Talks with BJP-led India not possible says PM Imran

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said that the Kashmir dispute could only be resolved through dialogue, but meaningful engagement with the current government in India was not possible because of its religious nationalism.

Speaking at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad’s (ISSI) ‘Islamabad Conclave-2021’, PM Khan recalled that South Asia had been held back by political differences and conflicts and listed the Kashmir dispute as the “biggest problem” holding the region back.

He said progress in relations between Pakistan and India had been halted because his government had to deal with RSS’s extremist ideology currently dominating Delhi. “Meaningful negotiations with India are impossible as long as the government there is inspired by this ideology,” he said, hoping that one day India could have a rational government with which resolution of disputes could be sought through logical and sane discussions.

The prime minister expected that once the two arch-rivals resolved the core dispute of Kashmir they could then go ahead to jointly fight emerging threats like climate change. He regretted that all of his government’s peace overtures to India had so far been seen in Delhi as its sign of weakness.

Fears US-China confrontation moving ‘towards new Cold War’

PM Khan said he firmly believed that those seeking to resolve disputes through war were mistaken. “They are either unaware of history or they are too proud of their weapons,” he said, adding that they certainly had no consideration for humanity. This, he warned, led to grave miscalculations.

He underscored the need for resolving disputes till the last moment through dialogue.

The prime minister also touched upon the aggravating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the growing US-China rivalry. He feared that the US-China confrontation was moving “towards a new Cold War” and foresaw the formation of blocs. “Pakistan should try its best to stop the formation of these blocs because we should not become a part of any bloc,” he maintained.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also highlighted this concern in his remarks. “There is accelerated competition between major powers and a drift towards confrontation. This can lead to new rivalries and push the world again into ‘bloc’ politics. A new Cold War seems to be taking shape,” he observed.

He said Pakistan’s primary interest was in seeking a peaceful and stable international order that takes everyone on board. “Pakistan will remain committed to peaceful coexistence, cooperative multilateralism, and consensus-driven outcomes,” he added.

ISSI Director-General Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, in his introductory remarks, outlined the objectives of ‘Islamabad Conclave’, especially saying it is for narrative building, global engagement and bridging gaps.

Indian farmers call off year-long protest after govt assurances

Indian farmers called off a year-long protest on Thursday after the government conceded to a clutch of demands, including assurances to consider guaranteed prices for all produce, instead of just rice and wheat, union leaders said.

The move comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last month he would roll back three farm laws, seeking to end the longest-running farmers’ protest that galvanized millions of growers who remained resolute in opposing the legislation.

Despite the government’s climbdown, thousands of farmers had continued to camp out on major highways leading to New Delhi to press for other demands such as the guaranteed prices, as well as for legal action against protesters to be dropped.

“We have received a letter from the government which has conceded to our requests,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, a senior farm union leader.

Farmers’ leaders would meet on January 15 to review progress on the government’s assurances, Rajewal told a news conference.

“We will resume our protests if the government moves away from the assurances,” said Gurnam Singh Charuni, another farmers’ leader.

The government will set up a panel of growers and government officials to find ways of ensuring Minimum Support Prices (MSP), as the guaranteed rates are called, for all farm produce, according to the letter seen by Reuters.

The government now buys mainly rice and wheat at such guaranteed prices, benefiting barely six percent of India’s millions of farmers.

Outstanding demands

Farmers’ outstanding demands included retracting legal cases filed against the protesting growers and compensation for the families of those who died during the protest.

State administrations have agreed to the demands, according to the government letter addressed to farm union leaders.

Farmers had also asked the government to withdraw a draft of a proposed electricity bill, which they feared would lead to state governments withdrawing their right to free or subsidised power, used mainly for irrigation.

The government will discuss the draft with farmers.

Growers had also called for dropping fines and other penalties for burning crop waste, a major source of pollution, and the government has assured farmers that they would be not be held criminally liable for crop waste burning.

“Since the government has addressed every possible concern of farmers, there was hardly any justification for their agitation,” said a government official who didn’t wish to be named in line with official policy.

After calling off the protest, some farmers started removing makeshift tents and began loading their belongings into trucks and tractor trolleys.

While Modi’s retreat has cheered farmers, economists fear that the repeal of the laws aimed at deregulating produce markets will starve the farm sector of much-needed private investment and saddle the government with budget-sapping subsidies for years.

Kohli lost ODI captaincy as India wanted sole white-ball skipper: Ganguly

Virat Kohli’s decision to relinquish the 20-overs captaincy resulted in him being removed as India’s one-day skipper as selectors did not want to have two different white-ball captains, Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI) chief Sourav Ganguly said.

Opener Rohit Sharma took over as one-day captain on Wednesday, a month after succeeding Kohli as T20 skipper following their disappointing World Cup campaign.

