Pakistan confirms airstrikes against suspected militants inside Afghanistan, Kabul says civilian targets hit

Pakistan confirms airstrikes against suspected militants inside Afghanistan, Kabul says civilian targets hit
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A Pakistani army soldier stands guard on a border terminal in Ghulam Khan, a town in North Waziristan, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, on January 27, 2019. (AFP/File)
Pakistan confirms airstrikes against suspected militants inside Afghanistan, Kabul says civilian targets hit
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Taliban security personnel stand guard along a road after gunfire erupted between Afghanistan and Pakistan border forces at Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Nangarhar province on February 20, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 19 March 2024
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Pakistan confirms airstrikes against suspected militants inside Afghanistan, Kabul says civilian targets hit

Pakistan confirms airstrikes against suspected militants inside Afghanistan, Kabul says civilian targets hit
  • Afghan Taliban say Pakistan struck Khost and Paktika provinces on Monday, killing five women and three children
  • Islamabad says increase in attacks in Pakistan “with the help of the Afghan Taliban and supply of modern weapons”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday confirmed airstrikes against suspected militants in border regions inside Afghanistan, hours after the Afghan Taliban said Islamabad had struck civilian targets, killing five women and three children.

Islamabad’s airstrikes, the sharpest escalation in already deteriorating ties between the neighbors, came two days after a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden truck into a military post in northwest Pakistan, killing seven soldiers. The Pakistan army, defense minister and president vowed retaliation in separate statements.

Militant attacks have risen sharply in Pakistan in recent months, many of them claimed by the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistan government and security officials say most assaults are launched from neighboring Afghanistan, an accusation that has damaged the relationship between Pakistan and the ruling Afghan Taliban, who deny they have allowed Afghan territory to be used by militants.

After a long day of silence following the Afghan government’s confirmation of the strikes, the Pakistan foreign ministry said suspected militant targets in “border regions inside Afghanistan” had been targeted in an operation. 

“The target of today’s operation was the terrorists belonging to Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, which along with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is responsible for multiple terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, resulting in deaths of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said.

“The latest attack took place on 16 March 2024 at a security post in Mir Ali in North Waziristan and claimed the lives of seven Pakistani soldiers.”

The foreign office said the Afghan interim government had been conveyed Islamabad’s concerns over the past two years regarding the presence of “terror outfits” within its territory, adding that some elements within the Afghan government were “actively patronizing the TTP and using them as a proxy against Pakistan.” The statement did not specify any particular figures in the Afghan Taliban as being responsible. 

“Such an approach against a brotherly country, which stood with the people of Afghanistan through thick and thin, manifests shortsightedness. It ignores the support extended by Pakistan to the people of Afghanistan over the last several decades. We urge these elements in power to rethink the policy of siding with Khwarij terrorists shedding the blood of innocent Pakistanis and to make a clear choice,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said.

The statement added that Pakistan realized the challenge Afghan authorities faced in combating the threat posed by TTP and that Islamabad continue to work toward finding joint solutions in countering terrorism and preventing terror organizations from sabotaging bilateral relations with Afghanistan.

In a separate statement, the Pakistan army said the recent wave of militancy in the country had the “full support and assistance” of Afghanistan.

“It is clear to all that the recent wave of terrorism in Pakistan has the full support and assistance of Afghanistan,” the army’s media wing said in a statement shared by state-run Pakistan Television on X.

“With the help of the Afghan Taliban and the supply of modern weapons, there has been an increase in the incidents of terrorism in Pakistan.”

The army accused the Afghan government of arming militants and providing safe havens as well as itself being involved in attacks in Pakistan and listed several high-profile attacks in Pakistan recently in which Afghanistan was involved, including an attack on two military check posts in Chitral last September, an attack on an air base in November and an attack on a mosque inside a police compound in Peshawar in January 2023 in which almost 100 people were killed.

Pakistan’s new government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is faced with dealing with fraying ties with three of Pakistan’s four neighbors, India, Iran and Afghanistan.

“BAD CONSEQUENCES”

Earlier, a spokesperson for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid, said Pakistani planes had struck civilian targets in the Khost and Paktika provinces early on Monday morning.

“Last night at around 3 o’clock in the Barmal district of Paktika province and in Afghan Dubai area of Sepera district of Khost province, Pakistani planes bombed the houses of civilians,” Mujahid wrote on X.

