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Afghan forces free 100 prisoners from Taliban jail

Monitoring Desk

LASHKARGAH: Afghan commando forces freed more than 100 prisoners from Taliban jails in the Kajaki district, Helmand, they said.

The ANA commandoes raided two Taliban jails in Sur Karez and Deh Baba aeas of Kajaki district and freed 103 hostages including five women and two children from the jails, said Abdul Qadar Bahadarzoi, spokesman of ANA’s 215th Maiwand Corps in Helmand.

Of those freed, only two were identified as local policemen while identity of rest of the people was unclear, he said, adding the free prisoners were shifted to Shorab military base and would be handed over to their respective family after completion of investigations.

A clash also took place during the operation wherein four Taliban were killed and numerous arms and landmines were seized by the security forces.

Bahadarzoi said there was no harm to security forces.

Helmand based journalists were invited to the Shorab base to meet the freed people.

Afghan defense ministry also confirmed the release of more than 100 prisoners during operation conducted by Afghan forces. Local Taliban confirmed that Afghan forces backed by US troops raided two Taliban jails and freed nearly 100 prisoners.

A local Taliban fighter told AIP that mostly criminal prisoners had been kept in the jail, adding the Taliban offered stiff resistance during the operation causing casualties to security forces.

According to local Taliban, airstrike was also conducted during the operation wherein a Taliban fighter and a civilian were killed and three more wounded. The Afghan forces also raided several Taliban jails in the same province in the past and freed dozens of prisoners.


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Abdullah, Khanna confer on security cooperation

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr. Abdullah and visiting Indian Deputy National Security Advisor (NSA) Rajinder Khanna have discussed security and regional situation.

The CEO office said on Thursday Abdullah hailed India’s assistance to Afghanistan and praised relations between the two countries as strong and based on shared cultural values.

Khanna assured closer and wider cooperation between the two countries in the future. He pledged India’s continued support for the government and people of Afghanistan.

During the meeting, recent regional developments, military cooperation between the two countries, infrastructure development and expanding trade ties came up for discussion.

Both sides agreed on enhanced cooperation between the two countries in different areas, including security, regional challenges and international peace and stability.



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Govt forces retake Dasht Kala district centre from Taliban

Monitoring Desk

KUNDUZ: Afghan officials claimed that Taliban suffered defeat at all fronts in the recent clashes in Dasht Kala and Khwaja Bahuddin districts of northeastern Takhar province.

The Taliban fighters overrun the Dasht Kala district and conducted attacks in Khwaja Bahuddin district but retreated after making some advancement at both the fronts. Asmatullah Qurbani, member of Takhar provincial, told AIP that the Taliban torched some government offices and also caused casualties to civilians in the Dasht Kala district.

He said the Taliban were pushed back from the district and all the government installations were in the control of government forces.

He, however, lashed out at local forces and central government for failing to protect the district, adding though the situation has improved, there were still fears of re-eruption of fighting in the district.

In yesterday’s clashes, he said, five security men including police and local uprises were killed, four wounded and 10 more went missing. Abdul Khalil Aseer, spokesman of Takhar police, reported that situation was in the control of government.

According to police, eight Taliban were also killed and 10 more wounded in Dasht Kala. Local residents, meanwhile, told AIP that fighting continued in some areas of the district and the main bazaar has not yet been completely reopened.

Local residents had told AIP that the missing police had been seized by Taliban.

Aseer said the Taliban carried out attacks in some areas of Khwaja Bahuddin district, killing a cop and wounding three others, adding there were also casualties to Taliban. Taliban have not said anything about the retaking of Dasht Kala district by government but reported clashes and capturing several posts in the Khwaja Bahuddin district.



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1,000 Afghan returnees given carpet-weaving tools

Monitoring Desk

JALALABAD: The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) on Thursday distributed carpet-weaving equipment to 1,000 Afghans who recently returned from Pakistan to eastern Nangarhar province.

The tools were distributed to carpet-weavers at a special ceremony at the governor’s house in Jalalabad. Besides Governor Hayatullah Hayat, a number other officials attended the event.

Hayat, told reporters carpet-weaving tools and other raw materials worth 27 million afghanis had been distributed to 1,000 artisans.

He hoped the families that received the tools would be able to earn enough from their work and help improve domestically-produced carpets.

Rural Rehabilitation and Development Director Mujib Rahman said the families had been weaving carpets in Pakistan in the past. But now that they have returned to their country, they will make carpets under the Afghanistan trademark.

He said that MRRD was also working on finding markets for local products and providing the rural industry with essential facilities. The ministry has organised exhibitions of carpets and other products inside and outside the country.

