Hope in Kashmir as Modi critic Kamala Harris takes office

Hope in Kashmir as Modi critic Kamala Harris takes office
Kamala Harris is sworn in as her spouse Doug Emhoff holds a Bible. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 January 2021

Hope in Kashmir as Modi critic Kamala Harris takes office

Hope in Kashmir as Modi critic Kamala Harris takes office
  • US Vice President Kamala Harris has been critical of the Indian government’s annexation of Kashmir in 2019
  • India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party says it does not expect much pressure from the US

NEW DELHI: Some hope has sprung in Kashmir, residents of the valley say, as Kamala Harris, the new American vice president and critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has taken office.

Harris, who was inaugurated as US President Joe Biden’s deputy last week, has been critical of the Indian government’s discriminatory policies toward the country’s Muslim minority and its annexation of Kashmir in 2019.

Herself of Indian descent, she called for international intervention “to remind Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world” soon after New Delhi revoked Kashmir’s special autonomous status and split it into two Union Territories in August 2019.

Her role in the US administration as well as the recent appointment into Biden’s team of Sameera Fazil and Aisha Shah — both of Kashmiri descent — have raised some cautious hope for change in the region.

“Kamala Harris has spoken openly on Kashmir. On that front, there is hope,” Srinagar-based political analyst and author of “Kashmir: Rage and Reason,” Gowhar Geelani, told Arab News on Sunday.

He added, however, that hope is “not equivalent to expectation.”

The analyst said that "while the people are upbeat that Modi’s ‘friend’ Trump has lost, as a symbolic victory, they also realize the new US administration will only speak about the restoration of civil liberties and put pressure on New Delhi to improve the situation of human rights in Kashmir,” adding: “But there won’t be much movement vis-a-vis political resolution of the dispute.”

Srinagar-based lawyer Deeba Ashraf also sees some hope, especially with regard to solving the Kashmiri issue between Pakistan and India, which both claim the territory in full but rule it in part.

“We have a bit of hope now. Biden has a positive approach towards everyone and he, being from a law background, can introspect in a better manner. He may pressure both countries for normalizing the situation in Kashmir,” she said.

Yet others, like Srinagar-based political analyst Prof. Siddiq Wahid, are more optimistic.

“The Biden administration will be much more assertive on Kashmir. This is because conventionally the Democratic Party has a more value-based understanding of democracy than the Republican Party or Trump,” he told Arab News

“There is no doubt that the Biden administration will be much more assertive on minority rights, particularly the present government’s heinous neglect of the systematic exclusion of minorities and even numerous lynching which are all for the record to see,” Wahid said.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, does not expect much pressure from the US, like it did not experience any from the previous Donald Trump administration, with which Modi shared a special bond and was endorsing Trump’s reelection during the US presidential campaign last year.

“It does not make any difference whether Biden is here, or Trump was here,” BJP spokesman Sudesh Verma told Arab News on Saturday.

“India-US relations are built on the past experiences of two democracies functioning smoothly and for the benefit of the people of both the countries,” he said, adding the Biden administration should not “become the victim of the false propaganda which is unleashed by the NGOs and other such organizations which have vested interests.”

Verma added: “The Biden administration would understand India does not like to be lectured as the US would not like to be lectured. We have our strongest institutions of democracy that function perfectly well, and we should be careful about the sensitivities of both the nations.”

Experts also see little room for change as they cite strong and strategic ties between Washington and New Delhi.

Dr. G. Balachandran, Delhi-based foreign policy expert and Harris’ maternal uncle, told Arab News that rights issues are not going to “affect the trajectory of the relationship.”

He added: “No doubt Biden and Harris have strong opinions about some of the issues like minority rights and human rights violations in Kashmir, but these issues will not be defining features of the relationship between the two nations.”

Manoj Joshi of New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation shares the same sentiment.

“A country like the US is very clear when it comes to its national interests,” he said.

“They don’t bother about human rights and all. If they think that India is important for their own welfare, they will ignore minority and human rights concerns.”