The board, which rarely explains even routine decisions, did not even mention Kohli by name in conveying the leadership change in a single sentence at the bottom of a press release announcing the Test squad for the upcoming tour of South Africa.

“The board and selectors had asked Virat to rethink his decision to quit T20 captaincy. He had declined the suggestion at the time,” former captain Ganguly told Friday’s Times of India newspaper.

“The selectors were uncomfortable with the idea of having two captains for white-ball cricket.” India reached the semi-finals of the 50-overs World Cup in 2019 under Kohli but exited from the group stage at this year’s Twenty20 World Cup.

While happy to play under Rohit in the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia next year, Kohli, who remains the Test captain, was keen to lead India in the 50-overs showpiece on home soil in 2023.

“He has done well even as an ODI captain. But it was not going to be easy to have two captains in white-ball cricket with two World Cups in two years,” Ganguly said.

“The selectors felt the team needed one vision and varied styles of captaincy could disrupt the planning,” Ganguly said, adding that he and chief selector Chetan Sharma spoke to Kohli before making the change.

“We explained the vision to him. He understood the situation and it was only then that Rohit was named the captain of the ODI team.”

Biden orders ‘preparations’ in case Iran nuclear, talks fail

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden has ordered his staff to prepare “additional measures” if troubled talks over Iran’s nuclear program, which resumed on Thursday in Vienna, fail to reach a resolution.

“The president has asked his team to be prepared in the event that diplomacy fails and we must turn to other options,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

“We will have no choice but to take additional measures,” she added.

The latest round of talks began last week and was paused on Dec 3 after Western participants accused Iran of going back on progress made earlier this year.

International diplomats restarted the talks on Thursday for what the chair of the negotiations called the “difficult endeavor” of reviving the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers.

The heads of delegations from the parties to the 2015 deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia — were present at the talks in Vienna.

An American delegation plans to take part indirectly in the coming days.

The heads of delegations from the parties to the 2015 deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia — were present at Friday’s talks, which began at the Palais Coburg luxury hotel at around 12 pm (1100 GMT) and lasted a little more than an hour.

An American delegation plans to take part in the talks indirectly in the coming days.

“Delegations took a stack of the different consultations among capitals and they have come with a renewed sense of purpose to work hard,” Enrique Mora, the EU official chairing the talks, told the press after Thursday’s meeting.

Bilateral meetings as well as expert working groups are expected to continue this week.

Mora admitted that the negotiations were “a very difficult endeavour”, adding: “There are still different positions that we have to marry”.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov told the TASS agency that Thursday’s talks had “removed a number of misunderstandings that had created some tension,” but did not elaborate. The current round of talks is the seventh since they started in April. In June, Iran suspended them following the election of ultraconservative President Hassan Rouhani and they were only restarted on November 29.

US envoy Rob Malley “will plan to join the talks over the weekend,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday.

“We should know in pretty short order if the Iranians are going… to negotiate in good faith,” Price told reporters, warning that “the runway is getting very, very short for negotiations.” For their part Iranian officials have insisted they are “serious about the talks”.

“The fact that the two sides are continuing to talk indicates that they want to narrow the gaps,” said Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri.

The EU’s top foreign policy official Josep Borrell spoke to Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Wednesday.

Israel’s top diplomat in Egypt for talks on Gaza, Iran

CAIRO: Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday during a rare visit to Egypt for talks on the blockaded Gaza Strip and Iran’s nuclear program, the two sides said.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state in 1979, after decades of enmity and conflict.

“I thank President Sisi, whose contribution to the region and the relations between us is of historic proportions,” Lapid tweeted. “I presented the president my ‘economy for security program for Gaza and the steps taken by the Israeli government with regards to the Palestinian issue,” he added.

Egypt’s presidency also said the Pales­tinian issue was a key priority.

In his meeting with Sisi, Lapid noted “Iran’s attempts to become a country with a military nuclear capability as well as its continued use of terrorism, and the threat this poses to the Middle East”.

His visit comes a month to the day after both countries struck a security deal to boost Egyptian troop numbers around the border town of Rafah in the restive Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt’s Rafah crossing is the only passage to Gaza not controlled by Israel.

Militants in the Sinai have multiplied their attacks since the army’s 2013 ouster of then Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Operations have been conducted against Islamist militants across Egypt since February 2018. They have mainly focused on North Sinai and the country’s Western Desert. Around 1,073 suspected militants and dozens of security personnel have been killed in the operations, according to official figures.

In a 2019 interview on US television network CBS, Sisi acknowledged Egypt’s army was working closely with Israel in combating “terrorists” in North Sinai.

Security coordination has been at an all-time high between the regional heavyweights, with Cairo playing a key role in negotiating a ceasefire in May between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas to end 11 days of fighting.