US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, amidst escalated fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban, said that the Afghan security forces’ primary task is to ensure they could slow down Taliban’s momentum before attempting to retake territory.
During a visit to Alaska on Saturday, Austin told reporters, “They are consolidating their forces around the key population centres,” as per Tolo News report. “In terms of whether or not it will stop the Taliban, I think the first thing to do is to make sure that they can slow the momentum,” he said, adding that he believed the Afghans had the capability and the capacity to make progress but “we will see what happens.”
This comes as US President Joe Biden has promised to provide financial aid to Afghan forces and to redouble diplomatic efforts to revive stalled peace talks, reported Tolo News.
Biden recently authorised up to $ 100 million from an emergency fund to meet “unexpected urgent” refugee needs stemming from the situation in Afghanistan including for Afghan special immigration visa applicants.
In a statement, the White House stated that Biden and his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani discussed the situation in Afghanistan and reaffirmed their commitment to an enduring bilateral partnership.
The US also has called on the Taliban “to engage in serious negotiations” after the group’s insistence that they will not agree on ceasefire and peace unless there is an agreement on a new government in Afghanistan, reported Tolo News.
“We call on the Taliban to engage in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap for Afghanistan’s future that leads to a just and durable settlement,” said Jalina Porter, US State Department’s deputy spokesperson.
“A negotiated settlement between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban is the only way to end 40 years of war and bring Afghans to peace that they seek and deserve,” she added.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) had said Taliban forces that have taken control of districts in Kandahar have detained hundreds of residents whom they accuse of association with the government. The Taliban have reportedly killed some detainees, including relatives of provincial government officials and members of the police and army.
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US WILL RESPOND IF RUSSIAN MILITARY FORCES MOVE ACROSS UKRAINIAN BORDER: JEN PSAKI
Amid the brewing tensions over Russia’s military buildup near the Ukrainian border, white house press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday, “President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: if any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.”
Russia has put more than 100,000 troops and war-making machinery on Ukraine’s borders. Which has sent alarms through the west – and apprehensions that Moscow is ready to invade Ukraine. But Russian commanders have said, they have no plans to invade.
The EU had earlier warned the Kremlin of “extreme consequences” if it takes any military action in neighboring Ukraine.
In the fray, Sweden has found itself threatened and has moved hundreds of its troops over the weekend to reinforce its borders and deny any fallout from the strategically important Gotland island – which lies in the Baltic Sea. Denmark has also strengthened its presence in the region a week back.
The rising tensions in the region have again re-ignited the debate in both Sweden and Finland as to whether they should now join Nato.
“If they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force they’ve massed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia,” Biden told reporters.
“The cost of going into Ukraine in terms of physical loss of life, for the Russians… it’s going to be heavy,” he told reporters.
Despite the massive build-up of troops on the borders, Moscow has denied that it’s planning a military invasion. But it has issued Nato with a list of security demands blaming the alliance for “undermining regional security”, as NATO has regularly tried to make the former soviet members a part of the alliance which continues to infuriate Russia.
According to the reports, The Biden administration is weighing new options, to make the Putin administration rethink its invasion. The US wants to provide more arms to Ukraine that will help it resist Russian occupation, and also raise the costs for Russian President Vladimir Putin in case he decides to invade the country.
ANTI-MILITARY PROTESTS WILL INTENSIFY IN SUDAN
Anti-military protests are likely to intensify in Sudan after security forces killed seven protesters. As per the local media reports, seven people were killed and dozens injured as the security forces used gunshots and tear gas to stop lakhs of protesters who were marching towards the presidential palace in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
The groups who were leading the protest movement told the media that in the coming days a massive protest against the massacre committed by the military would be organised. Spokesperson of one protesting group named Committee of Sudanese Doctors said, “They also fired live ammunition and stun grenades, the security forces did a massacre today, what we demand is civilian rule and democracy,”.
Many countries condemned the violence and the United States’s Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee is heading to Sudan to assess the situation and has called the military to end violence and respect freedom of expression. Political parties in Sudan had announced two days of civil disobedience in protest against the current violence.
Huge crowds have regularly taken to the streets demanding a return to civilian rule since the military coup on October 25. The power grab by military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan more than two months ago dismantled a precarious power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians established in the wake of the April 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
Sudan, a country located in Northeast Africa is the third-largest country by area in Africa and the Arab League had seen many coups in the past and the current military coup resulted in the capture of the civilian government, including former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The coup was led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan who subsequently declared a state of emergency. On November 21, Hamdok was reinstated as prime minister after a political agreement was signed by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to restore the transition to civilian rule. The 14-point deal called for the release of all political prisoners detained during the coup and stipulated that a 2019 constitutional declaration continued to be the basis for a political transition. On January 2, Hamdok announced his resignation from the position of Prime Minister which led to this current wave of protest.
Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Donald Trump
Twitter suspended an account related to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on which a video calling for revenge for Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani assassination against former United States president Donald Trump was posted.
Talking to the media, spokesperson of the social media company said, “The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,”. In the recent past also many accounts of the Iranian government and its leaders were suspended by Twitter over posts which called for the killing of the United States president and the top officials.
The account which had been suspended is @KhameneiSite, and an animated video titled “Revenge is Definite”, showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump was posted. The title “Revenge is Definite” was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.
