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Complete shutdown in IOK against arrest of Hurriyat leaders

SRINAGAR (AFP): A complete shutdown was observed in occupied Kashmir (IoK) on Tuesday to protest against the arrest of Hurriyat leaders by Indian authorities.

Call for the shutdown was given by the joint resistance leadership comprising Syed Ali Gilani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik to register protest and condemn the revengeful, arbitrary and illegal arrest of Hurriyat leaders. All shops, business establishments and educational institutions are closed while traffic is off the road.

The puppet authorities have imposed strict restrictions and deployed Indian troops and police personnel in strength in Srinagar to prevent people from staging demonstrations against the arrest of Hurriyat leaders.

The Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) had summoned Hurriyat leaders including Altaf Ahmad Shah, Merajuddin Kalwal, Peer Saifullah, Ayaz Muhammad Akbar and Shahid-ul-Islam at its office in Humhama area of Srinagar, yesterday, and arrested them after implicating them in false cases. Later, they were taken to New Delhi.

The Indian National Investigation Agency had arrested Hurriyat leaders Altaf Ahmad Shah, Merajuddin Kalwal, Peer Saifullah, Ayaz Muhammad Akbar, Shahid-ul-Islam and Nayeem Ahmed Khan from Srinagar and Farooq Ahmed Dar from New Delhi. Those arrested from Srinagar were later airlifted to New Delhi.

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Pakistan has better defence industrial base than India’s, admits Indian VCOAS

NEW DELHI (Web Desk): Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) in India Lt. Gen. Sarath Chand acknowledged Tuesday that Pakistan has a better defence industrial base than that of India due to a higher number of exports of defence-related equipment.

According to The Indian Express, he admitted that the Indian defence industry had lagged behind with the passage of time due to lack of technological advancements. Although he stressed that there is no competition in this field with Pakistan, he expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of Indian ordnance factories that were unable to produce weapons according to the needs.

“Pakistan has a better industrial base export and defence production (than India) … (They) export defence equipment abroad more than what we are doing,” he said while speaking at AMICON 2017. Lt. Gen. Chand said that the Indian defence industry had failed to comprehend with the changing times with insufficient research and technology.

The top-tier Indian army official revealed that the state is highly dependent on imports to compete in war-like situations. He credited the Make in India programme and Defence Procurement Policy 2016 initiated by the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling it major steps for the improvement of defence industry.

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Mattis blasts Pentagon over pricey Afghan uniforms

WASHINGTON (Reuters): US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has issued a sharp rebuke after the Pentagon wasted millions of dollars buying the Afghan army a pricey uniform that may have made soldiers easier to spot.

According to a memo released Monday, Mattis told Pentagon procurement officials that the decision to buy the overpriced woodland green camouflage uniforms “serves as an example of a complacent mode of thinking.”

“Cavalier or casually acquiescent decisions to spend taxpayer dollars in an ineffective and wasteful manner are not to recur,” Mattis wrote in the July 21 memo.

The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued a report last month saying the Pentagon may have spent as much as $28 million more than necessary when it decided in 2007 to purchase the dark-green camouflage uniforms.

SIGAR also found that a private company held rights to the camo design and that Afghanistan´s then defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, essentially chose the pattern on a whim. The proprietary design meant the uniforms cost about 40 percent more than non-proprietary camouflage.

The highly critical SIGAR report also says officials ordered the uniforms without conducting any formal testing or evaluation.

“The purpose of equipping the Afghan National Army is to bolster the Afghan government´s capacity to provide for its own security, and ultimately, to help defend our country from terrorist attack,” Mattis wrote.

He added that he wanted the episode to serve as a “catalyst” to bring to light wasteful practices. Lawmakers at the House Armed Services Committee are scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday on the matter.

Mattis is considering whether to send thousands more US troops to Afghanistan to help beleaguered Afghan partners as they struggle to contain a resurgent Taliban.

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Mumbai building collapse kills at least eight, many feared trapped

MUMBAI (AFP): A 40-year old four-storey building collapsed in the Indian city of Mumbai on Tuesday, killing at least eight people with more than 20 feared trapped, fire and police officials said.

“Search and rescue operations are still on,” said P.S. Rahangdale, chief fire officer of the Mumbai Fire Brigade, adding two firemen were injured during the rescue operation. A total of 16 people had been rescued so far, he said.

The ground floor of the building in the suburb of Ghatkopar housed a nursing home, which was vacant at the time, while the rest of the building was occupied by three or four families on each floor, he said.

In 2013, 145 people were killed in three separate building collapses around Mumbai, on the western coast, the highest in recent years.

In the eastern city of Kolkata, a portion of an almost century-old building collapsed killing two people and some were feared trapped, media channels reported.

