• Is the new push for Afghan peace genuine?

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an unannounced visit to Kabul on July 09 that there was “now hope” for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. “An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo told a press conference. “Many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s very deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy… Make no mistake, there’s still a great deal of work to do”, he added. However, recent BBC study reveals that Taliban are openly active in 70 per cent of Afghanistan; Afghan government controls 122 districts, or about 30 per cent of the country. Yet, it does not mean that government controlled territories are free from Taliban attacks. “Kabul and other major cities, for example, suffered major attacks – launched from adjacent areas, or by sleeper cells,” the report said. When asked about the BBC’s study, the Pentagon did not comment directly, but pointed to the latest figures by the NATO-led coalition, asserting that about 56 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory was under Afghan government control or influence. The study quoted a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani playing down the findings. The BBC study also said Islamic State had a presence in 30 districts, but noted it did not fully control any of them. Earlier Taliban had refused the government’s request to extend their three-day Eid ceasefire, launching fresh attacks that have seen scores killed or injured. Resurgence of insider attacks after almost a year’s gap also belies Pompeo’s claims. President Ashraf Ghani thanked Pompeo for US support, hailing Trump’s strategy as a “game changer” in the conflict. Pompeo said while the United States would have an “important” role in peace talks, the process must be Afghan-led. Taliban’s key demands for engaging in talks has been the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but observers say they now appear amenable to a timetable for their pull-out. However, Taliban have rejected the latest peace talks offer. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Taliban “are not interested in talks while foreign troops are still on Afghan soil.” Mujahid also repeated long-standing Taliban claims that Afghan government officials are “puppets. Renewed violence and the Taliban’s recent vow to continue their fight has dampened hopes that the truce would provide a clear path to peace talks. Ambassador Alice G Wells, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, visits Islamabad [and Kabul] so frequently that Pakistan’s foreign office might be thinking of offering her complimentary accommodation for setting up Islamabad camp office! Beyond routines Wells has a special assignment: to hold Taliban by their throat and present them to President Ashraf Ghani, as soon as possible. Ghani already has an America dictated power sharing draft agreement in his pocket. And American support for granting him blanket clearance for rigging his second term election is contingent upon making reasonable performance on this track. Both Afghanistan and the US want to reach some kind of deal with the Taliban before the parliamentary elections due later this year. Hence Wells’ urgency! Arduous challenge for Alice is that Taliban insist on talking directly to the US, as they think that present status of Afghanistan is of a country under American occupation. So they want to engage with the power that be—ostensibly, logical thinking. With focus on Taliban, Wells is putting in strenuous effort to steer the Pak-US relationship clear of mines laid by President Donal Trump. During her latest visit, she reiterated that Pak-US relationship is important and the US would like to carry it forward. Despite Trump sown hiccups, these bilateral relations are still presenting a functional façade. Pakistan is confident that Taliban could be brought to the negotiating table after the success of recent short ceasefire on Eid. However, it feels that bringing Taliban to negotiating point is not the sole responsibility of Pakistan, but is a shared errand. In a parallel development, during several rounds of discussions between Pakistani and Afghan officials, both sides have worked out a roadmap on how to invite Taliban to join the political process. Afghan President has confirmed that Pakistan and Afghanistan have made considerable progress on how to achieve peace in Afghanistan. This however does not match ground realities. Against this backdrop, Wells’ recent visit to Kabul and Islamabad was significant. While in Kabul, she stated that American leadership desires decisive moves in the peace talks. Wells said there was widespread support for peace, underlined by scenes of unarmed fighters mingling with government troops and civilians on the streets of Afghan cities during Eid festival. Wells said that Taliban’s failure to engage in talks to end Afghanistan’s nearly 17-year old conflict was ‘unacceptable’: “I think it creates this impulse for everyone to renew their efforts to find a negotiated political solution. “Increasingly I think it’s becoming simply unacceptable for the Taliban not to negotiate”— a wishful assumption. Taliban soon responded by multiple attacks killing scores of people in Jalalabad and elsewhere. Wells also called on Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Views were exchanged on issues of mutual interest, regional security and cooperation between both the countries, the Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement. She “commended the sacrifices and resilience of the people and armed forces of Pakistan and appreciated the role Pakistan Army has played in battling the scourge of terrorism”. Both agreed on continued engagement at multiple levels. Trump has suspended military and civil sector aid to Pakistan since the beginning of this year alongside holding back the already paid for military hardware. America is also defaulting on arears of Coalition Support Fund, amount that America owes to Pakistan that latter has already spent on account of logistical services provided to the US. Finance Minister, Dr Shamshad Akhtar also held a meeting with Wells. They discussed the current state of Pak-US relations with particular focus on economic cooperation. Finance Minister said that such bilateral visits enhance understanding of each other’s point of view on important issues. The Minister also briefed Alice Wells about Pakistan’s participation in the recently concluded FATF meeting. America had gone out of the way to have Pakistan placed on FATF grey list to the extent of circumventing the FTAF operating procedures. Wells said that since the Afghan government and United States were willing to start talking without preconditions, the onus was now on the Taliban to respond— once again logic stands on its head. “Right now it’s the Taliban leaders… who aren’t residing in Afghanistan, who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement,” Wells said. She forgot to account for those Taliban controlling over 70 percent of Afghan territories. Previous meaningful peace initiatives were deliberately scuttled by the US, one has to see how the current one proceeds! Only the forward movement of peace process will reflect on America’s sincerity of purpose, which is hard to discern—at least for now.