Khatoni, a woman who returned from Pakistan two years ago, is a carpet weaver. She said they had been weaving carpets in Pakistan. Now she is doing the same job in her own country after being facilitated with resources.

Sharifa Ahmadzai, a member of the Carpet-Weavers Association in Nangarhar, hailed the MRRD assistance. She hoped the move would help reduce joblessness.

Malik Niamatullah Halimi, a tribal elder from Behsud district, called the provision of equipment to carpet-weavers a great step toward rural development. He urged the government to make efforts to improve other rural industries.



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PMEX index closes at 3,503 points

F.P. Report

KARACHI: Pakistan Mercantile Exchange Limited’s commodity Index on Wednesday closed at 3,503 points; with traded value of metals, energy and COTS/FX recorded at 5.790 billion.

The number of lots traded was 9,613, said PMEX release on Thursday. (The data is compiled and released after 24 hours).

Major business was contributed by currencies through COTS amounting to Rs 1.802 billion followed by gold Rs 1.294 billion, WTI crude oil Rs 999.790 million, silver Rs 412.871 million, platinum Rs 284.374 million, NSDQ100 Rs 280.435 million, DJ Rs 207.519, copper Rs 206.936 million, SP500 Rs 126.153 million, natural gas Rs 117.475 million and Brent Rs 57.594 million. In agriculture, 102 lots of cotton amounting to Rs 151.006 million were traded.

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Nearly 8m foreigners visit Turkey in Jan-April

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: Nearly 7.8 million foreigners visited Turkey in the first four months of 2018, the Culture and Tourism Ministry announced on Thursday.

The ministry said that the figure rose by 32.55 percent on a yearly basis, up from 5.87 million in January-April last year. Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city by population and one of its top tourist draws, saw the highest number of visitors, with nearly 3.9 million in the four-month period.

The Mediterranean resort city Antalya came in second, with 1.06 million foreign visitors. As for the nationalities of foreign visitors, Iran took first place with 11.02 percent — some 860,000 visitors — over the same period, followed by Germany (8.63%) and Georgia (8.37%). Official data showed that air was the preferred means of transport, with 8.23 million travelers, while 3.5 million used roads and around 235,000 came by sea.

In April, 2.65 million foreigners also visited the country, up 28.27 percent from April 2017. In 2016, some 35 million foreigners visited the country, in the midst of a tourism slowdown after the Fetullah Terrorist Organization’s defeated coup, but the sector improved in 2017

Turkey expects 40 million tourists from abroad this year, according to private sector representatives and officials.

Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmus has set the country’s 2023 targets as 50 million tourists and $50 billion in income.



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Eurozone inflation leaps to 1.9% in May: Eurostat

Monitoring Desk

BRUSSELS: Inflation in the eurozone leaped to the ECB’s target in May, data showed on Thursday, fuelled by a huge increase in oil prices as the US decided to pull out of a nuclear deal with Iran.

The EU’s statistics authority, Eurostat, said inflation in the eurozone jumped to 1.9 percent in May, a massive jump from the 1.2 percent recorded in April. That puts inflation right at the European Central Bank’s target of close to, but just below 2.0 percent.

Analysts believe increased inflation will heap pressure on the ECB to scale back its massive stimulus programme that has helped keep government borrowing prices at super low levels.

This would be especially sensitive in heavily-indebted Italy, which is hit by a political crisis and benefits greatly from the ECB bond-buying programme. The strong jump in inflation was mainly due to energy prices, which shot up by a dizzying 6.1 percent in May compared to 2.6 percent the month before.

Eurostat also said the jobless rate in the single currency area fell to 8.5 percent in April, a nine-year low and down from 8.6 percent a month before.

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EU cigarette production down in 2016

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: Cigarette production in the European Union dropped by 36 billion items to 527 billion in 2016, Eurostat said on Thursday.

Production is therefore down a third, or almost 300 billion cigarettes, from 2006, the report stressed.

The report said: “In 2016, the EU’s production was equivalent to more than 1,000 cigarettes, or roughly 50 packets of 20 cigarettes, per inhabitant.”

Germany’s cigarette production amounted for 32 percent of that of the EU with nearly 168 billion.

“In other words, one in every three cigarettes produced in the EU originated in Germany,” said the report.

Poland (19 percent) and Romania (15 percent) followed Germany with 99 billion and 77 billion cigarettes.

Eurostat highlighted that the cigarette production’s value in 2016 was around €6.2 billion ($6.88 billion).

“Tobacco consumption is one of the greatest avoidable health risks in the EU,” another Eurostat report said on Thursday.

The report showed that of 5.2 million deaths recorded in 2015 in EU countries, a quarter — 1.3 million — were due to cancer.

Lung cancer was the leading type observed in those deaths, with 273,400, according to the report.