“As a result, 6 people including 3 women and 3 children were martyred and a house destroyed in Paktika, as well as, two women were martyred due to the collapse of a house in Khost province.”

The Afghan government condemned the attacks and called them a “reckless” violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty.

“The people of Pakistan and the new government should stop some army generals from continuing their wrong policies … and spoiling the relationship between the two neighboring Muslim nations,” the statement added.

“Pakistan should not blame Afghanistan for the lack of control, incompetence and problems in its own territory.”

The spokesman warned that the air strikes could have “bad consequences which will be out of Pakistan’s control.”

In a separate statement on social media platform X, Afghanistan’s defense ministry said its border forces had responded to Pakistan’s airstrikes.

“In response to this aggression, the border forces of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan targeted Pakistan’s military centers along the fictitious line with heavy weapons,” the statement said.

“The country’s defense and security forces are ready to respond to any aggressive actions and will defend their territorial integrity in any situation.”




Pakistan’s Army Chief General Syed Asim Munir (C, left) and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Sahir Shamshad Mirza (C, right) carrying the coffin of Lieutenant Colonel Syed Kashif Ali. (Photo courtesy: Military's media wing)

Saturday’s attack on the Pakistan military post was claimed by a newly formed militant group, Jaish-e-Fursan-e-Muhammad. However, Pakistani security officials believe the group mainly comprises members of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, which often targets Pakistani soldiers and police from safe havens in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban or TTP are a separate group but are allies of the Afghanistan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan in 2021 as the US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened TTP, Pakistan says, whose top leaders and fighters are hiding in Afghanistan.

“Terrorism is being conducted mostly from Afghanistan against us,” Pakistani defense minister Khawaja Asif told reporters in Pakistan’s eastern city of Sialkot on Sunday, saying militants were operating from sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

“We have also raised this issue with Afghanistan.”

In a separate statement on Monday, the Pakistan army’s media wing said security forces had conducted an intelligence-based operation in the restive North Waziristan district on Sunday night in which eight “terrorists,” including a high-value commander Sehra Janan, were killed:

“He was involved in orchestrating the terrorist attack on security forces’ post in Mir Ali on 16 March and was highly wanted by the law enforcement agencies.”


Greece to deport nine European nationals over pro-Palestinian protest

Updated 12 sec ago
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Greece to deport nine European nationals over pro-Palestinian protest

Greece to deport nine European nationals over pro-Palestinian protest
\The protesters have denied any wrongdoing
The Greek protesters were released pending trial on May 28 but the nine foreign nationals remained in custody pending an administrative decision on their deportation

ATHENS: Nine protesters from Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, arrested during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at the University of Athens School of Law last week are set to be deported from Greece, their lawyers said on Monday.
Police last week detained a total of 28 Greek and foreign protesters occupying the building, on charges including disrupting the operation of a public entity and assistance in damaging foreign property, according to court documents.
The protesters have denied any wrongdoing.
Evidence included leaflets, Palestinian flags, two smoke flares, gas masks, helmets, paint cans and banner poles, along with a statement uploaded on a website in Greek and English urging others to join the protest, according to the documents.
The Greek protesters were released pending trial on May 28 but the nine foreign nationals — one man and eight women, aged 22 to 33 — remained in custody pending an administrative decision on their deportation.
The foreigners’ lawyers said in a statement that deportation orders had been issued, which would prevent the defendants attending their own trial.
Lawyers Ioanna Sioupouli and Anny Paparoussou said that their clients who live and work in Greece planned to appeal.
Lawyer Vassilis Papadopoulos, representing a 33-year-old Spaniard, called the decision “arbitrary and illegal.”
Pro-Palestinian supporters have staged several protests in Greece since Israel’s war with Hamas began in Gaza in October.
Greece in 2019 scrapped legislation that prohibited police from entering universities, as the conservative government said it was used as a cover for lawlessness.
The Academic Sanctuary Law, a legacy of the crackdown on a 1973 student revolt by the military junta of the time, was designed to protect protesting students and freedom of ideas. Critics decried its abolition as a clampdown on democracy.

Nine protesters from Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, arrested during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at the University of Athens School of Law last week are set to be deported from Greece, their lawyers said on Monday. (X/@YousefAlsweisi)

World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 

World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 
Updated 18 min 5 sec ago
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World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 

World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 
  • Saudi Environment Minister Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli leads Kingdom’s delegation in Bali
  • Saudi Arabia is set to host the next edition of World Water Forum in Riyadh in 2027

JAKARTA: The 10th World Water Forum, a gathering aimed at fostering international collaboration in global water management, opened on Indonesia’s island of Bali on Monday.

