Pakistan claims 30 militants killed in Waziristan strikes

Pakistan’s military said on August 5 it has killed at least 30 militants in air strikes in the North Waziristan tribal region.

A statement said six ‘militant hideouts’ had been destroyed in the Dattakhel area, some 25 miles west of the town of Miranshah. However, media access is blocked in the area and there is no way of independently verifying the claim.

The army says it has killed more than 550 militants in North Waziristan since it launched an offensive in June. It says more than 30 Pakistani troops have also been killed during the operation.

On August 4 the army said it had killed seven Uzbek militants in a shootout in the same area, just east of where the August 5 raids took place. At least two Pakistani soldiers also died in the gunfight.

None of the known leaders of the Haqqani militant network or about half a dozen other high-profile local and foreign groups is known to have been arrested so far. The military conceded last month that they might have slipped out of the area after getting wind of the impending military action.

UK meeting of Kashmir National Party makes important decisions

The Kashmir National Party in the UK, which recently held its Central Executive Council meeting, analysed the ongoing situation on both sides of the divided State of Jammu and Kashmir and has taken several important decisions.

The KNP Central Executive Council concluded that the situation in occupied Gilgit Baltistan is going from bad to worse and that the authorities, in the guise of waging war on the Taliban, are targeting nationalists calling for freedom for their people. To show solidarity with the people of Gilgit Baltistan, members of the KNP and Kashmir Students Federation resolved to march to Gilgit Baltistan. To this end, Dr Shabir Choudhry — who set up the KNP — has been assigned the responsibility of liaising with the KNP zonal leadership of Azad Kashmir, the KSF and nationalist leaders in Gilgit Baltistan.

At the meeting the Council strongly condemned the arrest of Muhammad Shareef Kakurd, Central Vice Chairman of the UK PNP, who is charged with sedition and waging war against Pakistan. The Council asserted that the struggle in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan is peaceful and that the charges against Kakurd are unsubstantiated. In view of this, it urged his immediate release.

The Council also analysed the effectiveness of the TV programme Speakers Corner, and commended Dr Shabir Choudhry for his promotion in the programmes of the Kashmir cause and his opposition to the forces of extremism and violence. It said that the Speakers Corner TV debates are educating people on the Kashmir situation and exposing the dubious propaganda of those who occupy the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Following these comments the Council made some important decisions concerning future programmes.

Kerry brokers political deal in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s feuding presidential candidates have signed a deal to work on the formation of a national unity government, as an audit attempts to decide the winner of the country’s fraud-tainted election.

Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, and ex-finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, agreed to resolve their dispute on August 8 in a deal brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry. The two rivals have been locked in a bitter dispute over who will succeed Afghan President Hamid Karzai following June’s run-off election.

The breakthrough came as US Secretary of State John Kerry opened a second day of talks aimed at preventing the fragile country from collapsing into political chaos.

The joint declaration stated the candidates would agree to a timeline for the electoral process and inauguration date for the next president by the end of August. Afghanistan’s Western backers hope an audit of votes will produce a legitimate president before a NATO summit in early September. The UN is supervising a full recount of all eight million votes cast in a June run-off vote, as agreed during Kerry’s last visit to Afghanistan a month ago.

The election was to mark Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power before most foreign troops pull out at the end of 2014.
Abdullah said the agreement was a ‘step forward in the interests of strengthening national unity…and bringing hope to the people for the future of Afghanistan’.

Pakistan returns Indian soldier

Pakistan has handed back an Indian soldier who was swept by a river into Pakistani — controlled territory in Kashmir. He had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) — the de facto border dividing the disputed Kashmir region.

Satyasheel Yadav was part of a team of soldiers patrolling the Chenab River on August 6 when the incident took place.

Relations between Pakistan and India have improved in recent months after a spike in tension last year. Several deadly cross-border attacks in 2013 plunged the neighbours into the worst crisis in relations in years. But in May, India’s new PM Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif and they pledged to work for peace and stability.

A senior official of India’s Border Security Force (BSF) said that Mr Yadav was trying to climb into a boat in the surging Chenab when he slipped and was carried away by the strong current. Pakistani soldiers detained and questioned Mr Yadav before deciding to hand him back on August 8, reports say.

Mr Yadav said, ‘They [Pakistani soldiers] took my introduction. They helped me to the extent they could. They kept me better than what I had thought. I have no complaints. I am happy.’

Gaza ceasefire holds as negotiators gather

An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire halting the Gaza war has held into August 11, allowing Palestinians to leave homes and shelters as negotiators agreed to resume talks in Cairo.

The truce took effect just after midnight (2101 GMT), preceded by heavy rocket fire toward Israel. In Cairo, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the ceasefire would allow humanitarian aid into battered Gaza neighbourhoods and the reopening of indirect talks on a more lasting and comprehensive deal.

