Category Archives: Technology

US Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Pakistan Steps Down

WASHINGTON �

The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan has stepped down.

Laurel Miller left the office Friday without a replacement being named.

The departure of the special envoy comes at the same time the U.S. is preparing to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan in its continued fight against the Taliban insurgency.

Politico, the news website, reported Friday that diplomats thought the special envoy’s office was closing Friday, with its responsibilities being folded into the State Department’s South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau.

Later Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that he had not yet made a decision about the future of the office. Tillerson has indicated he plans to reduce the number of special envoys in the State Department, which is facing potential budget cuts of up to 30 percent.

Source: Voice of America

Administration OKs $2 Billion Drone Sale to India

WASHINGTON �

The Trump administration has authorized the sale of unarmed surveillance drones to India, the manufacturer said Friday, as the two nations’ leaders prepare for their first face-to-face meeting.

India initiated its request to buy 22 Guardian MQ-9B unmanned aircraft for maritime surveillance last year. The deal is estimated to be worth about $2 billion. The offer is still subject to congressional approval.

Modi visits this week

The green light from the administration marks a further deepening in defense ties as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday.

Modi’s two-day visit to Washington, which starts Sunday, takes place amid uncertainty over the relationship because of differences on trade and other issues.

So far in his presidency, Trump has focused on outreach to China, India’s strategic rival, as he looks to Beijing to rein in North Korea. But Washington and New Delhi share concerns about China’s rise as a military power.

India reportedly wants the drones for surveillance of the Indian Ocean, waters that China’s navy increasingly traverses after establishing its first overseas base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. India’s archrival Pakistan would also likely be opposed to the drone sale.

We are pleased that the U.S. government has cleared the way for the sale of the MQ-9B Guardian to the Indian government, Linden Blue, CEO of the manufacturer, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, said in a statement. Blue added that it would significantly enhance India’s sovereign maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific.

Military sales date to 2008

Since 2008, India has signed more than $15 billion in U.S. defense contracts, including for C-130J and C-17 transport aircraft, P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, Harpoon missiles and Apache and Chinook helicopters.

Ashley Tellis, an expert on South Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the U.S. decision to offer the Guardian aircraft to India is significant as the U.S. has a standing policy of declining export of such advanced drones other than to allies involved in combined operations with U.S. forces.

There could still be pushback from Congress. While there is bipartisan support for closer U.S.-India security ties, some lawmakers remain wary of the export of U.S. drone technology to non-allies.

Source: Voice of America

Blasts Kill More Than Two Dozen, Injure Scores in NW Pakistan

ISLAMABAD � Two back-to-back bombs went off Friday in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 100 others.

The blasts occurred in a crowded market of Parachinar, the main town of the semi-autonomous Kurram tribal district near the Afghan border.

Sajid Turi, a member of parliament from the area, told the local media that a low-intensity blast occurred during afternoon rush hours, before a second powerful bomb exploded.

The lawmaker said he anticipated the death toll will increase. Hospital sources said more than 30 wounded people were brought in from the scene in “critical condition.

The population in the area where the deadly blasts occurred is predominantly Shi’ite Muslims.

A military statement said it has dispatched two helicopters to Parachinar to evacuate injured to hospitals in Peshawar.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the deadly blasts.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the bombings and said he hopes those responsible are brought to justice, in a statement released by his spokesman.

The U.S. State Department released a statement later Friday, saying, We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families. We will continue to work with the government of Pakistan and our partners across the region to combat the threat of terrorism.

The attacks on Friday happened hours after a car bombing in southwestern city of Quetta killed at least 13 people and wounded 20 others.

Senior police officers apparently were the target. At least seven personnel were among the dead.

A splinter Pakistani Taliban faction, Jamaatul Ahrar, claimed responsibility for that attack.

Source: Voice of America

India Drops Sedition Charges Against Pakistan Cricket Fans

India has dropped sedition charges against 15 Muslims who were arrested for celebrating Pakistan’s recent victory over India in cricket.

Police in the state of Madhya Pradesh told reporters Thursday that sedition, which can carry a life sentence in India, was “hard to prove” in this case as there was no proof that the men necessarily chanted anti-India slogans in their celebration of Pakistan’s win.

“Moreover, none of them has a criminal background,” senior police officer RR Parihar told reporters.

The men may still face other charges including disrupting communal harmony and criminal conspiracy for their rowdy celebration.

The 15 villagers in the Burhanpur district set off fireworks and cheered for Pakistan on Sunday when it defeated India in the Championship Trophy by 180 runs. They were detained for sedition after a neighbor complained to police.

International rights groups including Amnesty International denounced the charges, calling them “patently absurd”.

Passion between the two countries’ cricket fans runs high, particularly during this year’s Championship Trophy, which was the first time India and Pakistan played each other in a major final since 2007.

In 2014, over 60 Indian students were arrested for sedition after being accused of cheering for Pakistan.

Last year, a Pakistani man was arrested for waving an Indian flag after his personal idol, Virat Kohli � India’s cricket team captain, scored 100 runs to win a match.

