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US believes Kabul could fall to Taliban in 90 days

President Ghani flies into Mazar to rally forces as Taliban inch closer.

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Taliban could isolate Afghanistan’s capital in 30 days and possibly take it over in 90, a US intelligence was quoted as saying, as the Taliban wrested eighth provincial Afghan capital on Wednesday.

According to The Washington Post, the situation in the country is now worse than it was in June when the US intelligence predicted that Kabul could collapse in 6-12 months after the American troop pullout from Afghanistan. “Everything is moving in the wrong direction,” a source familiar with the new intelligence assessment told the paper.

The hostilities between the Afghan government and the Taliban have intensified as foreign troops began withdrawing from the country. The Taliban have since captured large rural territories and launched an offensive on major cities.White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that President Joe Biden continues to believe it is not inevitable the Taliban take over Kabul or entire Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani flew to the besieged northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Wednesday to rally the beleaguered government troops, with Taliban fighters having now taken more than a quarter of the country’s provincial capitals in less than a week.

His visit was immediately overshadowed by the mass surrender of hundreds of Afghan soldiers in nearby Kunduz, along with the overnight capture of another provincial capital—the ninth city to be overrun since Friday.

One army officer who asked not to be identified said they had endured withering mortar fire at Kunduz airport, and were left with no choice but to surrender. “There was no way to fight back,” he told AFP.

In Mazar, Ghani held talks with long-time local strongman Atta Mohammad Noor and infamous warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum about the defence of the city, as Taliban fighters inched closer to its outskirts. The loss of Mazar would be a catastrophic blow to the Kabul government and represent the complete collapse of its control over the north.

Hours before Ghani arrived, pictures posted on official government social media accounts showed Dostum boarding a plane in Kabul en route to Mazar, along with a contingent of commandos. After arriving in the city, Dostum issued a warning to the approaching Taliban.

“The Taliban never learn from the past,” he told reporters. “The Taliban have come to the north several times but they were always trapped. It is not easy for them to get out.” 

The Taliban appeared to be consolidating their hold over captured cities in the north, with rifle-toting militants patrolling the streets of Kunduz on foot and in armoured humvees as smoke rose from smouldering shops destroyed during the fight for the city.

WITH AGENCY INPUTS

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Punjab sees first bureaucratic rejig after Channi assuming office

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The first major bureaucratic reshuffle took place in the state on Tuesday after Charanjit Singh Channi took over as the Chief Minister. Transfer and posting orders of nine IAS and two Provincial Civil Service (PCS) officers were issued on Tuesday. While the state got new Director Information and Public Relations, three new appointments were made in the Chief Minister’s Office. DC Mohali has also been changed.

Senior IAS officers Tejveer Singh and Gurkirat Kirpal Singh, who were Principal Secretary and Special Principal Secretary to the former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, respectively, were also given new responsibilities. IAS Kamal Kishore Yadav has been given the responsibility of Secretary Information and Public Relations as well as Special Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, while 2009 batch IAS officer Sumit Jarangal has been posted as Director Information and Public Relations in his place.

IAS officer Tejveer Singh has been posted as Principal Secretary, Investment Promotion, Industries and Commerce and IT. Similarly, IAS Gurkeerat Kirpal Singh has been posted as Secretary, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs and Defense Services Welfare. Dilip Kumar, a 1995 batch IAS officer, has been given the responsibility of the mission director, Tandrust Punjab, along with the principal secretary, Science Technology and Environment.

IAS officer Mohammad Tayyab has been posted as CEO of Punjab Waqf Board. Isha, a 2009 batch IAS officer, has been posted as DC Mohali. IAS officer Harpreet Singh Sudan has been appointed as Mission Director, Punjab Skill Development Mission, along with the earlier responsibilities held by him.

At the same time, IAS officer Shaukat Ahmed Parray has been posted as Additional Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister while PCS officer Mankanwal Singh Chahal has been posted as Deputy Principal Secretary to the CM. PCS officer Anil Gupta has been posted as Deputy Secretary Personnel.

