Pakistan: No Plans to Recognize Israel

Pakistan reiterated Tuesday it will not establish relations with Israel until there is “a viable, independent and contiguous” Palestinian state acceptable to the Palestinians.
The statement came in response to persistent speculative media reports and commentaries that the South Asian majority-Muslim nation might be reconsidering its rejection of recognizing Israel. 
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry refuted the media debate as baseless speculation and stressed that Islamabad “steadfastly supports the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination.” 
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement has been “clear and unequivocal” on the issue, underlined the ministry spokesman.
“The prime minister has made it clear that unless a just settlement of the Palestine issue, satisfactory to the Palestinian people, is found, Pakistan cannot recognize Israel,” the spokesman noted.
“For just and lasting peace, it is imperative to have a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant United Nations and OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) resolutions, with the pre-1967 borders, and Al-Quds Al-Sharif as the capital of a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian State,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Pakistan has denounced Israel since its inception in 1947. Pakistanis cannot visit the Jewish state because the country’s passport states that it is “valid for all countries of the world except Israel.”A combination picture shows Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Feb. 9, 2020.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported “secret” visit to Saudi Arabia this past Sunday for talks with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has fueled speculations Riyadh was moving toward recognizing Israel. 
Those speculations stemmed from the historic United States-brokered deal the United Arab Emirates reached with Israel in August establishing ties between the two countries. 
Saudi officials, however, denied the reported visit by Netanyahu.
But the alleged trip has also intensified rumors about Pakistan following suit and recognizing Israel under Saudi pressure.
Pakistan has a traditionally close partnership with Saudi Arabia, which is seen in Islamabad receiving crucial Saudi financial assistance and oil supplies on deferred payments, as the South Asian nation faces economic challenges.
Speaking to a private Pakistani television channel earlier this month, Prime Minister Khan admitted his government was under diplomatic pressure to recognize Israel. But he was evasive when asked to say if “brotherly Muslim countries” were also among those exerting the pressure on Pakistan in the wake of the UAE-Israel deal.
“Leave it, let’s move on,” Khan replied. “There are certain things that we cannot discuss in public because of our good relations with (Muslim countries). We wouldn’t want to upset them. Let our country stand up on its feet, then ask me such questions.”

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Former NATO Commander Expects Biden Administration to Keep Troops in Afghanistan

In an interview Monday with VOA, James Stavridis, retired U.S. Navy admiral and former military commander of NATO, said the U.S. and its allies should keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to pressure the Taliban into a peace agreement with the Afghan government. Stavridis told Breshna Omarkhel of VOA’s Afghan Service he was confident President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will maintain a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, testifies before a Senate Appropriations State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing, March 26, 2015.How long will Afghanistan depend on international help, and how long will the international community be willing to help Afghanistan? My sense is the international community will in fact continue to support Afghanistan, really, for the indefinite future. I certainly believe the United States, in particular, with a Biden administration coming in, will be very likely to want to conclude a successful peace agreement. I think the entire international community wants that. So, the level of aid may be reduced a bit, but I think as a general proposition, the support will continue, frankly, because we are getting closer and closer to a peace agreement, inshallah (God willing). Last weekend when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was talking to the Taliban in Doha, insurgents fired rockets on Kabul, killing eight civilians and injuring dozens more. What message did the insurgents give to the U.S. through such a brazen attack? Well, first of all, we need to try and differentiate between different factions of insurgents in Afghanistan. The Islamic State is active. Al-Qaida is active. Neither of them had any interest in a peace agreement. Even within the Taliban, there is division. … So, we don’t know certainly who launched those particular attacks. But I will say this: All of them are unhelpful in concluding this agreement. … My advice, if I were advising the insurgents, is, ‘You would be smart to look beyond the Trump administration and focus on the incoming Biden administration.’ My belief is the Biden administration will maintain U.S. troop presence for the foreseeable future [and] will support the Afghan government. And I don’t see a sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan. If that is your hope, launching rockets is not going to get you there. President Donald Trump is withdrawing troops from Afghanistan before Biden takes charge in January. What kind of difficulties might the new administration face if things do not go well in Afghanistan? I think the new administration will look very seriously at bringing back some additional number of troops, whether President Trump gets all 2,500 of them home by the inauguration or not. My own belief is that a Biden administration will take a zero-based review of the situation. That is their style, their policy points. Recall that this is a team, the Biden administration, all of whom are deeply experienced in Afghanistan. I worked with all of the senior members during those years when I was supreme allied commander. They have a good feel for Afghanistan. I think the minimum level of troops to sustain a peace agreement dialogue is probably around 5,000 to 6,000 U.S. troops and about the same number of allied troops. I think you’ll see a Biden administration look hard at returning to that baseline that keeps the pressure on the Taliban at the negotiating table. That is the best path forward for a peace agreement. Will reversing Trump’s Afghan policy be an option for the Biden administration? Every administration comes in, looks at the global scene and makes decisions. ‘Do we send a new carrier battle group to the Arabian Gulf? Do we pull one back from the Caribbean Sea? Are we going to close bases in Europe? Are we going to open new bases in Poland? Are we going to continue to have 5,000 troops in Afghanistan, or are we going to go with reductions put in place by the Trump administration?’ This administration will look at all its options globally, and I’m confident that the mission in Afghanistan will become more conditions-based than it appears to have been over the last year with the Trump administration. I think that’s good news for Afghanistan. The Taliban have increased attacks across Afghanistan. Targeted killings are also at all-time high, resulting in the loss of trust of the government among citizens. Do you see any risks of the fall of the system in Afghanistan in the absence of U.S. troops? There is always the possibility of a sudden reversal of events. My own view would be, so long as the U.S. and allies, the NATO mission, continue at some minimal level — even if we continue with the Trump troop cuts, but you still keep 3,000 U.S. (and) 3,000 NATO troops there — and … you continue to financially support the Afghan National Security Forces, then I think they will be able to hold off the Taliban indefinitely. …  So, let’s continue to watch the money, as the saying goes, and let’s hope. My hope and my advice to a Biden administration would be, ‘We have come too far. We’ve invested too much. This is the wrong time to simply walk away from this Afghan mission that we have conducted with our allies, partners and friends, and, above all, with the people of Afghanistan.’ We can continue to support them with a minimal troop presence, and we can continue with relatively small amounts of funding. Those are both well within the capacity of the U.S. and its allies. And I would firmly advocate for them if we can. I don’t think the future is bright for the Taliban. Roshan Noorzai of VOA’s Extremism Watch Desk contributed to this report. 

