Pakistan approves new operation to root out terrorism  

Islamabad — Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership has decided to launch a new multi-faceted nationwide counterterrorism campaign amid the country’s deteriorating security situation.

A high-powered meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif gave the go ahead for operation “Azm-e-Istehkam,” or Resolve for Stability, to “combat the menaces of extremism and terrorism in a comprehensive and decisive manner,” said a statement issued by the prime minister’s office.

The announcement came as Pakistan faces near daily attacks targeting security personnel and amid mounting pressure from China to ensure the security of its workers. Several Chinese nationals were killed in an attack earlier this year.

“The fight against extremism and terrorism is Pakistan’s war and is absolutely essential for the nation’s survival and well-being,” the official statement said.

Along with an intensified military push, Azm-e-Istehkam will have a diplomatic push.

“In the politico-diplomatic domain, efforts will be intensified to curtail the operational space for terrorists through regional cooperation,” said the statement after the Apex Committee on the National Action Plan reviewed the ongoing counterterrorism campaign and internal security in the country.

Pakistan has a history of courts freeing terror attack suspects because of a lack of evidence. The new campaign aims to counter that through legislative actions.

“The renewed and full-blown kinetic efforts of the armed forces will be augmented by full support from all Law Enforcement Agencies, empowered by effective legislation to address legal voids that hinder effective prosecution of terrorism-related cases and award of exemplary punishments to them,” according to the statement.

Chinese concerns

The new counterterrorism operation comes as Islamabad attempts to convince Beijing it is taking the security of Chinese nationals extremely seriously.

“The forum also reviewed measures to ensure foolproof security for Chinese nationals in Pakistan.” Saturday’s statement said. “Following the Prime Minister’s approval, new Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs] were issued to relevant departments, which will enhance mechanisms for providing comprehensive security to Chinese citizens in Pakistan.”

This comes after Liu Jianchao, minister of the Central Committee of the International Department of the Communist Party of China, told a bilateral political forum in Islamabad last week that Pakistan’s poor security was a hurdle in bringing Chinese investment to the cash-strapped South Asian nation.

“As people often say confidence is more precious than gold, in the case of Pakistan, the primary factor shaking the confidence of Chinese investors is the security situation,” Liu told a gathering that representatives from major Pakistani political parties attended. It was held as part of the third meeting of the Pakistan-China Joint Consultative Mechanism of Political Parties on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The corridor, commonly known as CPEC, is a flagship project of Beijing’s global Belt and Road Initiative and focuses primarily on energy and infrastructure.

Five Chinese nationals working on the China-funded Dasu hydropower project and their Pakistani driver were killed in March when a suicide bomber rammed the convoy with an explosives-laden vehicle.

At least a dozen more Chinese nationals have been killed in Pakistan in targeted attacks in the last few years.

After the March attack, Pakistan ramped up efforts to enhance the protection of Chinese nationals, including the formation of a new security unit in the capital. A special military unit already exists for the protection of Chinese projects in Pakistan. It is supported by local law enforcement agencies.

Terrorism landscape

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal that maintains data on terror attacks in the region, Pakistan has witnessed over 300 terrorism-related deaths so far this year.

Dozens of Pakistani security personnel, including officials, have died in the first half of 2024 in militant attacks and counterterrorism operations. On Friday, five Pakistani soldiers were killed when an improvised explosive device blew up their vehicle in the Kurram tribal district near Afghanistan.

Last year, Pakistan recorded a six-year high in terrorism fatalities with most of the attacks concentrated in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces that border Afghanistan.

Islamabad blames the rise in terror attacks on Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan that it says has sanctuaries in neighboring Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban have rejected evidence of cross-border terror attacks provided by Pakistan as an effort to malign Kabul.

Reports gathered by the United Nations and research groups based in the United States indicate the Afghan Taliban have maintained ties with foreign militants.

Past operations

Pakistan launched massive military operations against terrorists between 2009 and 2017 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While the operations managed to kill and flush thousands of militants to Afghanistan and dismantle their cells within Pakistan, they also caused a mass displacement of citizens and millions of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has lately seen a wave of Jirga, or consultative public gatherings, where locals have expressed serious concerns over growing militant violence and frequent counterterrorism operations.

Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry told the media last month that security forces had conducted more than 13,000 intelligence-based operations this year, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

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India makes 196 and beats Bangladesh by 50 at Twenty20 World Cup

NORTH SOUND, Antigua — Hardik Pandya blasted Bangladesh with a 27-ball half-century and Kuldeep Yadav’s three wickets finished off India’s win at the Twenty20 World Cup on Saturday.

Pandya struck four boundaries and three sixes in an unbeaten 50 to lead India to 196-5.

Yadav then took 3-19 in four overs to limit Bangladesh to 146-8.

India moved to the top of Group 1 in the Super Eight with two wins from two matches. Afghanistan moved to two points after it beat Australia by 21 runs later Saturday, but stay behind Australia in third place on net run rate. Bangladesh remained winless.

