Rights Group Calls for Protection of Hindu Minority in Pakistan

Pakistan’s authorities must protect the rights of the Hindu minority in the country, FILE – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 16, 2020.Last Friday, however, officials from Capital Development Authority halted progress on the building, followed by the vandalization of the temple’s boundary wall by a group of Islamic fundamentalists over the weekend.Amnesty International said Islamabad authorities “capitulated to pressure from a discriminatory campaign mounted by politicians, media outlets and clerics.”Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International, said: “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.”The rights group cited the destruction of the Hindu temple’s boundary walls as “yet another example of persistent discrimination” faced by Hindus in Pakistan.In September 2019, an angry mob in southern Pakistan vandalized several Hindu temples and properties over allegations that a local Hindu school principal committed blasphemy. The mob also assaulted and destroyed multiple houses belonging to Hindus.Insulting Islam and the religion’s Prophet Muhammad are considered to be blasphemy in Pakistan. Mere allegations have led to mob lynching of suspects, and those found guilty by the law are sentenced to death.Such allegations, though, are commonly found to be “wildly implausible, or outright false,” the U.S. Commission on International Religion Freedom reported in 2019.”Every reported act of violence against minorities must be promptly investigated and those responsible must be brought to justice,” Waraich said.  

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China, Afghanistan, Pakistan Seek ‘Orderly’ Foreign Troop Exit

China, Afghanistan and Pakistan are calling for a “responsible” withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces from Afghanistan to prevent what they say is “potential terrorist resurgence” in the conflict-torn nation.Top Chinese, Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministry officials issued the statement Tuesday at the end of the latest round of trilateral “strategic dialogue” the neighboring countries held via video link.“The three sides urged for an orderly, responsible and condition-based withdraw of the foreign troops from Afghanistan to avoid potential terrorist resurgence,” said a joint post-meeting statement.The discussions came as the United States presses the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency to quickly conclude a contentious prisoner swap to allow the start of the long-awaited negotiations between Afghan parties to the deadly conflict.An eventual peace deal would enable U.S. and allied forces to withdraw from the country by July 2021 under a February 29 landmark agreement between Washington and the Taliban to end nearly two decades of Afghan war, America’s longest. FILE – U.S. military advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade walk at an Afghan National Army base in Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan, August 6, 2018.The U.S. military has pulled out several thousand personnel from Afghanistan since signing the pact, bringing the troop level to around 8,600. Washington, however, has stated that the drawdown of remaining troops will be “conditions-based,” and linked to whether the Taliban lives up to its counterterrorism pledges.The proposed intra-Afghan dialogue was originally scheduled for March, but controversies plaguing the prisoner exchange and increased Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces have been blamed for the prolonged delay.Afghan officials have freed about 4,000 insurgent prisoners but have linked the release of the remaining 1,000 to a reduction in Taliban violence and initiation of peace talks.The Taliban says it has set free 737 out of the promised 1,000 Afghan security personnel from its custody. The group maintains it is working to release the remaining Kabul detainees but will not engage in peace talks until all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are released. In Tuesday’s joint statement, China and Pakistan called for a reduction in violence and a humanitarian cease-fire, with both countries vowing to enhance cooperation with the Afghan government in support of “the peace reconciliation process, [and] the launch of intra-Afghan negotiations at an early date.”Beijing is credited with establishing the trilateral dialogue process to help Kabul and Islamabad ease bilateral tensions and enhance economic as well as security cooperation. “China will continue to play a constructive role in improving Afghanistan-Pakistan relations,” the statement said.“The three sides agreed to continue to strengthen counter-terrorism and security cooperation, combat the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement”, and all other terrorist forces and networks posing threats to our common security,” it noted while referring to an anti-China terrorist group.Leaders in Kabul and U.S. military commanders have long alleged the Afghan Taliban directs insurgent activities from sanctuaries on Pakistani soil, charges Islamabad rejects. The Trump administration, however, has hailed Pakistan for facilitating Washington’s talks with the Taliban and the eventual peace-building pact between the two adversaries.Pakistani officials insist insurgent fighters use communities hosting several million Afghan refugees in the country as hiding places. Islamabad repeatedly has called on the international community to help repatriate the refugee community to Afghanistan. The issue also came under discussions in Tuesday’s trilateral conference.“The three sides agreed that the return of Afghan refugees should be part of peace and reconciliation process and underlined the role of international community for a time-bound and well-resourced roadmap for the return of Afghan refugees to their homeland with dignity and honor,” said the statement. 