The World Health Organization (WHO) called for global action against the tobacco industry Thursday as it marked “World No Tobacco Day”.

The WHO’s report underlined tobacco kills 7 million people each year, despite a steady reduction in tobacco use globally. AA



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ABL asset management launches ABL Islamic asset allocation fund

F.P. Report

KARACHI: ABL Asset Management is pleased to announce the launch of ABL Islamic Asset Allocation Fund (ABLIAAF), an open-end Shariah Compliant Asset Allocation Scheme. ABLIAAF provides an ideal opportunity for investors to generate competitive returns through a mix of Shariah Compliant fixed income and equity investments. The fund is now open for subscription.

ABL Islamic Asset Allocation Fund will operate under the guidelines of Al-Hilal Shariah Advisors Private Limited. The Shariah Supervisory Counsel is headed by Mufti Irshad Ahmad Aijaz, who is a renowned Shariah Scholar and is also the Chairman of SBP-Shariah Advisory Board. ABLIAAF will invest in Shariah Compliant Equity, Fixed Income, Money Market Instruments and any other instruments as permitted by the SECP and Shariah Advisor.

Mr. Alee Khalid Ghaznavi, CEO ABL Asset Management stated “ABL Funds endeavors to provide innovative investment solutions and quality services for its investors. With the launch of ABLIAAF, now we have further expanded the breadth of our offerings including Income Funds, Money Market Funds, Stock Funds, Fund of Funds, Asset allocation schemes and Pension Funds in both Islamic and Conventional manner. He further added, “The Fund offers the convenience to invest a diversified portfolio of Shariah Compliant equity and fixed income securities through a single scheme for optimal returns.”

For the past 10 years, ABL Asset Management is serving the investment needs to thousands of investors. It is the wholly owned subsidiary of Allied Bank and has Management Quality Rating of AM2++ by JCR-VIS which donates very good Management Quality. It is the only AMC in Pakistan which is ISO 27001 certified. ABL Asset Management is presently managing eleven mutual funds and several administrative plans with total Assets under Management (AUMs) excluding Fund of Funds, of around Rs. 39.30 billion (as on April 30th, 2018).

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How will US withdrawal from nuclear deal affect Iran?

Selim Celal

On May 8, 2018, the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which had been signed in 2015 between Iran and P5+1 group of world powers — the US, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany. According to the pact, the Islamic Republic agreed to freeze its nuclear activities till 2031 in exchange of a partial removal of international sanctions imposed on this country over its nuclear programs.

Right from the very beginning, the JCPOA had its proponents and opponents. In the US most of the Republicans were against the deal while the Democrats favored it. In Iran, the moderate-reformist forces would support it, but the hardliners, including the Guardian of the Islamic Revolution (GIR), had their reservations. Additionally, foreign-based Iranian opposition forces were against the deal. They believed that the JCPOA gave a new life to the Islamic Republic, which was, according to them, on the brink of collapse. To the long list of the enemies of the deal, one should also add Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other neighboring Arab sheikhdoms.

The US withdrawal did not come as surprise. It was part of the promise President Trump had made during his presidential election campaign in 2016. Now, the questions are: what are the implications of the US withdrawal? Can the JCPOA survive without the US? If not, who should be blamed? To address these questions, we need to start with the reasons behind President Trump’s decision.

It is quite easy to explain the US withdrawal as a decision taken by an unpredictable president. But, the fact is that Donald Trump was sworn-in as US president in January 2017. He waited for over 16 months and pulled out from the JCPOA only when he was disappointed, and found it counterproductive. Though the JCPOA could slow down the Iranian nuclear activities, it did not bring any substantial change to the overall Iranian behavior. Contrary to this, soon after inking the deal, the GIR kicked off its long-range missile program in violation of the United Nations Security Council’s resolution no. 2231, which prohibits Iran from developing missile programs for eight years. The JCPOA also did not bring any real positive change to the Iranian economy despite facilitating the immediate in-flow of millions of cash, which had hitherto been blocked in the US Instead, the cash was invested by the GIR for the Islamic Republic’s ‘Shia crescent’ project. While John Kerry, the then US state secretary, had stated on the occasion of signing the JCPOA that the deal would make the Middle East more manageable, the Iranian over-involvement across the region from Yemen and Syria to Iraq and beyond has made the region messier today. That is why the EU leaders’ position was too weak to convince President Trump to stay with the pact. They could not defend or deny Iran’s role in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, or its missile program.