Put into bat, India started quick as captain Rohit Sharma scored 23 off 11 balls. Virat Kohli added 37 off 28, hitting three sixes. The duo put on 39 off 22 balls for India’s best opening stand in the tournament.

Sharma was caught in the fourth over off Shakib al Hasan, while Kohli put on another 32 off 27 balls with Rishabh Pant for the second wicket.

Tanzim Hasan Sakib struck twice in the ninth over, getting Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav for 6 as India slumped to 77-3.

But Rishabh Pant anchored one end with 36 off 24, including four fours and two sixes, putting on 31 off 19 balls with Shivam Dube.

Despite Pant’s dismissal in the 12th over, Dube’s prowess against spin came in handy — he hit three sixes, scoring 34 off 24 balls.

But it was Pandya who took charge in the death overs. India scored 62 runs in the last five overs.

Pandya was named player of the match.

“We have played some really good cricket (to win five straight games),” he said. “We have executed our plans well, but as a group we can still improve. We sometimes lose wickets in a bunch, but apart from that things are looking good.”

Bangladesh’s reply made a steady start. Openers Litton Das (13) and Tanzid Hasan (29) added 35 off 27 until Pandya got the breakthrough in the fifth over.

The Tigers were at 66-2 in the 10th over and scoring slower. The chase unravelled when Yadav came on to bowl. He trapped Hasan lbw, and dismissed Towhid Hridoy for 4 and claimed the big wicket of Shakib for 11.

Bangladesh lost three wickets for 32 runs across 24 balls and didn’t recover.

Pace bowlers Jasprit Bumrah (2-13) and Arshdeep Singh (2-30) helped to seal India’s fifth win over Bangladesh in the T20 World Cup.

Afghanistan stuns Australia

Afghanistan kept its Twenty20 World Cup semifinal hopes alive by stunning previously unbeaten Australia by 21 runs in a thrilling encounter at St. Vincent later on Saturday.

Despite a second successive hat-trick by Australian bowler Pat Cummins, Afghanistan posted 148-6 after being asked to bat first on a tricky pitch at the Arnos Vale Ground.

Afghanistan pair Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran put on 118 for the highest opening partnership against Australia in a T20 match before Australia’s bowlers rallied late, including Cummins’ second career hat-trick — just two days after his first.

Australia then stumbled with the bat and were all out for 127, with only Glenn Maxwell (59 off 41 balls) coming to grips with the superb Afghanistan bowling attack and the deteriorating wicket.

Man of the match Guldabin Naib took four wickets in an inspired spell in the middle overs to stall Australia’s chase before Azmatullah Omarzai had final wicket Adam Zampa caught in the deep in the final over to complete a stunning win amid jubilant celebrations among the Afghan players and team management.

The victory moves Afghanistan to two points in Group 1 and level with Australia, but behind on net run rate. India leads the group on four points, with Bangladesh bottom on zero points but still with a chance of qualifying for the semifinals.

The final group standings will be decided on Monday when Afghanistan plays Bangladesh at St. Vincent and Australia play India Monday at St. Lucia.

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Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island

taipei, taiwan — Taiwan’s defense ministry said Saturday it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, a day after Beijing said “diehard” advocates of Taiwan’s independence could face the death penalty.  

China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it would never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control. 

It has stepped up pressure on Taipei in recent years and held war games around the island following last month’s inauguration of new Taiwanese leader Lai Ching-te. 

On Saturday, Taipei’s defense ministry said it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft and seven naval vessels operating around Taiwan during the 24-hour period leading up to 6 a.m. (2200 GMT). 

“Thirty-two of the aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to a line bisecting the 180-kilometer (110-mile) waterway that separates Taiwan from China. 

The ministry added that it had “monitored the situation and responded accordingly.” 

The latest incursion came after China published judicial guidelines Friday that included the death penalty for “particularly serious” cases of “diehard” supporters of Taiwanese independence, state media reported. 

On May 25, Taiwan detected 62 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, the highest single-day total this year, as China staged military drills following the inauguration of Lai, who Beijing regards as a “dangerous separatist.” 

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India, Bangladesh boost defense ties to counterweigh China

NEW DELHI — India and Bangladesh on Saturday moved to bolster their defense relationship and signed agreements for expanding cooperation in maritime security, ocean economy, and space and telecommunication sectors, as New Delhi presents itself as a regional power and a counterweight to China.

The agreements were signed during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India, the first foreign leader to visit New Delhi since Narendra Modi became the country’s prime minister for a third term two weeks ago.

Modi welcomed Bangladesh’s decision to join his Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative to expand and facilitate regional cooperation of India’s maritime neighbors. He said the deals with Dhaka were part of his country’s pursuit of a neighborhood-first approach.

Bangladesh also enjoys good ties with China, its major trade partner mostly for raw materials. But maintaining a close relationship with Beijing is challenging for Bangladesh, which also balances diplomatic and trade relationships with India and the United States, China’s main rivals.

Bangladesh’s garment industry, which brings in more than 80% of foreign currency from exports, is heavily dependent on China for raw materials.

