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How A Nuclear-Armed Pakistan With Weak Government, Feeble Economy Is Dominating Afghanistan?

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US Defence Secretary Mark Esper recently held a telephonic conversation with Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and reaffirmed America’s commitment to a long-term, mutually beneficial security partnership, the Pentagon said.

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Esper expressed his appreciation for Pakistan’s support to the Afghanistan reconciliation process following the February 29, US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration and signing of the US-Taliban Agreement, Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said.

During the call, Esper reaffirmed the department of defence’s commitment to a long-term, mutually beneficial security partnership with the government of Pakistan, Mr. Hoffman said in a readout of the call.

The US-Taliban peace deal, aimed at bringing lasting peace in war-torn Afghanistan and allowing American troops to return home from US’ longest war, was signed in Doha on February 29. But why would the Defence Secretary call Pakistan now? Perhaps the answer is not so simple after all given the relationship between Washington and Islamabad over the years.

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The vital reason that Trump administration is changing its tune toward Pakistan is aimed at successful withdrawal of American troops from the war in Afghanistan at present. The US understands Pakistan to be a major player in the region’s peace and reconciliation process.

It was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban after they took power in Afghanistan in 1996 and ended diplomatic ties soon after the 9/11 Attacks in 2001. At the same time, Pakistan has enough leverage over the Taliban to make them keep their end of the bargain in the peace agreement.

The US has lost some 2,200 soldiers over the past 18 years and spends $45 billion per annum on the Afghan war. Currently, the US needs Pakistan’s help to withdraw forces from Afghanistan. The US does not want the Taliban to continue fighting and allow Afghanistan as a base for militant attacks against them.

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As a quid pro quo, Pakistan too has an enormous role to play, not only to help extricate America but also to end a four decades-long war, in which millions of Afghans lost their lives. On the other hand, Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state with a powerful army, a weak civilian government, and a feeble economy.

It needs to revamp relations with the US in hopes of regaining investment, trade, and aid (that, incidentally, Trump cut). Similarly, Pakistan also wants to resolve its political issues in the South Asia region with America’s cooperation. Over the past 15 years, Pakistan has received approximately $15 billion in aid.

If Pakistan makes headway in the peace efforts, the US-Pakistan relationship will improve immensely. Consequently, the Trump administration may restore more than $2 billion worth of suspended aid and security assistance.  The trade and economic support to Pakistan would be an enormous advantage for a nation struggling with a serious economic crisis.

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Breaking with Pakistan at this juncture is risky, chances are slim that doing so will change Pakistani behaviour. The far more likely outcome is that the stakes will be raised in Afghanistan.

Security gains in Afghanistan over the past year were made possible by generous American aid and intense engagement between the US and Pakistan. When the Obama administration decided on an exit strategy from Afghanistan, officials were assuming that those conditions would hold.

However, the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout changed all that. Convinced of Pakistani duplicity, Washington kept the mission a secret, and that humiliated and angered the Pakistani military.

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Relations then spiralled downward as Washington demanded more cooperation on fighting terrorism. The US Kabul embassy attack finally pushed the relationship over the edge.

Yet Pakistan’s cooperation is still critical to US objectives in Afghanistan, and a breach in US-Pakistan relations could put peace and security in Afghanistan beyond reach.

Pakistan sees Afghanistan through the prism of its regional rivalry with India; it fears that a strong and independent Afghanistan will take India’s side and would then lay claim to Pakistan’s Pashtun areas. For the past two decades, Islamabad has used the Taliban to avoid that outcome. Pakistan’s strategic calculus is too deeply entrenched and the stakes in Afghanistan are too high for Islamabad to change course over the threat of curtailed US aid.

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Confrontation with Pakistan presents Washington with a dilemma that will make leaving Afghanistan harder. If the United States truly wishes to change Pakistani behaviour for the greater good of the region, then Washington has to be prepared to do what it takes to get that job done.

That includes potentially keeping large numbers of US troops in Afghanistan indefinitely to protect that country against the fallout from our policy and to convince Islamabad that it is futile for Pakistan to pursue its own goals in Afghanistan.

But if the US’s goal is to leave Afghanistan in the short term, then the prudent course of action is a return to stability in US-Pakistan relations. That would have to start with ending the recent public acrimony but also confronting head-on what Pakistan is after in Afghanistan.

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The Trump administration is hoping that the combination of a strong Afghan military and a peace deal between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban will create the conditions for US troops to finally leave Afghanistan.

