Experts hail Pakistan’s denial of US military support ahead of Afghan pullout

Experts hail Pakistan’s denial of US military support ahead of Afghan pullout
There was no US military or air base in Pakistan, nor was any such proposal envisaged, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Office said. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 May 2021

Experts hail Pakistan’s denial of US military support ahead of Afghan pullout

Experts hail Pakistan’s denial of US military support ahead of Afghan pullout
  • Islamabad avoiding ‘costly mistakes,’ officials reject ‘baseless, irresponsible’ claims

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani security experts have hailed Islamabad’s decision to avoid supporting US counterterrorism operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

The decision came after a Pentagon official claimed that Pakistan had allowed the US to use its airspace and ground routes as part of its Afghanistan campaign.
But Pakistan’s foreign office denied the claims, which will force the US to rethink its Afghan approach as its troops prepare to leave the war-torn country by Sept. 11 this year.
Experts said that the decision will avoid a repeat of “costly mistakes.”
Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson, said in a statement on Monday: “There was no US military or air base in Pakistan, nor was any such proposal envisaged,” adding that any speculation on the topic was “baseless, irresponsible and should be avoided.”
Since 2001, Pakistan and the US have had a framework of cooperation for Air Lines of Communication and Ground Lines of Communication, but “no new agreement has been made in this regard,” the statement added.
The decision is a “step in the right direction,” experts said.
“Pakistan should have avoided repeating its costly mistake of providing airbases and ground routes for the US two decades ago,” Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, told Arab News.
“It should neither provide its airbases nor allow the US to use its airspace and ground routes. If we become a party with the US again, it will increase hostility against Pakistan in Afghanistan. This will even affect our relations with some factions of the Taliban,” he added.
Speculation on Pakistan’s involvement with the US campaign has grown since Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of the U.S. Central Command, told the US Senate that a fraction of troops will remain “stationed nearby Afghanistan” following the September withdrawal.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is in talks with “several Central Asian neighbors of Afghanistan” to survey where it can reposition troops to prevent landlocked Afghanistan from becoming a militant hub once again.

HIGHLIGHT

Decision came after a Pentagon official claimed that Pakistan had allowed the US to use its airspace and ground routes as part of its Afghanistan campaign.

However, Washington did not explicitly name Pakistan — which shares a nearly 2,600-kilometer border with Afghanistan — as a potential partner in the initiative.
In a phone call with Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa on Tuesday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin expressed Washington’s desire “to continue to work together to further regional security and stability.”
Earlier this month, Bajwa had offered Islamabad’s support for the Afghanistan peace process during a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.
The talks came amid a spike in violence as Washington began to reduce troop numbers starting May 1, ending the most protracted conflict in the country’s history, which began with the Taliban’s ouster in the 2001 invasion.
Retired Lt. Gen Amjad Shoib, a defense analyst based in Islamabad, said that while Pakistan did provide bases to the US in 2001, the “situation has changed now.”
He told Arab News: “The US will definitely use Pakistani airspace and ground routes for the withdrawal, but it has been made clear to them that Islamabad will not provide any airbases or other ground presence following that.”
Shoib warned about the impact of a US deal on Islamabad’s ties with Beijing, particularly on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project that is central to China’s broader Belt and Road Initiative.
“China would not like any physical US presence in Pakistan. If we agree on any such arrangement, it will send the wrong message to the Chinese, and affect their strategic interests and the CPEC, which Pakistan would not want to happen,” he said.
Other experts highlighted the “strategic importance” of peace and stability returning to Afghanistan.
“A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is a strategic imperative not only for Pakistan, but also for the whole region,” Pakistan’s former foreign secretary and former ambassador to the US, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary, told Arab News, adding that Washington had a “particular responsibility” to ensure this outcome.
“To that end, every concerned country should extend its support. Pakistan has facilitated the Afghan peace process and cooperated with the Afghan government, as well as with the US, because we believe that a peaceful Afghanistan is in the best interests of Pakistan and the region,” Chaudhary said.
In March this year, Austin praised Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process and expressed the Pentagon’s “gratitude for Islamabad’s continued support.”
Pakistan has been closely engaged with Washington in initiatives, and supported the signing of an agreement between the US and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, more than a year ago, which eventually led to the start of the intra-Afghan peace talks.

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KABUL: The United Nations said on Friday that its main compound in western Afghanistan was attacked by "anti-government elements", killing at least one Afghan police guard and other officers injured.
"The area around Herat where the compound is located witnessed fighting today between the Taliban and government forces," a statement by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said. It added the UN is urgently seeking to establish a full picture about the attack and is in contact with the relevant parties.
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Updated 30 July 2021

Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal

Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal
  • The last round of talks ended in Vienna on June 20 and no date has been set for a new meeting

BERLIN: Germany’s foreign minister is signaling growing impatience with Iran, saying that a revival of the country’s frayed nuclear accord with world powers won’t be possible “forever,” a German magazine reported Friday.
The countries that remain parties to the agreement — Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran — have been trying during six rounds of talks in Vienna to resolve how the United States can rejoin and how Tehran can return to compliance. President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018, but successor Joe Biden has said the US wants to return.
The last round of talks ended in Vienna on June 20. No date has been set for a new meeting.
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Since the US pulled out, Iran has gradually been violating the deal’s restrictions to put pressures on the remaining parties to come up with economic incentives to offset crippling American sanctions.
The accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it is seeking any.
“We want a return to the JCPOA and are firmly convinced that it is in all sides’ interest,” Maas said. “But it is also clear that this option will not be open to us forever.”