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Amid exodus, new Bengal BJP chief says ‘game is on’

Arup Kali

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Soon after becoming the new West Bengal BJP president, Sukanta Majumdar on Tuesday said, “The game must be played and the game will be played.” Majumdar said that Babul Supriyo, who joined the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Saturday, “could not play in the first XI, so he left”.

Majumdar said that the BJP will play the game and will not take the role of a spectator sitting in the gallery. On Tuesday, the newly-appointed state president was given a reception by the BJP at the state BJP’s Hastings office. After that, Sukanta Majumdar held a press conference with former state president Dilip Ghosh.

Targeting the Trinamool Congress, Sukanta Majumdar said, “There is a Taliban-style government in the state.” However, he did admit that there were some shortcomings in terms of planning and strategy in the election. At the same time, he urged the leaders and workers who left the party after the elections results to return to the party.

“We don’t want anyone to leave the team,” Majumdar said. “Those who believe in the principles and ideals of the BJP, hope they will stay with us. And those who came to the BJP for any other purpose, it is natural that they will leave. Those who have left will review; let them come back.” In fact, Majumdar made it clear at the outset that he will focus on the organization. Besides, the new state BJP president said that the biggest issue in the BJP’s campaign against Mamata Banerjee in the Bhabanipur by-election is violence.

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How insurgency in Manipur is finally fizzling out

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Driven to the wall by security forces, pushed to the brink by their own leadership and utilised as cannon fodder by the Myanmar Army, it seems days for insurgent groups operating in Manipur are numbered now. Valley-Based Insurgent Groups (VBIG) is a term used to identify all Meitei insurgent groups operating in this Northeastern state. These include PLA, PREPAK (Pro), KYKL, UNLF & KCP (all factions). A total of more than 15 sub-groups are known to exist.

These underground groups ruled the Imphal Valley and South Manipur till as late as 2010-12. At one point of time, certain areas in Manipur used to be called “Liberated Zones” and their terror and criminal activities were rampant. However, due to a number of successful operations by security forces, these groups were pushed out from India into Myanmar. Due to the depleted strength, lack of morale and loss of appetite for struggle, many of them split and broke into pieces. Some of them entered into agreements with the government of Manipur.

The VBIGs, though still active, have to a large extent lost their appeal among the Meitei population. Post the lifting of AFSPA in Imphal Valley where the majority of Meitei population resides, there is nothing much for locals to complain. The younger population is keen on learning better entrepreneurial skills, including English and Hindi and move to mainland for better opportunities. PLA and others groups are, therefore, devoid of any ideologically motivated lower rung cadres.

As of today, most of these groups are forced to live in make shift camps across the Indo Myanmar Border. The Myanmarese Army turns a blind eye on their existence as long as they are willing to pay a price in return, which was mostly in cash or in kind in terms of items required in Myanmar including food, medicine or certain other essential supplies. Sometimes, cadres are thrown away to local police/army camps to be used for menial jobs and labours, while the senior rung enjoys a life of luxury.

After a series of joint operations conducted by Indian Army and Myanmar Army, VBIGs were forced to shift their camps from East of Manipur to further North in the areas opposite South Arunachal Pradesh, where they live as tenants to NSCN (KYA). In addition, they were also forced to shift their camps to areas South of Manipur in Chin state. While the group members were safe in these locations, they were too far away from their areas of operations, leading further frustration and ideological isolation. The business community of Manipur also started challenging the writ of these groups soon after they realised their inability to cause much effect from across Myanmar into India. These operations from within India were merely by Over Ground Workers and could not actually instill a sense of fear. This started leading to a financial stress on the groups, which started impacting their relations with their bed fellows across the international boundary.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit the subcontinent in March 2020 and Manipur was one of the worst-hit states. This had a telling impact on the economy in Imphal valley and consequently the paying capacity of those big time businessmen who were still giving VBIG extortion money in return for peace. The small time businessmen no longer fear the VBIGs and only way possible for the VBIGs to extort money was by lobbing grenades at individual’s properties to only cause caution, as any casualty caused would further denigrate their name and popularity among masses. 