On the morning of August 11, high school students in Gaza filed the streets as they headed off to pick up their graduation certificates after the Education Ministry said they’d be ready. People waited to buy fuel for generators as power and communication workers struggled to fix cables damaged in the fighting. Long lines formed at ATMs.

In Cairo, negotiators said talks would resume at 11 am (0800 GMT). The four-member Israeli delegation arrived at Cairo International Airport earlier Monday morning.

The month-long war, pitting the Israeli military against rocket-firing Hamas militants, has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority civilians, Palestinian and UN officials say. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, all but three of them soldiers, officials there say.

The fighting ended in a three-day ceasefire on August 5. Egypt had hoped to use that truce to mediate a long-term deal, but when it expired, militants resumed their rocket fire, sparking Israeli reprisals.

Obama approves strikes to stop Iraq ‘genocide’

US President Barack Obama has authorised airstrikes against Islamist militants in northern Iraq and ordered airdrops of supplies to besieged religious minorities.

Three aircraft delivered food and water to thousands of Iraqis trapped on a mountain, and left the drop zone after 15 minutes, according to the Pentagon.

In a late-night televised address, Mr Obama said targeted strikes would be launched, if needed, to stop the advance on Irbil by the Islamic State — the group previously known as ISIS or ISIL.

The President said the action would be aimed at defending Americans and protecting civilians under siege, preventing a ‘potential act of genocide’. However, he stressed there was no intention of sending in any troops. British PM David Cameron called the attacks by IS ‘barbaric’ but Downing Street said there would be no UK military action in Iraq.

Some 40,000 residents from the ancient Yazidi community, who are followers of a religion derived from Zoroastrianism, have been forced to leave the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar after the Sunni fighters overwhelmed Kurdish forces. Many Yazidis are trapped on Mount Sinjar without food or water and are at risk of starvation as the militants surround the base.

Two F-18 fighter jets kept watch over the three cargo aircraft — one C-17 and two C-130s — during the Mount Sinjar aid mission. The planes dropped 72 bundles, containing more than 20,000 litres of drinking water and 8,000 pre-packaged meals.

South China Sea, Myanmar focus of Southeast Asia talks

China’s increasing assertiveness in maritime disputes was at the heart of Southeast Asian regional talks on August 8 as diplomats began a series of meetings also expected to highlight concerns over host Myanmar’s reform progress.

Myanmar President Thein Sein began the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign minister meetings with a plea for the regional bloc to strengthen its ability to push for ‘peaceful settlement of disputes and differences’. ‘The current developments in the world are causing serious concern to us,’ he added, without giving specific examples, in a speech in the capital Naypyidaw.

Recent acts by Beijing in the South China Sea, including the positioning of an oil rig in waters also claimed by Vietnam, have sparked a fresh spike in regional tensions. The sea, criss-crossed by key international shipping lanes, is thought to hold huge oil and gas deposits and is claimed almost in its entirety by China. ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam all claim parts of the sea, while Taiwan is a sixth claimant.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is attending the meeting, is due to underline Washington’s calls for a freeze in ‘provocative’ acts in the sea.

Kerry is also expected to press Myanmar to reinforce its commitment to democratic reforms as the former pariah state heads towards landmark elections next year. The country, which began emerging from outright military rule in 2011, has been accused of backsliding on reforms in recent months, with journalists and activists arrested, while religious violence and the rise of Buddhist nationalism has also sparked concern.

Thein Sein, whose government has been criticised by rights groups for not doing enough to stop anti-Muslim unrest, called for action against ‘extremism’ in his opening address on August 8, urging a ‘peace-loving majority’ to stand up against violence.

NATO chief urges Russia to ‘step back from the brink’

The head of NATO has called on Russia to ‘step back from the brink’ of war by pulling its troops back from the Ukrainian border and warned further intervention in Ukraine would bring it greater isolation in the world.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the US-led alliance’s Secretary General, made his call on August 7 during a visit to Ukraine in a show of solidarity after NATO warned of a possible invasion by Russia which, it said, had massed 20,000 troops near the frontier.

Saying Russia’s support for the rebels was growing in ‘scale and sophistication’, Rasmussen said: ‘I call on Russia to step back from the brink, step back from the border and not use peacekeeping as an excuse for war-making.’

Earlier, he and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk discussed possible Western alliance support for Ukraine’s defensive strength — excluding lethal aid — even as the Kiev government’s forces continued losing men in clashes with pro-Russia separatists in the Russian-speaking east.

