New Delhi/Islamabad, Aug 3 (IANS) The Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has issued a clarification over Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's earlier statement in which he had said it is the Afghan government's responsibility to monitor and keep Islamic State (IS) terrorists in the country in check.
MoFA spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said certain sections of the media had "have misquoted and twisted" Qureshi's remarks on the need for peace and stability in Afghanistan through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process.
Chaudhri clarified that the Foreign Minister had "clearly spoken" about the consensus among the international community, the regional players and the Afghans themselves "against the menace of terrorism", News Pakistan reported.
"His remarks cannot be in anyway be misconstrued as advocacy for a particular side in the Afghan conflict.
"We have repeatedly stated that Pakistan has no favourites in Afghanistan. We see all sides in the conflict as Afghans who need to decide about their future themselves. We will continue to play a constructive facilitation role in the Afghan peace process," he added.
A few days ago, Qureshi's statement in which he categorically stated that it was Afghanistan government's responsibility to monitor the presence of the IS in the country and keep it from growing.
Addressing a press conference at Multan's Raza Hall on July 31, Qureshi said that the Afghan forces had the capacity to combat the IS group.
"Nobody wants Daesh (IS) to grow. They (Afghan government) don't want it, the Taliban don't want it, Iran doesn't want it, (Afghanistan's) neighbours don't want it and the international community doesn't want it ."
In response to a query that Moscow says IS militants were arriving in Afghanistan from Iraq, Libya and Syria for terrorism, he said it was the responsibility of the Afghan government to monitor the militants and keep them from growing in Afghanistan.
"If they are shifting from Iraq and Syria, whose responsibility should it be to check them? It's the Afghan government's."
New Delhi, Aug 2 (IANS) The US army on Monday conducted aerial strikes against the Taliban in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province in Afghanistan, killing around 40 Taliban fighters, sources said.
Though the Afghan government did not confirm civilian people being hit, sources in the provincial capital said that eight members of a family, including children, were killed in the strikes.
The sources added that the fighters had attacked the central prison in Lashkargah city which was driven back by the strikes.
The US army has recently intensified its airstrikes on the Taliban to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), media reports said.
Earlier, US CENTCOM commander General McKenzie had said that the US army will conduct airstrikes in support of the ANDSF in the fight against the Taliban even after full withdrawal of forces, but acknowledged that the strikes will be over the horizon.
The Taliban had attacked the Lashkargah city nearly 10 days ago and recently toppled two police districts in the city and then got closer to the central jail.
The Afghan government has recently sent reinforcements to the city which led to heavy conflicts between the warring sides, leaving hundreds of families displaced.
New York, July 31 (IANS) Leaked documents from America's premier public health fighting force show it is getting ready to go from what US President Joe Biden described as the country's "summer of freedom" to "war has changed" on the Covid-19 delta variant in a short span of barely a month.
After Covid-19 has killed 612,000 people in the US over 19 months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now coming around to the view that the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, according to internal documents scooped by the Washington Post.
Below are 5 highlights from the 25 slide deck that go to the core of the US public health concerns right now:
The CDC is readying to "acknowledge the war has changed". Its notes indicate that public understanding of breakthrough infections is all over the map. The CDC is still figuring out how to explain to the American people that vaccination reduces risk of death or severe disease 10 fold.
Citing large outbreaks among vaccinated people in Cape Cod town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, the CDC said that new evidence shows that breakthrough infections among those who got their two shots may be as transmissible as those in unvaccinated people.
Since January, people who got infected after vaccination make up a larger portion of hospitalisations and deaths among Covid-19 patients. This uptick coincides with the spread of the delta variant.
Communication challenges are coming from three directions: Local health departments are questioning vaccine effectiveness, the public is "convinced vaccines no longer work", and that booster doses are needed.
The CDC acknowledges that it is struggling to communicate that breakthrough cases are "rare" or a "small percentage" of total cases.
From the Joe Biden White House downwards, the US Covid Response team has been struggling for days to communicate the threat from new variants and the shifting guidance on masks.
New guidelines are likely soon, the White House indicated.
New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) "At a time of rising global threats to democracy and international freedoms -- we talk about a democratic recession -- it's vital that we two world leading democracies continue to stand together in support of these ideals," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said here on Wednesday.
On the first day of his visit to India, Blinken while addressing civil society representatives said, "Here in India, that includes the free media, independent courts, a vibrant and free and fair electoral system -- the largest expression of free political will by citizens anywhere in the world."