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  • People of Kashmir: A tough nut to crack

    Month of July has special significance with regard to struggle of Kashmiri people. Two events “Martyrs day” and “Kashmir’s Accession to Pakistan day” are commemorated of 13 and 19 July respectively. Martyrs' Day is observed in Kashmir and the World over in remembrance of 22 Kashmiris killed on 13 July 1931 due to reckless firing by the state forces of Dogra ruler. On that day Kashmiris were peacefully agitating outside the Central Jail Srinagar, where an innocent Muslim Abdul Qadeer was being tried on the charge of terrorism and inciting public against the Maharaja of Kashmir. They were buried in the compound of Kanqah-i-Maula. The place is since known as Mazar-i-Shuhada (Tomb of Martyrs). So, Indian strategy of mixing up terrorism with legitimate struggle of Kashmiri people predates India’s independence from the British Raj. A historic resolution was passed unanimously by the people of the Muslim-dominated state in a meeting of the All Jammu Kashmir Muslim Conference held at the residence of Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, the founder President of AJK on July 19, 1947 at Aabi Guzer in Srinagar demanding the then Dogra rulers to materialise the accession of the Jammu Kashmir state to Pakistan honouring the decision and the categorical viewpoint of the majority population of the Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir state. This day is marked as “Kashmir’s Accession to Pakistan day". Awareness about plight of Kashmiris is picking up momentum. And powerful voices are now worried about HR violations in Kashmir. The latest in joining the ranks of those expressing serious concern over quandary of religious minorities, in India, is the US State Department, which showed its disappointment over refusal of the Indian Government in allowing a delegation of the US Commission on International Freedom to visit the country to have first-hand knowledge of trampling of human and fundamental rights in India. This is for the third time that the delegation has been denied visas and the motives are quite understandable. And only recently, the UN Human Rights Council has documented details of what is happening with Kashmiris, urging the UN General Assembly and Security Council to take up the issue seriously. Though India claims to be the biggest democracy and champion of secularism, its denial of access to the outside world clearly means it has something to hide. National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of South Africa has confirmed that it will be investigating Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi for his involvement in war crimes and HR violations in Kashmir. Fast Forward 2018: Kashmir continues to be occupied by India against the will of Kashmiri people. Indian Occupied Kashmir is burning. Hundreds of Kashmiri men, women and children have been killed over the past two months; more than 150 civilians have been blinded by the use of lethal pellet guns; and more than 10,000 men, women and children have been seriously injured because of the indiscriminate firing by occupying Indian forces. While Indian claims that pellet guns are non-lethal, the Doctors Association in Kashmir has clearly said that the embedded pellets in the bodies of the victims were causing fatal lead poisoning and put pregnant women at serious risk. Further, the toxic lead deposits in children’ bodies would stunt their growth. Kashmiris in IoK are under siege in their own land. The use of sexual molestation and rape, as an instrument of state terror, is a norm. Peaceful demonstrations are a crime, political meetings are banned and true representatives of Kashmiri people had been incarcerated. There are prolonged curfews and mobile telephone and internet blackouts in IoK. Indian occupation forces in the occupied territory are hunting down innocent citizens involving draconian black laws. Today, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris are campaigning against the Indian repression to attain freedom and realization of their right to self-determination. Now two years after the martyrdom of Burhan Wani, his legacy for struggle for self-determination lives on. Martyrdom of Burhan Wani has infused new vigour in the indigenous freedom struggle of innocent Kashmiris who have been fighting for their right of self-determination for almost seven decades. Burhan Wani’s martyrdom has handed down the baton of freedom struggle to the youth of Kashmir, a fact recognized by a recently released