Monday, September 21, 2020

We must all strive to preserve peace: UN Chief Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (File photo)

New York [US], September 21 (ANI): A high-level meeting of the United Nations was held on Monday, marking the 75 years of the organization where the General Assembly adopted a forward-looking political declaration that would give countries a mechanism to combat terrorism, reformed multilateralism and inclusive development.

Addressing day one of the General assembly debate, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made an appeal 'to preserve the longest period in modern history without a military confrontation between the world's most powerful nations.'

"A Third World War -- which so many had feared -- has been avoided," Guterres said. "This is a major achievement of which member states can be proud -- and which we must all strive to preserve." he further added.

With the theme, "The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism," Monday's meeting was aimed at reinvigorating multilateral action to tackle global challenges.

The Secretary-General warned, "Climate calamity looms, biodiversity is collapsing, poverty is rising, hatred is spreading, geopolitical tensions are escalating, nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert" and technologies have opened huge new opportunities "but also exposed new threats."

US President Donald Trump was slated as the speaker for the first member state to address the Assembly, but the US' acting deputy representative to the UN, Cherith Norman Chalet addressed instead and said the UN "has for too long been resistant to meaningful reform" adding that it is lacking in "transparency, and too vulnerable to the agenda of autocratic regimes and dictatorships."

"For the Trump administration, this anniversary is an important moment to mark the many successes of the United Nations, but to do so with clear eyes and a renewed determination to see this important body serve its intended purpose," the US representative added.

Chalet further said that the 75th anniversary of the UN "is the right time to ask questions about the institution's strengths and weaknesses, review and learn from its failures" and "celebrate its accomplishments.

The gathering of the global elite at the UNGA has been cramped by Covid-19 resulting in a mainly virtual address.

Later today Prime Minister Narendra Modi will represent India and deliver the high-level plenary meeting virtually to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the UN. "His address will certainly be the highlight of our participation in UNGA," India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations TS Tirumurti told ANI in an interview earlier. (ANI)

Pakistan spreading imposturous political propaganda full of disinformation: India at UNHRC

First Secretary, Permanent Mission of India, Geneva Senthil Kumar at the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council (Image: ANI)

Geneva [Switzerland], September 21 (ANI): India at the United Nations during the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council on Monday accused Pakistan of spreading imposturous political propaganda which is full of disinformation and gratuitous references about India's internal matters.

"Yet again, tho
ugh we are not surprised, Pakistan has twice chosen to divert the attention of the Council with its imposturous political propaganda full of disinformation and gratuitous references about India's internal matters today, said the First Secretary, Permanent Mission of India, Geneva Senthil Kumar at the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council.

"It will be better for Pakistan to set its own house in order before it speaks about others," he added.

Senthil further informed the assembly about the numerous instances of incitement to violence against journalists and human rights defenders in the country adding that it is especially worrying that the accusations of blasphemy which could put individuals at risk for violence.

"Just twelve days ago the OHCHR in its press briefing expressed serious concern about the numerous instances of incitement to violence - online and offline - against journalists and human rights defenders in Pakistan, in particular against women and minorities. Especially worrying are accusations of blasphemy - which can put accused individuals at imminent risk of violence," he added.

The first secretary further pointed out that the HRC had called on the Pakistani authorities to end the secret detention of human rights defender Idris Khattak, "whose whereabouts are not known for more than nine months".

"Talia, the 20-year-old daughter of Idris Khattak, is still waiting for a fair trial for her father. Last week we saw serious concerns being expressed in this room at a large number of enforced disappearances in Pakistan," he said further.

He further pointed out that human rights defenders in Pakistan are "being silenced every day" through intimidation, secret detention, torture, and enforced disappearances with the direct involvement of the Pakistani Government. "Targeting of journalists through threats, assaults, arrests instilling extreme fear and self-censorship exposes the fallacy of Pakistan's so-called military-run 'democratic' system," the first secretary said.

Speaking about the human rights defender Marvi Sirmed who received highly derogatory and violent messages on social media, he added that journalists Ahmed Noorani and Gul Bhukari and their families have been receiving death threats daily and live in an atmosphere of constant fear and terror.

"Abductions continue often of not only journalists and human rights defenders, but also of under-aged Hindu and Christian girls," Kumar added.

Kumar said that law enforcement agencies, in Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, have been given a free hand and are authorized to arbitrarily detain any person, including those below the age of 18 years.

"Cries of Baloch sister Haseeba Qambrani for her brothers Hasaan and Hizbullah Qambrani, who have been forcibly taken away by the Pakistan military go unheard. Security forces in Pakistan have gained proficiency in unlawful killings and kidnapping of people in so-called counter-terrorism operations. This has been compounded by a weak judiciary in Pakistan which has consistently failed to protect even the basic human rights of the people in Pakistan," Kumar said further.

"This, Mr. Vice-President, is the plight of daughters, sisters, and mothers in Pakistan. They say in Imran Khan's Naya Pakistan (new Pakistan) - you may not return home," he added.

With regard to the cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan occupied parts of Kashmir, he said that it has become "a common standard of practice" adopted to silence anti-government voices.

"Let me turn to Pakistan Occupied parts of Indian Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Laddakh. Cases of enforced disappearances, murders, detentions, custodial deaths and torture of civil rights activists, representatives of local political parties and journalists are common and a standard practice adopted to silence voices against the Government and deep state in Gilgit-Baltistan," he said.