Hasina told reporters in New Delhi that the two countries decided to boost the sharing of river waters and cooperation in the power and energy sectors.

She also met Indian industry leaders and invited them to invest in Bangladesh, which plans to develop bigger ports, waterways rail, and road connectivity. India loaned Bangladesh $8 billion in the last eight years, to help expand that infrastructure.

Since Hasina’s Awami League party came to power in 2009, she has acted to address New Delhi’s concern about Indian militant groups taking shelter in Bangladesh.

However, an agreement on sharing the waters of the River Teesta remains elusive. The question of illegal immigration from Bangladesh to India also has dogged bilateral ties for years.

India is Bangladesh’s largest export destination in Asia. Trade between the two countries touched $15.9 billion in the financial year 2022-23.

New Delhi mainly exports cotton, motor vehicles, sugar, iron, steel, aluminum, electrical and electronic equipment to Bangladesh. It imports cereal, pulp paper and board, cement and raw hides from Bangladesh.

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Kazakhstan needs to overhaul labor, poverty statistics, experts say

ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN — Economic analysts in Kazakhstan say the government is using a formulation for setting the poverty line that fails to capture the number of people living below a humane standard of living. The result, they say, lowers the amount of assistance provided to the poor.

Kazakhstan sets the poverty line at about $70 a month, slightly over $2 a day. That results in an official poverty rate of 5.1% of the population. The World Bank, in a March report, More, Better and Inclusive Jobs in Kazakhstan, said that using its poverty line of $3.65 a day for lower middle-income countries (although the World Bank actually classifies Kazakhstan as upper middle-income) puts the poverty rate at about 10% in 2018.

Meruert Makhmutova, an economist and director of the Almaty-based Public Policy Research Center, said Kazakhstan should adopt the World Bank standard, which she said would result in more people receiving government assistance.

“The switch to $3.65 a day would automatically increase the number of the poor and the government would have to provide targeted social assistance to a greater number of people,” Makhmutova said. “As a result, the government, failing to admit the real scale of poverty, reduces budget spending on social assistance to poor citizens.”

The official Kazakh poverty level is close to the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of $2.15 a day, but Andrey Chebotarev, an Almaty-based economist and director of the Alternativa center for topical research, told VOA that figure is not applicable in Kazakhstan because of climate.

“It’s hard to just survive on the street in Kazakhstan in winter because the weather and climate make it impossible,” he told VOA, referring to winter temperatures that could drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius.

“We need to assess poverty differently,” he said.

Makhmutova also disputed methods authorities use to set the minimum wage and gauge the unemployment level.

Until recently, the minimum wage has been set arbitrarily without consideration of personal incomes or the real cost of living in the country. It was set around $190 a month for 2024, even though the average monthly wage was $890 at the end of last year.

“The government doesn’t use the average wage for setting the minimum wage, that’s why the minimum wage doesn’t grow substantially and its growth in the past few years doesn’t even match the inflation rate,” Makhmutova said.

Baglan Kasenov, the head of the Kazakh Labor and Social Protection Ministry’s department for labor and social partnership, told VOA the Kazakh government had adopted a new methodology to set the minimum wage starting next year. It conforms to International Labor Organization recommendations, he said, and will be based on the median wage and productivity, reaching 50% of the median wage in future. The median wage, where half of workers receive less than that and half receive more, was about $560 a month last year.

The joblessness rate is another contentious issue in Kazakhstan, as authorities, Chebotarev said, now categorize people, for example, farming their kitchen gardens and working without pay in family businesses as “self-employed,” which is new.

Makhmutova said the move “masks unemployment”; the number of jobless has been constant at around 450,000 people or under 5% in the past few years, whereas the number of self-employed is around 2.1 million, according to the government.

“As for unemployment, it’s a Kazakh invention of global scale because we have invented 2 million self-employed and blame everything on them,” Chebotarev said. “Our estimates of unemployment should be revised … but no one in government wants to consider self-employed as jobless.”

World Bank report questioned

Use of the government figures has resulted in criticism of the World Bank report, which claimed that despite declining economic growth, Kazakhstan’s poverty rate had dropped.

Makhmutova questioned the World Bank’s report because it based its analysis on “irrelevant” official Kazakh income and unemployment statistics – figures that are derived from the wrong method to assess poverty as well as being out of date.

She told VOA the report “is not objective in the first place because it relies on statistics provided by the labor ministry which avoids the assessment of the real scale of poverty and unemployment.”

In addition, although the report was published this year, “the latest statistical data on poverty is from 2018, which is why it is irrelevant for the assessment of the current situation,” she said, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and high inflation after Russia invaded Ukraine as having worsened living standards and increased poverty in Kazakhstan since 2018.

In response to Makhmutova’s criticism, the World Bank said it welcomes “critique and debate” over its reports, adding that the report “used the latest available data as is standard in World Bank reports for analysis.”

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UN confirms Doha talks with Taliban will exclude Afghan rights defenders

islamabad — The United Nations confirmed Friday that a rare meeting of global envoys with Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers this month will not address concerns about Afghan civil society and women human rights defenders.

