Pakistan PM’s visit to India deemed as 'intolerable'

Updated 10 March 2013
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Pakistan PM’s visit to India deemed as 'intolerable'

JAIPUR, India: The spiritual head of a revered Muslim shrine in India where Pakistan’s premier Raja Pervez Ashraf is set to visit at the weekend said Friday that he objected to the politician’s pilgrimage.
Ashraf and his family are due to begin a day-long private trip on Saturday to the shrine in Ajmer Sharif, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of New Delhi.
The visit is Ashraf’s first trip to India as prime minister and comes at a time of strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad after tit-for-tat killings of soldiers at the tense border between the neighbors.
“I have decided to boycott the visit (to protest) the brutal killing of our Indian soldiers by the Pakistani army,” shrine spiritual head Zainul Abedin Ali Khan said.
“The incident has hurt Indians,” Khan added in a statement.
Tensions between the rival neighbors rose in January when six soldiers on both sides were killed in exchanges along the Line of Control (LoC) de facto border in Kashmir, a region claimed by both countries.
One of the Indians was beheaded, allegedly by Pakistanis.
Khan said he would also protest Ashraf’s trip because of alleged ill-treatment of Hindus in Pakistan.
“There are incidents of atrocities on minorities in Pakistan and we have seen people from the Hindu community migrating to India on account of religious, financial and social persecution in Pakistan,” he said.
“I am against that, and to express my feelings, I decided to boycott the visit,” Khan said.
Ajmer Bar Association President Rajesh Tandon described the visit as “intolerable” and warned that lawyers would symbolically cleanse the road on which the Pakistani leader traveled to mark their protest.
“This is intolerable for an Indian because of the beheading of our soldier at the LoC,” Tandon said.
Ashraf will be the most senior Pakistani to visit India since last April when President Asif Ali Zardari embarked on a similar pilgrimage and then had lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
While media reports said Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid will host lunch for Ashraf, Yashwant Sinha, a Hindu nationalist leader from India’s main opposition BJP party on Friday urged New Delhi not to hold official talks with him.
India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan since independence in 1947, accuses Islamabad of fomenting cross-border militancy.


After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

Updated 1 min 55 sec ago
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After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a cease-fire that is currently due to end on Wednesday
  • While Washington has long resisted direct talks with Taliban, the official said that recent developments indicate “the US now seems less and less averse to it”

KABUL/WASHINGTON: Prospects have risen for negotiations between the Taliban and the United States after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a cease-fire and allowed militants to roam into cities in a gamble to encourage peace talks.
The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by US-led troops, insist that any negotiations with what it calls the “puppet” Afghan government on a peace plan can begin only after talks with the United States about withdrawing foreign forces.
Analysts and Western diplomats said Ghani’s offer to hold unconditional peace talks had set the stage for US officials to open backchannel negotiations with the Taliban, despite Washington’s policy that peace talks be Afghan-led.
“Ghani has done his bit,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank.
“It is now for the US to cut through this blockade,” he said, although that would be a departure from US policy that talks to end the 17-year-old war must be wholly Afghan-led.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a cease-fire that is currently due to end on Wednesday. The Taliban said its cease-fire ended on Sunday.
“As President Ghani emphasised in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces,” Pompeo said. “The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions.”
Richard Olson, former US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, described the statement as significant “in that it signals that the US is prepared to ultimately discuss the issue that is paramount to the Taliban, which is the withdrawal of foreign forces.”
A senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the start of the cease-fire, however said there were a number of issues that made direct talks between the Taliban and the United States unlikely in the short-term.
The official said there was a substantial gap in knowledge about the Taliban — for instance as to who had the authority to negotiate on the their behalf. “There is not enough intelligence or resources on this issue,” the official said.
A second official said there was still a question of what would happen with hard-line elements of the Taliban. “There are Taliban that won’t come to the table,” the official said.
Taliban call
The Taliban, in a statement marking the end of their cease-fire on Sunday, said the organization was unified and called on “the invading American party” to “sit directly for dialogue with the Islamic Emirate to find a solution for the ongoing imbroglio.”
A senior diplomat with knowledge of the negotiations leading to the cease-fire estimated the chances of eventual talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government at “50-50.”
“The Taliban want to talk to the US directly on withdrawal (of foreign forces) because they do not want to share the credit of withdrawal with the government,” the official said.
And while Washington has long resisted direct talks with Taliban, the official said that recent developments indicate “the US now seems less and less averse to it.”
In August, US President Donald Trump unveiled a more hawkish military approach to Afghanistan, including a surge in air strikes. Afghan security forces say the impact has been significant, but the Taliban roam huge areas of the country and, with foreign troop levels of about 15,600, down from 140,000 in 2014, there appears little hope of outright victory.
Ghani, never widely popular, met his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, on Sunday to secure support for peace talks. He visited a restaurant in Kabul where he met diners and took selfies with children, trying to capitalize on the unprecedented party atmosphere created by the cease-fire to mark last weekend’s Eid Al-Fitr festival.
But Amrullah Saleh, the former head of intelligence and head of a political party, said Ghani had committed a blunder by allowing insurgents to pour into government-controlled areas.
“Thousands of Taliban fighters were allowed to enter with guns and some of them could be hiding in civilian areas, planning attacks,” Saleh told Reuters.
Ghani has also come in for praise.
“Now we can say that our president is making an absolute honest attempt” for peace, said Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, the chairman of the outspoken New National Front of Afghanistan.