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Young Afghan Women Barely Remember Taliban But Fear a Return

US to reduce troops in Afghanistan by 5,000

President Trump has revealed plans to cut the number of US troops deployed to Afghanistan but he did not provide a timetable for the drawdown. The announcement comes amid talks between the US and the Taliban in Qatar.
US President Donald Trump announced plans on Thursday to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan by more than 5,000 troops.
"We're going down to 8,600 and then we'll make a determination from there as to what happens," Trump said in an interview with Fox News Radio. "We're reducing that presence very substantially and we're going to always have a presence."
The statement comes as the United States and Taliban have been talking over the last year in an effort to find an end to the 18-year conflict, the US' longest-ever war.
The two sides have been in talks in Qatar in recent weeks and there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel as a Taliban spokesman said a deal is "close."
Reducing the US troops to 8,600 would bring the total down to approximately the same level it was at when Trump arrived in the White House in January 2017. It had reached a peak of about 100,000 in 2011.
If terror groups ever attacked America from Afghanistan again, "we will come back with a force like they've never seen before," Trump said.
Al-Qaida militants maintained bases in Afghanistan, where they planned the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. US troops invaded Afghanistan a month later and have been deployed there ever since.
After the United States, the biggest military presence in Afghanistan by some distance, aiding the NATO mission, are Germany, with 1,300 troops, and the UK, with 1,100, according to figures issued by the military alliance in June.