  

Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, emphasized the importance of the world community opening a direct dialogue with the Taliban, suggesting it could create opportunities for Afghan women to participate in future talks.

“This is what is possible today. … It is a process. Let’s start to speak,” she told reporters in New York after briefing a U.N. Security Council meeting on the Afghan situation.  

  

The two-day U.N.-hosted meeting will commence in Doha, Qatar, on June 30. It will be the third session of what is referred to as the “Doha process,” and the Taliban have agreed to attend for the first time. 

  

“For the first time, special envoys of all the countries would meet face to face with the Taliban. They would tell them that, ‘Look, it doesn’t work like this, and we should have women around the table, and also provide them with access to the business,’ ” Otunbayeva said.  

  

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched and hosted the Doha process in May 2023 to establish a coherent and unified global approach to engagement with the Taliban government, which has yet to be formally recognized by the world. 

Guterres did not invite de facto Afghan authorities to the first meeting. The Taliban refused an invitation to the second round of talks in February unless their delegates could be accepted as the sole representatives of Afghanistan. 

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have criticized the U.N. for inviting the Taliban to the Doha huddle rather than holding them accountable for “crimes” against Afghan women and girls. 

  

Otunbayeva responded to the criticism Friday, saying the U.N. would consult civil society representatives from inside and outside Afghanistan before the June 30 meeting. They also will speak to special international envoys on July 2, a day after the meeting with the Taliban ends, she noted.

Help for businesses, farmers

The UNAMA chief explained that discussions at the third Doha meeting will focus on helping Afghan private businesses, addressing financial and banking sector issues, and finding alternate livelihoods for farmers affected by the Taliban’s nationwide ban on opium poppy cultivation.

She said all these issues are related to women: “There are 5 million addicted people in Afghanistan. More than 30% [of them] are women.”

Otunbayeva said the Taliban expect international assistance and capacity building in the security, agriculture and health sectors.  

  

“What do we need [in return]? We need them to change their minds and let girls go to school. I don’t understand what is the reason why they don’t let girls go to school. There is no Islamic country out of 57 where girls don’t go to schools.”  

  

The Taliban regained power in Kabul in August 2021 as U.S.-led NATO troops withdrew from the country after nearly 20 years of involvement in the Afghan war. The fundamentalist authorities have since barred girls aged 12 and older from attending secondary school and have suspended female students from universities as well as other higher education.  

  

Most Afghan women are prohibited from public and private employment, including the U.N., and they are not allowed to visit public places such as parks, gyms and bathhouses. Women are required to undertake road or air trips only when accompanied by a male relative.

The Taliban dismiss criticism of their policies, insisting they are aligned with Afghan culture and Islamic law.

Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general at Amnesty International, said in a statement Friday that the credibility of the Doha meeting “will be in tatters if it doesn’t adequately address” the Afghan human rights situation and fails to engage Afghan women rights defenders. 

  

“Sidelining critical discussions on human rights would be unacceptable and set a deeply damaging precedent,” Callamard said. She urged the international community to adopt a clear and united stance to protect the rights of Afghan women.   

  

“Caving into the Taliban’s conditions to secure their participation in the talks would risk legitimizing their gender-based institutionalized system of oppression — a system that has sought to erase women and girls from society by callously stripping them of their most fundamental rights,” she said.

Tirana Hassan, the executive director at Human Rights Watch, described the exclusion of Afghan women from the upcoming Doha talks as shocking. 

  

“Excluding women risks legitimizing the Taliban’s abuses and triggering irreparable harm to the U.N.’s credibility as an advocate for women’s rights and women’s meaningful participation,” Hassan said in a statement issued Friday.

VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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UN documents surge in anti-Taliban attacks in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD — A quarterly report on the situation in Afghanistan by the United Nations has documented a surge in attacks by armed groups fighting Taliban rule. It also noted “persistent” internal tensions among de facto Afghan leaders.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, released the assessment Friday, noting that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently submitted it to the Security Council.

The report stated that the armed opposition “did not pose a significant challenge” to the Taliban’s hold on territorial control since they regained power in August 2021.

“Two opposition groups conducted verified attacks during the reporting period: the Afghanistan Freedom Front [AFF] and the National Resistance Front [NRF],” the document stated.

The U.N. said both groups focused on attacking Taliban security forces in the capital, Kabul.

The report stated that the NRF carried out “29 confirmed attacks” in the past three months, with 20 in Kabul and the rest in the northern Afghan provinces of Takhar, Baghlan and Parwan. The AFF conducted 14 attacks, all of which took place in the national capital.

“Both groups used hit-and-run tactics against de facto security forces, throwing grenades in 22 attacks and using improvised explosive devices in seven others,” said the U.N. report.

It stated that an NRF-claimed attack on February 26 targeted the Taliban-run military zone of Kabul International Airport, firing three mortars on the installation but causing no confirmed damage or casualties.