Shortly after Rasmussen spoke, rebels brought down a Ukrainian Mig-29 fighter plane and a military helicopter sent into the conflict zone to pick up casualties, the Ukrainian military said. The Mig-29 came down near Horlivka, about 60 miles from the border with Russia. Its crew managed to eject from the aircraft and the Mi-8 helicopter made a forced landing, with its crew believed to be safe, according to military spokesmen.

The Kiev government announced it was suspending a ceasefire with the rebels at the crash site of the Malaysian airliner that was shot down on July 17, after an international mission halted recovery work there for security reasons.

Ebola epidemic declared global emergency by WHO

The World Health Organisation has declared the killer Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa an international health emergency and appealed for global aid to help afflicted countries.

The decision came after a rare, two-day closed-door session of the UN health body’s emergency committee, which urged exit screening of all people flying out of affected countries, where nearly 1,000 people have died.

The WHO stopped short of calling for global travel restrictions, urging airlines to take strict precautions but to continue flying to the area. And it called on countries and airports around the globe to be prepared to ‘detect, investigate and manage’ Ebola cases if they should arise.

The WHO move comes as US health authorities admitted on August 7 that Ebola’s spread beyond west Africa was ‘inevitable’, and after medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that the deadly virus was now ‘out of control’ with more than 60 outbreak hotspots.

‘If you have health systems, you have awareness, you are ready for it, this is something that you can stop,’ a representative stressed.

First discovered in 1976 and named after a river in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola has killed around two-thirds of those infected, with two outbreaks registering fatality rates approaching 90 percent. The latest outbreak has a fatality rate of around 55-60 per cent.

Colombia: President Santos commits to peace at swearing in

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said peace talks could falter if left-wing Farc rebels do not halt attacks, as he was sworn in for a second term.

Santos was re-elected for a second term in June, with his victory a resounding vote of confidence for the peace process he began with the rebels in November 2012.

Colombia has suffered more than five decades of conflict which has led to more than 200,000 deaths.

President Santos reiterated his commitment to peace talks at his inauguration ceremony in Bogota on August 7. ‘Acts of peace, that’s what the Colombian people ask for today… I will employ all my energy to bring peace during this mandate,’ he told the crowd.

But the challenges facing President Santos are many. First he will be expected to reach a final agreement with the Farc, which still has an estimated 7,500 active fighters. Then he will have to negotiate a peace deal with the National Liberation Army (ELN), a smaller left-wing guerrilla group which commands some 2,500 rebels. He also faces considerable opposition from his conservative rival, Ivan Zuluaga and his mentor, former President Alvaro Uribe, a fierce critic of the peace talks.

Talks are expected to resume on 17 August when a first group of representatives speaking for the victims of the conflict will arrive in Havana.

 News in Brief

Al-Maliki digs in his heels
In an August 10 televised address, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has insisted that he will not stand down. Ninety minutes before his midnight broadcast, elements from the Iraqi National Army, police and counter-terrorism forces were deployed across Baghdad, including around the Green Zone and Baghdad International Airport. Al-Maliki, who has accused Iraqi’s new president of violating the constitution, has said that he will not cease his ongoing bid for a third term.

Bangladesh: garment workers clash with police during protest
A bus was attacked on August 8 during clashes between garment workers and police in Dhaka, Bangladesh, injuring several workers and journalists. The clashes occurred after police fired tear gas and used batons inside the Tuba Garments factory to disperse workers who have been on indefinite strike to demand their wages be paid. Workers from other garment factories also joined the protest. Bangladesh has the world’s second-largest garment industry after China and earns more than $20 billion a year from garment exports, mainly to the United States and Europe.

Khmer Rouge leaders sentenced for crimes against humanity
On August 7 a UN-assisted tribunal sentenced two top leaders of Cambodia’s former Khmer Rouge regime to life in prison for crimes against humanity during their late 1970s reign of terror that left as many as 2 million people dead. The case — involving the forced relocations of people and a mass execution — covered just a sliver of the offences that led to the deaths of so many of their countrymen through starvation, medical neglect, overwork and execution.

Libya: UN delegation hopes to broker militia ceasefire
A UN delegation held talks in Tripoli on August 8 to try to broker a ceasefire between armed factions who have turned the Libyan capital into a battleground after the worst fighting since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. The delegation, led by a representative of the United Nations mission in Libya, known as UNSMIL, aims to end the violence, help displaced residents, and alleviate food and gasoline shortages.

Erdogan secures another term as Turkey’s leader
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan has secured another five years at the helm of the Turkish republic, this time from the Cankaya presidential palace in Ankara. With more than 50 per cent of the vote, Erdogan has avoided a run-off in the country’s first direct election for president. The election results confirm that he maintains strong support from roughly half of Turkey’s population, though the other half has been deeply alienated by many of his policies.