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India’s Gaganyaan Mission Put On-Hold Due To Covid-19 Pandemic

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Gaganyaan – India’s 1st Space Manned Mission is facing some hurdles due to coronavirus that has engulfed the world.  Indian PM during his independence day address last year had stated that an astronaut will go on a space odyssey by 2022 on project ‘Gaganyaan’.

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The training of Gaganyaan’s four astronauts in Russia has been put on hold as the facility where the exercise is being undertaken has been temporarily closed due to Covid-19 pandemic, ANI quoted some sources.

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“As part of international cooperation, four representatives of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) are beginning their training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center on February 10, 2020, as candidates for a space flight.”

All the candidates for Mission Gangayaan have served as fighter jet pilots in the Indian Air Force. They were selected by ISRO after comprehensive tests and training. However, since last week the centre has been shut due to coronavirus outbreak, sources said.

“Our (prospective) astronauts are fine. They are currently in the hostel. We have been told the centre will open by the end of the month,” a source said.

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When asked whether the suspension of training for nearly four weeks will hurt the training programme, the sources added that although the training programme spans over 12 months, they had kept a buffer of three months to factor in exigencies.

Earlier, The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has decided to go with Russian Glavkosmos for the astronaut training programme for the proposed Gaganyaan mission.

ISRO Chairman, K Sivan had stated that the space agency would most likely pick Russia as its partner in astronaut training. This comes in lieu with their previous collaborations when Russia took Rakesh Sharma to space and their continued work with Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM).

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Taliban rejects calls for cease-fire by the Afghan Government, International community

In line with a landmark US-Taliban peace agreement — which was only cautiously welcomed by the Afghan government — some 5,000 Taliban prisoners should have been released months ago from government prisons in return for the estimated 1,000 captive security forces.

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The Taliban on Sunday rejected mounting calls for a ceasefire by the Afghan government and the global community, saying they were yet to find “an alternative” to the ongoing insurgency.

The group’s spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, said on Twitter that the implementation of the Doha deal signed between the US and Taliban on Feb. 29 and the start of intra-Afghan negotiations would be necessary for the conflict to de-escalate and end. “If anyone seeks ceasefire before talks then such is illogical. War is raging precisely b/c we have yet to find an alternative,” he said.

Mujahed underlined that prisoner exchanges must be completed and intra-Afghan negotiations launched “immediately” for a resolution to the fighting.

Last week, Afghan President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani warned the peace process might face “serious challenges” if the Taliban continued with the war.

In a virtual conference with the representatives of some 20 regional countries and international organizations, Ghani underlined that though the Afghan government had the capacity and political will to end the war, it had offered the Taliban a political solution to move away from violence.

“The champions of peace will be people of Afghanistan and the region. Regional support for a democratic system in Afghanistan would further strengthen regional cooperation,” he said.

The rejuvenated yet fragile Afghan peace deal hinges on sluggish prison swaps testing the patience of the warring parties.

In line with a landmark US-Taliban peace agreement — which was only cautiously welcomed by the Afghan government — some 5,000 Taliban prisoners should have been released months ago from government prisons in return for the estimated 1,000 captive security forces.

The freeing of prisoners came to a halt less than halfway through in May amid bitter exchanges and allegations, as well as a spike in violence across the war-ravaged country.

According to official sources, there are 12,000-15,000 inmates in Afghan government prisons, including militants from Pakistan, Central Asia and Gulf countries. No figures are available on captives held by the insurgents.

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Four Pakistan Army soldiers killed in North Waziristan near Afghan Border

The clash occurred near Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan, during a raid on a hideout and resulted in the death of four troops, the statement by Pakistan’s army said.

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Four Pakistan Army soldiers and as many militants were killed in a clash in Pakistan’s restive North Waziristan region on Sunday, the military said.

The clash occurred near Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan, during a raid on a hideout and resulted in the death of four troops, the statement by Pakistan’s army said.

“As soon as the troops cordoned off the area, terrorist opened fire. All dug out terrorists were shot down by security forces, ” the statement said, adding: “In exchange of fire, four soldiers embraced shahadat (martyrdom).”

The killed soldiers included Sepoy Muhammad Ismail Khan, Sepoy Muhammad Shahbaz Yasin, Sepoy Raja Waheed Ahmed and Sepoy Muhammad Rizwan Khan.

North Waziristan – once dubbed the heartland of militancy – is one of seven former semi-autonomous tribal regions in Pakistan where the army has conducted a series of operations since 2014 to eliminate Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Successive operations have pushed the TTP towards neighbouring Afghanistan, and Islamabad claims the terrorist network has now set up bases across the border to attack Pakistani security forces.

The military operations also displaced over a million people, but the government claims most of them have returned to their homes. The tribal agencies were recently given the status of districts and merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

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India refuses to review RCEP decision over China’s border hostility – Reports

Last year, India backed out of the RCEP agreement citing its negative effects on “farmers, MSMEs and dairy sector”. “The present form of the RCEP Agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP.

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India is firm on the decision to not become a member of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). The Modi government is reportedly “not reviewing” its decision on RCEP due to the presence of China as a member.

According to the sources, India has decided it won’t join any trade agreement including RCEP where China is a member as matters have turned worse for India, especially after the border stand-off with China.

Last year, India backed out of the RCEP agreement citing its negative effects on “farmers, MSMEs and dairy sector”. “The present form of the RCEP Agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP.

It also does not address satisfactorily India’s outstanding issues and concerns. In such a situation, it is not possible for India to join the RCEP Agreement,” PM Modi had stated at RCEP summit in Bangkok. The summit included China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the 10-nation ASEAN grouping.

“There is no question to join the pact now that the prime minister has given a clarion call to a self-reliant or ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) India,” said an official who refused to be identified. The comments came after Thailand said all member countries have decided to sign the trade pact by the end of 2020 without India, and the deal may come into force by the middle of next year.

According to Chinese state mouthpiece, Global Times (GT), this is a method of venting of irrational emotions after a recent deadly border conflict in the Galwan Valley.

“India’s years of hesitation toward the RCEP are essentially due to the country’s weak manufacturing sector,” it said. “After the deadly border conflict in June, India’s diplomacy has entered an irrational state of anger.

It is expanding its emotional approach to many other aspects of relations. Using border tensions with China as an excuse for its latest RCEP rejection is just another example. If India continues this irrational approach, it would not only harm regional interests but would not benefit India’s own long-term interests,” it added.

It further criticised the Indian media for calling RCEP as “Chinese-dominated” and “Chinese-backed” trade deal.

Despite China’s belligerence, no other country has shown any hesitation for signing the RCEP agreement. “For countries such as Australia, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand it will be difficult to have inner coherence between geopolitics and trade,” said Rajiv Bhatia, a veteran diplomat.

Vietnam, which is now the ASEAN chair has said that it will continue to urge India to join the RCEP “whenever it feels comfortable”.

Amid soaring tensions in the South China Sea when the Chinese ship attacked and sank a Vietnamese boat near the Paracel Islands, it is still going to go ahead with the RCEP deal. Similarly, Australia, which has blamed China for the origins of Covid-19 and its growing military aggression, also seems clear about joining the RCEP.

China’s advice to India is that while facing a “more powerful neighbour”, it is imperative for India to properly assess its situation and rationally reduce its rivalry toward China to develop favourable economic and diplomatic strategies, rather than “irrationally heating up nationalism and blaming China when it encounters unsatisfactory situations”.

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