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Kabul, Islamabad pave way for new era in bilateral relations 

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(Last Updated On: September 30, 2020)

After two days of back-to-back meetings with high-ranking Pakistani officials, Afghanistan’s peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah will wrap up his official three-day visit to Islamabad on Wednesday – taking home a clear message that the “ice has been broken” and both nations realize the need to strengthen bilateral ties. 

Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah, who had not been to Pakistan since 2008, has so far met with key officials in the country including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. 

He has still to meet with President Arif Alvi.

Discussions between Abdullah and Pakistani officials have shown a paradigm shift in relations between the neighboring countries, which have been at odds with each other for years. 

Speaking at an event at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Islamabad, Abdullah acknowledged Pakistan’s role in helping to get the Taliban to the talks tables, which are currently underway in Doha, Qatar. 

“Pakistan played a critical role in facilitating the talks, and has even a more important role to play here on not only supporting the process through a successful end, but also in standing with the people and government of Afghanistan in building a peaceful and prosperous neighborhood,” he said.

For years, the two countries have had less than favorable relations and on this point, Abdullah said: “After many troubling years, we now need to go beyond the usual stale rhetoric and shadowy conspiracy theories that have held us back.

“We then need to draw the necessary lessons about our gains and losses, threats and opportunities, especially where we could have been today if we had aimed for stronger win-win solutions, reduced tensions, promoted moderation, increased regional connectivity, trade, transit, economic integration, Business to Business and importantly People to People interactions,” he said.

Speaking earlier at the same event, Qureshi called for “recognition of the mistakes of past” and “adding a new chapter to bilateral ties”.

He reassured Abdullah that Pakistan had “no favorites in Afghanistan”, and that Islamabad did not want to “meddle in Afghanistan’s internal affairs”. He said his country respected Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Qureshi also stated that Islamabad would support whatever consensus emerges from the intra-Afghan negotiations. 

In addition, he said a relationship between the two neighbors based on “cooperation and understanding” was the only way forward and that Pakistan would like to be “friends not masters” of Afghanistan.

On Tuesday night, Abdullah met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

Following the meeting, Abdullah said in a Twitter post he was “hopeful about prospects of strengthening our bilateral relations”. 

He said the two leaders had discussed the need for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and economic growth around “a regional peace dividend”. 

Khan, who has been invited to Kabul by President Ashraf Ghani, said at the meeting he was looking forward to his visit to Afghanistan. 

He also stated that Pakistan will continue to undertake all efforts to facilitate Afghan transit trade and deepen bilateral trade and economic ties. 

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NATO Defence Ministers meet to address security challenges

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(Last Updated On: October 22, 2020)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday evening that alliance defense ministers had taken “another important step” and agreed to establish a new NATO Space Center in Germany. 

Addressing an online press conference after the first day of the two-day defense minister’s meeting, Stoltenberg said the new center will “help to coordinate Allied space activities; support NATO missions and operations from space, including with communications and satellite imagery; and protect Allied space systems by sharing information about potential threats.”

He also said they had addressed Russia’s growing arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles and said the “challenge is serious, and growing in scale and complexity.”

A number of other issues were also addressed including that of new air and missile defense systems; strengthening NATO’s advanced conventional capabilities; and new fifth-generation fighter aircraft. 

Stoltenberg stated that ministers had also received a comprehensive report on the state of critical infrastructure, including ports and airports; supplies of fuel, food and medical equipment; and telecommunications, including 5G.

“While we have made progress, there are still vulnerabilities. For instance foreign control of the critical infrastructure upon which our societies and our militaries rely,” he said.

“Countries like China are investing aggressively in ports and airports, and our telecommunication networks remain vulnerable to attacks from the outside, and compromise from the inside.

“So we must continue to build up our resilience. And we have agreed that we will strengthen our resilience pledge when NATO leaders meet next year.”

On Friday, NATO’s training missions in Afghanistan and Iraq will be discussed.  

Addressing a pre-ministerial meeting on Wednesday, Stoltenberg said NATO remains committed to Afghanistan’s long-term security and supports the Afghan peace talks.

He also said however that: “The Taliban must live up to their commitments, significantly reduce the levels of violence, and pave the way for a ceasefire.” 

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UN to probe Takhar airstrike after locals claim children were killed

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(Last Updated On: October 22, 2020)

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said on Thursday night it was investigating an Afghan National Army (ANA) airstrike in Takhar province that reportedly killed 12 children. 

In a post on Twitter, the mission said: “UNAMA civilian protection team following up on allegations of ANA airstrike yesterday against Taliban in Takhar province killing 12 children, girls & boys, & injuring 18 other civilians.”

UNAMA also stated that the United Nations will issue findings when complete. 

This comes after local officials in Takhar said early Thursday morning a mosque had been targeted in an airstrike killing children and injuring many others, including the mosque’s imam. 

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh rejected the claims in a Facebook post later in the day and said Taliban members had been targeted and eliminated. 

“The news of the killing of children in a mosque in Takhar is baseless. Those who dragged our forces to dust and blood yesterday were destroyed, and we have undeniable proof,” Saleh wrote.

This came a day after the Taliban carried out a massive attack against Afghan security forces in the province, killing as many as 50 soldiers. 

Reuters reported that Abdul Qayoom Hayrat, head of the provincial health department in Takhar, said that 10 of the dead soldiers were members of the Afghan special forces.

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Brazilian volunteer in COVID-19 vaccine trial dies 

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(Last Updated On: October 22, 2020)

Brazilian health authority Anvisa confirmed a volunteer in a clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University had died but said the trial would continue.

Oxford confirmed the plan to keep testing, saying in a statement that after careful assessment “there have been no concerns about safety of the clinical trial,” Reuters reported.

A source told Reuters the trial would have been suspended if the volunteer who died had received the COVID-19 vaccine, suggesting the person was part of the control group that was given a meningitis vaccination.

The Federal University of Sao Paulo, which confirmed the volunteer was Brazilian, said a review committee had suggested the trial continue. 

The university is helping to coordinate phase 3 clinical trials in Brazil.

 

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