The World Water Forum will run until May 25, as hundreds of international participants join the conference to address global water and sanitation challenges. 

The 10th edition held under the theme “Water for Shared Prosperity” saw several heads of state and ministers in attendance, including Tajikistan Prime Minister Qohir Rasulzoda, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Fiji President Wiliame Katonivere, and Saudi Minister of Environment Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli. 

President Joko Widodo called attention to the “central role” of water for human civilizations as he opened the forum on Monday. 

“Water scarcity can also trigger war and become the source of disasters. Too much water or too little water both can turn into problems for the world,” Widodo said in his opening speech. 

“The 10th World Water Forum is very strategic to revitalize real collective action and commitment to realize an integrated management of water resources … Water isn’t merely a natural product, but a product of collaboration that unites us and therefore we must have collaborative efforts to preserve it.” 

Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council, also called for global action. 

“This 10th World Water Forum should mark the turning point towards concrete action,” he said. 

The World Water Forum is held every three years and organized by the World Water Council and a host country. 

This year, the multi-day event will also see Saudi Arabia participate in a special session focusing on its role as the next host of the international conference under the theme “Action for a Better Tomorrow.”

The Kingdom will host the 11th World Water Forum in 2027 in Riyadh. 


Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia

Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia
Updated 26 min 45 sec ago
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Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia

Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is committing to keep US weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces one of its toughest moments against a renewed assault by Russia

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin committed Monday to keeping US weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces one of its toughest moments against a renewed assault by Russia.
Austin and as many as 50 defense leaders from Europe and around the world were meeting Monday to coordinate more military aid to Ukraine, as Kyiv tries to hold off a Russian offensive in the northeast while launching its own massive assault on the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula.
“We’re meeting in a moment of challenge,” Austin said, noting that Russia’s new onslaught of Kharkiv showed why the continued commitment by the countries was vital to keep coming. Austin vowed to keep US weapons moving “week after week.”
The US announced no new aid packages Monday, even as Ukrainian forces continue to complain that weapons are just trickling into the country after being stalled for months due to congressional gridlock over funding. Pentagon officials have said that weapons pre-positioned in Europe began moving into Ukraine soon after the aid funding was approved.
It’s unclear how much of that has reached some of the front lines, where Russian troops have intensified their assault.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday during a visit to China that Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region aims to create a buffer zone but that there are no plans to capture the city.
Ukrainian troops have been fighting to halt Russian advances in the Kharkiv region, while also increasing their offensive attacks in Crimea, including on military infrastructure sites on the Black Sea coast and in the Russian-occupied city of Sevastopol.
Ukraine has also struggled to get enough troops to the front lines, as the war drags on into its third year and fighting takes its toll. In an effort to increase troop numbers, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed two laws, allowing prisoners to join the army and increasing fines for draft dodgers fivefold. The controversial mobilization law goes into effect on Saturday.
In the three weeks since President Joe Biden signed the $95 billion foreign aid package, the US has sent $1.4 billion in weapons pulled from Pentagon stockpiles and announced it was providing $6 billion in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. USAI pays for longer-term contracts with the defense industry and means that the weapons could take many months or years to arrive.
In recent packages the US has agreed to send High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and rockets for them, as well as munitions for Patriot and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, artillery, anti-aircraft and anti-tank munitions, and an array of armored vehicles, such as Bradley and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
The US is also providing additional coastal and riverine patrol boats, trailers, demolition munitions, high-speed anti-radiation missiles, protective gear, spare parts and other weapons and equipment.
The State Department has also approved a proposed emergency sale of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine for an estimated $30 million. State said Ukraine has asked to buy three of the rocket systems, which would be funded by the government of Germany.
The US has now provided about $50.6 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.


Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai
Updated 32 min 53 sec ago
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Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

NEW DELHI: A-list actors in India called on voters to cast their ballots on Monday, as the country’s massive general election reaches Bollywood capital Mumbai, entering its fifth phase. 

More than 968 million people are eligible to vote in India, as the world’s largest electoral exercise began on April 19 in a seven-phase election spread out over over six weeks, with ballots set to be counted on June 4. 

Voter numbers have slumped compared to previous polls, with the first four phases of the election held on April 19, April 26, May 7 and May 13 seeing a turnout of 66.95 percent, 66.7 percent, 65.7 percent and 69.1 percent, respectively. 