Meanwhile, a number of cadres started deserting and surrendering to security forces, and testified that the living conditions in camps had deteriorated severely to the extent that even proper meals had become a luxury. Ill-treatment and humiliation at the hands of their own hierarchy and because of their survival being at mercy of Myanmar Army and Myanmar Police, the cadres had no place for surrender and solace. The Myanmar Army had been grudgingly supportive whenever India had asked for any help and they have time and again destroyed few terrorist bases and camps in their territory.

The situation took a new dimension on 1 February, after the coup on 1 February 2021 when reins were taken over by the military junta. The violent protests since then have taken an unprecedented proportion, which was not anticipated by the Myanmar Army. PDF has mushroomed into an armed group with common goals to overthrow the regime, but with no fixed organisation structure. The local civilians themselves have joined the revolution with rudimentary weapons and are causing a heavy toll on the capability of Myanmar Army to respond. In such a scenario, Myanmar Army found an easy target in terms of PLA and other groups of CORCOM to build up its depleting strength. While the total strength of all Meitei groups across Indo-Myanmar border is anticipated to be only armed 300, Myanmar Army finds it convenient to demand the services of these groups in terms of providing manpower for holding their sentry posts, carrying out duties at vehicle check points and even routine patrolling. Grudgingly, the insurgent groups had to accede to the demands, failing which they would have been evicted from the host nation’s soil.

The insurgent groups have so far lost about 40 cadres in a struggle which is alien to them. The local people in Myanmar despise them. The Myanmar Army uses them like cannon fodder resulting in mounting casualties. The leaders of such insurgent groups, while living a life of luxury, are forcing poorer Manipuris into death and desolation. In the latest incident opposite Pangsau pass on 10 August in the area of Waktan village in Myanmar, six PLA cadres were killed in a case of internal feud. It is testimony to the low morale and indiscipline in the organisation which is bereft of any ideological locus standi. Given the circumstances, the militant cadres of VBIGs are in a “lose-lose” situation. The only “winners” seem to be the senior hierarchy of VBIGs and the Myanmar Army.

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EVEN MESSI DIDN’T WANT TO EXIT BARCELONA: BABUL ON QUITTING BJP

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Former Union minister Babul Supriyo, who joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) last week months after he resigned from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Tuesday said that he wants to be part of a team that embraces him warmly and makes him part of the playing 11.

Citing the example of Lionel Messi to defend his move to switch from the BJP to the TMC, he said that even the footballer didn’t want to exit Barcelona. “Did he want to leave Barcelona? The situation was such that he cried during the press conference. Then he went to PSG. And now you are saying that ‘while playing for PSG, is he expected to core against Barcelona? Or is he going to stand still in front of the goal post because he needs to be loyal to his ex-team…which transformed him’,” he said.

In an interview with a TV channel, Babul Supriyo said, “I have not created history…I’m not the first to leave a party and join another one.”

Referring to the new West Bengal BJP chief’s reported comment that the state was facing “Talibanisation”, he said the term ought not to be used lightly. He said he had opposed it, too, when the Opposition and critics like lyricist Javed Akhtar had said similar things about the BJP. “Taliban is the name of a very wrong and cheap mindset. The term should not be used casually,” he said.

Thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief J.P. Nadda, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the Trinamool Congress member said he has worked with them for seven years and learnt a lot from the BJP.

He emphasised that his own 2014 electoral victory from Asansol may have been based on his image as a Bollywood singer, but it was his public worked that ensured his 2019 re-election. “Whenever I play for whichever team, I’d want to give my sweat and blood in the playing field itself. It is not in my DNA to take the salary and perks from the public and then warm the benches,” he said.

Supriyo denied the allegation that he had joined the TMC to stay in power. “If that is so, what power have I got in Trinamool? I have already sought an appointment with the Honourable (Lok Sabha) Speaker. I want to stay on this moral ground. I am immediately resigning as MP of Asansol,” he said.

