Foreign Ministers of Iran and Pakistan held bilateral consultations in Islamabad, 12 March 2018

Dr. Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of Iran who is on a visit to Pakistan from 11-13 March, 2018, today held consultations on bilateral relations and regional peace and security with Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Foreign Minister of Pakistan at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The two sides agreed to continue engagement for enhancing economic cooperation including bilateral trade, investments and commercial interaction to promote shared prosperity. They reiterated their resolve to achieve the target of $ 5 billion by 2021 through regular exchange of trade delegations, establishing banking channels, holding trade exhibitions and addressing tariff and non-tariff barriers. They further resolved to conclude the FTA on priority.

The Foreign Ministers underlined that as two brotherly neighbouring countries Iran and Pakistan would deepen connectivity between the two sister ports of Gawadar and Chahbahar to benefit from their complementarities.

Pakistan and Iran strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and appreciated increased cooperation in border security. To facilitate movement of people and goods across the border, it was agreed to expedite operationalization of two new border crossings.

The two Foreign Ministers also exchanged views on important developments on regional and international peace and security. They supported political resolution of the Afghan conflict for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan, and the region.

Expressing concerns about growing presence of Daesh in Afghanistan and its implications for regional security, the two sides underlined the need for further cooperation against trans-national terrorist groups.

Pakistan and Iran reiterated support for the peaceful struggle of the peoples of Palestine and Kashmir for their right to self determination. The two countries also emphasized the need for honouring of the JCPOA commitments by all parties.

To commemorate the 70 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between Iran and Pakistan, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif delivered a talk at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad this afternoon.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Government of Pakistan

IRGC: Militants Killed During Attacks In Southeastern Iran

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) says three men who attacked a military checkpoint in southeastern Iran have been killed.

An IRGC statement on March 12 said the attack took place near the city of Saravan, about 50 kilometers from Pakistan’s border.

Describing the attackers as “terrorists,” the statement said one of the men was a suicide bomber who died when he detonated an explosive vest.

The IRGC also said two members of Iran’s Basiji paramilitary force were wounded by the attack.

An Iranian news website earlier reported that Revolutionary Guard troops thwarted a double suicide attack on a border post near the Pakistani border overnight, killing both would-be bombers.

Sepahnews.com said one attacker was driving an explosive-laden truck and the other was wearing explosives on a belt.

Iranian security forces in Sistan-Baluchistan Province, where Saravan is located, have been targeted repeatedly by Sunni militants thought to be crossing into the region from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Security forces also frequently clash with drug traffickers in the province.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Iran Accuses US of Supporting IS in Afghanistan; Washington Denies Allegation

ISLAMABAD, Iran has accused the United States of helping Islamic State militants in Afghanistan to fuel regional terrorism and threaten neighboring countries.

Visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the allegations while speaking to a gathering of diplomats, scholars and journalists in Islamabad.

He said U.S. helicopters were found transporting IS members from the eastern Afghan district of Haska Meyna, also called Deh Bala, to unknown locations.

“We see intelligence, as well as eyewitness accounts, that Daesh fighters, terrorists, were airlifted from battle zones, rescued from battle zones, including recently from the prison of Haska [Meyna],” said Zarif, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Iran and Russia consistently allege that “unmarked” helicopters have been flying to Afghan areas where IS militants are entrenched.

“This time, it wasn’t unmarked helicopters. They were American helicopters, taking Daesh out of Haska prison. Where did they take them? Now, we don’t know where they took them, but we see the outcome. We see more and more violence in Pakistan, more and more violence in Afghanistan, taking a sectarian flavor,” Zarif said.

Washington denies the allegations as “mere rumors” and cites its relentless airstrikes in support of Afghan forces against IS bases in eastern Nangarhar province, where Haska Meyna is located.

American troops also routinely accompany the Afghan forces into battle against IS. Last year, the highest number of U.S. combat casualties anywhere in the world occurred in Nangarhar.

The terrorist group uses Nangarhar as its main base to launch attacks elsewhere in Afghanistan. Lately, IS militants have made territorial gains in the northern Jowzjan province next to the border with central Asian states, raising alarms in Moscow.

At an international conference Kabul hosted late last month, the Afghan national security adviser, Haneef Atmar, offered Russian and Iranian delegates joint investigations into allegations of unmarked helicopters flying IS fighters to battle zones in the country.

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said Iran was ready to use its influence, along with Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, including Pakistan, to promote peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban to prevent IS from spreading its activities in the region.

U.S. officials accuse Iran of supporting the Taliban, while Afghans have long alleged the insurgent group uses sanctuaries in Pakistan to sustain its violent campaign in Afghanistan.

Source: Voice of America

Taliban Overruns Afghan District Near Iranian Border

ISLAMABAD, The Taliban has captured a western Afghan district near the border with Iran after inflicting heavy casualties on government forces.

Insurgents early Monday assaulted Anar Dara in the province of Farah and partially took control of the district headquarters, a provincial government spokesman said.

Naser Mehri told VOA fierce fighting was still raging in the area because government forces were still holding out in army bases and buildings of the intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

Air support and fresh troops have been sent to the mountainous Afghan district but the Taliban has mined all roads leading to Anar Dara, making it difficult for the ground reinforcements to reach the battle zone.