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Nigerian Men’s Involvement Key to Stopping Gender-Based-Violence

As COVID-19 lockdowns have seen increasing cases of gender-based-violence, Nigeria’s traditional and religious leaders are urging men to protect the rights of women and girls.  The campaign coincides with the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (Nov 25), as Timothy Obiezu reports from Abuja.Camera: Emeka Gibson       Produced by: Jon Spier 

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Donors Tie Future Afghanistan Aid to Strict Conditions

Donor countries have tied Afghanistan’s future civilian financial aid of $3 billion a year for four years to strict conditions, including maintaining human rights, improving governance and reducing corruption.“Afghanistan and the international community have entered a new and very disciplined phase of their long-standing partnership,” said Deborah Lyons, the United Nations secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, at a two-day donor conference that ended Tuesday in Geneva.The new cooperation, she added, will be underlined by conditionality and a tough, yearly, review mechanism.Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and Special Representative of the Secretary General of the U.N. for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons wear masks prior to the plenary session of the 2020 Afghanistan Conference in Geneva, Nov. 24, 2020.The conference, attended by more than 90 delegations representing countries and international aid agencies, also adopted a unanimous political communique which “calls first and foremost for an immediate, permanent, and comprehensive cease-fire,” Lyons said.Similar calls for a cease-fire have been ignored by the Taliban for months. The U.N., NATO, and others say the Taliban has raised the level of violence to a 10-year high since it signed a deal with the United States in February.Calls to maintain human rights, in particular the rights of women, and to tackle corruption were repeated throughout the plenary session.“The EU (European Union) support will be maintained or reviewed depending on Afghanistan’s continued commitment to democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and gender equality,” said Jutta Urpilainen, the EU commissioner for international partnerships. For now, the EU has maintained its current level of assistance by pledging $1.4 billion over the next four year.The EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell Fontelles, also warned against trying to impose a 1990s-style Taliban rule at a time when an Afghan government team is negotiating with the militant group to end decades of conflict through a political settlement.“As the United Nations Security Council said, any attempt to restore an Islamic emirate would have an impact on our political and financial engagement,” Borrell said.While promising $270 million over the next three years, Canada also linked its aid to maintaining gains made in the last 19 years.“Canada will monitor developments at the negotiating table with great interest and calibrate our contributions accordingly,” said Karina Gould, the Canadian minister of international development.Many activists in Afghanistan say they fear that a Taliban return to power, even through a political settlement, might erode many of the rights Afghans have come to enjoy since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Many in Afghanistan remember the Taliban rule in the 1990s as brutal, when women were denied the right to education, minorities suffered discrimination and violence, and harsh punishments like public flogging were common.The Netherlands said its contribution of up to $237 million in the next four years was not a “carte blanche” and that it expected corruption to be tackled “efficiently” and women’s rights to be upheld.Denmark said its support comes with “clear expectations” of tackling corruption, making women part of decision-making processes, and upholding human rights and the rule of law.“Progress made must be maintained and further advanced,” said Jeppe Kofod, Denmark’s minister of foreign affairs.The quadrennial conference, the sixth of its kind, is the last one of what was labeled Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade. The 10-year period from 2015 to the end of 2024 was supposed to end in a self-reliant country.Instead, three-fourths of the country’s public spending still depends on foreign aid. According to the World Bank, the Afghan economy is expected to contract by more than 5 percent in 2020 due to the global pandemic fueled by the novel coronavirus.The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, along with Finland and Afghanistan, co-hosted the conference. The coronavirus pandemic forced most of the activity online, with only representatives of the hosts present in the conference hall in person. Most statements were made virtually.The last donor conference was held in 2016 in Brussels and before that in Tokyo in 2012.Although the amount pledged this year was much less than the $15.2 billion pledged in Brussels, it was still far higher than many expected.Lyons called it “beyond our expectations” and a “global hug” to the war-torn country but added, “Even a hug has conditions and consequences.”