"We also know that successful democracies include thriving civil societies. That's how citizens become more fully engaged in the life of their communities. It's how we organize and provide the resources to respond to emergencies. And we've seen people and organizations come together throughout Covid-19 in creative and incredibly generous ways, and civil society is also where we're able to build meaningful connections across our social, religious, and cultural differences," Blinken said.
"In short, if we want to make our democracies more open, more inclusive, more resilient, more equitable, we need a vibrant civil society," he added.
"And I'm really here to underscore the importance of the relationships between our countries, to try to deepen our ties and extend our cooperation. I think it's hard to find countries with more -- who do more together in more different areas than with the United States and India," Blinken said.
"Later today, I'll have a chance to see Prime Minister Modi, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, an old friend and colleague. We'll talk about many of the critical issues our countries are working on together, from Covid-19 to climate change, defense, mutual security, trade and investment, education, energy, science, technology. The list goes on and on," Blinken said.
"When you put it all together, the relationship between our countries is one of the most important in the world. And I think that's because not only is it a relationship between governments when we're working between our governments, but critically it's through relationships between the Indian and the American people. We're connected in so many different ways -- business ties, university ties, religious and spiritual ties, and of course, millions of family ties," Blinken said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken commenced his India visit with an address to civil society leaders.
Attendees included religious leaders such as Geshe Dorji Damdul of New Delhi's Tibet House, a cultural centre of the Dalai Lama.
The death toll from the torrential rainstorms in China's Henan province had increased to 56, with five people reported missing, local authorities said.
Rescue efforts, including drainage operations, are still underway at Jingguang Road tunnel in the provincial capital Zhengzhou, a waterlogged underpass where many vehicles had been trapped since Tuesday, according to the provincial emergency management department.
The department said there was still a large amount of water in the tunnel, where casualties have been reported, reports Xinhua news agency.
The exact number of casualties is yet to be confirmed.
So far, more than 7.5 million people have been affected by the heavy rainfall that started on July 16 and the subsequent floods, with about 576,600 hectares of crops damaged and more than 3,800 houses collapsed across the province, causing a direct economic loss of over 13.9 billion yuan ($2 billion).
About 920,000 local residents have been relocated to safe places, according to the department.
China has ramped up emergency support to ensure supplies of staple goods in the province and started reconstruction efforts.
A total of 19,900 tonnes of cooking oil, 19,700 tonnes of dairy products, 3,740 tonnes of rice and 55,000 boxes of bottled water, among other goods have been transported to Henan, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
The Ministry has directedHebei, Shandong, Hubei and Shaanxi to prepare for inter-provincial transport of materials to the rain-lashed Henan at any time.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Emergency Management (MEM) deployed another team of 510 firefighters with expertise in water rescue to the flood-hit regions.
Telecommunications have been restored in urban areas of the hard-hit city of Zhengzhou after more than 2,200 base stations were repaired, the provincial communications administration said Friday.
New York, July 24 (IANS) The US government is pointing to the first leader level Quad summit earlier this year to headline its "high priority" status for the US-India partnership, ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to India next week to discuss China, the coronavirus response and Afghanistan.
Blinken is scheduled to travel to New Delhi and Kuwait on July 26-29 and will meet India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his two-day visit starting July 27. This is Blinken's first visit to India after assuming charge as US Secretary of State and comes barely a month ahead of US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"I think it's fair to say that we see the relationship continuing at a very high level and India will, of course, remain an incredibly important partner. We're going to continue pursuing our global comprehensive strategic partnership," Dean Thompson, the top US diplomat for South and Central Asia, told reporters Friday.
The US Secretary of State will be seeking India's support in a "stable and secure" Afghanistan, Thompson said. The US launched multiple airstrikes this week in support of Afghan government forces fighting the Taliban. The Biden administration has not said whether it will continue that support after the pullout is complete, on August 31.
In response to questions on the Trump-Modi vs Biden-Modi relationship, Thompson said the Quad partnership "sets the tone" for what the US thinks it can achieve and accomplish with India as well as the other Quad partners Australia and Japan.
Leaders from Australia, India, Japan, and the United States - the so-called Quad- met virtually on March 12 this year and declared a new era for Indo-Pacific competition and collaboration. It was the first leader level summit for the grouping at a time when China continues to expand its clout in the Indo Pacific.
"You know, the relationship with India is a strong one it has, has endured through administrations of all colors and stripes in the US and will continue to do so," noted Thompson. "So we're looking forward to this opportunity for the Secretary to talk with Prime Minister Modi."