"It's well documented that a large number of Kashmiri detainees are in secret detention facilities in Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Territories now for several years and they have been severely tortured by the security forces... India strongly urges the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to take note of these and other similar cases," he added. (ANI)

Direct cargo ferry service between India and Maldives starts today

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New Delhi [India], September 21 (ANI): Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Shipping Mansukh Mandaviya and Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation of Maldives, Aishath Nahul jointly e-launched a direct cargo ferry service between India and the Maldives, said the Ministry of External Affairs on Monday.

According to the statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry, during its maiden voyage, a vessel with a capacity of 200 TEU and 3000 MT of breakbulk cargo would sail from Tuticorin to Kochi today, from where it will proceed to Kulhudhuffushi port in North Maldives and then to Male port.

"It is scheduled to reach Kulhudhuffushi on September 26, 2020 and Male on September 29, 2020. This ferry service, being operated by the Shipping Corporation of India, will run twice a month and will provide a cost-effective, direct and alternative means of transportation of goods between India and Maldives," the ministry added.

Mandaviya noted that this service is another milestone in the comprehensive bilateral relations between India and Maldives. "He mentioned that this direct cargo service will further cement the close ties between India and Maldives by enhancing people-to-people contact and boosting bilateral trade," the statement from the ministry added.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation of Maldives, Aishath Nahula "expressed deep appreciation" for the launch of the service as reflective of the close ties of friendship and cooperation between India and Maldives.

"The launch of this service concretely fulfils the commitment made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Maldives in June last year and the announcement made by External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar during his virtual meeting with the Foreign Minister of Maldives on August 13, 2020," the ministry said further. (ANI)

Russia received requests to supply 1,2 billion dozes of 'Sputnik V' COVID-19 vaccine

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Moscow [Russia], September 21 (ANI): Russia has signed preliminary agreements with more than 10 countries across the Middle East, South America and Asia, which could give Russia "a valuable economic and political leverage" internationally.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Russian officials said
 that they have secured deals for the vaccine to be delivered in countries like India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Brazil. They also say that it is in various stages of talks" with 10 other countries as well. Moscow has received requests or "expressions of interests" from various countries for 1.2 billion doses of the vaccine.

The vaccines would be manufactured overseas and circulated globally as soon as November. However, the shot would require local regulatory approval before distribution.

'Sputnik V' was approved by the Russian authorities on August 11 even though there was skepticism among the Western countries about the "speed with which it was registered".

According to the Wall Street Journal, Russian researchers completed only small-scale tests on 76 volunteers before securing approval, The data from these early trials had shown that the shot was "safe to use" and generated an immune response but experts say that large-scale testing trials are necessary to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine.

While Russia is expected to undertake mass vaccinations of its own population by the end of 2020, China has injected "hundreds of thousands" of people with its own vaccine. The experts too have raised concerns over the rush to use vaccines -- which have not completed testing fully -- as the widespread use of the ineffective vaccine could lead to "a renewed spread" of COVID-19.

Officials in the US have also indicated that it is unlikely to use a Russian or a Chinese vaccine, in wake of the doubt over testing procedures.

Analysts say that Russia can use the vaccine as "a soft power tool" to draw counties in its orbit.

"The view here is that the vaccine could win Russia some hearts and minds in the non-West and boost its geopolitical leverage," The Wall Street Journal reported quoting Vladimir Frolov, a former senior Russian diplomat, and Moscow-based political analyst.

Russia aims to manufacture close to 30 million doses by the end of this year for its own population. It has been hit hard by the pandemic with over 10 lakh COVID-19 cases (according to Johns Hopkins University).

The Wall Street Journal further reports that Russia is transferring the technology to manufacturing hubs in India, Brazil, and South Korea from which the vaccine would be distributed.

As per the preliminary agreements, India would receive 100 million doses while Bahia in Brazil would receive 50 million doses, the Russian Direct Investment Fund said. However, Russian officials have not disclosed how many countries apart from the four that have agreed to the supply accords.

In August, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said many countries "are interested in various forms of cooperation, including joint vaccine development, clinical trials, procurement, domestic production on their territory and humanitarian aid."

Russia already announced agreements to conduct clinical testing of the vaccine in the UAE, Saudi Arabia along with Egypt and Belarus. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that Mexico wants to take part in the large-scale testing of the vaccine with 500-1000 volunteers but the final decision on the test and eventual vaccine approval lies with the health authorities.

The US, European Union, Japan, and the UK, according to the Wall Street Journal, have agreed to purchase around 3.7 billion doses of the shot from Western drugmakers which ties up most of the "immediate" global vaccine manufacturing capacity leaving developing nations at risk of unable to secure supplies.

Russian officials state that there is a "strong demand" for the Russian vaccine from the developing countries.

"We will focus on saving people in Latin America, Middle East and Asia, where most of the requests come from because these people are not thinking about politics to stifle Russia and to constrain Russia, but they want to protect their citizens," Dmitriev said reported by The Wall Street Journal and added, "We have people who are begging to have the vaccine because they looked into the science and they understand that it works."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that the Philipines would give priority to Russian and Chinese vaccines because, he said, in the Western countries, "it's all (about) profit". Dmitriev said that the fund is "only looking to recoup its investment" in the vaccine and not making a profit.

