Last Friday, an Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) suicide bomber targeted a Shiite mosque in Kunduz, killing scores of people.

The group, a bitter rival of fellow Sunni Islamist movement the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attacks against Shiite worshippers, whom it regards as heretics.

UK-based conflict analysis firm ExTrac said that if claimed by IS-K, Friday's assault would be the first by the group in Kandahar, and the fourth mass casualty massacre since the Taliban took Kabul.

ExTrac researcher Abdul Sayed said the attack was "challenging the Taliban claims of holding control on the country. If the Taliban can't protect Kandahar from an IS-K attack, how could it protect the rest of the country?"

The UN mission in Afghanistan tweeted: "The UN condemns latest atrocity targeting a religious institution and worshippers. Those responsible need to be held to account."

The Taliban, which seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August after overthrowing the US-backed government, has its own history of persecuting Shiites.

But the new Taliban-led administration has vowed to stabilise the country, and in the wake of the Kunduz attack promised to protect the Shiite minority now living under its rule.

Shiites are estimated to make up roughly 10 percent of the Afghan population. Many of them are Hazara, an ethnic group that has been persecuted in Afghanistan for decades.

In October 2017, an IS suicide attacker struck a Shiite mosque in the west of Kabul, killing 56 people and wounding 55.

At G20 extraordinary summit, Modi calls for unified response to deal with Afghanistan crisis

NEW DELHI, Oct 12: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday stressed the need for ensuring Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule did not become a source of radicalisation and terrorism.

Speaking at the Group of 20 (G20) Extraordinary Summit on Afghanistan earlier in the day, he also called for urgent and unhindered humanitarian assistance to citizens of the war-ravaged nation and an inclusive administration that would include women and minority communities.

In a press release, the government said Modi, who virtually participated in the meeting at the invitation of Italy, which currently holds the G20 presidency, called on the international community to forge a unified response on Afghanistan and a joint fight against the nexus of radicalisation, terrorism and drugs smuggling.

The meeting on Tuesday was chaired by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to discuss issues related to the humanitarian crisis that has unfolded in Afghanistan following its takeover by the Islamic militants in August this year as the West-backed government led by Ashraf Ghani collapsed.

In his remarks, Modi welcomed the initiative of Italy in convening the meeting and spoke about the centuries-old people-to-people ties between India and Afghanistan. He said that over the last two decades, India had contributed immensely towards promotion of socio-economic development and capacity building of youth and women in Afghanistan, adding that over 500 development projects had been implemented by India in the neighbouring country.

“The Prime Minister noted that the Afghan people have a great feeling of friendship for India. He conveyed that every Indian feels the pain of Afghan people facing hunger and malnutrition. He emphasised the need for the international community to ensure that Afghanistan has immediate and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance,” the press release read.

He also underlined the need to ensure that Afghan territory did not become a source of radicalisation and terrorism, either regionally or globally and that there was a need to enhance the joint fight against the nexus of these menace, including smuggling of drugs and arms in the region.

“He conveyed support for the important role of the United Nations in Afghanistan and called for renewed support of the G20 for the message contained in UN Security Council Resolution 2593 on Afghanistan. The Prime Minister called on the international community to forge a unified international response without which it would be difficult to bring about the desired change in Afghanistan’s situation,” the release added.

Won't be forced to bow to China: Taiwan Prez Tsai Ing-wen

TAIPEI, Oct 10: Taiwan will continue to bolster its defences to ensure that nobody can force the island to accept the path China has laid down for Taiwan that offers neither freedom nor democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Sunday.

Claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan has come under growing military and political pressure to accept Beijing`s rule, including repeated Chinese air force missions in Taiwan`s air defence identification zone, to international concern.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday vowed to realise "peaceful reunification" with Taiwan and did not directly mention the use of force. Still, he got an angry reaction from Taipei, which said only Taiwan`s people can decide their future.

Addressing a National Day rally, Tsai said she hopes for an easing of tensions across the Taiwan Strait and reiterated Taiwan will not "act rashly".