Pakistan-run Kashmir faces human rights crisis


Authorities increasingly resort to violence to curb dissent in the Gilgit-Baltistan territory.
The Gilgit-Baltistan territory, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, has continued to witness a covert crackdown by the authorities.
The region is a part of Kashmir that’s been administered by Pakistan since the first war with India in 1947. Its legal identity and constitutional status have been under dispute for all that time. The occupation took place without the consent of the people and, for over 70 years now, the area has lacked a proper constitutional status, a working legal system – and the political autonomy that Indian-administered Kashmir had until earlier this month.
Lacking proper legal rights and a democratic set-up, the territory has faced a number of human rights violations over the years. Currently, over a hundred activists have been charged with sedition for demanding greater self-rule in the disputed territory. Students, social workers and political activists have also been languishing in jails.
The majority of people in Gilgit-Baltistan want the territory to be merged into Pakistan as a separate fifth province and oppose waiting to integrate with the rest of Kashmir – which is a virtual impossibility barring a gigantic shift in the military balance between India and Pakistan, or a highly uncharacteristic switch on both sides to a vastly different approach.
Residents have also been asking Islamabad to grant rights similar to those enjoyed by Pakistani citizens. However, Pakistan has been putting off that sort of merger for decades. “Pakistan fears that de-linking Gilgit-Baltistan from Kashmir will compromise its stance on the entire Kashmir issue, which may help India gain ground,” Ehsanullah Kakar, a social activist based in Islamabad, told Asia Times.
Climate of fear
According to the 2018 Human Rights Watch report on Pakistan, a climate of fear continues to impede media coverage of abuses by both government security forces and militant groups.
“Journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship in 2018, after threats and attacks from militant groups,” the report said. “Media outlets came under pressure from authorities to avoid reporting on several issues, including criticism of government institutions and the judiciary. In several cases, government regulatory agencies blocked cable operators from broadcasting networks that had aired critical programs.”
Baba Jan, a prominent political activist in the Gilgit-Baltistan territory and a founding member of the left-wing Awami Workers Party (AWP), is one of many activists currently jailed by the authorities.
He is serving a life sentence after lobbying the government to compensate the displaced people of the valley in the aftermath of a landslide. He had organized a protest demanding compensation, which turned violent and led to his arrest under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
According to a family member who met him, Jan said his only crime was to seek basic human rights for the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan. The Human rights organizations have long demanded his release. An international petition for his release has also been signed by world renowned US linguist, philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky, British political activist Tariq Ali, and anthropologist David Graeber.
‘Constitutional status’
The United Nations considers Gilgit-Baltistan’s continued occupation by Pakistan to be in violation of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) resolution of 28 April 1949, which said that all Pakistani military forces should vacate so that a plebiscite could be held. Since the Pakistan government didn’t accept the part about removing Pakistani forces, the plebiscite couldn’t be held.
As Pakistan is yet to grant full constitutional status to the region, Gilgit-Baltistan is neither a province nor a state. It has a semi-provincial status. The residents do not have a right to vote in the national elections, and limits on freedom of speech and expression have been imposed.
Pakistan changed the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan last year. It introduced the latest set of laws for the region through the Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018. The new order repealed a 2009 order and annulled the Gilgit Baltistan Council, which comprised 15 members and had members from the federal government with the Prime Minister as the chairman. The 2018 order also eliminated the role of the Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs, which earlier looked after issues in the Pakistan administered Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan region.
Powers shifted to the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. However, the prime minister has a final say on policies of the government in the territory and can levy taxes.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018, has been opposed by protesters from the region. They demand that the region should be declared as part of Pakistan instead of being administered through presidential orders.
“I have a Pakistani Identity card. Sadly, I can’t vote to choose my prime minister or representative in Pakistan’s National Assembly,” said Sohail Amin, an assistant professor at government-run college in Islamabad. She is originally from Hunza in Gilgit-Baltistan.Recently, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that the constitutional status of the region is an inseparable component of the ongoing Kashmir issue. Citing the international law applying to that overall issue it threw up its hands, recognizing the limitation of the court to decide on anything in the region.“Let me tell you, the government of Pakistan will have to give constitutional status to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan very soon,” said Jan’s family member quoting him. “We will enjoy freedom of expression and speech like first-class citizens of any state do around the globe.”
Human Rights violations
A report by the Office of the United Nations Hight Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) revealed gross human rights violation in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Journalists in the territory continue to face threats and harassment in the course of carrying out their professional duties. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an anti-terrorism court in Gilgit-Baltistan sentenced journalist Shabbir Siham in absentia to 22 years in prison on charges of defamation, criminal intimidation, committing acts of terrorism and absconding from court proceedings.
On 21 November 2018, Gilgit-Baltistan authorities arrested journalist Muhammad Qasim Qasimi after he engaged in a verbal argument with a local police official.
The Inquilabi Socialists Karachi (ISK), a left-wing group based in Gilgit with branches and activists across Pakistan, alleged that the crackdown continues across Gilgit-Baltistan and no end is in sight.On February 13, 2018, the police arrested Ehsan Ali, a well-known lawyer and activist from Gilgit-Baltistan. Ehsan, President of the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Court Bar Association and founding leader of Awami Action Committee, was also representing Jan in court. His arrest sparked countrywide protests and he was released soon after. Ehsan was arrested on the charge of sharing an allegedly “anti-religion” post.The News, Pakistan’s largest English language newspaper, described his arrest as signaling a “crackdown on activists” and said, “The Baba Jan case has become a symbol for how the Pakistani state treats dissent and Gilgit-Baltistan and other peripheral regions in the country.“Law-enforcement agencies are on a rampage across Gilgit-Baltistan. Even activists are being silenced for uploading pictures and posts on social media. Freedom of expression has been compromised while an atmosphere of fear prevails over the horizon of the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Not sure who the next target is,” Bilal Balti, a member of ISK, told Asia Times.
The Gilgit-Baltistan borders China, Afghanistan, and India. It borders Pakistan administered Kashmir to the south, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan to the north, the Xinjiang region of China, to the east and northeast, and the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir to the southeast.
The territory is of great importance to Pakistan’s alliance with China. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an infrastructure project worth more than $50 billion, connects China to the deep-sea port of Gwadar in Pakistan through the region. However, the locals are yet to benefit from the road and infrastructure projects.
In 2006, people in Gilgit-Baltistan carried out a protest against the imprisonment of over 500 young men by security forces. The political crackdown and arrests were made against people protesting against the CPEC, which they said would only benefit China and Pakistan’s Punjabi traders.
According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), Pakistan’s “response to local dissent and alienation has been an overbearing security presence, marked by army checkpoints, intimidation and harassment of local residents, and crackdowns on anti-CPEC protest.”
The ICG also revealed that Pakistani intelligence officials have also warned journalists in Gilgit-Baltistan against criticizing the CPEC projects. Pakistan’s policy of governing Gilgit-Baltistan with ad-hoc ordinances was first started by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto after she issued a legal framework ordinance in 1994 to establish the first assembly in Gilgit-Baltistan. In 2007, Retired General Pervaiz Musharraf issued another LFO in 2007 as the Chief Executive of Pakistan. In 2009, the then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani issued an empowerment and self-governance ordinance, which was subsequently replaced by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s reformed package in 2018.
The ordinances and packages had no constitutional protection and therefore failed to grant locals citizenship or representation in the parliament.

