Indian Crime Suspect Shot Dead by Police

Police in India say they have shot and killed notorious criminal Vikas Dubey, wanted in connection with at least 60 crimes, including the killing of eight police officers.   Officials say Dubey had given himself up in the central town of Ujjain on Thursday after a week-long search. They say police were driving him Friday to Kanpur, in northern Uttar Pradesh state, when the vehicle crashed, prompting Dubey to steal a policeman’s pistol and attempt to flee, before being shot by other officers.Some political leaders and rights activists have questioned the police version of events and accused them of an extra-judicial killing. Dubey was believed to have had many connections with state politicians and the police, and the activists believe he was killed so he would not reveal those links.From his Twitter account Friday, Indian Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the fact that media vehicles following the police convoy were stopped before the suspect was killed “leaves no room for doubt that the encounter was staged.” He called for all police officers involved to be arrested.The Associated Press reports two officers were arrested this week for allegedly tipping off Dubey about a police raid on his home July 3.Deaths in police custody are not isolated incidents in India.A report last month by a New Delhi rights group, the National Campaign Against Torture, said at least 1,731 people died in custody during 2019, which means five custodial deaths a day.

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US Doesn’t Know if Russia Directed Taliban Attacks in Afghanistan, Pentagon Says

The United States believes Russia has given support to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan in the past but does not have intelligence to confirm it directed attacks against Americans or to corroborate that it paid bounties to kill American troops, the top U.S. general said on Thursday.The remarks by Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were under oath to Congress after lawmakers emerged from a separate classified briefing about U.S. intelligence that Russia may have paid the Taliban to kill American troops.Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the U.S. military, which counts intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency (NSA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), could not corroborate the intelligence, which sources say was collected by the CIA.Milley did not dispute that Russia, like other countries, had long been involved in Afghanistan.”But there’s a big distinction between arming and directing (military activity). We know about arms. We know about weapons. We know about support, things like that,” Milley told the House Armed Services Committee, sitting alongside Esper at a hearing.”We don’t have — in the case of the Russians — we do not have concrete corroborating evidence, intelligence, to show ‘directing.’ That’s a big difference.”He added that the United States was still looking into the matter and, if it were confirmed the Russians were paying the Taliban bounties, it would be a “big deal.”President Donald Trump, a Republican who has worked to cultivate warmer relations with Moscow, has downplayed the significance of the intelligence and denied being briefed on the matter before it was reported by news outlets last month.A Republican lawmaker, Lee Zeldin, who is a strong defender of Trump, said at a separate hearing at the House Foreign Relations Committee that the intelligence was in a written February presidential brief prepared for Trump but was not orally briefed to him.Retired U.S. Army general John Nicholson, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the Russians had previously been arming, equipping and even giving money to the Taliban in modest amounts.But he said Moscow had in years past carefully calibrated its support to avoid becoming a “game-changer” on the battlefield. Nicholson cited one telling example, saying the Taliban wanted surface-to-air missiles but the Russians “didn’t give them.”He said Russian bounties, if they did occur, “would mark a departure from this previously calibrated approach.” 

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Taliban Deny Prisoner Release Progress     