"But there should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure," she said in the speech outside the presidential office in central Taipei.

"We will continue to bolster our national defence and demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves in order to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us," Tsai added.

"This is because the path that China has laid out offers neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan, nor sovereignty for our 23 million people."

At least 100 dead in suicide blast at Afghanistan's Kunduz mosque

KABUL, Oct 8: At least 100 people have been killed and wounded after a suicide bomb attack tore through in Afghanistan's northeastern Kunduz province on Friday, as per reports.

"Our initial findings show that it is a suicide attack," said Matiullah Rohani, director of culture and information in Kunduz.

Further, Dost Mohammad Obaida, the deputy police chief for Kunduz province, said that the “majority of people there have been killed."

If confirmed, the death toll of dozens would be the highest since US and NATO forces left Afghanistan at the end of August and the Taliban took control of the country.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had earlier said an unknown number of people had been killed and injured when "an explosion took place in a mosque of our Shiite compatriots" in Kunduz.

Video footage showed bodies surrounded by debris inside the mosque that is used by people from the minority Shi'ite Muslim community.

Zalmai Alokzai, a local businessman who rushed to Kunduz Provincial Hospital to check whether doctors needed blood donations, described horrific scenes.

"I saw more than 40 dead bodies," he said. "Ambulances were going back to the incident scene to carry the dead."

"Hundreds of people are gathered at the main gate of the hospital and crying for their relatives but armed Taliban guys are trying to prevent gatherings in case another explosion is planned," he said.

Kunduz's location makes it a key transit point for economic and trade exchanges with Tajikistan.

It was the scene of fierce battles as the Taliban fought their way back into power this year.

Often targeted by Sunni extremists, Shiite Muslims have suffered some of Afghanistan's most violent assaults, with rallies bombed, hospitals targeted and commuters ambushed.

Shiites make up roughly 20% of the Afghan population. Many of them are Hazara, an ethnic group that has been heavily persecuted in Afghanistan for decades.

Afghans know who were better friends: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Oct 8: Union external affairs minister S Jaishankar has said Afghanistan people know how to draw a contrast between India and Pakistan based on the amount of help India has extended to the war-torn nation over the past decade.

“Afghan people know what India has done for them, what kind of friends we have been, I'm sure they're contrasted with what Pakistan did for them in the same period,” Jaishankar said at the DD News Conclave Finale on Thursday.

India and Afghanistan had deep trade, cultural and commercial relations before the Taliban took over the reins of the government. The total bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan for 2019-20 was at $ 1.5 billion.

India also helped operationalise the Chabahar Port in 2017 and also established the India- Afghanistan Foundation (IAF) in the same year which enhances economic, scientific, educational, technical as well as cultural cooperation between the two countries.

Jaishankar said that based on what India has done for the people of Afghanistan they are in a better position to understand who has been a better friend. “The differences are obvious,” Jaishankar said.

Jaishankar also criticised Pakistan and said that every nation wants to have a good relationship with its neighbours but in a manner that respects the rules-based international order.

“Everybody wants to be friends with their neighbours. But you want to be friends on terms which a civilised world will accept. Terrorism is not one of those terms,” Jaishankar said.

He said that Pakistan uses terrorism as an instrument of statecraft which is unacceptable. He also said that neighbours exist to foster connectivity, trade, bilateral cooperation and growth. “Nothing like this has happened with this neighbour,” he further added.

The external affairs ministers said that a multipolar world cannot exist without a multipolar Asia, in an apparent reference to the race between India and China to become the world’s largest superpower. “In the next 75 years, India and China will be among the premier powers in the world.

Jaishankar said that both nations should give each other space and mutual respect should remain between both nations. “It is important that there is mutual respect between both nations and they give each other space. I’ve spoken earlier about a multipolar world. I think it's very important we have a multipolar Asia. You're not gonna have a multipolar world if you don't have a multipolar Asia,” he further added.

China Sends 52 Jets, Nuclear-Capable Bombers To Taiwan Air Defence Zone

TAIPEI, Oct 4: Taiwan urged Beijing to stop "irresponsible provocative actions" after 56 Chinese warplanes crossed into its air defence zone on Monday in yet another record incursion.

