Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit
Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, left, with former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah during a press conference in Srinagar on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Updated 23 June 2021

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit
  • ‘If New Delhi can talk to the Taliban, they can talk to us, too,’ says former chief minister

NEW DELHI: Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti has called on New Delhi to launch discussions with Pakistan to resolve issues in the disputed region, likening the move to India’s reported role in the intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar.

“If they (Indian officials) can go to Doha and talk to the Taliban, they should have a dialogue with us and with Pakistan, too, to bring about a resolution,” Mufti, who is also president of the People’s Democratic Party, told a press conference on Tuesday.
Local media reports on Monday quoted a senior Qatari diplomat involved in the Afghan peace process as saying that Indian officials were engaged in talks with the Taliban.
Mufti’s remarks came ahead of a meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, summoning major parties from the region to discuss the political roadmap of Jammu and Kashmir.
Seven leading pro-Indian Kashmiri parties, under the banner of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declarations (PAGD), accepted Modi’s invitation on Tuesday.
Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah of Kashmir’s oldest political party, the People’s Conference (PC), and Mufti will attend Thursday’s meeting on behalf of the PAGD.
The talks will be the first major interaction between New Delhi and Kashmir-based political parties in the three years since Modi’s government annulled the region’s special constitutional status.
In a dramatic move in August 2019, India scrapped the region’s constitutional autonomy. It withdrew Kashmiris’ exclusive rights before placing the territory under curfew for several months, and detaining hundreds of political workers and activists. Most political activists and leaders, including Mufti and Abdullah, were put under house arrest for more than a year.
New Delhi also divided the state into two federally administered union territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
The PAGD was formed ahead of the move in August 2019 to restore Kashmir’s constitutional rights, a condition reiterated by Mufti and other leaders on Tuesday, amid reports that New Delhi might restore Kashmir’s statehood.
“Statehood is the prime minister’s own commitment. They won’t be doing us a favor by giving us statehood back. The PAGD was formed for the restoration of what was taken away from us on Aug. 5, 2019,” Mufti said.
Mufti, who was Jammu and Kashmir chief minister in alliance with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) till June 2018, added that she favored dialogue to resolve the issue before demanding the release of all political prisoners to “create an atmosphere for talks.”
“There are many who are still in jail. We will also seek immediate shifting of prisoners back to J&K jails from various Indian prisons,” she added.
There is no declared agenda for Thursday’s meeting. However, Kashmir’s political parties said they would voice “concerns of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.”
“Our concerns are constitutional rights which have been arbitrarily withdrawn and the downgrading of Jammu and Kashmir as a union territory,” PAGD spokesperson Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami told Arab News.
“What New Delhi did with us was not necessary and has proved counterproductive,” he added.
Abdul Ghani Bhatt, leader of the Kashmir-based pro-freedom alliance the All Party Hurriyat Conference, declined to comment on the meeting when contacted by Arab News on Tuesday.
However, political experts are pessimistic about the outcome of the talks.
“What can New Delhi offer to the political parties in Kashmir now?” Subhash Chander Gupta, a Jammu-based lawyer and political analyst, said.
“New Delhi’s decision to disturb the status quo in Kashmir was not well thought out. The reality is that people in Jammu feel lost and without any power after the loss of Kashmir’s special status,” Gupta said, adding he doubted Kashmir’s special status will be restored.
“The ruling BJP will have to pay politically if they go back on their stand on Kashmir. They will lose the rest of India if they do that,” he said.


Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran
Updated 19 September 2021

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran
  • Ratcliffe said he would be speaking to the new British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Sunday
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government

LONDON: The husband of a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran has called on the new British foreign secretary to ensure his wife’s return is a “top priority.”
Richard Ratcliffe told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that he has given the names of 10 people he accuses of being involved with “hostage-taking” in Iran to Liz Truss ahead of a phone call with her on Sunday. 
“We’ve put in front of the new foreign secretary a file of names, those who are involved in Iran’s hostage-taking across the chain, so those involved in taking people, processing them, giving them judges, those who are involved in treating them badly in prison,” Ratcliffe said. 
“I’ve got a phone call with the foreign secretary today, to be speaking to her two days into the job is a positive sign for sure.
“Partly I just want to hear that this is a top priority and that Nazanin and the others who are being held as bargaining chips will be brought home,” he added.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Iranian media has linked her detention to the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400 million debt to Iran.
“This coming week she (Liz Truss) should be meeting with the new Iranian foreign minister in New York when they’re over for the UN event, so hopefully there will be a positive conversation,” Ratcliffe said.
“Right now I think enough needs to be enough, and it needs to be signaled really clearly to Iran that you can’t use innocent people in this way.
“I’d really like them to be firm, to be brave and make some clear steps,” he added.
Ratcliffe has been campaigning tirelessly to have his wife released from prison and urged former foreign secretary Dominic Raab to take a firmer stand against Iran over the issue.
“One of the key problems I feel these past years is there’s been no cost for the Iranian side to carry on holding Nazanin, to carry on holding others, and so we’ve seen that now there are more British citizens in prison than there were when Nazanin was first taken,” he said.