The Taliban denied news reports Thursday that they have agreed to an alternative list of prisoners to break a deadlock over prisoner exchange which is holding back the start of negotiations to reach a political settlement.       FILE – Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen is seen during talks in the Qatari capital Doha, July 7, 2019.”This is not true. The prisoner commission has told me no such decision has been taken so far. . . . I think these are also delaying tactics. So far, we have not given an alternative list,” Suhail Shaheen, a Doha based Taliban spokesman, told VOA.      Earlier in the day, an Afghan government source had told multiple news outlets, including the VOA, that the deadlock over prisoners was over and that the Taliban had handed over an alternative list of 592 prisoners who would be released.     Delay in the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners is holding back the start of what are being termed intra-Afghan negotiations, with Taliban on one side and the government and other Afghan stake holders on the other. These are supposed to lead to a political settlement that ends decades of war in the country.      The Taliban have categorically said they would not start until their entire list of prisoners is out of Afghan prisons.       On Monday, the Afghan government announced that 600 of the prisoners could not be released due to their criminal background and participation in activities like armed robberies, murder, and drug smuggling.      Sediq Sediqi, the spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said these particular prisoners were arrested due to their involvement in various criminal activities and not due to their affiliation with Taliban.      Shaheen denied that saying the government has “not provided any proof of these claims.”     FILE – Newly freed Taliban prisoners line up at Bagram prison, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 11, 2020, in this photo provided by National Security Council of Afghanistan.The number, up to 5000 prisoners, was agreed to in a ground-breaking deal in February between the Taliban and the United States which led to the Taliban halting all attacks on foreign troops.      That deal specified that the Taliban prisoners would be released in exchange for up to 1000 Afghan security forces personnel in Taliban custody.      The Afghan government, which was not party to the February deal, was hesitant to acquiesce to the biggest Taliban demand before its own negotiations with the militant group had even started.      It wanted the militants to announce a nationwide cease-fire in return for what it considered was a big concession. The Taliban refused, saying their deal with the Americans stipulates that the  cease-fire would be discussed during the intra-Afghan negotiations.      However, the group has publicly pledged that it would sit down for the start of the negotiations as soon as the prisoner release is complete.     The group has faced severe criticism for continuing attacks on Afghan forces that inevitably kill civilians as well.      Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani hosted the last of three video conferences on the peace process with the representatives of 20 donor countries, the European Union, the United Nations, and NATO Thursday afternoon.     Gran Hewad, a spokesman for Afghan Foreign Ministry told journalists that the prisoner release, peace talks, reduction in violence, and permanent cease-fire were discussed with the aim of building a consensus.     Two conferences were held this week on Monday and Tuesday with representatives of the neighboring and regional countries, and other stake holders.    

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Coronavirus Rumors Spark Communal Violence in India

Squatting in the middle of her badly charred room, its tiled roof blown off, Hena Tabassum described how on May 12 a Hindu mob launched a fiery attack on her brick-and-tile shack.“We were fasting for Ramadan. It was around 12:30 p.m. Suddenly the mob attacked. They threw bombs, petrol bombs, and also dropped a gas cylinder into the room, before setting it aflame. I was inside the room. I was rescued by some neighbors before I got burned,” said Tabassum, 20.“Everything in the room turned to ashes,” she told VOA.While all of India was under strict coronavirus lockdown, a rumor spread in the town of Telinipara, 45 km north of Kolkata,  that “hundreds of Muslims” had been infected with COVID-19 and were infecting members of the town’s Hindu majority.The charred room of a Muslim jute mill laborer in Telinipara, two days after it was set aflame by a Hindu mob during communal violence on May 12. During three days of violence, rioters destroyed dozens of houses and shops. (Alex Simon/VOA)The rumor triggered violence between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Over three days beginning on May 10, Hindu mobs set fire to 45 Muslim households. In retaliation, Muslims vandalized nine Hindu houses and shops.Now, members of a fact-finding team sent to the village by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) are charging that India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party contributed to the strife.“BJP leaders spread a rumor that hundreds of Muslims had been infected with COVID-19 in the town and they were spreading the infection among Hindus,” said rights activist Malay Tewari, a member of the  fact-finding team. “The fake news whipped up a strong anti-Muslim sentiment and sparked the communal violence.”The BJP did not comment on the allegation, despite numerous requests from VOA.Two Muslim women survey their room, which was set aflame by a Hindu mob during violence in Telinipara, West Bengal, on May 12. Attackers doused the room with petrol before setting it alight. (Alex Simon/VOA)The discord in Telinipara began in the second week of May as soon as it became known that five Muslims there had tested positive for the coronavirus. Within hours, blockades went up in many Hindu-majority neighborhoods to prevent Muslims from using local roads.“Hindus stopped Muslims from using some public toilets and bathrooms. Hindu shopkeepers were told not to sell goods to Muslims. In some Hindu-majority areas, Hindus threatened to beat up Muslims if they were spotted there,” said Gulshan Ara, a resident of Telinipara.Anti-Muslim passion spread quickly after Arjun Singh, a BJP parliamentarian, posted a photo of a bloodied Muslim man on Facebook and claimed that he was a Hindu who had been beaten up by Muslims.“How long will the blood of Hindus keep flowing in Bengal? Muslims are attacking Hindus … we cannot remain quiet. Bengal will burn,” Singh wrote in the post.Manzoor Alam, a Muslim laborer, shows BJP MP Arjun Singh’s Facebook post. Alam was beaten by a Hindu mob in Telinipara. Singh posted a photo of bloodied Alam on Facebook and said he was a Hindu who had been beaten by Muslims. (Alex Simon/VOA)Another local BJP MP, Locket Chatterjee, said on national TV that Muslims in Telinipara were flouting coronavirus quarantines. “Hindu households are being set aflame by Muslims. Corona-positive Muslims are attacking Hindus. They refuse to go on quarantine,” Chatterjee said.“They want to infect Hindus in the area,”  she said.The next day, 300 Hindu youths, armed with guns, bombs, Molotov cocktails, cleavers, crowbars, gas cylinders and other makeshift weapons, attacked dozens of Muslim households in the town.Police disputed the charges by Chatterjee.“It is not true that the COVID-positive Muslims refused to follow quarantine rules. We sent all of them to mass quarantine centers,” the local police commissioner told VOA.A part of the Muslim locality in Telinipara with burned vehicles owned by Muslims. Hindu mobs set fire to the entire Muslim locality on May 12, during communal violence. (Alex Simon/VOA)”Our cybercrime cell has sent a notice [to Singh] and we are looking into whether he spread fake news and incited people. On the basis of public complaints, two cases have already been filed against Arjun Singh,” said the commissioner, Humayun Kabir.Tewari, the Communist Party activist, charged that Singh’s Facebook posts — which included a claim that Muslims had attacked Hindu temples in Telinipara — “were undoubtedly aimed to incite Hindus against Muslims.”Whipping up anti-Muslim passions will ensure more Hindu votes for the BJP in next year’s crucial state election in West Bengal next year, Tewari said.