As a matter of fact, during the negotiation over the JCPOA, the US and its EU allies were significantly lenient towards the Islamic Republic. Their underlying intention was to marginalize the ‘hardliners’ in Iran through strengthening the position of President Rouhani and the ‘moderate-reformist’ forces. As a result, they missed an important point that there is a good understanding between moderates and hardliners behind the scenes as their ideological roots are the same. More importantly, the US and the EU failed to appreciate that while they were observing conventional diplomacy (based on give and take), the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic behavior was informed by ‘taqiyyah’ (precautionary dissimulation), a key principle in Shia political thought. In his book “The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times”, Mohammed ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has a full chapter entitled “Riddle of Taqiyya”, in which he explains how this principle was in use by the reformist President Muhammad Khatami’s administrations, and how it was ruinous to every agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. Putting all the above pieces together, one can argue that the Islamic Republic is equally responsible in the failure of the JCPOA.

Soon after the US withdrawal, strong statements came from the EU leaders against the unilateral American move. They have been reassuring Iran of commitment to the deal without the US This made many analysts argue cheerfully that a rift was developing between the US and its European allies, which would eventually put an end to the American global hegemony. Though one may agree with Paul Kennedy’s thesis of ‘Rise and Fall of Great Powers’, and expect a world order free from the American hegemony, it does not seem likely that this blissful era will come so soon. To use a South Asian proverb: “It takes days to bury even a dead elephant”. Even if it happens, it will have nothing to do with the JCPOA, because, the existing rift between the US and its European allies is not strategic but technical in nature. There is almost a consensus between the US and the EU that the JCPOA is fraught with shortcomings. The only difference is that the US wants to destroy it and negotiate a new deal, whereas the EU wants to engage with Iran and improve the existing one.

While the efforts of the EU leaders to uphold the pact might be appreciated, the bitter truth is that world politics is not based on hopes and wishes but capabilities and resources. It might be handy to understand the future of the deal in the context of the following analogy: A group of people planned a day out. Now, one of them has withdrawn, while others are still interested. But the problem is that the withdrawing individual is the sole owner of all the equipment required for outing, including the vehicle which was supposed to carry the group to the picnic spot. With the US out, the JCPOA has already lost its driving engine, and the EU, however sincere and keen, is therefore not able to uphold its provisions. Observing commercial liberalism, the EU cannot fight with the market and force its companies to enter into business with Iran. Additionally, the management of these companies would never take such a risk as they are accountable to their shareholders. This is particularly true of those European companies whose major shareholders are Americans.

That said, developments in the US clearly indicate that this country’s withdrawal was not an individual decision. It was part of a larger plan. Its next episode was unveiled on May 21 by Michael Richard Pompeo, in his first speech as US secretary of state. He set out 12 demands and vowed that if Iran failed to comply, “the sting of sanctions will be painful” for this country.

These demands unnerved the Iranian leaders. A few hours after the Pompeo’s speech, President Hassan Rouhani reacted, saying: “That a guy who worked in a spy agency for years, now in the capacity of US state secretary, wants to make decisions for all of the countries is in no way acceptable.”

Three days later on May 24, the supreme leader came with a list of demands for the EU, and threatened that the Islamic Republic would quit the JCPOA if its demands were not met.

However, the realities on the ground suggest that these statements are merely rhetorical, and as such, the Islamic Republic is in its weakest position. Economically, it is on the verge of bankruptcy, and its currency is sharply depreciating. Politically, it is still not in full control of the widespread social unrest that shook the country in December 2018. Therefore, the options for Iranian leaders are just too limited. The supreme leader had promised that if President Trump were to tear the agreement, the Islamic Republic would burn it. But, instead of burning the treaty, only the American flag was burnt by a few parliamentarians on the parliament floor. On the other hand, the Iranian foreign minister has already kicked off a shuttle diplomacy to reassure the EU leaders that Iran is ready to comply with the JCPOA even without the US

Although the Iranian leaders are ruling out the possibility for any deal with new terms, the history of the Islamic Republic suggests otherwise. Its only problem is that it is not good at making the right decision at the right time. For instance, in the early years of the Iran-Iraq War, Ayatollah Khomeini rejected the Arab world’s offers for an armistice in exchange of compensation. But after eight years, he settled for a cease-fire with much smaller gains, considering his decision as “more deadly than taking poison”. Similarly, Iran wasted millions of dollars for nearly two decades; and its national economy buckled under heavy international sanctions; only then, the supreme leader ordered the so-called “heroic softness” (narmish e qahremananih).

Therefore, the Iranian leaders may initially resist the US offer for a new comprehensive deal, but they will be ready for another act of “heroic softness” as soon as they are convinced that it will add a few years to the life of the Islamic Republic. After all, their principle guideline is Ayatollah Khomeini’s decree: “Safeguarding the Islamic political system is the most superior obligation” (Hifz e nizam az awjab e wajibat ast).