India condemns Pakistan’s statements calling for jihad, inciting violence over Kashmir

Referring to "highly irresponsible statements" by Pakistani leadership on matters internal to India, the govt said Islamabad has been using terrorism as a state policy against India.

Condemning as “highly irresponsible” the statements by Pakistani leadership after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, India on Thursday said they are intended to project an “alarmist” situation far from the ground realities, and asked Pakistan to behave as a normal neighbour.
Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar also dismissed the letter written by Pakistani minister Shireen Mazari to the UN on alleged human rights violation by India in J&K, asserting that it was “not worth the paper it was written on”.
He also said India was informed by Pakistan about test-firing nuclear-capable surface-to-surface ballistic missile ‘Ghaznavi’ as part of the established confidence-building measures (CBMs).
Asked about provocative statements made by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and some other ministers, he said,”we condemn the highly irresponsible statements made by the Pakistani leadership on matters internal to India. These statements include references to jihad and to incite violence in India.”
Kumar further asserted that “this is intended to project an alarmist situation which is far from the ground realities. Pakistan needs to understand that the world has seen through their provocative and unsubstantiated rhetoric which is based on lies and deceit.”
Asking Pakistan to start behaving like a normal neighbour, Kumar said,”what do normal neighbours do, they do not push terrorists in a neighbouring country. You do normal talk, normal trade.”
“We are all aware Pakistan has been using cross-border terrorism as an instrument of its state policy. We have been continuing to highlight our concerns with them. Pakistan has an obligation to take action against terrorists and terror groups operating from its soil,” he said.
On Pakistan Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari on Wednesday wrote a letter to 18 UN officials, Kumar said he does not want to lend any credence to the letter by reacting to it.
“They should see what is happening in their house before making statements and everybody knows what is happening, their house is on fire,” he said.
Asked about intelligence inputs of a possible infiltration by terrorists through the sea route, Kumar confirmed that there have been such inputs and said that security forces are prepared to “deal with any eventuality”.
On some international organisations raising concerns with India on rights issues, Kumar said India “completely rejects” such unsubstantiated statements.
“These are not based on facts. Facts are being presented on a regular basis by the district administration in J&K,” he said.
Referring to J&K Governor’s statement made on Wednesday, Kumar also listed several steps to be taken by the administration such as 50,000 vacancies will be filled up in government departments, minimum suport price for the apple crop, and Nafed committing 5,000 crores for procuring apple production of the state.
The spokesperson also said that “certain manual interventions” were there which were required.
The government has also announced that it would ensure the preservation and protection of heritage, language and identity of the region, Kumar said.
He also reiterated the announcement made by the Governor that elections to the block development council would be completed by October.
In terms of restrictions which have been imposed, out of the 197 police stations, there are no-day time restrictions in 167 police stations in J&K, Kumar said.
He also dismissed reports that there was shortage of essential drugs in J&K.
“The local government is handling the situation with maturity and restraint. Not a single life has been lost, not a single live bullet has been fired. The administration is putting all the necessary resources so that normalcy returns to the state as soon as possible,” Kumar said.
“If you look at the situation on the 5th (August) and now, there has been a gradual but a positive improvement in the situation on the ground. Let us not compare the situation there and other parts of the country,” he said.
On reports of Pakistan closing its airspace, Kumar said there has been no official statement from Pakistan confirming that they have closed the airspace.
“What we understand is that there was a notice to airmen which was issued for diversion of certain sectors or certain routes temporarily reasons for which Pakistan has to share,” he said.

Pakistan has no locus standi on Kashmir, no nation backs them on Article 370: Rajnath Singh

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said Pakistan should focus on addressing human rights violations and atrocities in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
 Pakistan has no locus standi on Kashmir and no country is backing it on the “current issue”, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday amid Islamabad’s efforts to internationalise the Centre’s move to abrogate provisions of Article 370.
Addressing a DRDO event here, Singh asked how can India talk to Pakistan when it keeps trying to destabilise India using terror.
India wants to have good neighbourly relationship with Pakistan, but it should first stop exporting terror to India, Singh said.
He asserted that Pakistan has no locus standi on Kashmir.
“I want to ask Pakistan, when had Kashmir belonged to it. Kashmir was always part of India,” he said.
Pakistan should focus on addressing human rights violations and atrocities in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, the Union minister said.
He said US Defense Secretary Mark Esper during a telephonic conversation told him that abrogation of provisions of Article 370 was an internal matter of India.
“No country is with Pakistan on the current issue,” Singh added.