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Islamabad Demonstrators Support Construction of Hindu Temple

A group of young people demonstrated Wednesday in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, in support of the construction in the city of a Hindu temple that was halted under pressure from various Islamist groups.The under-construction boundary wall of the Krishna Mandir, as the temple is being called, was destroyed by a group of men over the weekend who chanted religious slogans and later posted their pictures and videos on social media.Simultaneously, multiple senior religious clerics gave statements against the construction of the temple, including Chaudhry Pervez Ilahi, a senior politician belonging to a party that is in alliance with the ruling party.Money at issueLast month, Prime Minister Imran Khan had approved a grant of more than $600,000 for the construction on land that was allotted to Islamabad’s Hindu community for free by the government several years ago, but he later referred the matter to Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology, an advisory group of Islamic scholars, when opposition mounted.In parliament Wednesday, Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said the administration would abide by the council’s guidance.Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, a senior Pakistani cleric who has expertise in matters of Islamic jurisprudence, said the issue was not the construction of the building but who was paying for the construction.“In a Muslim country, religious minorities have a right to keep their places of worship, or build new ones, wherever their population requires. However, it is not allowed for the government to use its money to construct such a place. Especially in a place where the minority population is low. So, in Islamabad, it is definitely not allowed for the government to spend money on constructing a Hindu temple,” he said last week via Twitter.No spaceIslamabad’s Hindu community, with about 3,000 members, complains it has no space for religious ceremonies, marriages or even last rites and cremation of their dead.“Some people go to Rawalpindi [a nearby city], some use the Buddhist cemetery, and with our other functions, like Hindu festivals Holi, or Diwali, we use various government buildings or hotels,” said Pritam Das, the president of Islamabad Hindu Panchayat, a group representing the city’s Hindus.He said the community hardly had the resources to construct the boundary wall, let alone the entire complex, which is to include a community center, a cremation site, an auditorium, and temporary lodgings for Hindus who come from other cities.“I am a Hindu and my father is a Taxpayer of Pakistan and like me Billions of rupees are being paid by Hindus in Pakistan. We are equal citizens and owners of Goverment Funds,” tweeted Grouve Kumar Maheshwari, whose profile describes him as a “Proud Pakistani Hindu.”Over the past seven decades, Pakistan’s government has paid for the construction of many mosques and even manages them and pays the monthly salary of many imams, or prayer leaders, in those mosques.Sachal Jamal Pirzada, a student who was home for summer from Manchester University, said the hypocrisy of it all brought him to Wednesday’s demonstrations.“When somebody outside [the country] is building a masjid, we say they are doing a good job. But when a mandir [a Hindu temple] or anything else is being done for the minorities here, we say it’s wrong,” he said.Role of social mediaWednesday’s gathering outside the National Press Club in the capital city was started as a Facebook post.“Honestly, I was sure that only one person would show up and that would be me. I’d just be here next to a tree,” said Daniyal Chawla, who created the social media event.By the time the demonstration started, 737 people had responded to it and 63 had committed to attend it, according to the Facebook event page. In addition, the invite was circulated in WhatsApp groups and through Twitter.“Next thing you know, celebrities are sharing it, people with thousands of followers are sharing it. The response is greater than anything I could have imagined,” said the 22-year-old student from New York University who was home due to the coronavirus.Hindus in PakistanHe said in his mind, this one event was greater than just the construction of a temple, it was about breaking the narrative that Pakistani Hindus were somehow linked to India and were not as Pakistani as their Muslim counterparts.“The cause here is the Hindu phobia that goes on in Pakistan. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Pakistani Hindus are the most oppressed group in Pakistan,” he said.Islamabad resident and fellow organizer Sherkan Malik said building the temple was only the first step.“It is about recognition of the Hindu community, respect of the Hindu community, and also tolerance of the Hindu community. Because the danger is that once this temple is made, it might have a terrorist attack on it or a fundamentalist protest outside of it,” he said.On Tuesday, international rights group Amnesty International issued a press release, calling on the government to fulfill its commitments to its minorities.“The respect for the right to freedom of religion was promised to Pakistan’s Hindus by the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Those who deny a long-marginalized community the right to practice their faith freely not only betray his legacy, but also violate the human rights of religious minorities protected under Pakistan’s constitution and its international human rights obligations,” said Omar Waraich, head of the South Asia group at Amnesty International. 