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India, China Begin Pulling Back Troops from Disputed Border 

In the first sign that India and China are deescalating tensions along their disputed border, both sides have agreed to a “disengagement process” and pulled back troops from the site of a clash that killed 20 Indian soldiers in mid June.     However analysts warn that resolving differences that have flared at different contested zones in the Himalayan ranges still pose a massive challenge and even though the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between their troops may end, the massive military deployment by the Asian rivals could continue.       “It is going to be a live border for a long time because the Indian army cannot any longer afford to lower its guard,” said Bharat Karnad, a strategic affairs analyst at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.    FILE – An Indian Army convoy moves along a highway leading to Ladakh, at Gagangeer in Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, June 18, 2020.The decision by the Asian giants to reduce tensions in Ladakh followed a call between Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday.     This is the second time the two countries have announced a disengagement — a similar step initiated in June collapsed days later when a deadly clash erupted between Indian and Chinese soldiers resulting in the worst border violence in five decades.     Troops from both countries have moved back nearly two kilometers from the Galwan Valley to create a “buffer zone” and the Chinese have dismantled structures and tents erected in the area, Indian officials, who did not want to be quoted, have said.    The pullback was reported after an Indian foreign ministry statement on Monday said both sides had agreed to “complete the disengagement process expeditiously” and work together to “avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquility in border areas.”    The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said progress had been made in measures for troops to disengage.   However, Beijing has not given up the recent claims to the Galwan Valley, which India says is its territory.   “The right and wrong of what happened at Galway valley is very clear,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday. “China will continue firmly safeguarding our territorial sovereignty as well as peace and tranquillity in the border areas.”    Besides Galwan Valley, the two sides are embroiled in disputes along at least three other points in eastern Ladakh, where New Delhi has accused Beijing of transgressing into its territory — China has denied it.    “The Chinese have built up a lot of physical facilities and structures in these areas. Are they going to give it up? I don’t think so,” says Karnad. “I am not sure there is going to be restoration of status quo ante. That is not going to happen.”     FILE – A view of Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh region, July 27, 2019.Of particular concern to strategists is the Pangong Tso Lake, where India says Chinese troops have come about eight kilometers into its territory. A brawl that injured several soldiers from both sides in early May set off the current tensions between the Asian rivals and demands from New Delhi that Beijing restore the status quo along the border.     There are concerns that Pangong Tso Lake will continue to remain a flashpoint.   India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Himalayan region of Ladakh, July 3, 2020. (India’s Press Information Bureau/Handout via Reuters)Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited troops posted in Ladakh and said his country’s commitment to peace should not be seen as a sign of weakness and the army stood ready to defend the country. Without referring to China, he also said “the era of expansionism is over.”   Analysts say plummeting trust between the Asian rivals will pose a challenge to not just resolving their border disputes but also repairing their damaged ties.    In an editorial, the Indian Express newspaper welcomed the de-escalation as a step in the right direction but pointed out that now the “hard slog is here: ensuring China keeps its commitment to peace and tranquillity in the border area.”  

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Prisoner Release Delays May Jeopardize Start of Intra-Afghan Negotiations   

Afghanistan’s government announced Monday it will not release 600 prisoners out of a list of 5,000 the Taliban wants freed as a prerequisite to starting negotiations with other Afghan groups on reaching a political settlement to end decades of conflict.   Sediq Sediqi, the spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said during a press conference in Kabul that these particular prisoners were arrested due to their involvement in various criminal activities, not their affiliation with the Taliban. Other Afghan officials have described these prisoners as criminals involved in armed robberies, murder, corruption and drug smuggling.   Sediqi said a deal between the Taliban and United States in February stipulated releasing up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners but did not specify which ones to let go.  FILE – Members of Afghanistan’s Taliban delegation arrive for the signing of an agreement between the Taliban and U.S. officials, in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 29, 2020.The landmark agreement paved the way for the U.S. to start withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, a country where it has fought its longest-ever war since 2001.  The agreement mentioned the release of prisoners from both sides, namely, up to 1,000 Afghan security forces’ members being held by the Taliban and up to 5,000 Taliban militants held by the government.   While the Afghan government considered prisoner release as a work in progress that could continue while negotiations progressed, the Taliban insisted on it as a pre-requisite, thereby delaying a start to the process. After a recent meeting between the head of the Taliban negotiation team, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and Muhammad Ibrahim Tahiryan, Iran’s special representative for Afghanistan, the Taliban spokesman reiterated their position.    “Regarding intra-Afghan negotiations, Mullah Baradar said, we are committed to all provisions of the Agreement. Whenever our prisoners’ release is completed, we are ready for commencement of the intra-Afghan negotiations,” Suhail Shaheen tweeted.   Sediqi, however, said the government has already released 4,015 Taliban prisoners and accused the militant group of causing the delay by not reciprocating.   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.Taliban spokesman Shaheen said they have released 737 Afghan security personnel out of the list of 1,000. The Afghan government disputes these figures, saying many of the released are civilians.  Similarly, the Taliban has rejected the government numbers. The group says only 3,500 Taliban have been released so far.  Still, a Taliban team is in Kabul to work with the government on identifying their prisoners. The first round of intra-Afghan negotiations was supposed to be held in Doha this month, but a date has not yet been announced. Doha is where a U.S. team, led by the special representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, negotiated with the Taliban for almost a year-and-a-half, culminating in a deal signed earlier in 2020.   Since the deal, the Taliban have stopped attacking American and NATO forces directly but have not held back on targeting Afghan personnel.  The international community has repeatedly urged the Taliban to keep the violence level low, fearing a breakdown in the tenuous process.  

