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India’s ‘quiet meeting’ with Taliban ‘exploratory’ in nature

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Even as India’s “quiet engagement” with the Taliban causes disquiet all around, it is understood to be an “exploratory” exercise, with some officials from security and strategic establishments being involved. Sources say that India does not want to take any chances as far as Afghanistan is concerned, given the huge amount of investment having been made by New Delhi in Kabul. Over 500 projects worth over $3 billion are being carried out by India.

With the US and NATO troops set to withdraw from trouble-torn Afghanistan completely by 11 September this year, India does not want to spare any effort that could protect its legitimate interests in this trouble-hit country. “With this backdrop in mind, India is in a kind of exploratory engagement with the Taliban, which is inching towards playing a significant role in the political future of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops,” say sources.  

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) continues to be tight-lipped on the silent engagement with Taliban, but officials off-record say that this should not be seen as any unusual development in diplomacy. Sources say that such exploratory engagements are being limited to the Taliban factions which are not under Pakistan’s influence and not at the beck and call of terror forces.

A Qatari official recently said that Indian officials made a “quiet visit” to Doha in order to speak to the Taliban’s political leadership based there. “I understand that there has been a quiet visit by Indian officials to speak to the Taliban,” said Qatar’s Special Envoy of the State of Qatar for Counterterrorism and Mediation of Conflict Resolution Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani, speaking at a web conference recently. Qahtani in response to a question said the reasoning behind the meeting was that the Taliban will have a “key” role in Afghanistan’s future.

Significantly, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar stopped over in Doha to meet with the Qatari leadership twice in the last two weeks.  The MEA has declined to comment on Qahtani’s statement, or the reports of such an engagement with Taliban.

What has been noticed in the past is that India has lagged behind other regional players such as Russia, China and Iran in establishing communication with the Taliban. India’s stand has been not to talk to the Taliban given their destructive role in Afghanistan. Rather, India has been alerting the USA to the impending threat of Taliban in the wake of troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, China appeared to be quite forthcoming in terms of entertaining the Taliban. Beijing even went to the extent of offering to mediate between the Taliban and the government of the day in Afghanistan. Sources say India needs to ascertain what is what in the Taliban camp in view of the global circumstances affecting Afghanistan dynamics. So, the question whether India feels to have been left isolated in the entire situation is something that needs to be answered by MEA. Indian diplomatic leadership is said to be moving cautiously in terms of its Afghan policy, keeping China and Pakistan in mind.  There is no denying both China and Pakistan do not want India to be influential in any manner in Kabul. Both the countries are seeking to play a more dominant role in what goes into formation of a new dispensation after the power-sharing deal.

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BILL AND MELINDA GATES ARE OFFICIALLY DIVORCED

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WASHINGTON: The divorce between Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates has been finalised. As per CNN report, filing with the King County Superior Court in Washington made the move official. Melinda French Gates filed the petition for divorce in King County, Washington.

Bill and Melinda announced in May that they would be ending their marriage after 27 years, saying, “we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”

However, the duo said they will continue to work together at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Meanwhile, the foundation said last month that the organisation was planning a two-year trial period to see if the pair could continue working together effectively.

“If after two years either decide they cannot continue to work together as co-chairs, French Gates will resign her position as co-chair and trustee,” CEO Mark Suzman said. In the weeks following the initial announcement of the divorce, Bill faced allegations of questionable workplace conduct in the early years at Microsoft.

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BLINKEN ANNOUNCES US REFUGEE ADMISSIONS PROGRAMME FOR AFGHAN NATIONALS

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a US refugee admissions programme Priority 2 designation for Afghan nationals on Monday. The US is weeks away from completing military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Blinken, during a press briefing, said, “The State Department is announcing a new resettlement program for Afghans who assisted the United States, but who do not qualify for special immigrant visas. We’ve created a Priority-2 or P-2 designation, granting access to the US refugee admissions program for many of these Afghans and their family members.”

He said that even as the US forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the US will remain deeply engaged with the country.

“We’ll continue to work toward an Afghanistan, where all Afghans can live in safety and security, and we will continue our support for Afghan institutions, and for the gains that the Afghan people have made over the past 20 years,” said Blinken.

