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Pakistan: US Participation a Must in Russia-initiated Afghan Talks

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN � Pakistan says that Russia-sponsored international talks on Afghanistan must involve the United States for bringing peace to the war-riven country, because Washington is the biggest stakeholder there.

Moscow plans to host this week (April 14) a new expanded round of multi-nation consultations it has recently launched with the stated goals of developing a regional approach for promoting Afghan security and a government-led national reconciliation with the Taliban.

But the U.S. administration has already refused to take part in the conference, questioning Russian intentions and motives.

Speaking to a local television station before the Moscow talks, the Pakistani prime minister's foreign policy aide, Tariq Fatemi, stopped short of admitting the absence of Washington will not allow the multi-nation process to achieve its mission.

They [U.S] have their troops present [in Afghanistan], they have invested one trillion dollars there, they are the biggest stakeholder, they have lost hundreds of their soldiers, so they have their interests there, Fatemi explained.

While Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, India were represented in the last round of talks in Moscow earlier this year, former Soviet Central Asian states have been invited for the first time to attend the April 14 conference.

We hope and desire that when any such peace initiative will enter into a next stage, America will have to be made part of it, Fatemi told Aaj TV when asked whether the Russian-initiated process could bring peace to Afghanistan without Washington.

Pakistan believes Russia is "positively" using its influence with the Taliban to encourage them to join peace talks and Islamabad is supportive of any such efforts, Fatemi insisted.

Russia has told us its major concerns are that if civil war conditions are there in Afghanistan, it can become a center for terrorist organizations like Islamic State, or Daesh, who will then try to infiltrate into bordering Central Asian states, the Pakistani official explained.

The Taliban's attacks on rival IS fighters in a bid to prevent them from establishing a foothold in the country apparently encouraged Russia to support the insurgent group. But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday again warned Moscow against maintaining contacts with the Taliban.

"Anyone who thinks they can help themselves by helping the enemy of their enemy is mistaken. Anyone who thinks that they can differentiate between good and bad terrorism is mistaken," Ghani said.

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Ghani acknowledged Russia is also threatened by terrorism and sympathized with victims of recent terrorist attack in that country.

We have an intense dialogue with all our interlocutors because a stable Afghanistan is to everybody's benefit and unstable Afghanistan hurts everyone, Ghani said when asked whether Kabul plans to attend Moscow talks on Friday. He added he wants Afghanistan as a center of cooperation in all efforts aimed at stabilizing his country.

The Russian foreign ministry, while regretting Washington's refusal to attend the coming talks, had also underscored the United States is an important player in settling the Afghan conflict.

So [the United States] joining the peacekeeping efforts of the countries of the region would help to reinforce the message to the Afghan armed opposition regarding the need to stop armed resistance and to start talks, it maintained.

Meanwhile, Fatemi said Pakistan has also stepped up diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with Afghanistan and is seeking implementation of a proposed mechanism the two sides agreed to in talks last months that were mediated by Britain.

The mechanism, he explained, would allow establishment of a channel of communication at different levels between Islamabad and Kabul to help remove any misunderstanding and deal with any terrorist incident on either side of their shared border.

Talks [between the two countries] at the Army level and at different other levels are currently underway, and at a final stage, if needed, foreign ministers of the two countries will also engage in frequent meetings, Fatemi said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan each deny allegations they harbor and support anti-state militants engaged in terrorist attacks on their respective soils. Tensions have lately risen because of Islamabad's unilateral border security measures to prevent terrorist infiltration.

Kabul disputes portions of the 2,600-kilometer border between the two countries and is opposed to fencing them, saying it will further add to problems facing divided families.

Source: Voice of America

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جدت طراز ہانگچو چین میں سرفہرست ترقی یافتہ شہر شمار

ہانگچو، چین، 7 اپریل 2017ء/سن ہوا-ایشیانیٹ/– مشرقی چین کے ایک شہر ہانگچو کو جس نے ستمبر 2016ء میں جی20 اجلاس کی کامیابی سے میزبانی کی تھی، جدت طرازی کی صلاحیت سے بھرپور ایک تاریخی و ثقافتی شہر قرار دیا گیا تھا۔ شہر نے 2016ء میں اپنی ساکھ کو برقرار رکھتے ہوئے 2016ء میں 1.1 ٹریلین […]

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Pakistani Prosecutor Allegedly Offered Christians Acquittal if They Converted

In late March, Syed Anees Shah, a Pakistani prosecutor, gathered a number of Christian suspects outside his court and offered them acquittal in exchange for their conversion to Islam.