However, Russia has not disclosed the rate it would charge for the vaccine shot. (ANI)

FMCG brand Dr. Rhazes signs Sourav Ganguly as its brand ambassador

Sourav Ganguly for Dr. Rhazes

Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India], September 21 (ANI/BusinessWire India): Dr Rhazes, the leading personal care brand from Singapore has signed cricketing legend Sourav Ganguly as its brand ambassador.

Coming from the house of Singapore-based FMCG company, Believe PTE. Ltd, the brand has launched two dis
ruptive products - 2-hour Ultra Protect Gel and 7-days Surface Disinfectant Shield - that will revolutionize the way India looks at personal care and hygiene in the backdrop of Covid19.

Sourav Ganguly will be part of Dr Rhazes' new campaign to highlight the importance of proactive and continuous protection in our daily lives. The film leverages the cricketers' credibility and immense popularity in India to drive home the message on Dr Rhazes' new product lines.

"What the world needs today, more than ever before, is protection and trust. We are excited to be on this path-breaking journey of building trust with one of the greatest cricketing legends of all times, Sourav Ganguly. We want to lead the fight against viruses and germs by launching innovative products that provide pro-active protection," said Ankit Mahajan, CEO, Believe PTE Ltd, while talking about the association.

Most of us have been spending sleepless nights worrying about safety for our families in these times. All of us are scared of doing things that were absolutely normal in the pre-Covid world. With products that offer protection for upto 7 days, Dr. Rhazes simplifies lives by ensuring one does not need to re-apply sanitizers and sprays every few minutes. By changing the approach from being reactive to that of pro-active and continuous protection, these products make the daily lives stress-free for consumers.

Dr Rhazes' Ultra Protect Gel kills 99.9 per cent viruses and bacteria instantly and gives active protection against illness-causing germs for more than two hours and a single spray of Surface Disinfectant Shield kills 99.9 per cent viruses and bacteria instantly and disinfects surfaces for 7 days.

"Over the last few months, health and safety precautions have become absolutely crucial to our existence. I am very happy to be associated with an innovative brand like Dr. Rhazes. I think the concept of 'continuous & pro-active protection' is great and I love the way their products simplify our lives," said Sourav Ganguly, while talking about his association with the brand.

Designed and developed in Singapore and made in India, both products have been tested and certified by accredited labs.

BOX: Dr. Rhazes Ultra Protect Gel

* Traditional sanitizers protect from illness-causing viruses and bacteria, but do not provide continuous protection. Their effect lasts only upto a few minutes. There is always a chance of touching an infected surface after sanitizing hands, especially in public places. Dr. Rhazes Ultra Protect Gel protects family from illness-causing viruses and bacteria even for multiple touches. It contains 70 per cent alcohol and a proprietary mix of antimicrobial compounds for protection that lasts for over two hours.

* A single application kills 99.9 per cent viruses and bacteria instantly and gives active, ongoing protection against illness-causing germs for more than two hours. It forms an invisible layer on the hands, which is skin safe, and inactivates viruses and germs that come in contact with hands.

BOX: Dr. Rhazes 7 Day Surface Disinfectant Shield

* Dr. Rhazes 7 days Surface Disinfectant Shield protects families from illness-causing bacteria and viruses. A single spray kills 99.9 per cent viruses and bacteria and disinfects surfaces for 7 days.

* The disinfectant combines the benefits of silver based Nanotechnology to deliver highly effective and long lasting sanitising effects. It creates a coating of active silver ions, which is well-known for its broad spectrum antimicrobial properties. Apart from high efficiency, the spray also offers a pleasant fragrance.

Dr. Rhazes Ultra Protect Gel and Dr. Rhazes 7 Day Surface Disinfectant Shield are available on Amazon, Flipkart, Bigbasket & other leading online platforms.

This story is provided by BusinessWire India. ANI will not be responsible in any way for the content of this article. (ANI/BusinessWire India)

Trump Says Oracle, Walmart to have total control of TikTok or US will not approve deal

US President Donald Trump.

Washington [US], September 21 (ANI/Sputnik): Oracle and Walmart will need to have "total control" over the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok in order for the United States to approve a deal between the company and its two US partners, President Donald Trump said on Monday.

"They are going to have tot
al control over it," Trump told Fox News in an interview. "If we find that they do not have total control, then we are not going (to) approve the deal."

The US TikTok saga has accelerated since August after Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States, citing wider concerns about alleged Chinese government spying on data of Americans using China-originated social media.

Trump's ban of TikTok was originally to take effect on September 20, with his administration offering the app's founding company, Bytedance, one way out: Sell to a US entity. Several American interests cropped up then for talks with TikTok, with early Walmart and Oracle appearing to have crossed the finish line for a deal.

CNBC, however, quoted ByteDance as saying it would own a majority stake in the new US entity to be called TikTok Global. The statement, in Mandarin language, insisted the company was not losing control of the social media app, CNBC said.

The report also said that as part of the deal, Oracle, Walmart and ByteDance agreed to list TikTok Global on an American stock exchange within 12 months, adding that a small round of pre-IPO, or initial public offering, financing will give ByteDance an 80 percent stake in the new entity.