A spokesman for the NRF disputed the U.N. assessment, saying it is “deeply disappointing” to see the world body downplaying the security and other crises in Afghanistan.  

 

“Notably, the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan has conducted over 160 successful operations in Kabul and various provinces this year, yet only 29 have been reported,” Ali Maisam Nazary said on social media platform X. “This lack of accurate reporting undermines the true situation on the ground and does a disservice to the people of Afghanistan,” he wrote.

The U.N. findings come as the Taliban’s crackdown on media has made it extremely difficult for reporters to access authentic information and to verify insurgent claims.

Taliban officials have not yet commented on the U.N. report.

The Afghan rebel groups, NRF and AFF, are made up of political and military officials of the internationally backed government in Kabul that was ousted from power by the then-insurgent Taliban.

Taliban authorities also have played down the armed insurgency, claiming they have restored peace through war-torn Afghanistan with public support and they have established control over all 34 of the country’s provinces.

The male-only Taliban government is internationally isolated and condemned for its sweeping curbs on Afghan women’s and girls’ access to education and employment.

No country has formally recognized the Taliban leadership, nor has any foreign government, including the United States, encouraged a war against the de facto Afghan rulers.

IS threat

The U.N. report also documented six attacks by an Afghan-based Islamic State affiliate, known as Islamic State-Khorasan, in the reporting period. The violence was mostly targeted at the Taliban, including a suicide bombing outside a bank in southern Kandahar city on March 21.

The Kandahar blast killed at least 25 Taliban security forces and wounded 45 others, along with five Afghan civilians, according to the U.N. report. Taliban officials had formally confirmed only three fatalities, saying the attack injured about a dozen people, though they did not identify the casualties.

U.S. military commanders and intelligence chiefs have described IS-Khorasan as the most potent threat to Taliban rule in Afghanistan and beyond. The Kabul government maintains that its sustained counterterrorism operations have significantly degraded IS-Khorasan’s presence in the country, along with its ability to launch attacks internally or externally.

Taliban rifts

The U.N. report released Friday also observed “some divergent views” within the Taliban over governance issues.

“The de facto authorities maintained public unity and exerted authority over the entire national territory, although some internal tensions persisted within their structure. They continued their outreach with communities to bridge gaps and elicit their support while reducing the space for men and women to conduct civil and political activities,” the quarterly assessment stated.

Taliban officials repeatedly have dismissed as Western propaganda allegations of internal rifts involving their reclusive supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, and Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.

“These are just rumors, not true,” Suhail Shaheen, the head of the Taliban’s Qatar-based political office, said in a brief statement Thursday when asked for his comments on the reported divisions

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India beats Afghanistan at T20 World Cup

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — Fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah took three wickets for just seven runs as India beat Afghanistan by 47 runs in their Super Eight match at the Twenty20 World Cup on Thursday.

Later, Pat Cummins took the first hat-trick of the tournament as Australia beat Bangladesh by 28 runs under the Duckworth-Lewis system due to rain delays.

Bumrah’s four-over spell was aided by Arshdeep Singh, who finished with 3-36. Spinners Kuldeep Yadav (2-32) and Axar Patel (1-15) shared three wickets as Afghanistan was bowled out for 134 runs.

Suryakumar Yadav scored 53 off 28 balls — his fifth T20 World Cup half-century — as India reached 181-8 in 20 overs after deciding to bat.

Yadav, named player of the match, hit three sixes and five fours, while Hardik Pandya scored 32 off 24 balls, including two sixes.

“I am clear in my mind how I want to bat,” Yadav said. “There’s a lot of hard work, process and routine involved in it. You just need to know your game plan and just play accordingly. In the end, we were happy with 180.”

On a slow-paced Barbados wicket, India had made a sluggish start. Skipper Rohit Sharma was out caught for eight, while star batter Virat Kohli only managed run-a-ball 24.

Rishabh Pant, batting at three, provided some acceleration — he scored 20 off 11 balls with four fours.

Afghanistan skipper and wrist spinner Rashid Khan did damage to India’s top order, dismissing both Kohli and Pant, the latter out lbw. It was the first time Khan picked up wickets against India in T20s.

India was down to 62-3 in 8.3 overs, when Yadav played a rescuing hand. He added 28 of 14 balls with Shivam Dube (10) and then the match-turning 60 runs with Pandya.

Yadav’s stand with Pandya came off only 37 balls as India scored 102 runs off the final 10 overs.

Rashid Khan finished with 3-26 in four overs.

Afghanistan’s chase got off to a poor start against Bumrah — he sent back both openers Rahmanullah Gurbaz (11) and Haratullah Zazai (2) cheaply.

In between, Axar Patel struck in the fourth over as Ibrahim Zadran was out for eight, and Afghanistan slipped to 23-3 in 4.1 overs.

Ravindra Jadeja had 1-20 in three overs. Afghanistan lost its last five wickets for 32 runs across 28 deliveries as India crossed the finish line with ease.