Shah was prosecuting more than 40 Christians on charges of involvement in a brutal lynching in which two Muslim men were beaten to death in the aftermath of deadly suicide blasts at two churches in Lahore two years ago. The attacks killed 15 worshippers during Sunday services.

After the blasts, angry protesters gathered at the scene and attacked two unknown Muslims whom they suspected of having ties to militants and set their bodies ablaze.

Police used cellphone videos and pictures taken by bystanders to identify those involved in the lynching. The evidence led to the arrest of more than 40 Christians from Youhanabad, a densely populated Christian neighborhood in Lahore.

The suspects were being tried in an anti-terrorism court in Lahore when prosecutor Shah offered them the deal.

Joseph Francis, a defense attorney for the accused Christians, told reporters about Shah's offer to the defendants. "He tells them that if they embrace Islam, he can guarantee them their acquittal in the case," Francis said.

The story was initially reported by Pakistan's Tribune newspaper.

Fled the country

Francis has reportedly left the country for fear of retribution after revealing the case to reporters.

"Joseph Francis, the rights activist providing legal assistance to the accused in a Lahore lynching case, left the country right after he reported the incident to the media. He has still not returned to Pakistan," Naeem Qaiser, a senior political reporter for TV news channel 92 in Lahore, told VOA.

Human rights activists were outraged by the prosecutor's offer, calling it a criminal offense.

"This is blackmailing," Mehdi Hasan, former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told VOA. "According to the law and the constitution of Pakistan, no one can force anybody to change his or her religion."

Some lawyers contend that many of those in custody on charges related to the lynching were in fact innocent bystanders.

"Most of the men were innocent. They were just standing there and had nothing to do with the lynching, but they're in jail now," Adnan Shamim Bhatti, a lawyer from Youhanabad, told VOA.

Government's response

As the story was picked by the media, the provincial government intervened and launched an investigation against Shah, who initially denied the charges against him but later admitted to offering the deal after evidence emerged that seemed to confirm the defendants' claim.

Shah was reportedly videotaped while offering the deal outside the court in Lahore.

"The government is aware of the incident and an initial committee has been established to further look into this matter," Malik Ahmed Khan, a spokesperson for the Punjab provincial government, told VOA.

"Mr. Shah has been relieved of all his responsibilities as a prosecutor," Khan added.

Pakistan's government stresses a strict policy of zero tolerance for forced conversions.

"We've suffered a lot in the last so many decades due to religious intolerance. This particular case will speak for itself and will set an example," spokesperson Khan said.

Minorities discriminated against

"The prompt response from the government is commendable," said Romana Bashir, a Christian who is the executive director for the Peace and Development Foundation. "For me and my community, this is a positive response,"

But for many, this was more than an isolated case.

"Our society is very emotional when it comes to religion," Bashir told VOA. "It's not a matter of one case. I hope the government will keep addressing the issues related to minorities and this will give us [Christians] a sense of belonging to this country as well."

Christians are one of the largest non-Muslim minorities, representing about 1.6 percent of the Pakistani population. Christians frequently complain of being harassed by radicals and at times forced to convert to Islam. They are also often accused of violating the country's controversial anti-blasphemy law.

In some cases, just being accused of violating the anti-blasphemy law will draw the attention of those who believe in its strict implementation � and that means a serious threat to the accused person's life.

In 2014, an angry mob in Kot Radha Kishan city in Punjab province beat a Christian couple to death after they were accused of desecrating the Quran.

Christians are not the only minority group being persecuted in Pakistan. The Ahmadi community, a religious sect, recently released its annual report, which noted an increase in violence against Ahmadis and their mosques across Pakistan in 2016.

Days after the report was released, a prominent Ahmadi community leader and a lawyer, Malik Saleem Latif, was killed by unknown gunmen in Punjab's Nankana Sahib district.

Sympathy with extremists

In Pakistan, dealing with extremism and religious hatred is complicated by the fact that some political leaders openly sympathize with banned militant organizations that promote religious intolerance.

Human rights groups and activists have accused the government of not taking strong measures to keep in check those who spread hatred against religious minorities.

"Those who play politics in the name of religion in Pakistan have strong roots and the government's behavior is apologetic," rights activist Hasan told VOA. "It clearly shows the government is not able to take a firm stand against religious intolerance."

Source: Voice of America

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