Trump, when asked about this on the Fox News segment, said ByteDance will at best have a minority stake in the restructured TikTok.

Even after going public, "it's all going to be run by Walmart and 100 percent Oracle," he said.

The president also said that his Democrat rivals in the US Congress complained that TikTok was being treated unconstitutionally "but it's going to bring 25,000 jobs and it's going to be based in Texas. They are moving it (the company) into our country. There can be zero security risk."

TikTok filed a lawsuit in a US court last month to defend itself against any blockage of its US operations. It said the Trump administration's action was without any prior outreach to the company that gave it a chance to respond to the accusations, violating the US Constitution and the firm's right to due process.

It also countered the administration's attempts to paint it as a "Chinese company" when it already had "more than 1,500 employees across the US pour their hearts into building this platform every day, with 10,000 more jobs planned in California, Texas, New York, Tennessee, Florida, Michigan, Illinois, and Washington State". (ANI/Sputnik)

Woman fighter pilot selected to fly Rafale combat jets

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New Delhi [India], September 21 (ANI): A woman fighter pilot will be soon flying the Rafale fighter jet of the Indian Air Force as she is training for it.

"The woman fighter pilot is one the first three lady pilots to have been cleared for fighter flying by the Air Force," IAF officials said.

"The l
ady officer was previously flying the MiG-21 fighter jet and is soon expected to be operational on the Rafale fighters," they added.

The Indian Air Force is the first Force to have allowed women officers in combat and has the highest percentage of female officers.

The IAF has 10 women fighter pilots and 18 women navigators. The total strength of women officers serving in the IAF is 1,875.

Last week, Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik told Parliament that women fighter pilots are inducted and deployed in IAF as per strategic needs and operational requirements. (ANI)

MEA summons Pak High Commission official over Sikh girl's abduction

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New Delhi [India], September 21 (ANI): The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) summoned a senior official of the Pakistan High Commission on the issue of abduction of a Sikh girl in Pakistan, according to sources.

This came after the abduction of Gurdwara Panja Sahib's head granthi's daughter in Paki

Protests from the Sikh community in the national capital broke out on Monday outside the Pakistan High Commission in wake of the abduction of the Sikh girl.

"This has been going on for years where the Sikh community has been subjected to violence in Pakistan. Girls have been abducted and are subjected to forcible conversions. The whole country must be involved in this fight," said MS Sirsa, chief, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, Delhi told reporters here.

There are several historical Sikh gurudwaras in Pakistan which are either in a dilapidated condition or are occupied by the land mafia and locals.

The Sikhs are facing persecution across Pakistan. There are many instances of Sikh girls being kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslims. (ANI)

OnePlus 8T launch event set for October 14

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Washington [US], September 21 (ANI): OnePlus will announce its next flagship phone, the OnePlus 8T, on October 14 at an event due to take place at 10 am ET.

According to The Verge, the smartphone company promises that the phone will include "a range of new and improved technologies that will elevate
 the OnePlus experience to new heights".

In past years, OnePlus has used its T-series of phones as a half-step between its numbered flagships. They typically feature modest improvements in similarly designed phones. For example, last year, the OnePlus 7T featured a higher 90Hz refresh rate compared to the OnePlus 7 and added a third camera to the rear of the device.

As per The Verge, OnePlus' own software suggests that the OnePlus 8T will look similar to the OnePlus 8 from the front, but leaked renders published by PriceBaba - based on information provided by leaker OnLeaks -show a different rear camera layout featuring four rear sensors compared to the three the OnePlus 8 had, thanks to an additional 2-megapixel portrait sensor.

The Verge reported that the company also launched a new mid-range device called the OnePlus Nord in Europe and India, and there are reports that there could be another Nord device on the way that will release in the US. If this device actually exists, the OnePlus 8T might not be the only device the company will be announced in October. (ANI)

Delhi Sikhs protest abduction, forcible conversion of granthi's daughter in Pakistan

Delhi: Sikhs stage protest outside Pakistan embassy over forced conversions (Photo/ANI)

Delhi [India], September 21 (ANI): Members of the Sikh community in Delhi staged a protest outside the Pakistan High Commission here on Monday against the abduction of the Panja Sahib head granthi's daughter in Pakistan and her forcible conversion to Islam.

Pakistan in the past has been guilty o
f religious persecution in the past, carrying out forcible conversions of Sikhs to Islam. The protestors were seen carrying placards that read "Stop religious persecutions of Sikhs in Pakistan" and messages demanding justice for the abducted girl in Pakistan.

The protesters shouted, "Pakistan, haye, haye!" and "(Prime Minister) Imran Khan, haye, haye".

"This has been going on for years where the Sikh community has been subjected to violence in Pakistan. Girls have been abducted and are subjected to forcible conversions. The whole country must be involved in this fight," said MS Sirsa, chief, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Mgmt Committee, Delhi told reporters here.

Sirsa said that in the last three months, close to 55 girls have been abducted and converted forcibly. "The abduction of Panja Sahib's head granthi's daughter is repugnant. Even if we have to go to the United Nations or to Pakistan, we will continue this fight till the end," he added.