Shots fired at Ukraine presidential aide’s car in assassination bid

Shots fired at Ukraine presidential aide’s car in assassination bid
Updated 23 sec ago

Shots fired at Ukraine presidential aide’s car in assassination bid

Shots fired at Ukraine presidential aide’s car in assassination bid
  • More than 10 bullets hit the car near the village of Lesnyky, around 5 kilometers outside the capital Kiev, wounding the driver
KIEV: A volley of shots was fired at a car carrying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s principal aide on Wednesday in what a senior official called an assassination attempt.
More than 10 bullets hit the car near the village of Lesnyky, around 5 kilometers outside the capital Kiev, wounding the driver, a police statement said. It said a criminal case on suspicion of premeditated murder had been opened.
A local television station said at least 19 bullet holes could be seen on the driver’s side of the car.
A senior lawmaker said the aide, Serhiy Shefir, was not hurt. Shefir is close to the president, leading a group of advisers.
Zelenskiy, who came to power on a promise to take on the country’s oligarchs and fight corruption, is currently in the United States at the UN General Assembly.
His office said Zelenskiy had been informed and would comment shortly.
Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the assassination attempt could be a result of the president’s fight against the oligarchs.
“This open, deliberate and extremely violent assault with automatic weapons cannot be qualified any differently than as an attempted killing of a key team member,” Podolyak told Reuters.
“We, of course, associate this attack with an aggressive and even militant campaign against the active policy of the head of state,” Interfax Ukraine quoted Podolyak as saying.
“The president’s policy aimed at fundamental transformation of the state will remain unchanged,” he said, promising tougher measures against oligarchs.
Parliament is this week due to debate a presidential law directed on reducing the influence of oligarchs.

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community
Updated 22 September 2021

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community

Pakistan FM urges Taliban to keep its promises to international community
  • Taliban seem more ‘open-minded’ than last time they were in power, Qureshi tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • ‘Pakistan hasn’t been recognized for what we’ve done (to help the US)’

WASHINGTON: The Taliban should respect international opinion and keep their promises to have an inclusive government and not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorist groups, Pakistan’s foreign minister told reporters in New York at a briefing attended by Arab News.

“It would be a positive step for the Taliban to include ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara groups in their government,” said Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

The Taliban seem to be more “open-minded” than the last time they were in power in the 1990s, he added, calling for reconciliation and respect for human rights, including women’s rights.

“If the Taliban can demonstrate these objectives, it will be positive (for Afghanistan),” Qureshi said. “We believe that the reconciliation process in Afghanistan can’t be completed without the formation of a united government.”

He said the international community should allow Afghanistan to access its frozen assets abroad in order to alleviate its people’s suffering.

The international community, he added, can help stabilize Afghanistan politically and economically, and create an environment where its people do not have to flee and become refugees in neighboring countries.

Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for decades without international assistance, Qureshi said, adding that Islamabad’s strategic interest lies in a united Afghanistan that will not allow India to use it as a base to “destabilize” his country.

He said Pakistan seeks to recalibrate its relationship with the US based on trade, economic ties and fostering political stability in the region in the aftermath of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Bilateral ties should transcend the situation in Afghanistan, he said, adding that Pakistan helped and sided with the US in its “war on terror” after the 9/11 attacks, and facilitated American troop movements and logistics during its war in Afghanistan over the past two decades. “Pakistan hasn’t been recognized for what we’ve done (to help the US),” Qureshi said.

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Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack

Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack
Updated 22 September 2021

Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack

Two Taliban among three killed in Jalalabad attack
  • The attack in Jalalabad city is the latest on Taliban targets in Nangarhar province
  • Islamic State-Khorasan claimed responsibility for several weekend attacks in Jalalabad

JALALABAD: Two Taliban fighters and a civilian were killed Wednesday by gunmen who attacked a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, security sources and witnesses said.
The attack in Jalalabad city is the latest on Taliban targets in Nangarhar province, which for years was the main operating base of the Daesh group’s Afghanistan chapter.
A security source and witnesses said unidentified gunmen in a rickshaw attacked a checkpoint in Ghawchak district of Jalalabad and killed two Taliban guards and a civilian bystander.
A Taliban official confirmed the attack, but said the dead were all civilians.
In another incident, local residents said that two Taliban fighters were injured while trying to defuse an improvised explosive device in Jalalabad.
Further details were not immediately available.
Islamic State-Khorasan, the local branch of the militant group, claimed responsibility for several weekend attacks in Jalalabad that killed at least two people.
They were the first deadly blasts since the last US forces withdrew from Afghanistan on August 30.
IS-K also claimed responsibility for a bloody attack that killed more than 100 people at Kabul airport at the end of August.
Although both Daesh and the Taliban are hard-line Sunni Islamist militant groups, they differ on the issues of religion and strategy, which has led to bloody fighting between the two.


Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war

Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war
Updated 22 September 2021

Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war

Philippines’ Duterte vows accountability for anyone who went ‘beyond bounds’ in drug war
  • Human Rights Watch accuse Duterte of trying to mislead the international community into believing his government was investigating unlawful killings

UNITED NATIONS: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that anyone found to have “acted beyond bounds” in his campaign against illegal drugs would be held accountable under national laws, while appearing to reject an International Criminal Court probe.
Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly he had instructed the justice ministry and police to review the conduct of the campaign, in which more than 6,100 suspected drug dealers have been killed since 2016. Activists say many thousands more, mostly users or small-time peddlers, were killed by mystery gunmen.
“Those found to have acted beyond bounds during operations shall be made accountable before our laws,” Duterte said in a video address to the annual gathering that drew criticism from rights groups.
Human Rights Watch accused Duterte of trying to mislead the international community into believing his government was investigating unlawful killings, noting that out of thousands of drug war killings only one case had resulted in a court conviction.
In a statement, Carlos Conde, Senior Philippines Researcher at Human Rights Watch, said what the public had got instead was “more propaganda and stonewalling by the authorities.”
Duterte made no mention of a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity, which was approved by judges from the International Criminal Court last week, although he appeared to reject outside interference in human rights issues.
“We have recently finalized with the United Nations our Joint Program on Human Rights. This is a model for constructive engagement between a sovereign Member State and the United Nations,” he said.
“Meaningful change, to be enduring, must come from within. The imposition of one’s will over another – no matter how noble the intent – has never worked in the past. And it never will in the future.”
Duterte’s government said last week it will not cooperate with the ICC or allow any investigators into the Philippines. Duterte and his police chiefs have said the killings were in self-defense and his government has insisted the ICC has no right to meddle in the country’s affairs.
Rights groups say Duterte personally incited deadly violence in the drug war and accuse police of murdering unarmed suspects on a massive scale. Rights group say the police summarily executed suspects, which the policy deny.
In February, the Philippine police said they were looking into a government review of the killings after the justice minister made an unprecedented admission to the United Nations of widespread police failures.
In his speech, Duterte also said the Philippines would welcome an unspecified number of Rohingya Muslim refugees who had fled violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The justice ministry had been ordered to work with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees to make preparations, he said.
“The Philippines has limited resources during these extraordinary times. But what we can do for humanity and to uplift human dignity, we will,” Duterte said.


Israel opens West Bank crossing near prison break

Israel opens West Bank crossing near prison break
Updated 22 September 2021

Israel opens West Bank crossing near prison break

Israel opens West Bank crossing near prison break
  • Jalameh crossing into the northern West Bank would be open for the first time since September 6, when the prisoners escaped

TEL AVIV: Israel on Wednesday reopened a crossing with the occupied West Bank for the first time since six prisoners tunneled out of a nearby Israeli prison, a rare escape that triggered a massive search before they were all recaptured.
The Israeli military body that oversees civilian affairs in the West Bank said the Jalameh crossing into the northern West Bank would be open for the first time since Sept. 6, when the prisoners escaped.
Six prisoners — five of them accused of deadly attacks against Israelis — tunneled out of Gilboa prison in northern Israel through a shaft in the floor of their bathroom in the biggest jailbreak of its kind in decades. They later split up into groups of two, and the final pair were apprehended over the weekend in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin.
The incident marked an embarrassing security breach for Israel and sparked a massive manhunt in northern Israel and the occupied West Bank. Lawyers for two of the prisoners said they were beaten during their arrest.
Palestinians consider prisoners held by Israel to be heroes of their national cause, and many celebrated the escape on social media.