report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In a recent Conference, President Azad Jammu and Kashmir, has appealed to the Canadian lawmakers to develop a bipartisan approach for the promotion and protection of human rights of Kashmiris in IoK. He made this appeal to the Canadian Senate and the House of Commons while addressing a Kashmir Conference at Hamilton, Canada, organized here by the Pakistan Business Association of Hamilton. He especially urged the Human Rights Committees of the Canadian Senate and the House of Commons to take note of the report on the human rights situation in IoK recently released by OHCHR, discuss it and support its recommendations. He highlighted two of the reports’ recommendations, namely, the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry by the Human Rights Council to ascertain facts on the ground and repeal of two draconian laws – Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act. The Conference was also addressed by Scott Duvall, Member of Canadian Parliament, Ken Stone of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War, Mr. Chris Macleod of Cross Border Litigation Group, and Dr. Zafar Bangash, Chairman of the Friends of Kashmir Committee. Scott Duvall, MP, said that he would take back suggestion for focus on Human Rights Council’s Kashmir report in the Human Rights Committee of the House of Commons. Chris Macleod endorsed the idea that more attention must be given to the human right’s situation in IoK and in this regard the Human Rights Committees of the Canadian Senate and the House of Commons should play a role. Ken Stone said that the Kashmir Conference has been convened to hear the cries of the Kashmiris struggling against denial of self-determination in IoK. He said that in early 2017 he had visited Azad Kashmir and had found it to be truly free. In Azad Kashmir, unlike IoK, there was no presence of the Army in cities and towns, no gun-toting soldiers, no barricades and no sign of the people of AJK being repressed. Despite India’s state terrorism and savage oppression, the people of Kashmir and Pakistan believe in peaceful means and would continue to urge India to resort to dialogue and diplomacy. It is the responsibility of the UN and international community to avert a major war over Kashmir, which is a grave and potent risk. India should renounce the path of terrorism and violence and come back to diplomacy to resolve this issue within the political parameters defined by the UN Security Council Resolutions. Back in 1949, Canada’s General AGL McNaughton, in his capacity as President of the Security Council, had played an active role in the resolution of the dispute and on 22 December 1949 had proposed an impartial plebiscite in the territory to determine the future of Jammu and Kashmir and settle the dispute in accordance with the freely expressed will of its inhabitants. Stone said “occupation is a crime from Kashmir to Palestine”. And that solution given by the UN Security Council mandating a plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to determine their political future was the most viable, prudent and practicable dispensation. India is continuing occupation of IoK and brutalization of the Kashmir people in its attempts to illegally integrate the Occupied Kashmir to the Indian State. The Kashmir Conference also passed a resolution which unanimously calls on the UN to assume its responsibility to organize the Kashmir plebiscite under its supervision; and urges the UN to investigate all massacres, gang rapes, fake encounters, forced disappearances and wilful blinding of the Kashmiris. The resolution also called upon India to cease forthwith all human rights violations in IOK; and called on its government to allow UN/ independent investigations into the human rights situation in IoK; and to withdraw all its troops including armed constabulary from Jammu and Kashmir, particularly from cities, towns and villages. The world must break the cycle of appeasement of India. While the world, especially the western countries know fully well that Indian occupation forces are on a murderous rampage in the IoK and are committing crimes against humanity there, even then, the majority of the western nations have chosen to be silent on the issue or look the other way. This encourages and rewards Indian impunity in IoK and is tantamount to complicity in the Indian crimes. Moreover, plebiscite is not a dated instrument; Canada has recently held a plebiscite in Quebec.

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  • How do we Promote Peace in India, Today?