Blinken is said to be considering an in-person meeting of the Quad by year-end -- but details about timing and format are still unclear.
After the India visit, Blinken travels to Kuwait. Thousands of Afghans who worked for the US are hoping to be relocated there and in Qatar before the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan is through.
New Delhi, July 23 (IANS) Chinese President Xi Jinping has made an unannounced visit to Tibet.
Video clips shared on Chinese social media by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), a Washington-based advocacy group, show Xi addressing people in the city of Nyingtri, stepping out of a shop in the Barkhor area in Lhasa and giving remarks to the public, while facing the "Monument to the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet" in front of the Potala Palace, the traditional winter residence of the Dalai Lama.
Xi last visited the Tibet Autonomous Region, which spans about half of Tibet, in 2011 when he was China's Vice President. At the same, he visited Lhasa, Nyingtri and Shigatse.
"Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Tibet is an indication of how high Tibet continues to figure in Chinese policy considerations, given that the visit is connected to the 70th anniversary of the falsely claimed 'peaceful liberation' of Tibet," said the ICT.
"Severe floods were impacting China's Henan province even as Xi was in Tibet. However, the way in which the visit was organised and the complete absence of any immediate state media coverage of the visit indicate that Tibet continues to be a sensitive issue and that the Chinese authorities do not have confidence in their legitimacy among the Tibetan people."
The ICT quoting a source said Xi first landed at Mainling airport in Nyingtri, in southeast Tibet, on July 20.
Xi addressed a public gathering in Nyingtri, stating that 10 years ago, when he came as the head of the Chinese government's delegation to mark the 60th anniversary of the 17 Point Agreement, he had gone to Lhasa first.
But this time, he said, he came to meet the people in Nyingtri first, telling them that not a single ethnic group should be left behind in the efforts to fully build a modern socialist China.
Xi said that the public should work for the rejuvenation of China and the next 100 years of the Chinese Communist Party.
The President was also seen addressing a gathering in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, where he stated that "as long as we follow the Communist Party and as long as we stick to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, we will surely realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation as planned".
The source told ICT that Xi may also visit one of the monasteries in Lhasa, possibly Drepung Monastery, during this trip.
Three separate sources told ICT that their acquaintances in Lhasa reported unusual activities and monitoring of their movement in the past several days, indicating the visit of an important leader.
People reported receiving calls from security officials checking on their activities for no apparent reason. Roads in several sections of Lhasa were blocked, and the Lhasa City authorities announced the banning of drones and kites in Lhasa from July 21 to August 17.
While heavy security is expected for a visit by Xi anywhere, it is unusual that even Chinese state media did not report about his visit to Nyingtri and Lhasa, even though two days have already passed since his arrival.
Kabul, July 20 (IANS) Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has asked the Taliban whether they want foreign fighters like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Al-Qaeda to turn Afghanistan into a battleground for "foreign terrorist", Pajhwok News reported.
He said that Afghan people do not know what the Taliban has promised to these groups, but they would not allow their country to become a battleground for terrorist groups.
Ghani said that the Taliban are not committed to peace, and hinted at a new plan to change the situation, saying political interference in the security sector was behind the fall of some areas.
After offering Eid prayers at the Presidential palace, Ghani paid tributes to the security forces, saying they have rendered great sacrifices and this year's Eid is named "Soldier's Eid".
Ghani, referring to the visit of a delegation led by Abdullah Abdullah, head of the National Reconciliation Council, to Doha and two days of talks with Taliban representatives there, said the government sent the delegation to Qatar to try for peace.
As per the report, he accused the Taliban of having no intention of making peace.
"If you are Afghans, come and unite within the framework of Afghanism. Do you have a positive message for the people of Afghanistan, especially women," he asked, as per the report.
Ghani said the Afghan government had released 5,000 Taliban prisoners, but most of them went to the battlefield.
"It was a mistake to release 5,000 prisoners because the Taliban have not yet started peace talks," he said.
According to the President, the nation should now ask the Taliban why they are destroying facilities, conducting kangaroo trials and planting bombs, the report said.
Ghani said the Taliban have destroyed 260 public buildings and if they are true Afghans, they should stop destroying public property and not damage people's homes.
In the last two months, many districts have fallen to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some claim that the districts were handed over to the Taliban under a deal.
But Ghani said: "The fall of some areas was not a deal and the names of those who have made the deal will be challenged hundreds of years later."
As per the report, Ghani said the handover of areas by security forces to the armed opposition was an insult to the "sacred uniform" and that he, as the commander of the armed forces, did not accept that politicians should interfere in the security sector.
