Pakistan’s Lahore High Court has dismissed a petition filed by a Christian couple seeking the recovery of their 12-year-old daughter after she was allegedly kidnapped and forced to convert and marry, media reports said, citing sources. According to Pakistan’s local media portal Kross Konnection, citing rights activist Sherkan Malik, Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan of the court’s Rawalpindi Bench on August 18 refused to review the evidence provided by Parvez Masih and his wife, Yasmeen, seeking custody of their daughter Zarvia. While speaking with the media portal, Malik said the judge dismissed our petition in under two minutes. He even refused to look at any of the evidence, which clearly showed that the minor child was threatened to give a statement in favour of the accused, Imran Shahzad and his wife Adiba.
Even in the presence of recorded evidence, the judge, in a ruling, declared that “the girl is 12, she is married, and she did it out of her free will.” According to the activist, the accused Shahzad threatened to kill the girl Zarvia’s two brothers if she told the truth. With this ruling, the girl Zarvia now remains in the custody of Imran Shahzad. Malik said that the father of the girl, Masih, and his wife, who live in Rawalpindi, approached him for legal assistance over fears that their daughter had been killed after being kidnapped.
“Since May 14, when a judicial magistrate in Rawalpindi handed Zarvia’s custody to Imran on the basis of the child’s verbal statement that she was 14 years old and had married the accused of her own free will, her parents have had no contact with her, leaving them to question if she is even alive,” Malik said. “The judge told us that since the girl had already recorded her statement, this was now just a frivolous case, and there was nothing more the court could do in this regard.”
Malik said that in July, Zarvia managed to make a phone call to her brother, telling him that Shahzad, 40, had threatened to kill him and her other brother if she incriminated him in the abduction case. “The family has an audio recording of Zarvia’s phone call to her eldest brother,” Malik said. Based on this information, Masih filed a petition for the recovery of his daughter in the Rawalpindi Additional Sessions Court on July 13, but the judge dismissed the case on July 14.
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US envoy calls for serious national political dialogue in Afghanistan
US special envoy for Afghanistan Thomas West has called for a ‘serious’ national political dialogue in Afghanistan as the people continue to take the strain of Taliban atrocities and human rights violations in the country.
Thomas West underlined, “Without a serious national political dialogue about the future of the country among Afghans who have genuine support in their community, I really do fear…. we could see a return to civil war in time,” as he delivered his remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, lambasting Taliban for their cruelty on Afghans, TOLOnews reported. “We wish to see and to support the emergence of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan that never again harbours terrorists … in which the rights of all its people, women and men, boys and girls are upheld,” the US Special envoy said.
However, the Deputy spokesman for the Islamic Emirate, Bilal Karimi, said that there is no requirement for national dialogue in Afghanistan.
“There is peace and security in the country. All the challenges that previously existed are currently solved. The time for negotiations was when there was war in the country and there were many sides–there was an invasion–now here is a central government and the people are in a calm situation,” TOLOnews reported quoting the deputy spokesman of the Islamic Emirate, Bilal Karimi.
Recently, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a recent report, outlining the human rights situation in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.
Hurricane Ian pummels US state of Florida
Following a landfall on Wednesday, Hurricane Ian has caused severe destruction across the US State of Florida, leaving more than 2.5 million homes and businesses without power, media reports said.
Quoting the local authorities, Al Jazeera reported that a 72-year-old man who fell into a canal in the city of Deltona has died as a result of the storm whereas rescuers have been looking for missing persons.
During a speech on Thursday, US President Joe Biden said, “This could be the deadliest Hurricane in Florida’s history; the numbers are still unclear but we’re hearing early reports of what may be a substantial loss of life.”
Taking to Twitter, Biden wrote, “My message to the people of Florida is that at times like these, America comes together. We put aside our differences and pull together as one team. One America.”
“However long it takes, the U.S. Government will be there,” he tweeted.
On Wednesday, Twenty-three people were found missing after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast of Florida due to Hurricane Ian, US Border Patrol said in a statement.