He called the abductions "a huge conspiracy" against the Sikh community. "They abducted the daughter of our head granthi and want to convert her to Islam. They abducted a 17-year-old girl and the father is appealing for saving his daughter. This is Aurangzeb-like rule in the country," he said. He added, "The way Aurangzeb used to force religious conversions, today's Prime Minister Imran Khan is also working like Aurangzeb which would not be tolerated."

Sirsa urged the global Sikh community to join hands "in securing the future of our daughters as it is very grim".

There are several historical Sikh gurudwaras in Pakistan which are either in a dilapidated condition or are occupied by the land mafia and locals. The Sikhs are facing persecution across Pakistan. There are many instances of Sikh girls being kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslims. (ANI)

Pashtuns protest against state sponsored "good Taliban" and target killings

Pashtuns in Wana protest against sponsored "good Taliban" on Sunday

South Waziristan, [Pakistan] (ANI) September 21 (ANI): A large number of Pashtuns joined a protest rally in Wana in South Waziristan to condemn the ongoing unrest, target killings and regrouping of terrorists in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday.

The rally was joined by Pashtun Tahafu
z Movement (PTM) leader Manzoor Pashteen, who said that they fear the increased tormenting of civilians in the aftermath of attacks on security forces and through militant attacks is once again turning Waziristan into a battleground.

There are also reports that many PTM activists were later arrested and tortured by security agencies in the wake of massive anti-government protests.

In a tweet Ubaid Khan Salarzai, a Pashtun nationalist leader said, "The people of Waziristan have gathered there in Wana against the ongoing unrest, target killings and regrouping terrorists, so many people against the oppression of the state during this period of inflation are proof that PTM is correct. @ManzoorPashteen #PashtunLongMarch2Wana"

Aima Khan, a Pashtun human rights activist tweeted, "PTM jalsa in Wana today blacked out by channels, then all quiet. Well done @ManzoorPashteen for giving voice to Pushtun grievances fearlessly. Words uttered with conviction more powerful than guns & bullets, #PTMWanaJalsa #PashtunLongMarch2Wana".

Gulalai Ismail, an exiled Pashtun human rights activist tweeted a video of the protest and said, "Thousands of people demanding peace and a truth and reconciliation commission for the war-torn Pakhtunkhwa".

Aziz Wazir, a human rights activist tweeted, "We will continue to demand our rights, we will resist state terrorists whether they are generals or Taliban, we will resist anytime, anywhere & in every forum#PTMWanaJalsa @ManzoorPashteen"

The Pashtuns are facing genocide in the hands of the Pakistan army as a large number of civilians are killed and many are victims of enforced disappearances. They allege that Pashtuns are becoming victims in the hands of the Pakistan army and the terrorists in the region.

The protesters also blamed the Pakistan army and the Taliban for laying down landmines in the area, which is causing severe damage to the locals.

The massive anti-government protest rally was organised amid the Covid-19 pandemic as the people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been suffering immensely for the past several years. (ANI)

Around 30 soldiers, Taliban insurgents killed in airstrikes in Central Afghanistan

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Kabul [Afghanistan], September 21 (ANI/Sputnik): Airstrikes in Afghanistan's central Maidan Wardak province have resulted in around 30 fatalities among both security officers and members of the Taliban radical movement, a local source told Sputnik on Monday.

"Security forces in the Deh Afghanan area
 of Maidan Wardak province have been under siege by the Taliban for three days, but when reinforcements or helping forces arrived, airstrikes were launched on both the Taliban and the security forces, which left dozens dead," the source said, specifying that "nearly 30" security staffers and Taliban insurgents were killed.

A member of the Maidan Wardak provincial council confirmed to Sputnik on condition of anonymity that security officers had been killed but declined to comment on the figures. (ANI/Sputnik)

Pakistan no more a safe place for religious minorities, says Activist

Anila Gulzar

Geneva [Switzerland], September 21 (ANI): A Pakistani human rights activist based in London has said that Pakistan was no more a safe place for religious minorities to live.

While attending the 45th session of UNHRC in Geneva, Anila Gulzar told ANI that 14-year-old Hindu woman Mehek Kumari was kidna
pped and forced to convert to Islam.

She cried in the court and refused to go with her Muslim abductor but the judge sent her to a child sanctuary and said that when Mehek will reach the age of 16 she will be returned to her 'husband'.

"Today I am standing outside the United Nations office and condemning the blasphemy law under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. There is no space left for minorities in Pakistan as they are being persecuted," said Gulzar while adding that Hindu and Christian girls are being converted to Islam.

Anila said that a 37-year-old Christian from Lahore Asif Pervez was also forced to convert to Islam, however, when he refused he was forced to quit his job at the hosiery factory and was arrested in 2013.

Only last week he was sentenced to death.

Anila said that hundreds of innocent people are languishing in Pakistan's jails under Blasphemy Law and many had fled to countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka due to fear of persecution.

The human rights activist applauded Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

She said that minorities in Pakistan view CAA as a life jacket thrown at them to come to India for a better future and safety. (ANI)

First Russian volunteers inoculated with China's COVID-19 vaccine

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Moscow [Russia], September 21 (ANI/Sputnik): Russian pharmaceutical company Petrovax launched phase 3 clinical trials of the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine candidate, CanSino Biologics Ad5-nCoV, on the first group of Russian volunteers in Moscow, the company said on Monday.

