India prepares to recover bodies of climbers feared killed in avalanche

Rescue mission team members stand next to an India Air Force helicopter before take off from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police camp on June 3, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 04 June 2019

India prepares to recover bodies of climbers feared killed in avalanche

  • Eight climbers were reported missing by colleagues on Friday
  • A huge rescue mission was launched and on Monday an Indian air force helicopter spotted five bodies partially buried in snow

PITHORAGARH, India: Indian authorities are preparing to recover the bodies of five climbers believed killed in an avalanche, though officials said on Tuesday it could take several days to coordinate the retrieval.
Eight climbers — four from Britain, two from the United States, and one each from Australia and India — were reported missing by colleagues on Friday after they failed to return to their base camp near Nanda Devi, India’s second highest mountain.
A huge rescue mission was launched and on Monday an Indian air force helicopter spotted five bodies partially buried in snow.
The status of the other three climbers is not known, though officials have said the possibility of their survival is remote, and their bodies could be near the five that have been spotted.
On Tuesday, officials met to discuss how to retrieve the bodies from below a remote, unnamed 6,477-meter peak the team was attempting to climb.
Vijay Kumar Jogdande, the top government official in Pithoragarh, a mountain town in Uttarakhand state where the recovery effort is being coordinated, said a team to collect the bodies still needed clearance from government agencies, including the defense ministry.
“I have requested the permissions,” he told Reuters.
“We will discuss the plan with the heads of the concerned agencies. The plan is not prepared right now.”
Jogdande said relatives of the missing had yet to arrive in the town and rescuers were still unsure what to do with the bodies of the climbers if they were recovered.
“No one has spoken to me, no one is here. So who will take the bodies, that is also one question,” he said.
Four other climbers — all British — were evacuated by helicopter from their base camp over the weekend after reporting that their colleagues were missing. They are helping authorities with the recovery effort.

US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

Updated 34 min 29 sec ago

US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

  • Khalilzad urges militant group to honor ‘historic opportunity’ and end decades of war

KABUL: The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation warned on Monday that increasing attacks by the Taliban could undermine the historic peace deal signed between Washington and the militant group in February.

Zalmay Khalilzad also said the strikes could derail the ongoing intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar, that look to end the protracted conflict in the country.

“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement, and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for a substantial reduction,” he said in tweets on Monday.

Since last week, the Taliban have unleashed a series of attacks in parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the southern Helmand province, where more than 35,000 people have been displaced over recent days, Afghan officials told Arab News.

In response, US forces in the country launched several airstrikes on Taliban positions, which the insurgent group described as a breach of the February accord on Sunday.

Responding to the Taliban’s accusations, Khalilzad said they were “unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric,” and “do not advance peace.”

Washington also accused the Taliban of breaking the historic agreement, which, among other things, looks to finalize a complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country.

Khalilzad said the airstrikes were conducted to support Afghan troops as part of Washington’s commitment to defend them, if necessary.

He added that the Taliban attacks in Helmand, including some in the provincial capital that targeted Afghan security forces, led to a recent meeting in Doha where both sides agreed to “decrease attacks and strikes.” And while levels of violence in Helmand have fallen, it “remains high” across the country, the Afghan-born diplomat added.

Some Afghan observers said the motive behind Taliban attacks was to gain an “upper hand” in negotiations.

However, Khalilzad warned of the risks involved in using this strategy.

“The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiations table is risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculation by Afghan leaders,” he said, urging all sides to honor the “historic opportunity for peace, which must not be missed.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Monday that the group had “no comment” on Khalilzad’s statements and that US forces had “violated the Doha agreement in various forms by carrying out excessive airstrikes.”

Mujahid added that he had “no information” on the state of attacks in Helmand province.

However, Omar Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor, told Arab News that “fighting subsided in various parts of Helmand” over the past two days.

Meanwhile, an anonymous senior official in President Ashraf Ghani’s government praised Khalilzad for “beginning to get realistic” and “breaking silence over repeated Taliban attacks.”

Another figure, Kabul-based lawmaker Fawzia Zaki, said: “The government and Afghan people, in general, insisted on enforcement of a cease-fire or a drastic reduction of violence before the beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue.”

For it to be effective, Khalilzad and Washington “need to exert growing pressure to make them listen to the righteous demands of ours,” Zaki added.

However, experts have warned of the “growing impatience” of both sides.

Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News: “Khalilzad’s comments clearly show that Washington is becoming impatient with Taliban attacks and the lack of progress in the talks.”

He said that US President Donald Trump is “hoping to see a breakthrough soon,” so that he can “portray it as a success of his administration for his re-election campaign.

“But that is not happening. Maybe Washington has realized that won’t happen, so they are beginning to come out and warn the Taliban against the consequences of their attacks,” Haqpal added.