Australia beats BangladeshAt North Sound, Antigua, Cummins claimed the first hat-trick of the tournament as Australia beat Bangladesh by 28 runs after rain delays forced the result to go to the the Duckworth-Lewis system.

Cummins dismissed Mahmdullah and Mahedi Hasan with the last two balls of the 18th over and Towhid Hridoy with the first ball of the 20th as Australia restricted Bangladesh to 140-8.

Australia was 100-2 when heavy rain set in after 11.2 overs, well ahead of the winning score it needed at the time. The umpires finally called off the match around 12.30 a.m. local time.

Cummins was the seventh player to complete a hat-trick — three wickets with three balls — at a Twenty20 World Cup and the second Australian after Brett Lee who achieved the feat, also against Bangladesh, in 2007.

“I had no idea,” Cummins said. “At the end of the over I saw it come up on the screen so I thought I’ll make sure I remember but I totally forgot about it. I had a few (hat-tricks) in juniors but never for Australia.”

David Warner and Travis Head then shared a 65-run opening partnership in 6.5 overs to set up Australia’s run chase. Head was out for 31 but Warner went on to make a half century from 34 balls. He finished 53 not out.

Mitchell Starc bowled Tanzid Hasan with the third ball of the match after Australia sent Bangladesh in and Bangladesh struggled to create momentum, hampered by regular wicket falls.

Captain Najmul Hossain Shanto made 41 from 36 ball and shared a half century partnership from 42 balls with Litton Das (16). But after the second-wicket pair were separated with the total was 58-2 in the ninth over, Bangladesh struggled to create partnerships.

Adam Zampa dismissed both Litton Das and Shanto, bowling Das with a ball that snuck under the bat and cannoned off the back leg onto the stumps. Shanto knelt to sweep a ball which skidded on a hit on the knee roll in front of middle.

Zampa also took a catch from Glenn Maxwell’s bowling to remove Rishad Hossain who had been promoted in the order to hurry the scoring but managed only two runs from four balls.

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Journalists’ killings mount amid declining freedoms in Pakistan

Islamabad — As Pakistan this week celebrated Eid al-Adha — the festival coinciding with the Hajj pilgrimage — journalists in the country mourned the loss of yet another colleague.

On Tuesday night, unidentified gunmen killed Khalil Jibran and injured a lawyer accompanying him in the Khyber tribal district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Reports indicate the journalist was on his way home with friends when the attackers ambushed his car.

Authorities said Jibran’s bullet-riddled body showed signs that he might have had a physical altercation with his attackers at the crime scene before being killed.

This was at least the sixth killing of a journalist in Pakistan this year. Four media members were killed just in May.

“It makes me feel miserable and insecure, and unsafe,” said veteran Pakistani journalist Absar Alam, who survived an assassination attempt in April 2021 in the nation’s capital, Islamabad.

‘An alarming deterioration’

The first three months under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif have been marred by “an alarming deterioration in press freedom,” according to Reporters Without Borders.

Listing the attacks on journalists and a raft of government measures, Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, recently urged Sharif’s coalition government to uphold its commitment to media freedom.

“The many press freedom violations reveal a climate of violence and a determination to censor that has little in common with the undertakings given by the political parties in their election campaign manifestos, and the message of support for journalists by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif,” said Celia Mercier, head of RSF’s South Asia desk.

The organization ranks Pakistan very low — 152nd out of 180 countries in its global press freedom index, in which 1 is the best.

“Space for true journalism has reduced in Pakistan. It’s toxic. It’s unsafe. There are all kinds of actors — state actors, nonstate actors — who are making our space more limited,” said Alam.

Electronic curbs

The latest step that could further limit space for journalism and access to information may be the implementation of a national firewall to filter any online content authorities deem inappropriate.

In a January interview with a news channel, Pakistan’s then-interim prime minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, announced the measure.

“Very soon a national firewall will be deployed,” Kakar said.

A high-ranking government official recently confirmed to VOA Urdu that Sharif government authorities were working to deploy that nationwide online censorship tool, although the government has not issued a formal statement about it.

This follows the mid-February suspension of the X social media platform, formerly Twitter, on orders of Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior.

Speaking to VOA, the ministry spokesperson said he did not have information about the national firewall.

“It is not the domain of the Interior Ministry,” said Qadir Yar Tiwana, adding that just because the ministry banned X, it could not be held responsible for all similar measures.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the country’s independent telecom regulator, and the Ministry of Information Technology – two offices Tiwana said would be responsible for implementing any firewall — did not respond to VOA requests for comment.

Minister for Information Attaullah Tarar received VOA’s query about the firewall but did not share a response in time for the publication of this story. At a recent press conference, however, Tarar dismissed the suggestion that Pakistan discussed acquiring the firewall from China during Sharif’s recent visit there.

Sadaf Khan, co-founder of the nonprofit Media Matters for Democracy, told VOA the lack of information about the firewall was adding to fears of further decline in media freedom and privacy in the country.