"The security sector should be safe from the interference of politicians and appointments and changes in the sector should be based on merit, not on the orders of politicians, because the interference of politicians has led to the collapse of some areas," Ghani added.
The pause on quarantine-free travel from Australia's Victoria state to New Zealand will be extended for now, the Ministry of Health in Wellington confirmed.
New Zealand health officials met again on Monday and determined that, at this time, a better understanding is still needed of the developing situation in the Australian state, including the number and pattern of Covid-19 cases, Xinhua news agency quoted a Ministry statement as saying.
Victoria remains in lockdown and, with a growing number of people considered linked to the outbreak, Australian health authorities have said that further announcements for the state are expected on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, quarantine-free travel with Australia's Queensland will remain in place, subject to no further significant developments, with officials deeming the state continuing to pose a low Covid-19 public health risk to New Zealand, the statement said.
New Zealand health officials are also closely monitoring the situation in South Australia, following a new case of Covid-19 reported in the community.
Border controls, including pauses to quarantine-free travel, remain a key tool for stopping the introduction and spread of new cases from overseas.
The ongoing pause with Victoria is "a precautionary but necessary measure" while investigations continue, the Ministry said.
The pause on quarantine-free travel from Victoria and New South Wales of Australia will be reviewed again on Wednesday, it added.
Kathmandu, July 19 (IANS) While speaking to his newly-appointed Nepal counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday assured Covid-19 vaccine supply to the Himalayan nation.
Taking to Twitter following the phone conversation, Modi said: "Spoke with Prime Minister @DeubaSherbdr to convey my congratulations and best wishes. We will work together to further enhance the wide-ranging cooperation between India and Nepal, including in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic."
Deuba on Sunday won the vote of trust in Parliament and will continue to serve as Prime Minister for another one and half years.
The Nepal Foreign Ministry said the two Prime Ministers "discussed further strengthening of bilateral relations" and Modi "assured early supply of Covid vaccines to Nepal".
On its part, India's External Affairs Ministry said the two leaders discussed, in particular, ways to strengthen cooperation and coordination in the context of the ongoing efforts against the health crisis.
Nepal is awaiting a consignment of one million Covishield vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India (SII) as Kathmandu had already made a downpayment in February.
Following India's ban on vaccine supplies, the SII had stopped exporting the jabs.
New Delhi, July 18 (IANS) One of Iran's most senior clerics has cautioned the Iranian government not to trust a "terrorist" group "whose evil and murderous nature is no secret to the world".
Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, one of Iran's most senior clerics, lashed out at the Islamic Republic's "softened policy" at a moment of rapid Taliban advances and widespread atrocities in Afghanistan.
Such an approach, he warned, "is a grave and irreparable mistake". He cautioned the Iranian government not to trust a "terrorist" group "whose evil and murderous nature is no secret, Al Monitor reported.
Golpaygani called on both Iran and the international community to "act with seriousness" to avert further "Taliban aggression against oppressed Afghans".
The report said the remarks were made in reaction to what has been found to be Iran's changing approach in light of the Taliban's control over swaths of territory across Afghanistan.
With the US and NATO withdrawal from the war-ravaged country and the consequent vacuum, Tehran has been increasingly seeking to redefine its presence in the new power play. Only last week, Tehran hosted a meeting between an Afghan government delegation and Taliban leaders as a sign of recognition for the latter's role in Afghanistan's political future, the report said.
The shifting stance has been more overtly laid out by the media representing the most hard-line sectors of the ruling establishment, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Most notably, the ultraconservative daily Kayhan drew criticism from both Iranians and Afghans after publishing an early July editorial on the Taliban advance, "in which there has been no sign of IS-style atrocities" and that the group "has declared that it has no intention of harming the Shiite communities".
Rival Reformist paper, Etemad, accused Kayhan of acting as the spokesperson for the militant group. Others went further, saying Kayhan was "canonizing" the militant group. Facing the mounting backlash, the paper retracted the stance in an editorial a few days later.
Shahussain Murtazavi, a senior adviser at the office of the Afghan President, has warned Iran's hard-liners about such an "absolutely false" approach. He reminded Iranians not to forget "the murder of their own diplomats by the Taliban".
The report said Murtazawi was referring to a deadly takeover of the Iranian consulate in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif as part of a Taliban offensive and the ensuing fall of the city in 1998.
Eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist were gunned down. Despite the evidence, including from Human Rights Watch, the Taliban has denied responsibility for the killings.