“We will keep engaging intensely in diplomacy to advance negotiations between the Afghan government, the Taliban, with the goal of a political solution, which we believe is the only path to lasting peace. And we’ll keep working closely with countries in the region, which all have a stake in a stable, peaceful, democratic Afghanistan,” he stated.

Blinken said that Afghans who work with the United States or the International Security Assistance Force at some point since 2001 are facing acute fears of persecution or retribution that will likely grow as coalition forces leave the country.

He further added that “We have a special report the responsibility to these individuals. They stood with us. We will stand with them. Over the past 13 years, the State Department has issued more than 73,000 Special Immigrant Visas to eligible Afghans who have helped the United States, and also to their families. We’ll continue to welcome Afghan immigrants and refugees as our neighbours in gratitude for helping us, despite the danger. We won’t forget it.”

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AFGHAN PRESIDENT GHANI’S TIME HAS RUN OUT: TALIBAN

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KABUL: Taliban said that Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s “time has run out” on Monday. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, while reacting to Ghani’s remark that the ongoing war is an external intrigue imposed on the people of Afghanistan, accused the President of lying and spreading false information.

A tweet by Mujahid said that his (Ghani’s) time is over and the announcement of warfare will not survive him. “Speech by @ashrafghani is nonsense, an attempt to control his fears & dire situation. Nation has decided to pursue & bring national traitors to justice. Declarations of war, accusations & lies cannot prolong Ghani’s life, his time has run out, God willing,” said Mujahid. 

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INDIA WANTS PEACEFUL RELATIONS, ONUS IS ON PAKISTAN: TIRUMURTI

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WASHINGTON: India’s Permanent Representative to United Nations, T.S. Tirumurti said that India desires to have peaceful and normal relations with Pakistan but in an atmosphere free from terror.

The Indian Ambassador to the UN informed that issues between the two countries should be resolved in an atmosphere free from terror, hostility, and violence and the onus is on Pakistan to create such an environment. “Pakistan should take credible and verifiable action not to allow any territory under their control to be used for cross border terrorism against India,” said Tirumurti. He also informed that India wants to keep a spotlight on counter-terrorism.

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US-China seek alignment of Afghan interests: Ned Price

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price has said that China’s interest in Afghanistan could be ‘an alignment of interest’ when it comes to what the US and China seek in Afghanistan.

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) interest in Afghanistan could be “an alignment of interest” when it comes to what the US and China seek in Afghanistan, said US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday. “There’s an alignment of interest in at least some areas when it comes to what we seek, what China seeks and what the broader international community seeks in Afghanistan,” Price told ANI on being asked what is US’ assessment of meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Taliban delegation led by its Chief Negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Experts say thay although the US might once have fiercely resisted Chinese attempts to increase their influence inside Afghanistan, now Washington’s priority appears to keep away a civil war. Spokesperson Price also affirmed that is in no one’s interest to see Afghanistan descend into an all-out civil war. “It is in everyone’s interest to see a solution to the conflict that is just as durable as Afghan-led, and Afghan Owned,” he concluded.

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AMID COVID PANDEMIC, PMGKY REDUCES WORRIES OF THE POOR: PM MODI

Abhijit Bhatt

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Gandhinagar: Annotsav Day was celebrated on Tuesday on the occasion of the completion of five years of the Rupani government, as part of which a state-level program was organized in Dahod district in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a virtual dialogue with the beneficiaries of the grain welfare scheme. He asked whether the beneficiaries of Dahod and Rajkot have any problem in taking up the scheme or not. Modi said in a dialogue with the beneficiaries that the poor would get free foodgrains till Diwali. Modi praised the performance of the Gujarat government.

Prime Minister’s Poor Welfare Food Scheme is being praised all over the world. More than Rs 2 crore is being spent by the government under this scheme. The aim is that not a single person in India goes to bed hungry. Under this scheme, ration cardholders are being given double the amount of foodgrains than before. The plan is to run till Diwali.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday addressed the beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana and said this scheme has reduced the worries of the poor and increased their confidence. Three and a half crore beneficiaries in Gujarat are getting the benefit of free foodgrains. “I commend the Gujarat government for this. Preference is given to workers from other parts of the country. Workers have benefited from this scheme. Gujarat is the first to offer the benefit of One Nation One Ration Card,” said the Prime Minister.

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