Earlier, after meeting West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on Monday, Supriyo said that he is happy to be welcomed in Trinamool Congress (TMC). “I am very happy to meet CM Mamata Banerjee. The way she welcomed me to the TMC family is very warm. She asked me to work with all my heart and sing with all my heart which I think is icing on the cake. She said ‘Pujor samayo tumi gaan karo’ (Sing during the time of Puja).”

He added, “We had a very musical talk, at the same time whatever she said was really music to my ears. I want to thank Didi (Mamata Banerjee) and party General Secretary, Abhishek Banerjee for welcoming me so affectionately and warmly to the TMC family.”

The BJP slammed Supriyo for joining the TMC. On Sunday, BJP MP from West Bengal’s Ranaghat Jagannath Sarkar alleged that Babul Supriyo joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to evade the allegations of his involvement in the coal theft and cow smuggling cases.

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US not seeking new Cold War: Biden at UNGA amid tensions with China

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In his first speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) since taking office, US President Joe Biden said that the world stands at an “inflection point in history” and must move quickly and cooperatively to address the festering issues of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and human rights abuse. Amid growing China tensions Biden also declared the US is “not seeking a new Cold War.”

The high-level segment of the 76th UNGA began in New York on Tuesday.

Without mentioning China directly, Biden acknowledged increasing concerns about rising tensions between the two nations. But he said, “We are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs.”

“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan and as we close this era of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy,” U Biden said, making his first appearance as president at the UN General Assembly. The President noted his decision to end America’s longest war last month, in Afghanistan, and set the table for his administration to shift US attention to intensive diplomacy with no shortage of crises facing the globe. He said he is driven by a belief that “to deliver for our own people, we must also engage deeply with the rest of the world.”

“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan,” Biden said. “And as we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world.”

“We meet this year in a moment intermingled with great pain and extraordinary possibility. We have lost so much to this devastating pandemic that continues to claim lives around the world and impact so much on our existence. We’re mourning more than 4.5 million people, people of every nation, from every background. Each death is an individual heartbreak,” he said.

He went on to say this is “a decisive decade for our world” which will “quite literally determine our futures.”

“Will we work together to save lives, defeat Covid-19 everywhere, and take the necessary stem to prepare ourselves for the next pandemic, because there will be another one. Or will we fail to harness the tools at our disposal as more virulent and dangerous variants take hold?”

More than 100 heads of state and government will attend the UNGA in-person including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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UNGA address: PM Modi to speak on terrorism, Afghanistan situation

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During his address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 25 September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will speak on various important issues including cross-border terrorism, regional situation, especially the Afghan crisis, and US Security Council (UNSC) reforms.

Speaking at a press conference in New Delhi, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said, “The Prime Minister will speak on various important issues including the regional situation, cross-border terrorism, global efforts to combat Covid-19, climate change and the need to reform multilateral institutions.”

Regarding India’s permanent membership at the UNSC, Shringla said that PM Modi will lay emphasis upon the UNSC reforms during his address. “India’s Amrit Mahotsav and the 75th-anniversary of the UN are coinciding. And on this occasion, the prime minister during his address, will definitely speak on UN reforms, about why it is needed and how it can be achieved.”

The high-level session of the UNGA is scheduled to begin on Tuesday (local time) in New York. Top leaders from across the world have already started converging in New York for UNGA high-level debate week. The UNGA meeting this year is in a hybrid format but a large number of leaders are expected to arrive in New York.

PM Modi is scheduled to leave for the US on Wednesday morning. Apart from the UNGA address, he will participate in the Quad leaders’ summit in Washington and will have the first in-person meeting with US President Joe Biden.

The PM will be accompanied by a high-level delegation including the External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

To push India’s diplomatic agenda, Jaishankar will hold around 15 bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday including those with Iran, Australia, Egypt and Indonesia.

The theme of this year’s general debate is “Building resilience through hope to recover from Covid-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to planet’s needs, respect people’s rights and revitalise UN”. Top leaders from across the world have already started converging in New York for UNGA high-level debate week. The UNGA meeting this year is in a hybrid format but a large number of leaders are expected to arrive in New York. WITH AGENCY INPUTS

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