The defence ministry said it scrambled aircraft to broadcast warnings after 36 fighter jets, 12 H-6 nuclear-capable bombers and four other planes entered its southwest air defence identification zone (ADIZ).

Four more fighters entered the zone in a night sortie, bringing the total to 56 planes, the ministry added.

The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan's top China policy-making body, accused Beijing of "seriously damaging the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait" with its recent string of larger incursions.

"We demand the Beijing authorities immediately stop its non-peaceful and irresponsible provocative actions," MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng said in a statement.

"China is the culprit for causing tensions between the two sides of the (Taiwan) Strait and it has further threatened regional security and order," he added, saying Taiwan "will never compromise and yield" to threats.

The ADIZ is not the same as Taiwan's territorial airspace but includes a far greater area that overlaps with part of China's own air defence identification zone and even includes some of the mainland.

Self-ruled democratic Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China, which views the island as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

In the last two years Beijing has begun sending large sorties into Taiwan's defence zone to signal dissatisfaction at key moments -- and to keep Taipei's ageing fighter fleet regularly stressed.

Nearly 150 Chinese warplanes had breached Taiwan's ADIZ since Friday when Beijing marked its National Day with its then biggest aerial show of force, buzzing the island with 38 planes.

That was followed by another incursion by 39 planes on Saturday, sparking criticism from Washington.

China 'undermining regional peace', stability near Taiwan: US

WASHINGTON, Oct 3: Expressing its concerns over China`s activity near Taiwan, the US has asked Beijing to cease its military coercion against Taipei and stressed that the communist regime is "undermining regional peace and stability".

"The United States is very concerned by the People`s Republic of China`s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability," US State Department`s spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on Sunday.

"We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan," the statement added.

Underlining that the US has an abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, Price emphasised that Washington will continue to continue to assist Taipei in maintaining a sufficient self-defence capability.

He stressed that the US will maintain its commitments as outlined in the Three Communiques, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the Six Assurances.

Washington`s commitment to Taipei is rock solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region, said Ned Price, adding, "We will continue to stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values and deepen our ties with democratic Taiwan."

Taiwan on Saturday had said that at least 58 Chinese warplanes entered its air identification zone (ADIZ) in the last two days of which 20 of them flew in on Saturday alone.

A total of 38 Chinese military planes, such as fighter jets and bombers, entered the area on Friday, Kyodo News reported citing the Defence Ministry.

These were said to be the biggest incursions by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) since Taipei began publicly reporting such activities last year.

For First Time, India Admits It Was Kept in the Dark About Several Aspects of US-Taliban Deal

NEW DELHI, Oct 1: India was not taken into confidence on various aspects of the Doha deal inked between the US and the Taliban last year and the latest developments in Afghanistan will have "very, very significant consequences" for the region and beyond, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said.

He also said that the key concerns for India at this juncture included whether Afghanistan will have an inclusive government and that Afghan soil is not used for terrorism against other states and the rest of the world.

Speaking virtually at the annual leadership summit of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) on Thursday, Jaishankar also suggested that India was in no hurry to deliberate on giving any recognition to the new dispensation in Kabul.

In an interactive session with former American ambassador Frank Wisner, the External Affairs Minister also said that the Quad or Quadrilateral coalition comprising India, the US, Australia and Japan is not against any country and it should not be seen as some kind of "ganging up" and a negatively driven initiative.

India and the US are on the same page on many issues relating to the recent developments in Afghanistan including apprehensions about the possible use of Afghan soil for terrorism.

"I think, to some degree, we would all be justified in having levels of concern and to some degree, I think the jury's still out. When I say levels of concern, you know, there were commitments which were made by the Taliban, at Doha, I mean, the US knows that best I mean, we were not taken into confidence on various aspects of that," he said.

"So whatever, whether deal which was struck in Doha, I mean, one has a broad sense. But beyond that, you know, are we going to see an inclusive government? Are we going to see respect for the rights of women, children, minorities?" he asked.