“There is no clarity on what this firewall is [or] how invasive it is. Is it surveilling data? Is there an encryption blockage?” Khan said. “If there is a bit of digital literacy, if people are smart about it, they will still be able to access the information that they need. However, obviously, it does increase the chance for surveillance. There might just be a chilling effect. This kind of ambiguity creates a lot of fear.”

Legislative curbs

Government efforts to curb what it considers fake news and propaganda online have compounded fears of declining freedoms of information and expression.

In May, the federal government created the National Cyber Crimes Investigation Agency under the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act. Despite the existence of the Federal Investigation Agency’s Cybercrimes Cell, Tarar said in a press conference that “there was a call for a specific authority to address the issue of online harassment.”

Critics say it is unclear how broad the new agency’s powers will be or what its impact on privacy and online freedom might look like.

Later that same month, the government in Punjab province, where Sharif’s niece Maryam Nawaz is the chief minister, enacted what was called an anti-defamation law. Media and civil society condemned the law for protecting state institutions from scrutiny and requiring no proof of damage for filing a defamation lawsuit. The law is currently being challenged in the Lahore High Court.

Alam, the veteran Pakistani journalist who served as the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority from 2015 to 2017, said some of the state’s concerns regarding fake news are not unfounded.

“It’s not only the state that suffers from fake news and irresponsible journalism,” Alam said, pointing to cases where Pakistani citizens won defamation lawsuits in Britain for content broadcast there by Pakistani channels.

Given Britain’s tough laws, Alam said, Pakistani news channels now often refrain from airing potentially defamatory content in the United Kingdom but still show it in Pakistan.

Still, he acknowledged, strict laws in Pakistan are often used as a tool to target journalists.

“Past history tells that all governments have been using such laws against journalism, not against fake news spreaders,” Alam said.

Awaiting justice

Media watchdogs regard Pakistan as a dangerous country for journalists. Most cases of journalists targeted for their work remain unresolved.

On Thursday, journalists in several towns across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa protested Jibran’s killing. The day before, locals, journalists and civil society activists protested with Jibran’s shrouded remains, temporarily blocking a highway that runs to the border with Afghanistan.

Although Sharif condemned the killing, Alam is not optimistic that justice will be served anytime soon.

“Successive governments in the last many years have not apprehended the culprits who attacked journalists,” said Alam, whose attackers and their financiers are out on bail or have disappeared. “So, I think the statement by the prime minister may be part of the verbal support to journalists but, practically speaking, the problem is in our culture.”

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Man killed in Pakistan for allegedly desecrating Quran

islamabad — Authorities in northwestern Pakistan reported Thursday that an enraged crowd stormed a police station, seized a detainee facing blasphemy charges and killed him. 

 

The evening violence erupted in Swat District, a popular tourist spot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, after local announcements that a tourist had desecrated the Quran. Residents tortured the man before area police took him into custody and moved him to their detention facility. 

 

Witnesses and officials said a mob later gathered outside the police station, demanding the man be swiftly brought to justice for insulting Islam’s holy book. Police used aerial fire to disperse protesters but failed to prevent them from assaulting and setting fire to the building and police vehicles before taking “the suspect away.” 

 

Zahidullah Khan, the district police chief, told local media that the crowd had also set fire to the suspect’s body after beating him to death. He added that the unrest resulted in several injuries. 

 

Videos shared on social media showed a crowd gathered around a burning body in the middle of the street. VOA could not immediately ascertain the veracity of the footage from independent sources.  

 

Khan said police reinforcements later arrived in the area and efforts were under way to defuse the tensions.  

 

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in majority-Muslim Pakistan, and mere allegations have led to mobs lynching scores of suspects — even some in police custody. Insulting the Quran or Islamic beliefs is punishable by death under the country’s blasphemy laws, though no one has ever been officially executed. 

 

Last month, hundreds of people gathered in a Christian settlement in the central Pakistani city of Sargodha and killed a Christian man in his early 70s after accusing him of desecrating the Quran.  

 

In August 2023, in a similar blasphemy accusation, thousands of Muslim protesters attacked a Christian neighborhood. They burned scores of properties, including 21 churches, over allegations that two Christian brothers had desecrated the Quran.   

 

Domestic and international rights groups have long demanded Pakistan reform its blasphemy laws, arguing they are often used to fulfill personal vendettas and disputes and intimidate religious minorities. 

 

Critics say that hundreds of suspects, mostly Muslims, are languishing in jails in Pakistan because fear of retaliation from religious groups deters judges from moving their trials forward.

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Afghan evacuees in limbo: Humanitarian parole leaves 1,000s facing uncertainty in US

WASHINGTON — In 2021, the United States began one of its biggest humanitarian evacuations in history as it withdrew from Afghanistan, resettling more than 80,000 Afghans fleeing Taliban rule in the initial weeks of Operation Allies Welcome. However, they were brought into the U.S. through the humanitarian parole process that gives temporary immigration status to the displaced persons. But how has this temporary status affected Afghan evacuees in the U.S.?