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Pakistan Rolls Out First Locally Produced Ventilators  

Pakistan has rolled out its first ever locally produced ventilators for deployment at hospitals treating coronavirus patients as the national tally of COVID-19 infections rises to nearly 232,000.  
  
The pandemic has killed about 4,800 people since late February when it reached the South Asian nation of about 220 million; however, officials have reported a consistent decline in new infections and deaths from the infection over the past week. 
  
Prime Minister Imran Khan Monday inaugurated the production unit and handed over the first batch of ‘SafeVent SP100’ portable ventilators to the national disaster management agency. 
  
The facility in the northern town of Haripur has a production capacity of up to 300 ventilators a month. 
  
An official statement quoted Khan as describing production as “a landmark achievement” for Pakistan, which has long been criticized for importing crucial medical supplies, including ventilators, despite having developed sophisticated nuclear weapons.    FILE – Health workers take a nasal swab sample during a testing and screening operation for the new coronavirus, in Hyderabad, Pakistan, June 26, 2020.Pakistan’s public health care system has for decades suffered from neglect, lack of funding and corruption, which encouraged expensive hospitals in the private sector to flourish in a country where about 25 percent of the population live below the national poverty line. 
  
Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry recently told parliament there were only 1,400 functioning ventilators in government hospitals across the country when the pandemic hit it, immediately leading to an acute shortage of the life-saving equipment for critical coronavirus patients. 
  
Pakistan’s close ally China, however, swiftly stepped in and sent urgent relief supplies, including hundreds of ventilators, millions of masks and testing kits, worth more than $55 million, enabling Islamabad to deal with the unfolding health-related crisis. 
  
The United States also has pledged millions of dollars in new aid for Pakistan to help combat the ailment. President Donald Trump’s administration has already donated 100 ventilators to Islamabad out of a promised 200 machines. 
  A humanitarian aid shipment from the United States to Pakistan is seen in this photo the U.S. Embassy shared on Twitter.Chaudhry, while hailing the U.S. “gesture of friendship,” said in a statement that Pakistan, in a short span of four months, has now begun its own large-scale production of sanitizers and personal protection equipment, noting the medical supplies are already being exported to the United States. 
  
“In the next three years, Pakistan will have its own big medical and electromagnetic industry and I have no doubts that USA will be our major client,” the minister pledged.Chaudhry also said three new manufacturing facilities in the public and private sector are being installed for commercial production of ventilators. He noted that Pakistan annually imports medical supplies worth more than $2 billion and pays an additional $1 billon in service agreements to run the equipment.  The minister said domestic production of medical equipment will save Pakistan much-needed foreign exchange and the country will be self-sufficient in next five years so it will not have to import any medical supplies.  

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India, China Begin ‘Disengagement’ in Galwan 

India and China have begun disengaging their troops in the Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh where there was a deadly clash last month.  Military sources told the Deccan Herald on Monday, “The process of disengagement has commenced in Galwan. Structures in the area of Patrol Point 14 have been removed.” Clash in Galwan ValleyTwenty Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese troops were killed in a dispute at PP 14 on June 15. Monday’s move comes after several rounds of negotiations between the two countries. “We will need to wait to see if this is a genuine and lasting disengagement,” a source told Indian media. 
 
 

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