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INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS - September 2020

Sep 2020

Sep 30, 2020

Taliban and Pakistan Interested in Withdrawal of International Forces

  • The Taliban and Pakistan are interested in the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan more than a peace settlement, a former Pakistani diplomat has said, warning that the ongoing peace talks in Doha were headed towards failure.
  • Pakistan's former Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani said that I am not optimistic about the outcome of the talks. The US has made all major concessions up front. The Taliban know that the US is eager to withdraw from Afghanistan. As they see it, they are just negotiating the withdrawal of foreign forces and the restoration of the status quo ante, when they ruled Afghanistan as its Islamic Emirate.
  • The Afghan government could prove stronger than the US-backed South Vietnam government and might fight on for a pluralist Afghanistan with the support of other countries, including India, he said. The US withdrawal was a function of America's tendency to lose interest in wars that go on too long, he added.

Sep 29, 2020

Pakistan Court Indicts Former President Zardari in Money Laundering Case

  • An anti-corruption court in Pakistan indicted former President Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in a money laundering case, a move described by his party as "victimisation" of opposition leaders.
  • The development comes just ahead of the planned protests next month by Opposition parties to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
  • The case is about the alleged use of fake accounts by the former president and other accused to park and launder the allegedly ill-gotten wealth.
  • The 63-year-old husband of the country's first woman Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and his 62-year-old sister Talpur were present in the court.
  • Judge Muhammad Azam Khan of the accountability court in Islamabad indicted them.
  • The court also indicted Omni Group Chairman Anwar Majeed and his son, Abdul Ghani Majeed.
  • The development comes just ahead of the planned protests next month by Opposition parties to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
  • The case is about the alleged use of fake accounts by the former president and other accused to park and launder the allegedly ill-gotten wealth.
  • The 63-year-old husband of the country's first woman prime minister Benazir Bhutto and his 62-year-old sister Talpur were present in the court.
  • Judge Muhammad Azam Khan of the accountability court in Islamabad indicted them.
  • The court also indicted Omni Group Chairman Anwar Majeed and his son, Abdul Ghani Majeed.
  • All the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

EU, Britain Far Apart as Key Week of Brexit Talks Begins

  • The European Union and Britain both said that a post-Brexit deal was still some way off as they began a decisive week of talks in Brussels.
  • Britain left the EU last January and is locked in negotiations on a new trade deal from 2021, as well as on implementing its divorce agreement with the bloc.
  • EU national leaders are scheduled to assess the state of play at a summit next month, with a no-deal Brexit still possible.
  • Negotiations have stumbled over fisheries, fair competition and settling disputes, and Brexit talks descended into chaos this month when London proposed draft laws that would undermine its earlier EU divorce bill.
  • Britain's Brexit supremo Michael Gove held talks with Maros Sefcovic, a deputy head of the bloc's executive Commission.
  • The UK's positions are far apart from what the EU can accept. I have repeated the EU's request to withdraw the contentious part of the draft Internal Markets Bill by the end of September.
  • EU leaders meeting in Brussels are expected to authorise more negotiations before their next summit on October 15-16.
  • They will then assess whether to focus on pushing for a deal or preparing for a hard Brexit at the end of the year.

Amnesty International to Halt India Operations

  • Amnesty International said that it has been forced to halt its India operations due to "reprisals" from the government.
  • The watchdog has also accused the government of indulging in a witch-hunt of human rights organisations.
  • Amnesty said that its bank accounts have been frozen and it's been forced to lay off staff in the country, and suspend all its campaign and research work.
  • The government is yet to respond to the allegations.
  • According to Rajat Khosla, the group's senior director of research, advocacy and policy said that we are facing a rather unprecedented situation in India. Amnesty International India has been facing an onslaught of attacks, bullying and harassment by the government in a very systematic manner.
  • This is all down to the human rights work that we were doing and the government not wanting to answer questions we raised, whether it's in terms of our investigations into the Delhi riots, or the silencing of voices in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • In a report, the group said police in the Indian capital, Delhi, committed human rights violations during deadly religious riots between Hindus and Muslims in February.

Sep 28, 2020

Afghanistan's Abdullah Abdullah Arrives in Pakistan for Talks on Peace Bid

  • Senior Afghan peace official Abdullah Abdullah arrived in Pakistan for meetings in a country seen as vital to the success of Afghan talks aimed at ending decades of war.
  • During his three-day visit to Islamabad, Abdullah, a former Foreign Minister and chairman of Afghanistan`s High Council for National Reconciliation will meet Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as Pakistan`s Foreign Minister.
  • Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been rocky. Afghanistan and its international allies have for years accused Pakistan of backing Taliban insurgents as a way to limit the influence of old rival India in Afghanistan.

Jacinda Ardern on Course for Election Victory

  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is poised to retain power at next month's election, a widely watched poll showed, although it said a recent COVID-19 outbreak has dented her support slightly.
  • A Newshub-Reid Research Poll released showed support for Ardern's Labour Party to 50.1%, though this is down from the record 60.9% recorded earlier this year when New Zealand was widely lauded as a world leader in battling COVID-19.
  • Support for the main opposition National Party was at 29.6%, up 4.5 percentage points.
  • Should the poll findings materialise, Ardern would govern without relying on any coalition partners.
  • New Zealand was COVID-free for 102 days until a second wave hit Auckland last month.