The Russian company first share
d with Sputnik its plans to carry out late-stage clinical trials of the Chinese vaccine candidate, Ad5-nCoV, in mid-August.

"Petrovax, CanSino Biologics Inc. and the contract research organization OCT Clinical have launched vaccinations of the first volunteers in Moscow treatment centers," the company said in a statement obtained by Sputnik.

According to the company, the first volunteers are doing well.

"None of them showed any undesirable effects. According to clinical regulations, study participants will be under direct supervision during the first 28 days after vaccination and will have to undergo four interim face-to-face examinations," Petrovax underlined.

According to the company's forecast, during this period, the vaccinated participants will develop a humoral and cellular immune response to COVID-19.

Petrovax said it would continue to recruit volunteers. Over 3,000 applications were received so far.

Once the Chinese vaccine is registered in Russia, Petrovax will be able to produce it at its facilities in the Moscow Region. The firm plans to market the vaccine domestically and within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). More than 4 million doses of the vaccine per month are expected to be produced in 2020. Starting in 2021, the production volume could be increased to 10 million doses per month.

Ad5-nCOV was the first vaccine to undergo clinical trials on humans in China back in March and phases 1 and 2 were conducted domestically.

According to the Global Times, the vaccine's phase 3 clinical trials are expected to include some 40,000 volunteers. Pakistan, Mexico and Saudi Arabia are also reportedly in talks with China's CanSino Biologics on hosting the vaccine clinical trials. (ANI/Sputnik)

China's PLA is more hype than action say Experts

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Hong Kong, September 21 (ANI): China effectively uses state-controlled media to artificially pump up the presumed capabilities of the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) as part of an orchestrated campaign to dominate neighbors and would-be opponents. However, is the PLA as a magnificent fighting force as it first appears?

Certainly, the combat prowess of a military cannot be ascertained by spectacular parades through wide avenues of capital cities, nor in countless news articles boasting of military prowess. China is good at both these aforementioned methods, but would it be any good in a war?

The last war that China fought was its emasculated invasion of Vietnam in 1979. Incidentally, that war immediately exposes the lie that China likes to promulgate that it has never once invaded an inch of foreign soil. On that occasion, the PLA was soundly defeated and withdrew with its tail between its legs.

Of course, the PLA is a very different beast now compared to 1979. It benefits from the second-largest defense budget in the world, and it has been re-equipping at an astonishing rate as its trajectory moves from a continental military to a maritime power.

The effective combat power of the PLA is an important question for Asia and for others around the world, especially as Beijing displays a greater willingness to warmonger and to threaten.

David Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the US State Department, testified on 17 September, "Today we are engaging with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as it is, not as we wish it to be, or as it seeks to present itself rhetorically ... The CCP is now using any and all means to undermine the international rules-based order and project power across the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. All nations should worry how this outcome would negatively affect the global community and the values we share."

In the past few months alone, the world has witnessed Chinese violent advances along the Indian border, the splashdown of ballistic missiles in the South China Sea, continued bullying of South China Sea claimant nations, acute verbal and military threats against Taiwan, and boat swarms at the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands. Stilwell warned, "These are not the actions of a responsible global actor, but a lawless bully."

One expert who has examined the combat effectiveness of the PLA is Dr. Bates Gill, a professor at the Department of Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University in Australia. This year he delivered an assessment for the Royal United Services Institute containing his conclusions.

Gill believes the current make-up of the PLA is 2 million active-duty personnel, of which the ground force comprises just over 50%, the PLA Navy (PLAN) and Marine Corps some 12.5%, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) 20%, the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) 6%, the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) 9%, and the remaining 4% is the Joint Logistics Support Force.

In addition, there are some 500,000 reserves, up to 40,000 contracted civilians and approximately 500,000 members of the People's Armed Police (including the China Coast Guard). Thus, China can field well over 3 million armed personnel.

The PLA is certainly ambitious. Under orders from Chairman Xi Jinping, it restructured heavily at the end of 2015 in the "most sweeping and potentially transformative reorganization in its history". China has helpfully given us some milestones, as the process will "comprehensively enhance the modernization of military theory, organization, personnel and weapons and equipment" by 2035, and subsequently build the PLA into a "world-class military" by 2049. Of course, 2049 has enormous symbolism since it represents the 100th anniversary of modern China's founding.

Such generalized and sweeping goals are difficult to imagine, so it is helpful to break them down into more bite-sized morsels. What will the PLA look like in 2035, then?

Gill expects the PLA could do the following: extend its anti-access/area-denial envelope farther beyond the First Island Chain; enhance its long-range strike capabilities, including hypersonic weapons; possess advanced undersea and amphibious warfighting capacities; and significantly improve its capabilities in cyberspace and outer-space operations.

The Australian-based academic added, "We expect that, over the next 5-15 years, with a strengthened PLA Navy, Chinese military activity will expand beyond the First Island Chain up to the Second Island Chain and beyond, increasing its footprint in the Southwest Pacific and the Indian Oceans. This longer-term strategic requirement for the PLA to project power beyond the First and Second Island Chains and into the Pacific and Indian Oceans raises serious questions and concerns about China's defense posture and strategic objectives."