Source: Voice of America

India and Afghanistan Open Air Freight Corridor to Bypass Pakistan

NEW DELHI � Although Afghan businesses have long wanted to exploit the potential of India’s huge market, trade between the two countries has been hampered due to their tense relations with Pakistan.

But a plane loaded in Kabul with 60 tons of medicinal plants landed in New Delhi this week, raising hopes of giving a major boost to commerce between landlocked Afghanistan and India.

The flight flagged off the establishment of a new air cargo corridor between the two countries. Along with another, more long-term initiative to develop the Iranian port of Chabahar, India hopes to ease access to conflict-ridden Afghanistan and eventually to Central Asian countries.

Pakistan is a barrier

Pakistan allows Afghanistan to send a limited amount of perishable goods over its territory to India, through which the shortest and most cost effective land routes lie. However, India is not allowed to send any imports through Pakistani territory.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani decided to establish the air corridor last September after Pakistan rejected fresh calls by the Afghan leader to allow his country to engage in direct trade with India over its territory.

Although India is the second largest destination for exports from Afghanistan, this lack of easy access has been a dampener.

Air corridor trade

In New Delhi, officials hope the new corridor will boost annual trade between the two countries from $700 million to $1 billion in three years and give a lift to exports of Afghanistan’s agricultural and carpet industries.

A second flight is scheduled to land in New Delhi next week, bringing 40 tons of dried fruit from Kandahar.

At a ceremony marking the inaugural flight in Kabul on Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he wants to make Afghanistan an exporter country.

As long as we are not an exporter country, then poverty and instability will not be eliminated, he said.

Indian foreign ministry officials say the connectivity will allow Afghan businessmen to leverage India’s economic growth and trade networks for its benefit and give farmers quick access to sell perishable products.

Does the air corridor trade have a viable future?

A prominent trader in New Delhi, Shyam Sunder Bansal, said he stopped trading with Afghan businesses several years ago due to the challenges such as transit routes, banking and currency facilities.

India is hoping to eventually extend air cargo flights to other cities.

But Bansal is skeptical whether it will be commercially viable to sustain imports via air. They cannot continue it forever because that will be unconventional, uneconomical, he said.

However, a South Asia expert with the Indian Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, Sukh Deo Muni, said since the distance involved is not too long, the air freight corridor could be viable.

He said New Delhi is committed to the project as it will open up access for India to not just Afghanistan but also Central Asian markets. According to Muni, broader significance is to give two messages. We are committed to Afghanistan and we want to tell Pakistan, you cannot obstruct our access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. This is the long term view.

Afghanistan mainly sends fresh and dried fruits, vegetables and oilseeds to India. It also takes a host of products from India — a flight from New Delhi has carried pharmaceuticals, water purifiers and medical equipment to Kabul as part of the initiative.

Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said the frequency of the air service would depend on demand. It is, at the end of the day, a commercial venture which is supported very heavily, very strongly and very purposefully by both the governments.

Land corridor through Iran

India has also initiated another key project to develop the Iranian port of Chabahar and open a direct transport corridor to Central Asia and Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan. This would also give Kabul an alternate route to the Indian Ocean, which currently uses the Pakistani port of Karachi for sea trade.

There was optimism last year that the project would take off, but it is barely making headway amid fresh worries that the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump may reimpose sanctions on Iran.

Source: Voice of America

US Urges Bigger Chinese Role to Combat Global Terrorism

WASHINGTON � The United States wants China to become more involved in supporting the global fight against terrorism and efforts to defeat Islamic State, including in Iraq, a senior U.S. official said on Monday ahead of high-level security talks with Beijing.

Susan Thornton, the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said that China has taken only a limited role in counter-terrorism efforts, although it appeared to be becoming more interested.

“We would like to see them step up and take more responsibility,” Thornton told reporters as Washington and China’s diplomatic and defense chiefs prepared for a meeting in the U.S. capital on Wednesday.

“They have a lot of interests, for example in Iraq, and we think they should be doing to more to contribute to the efforts of the international coalition to defeat ISIS [Islamic State],” she said.

Thornton said Beijing, which is not a member of the 68-member coalition, was increasingly affected by terrorism, as was seen by the recent killing of two Chinese nationals in Pakistan.

Beijing has sent out “early feelers” about getting more involved, Thornton said.

“We’d like to have a good discussion with them about what more we think they can do, certainly in the way of providing resources to governments that are battling against terrorism and trying to help with capacity-building for governments and security forces in various places,” she added.

Wednesday’s talks will involve U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis as well as China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and General Fang Fenghui, chief of state of the People’s Liberation Army.

The State Department says they will focus on ways to step up pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs, but also cover areas such as counter-terrorism and territorial rivalries in the strategic South China Sea.

The United States has been at odds with China over the latter’s building and fortifying of islands in the disputed waterway.

Thornton said now that there were moves towards agreeing a code of conduct over the South China Sea, Washington would like to see a freeze on all such construction activity.

She reiterated a call on China to fully implement U.N. sanctions on North Korea and, while praising Beijing for imposing a ban on North Korean coal imports, added: “We would like to see China do more.”

Source: Voice of America