Fighting Erupts between Armenia and Azerbaijan

  • Fighting erupted between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the disputed separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, while Azerbaijan's president said his military has suffered losses.
  • Armenia also claimed that two Azerbaijani helicopters were shot down and three Azerbaijani tanks were hit by artillery, but Azerbaijan's defense ministry rejected that claim.
  • Heavy fighting broke out in the morning in the region that lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since 1994 at the end of a separatist war.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh authorities reported that shelling hit the region's capital of Stepanakert and the towns of Martakert and Martuni. Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said that Azerbaijani shelling hit within Armenian territory near the town of Vardenis.

Sep 27, 2020

Russia and China Block Release of UN Report Criticising Russia

  • Russia and China blocked the official release of a report by UN experts on Libya that accused its warring parties and their international backers -- including Russia -- of violating a UN arms embargo on the conflict-wracked country. Germany's deputy UN ambassador, Gunter Sautter, brought the issue to the Security Council after the two countries blocked the report's release by the committee monitoring sanctions on Libya, which Germany heads. Many delegations have asked for the publication of the panel of experts' interim report.
  • This would create much needed transparency. It would contribute to naming and shaming those who continue to blatantly violate the arms embargo in spite of agreements that have been made.
  • The report, seen by The Associated Press earlier this month, said the arms embargo was being violated by Libya's UN-supported government in the west, which is backed by Turkey and Qatar, and by rival east-based forces under commander Khalifa Hifter, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Jordan.

Malaysia's Sabah State Holds Election in Key Test for PM

  • Malaysia's 7-month-old ruling alliance triumphed in its first electoral test in eastern Sabah state, a major victory for embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin amid challenges to his leadership.
  • Sabah was ruled by the opposition and the state poll was seen as a referendum for Muhyiddin's unelected government. As per analysts, the victory could push Muhyiddin to call for early national elections to bolster his coalition that has a thin two-seat majority in Parliament.
  • The win could also help Muhyiddin thwart a challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who declared he has secured majority support in the national Parliament to oust Muhyiddin and form a new government.
  • Sabah and neighboring Sarawak on Borneo island hold about a quarter of the seats in Parliament and are seen as crucial for political leverage. The two states are rich in oil and timber, but are among the poorest in Malaysia. They have a greater level of autonomy in administration, immigration and judiciary.

Donald Trump Nominates Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court Judge

  • Ending all speculation, US President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett as the new judge for the Supreme Court on Saturday. The nomination was made to fill up the vacancy following the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
  • Notably, Donald Trump has nominated three judges on the non-member bench of the US Supreme Court. The other two being justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
  • The nomination was made 40 days prior to the US Presidential election which is scheduled to be held on November 3. Donald Trump was highly critised by the opposition for hurrying the process. However, he justified it saying this is his highest and most important duties under the United States Constitution.

Sep 26, 2020

EU Urges China to Allow Meaningful Access to Independent Observers in Xinjiang Region

  • European Union has called on China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region for independent observers, including for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • In a statement at the 45th Human Rights Council on Friday (local time), German envoy Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg, on behalf of the EU said, "We reiterate our call on China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region for independent observers, including for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Lebanon's PM-designate Steps Down in Blow to French Initiative

  • Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate quit after trying for almost a month to line up a non-partisan cabinet, dealing a blow to a French bid aimed at rallying sectarian leaders to tackle the worst crisis since the nation's 1975-1990 civil war.
  • Mustapha Adib, former ambassador to Berlin, was picked on August 31 to form a cabinet after President Emmanuel Macron's intervention secured a consensus on naming him in a country where power is shared out between Muslims and Christians.
  • Under the French roadmap, the new government would take swift steps to tackle corruption and implement reforms needed to trigger billions of dollars of international aid to fix an economy that has been crushed by a mountain of debt.

World Risk Index 2020

  • India is more vulnerable to extreme natural disasters, according to the World Risk Index (WRI) 2020.
  • The index is calculated on a country-by-country basis, through the multiplication of exposure and vulnerability and describes the disaster risk for various countries and regions.
  • It has been released annually since 2011 and it indicates which countries are in the greatest need to strengthen measures for coping with and adapting to extreme natural events.
  • It is part of the World Risk Report 2020 released by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft and the University of Stuttgart in Germany.
  • It is calculated on a country-by-country basis, through the multiplication of exposure and vulnerability and describes the disaster risk for various countries and regions.
  • Among continents, Oceania is at the highest risk, followed by Africa and the Americas.
  • he World Risk Index (WRI) 2020 revealed that India is 'poorly prepared' to deal with 'climate reality and it is prone to face. Qatar had the lowest risk (0.31) according to the global index.
  • India ranked 89th among 181 countries and it was fourth-most-at- risk in south Asia on the index, after Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives performed better than India in their abilities to cope with extreme disasters.
  • India also lagged behind these three neighbours in terms of lack of adaptive capacities or the preparedness to deal with extreme events.
  • India has also slipped on strengthening adaptive capacities which are concerning as it highlights the inability of systems, institutions, and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to respond to consequences.
  • All South Asian countries have slipped on their ability to adapt to the reality of climate emergency.
  • Hence, all south Asian countries fared poorly in the 2020 index (as compared to 2019) on strengthening their abilities to prepare and adapt to extreme events.
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