Upon arrival in the United States, more than 70,000 evacuees were granted humanitarian parole for two years, a temporary immigration status with no path to permanent residency. Uncertainty around the humanitarian parole status has had several concrete effects on aspects of the evacuees’ lives, including financial, employment, housing, and mental health.

This process has come with many challenges for the resettled men, women and children from Afghanistan.

Masi Siddiqi, who came to the United States after the Taliban took control over Kabul, was granted admission to the prestigious Columbia University in New York. However, his status hindered his ability to secure funding through loans to continue his studies.

“I was admitted to Columbia University for the fall of 2023, and I did attend one semester. I thought that I may be able to afford it at first because I had my family’s support. But after doing one semester I found out that I was financially not able to do it because I did not qualify for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), for federal loans, for federal aid, grants, funds and for none of the benefits that a U.S. citizen or non-citizen would qualify for,” Masi said.

Safiullah Rauf, founder of Human First Coalition, an organization providing aid primarily to Afghanistan and Afghans, leads a team of hundreds to provide food, medical care and resettlement services to more than 15,000 Afghans in need. The organization has helped evacuate more than 7,000 people, including 1,400 U.S. nationals, since the Taliban seized control of the country.

Rauf is visiting communities in the United States to gather support for Congress to do more to support Afghans in the U.S., including in the form of draft legislation known as the Afghan Adjustment Act.

“[The] Afghan Adjustment Act is one of the most important pieces of legislation that was introduced in 2022 to help those allies we brought to the U.S. in 2021,’’ Rauf told VOA. ‘’There are over 80,000 allies that were brought to the U.S., and many came with the humanitarian parole. They had a two-year visa to stay in the U.S. and their future was uncertain though the parole was extended for another year; but they still face an uncertain future. The Afghan Adjustment Act makes sure that all who came in 2021 go through a vetting process and after that they will become a productive member of the society.

“In the United States, passing of any kind of legislation is a huge hurdle and you have to move mountains to approve any law, especially right now where [the] Senate and the House is most divided,’’ Rauf said. ‘’Because this bill is somewhat related to immigration, the Republicans are very much against any immigration bills right now. However, this bill is different than a normal immigration bill. This bill is for those allies who supported the U.S. for over 20 years in Afghanistan and their life will be in danger and it is a certain death if they go back to Afghanistan. So they must be given a permanent residency here.’’

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, legal assistance resources and immigration processing are experiencing extreme delays that could span years.

Laila Mangal, who is working for LLS resettlement agency as a case manager and cultural liaison in the state of Virginia, told VOA Deewa about the challenges faced by the Afghans who came to the U.S. on short notice and in chaotic circumstances. She expressed that the unclear nature of evacuees’ immigration status for the near future, has posed a critical structural barrier to their well-being and, ultimately, their success in the U.S.

“When their legal case is in the process and it takes longer, the refugees go through stress and pressure,’’ Mangal said. ‘’Sometimes this legal battle drains their mental health.”

Masi, the student, calls on the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act so the displaced Afghans can be categorized as U.S. permanent residents.

“As the U.S. officials say ‘we stand by our Afghan allies,’ we do expect them to stand by their allies because I personally believe that they have not yet stood by their Afghan allies,’’ Masi said. ‘’Not only with the ones that are left behind but also the ones that are currently facing the immigration limbo here in the U.S.; just like my family and myself. I really appreciate that the senators and the representatives from my state and from the other states should support the Afghan Adjustment Act. I think the social media slogans are not enough by themselves. They must push the majority leaders to bring the act to the floor because with bipartisan support, we can have the act pass.”

Like other resettled immigrants, Afghans were encouraged to find jobs quickly and felt the pressure to do so given the high costs of living, limited aid available, and, for some, the large families they’re supporting. Many found low-wage jobs in manufacturing, hospitality, retail, food processing, trucking, or ride sharing to support themselves and their families.

But with the pending expiration of employment authorization documents this fall, employment stability is at risk for some. Stakeholders shared that because of the expiration date, some employers have begun notifying people they will lose their jobs later this year or that they are now no longer needed.

This story originated in VOA’s Deewa service.

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In Their Own Words: Afghanistan’s ‘darkest days’

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: With opportunities for journalists limited since the Taliban’s return to power, Farogh Tarin and her family left Afghanistan in pursuit of a better life. Now in Paris, France, the journalist wants to be a voice for those silenced in her home country.

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Indian toxic alcohol brew kills at least 34

Mumbai, India — A batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has killed at least 34 people with more than 100 others rushed to hospital, Tamil Nadu state officials told reporters Thursday.

The deadly mix of locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, chief minister M.K. Stalin said, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Stalin said arrests have been made over the deaths and warned such crimes “ruin society and will be suppressed with an iron fist,” according to a statement from his office.

Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries.

In order to increase its potency the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.

In the Tamil Nadu case, more than 100 people were hospitalized according to M.S. Prasanth, top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, quoted by Indian media.

State governor R.N. Ravi was “deeply shocked” at the deaths, adding that “many more victims are in serious condition battling for (their) lives,” writing on social media platform X.

Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.

Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.

Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.

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