Category Archives: Aviation

Protesters Lash Out at Trump Across Muslim World

Large crowds of protesters across the Muslim world staged anti-U.S. marches Friday after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with protests in Gaza leading to the death of one Palestinian man.

The Palestinian, Mahmoud al-Masri, 30, was killed by Israeli soldiers during clashes along the Israel-Gaza border after Palestinians called for a Day of Rage to protest the U.S. action. The Israeli military confirmed that it shot two people in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, accusing them of being main instigators of violent riots.

Israeli warplanes also struck Hamas military targets in Gaza in response to a rocket fired from the area. The Palestinian health ministry said at least 15 people were injured in the strikes.

Demonstrations also took place Friday in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

The Arab League, comprised of nearly two dozen countries, will meet Saturday in an effort to create a joint position on the matter.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the United States plans to move its embassy there. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital. The Palestinians want the eastern part of Jerusalem for its capital of a future independent state.

Holy sites

Israel has added additional security forces in Jerusalem. In the past, Israel has imposed age restrictions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound where violence often erupts during tense times.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said, We have no indication there will be disturbances on the mount, therefore there is no age restriction. If there will be disturbances, then we will respond immediately.

The site is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. It is the holiest Jewish site and the third holiest in Islam.

The Islamist group Hamas, meanwhile, has called for an uprising against Israel.

Decade of diplomacy defied

Trump’s announcement defies decades of diplomacy in the quest to bring peace to Israel. Jerusalem has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the quest and it was widely believed that a solution would be reached in the peace process negotiations.

The White House on Thursday denied that the president’s announcement on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem means his administration is pulling out of the Middle East peace process.

In fact, in the president’s remarks, he said that we are as committed to the peace process as ever, and we want to continue to push forward in those conversations and those discussions, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. And hopefully the ultimate goal, I think, of all those parties is to reach a peace deal. And that’s something that the United States is very much committed to.

No other country has immediately followed Trump’s lead in planning to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something the White House has acknowledged.

I’m not aware of any countries that we anticipate that happening at any point soon, Sanders said. I’m not saying that they aren’t, but I’m not aware of them.

The Russian ambassador in Israel, Alexander Shein, said Moscow could move its embassy to West Jerusalem after the Palestinians and the Israelis agree on all issues of the final status of the Palestinian territories.

The Russian foreign ministry, in a statement viewed as a surprise by Israelis, said it considers East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

No other country has immediately followed Trump’s lead in planning to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something the White House has acknowledged.

I’m not aware of any countries that we anticipate that happening at any point soon, Sanders said. I’m not saying that they aren’t, but I’m not aware of them.

The Russian ambassador in Israel, Alexander Shein, said Moscow could move its embassy to West Jerusalem after the Palestinians and the Israelis agree on all issues of the final status of the Palestinian territories.

The Russian foreign ministry, in a statement viewed as a surprise by Israelis, said it considers East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Both Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have expressed concern about the timing of Trump’s announcement, according to U.S. officials.

Asked by VOA whether the president’s declaration had been delayed at the request of the two Cabinet members in order to put into place adequate security at U.S. embassies, Sanders replied the decision was made only after a thoughtful and responsible process and that components of the decision went through the full interagency process.

Palestinian officials say Trump’s decision has disqualified the U.S. as an honest broker in the peace process. Many U.S. allies are also disagreeing with the move.

Source: Voice of America

Pakistan Ambassador Urges Cooperation with Afghanistan on Border Security

The Pakistan-Afghanistan border must be secured to keep terrorists from crossing “at free will,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. says.

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry told VOA Urdu in an interview that the Afghan government’s change in priorities � focusing on protecting urban areas � has given the Taliban and other extremist groups room to roam freely in a growing patchwork in the rest of the country.

“Pakistan has been cautioning for a long time that the ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan will act as a magnet for the militants of the world,” Chaudhry said. “I think the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating.”

He repeated Pakistan’s claims that it is not harboring any terror groups despite President Donald Trump’s insistence, as part of his new strategy for the region, that Islamabad must do more to crack down on extremists.

“In Pakistan itself, there is no organized presence of ISIS,” Chaudhry said, criticizing Afghanistan’s claims that Islamic State fighters are filtering in from Pakistan. “Don’t create distractions by saying they come from Pakistan. We can never tolerate the presence of Daesh [ISIS] in Pakistan.”

Pakistan says recent military operations have chased terrorists from the country.

“In the last three years, we have done a lot, not for the sake of any other country, but for our own people,” Chaudhry said. “We have defeated the forces of terrorism. The terrorists are on the run. There is no safe haven in Pakistan. The safe havens have moved into Afghanistan. That is where the focus of action should be.”