Pakistan, worrying about the sort of government that would next rule Afghanistan, is eager to be part of the planning for what is to follow the US exit. In particular, Islamabad wants control over when and how the Taliban will engage Kabul and Washington.

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Afghans oppose this, and given Pakistan’s track record, Washington has not included Islamabad in decisions on the future of Afghanistan. But this is ultimately the price for Pakistan’s cooperation.

Still, even if the United States allows Pakistan to play a role in shaping a future Afghanistan, Washington should make any Pakistani role conditional on Islamabad taking concrete measures against groups such as the Haqqani network and the Taliban. American policy will be most effective if it flows from a clear understanding of their objectives and the resources they are willing to commit to their pursuit.

With Invaluable Inputs From Hizbullah Khan – Journal of International Affairs, Columbia University.

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Amitabh Bachchan – Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan tests positive for COVID-19

Amitabh Bachchan tweeted – I have tested COVID positive, shifted to hospital, hospital informing authorities, family and staff undergone tests , results awaited. All that have been in close proximity to me in the last 10 days are requested to please get themselves tested,” he wrote.

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Amitabh Bachchan – Bollywood superstar has tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday evening and was admitted to Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai. Bachchan confirmed the same in a tweet.

“I have tested covid positive, shifted to hospital, hospital informing authorities, family and staff undergone tests , results awaited. All that have been in close proximity to me in the last 10 days are requested to please get themselves tested,” he wrote.

Bachchan was last seen in Shoojit Sarkar’s Gulabo Sitabo that released on Amazon Prime Video. Two films, Jhund and Chehre are ready for release while he is yet to complete Ayan Mukherji’s Brahmastra along with Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt.

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US threatens Russia with consequences for paying bounties to Taliban in Afghanistan

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The US has threatened to respond if the Pentagon confirms reports of Russian bounties to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. While Russia denies its involvement in any such operation, US-Russia relations could further deteriorate if the reports are confirmed.

The Pentagon is investigating reports of Russian bounties to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan and if found to be true, the US has promised to retaliate. Moscow on the hand has denied involvement in any such operation.

Speaking in front of the House armed services committee, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said that the Pentagon was committed to discovering whether Russian military intelligence had paid the Taliban for attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan.

“We’re going to get to the bottom of this bounty thing. If there are bounties, I’m an outraged general, just like every one of us in uniform is,” Milley said. “That’s a real big deal. We don’t have that level of fidelity yet, but we’re still looking.”

Despite vowing to retaliate, Milley suggested that the US may not be responding to the reports as robustly as necessary in non-military ways. The 62-year old admitted that the US was perhaps not doing enough.

The issue is at the strategic level,” he said. “Is there diplomatic, and informational and economic … sanctions, are there démarches, are there phone calls, is there pressure, those sorts of things. And I can tell you that some of that is done.’’

Mark Esper, the defence secretary, was also testifying to the House armed services committee. Esper said that the reports did not come from any of the nine of the total of 17 US intelligence agencies under Pentagon’s authority, implying the information leaked to the press in recent weeks came from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or another civilian agency.

The reports first came to notice in January and were ignored because they lacked credibility. It was only in February that Gen Kenneth McKenzie and the defence secretary became aware of them in February.

Milley confirmed that the investigation is not over and promised to get to the bottom of the situation. President Donald Trump has insisted he was not briefed on the Russian bounties.

Russia Denies Involvement

While American intelligence agencies work to confirm reports, Russia denies the existence or its involvement in any such operation. Moscow says the U.S. is trying to portray Moscow as an all-purpose bogeyman.

“I would like to say officially that these allegations, distributed by the media, are downright lies. No concrete evidence has been presented,” Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said this week in an online forum with the Center for the National Interest.

Other Russian officials point out that Moscow would have little incentive to establish such a program given the high risk of getting caught.

According to NPR, the Russian military intelligence known as the GRU is believed to be behind the suspected Russian bounty program in Afghanistan. The GRU has an aggressive and high-risk culture and is hence preferred by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The New York Times was the media outlet to report about Russia secretly offering money to the Taliban in exchange for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan.

If confirmed, it would be the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops and could have a severe impact on Washington-Moscow relations.

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Srebrenica genocide: Pakistan draws similarity between 1995 Srebrenica massacre with Kashmir

Drawing a parallel between Srebrenica genocide, and the current situation in Indian-administered Kashmir, Khan said he feared a massacre similar to that in Srebrenica could happen in the disputed Himalayan valley.