One reason for PLA reforms relates to its primary role as the armed wing of the CCP. Gill wrote, "It should provide the power of the gun to ensure the CCP's legitimacy and survival. However, when Xi Jinping came to power as China's paramount leader in 2012, he considered the PLA had become too independent and corrupt under the former national leadership, so the reform program was introduced to reassert and strengthen the CCP's control over the Chinese armed forces."

Xi recognizes the PLA's ability to obfuscate and hide corruption. Furthermore, it has previously given Xi bad advice, such as when the PLAAF assured him that creating an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea would not garner negative attention. Total trust between Xi and the PLA does not exist, and this crack could easily widen in a conflict.

Xi's regular calls for greater party fealty demonstrate that the PLA is not yet what Xi wants it to be. Indeed, the military's political zeal, total subservience and ideological purity are far from satisfactory in Xi's eyes.

Chinese military leaders themselves admit difficulties in areas such as combat leadership, warfighting capability and party loyalty. To motivate the troops, they regularly come up with pithy slogans such the "two incompatibles", the "five incapables" and "peace disease" to drum up and sustain the pace of transformation.

The only way to overcome an absence of combat experience is to conduct evermore-realistic exercises, and this is certainly the case in the PLA. The Chinese military is working both from the bottom up (small-unit tactics) and from the top down (theater level) to exercise troops in realistic settings. Since 2016, in particular, there have been more large-scale exercises that allow headquarters and units to wargame together. However, COVID-19 has impacted these exercises in 2020, delaying plans by a year or so.

If China did go to war, questionable will be the individual quality of its soldiers. It is one thing to induct serried ranks of new hardware, but what of the quality of soldiers to operate it all? High-tech equipment relies on well-educated operators, and so the PLA has been seeking better-educated and qualified recruits who can operate hardware in a joint warfighting environment.

Nonetheless, weaknesses continue. For example, little rotation of troops occurs around theaters except at the most senior levels. This means soldiers have limited exposure to new challenges and they are at risk of developing "myopia".

The PLA created five new joint theater commands in 2015 to engrain joint operation doctrine, something that was hitherto an alien concept. Despite basic restructuring, there is much to learn in this area, particularly in headquarters staff that must plan and control complex military operations. "Jointness" is further complicated by inter-service and theatre rivalries.

Military forces are distributed mostly along China's periphery, with a heavy focus opposite Taiwan, and they are not postured to prosecute a major overseas conflict.

Additionally, in a large-scale conflict China would face serious difficulties controlling cross-theater forces. Although there is strong national command and control, there is a convoluted system for multi-theater operations. Furthermore, the CCP ensures excessive centralization and a reluctance to give decision-making powers to those lower on the totem pole. And which theater would be responsible for controlling forces beyond their geographical zones of responsibility, in the Indian Ocean, for example?

Gill assessed each of the PLA forces in a little more detail. He stated that the ground force faces the biggest challenges as "it is the least modern component of the PLA and felt the most 'pain' in the recent reforms".

Despite learning how to contribute to joint maritime and air operations, the PLA retains a very strong continental-defense capacity, and some 10-20% of army personnel are assigned to border and coastal defense units.

As for the PLAN, organizationally it "is gaining in strength and resources and is speeding up its transition from near-seas defense to 'far-seas protection missions' in line with China's longer-term strategic objectives. To this end also, the Marine Corps, which is part of the navy, has been significantly expanded. Nevertheless, about 30% of navy personnel remain shore-based e.g. coastal defense units."

Although the navy is improving its deterrence and posture within the First Island Chain, its "far seas and expeditionary capability is not yet at 'world-class military' standard". It has, for instance, only one overseas military base in Djibouti available for use.

Moving on to the PLAAF, it "is improving but is lagging in key areas". Indeed, some 30-40% of its numerous fighters, fighter-bombers and bombers are legacy aircraft that can date back decades. "It has been tasked to accelerate the transition from homeland air defense to offshore offensive and defensive missions, but this will take some time as, for such tasks, it has pronounced weaknesses in aerial refueling and strategic airlift."

The PLARF grew in status when it was elevated into a full force from the Second Artillery Corps. Gill concluded, "It is equipped with one of the world's largest and most diverse arrays of conventional and cruise missiles.

It also has a relatively small (by US and Russian standards), but increasingly reliable, nuclear capability," which gives Beijing a second-strike capability. Despite missile improvements, its command and control of weapons remains unproven in warfare.

The PLASSF is newest force, and it will be one of the most critical for the PLA of the future since it consolidates cyber, electronic, space and information warfighting capabilities munder one umbrella. It provides operational and tactical support to the other PLA forces, as well as being able to independently conduct strategic information operations in the cyber or space domains.

Gill noted of the PLASSF, "So, this is a very modern, arguably the most advanced, part of the PLA and is at the forefront of the development of joint operations - through the integration of deterrence and warfighting capabilities across multiple domains. It will be 'the pointy end of the spear' in any future operations that the PLA undertakes."

The Sydney-based professor concluded, "The PLA is working to transform from a bloated, corrupt and outdated force with a continental, defensive mindset to a world-class, 21st-century expeditionary force able to project power up to and beyond the Second Island Chain into the Pacific and Indian Oceans ... It is a very ambitious undertaking with many obstacles to overcome, but, if achieved, will pose a complex set of challenges to the United States and its allies, especially within the Asia-Pacific region."