He called for closer cooperation between the two countries’ intelligence agencies and militaries.

“One major area to work on is border management,” Chaudhry said. “We both must make sure the terrorists cannot cross the border at free will. Let’s secure that border.”

Pakistan has been building a border wall and has repeatedly closed the main border crossings, shutting down trade between the two countries for extended periods.

Chaudhry also called for cooperation on dealing with Afghan refugees and reconstruction, saying there is no military solution possible for the ongoing conflict there.

Source: Voice of America

Afghan Peace Body Offers Kabul Office for Taliban Talks

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN War-torn Afghanistan’s official peace-negotiating panel offered Wednesday for the first time to let the Taliban open a representative office in Kabul or in a country of its own choice, for initiating a peace dialogue. The Taliban promptly rejected the offer, however, saying their rivals are “American occupation” forces who have installed the Kabul regime.

The foreign presence in Afghanistan is the “real problem,” the insurgency’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told VOA. “We do not need to open an office in Kabul because more than half of Afghanistan is under our control and the entire Afghanistan is our office,” he said.

The Taliban has been unofficially running its so-called “Political Office” in Qatar since 2013. However, the Afghan government has refused to recognize the facility. Lately, President Ashraf Ghani has pushed authorities in the Gulf state to shut down the insurgent office in the face of intensified attacks by the Taliban across Afghanistan.

A senior member of the government-formed High Peace Council unveiled the new offer to reporters Wednesday in the Afghan capital. Mohammad Akram Khapalwak said they are ready to enter into the peace process without any preconditions and “through whatever mechanism” is proposed by the Taliban.

Khapalwak called on insurgent leaders residing “in Qatar, or in other countries, or in Pakistan” and facing difficult conditions in exile to respond positively to and come to the negotiating table for an “honorable” dialogue to end miseries the conflict is inflicting on Afghans.

“If they want to open an office, and in any other country, and require any facilities before starting peace talks, the Afghan government and the High Peace Council is ready to facilitate it,” Khapalwak said.

Territorial advances

The Taliban has made significant territorial advances since U.S.-led international combat forces left Afghanistan in 2014.

Commander of U.S. troops and NATO’s Resolute Support mission in the country, General John Nicholson, said last week the Afghan government controls about 64 percent of the population, the Taliban controls about 12 percent of the population, and the other 24 percent live in contested areas.

The U.S. military has intensified airstrikes against Taliban insurgents and other militant groups, including Islamic State, in support of Afghan ground forces since President Donald Trump unveiled his new war strategy three months ago.

The Taliban has long wanted to engage in direct peace talks with Washington, saying the U.S. administration and not the Afghan government is the authority on deciding the fate of the conflict. A U.S.-led military coalition invaded and ousted the Taliban from power in 2001 to punish the group for sheltering al-Qaida leaders blamed for plotting the 9/11 attacks on U.S. cities.

U.N. officials have warned that Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the escalation in the Afghan armed conflict. The number of civilian casualties this year has risen to record levels.

Source: Voice of America

Peace prerequisite for development: Hafeez

Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman says peace is prerequisite for development and the government is utilizing all available resources for lasting peace in the area.

This he said while addressing a seminar held under title of role of media in peace and countering violence and extremism.

Source: Radio Pakistan

Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar Back Away From Chinese Projects

BEIJING In the short space of just a few weeks, Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar have canceled or sidelined three major hydroelectricity projects planned by Chinese companies. The rejection of the three projects, worth nearly $20 billion, comes as a serious jolt to China’s ambitious trade-linking project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Pakistan cited tough financing terms imposed by China as its reason for canceling the $14 billion Diamer-Bhasha Dam project.

Nepal’s deputy Prime Minister recently announced a decision to scrap a $2.5 billion contract for a hydroelectricity project, accusing the Chinese company of financial irregularities. And Myanmar, which halted a $3.6 billion Chinese-backed dam three years ago, declared last month that it no longer is interested in big hydro-electric power projects.

The decisions by China’s neighbors could mean a serious loss of image for BRI, which involves plans to build infrastructure across the globe, including in developed countries like the United States and those in Europe.

While there are also diverse local political and economic reasons behind the three decisions, there is a growing realization among poorer countries that Chinese proposals to build massive infrastructure projects come at an extremely high price, analysts said.

Asked about these decisions by Pakistan and Nepal, the Chinese foreign ministry said it was not aware of it. I am not aware of this information, Geng Shuang, foreign ministry spokesman, said at a media briefing. China and Nepal have sound relations and bilateral cooperation covers a wide range of areas.