The survivors were later taken to the nearby hospital as they complained of exhaustion and dehydration.
Moreover, due to approaching Ian, the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, has asked his city to shut down Friday, Al Jazeera reported.
“There will be water tomorrow in this city,” Mayor John Tecklenburg said.
“Take this storm seriously,” Tecklenburg added, “tomorrow, stay home and stay out of harm’s way.”
Notably, Tropical Storm Ian which has caused widespread destruction in Florida is expected to become a hurricane again before making US landfall for the second time on Friday, the US National Hurricane Center has said, issuing a hurricane warning for the entire coast of South Carolina, according to Al Jazeera.
More than one million Florida residents have lost power after the powerful and several homes have been put under evacuation orders as the dangerous storm hit the US.
Subsequently, Cuba also started restoring power on Wednesday after the powerful hurricane knocked out the island’s electricity grid and wreaked havoc.
China’s crashing economy: effect of zero Covid policy
The World Bank concluded in its recent forecast that Beijing’s economy will grow at a slower rate than the rest of East Asia this year as China’s Zero Covid Policy has resulted in the shutdown of businesses in the country impacting hundreds of thousands of citizens.
Moreover, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its impact on energy and food prices and supply is also weighing on China’s economy, Sydney Morning Herald reported. China has been trying tough to stimulate growth via infrastructure investment, and incentives, however, their draconian measures to curb covid via strict zero covid policy have added to the miseries of people.
The World Bank on Tuesday slashed China’s 2022 economic growth projection to 2.8 per cent, pointing to Beijing’s “zero-COVID” policy and real estate crisis.
Notably, the World Bank forecasted 5 per cent economic growth in April, The Strait Times reported.
The Zero Covid Policy of China under which full or partial lockdowns were imposed in major centres, has had a negative impact on businesses. More severe lockdowns were implemented in the country as it continued to report more coronavirus infections this year.
Many people have been unemployed and underemployed, especially in service industries, due to the repeated lockdowns in different parts of the country.
The lockdowns have affected factory production, and supply chains and caused goods shipment delays to the rest of the world and consumer prices in the country rose by 2.5 per cent due to the dampened demand.
China is one of the last places in the world still enforcing stringent zero-Covid measures. The heavy-handed approach has seen dozens of neighbourhoods across Shenzhen identified as “high-risk areas,” and placed under strict lockdown orders.
US Senate approves $12.3 billion aid for Ukraine
US Senate on Thursday approved emergency aid of USD 12.3 billion to Ukraine in its war against Russia. The measure will not only continue government spending for several weeks but will also help Ukraine in war to a greater extent.
According to the New York Times, the US Senate on Thursday approved a temporary spending package to keep the government funded past a Friday deadline.
Under the legislation, the measure would provide about USD 12.3 billion in emergency aid for war-torn Ukraine which includes USD 3 billion for supplies and arms for Ukraine’s military.
It also provides USD 4.5 billion for Kyiv to keep the country’s finances stable and keep the government running in order to provide basic services to the people of the war-torn country.
The aid for Ukraine comes straight after Congress approved approximately USD 54 billion in two previous packages.
On August 19, the US Defence Department announced that it would provide a new USD 775 million in additional military assistance to Ukraine, including HIMARS missiles, artillery, and mine-clearing systems.
Since 1993, the US has invested over USD 4.2 billion for the safe clearance of landmines and explosive weapons of war (ERW) as well as the securing and safe disposal of excess small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) and munitions in more than 100 countries and territories.
In total, the United States has now committed approximately USD 9.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than USD 11.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine.
Notably, Russia launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, which the West has termed an unprovoked war. As a result of this, the Western countries have also imposed several crippling sanctions on Moscow.
Moreover, Russia will hold a signing ceremony on Friday to incorporate the annexed four occupied regions of Ukraine at Kremlin, Moscow’s President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“Tomorrow in the Georgian Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace at 15:00 [1200 GMT] a signing ceremony will take place on the incorporation of the new territories into Russia,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday, as quoted by Al Jazeera.