Indeed, there will be a much higher attendant threat environment to countries in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Japan, India, Australia and the USA. This threat grows exponentially the closer one gets to the Chinese mainland. The danger also rises the stronger that Xi perceives his army to be, and as international opposition to his personal rule grows.

China repeatedly accuses the USA of a "Cold War mindset", but the world is merely reacting to a trajectory mapped out by Xi's authoritarian rule.

The PLA is formidable, especially to its smaller neighbors, but potential foes can greatly complicate China's strategic calculus by creating their own threats in multiple theaters. Ironically, China has partially done this all by itself through its violent miscalculations along the Line of Actual Control with India. Multiple threats would compound China's dilemma - how many resources can it allocate to other contingencies instead of just to Taiwan, which is its prime consideration? (ANI)

Opposition parties in Pakistan form alliance, anti-govt movement against Imran Khan

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Islamabad [Pakistan], September 21 (ANI): Major Opposition parties in Pakistan have formed an alliance -- Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) -- demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan and sacking of his top aid Lt Gen (Retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa over allegations of corruption.

They have 
announced a three-phased movement against the Pakistan government under an "action plan" starting from October, Dawn reported.

The Opposition plans to organise nationwide protests in December and a "decisive long march" towards Islamabad in January 2021.

On Sunday, Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F) Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, during a press conference had unveiled the plan, saying that they would "no more cooperate" with the Imran Khan government in parliament.

"This meeting has declared that the present selected government has been provided strength by the establishment, which had imposed it on the people through rigging in the elections. The meeting has expressed grave concerns over the increasing role of the establishment in politics and considered it a threat to country's national security and institutions," Maulana Fazl was quoted as saying as by Dawn. (ANI)

SC reserves order on plea seeking guidelines on right to protest in wake of Shaheen Bagh

Supreme Court of India (File Image)

New Delhi [India], September 21 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its order on a number of petitions seeking guidelines and other directions on the right to protest in wake of the Shaheen Bagh protest where a group of people had gathered for months to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) blocking a key road connecting Delhi and Noida.

A three-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and also comprising Justices Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari, reserved its order and observed that the right to protest should be balanced with the right of movement of people.

"The right to protest is not absolute, but there is a right," the bench said adding that protests can be done peacefully.

The apex court, hearing a batch of petitions filed by the petitioner and lawyers-in-persons Amit Sahni and Shashank Deo Sudhi against protest, which had blocked a high-traffic road causing problems to the commuters, and seeking removal of the protestors.

"In the future, the protest should not continue as per their choice and demand. In the larger public interest, a decision may be taken. I request the Supreme Court to keep this matter pending and an elaborate order may be passed," Sahni submitted.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, a senior law officer of the Central government, said that earlier the Supreme Court had refused to entertain any intervention in the case.

Thousands of people, including a large number of Muslim women, had staged a sit-in protest at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh area blocking a stretch of GD Birla Marg since mid-December last year against the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens.

The top court had earlier appointed senior advocates -- Sanjay Hedge, Sadhana Ramachandran, and former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah -- as interlocutors to talk to the protestors and convince them to demonstrate at an alternate location.

The interlocutors had submitted their report in a sealed cover in February.

The petitions filed in the matter had sought directions to the respondents, including the Centre, for laying down "detailed, comprehensive and exhaustive guidelines relating to outright restrictions for holding protest/agitation" leading to obstruction of the public space. (ANI)

Payal Ghosh to file FIR against Anurag Kashyap today

Payal Ghosh and Anurag Kashyap (Image courtesy: Instagram)

Mumbai (Maharashtra) [India], September 21 (ANI): Actor Payal Ghosh, who has accused filmmaker Anurag Kashyap of sexual harassment, said that she will file an FIR against him at Oshiwara Police Station by today evening.

The 'Patel Ki Punjabi Shaadi' actor said that her advocate Nitin Satpute will al
so be writing to Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh to provide security, as there is a threat to her life.

Ghosh also talked about her meeting with the 'Gangs of Wasseypur filmmaker' and said, "I don't know whether Anurag Kashyap consumes drugs or not but when the incident took place, he was smoking something but it was definitely not a cigarette."

Talking about the filmmaker getting support from actors, she said, "There are many people who have supported Anurag Kashyap because of their bread and butter and their family run because of him so they will definitely talk in support of him."

Earlier in the day Kashyap's lawyer rejected "the false allegations of sexual misconduct" levied against his client, terming it "completely false, malicious and dishonest".

The statement from Kashyap's lawyer, Priyanka Khimani, came after Ghosh's lawyer of, who had accused the Bollywood director of sexual harassment, said that an FIR would filed an against him at the Oshiwara police station today.

On Saturday, Ghosh accused Kashyap of sexual harassment. Speaking to ANI, she said, "Five years ago I met Anurag Kashyap regarding work. He called me to his house. When I went there, he took me to a separate room and tried to sexually assault me. He forced himself on me."

"I request the authorities to kindly take action and let the country see the demon behind this creative guy. I am aware that it can harm me and my security is at risk. I am seeking action against him," said Ghosh.

Post the allegations, Kashyap responded on Twitter in which he denied the allegations, claiming that they were 'baseless'. "I neither behave like this nor do I ever tolerate this at any price," he said. (ANI)

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