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US General Skeptical That Bounties Led to Troops’ Deaths

The top U.S. general for the Middle East said Tuesday that the intelligence suggesting that Russia may have paid Taliban militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan was worrisome, but he is not convinced that any bounties resulted in U.S. military deaths.  General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said in a telephone interview with a small group of reporters that the U.S. did not increase force protection measures in Afghanistan as a result of the information, although he asked his intelligence staff to dig into the matter more.  “I found it very worrisome. I didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” said McKenzie, who is the first Pentagon official to speak publicly at length about the issue. He warned, however, that Russia has long been a threat in Afghanistan, where there have been many reports that it has backed Taliban fighters over the years with resources and weapons.  According to U.S. intelligence officials, information that Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants for killing American troops was included in an intelligence brief for President Donald Trump in late February. The White House, however, has denied Trump was briefed at that time, arguing that the intelligence was not credible enough to bring to his attention. McKenzie said that while he could draw no direct link between any potential payments and U.S. casualties, it’s common that intelligence is not definitive. “We should always remember, the Russians are not our friends,” said McKenzie, who is traveling in the Middle East. “They are not our friends in Afghanistan. And they do not wish us well, and we just need to remember that at all times when we evaluate that intelligence.” He said there was no need to beef up security for troops there because the U.S. already takes “extreme force protections measures” in Afghanistan. “Whether the Russians are paying the Taliban or not, over the past several years, the Taliban have done their level best to carry out operations against us.”  Just days after the February intelligence briefing, the U.S. signed an agreement with the Taliban, mapping out the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by May 2021. That date would be nearly 20 years after American forces invaded the country after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. by al-Qaida militants.  Trump had repeatedly said he wants to have all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan. His call in May for a quick exit fueled speculation that he wants troops out by the November election, as part of his vow to end U.S. involvement in what he calls “endless wars.” The U.S. pulled several thousand troops out this year, and now has about 8,600 there. Additional troop withdrawal is contingent on the Taliban’s commitment that extremist groups, such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, not be able to use the country as a base to carry out attacks on the U.S. Asked about the potential for pulling more U.S. troops out, McKenzie said he still does not believe the conditions allow for a significant reduction yet. 

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