"Most important are we going to see an Afghanistan whose soil is not used for terrorism against other states and the rest of the world, I think, these are our concerns," Jaishankar added.

He said what had happened in Afghanistan, is going to "have very, very significant consequences for all of us, and we are so close to the region."

The minister said that the key concerns were captured by a UN Security Council resolution in August and that how those questions are addressed today is still an open question, which is why "I said the jury is still out".

"If you ask me is this the time to draw sharp conclusions, I would sort of take my time and study this with a certain degree of deliberation, because as I said, a lot of this, whatever understandings, there have been, many of these are not known to the entire international community," he added.

To another question on how India and the US looked at the situation in Afghanistan, Jaishankar said both sides are on a similar page, at a principle level on many of the issues, particularly on the possible usage of Afghan soil for terrorism.

He said the issue figured in discussions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden in Washington last week.

"Again, look, there would be issues on which we would agree more, there would be issues on which we would agree less. Our experiences in some respects are different than yours (the US). You know, we have been victims of cross border terrorism ourselves from that region," Jaishankar said.

"And let us say that has shaped in many ways, our view of some of the neighbours of Afghanistan. So now, how much, the US shares that view, and where is it that the US sort of makes its tactical compromises I think that is for the Americans to figure out," he said.

Asked whether it included a joint signal to Pakistan, he only said: "There are aspects that we share, and there are aspects where maybe our positions are not exactly the same."

To a query on Quad and ways to manage the rise of Chinese power, Mr Jaishankar said the four-nation partnership is not against somebody.

"I think it's very important not to be sort of railroaded into some kind of negative discourse, which actually is not from our script, it is somebody else's script. And I don't think we should fall for that. I think we need to be positive," he said.

On the question of how to deal with the rise of China, Jaishankar said: "I would say, in many ways, those are bilateral choices that all of us have to make, we each have a very substantial relationship with China."

"And, in many ways, China being today is such a big player and so salient in the international economy, I think it's natural that these relationships are quite unique. So what are my problems, or my opportunities would not be the same as that for the US, or Australia, or Japan, or Indonesia or France," he added.

Jaishankar said it would be different for each country and added that the rise of China has had a very fundamental impact on the international order.

"So as participants in the international order, we need to assess that and respond to that, in the light of our own interest. So I think it's sort of essential to look normalise this conversation," he said.

"You know, this should not end up as though it's some kind of ganging up and a negatively driven event, I don't think that's the fair description of what is a completely natural evolution of the international order to my mind," he added.

North Korea says it test-fired new anti-aircraft missile

Oct 1: North Korea said it test-fired a new anti-aircraft missile on Thursday, its fourth weapons test in under a month.

The latest test comes days after North Korea launched a new hypersonic missile which is believed to have nuclear capabilities.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the tests "create greater prospects for instability and insecurity".

Pyongyang says its weapons are needed for self-defence, accusing the US and South Korea of "double standards".

The latest tests are being seen as a clear sign that Pyongyang has no intentions on slowing down its weapons development despite strict sanctions.

According to state news outlet KCNA, the new anti-aircraft missile showed "remarkable combat performance" and also included "new key technologies".

The test came a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a conditional olive branch towards the South, saying he wanted to restore a vital communication hotline between them.

Kim however, also accused the US of "touting 'diplomatic engagement'... but it is no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts".

Some analysts believe that is an indication that Pyongyang is keen to separate Washington and Seoul by pursuing communication with South Korea but cutting off the US.

However, it is possible that North Korea will be counting on Seoul to push the US for sanctions relief and other concessions.

North Korea has spent more than a year in isolation. It cut off most trade with its closest ally China during the pandemic, and its economy is thought to be in a dire state with food shortages a real concern.

In March, the country defied sanctions and tested ballistic missiles, which triggered strong rebukes from the US, Japan and South Korea.

And last month the UN atomic agency said North Korea appeared to have restarted a reactor which could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, calling it a "deeply troubling" development.

 

 
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