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Erdogan in Qatar for talks on Gulf crisis

DOHA (AFP): Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Doha on Monday as part of a Gulf tour aimed at defusing a dispute between Turkey´s ally Qatar and neighbouring Arab states.

Erdogan was greeted by Qatari ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in Doha ahead of their first face-to-face talks on the Gulf crisis, state news agency QNA reported.

Turkey has sided with Qatar in the crisis, the worst to hit the region since the 1981 establishment of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain suspended diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar over allegations that Doha had too close ties with Iran and supported extremist groups.

Qatar has denied the allegations.

Erdogan held talks on Sunday in Kuwait, which is leading mediation efforts in the crisis, and Saudi Arabia, where King Salman hailed the Turkish leader´s “efforts in the fight against terrorism and its financing”.

Erdogan has voiced support for the mediation efforts of Kuwait, a possible indication Ankara sees Kuwait as the key to resolving the crisis.

Qatar´s emir on Friday said he was open to talks with the Saudi-led bloc on condition the emirate´s “sovereignty” was respected.

His call received a cold reception from the UAE´s state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, who wanted Qatar to review its policies.

“Dialogue is necessary, but it should be based on a revision” of Qatar´s stance, he tweeted.

Qatar has emerged as Turkey´s number one ally in the Middle East in recent years, with Ankara and Doha closely coordinating over issues including the Syria conflict where the two are staunch foes of President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey is also setting up a military base in Qatar, its only such outpost in the region. It has expedited the process since the crisis began and reportedly now has 150 troops in the emirate.

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Young Pakistan military officers oppose terrorism, says US expert

WASHINGTON (AFP): The new generation of Pakistani military officers is more sensitive to terrorism than its predecessors, says Robin Raphel, former assistant secretary of state for South Asia, rejecting a claim by the Afghan ambassador that those officers are more likely to back terrorism than current Pakistani commanders.

At a weekend seminar on Afghanistan at the Aspen Institute, California, America’s most prestigious forum on security issues, Ms Raphel said a lack of clarity in Washington’s policies was preventing Pakistan from breaking its links with the Haqqani network.

Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s ambassador in Washington, spoke before Ms Raphel and urged the international community to stop supporting Pakistan.

“Pakistan is moving toward becoming a state that supports terrorism as an element of foreign policy, to a state that believes in terrorism,” he claimed.

He alleged that the new cadre of officers in the Pakistani military believed in terrorism as an ideology and as those officers rose through the ranks, they would create more problems for the world.

“If we continue to give Pakistan a free pass, imagine the conflict at a time when the military is one million strong, has nuclear weapons, has sophisticated intelligence and believes in extremism at its core,” he warned.

He also urged the international community to work with the Pakistani civilian leadership to keep the military in check.

Since Pakistan’s ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary decided not to attend the seminar because of a recent experience in Washington where he was hooted and ridiculed at a similar event, Ms Raphel was apparently the only friend Pakistan had in the seminar. She told the Afghan ambassador that his statement was “a little bit misleading” and inaccurate.

Ms Raphel, who is an old friend of Pakistan and had to face an FBI inquiry last year because of her alleged links with Islamabad, also disagreed with Mr Mohib’s claim that “terrorism and Pakistan are equated”.

She said Pakistan was one of the numerous countries that have a “proxy” in Afghanistan. It was likely to keep that proxy as long as uncertainty existed on the outcome of the conflict, she added.

The discussion about Pakistan’s role overshadowed the primary topic of the panel discussion, the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy, expected later this month.

Ms Raphel noted that during a visit to Pakistan earlier this month, Senator John McCain too asked Islamabad to do more and what he heard from the Pakistanis was: They too are waiting for an overall US policy.

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China warns India not to harbour illusions in border stand-off

BEIJING (AFP): China’s defense ministry on Monday warned India not to harbor any illusions about the Chinese military’s ability to defend its territory, amid a festering border dispute.

The stand-off on a plateau next to the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim, which borders China, has ratcheted up tension between the neighbors, who share a 3,500-km (2,175-mile) frontier, large parts of which are disputed.

“Shaking a mountain is easy but shaking the People’s Liberation Army is hard,” ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a briefing, adding that its ability to defend China’s territory and sovereignty had “constantly strengthened”.

Early in June, according to the Chinese interpretation of events, Indian guards crossed into China’s Donglang region and obstructed work on a road on the plateau.

The two sides’ troops then confronted each other close to a valley controlled by China that separates India from its close ally, Bhutan, and gives China access to the so-called Chicken’s Neck, a thin strip of land connecting India and its remote northeastern regions.

India has said it warned China that construction of the road near their common border would have serious security implications.

The withdrawal of Indian border guards was a precondition for resolving the situation, Wu reiterated.

“India should not leave things to luck and not harbor any unrealistic illusions,” Wu said, adding that the military had taken emergency measures in the region and would continue to increase focused deployments and drills.