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Updated 30 July 2021

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity
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  • The European Parliament voted to strip them of immunity, but the trio appealed to the court

LUXEMBOURG: The EU’s General Court on Friday upheld a decision by the European Parliament to lift the immunity of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and two fellow pro-independence allies.
The move overturned a ruling in June that had seen the separatist politicians provisionally regain the legal protections afforded to members of the parliament.
Puigdemont, along with that of former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati, are wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition following an attempt by the Catalan region to gain independence through a referendum that Madrid ruled was unconstitutional.
In March, the European Parliament voted to strip them of immunity, but the trio appealed to the court arguing that they ran the risk of jail which would prevent them from exercising their mandate as elected European lawmakers.
The latest ruling on Friday rejected the claim that Puigdemont — based in Brussels since fleeing Spain in 2017 — and his colleagues face imminent arrest.
“There is no reason to consider that the Belgian judicial authorities or that the authorities of another Member State could execute the European arrest warrants issued against the deputies and could hand them over to the Spanish authorities,” the court said.
But it added that the three lawmakers — elected to the European Parliament in 2019 — could still reintroduce their demand to have their immunity reinstalled if authorities moved to arrest them and it became “sufficiently probable” they would be sent to Spain.
Madrid last month pardoned nine other jailed Catalan separatists behind the failed 2017 independence bid and released them from long prison sentences.


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Updated 30 July 2021

Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during long military campaign

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WASHINGTON: Some 200 Afghans were set to begin new lives in the United States on Friday as an airlift got under way for translators and others who risk Taliban retaliation because they worked for the US government during its 20-year war in Afghanistan, US officials said.
The operation to evacuate US-affiliated Afghans and family members comes as the US troop pullout nears completion and government forces struggle to repulse Taliban advances.
The first planeload of some 200 evacuees were expected to be bused to Fort Lee, a US military base in Virginia, for final paperwork processing and medical examinations.
The Afghans who worked for the United States are being granted Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) entitling them to bring their families. As many as 50,000 or more people ultimately could be evacuated in “Operation Allies Refuge.”
The first group is among some 2,500 SIV applicants and family members who have almost completed the process, clearing them for evacuation, said Russ Travers, President Joe Biden’s deputy homeland security adviser.
The Afghans were expected to remain at Fort Lee for up to seven days before joining relatives or host families across the country.
The evacuees underwent “rigorous background checks” and COVID-19 tests, Travers added. Some were already vaccinated, and the rest will be offered jabs at Fort Lee.
The surging violence in Afghanistan has created serious problems for many SIV applicants whose paperwork is in the pipeline amid reports — denied by the Taliban — that some have been killed by vengeful insurgents.
Some applicants are unable to get to capital Kabul to complete required steps at the US embassy or reach their flights.
“We do lack the capacity to bring people to Kabul from other parts of the country or to house them in Kabul,” Tracey Jacobson, State Department coordinator of the operation, told reporters.
The SIV program has been plagued by long processing times and bureaucratic knots — which the Biden administration and Congress are working to undo — that led to a backlog of some 20,000 applications. The State Department has added staff to handle them.
“The US has had 20 years to anticipate what the withdrawal would look like,” said Adam Bates, policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal aid to refugees. “It’s unconscionable that we are so late.”
Kim Staffieri, co-founder of the Association of Wartime Allies, which helps SIV applicants, said surveys the group has conducted over Facebook show that about half of SIV applicants cannot reach Kabul, including many approved for evacuation.
Congress created SIV programs in 2006 for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who risked retaliation for working for the US government.

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Updated 30 July 2021

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  • The nationwide tally of infections has reached 31.57 million, according to health ministry data

NEW DELHI: India reported 44,230 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the most in three weeks, the latest evidence of a worrying trend of rising cases that has forced one state to lock down amid fears of another wave of infections.
India was battered by the Delta variant of the virus in April and May but the rate of spread of infections later eased off. It has again been rising, with higher numbers in seven of the past eight days.
The nationwide tally of infections has reached 31.57 million, according to health ministry data. Deaths rose by 555 overnight, taking the overall toll to 423,217.
Medical experts polled by Reuters in late June said a third wave of coronavirus infections was likely to hit India by October, though it would be better controlled than the devastating April-May outbreak.
Health experts have called for faster vaccinations to stave off another big surge.
The government estimates that 67.6% of the 1.35 billion population already have antibodies against the coronavirus, with nearly 38% of the adult population of about 944 million people having received at least one vaccine dose.
The disease's estimated reproduction rate, or R value, has also inched up in the past week,
The R value hit 1 on July 24 - meaning on average, every 10 people infected will infect 10 other people - for the first time since May when daily infections were near a peak of 400,000.
The southern state of Kerala announced a new lockdown on Thursday while movement restrictions are in place in some northeastern states reporting a rise in infection rates.
Other places, including the capital New Delhi, have recently reopened most economic activities.