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Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan on Saturday urged the world community to “learn a lesson” from 1995 Srebrenica genocide, and “not let such massacre happen again.”

“Today, we are observing the 25th memorial anniversary of the genocide that took place in Srebrenica. I still remember the day very well along with most people who have humanity in their hearts. I remember when it happened. we were shocked. We were appalled how in a what was a safe haven of United Nations peacekeeping forces, this massive massacre was allowed to happen.

“I still feel the shock how such a thing could have been allowed by the world community, Khan said in a video message aired by state-run Pakistan Television. “I think, It is important that we learn lessons from that, the world community must never let such things to happen again,” he went on to say.

Drawing a parallel between Srebrenica genocide, and the current situation in Indian-administered Kashmir, Khan said he feared a massacre similar to that in Srebrenica could happen in the disputed Himalayan valley.

“Today, 800,000 Indian troops have besieged 8 million people of Kashmir. And we all fear a similar sort of massacre might follow there,” he said, adding: “So the world community must take notice, and never allow such acts to take place there.”

Kashmir and Palestine

In a Twitter post, in connection with the 25th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said: “July 2020 marks 25 years since the Srebrenica Massacre, the murder of over 8000 Bosnian Muslims & ethnic cleansing of over 20’000 people. The world has a collective responsibility to ensure history is not repeated.”

“What is happening in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir and Palestine is chillingly similar,” he added, referring to Israel’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank and New Delhi’s scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s longstanding special status in August 2019.

Every year on July 11, newly identified victims of the genocide are buried in a memorial cemetery in Potocari, eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thousands of visitors from various countries attend the funeral services and burials.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will participate in this year’s memorial program via video link. During a two-day visit to Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo last year for a similar event, Erdogan attended a procession to commemorate thousands of innocents who fell victim to the genocide.

More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed when Bosnian Serb forces attacked the UN “safe area” of Srebrenica in July 1995, despite the presence of Dutch troops tasked with acting as international peacekeepers.

Srebrenica was besieged by Serb forces who were trying to wrest territory from Bosnian Muslims and Croats to form their own state.

The UN Security Council had declared Srebrenica a “safe area” in the spring of 1993. However, Serb troops led by General Ratko Mladic — later found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide — overran the UN zone.

The Dutch troops failed to act as Serb forces occupied the area, killing about 2,000 men and boys on July 11 alone. Some 15,000 Srebrenica residents fled into the surrounding mountains, but Serb troops hunted down and killed 6,000 of them in the forests.

UK ‘stands with’ all feeling Srebrenica genocide pain

British administration on Saturday “reiterated the UK’s commitment to supporting reconciliation across the Western Balkans,” on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Today (11 July) marks twenty-five years since the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the worst atrocity in Europe since the end of the Second World War,” a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) statement said.

“Today I stand with all who continue to feel unimaginable pain from the genocide 25 years ago at Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter.

“The United Kingdom has worked to support justice for the victims, find the missing & promote reconciliation,” he added.

Underlining that more than 8,000, mostly Muslim men and boys, were murdered and over 20,000 women and children were forcibly expelled from their homes, the UK urged “all parties to reject hate speech and the glorification of the perpetrators of genocide and war crimes.”

The statement also said the “verdicts from international and domestic courts must be respected.” Raab said: “On the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, we remember the victims and the anguish of their families.

“During my time in the Hague between 2003 and 2006, pursuing those responsible for this dark chapter in European history, I was reminded daily of the heinous cruelty perpetrated against the innocent.

“The UK is determined to end impunity and help rebuild those countries affected – as our commitment to the ICC, and UK investment and support for Bosnia demonstrates.”

Turkey pays homage

he Turkish president on Saturday remembered the Srebrenica martyrs on the 25th anniversary of the genocide. “We will always stand by our Bosnian brothers in their search for justice. The Srebrenica Genocide will never be forgotten,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a video message.

As part of the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide, Erdogan spoke via video link at the memorial ceremony held at the former accumulator factory used by the United Nations troops as a base in the war in Bosnia.

Erdogan stressed that despite all tragedy and tears, European politicians have learned no lessons from Srebrenica Genocide, adding that free use of words that “fuel enmity towards Islam and support xenophobia is a source of concern for our future.”

“Even though it has been a quarter of a century since the genocide, our pain is still fresh. Our hearts wrenched with every mass grave unearthed,” he said. Erdogan wished God’s mercy on Srebrenica martyrs and patience to their families, their loved ones and to all who feel pain in their hearts.

 

By Aamir Latif, Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

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