India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists
Updated 19 September 2021

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists
  • India, which has so far administered 804.3 million vaccine doses, is looking to protect the population and welcome back tourists
  • The death toll rose by 309 to 444,838, the health ministry said on Sunday

NEW DELHI: India on Sunday reported 30,773 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 33.4 million, as it seeks to reopen the country to overseas tourists.
The death toll rose by 309 to 444,838, the health ministry said.
India, which has so far administered 804.3 million vaccine doses, is looking to protect the population and welcome back tourists, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday.
“India’s vaccination drive is not just a safety cover for health but is also a protective shield for livelihood,” Modi told health workers in the tourist state of Goa via video.
“Friends, there’s been very little talk about this, but India has given a lot of priority to its vaccination program in states whose economies are driven by the tourism sector.”


Macron to hold call with US President Biden

Macron to hold call with US President Biden
Updated 19 September 2021

Macron to hold call with US President Biden

Macron to hold call with US President Biden
  • France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancelation of a submarine order

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron will have a call with US President Joe Biden in the next few days, the French government spokesman said on Sunday, amid a diplomatic crisis triggered by Australia’s cancelation of submarine contract with Paris.
France said on Friday it was recalling its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra over a trilateral security deal also involving Britain which sank the multi-billion dollar order for French submarines.
“President Biden asked to speak to the President of the Republic and there will be a telephone discussion in the next few days between President Macron and President Biden,” Gabriel Attal told news channel BFM TV.
France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancelation of a submarine order, Attal said.
The scrapping of the contract, struck in 2016, has caused fury in Paris, which claims not to have been consulted by its allies. The Australian government, however, says it had made clear its concerns for months.
After the initial “shock” of the cancelation, discussions would need to take place over contract clauses, notably compensation for the French side, Attal added.


Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022

Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022
Updated 19 September 2021

Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022

Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022
  • Accepts the nomination of his political allies during the national assembly of the faction he leads
  • Despite his popularity, boxer-senator Pacquiao trails the front-runners in opinion polls

MANILA: Boxing star Manny Pacquiao said on Sunday he will run for president of the Philippines next year, after railing against corruption in government and what he calls President Rodrigo Duterte’s cozy relationship with China.
Pacquiao accepted the nomination of his political allies during the national assembly of the faction he leads in the ruling PDP-Laban Party, days after a rival faction nominated Duterte’s long-time aide, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, as its presidential candidate.
That faction nominated Duterte for vice president, a move that critics called a cynical ploy by Duterte to retain power.
Go declined the nomination, but the rift between the Pacquiao and Duterte factions has escalated.
“I am a fighter, and I will always be a fighter inside and outside the ring,” Pacquiao, 42, a senator, said in a live-streamed speech during the assembly. “I am accepting your nomination as candidate for president of the Republic of the Philippines.”
Pacquiao’s faction has not expressed support for Duterte’s vice presidential bid. Duterte is prohibited by the constitution from running for a second six-year term as president.
One of the greatest boxers of all time and the only man to hold world titles in eight different divisions, Pacquiao was mum about his 26-year professional career.
Despite his popularity, Pacquiao trails the front-runners in opinion polls that have been topped consistently by Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio.
In July, Pacquiao was voted out as PDP-Laban leader, weeks after challenging Duterte over his position on China and record on fighting corruption, but his ouster was rejected by his faction.
Pacquiao, once a close ally of Duterte, had said more than 10 billion pesos ($200 million) in pandemic aid intended for poor families was unaccounted for, adding this was just one discovery in his planned corruption investigation.
His anti-corruption crusade comes as the Senate has opened an investigation into alleged overpricing of medical supplies and equipment purchased under the government’s pandemic response program.
Duterte challenged Pacquiao to name corrupt government offices to prove that the boxer was not just politicking ahead of the election.
Pacquiao countered by warning of jail for corrupt government officials: “Your time is up!”


Blast targets Taliban truck in eastern Afghan city

Blast targets Taliban truck in eastern Afghan city
Updated 19 September 2021

Blast targets Taliban truck in eastern Afghan city

Blast targets Taliban truck in eastern Afghan city
  • At least two people were killed in Jalalabad on Saturday
  • Witnesses told local media that several wounded Taliban fighters were taken to hospital

KABUL: A pickup truck carrying Taliban fighters was the target of a bomb in the Afghan city of Jalalabad Sunday, local media reported, a day after at least two people were killed in a series of blasts in the area.
Witnesses told local media that several wounded Taliban fighters were taken to hospital after the explosion, which one journalist said happened near an interchange for transport to and from the capital, Kabul.
Further details were not immediately available.
At least two people were killed in Jalalabad on Saturday in the first deadly blasts since the last US forces withdrew from Afghanistan on August 30.
The eastern city is the capital of Nangarhar province, the heartland of the Daesh group’s Afghanistan branch.
Although both Daesh and the Taliban are hard-line Sunni Islamist militants, they have differed on the minutiae of religion and strategy. That tussle has led to bloody fighting between the two.