Twitter had stated that its policies around abusive behavior is clear and it had taken action as per its policies. On January 3, which marks the second anniversary of the assassination, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi also threatened the United States with revenge.
As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRG), General Soleimani was the main strategist who handled the country’s proxies around the Middle Eastern countries and aimed to increase the influence of Tehran across the region. He was killed in a United States drone attack near the Baghdad International airport in January 2020. Iranian government and its leadership had repeatedly promised to avenge his death and teach the US harsh lessons.
Iran and the United States shares a bitter relationship and have had no formal diplomatic relation since April 7, 1980. Contacts are carried out through informal channels and the Iranian interests Section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the US Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.
NORTH KOREA REACTS STRONGLY TO SANCTIONS BY U.S.
North Korea had reacted sharply at the United States sanctions which is in response to its recent hypersonic missile tests this week and vowed a “stronger and certain reaction” to the Western world’s attempt to halt its weapons programs.
In a statement, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said, “The pursuit of the advanced hypersonic missiles system, which is designed to evade existing defenses, is North Korea’s legitimate right. Washington’s move to slap sanctions on North Koreans who advanced its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs was a dangerous escalation.” It added, “The United States is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s just activity to the UN Security Council. If the U.S. adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take a stronger and certain reaction to it,”. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
The recent events have up the ante in the Korean peninsula while the United States is pushing North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks while the ruling regime in Pyongyang had stepped up its production of fissile material for nuclear bombs and tested new systems to deliver atomic warheads.
Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang increased as North Korea tested two missiles within a week which are designed to deploy a hypersonic glide vehicle that can maneuver at high speeds during an unpowered flight to strike a target and Pyongyang claimed that they hit a target 1,000 kilometers away during the tests.
After the tests, Washington designated five North Koreans living overseas — one in Russia, and four in China — for aiding the country’s weapons programs and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “These designations convey our serious and ongoing concern about the DPRK’s continued proliferation activities and those who support it. We remain committed to seeking dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK and call on the DPRK to engage in negotiations.”
North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),is a country in East Asia, a totalitarian dictatorship, constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. It borders China and Russia to the north and South Korea to the south at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. North Korea, like its southern counterpart, claims to be the legitimate government of the entire peninsula and adjacent islands. It holds elections, though they have been described by independent observers as sham elections as the country revolves around the personality of the Kim dynasty and their loyal elite club.
US HOUSE COMMITTEE SEEKS COOPERATION FROM TOP HOUSE REPUBLICAN
The U.S. House panel investigating the January 6 Capitol riot on Wednesday asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for a voluntary interview and records in his possession that is related to the attack.
The panel in a letter to the California Republican requested information about his communications with then-President Donald Trump “before, during and after” 6 January 2021, when a mob of Trump’s supporters besieged the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results.
It also wanted to learn about how McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, interacted with Trump, White House staff and others in the week after the riot, “particularly regarding President Trump’s state of mind at that time,” according to the letter the panel sent to McCarthy.
“We also must learn about how the President’s plans for January 6th came together, and all the other ways he attempted to alter the results of the election. For example, in advance of January 6th, you reportedly explained to Mark Meadows and the former President that objections to the certification of the electoral votes on January 6 ‘was doomed to fail,’” said Bennie Thompson, Democrat from Mississippi who chairs the January 6 panel.
Thompson said the committee wanted to meet with McCarthy as soon as Feb. 3. McCarthy is the third GOP member of the House with whom the committee has sought cooperation on a voluntary basis after two similar requests were turned down by representatives Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Considered one of Trump’s most loyal allies in Congress, McCarthy said during a floor speech in the House chamber seven days after the riot that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack.
But his public statements regarding the events on January 6 “changed markedly” after he met with Trump at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on 28 January 2021, the committee alleged in the letter, asking McCarthy if he had been pressured by Trump or his representatives on what he should say about his conversations with Trump on January 6.
Pakistan’s passport ranks fourth worst for international travel
The Pakistani passport has been ranked as the fourth worst passport for international travel for the third consecutive year, local media reported citing the report by the Henley Passport Index 2022 on Thursday.
According to the report, Pakistani passport holders have visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 31 destinations around the world. The Henley Passport Index, which is a ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, placed Pakistan on the 108th position. Henley & Partners firm’s “Henley Passport Index” has been regularly monitoring the world’s most travel-friendly passports since 2006, The News International reported.
“The increasing travel barriers that have been introduced over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in the widest global mobility gap in the index’s 16-year history,” said the report.
The index doesn’t take temporary restrictions into account, so leaving actual current travel access aside, holders of the passports at the top of its ranking — Japan and Singapore — are able, in theory, to travel visa-free to 192 destinations, The News International reported.
That’s 166 more destinations than Afghan nationals, who sit at the bottom of the index of 199 passports, and can access just 26 countries without requiring a visa in advance.
Further down the top 10, the rankings remain virtually unchanged as we enter the first quarter of 2022. South Korea is tied with Germany in second place (with a score of 190) and Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain are all together in third place (with a score of 189), the Pakistani publication reported.
It further reported that the EU countries dominate the top of the list as usual, with France, Netherlands and Sweden climbing one spot to join Austria and Denmark in fourth place (with a score of 188). Ireland and Portugal are in fifth place (with a score of 187). The United States and the United Kingdom, which held the top spot together back in 2014, have regained a little ground.
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