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Sudan Humanitarian Groups: Refugees Could Reach 200,000

Humanitarian organizations are ramping up efforts to assist refugees who continue streaming into Sudan to escape fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.Jense Hesemann, emergency coordinator for the U.N. refugee agency in Sudan, said thousands of new Ethiopian refugees are arriving in Sudan every day.“The emergency refugee registration teams at UNHCR and the government’s commission for refugees here in Sudan by now have registered over 40,000 new arrivals from Ethiopian since the 7th of November this year,” Hesemann told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.The refugees enter Sudan through the Hamdayet border point in Kassala state, the Lugdi border point in Gadaref state and a new location further south at the Aderafi border point where about 700 Ethiopian refugees crossed into Sudan’s Blue Nile state over the weekend.The number of Ethiopian refugees entering Sudan could soon reach 200,000 if fighting between Ethiopian federal government troops and Tigray regional forces continues, said Hesemann.A Tigray refugee girl who fled the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, sits on aid she received from the UNHCR and WFP at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Nov. 24, 2020.U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday urged government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to give clear orders to their forces to spare and protect the civilian population from ongoing clashes.”The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for [Tigray’s regional capital of] Mekelle is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger,” Bachelet said.”I fear such rhetoric will lead to further violations of international humanitarian law,” she added, expressing alarm at reports of a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery around Mekelle.Artis Noor, Sudan country director for U.S.-based Mercy Corps, recently visited Gadaref state’s Um Raquba camp where his agency set up a health clinic and has treated thousands of Ethiopian refugees.“In Um Raquba as of yesterday we had more than 6,500 individuals who have been living in that camp,” Noor told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. “Mercy Corps is providing critical health services, urgently needed health services through a health clinic which is basically a primary health center and we are providing outdoor consultations.”Noor said Mercy Corps also established a referral facility with an ambulance to treat “seriously ill refugees” who require the “next level of care.”“On average we are seeing between 90 to 120 patients each day, most of them are women and children and the most common illnesses we are seeing are upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhea and malaria,” Noor told VOA.A humanitarian worker from UNHCR, documents Ethiopian refugees fleeing from the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, at the Um-Rakoba camp, on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in the Al-Qadarif state, Sudan, Nov. 23, 2020.On top of the large influx of refugees from Ethiopia, Noor said Sudan is still coping with the effects of devastating floods, a second wave of COVID-19 cases, and a deteriorating economy.“The government was already struggling to meet the humanitarian needs in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the floods and now it has to deal with the refugee situation as well, so this is going to stretch the already meager resources the government of Sudan has,” added Noor.Hesemann and Noor are calling on international donors to increase their support so that the UNHCR and Mercy Corps can assist the growing numbers of Ethiopian refugees.

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Nigerian Men’s Involvement Seen as Key to Stopping Gender-Based Violence

Amid a rise in gender-based violence, Nigeria’s traditional and religious leaders are urging men to protect the rights of women and girls. The campaign coincides with the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
 
At an Abuja town hall meeting sponsored by the U.N. and EU spotlight initiative, only Nigerian men, including traditional and religious leaders were admitted.
 
But the intention was not to exclude women – the 100 participants were there to talk about ending male violence against women.     
 
Umar Shafiu, a program officer at U.N. Women-Nigeria and one of the meeting facilitators, says men should be in the forefront of this this struggle.
 
“In most cases when we come out talking about women participation, ending violence against women and girls, men feel left out. For the fact that they are the perpetrators, and still in some cases there are other male champions that are trying to eliminate the violence against women and girls. So, we see this as a strategy to engage men to see themselves as allies to gender equality,” Shafiu said.  
 
Nigerian authorities say cases of violence against women have more than tripled during the COVID-19 lockdown this year.
 
A U.N. survey shows three in 10 Nigerian women experience gender-based violence by the age of 15. But many cases still go unreported due to stigma.   
 
Margaret Agu says her brother-in-law raped her when she was 15. But reporting the attack nearly tore her family apart and she was eventually forced to discontinue the case.
 
“It brought [a] family crisis between my father, mother and my in-law and my sister. My mother was hypertensive, and she doesn’t want things like that, so I called off the case,” Agu said.  
 
Ahead of the International day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, observed on November 25, Nigeria launched an e-monitoring platform to gather data and better track the culprits of violence.
 
Also, Nigerian authorities have proclaimed the U.N.’s country director, Edward Kallon, and the head of the EU delegation, Ketil Karlsen, as champions of the rights of women and girls.    
 
Nigeria’s women affairs minister, Dame Pauline Tallen, presented the awards in Abuja.
 
“With more acknowledgement and honoring them as “HeForShe,” they will know that they’re invited with full commitment to join in this battle. We cannot fight it alone,” she said.  
 
While it will probably take some time before the negative trend of violence against women is reversed, authorities say this can only happen if more men take responsibility.    

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