    Post from India: by Ram Puniyani We are passing through times when Hate against weaker sections of society and religious minorities is increasing by leaps and bounds. The increase in the mob lynching all over the country on the pretext of child lifting is coming on the back of mob lynching on the pretext cow-beef, public flogging-humiliation of dalits on the issue of beef and other issues related their caste humiliation. Mobs seem to be emboldened by the fact that there has been an approval of these acts from the top. Ministers like Mahesh Sharma came to the funeral of Dadri accused, now Mr. Jayant Sinha welcomed the accused of Alimuddin lynching accused when they got bail. The matters are frighteningly increasing as now the horrid incidents of rape are being given a communal twist, fake news is being employed with impunity on one side and rape accused are getting social support on the other. It’s a matter of shame that in case of Kathua the then Ministers from BJP Chaudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, attended the event organized by Hindu Ekta Manch, which was protesting against the arrests in the case. Now in case of Mandsaur rape, the incident is being given false twist to demonize a community. The accused belonged to Muslim community. Muslim groups took out a procession demanding severe punishment to the accused. Jyotiradiya Scindiya of Congress joined a candle light procession to demand death penalty to the accused. Social media was used to spread the hateful message as if he was demanding the release of the accused. The pictures of procession were photo shopped to present Muslims in bad light. A message was circulated, which said that members of the Muslim community rallied in Mandsaur demanding that the perpetrator of the crime be released because the Quran sanctions rape of non-Muslim women. The text of the placards in the Mandsaur procession was “We won’t tolerate attacks on daughters, stop this brutality”. A tweet was circulated “NCRB report: India is most dangerous for women reason: In India, 95% of the rape cases have a Muslim perpetrator. Of the total 84734 rape cases, 81000 rapes had a Muslim rapist and 96% of the victims are non-Muslims and with an increase in theirpopulation, number of rapes will also increase.” Nothing can be farther from truth. NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) does not record the religion in cases of rape. This tweet and the one about Jyotiraditya Scindia was exposed by AltNews, the portal going to the roots of such fake news and is doing a great service to society by giving the truth and exposing the news which is deliberately trying to demonize the religious minority. One recalls that in case of Muzzafarnagar; the violence was incited by circulating a photo of two young men being beaten by a Muslim looking crowd. It was presented that Hindu youth are being beaten. As such that picture was from Pakistan, the crowd beating two thieves. Recently in Kairana the Mahagathbandhan candidate Tabassum Hasan won the election against the BJP candidate. After winning she stated “This is the victory of truth and ‘Mahagatbandhan’ (coalition) and defeat of the BJP in the state and Centre. Everyone has come out and supported us. I thank them.” On social media and on TV debates what was presented was that she said “This is the victory of Allah and defeat of Ram”. This quote was posted on a number of pro-BJP pages on Facebook among which Yogi Adityanath-True Indian posted it on 1 June, and was shared massively. One recalls that in recent times BJP has deliberately muddied the waters of social media by employing thousands of trolls, as Swati Chaturvedi’s “I am a Troll”, tells us. As such the hate propaganda began with demonization of Muslim kings for breaking Hindu temples in medieval period, for spreading Islam, for having large families, indulging in polygamy, being terrorists etc. Now it has taken a dangerous turn with people trained in communal ideology and in the use of social media twisting the facts blatantly. There are reports that in the forthcoming elections BJP is planning to train lakhs of volunteers in the use of social media for electoral gains. The rising hatred is becoming like a monster, propelling itself beyond control. Can we just accuse the social media for intensifying this hate? Some control and restraint is needed, some fact check is necessary for this highly impactful media. What is also needed is that mechanisms like AltNews are made more popular to counter these falsehoods. It is heartening to note that Twitter has decided to suspend seven Crore fake accounts. We also need to ensure that the misconceptions and Hate which is ruling our society, streets need to be countered by message of love. What we need is that truth is propagated and message of peace is made more effective. We have activists like Faisal Khan, who through his Khudai Khidmatagar takes out peace marches. Harsh Mander’s Paigam-E-Mohabbat (Message of peace) has been doing yeomen service by meeting the families of victims of lynching and creating an atmosphere of amity. Mahant from Ayodhya Yugal Kishore Sharan Shastri, through his less advertised peace marches is trying to reach sections of society with a message of tolerance and peace. Such efforts need to be upheld and broadened. These are just few examples of the initiatives in this direction, there are many more which need to be projected to promote and preserve amity in India. Countering Hate and promoting amity became the central message of father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who struggled to promote peace, in the highest traditions of his Hinduism. As the fake news is assuming frightening proportions and is doing serious harm to the concept of fraternity inherent in Indian nationalism, we need to retune ourselves to the core value of amity, which was the foundation of freedom movement and is very much the part of our Constitution.

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