“We strongly urge India to take practical steps to correct its mistake, cease provocations, and meet China halfway in jointly safeguarding the border region’s peace and tranquillity,” he said.

Indian officials say about 300 soldiers from either side are facing each other about 150 meters (yards) apart on the plateau.

They have told Reuters that both sides’ diplomats have quietly engaged to try to ensure the stand-off does not escalate, and that India’s ambassador to Beijing is leading the effort to find a way for both sides to back down from confrontation without losing face.

Chinese state media have warned India of a fate worse than the defeat it suffered in their brief border war in 1962.

This month, state media said China’s military had carried out live fire drills close to the disputed area.

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US urges India and China to reduce tension through direct dialogue

WASHINGTON (INP): The Pentagon has encouraged India and China to engage in a direct dialogue free of any “coercive aspects”.

“We encourage India and China to engage in direct dialogue aimed at reducing tensions and free of any coercive aspects,” Gary Ross, a defence department spokesman said Saturday Over the past week, the US state department too have been making similar statements, but Pentagon has sought direct dialogue between India and China on reducing tension “free of any coercive aspects”.

According to Indian media, theNational security advisor Ajit Doval will head to Beijing to attend a meeting of BRICS later this month. During his visit, Doval is expected to talk with his Chinese counterpart on this issue. Responding to questions, the Pentagon refused to take sides on the issue.

“We refer you to the governments of India and China for further information. We encourage India and China to engage in direct dialogue aimed at reducing tensions. We are not going to speculate on such matters,” Ross said when asked if the Pentagon fears escalation of tension between India and China.

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Indian army thrash, injure seven cops in IHK

SRINAGAR (INP): Seven policemen were injured in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district Saturday when they were thrashed by Indian Army personnel at a check post, police said.

Police have filed a case against the Army personnel, an official said, adding that records kept at a police station were also damaged.

The incident took place when private vehicles, carrying Army personnel in civvies, were returning from the Baltal base camp of the Amarnath Yatra and were signalled to stop at the Sonamarg check post, he said. The vehicles did not stop and kept proceeding towards Ganderbal.

Policemen at Sonamarg sent a message to the next check post at Gund to stop the vehicles, said the official, recapping what had happened. As the vehicles reached Gund, policemen manning the check post stopped them and did not let them proceed further as the cut-off time for yatra vehicles had already passed.

Police told the army men that there were strict directions not to allow any movement of yatra vehicles as that could put them at risk. However, the army men called their colleagues from the 24 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) unit, who reached the spot and allegedly thrashed the policemen, said the official.

He added that the army men then barged into the Gund police station, ransacked it, damaging the records kept there, and assaulted the on-duty policemen. Seven policemen, including an assistant sub-inspector, were injured and taken to the hospital, the official said. The police have registered a case against the personnel attached to 24 RR, he said.


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Trump warns Iran over detained Americans: White House

WASHINGTON (Reuterts): US President Donald Trump warned that Iran would face “new and serious consequences” unless all unjustly detained American citizens were released and returned, the White House said in a statement on Friday.

Trump urged Iran to return Robert Levinson, an American former law enforcement officer who disappeared more than 10 years ago in Iran, and demanded that Tehran release businessman Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer.

The statement capped a week of rhetoric against Tehran. On Tuesday, Washington slapped new economic sanctions against Iran over its ballistic missile program and said Tehran’s “malign activities” in the Middle East undercut any “positive contributions” coming from the 2015 nuclear accord.

Those measures signaled that the Trump administration was seeking to put more pressure on Iran while keeping in place an agreement between Tehran and six world powers to curb its nuclear program in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.

Friday’s statement said Trump and his administration were “redoubling efforts” to bring back all Americans unjustly detained abroad.

An Iranian court sentenced 46-year-old Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father Baquer Namazi to 10 years in prison each on charges of spying and cooperating with the United States.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps detained Siamak in October 2015 while he was visiting family in Tehran, relatives said.

The IRGC arrested the father, a former Iranian provincial governor and former UNICEF official in February last year, family members said.

Levinson, a former agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and for the Drug Enforcement Administration, disappeared in Iran in 2007 and the US government has a $5 million reward for information leading to his safe return.

An Iranian court sentenced Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-born US citizen graduate student from Princeton University, to 10 years in jail on spying charges, Iran’s judiciary spokesman said on Sunday.

“Iran is responsible for the care and wellbeing of every United States citizen in its custody,” the White House said in the statement.

Separately, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Oman’s foreign affairs minister, Yusuf bin Alawi on Friday.

Washington has in the past sought Oman’s mediation to help in securing the release of detained Americans abroad. Last year American prisoners held captive by Yemen Houthi rebels were released after Omani mediation.

Oman also paid bail that ultimately helped in the release of three American hikers in 2010 and 2011.