An interior ministry spokesman in Kabul confirmed the deaths of at least eight Afghan security personnel, saying retaliatory airstrikes also killed nearly 60 insurgents.

The Taliban claimed it was in full control of the district center, the police headquarters and surrounding areas.

An insurgent spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, asserted 15 Afghan troops had been killed and military vehicles seized, along with a large quantity of ammunition. The Taliban also released pictures of its fighters patrolling streets in the town.

But independent verification of battlefield claims from either side was difficult to ascertain.

Taliban territorial advances came just two days after insurgents staged a surprise assault in Bala Buluk, another insurgency-plagued district in Farah, and killed dozens of Afghan troops.

The provincial governor resigned in January, citing political interference and rampant corruption in law enforcement agencies in Farah.

Authorities have also accused Iran of facilitating Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan’s relatively peaceful western border provinces, charges Tehran denies.

Critics warn Taliban’s advances in Farah could pose serious security challenges because of its proximity with the southern Helmand province. Insurgents control or contest most of the districts in Helmand, the largest Afghan province and opium-poppy producing region.

Afghan military-led operations backed by U.S. airstrikes have lately inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban in Helmand, which borders Pakistan.

Military commanders anticipate an uptick in fighting across Afghanistan with the onset of spring when insurgents stage major battlefield attacks.

The latest U.S. military assessments from December show that the Afghan government controls less than 56 percent of the country’s 407 districts while the Taliban controls or influences the rest.

Source: Voice of America

Muslim Pakistan Swears In First Hindu Female Senator from Untouchables

ISLAMABAD, Islamic Pakistan has sworn in newly-elected members of its Senate, including the first female representative from the country’s marginalized minority Hindu community.

Monday’s proceedings remained focused on Krishna Kumari from the so-called untouchables, or Dalit, which is at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy still prevalent in Pakistan and neighboring India.

Kumari, a 39-year-old human rights activists, is a member of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and was elected from a remote village in her native southern Sindh province.

Election of male Hindus to the Senate or the National Assembly, lower house of parliament, is not uncommon in Pakistan.

Kumari was warmly welcomed by Muslim senators as she entered the chamber for the first time, a landmark development in Pakistan where religious minorities, often complain of oppression and discrimination at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.

Hindus, who make up four percent of Pakistan’s 207 million population, have lately complained of forced conversions to Islam carried out by Islamists in their villages, causing many families to migrate to Hindu-majority India.

In another historic development, late Monday the 104 member upper house of parliament for the first time elected its new chairman from the poverty-stricken violence-hit province of Baluchistan.

Newly-elected Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani won the post because of support from major opposition parties amid allegations political parties have paid lawmakers from rival parties to vote for their candidates.

Sanjrani’s supporters insist giving him the opportunity will help in addressing grievances of Baluchistan, where residents have long complained the federal government is using the province’s natural resources, but not doing enough for their economic uplift.

Militant ethnic Baluch have been waging a low-level insurgency against the state in the sparsely populated largest Pakistani province, which is at the center of a multi-billion dollar massive economic cooperation project with China.

Bills approved by the legislative National Assembly are required by Pakistan’s constitution to be approved by the Senate to become laws.

Source: Voice of America

At Least 50 Killed in Nepal Plane Crash

Officials in Nepal say a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed and burst into flames as it was attempting to land at the Kathmandu airport, killing at least 50 people.

A spokesman for the Dhaka-based U.S.-Bangla Airlines said 71 people, including four crew members, were on board the aircraft. Of the 67 passengers, 32 were from Bangladesh, 33 from Nepal, and one each from China and the Maldives. Witnesses say the plane swerved repeatedly and was flying low before the accident happened.

Officials say several people were rescued from the burning wreckage of the Canadian-made twin propeller plane, a Bombardier Dash 8.

The chief executive officer of U.S.-Bangla Airlines, Imran Asif, accused Kathmandu’s air traffic control of giving incorrect signals for the landing.

Airport officials said the pilot had been told to approach the runway from the south, but he instead came in for landing from the north. They say air traffic controllers told the pilot he was not properly aligned with the runway, and asked if things were okay, to which he replied, “Yes.”

Reporters who arrived at the scene after the crash say the plane had broken into several large pieces and lay on a grassy field near the runway.

Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli visited the plane crash site hours after the accident.

Rescue workers worked throughout the day to remove bodies from the plane and to search for any survivors.

Witnesses say fire crews put out the flames within minutes, but that for a time a cloud of thick, dark smoke rose above the wreckage.

The airport briefly closed after the accident, but has since reopened.

There has been a series of accidents at Kathmandu’s airport in the past.

In 1992, a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok crashed while trying to land, killing all 113 aboard. Just two months later, a Pakistan International Airlines plane crashed as it approached the airport, killing all 167 people on board.

The most recent crash at the airport causing fatalities was in 2012, when a Sita Air turboprop plane carrying trekkers to Mount Everest hit a bird and crashed after takeoff. All 19 people on board were killed.

Source: Voice of America