He further added that Putin will make a speech at this event.
The referendum by the Russian authorities on the annexation of occupied territories of Ukraine was largely seen as a “sham referendum” and has been widely criticised by various countries.
US, Pacific Island leaders reach deal with eye on China
In order to checkmate the Chinese influence in the Pacific Islands, America and Pacific leaders and representatives from 14 Pacific Island states issued a joint declaration resolving to strengthen their partnership.
In the historic two-day summit, the United States and Pacific leaders reached an 11-point Declaration on US-Pacific Partnership, declaring that they shared a vision for a region where “democracy will be able to flourish.” “We share a vision for a resilient Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity, where individuals can reach their potential, the environment can thrive, and democracy will be able to flourish,” read the declaration on US-Pacific Partnership. Washington’s plan to deepen diplomatic engagement with the Pacific comes as concerns grow about China’s expanding influence in the region.
Earlier, the Solomon Islands had indicated it would not sign a joint declaration during the high-profile gathering, just five months after it signed a security agreement with China. The President addressed the visiting leaders from a dozen Pacific Island countries in Washington on Thursday in the first-ever summit held to make the Indo-Pacific region safe and keep these island nations away from the increasing influence of China, which in the past few years has made extraordinary outreach efforts in the region.
“Today, security in the Pacific and for the Pacific Islanders remains as critical as ever to us and I hope to you as well. The security of America, quite frankly, and the world depends on your security and the security of the Pacific Islands. And I really mean that,” Biden said.
The summit was attended by heads of state from Fiji, Solomon Island, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Marshall Island, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Polynesia, New Caledonia and the Cook Islands.
‘China has key role in US’ drug problem’
Fentanyl, a nameless killer touted as the deadliest drug threat facing the United States, is waging an all-out assault on the most powerful country in the world.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin. Just two milligrams of fentanyl, or the amount that could fit on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially lethal dose, according to the US government. “In 2021, a record number of Americans – 107,622 – died from a drug poisoning or overdose. Sixty-six per cent of those deaths can be attributed to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl,” the US Justice Department said this week.
On Tuesday, the US government announced the results of an enforcement operation that spanned from May to September and resulted in significant fentanyl seizures across the United States.
As part of the One Pill Can Kill initiative, the DEA and its law enforcement partners seized more than 10.2 million fentanyl pills and approximately 980 pounds of fentanyl powder during the period of May 23 through Sept. 8, 2022.
The US Justice Department said the amount of fentanyl taken off the streets during this surge is equivalent to more than 36 million lethal doses removed from the illegal drug supply.
In an editorial, a Toronto-based think tank highlighted China’s role in the trade of synthetic drugs, which has led to concerns about possible involvement in the US opioid problem.
“The production of illegal fentanyl, the majority of which was destined for the American drug market, was outlawed in China three years ago as a result of a vigorous diplomatic campaign by the United States. Since then, most of the illicit fentanyl production has moved from China to Mexico, where it is produced on an industrial scale utilising chemicals imported from China as precursors,” the International Forum For Rights And Security (IFFRAS) said.
The IFFRAS said the sale of precursor chemicals and the illicit funds obtained from it has supported China’s economy at a time when it has struggled to recover from the global financial crisis. However, it is unlikely that the opioid crisis is a part of some large-scale Chinese hybrid campaign against the United States.
The think tank argues that the opioid problem has also turned into a political negotiating chip for the Chinese government as tempers are once again rising over the Taiwan Strait.
“In protest of US congressional travels to Taiwan last month, China froze all counterdrug cooperation with the US, saying the consequences of undermining bilateral ties and hurting China-US counternarcotics cooperation should be entirely borne by the U.S. side,” the Canadian think tank said.
It states that China does not have many reasons to contribute to stopping the flow of pharmaceuticals to the US.
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