In India’s financial capital Mumbai, located in Maharashtra state, Bollywood stars were among the voters queuing since early morning to cast their ballots on Monday, as millions vote in the fifth phase of the election, where 49 seats are up for grabs across six states and two federally administered territories. 

“I came here at 7 o’clock in the morning when the polling booth opened,” actor Akshay Kumar told reporters after casting his vote. 

“I want my India to be developed and strong. I voted, keeping that in mind. (Indians) should vote according to what they think is best for them.” 

Actor Rajkummar Rao said that voting was a “big responsibility” for the nation. 

“It’s very, very important. If, through us, people can get influenced, it’s the best we can do to make people aware of the importance of voting. It’s our moral responsibility toward the nation. I appeal to all of you to come out and vote,” he said. 

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan had also urged Indians to use their right to vote over the weekend, taking to X — where he has more than 44 million followers — to make the public call. 

“As responsible Indian citizens we must exercise our right to vote this Monday in Maharashtra. Let’s carry out our duty as Indians and vote keeping our country’s best interests in mind,” Khan said. 

This election sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi chasing a rare third straight five-year term in power, targeting 400 out of the 543 parliamentary seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014. 

Analysts say Maharashtra will likely be a swing state as it sends the second-highest number of representatives to the lower house of parliament after Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 lawmakers. It may affect the BJP’s initial strong projections in the polls. 

“There are many social issues that are going to be crucial in the state. For instance there is an agrarian distress, the issue of  reservation for the local Maratha community, the general issues like price rise and unemployment that are going against the  establishment,” said Shailendra R Kharat, political science professor at Pune University. 

Though the BJP swept 42 seats in the state in the 2019 elections, Kharat said he expects the ruling party alliance to get only 30 at most. 

Ashok Wankhede, a political analyst based in Maharashtra, said the BJP has not been able “to carry the trust” of the people.

“Maharashtra is the state where the BJP-led alliance is losing the most. This is going to be a major swing state,” he told Arab News. 

“To talk about 400 seats is a war cry. The fight in this election is open and it’s not going to be easy for the BJP to form the government. The last four phases of the election have not been very promising for the BJP.”


Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid

Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid
Updated 55 min 14 sec ago
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Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid

Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid
  • Rights groups have called jail term against Ilya Baburin a record sentence, and stressed that the arson never happened
  • Prosecutors accused Baburin of seeking to help the Azov battalion

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Monday sentenced a man to 25 years in jail for planning to set fire to a Siberian military enlistment office in 2022, the year Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine.
Rights groups have called jail term against Ilya Baburin a record sentence, and stressed that the arson never happened.
Russia saw a wave of arson attacks on army offices however after the Kremlin announced an unpopular military mobilization drive in September 2022.
A military court in Novosibirsk handed down the sentence. Prosecutors accused Baburin of seeking to help the Azov battalion, a branch of the Ukrainian military branded a terror organization in Russia.
Baburin “created a plan to set the military commissariat in Novosibirsk on fire,” prosecutors said.
They said he recruited somebody to throw a Molotov cocktail at the army office but the unnamed person instead reported him to the FSB security service.
Baburin was acting on Ukrainian orders and that he had “established contact” with members of the Azov battalion, prosecutors said.
TASS news agency published footage of Baburin in court, wearing a tracksuit and smiling inside a glass cage for defendants.
“I did not set anything on fire,” Baburin said in court, according to the independent Dozhd TV channel.
He accused the FSB of trying to “gain points” during Moscow’s Ukraine campaign and of “investigating absurd crimes.”
Baburin, who was arrested in September 2022, was found guilty of a string of offenses, including “terrorism” and “treason.”
His lawyer Vasily Dubkov argued in court this month that “nobody was harmed,” according to a transcript of a statement delivered in court and published by the Perviy Otdel rights group.
“Baburin does not look like a spy giving out state secrets and did not have or hand out state secrets,” Dubkov said.
Separately, a military court in Saint Petersburg on Monday sentenced a cadet to eight years in prison for attempting to set railway infrastructure on fire last year.
The court said Timur Kursanov was undergoing military service at an army institute and had taken orders from an unnamed person online who wanted to “involve him in arson acts in exchange for money aimed at destroying transport infrastructure.”
The court said he was arrested during a failed attempt to set fire to a railway intersection in Saint Petersburg in May last year.