Against our Interests

According to the local media accounts, Muzammil Hussain, chairman of Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) in Pakistan told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament that the Chinese company involved in the project there had imposed very difficult financing conditions, which included pledging the new dam, as well as an existing dam, as loan security.

Chinese conditions for financing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were not doable and against our interests, Hussain said.

Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator at the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, a New Delhi based NGO, said, For Pakistan, the biggest ally has been China. They [Pakistanis] would not take out this project without consulting them [the Chinese].

Indeed, China and Pakistan frequently describe their relationship as all-weather and iron brothers.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, they really want financing for this project, Zorawar Daulet Singh, an analyst at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi said. Singh said he would not take the Pakistani official’s statement at face value. Islamabad had approached the World Bank and Asian Development Bank for funding but was turned down, he pointed out.

It is the Chinese, which do not want to go ahead with the project in the face of Indian protests, he said. India has been objecting to the Chinese constructing projects in the sensitive Kashmir area, which it claims as its own, because that amounts to backing Islamabad’s view of the Kashmir issue.

They are probably wanting to sort of put this on the backburner for the moment, Singh said adding, I think there is some sort of policy debate within the Beijing establishment on how can they modify feedback to make it somewhat more acceptable to rest of the subcontinent, particularly India, of course.

China even tried to save face for Pakistan he said.

They [Chinese] gave the Pakistanis sort of face-saver, that okay, ‘we let you withdraw this but we actually don’t want to get into this now’, Singh said.

Salvo from the Himalayas

In Nepal, deputy prime minister Kamal Thapa recently took to Twitter to announce, The agreement [with China], marred by irregularities with the Chinese company – Gejuwa Group regarding the construction of Budhi Gandaki hydropower project, has been scrapped in a cabinet meeting as directed by the parliamentary committee.

Thapa said the agreement had been signed with the Chinese company illegally and haphazardly.

Both the awarding and cancellation has resulted in political controversies in Nepal. The cancellation came immediately ahead of an election, which will take another two weeks to complete.

The contract for 1200 MW dam project was awarded to a Chinese company some six months ago by the coalition government comprising [the] Maoist Party and the Nepali Congress, but in a manner that was not clearly transparent, said Yubaraj Ghimire, an analysts of the Nepal political scene.

“There were questions raised about the transparency. You know it was quite a controversial deal. That was six months ago. Then, a parliamentary committee recommended that this deal be scrapped, but nothing happened.”

Talking about the latest decision to scrap the contract, Ghimire said, What has caused controversy now is that this is a election [time] government which is not expected to take major decisions. It has generated debate and criticism.

One of Nepal’s political leaders and a contender for prime ministership has even said he would reverse the decision if he comes to power.

China’s Reasons

Some analysts said there is also some rethinking in Beijing in favor of scrapping projects that offer a poor return on investments. China has come a long way with its BRI plans since it tried to sell projects to neighbors like Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan.

It is now looking at a large part of Europe and the Americas as potential markets.

China is also keen on exporting its hydroelectricity related machines and construction services across the globe. But it is taking a different view in the case of projects in neighboring countries which are mired in political conflicts and instead focusing on other markets like Latin America and Africa.

They [Chinese] are looking for markets in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia, those regions where neighboring considerations are not very strong, they are looking for industry and machine [exports], Thakkar said.

Incidentally, it is the same Chinese company, Gezhouba Water and Power (Group) Co Ltd. (CGGC), which won the contracts and was consequently rejected by Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar.

I am not sure we can blame the company for this. They are more [due to] investment and political considerations, Thakkar said.

The recent project cancellations also show a growing realization among governments that the cost of per unit electricity produced in hydropower projects is a lot more than those coming from other sources of renewable energies like solar and wind power, Thakkar said.

In the case of Myanmar, the country’s Construction Minister told Reuters in an interview last month that big hydropower projects are no longer a priority in tackling the problem of power shortages.

Instead, Construction Minister Win Khaing said Myanmar is looking to LNG and smaller dams as an alternative solution.

Source: Voice of America

CM Punjab inaugurates Beijing underpass

Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif inaugurated the 1.3 kilometer long Beijing underpass in Lahore on Sunday evening.

It is the longest passageway in the country linking Dharampura to Mughalpura and has been completed at a cost of 3.6 billion rupees. Talking to the media, he termed the Beijing Under Pass as a masterpiece of construction.

He said that the underpass has been named ‘Beijing Bridge’ and it is a symbol of the Pak-China friendship.

Previously known as Chubacha Underpass, the project had been renamed to commemorate the contribution of China in Pakistan’s development projects.

Source: Radio Pakistan