ISIL blast kills 36 as Afghanistan extends Taliban ceasefire

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 36 people and wounded 65 others in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

The group’s Amaq website said the attack on Saturday targeted “a gathering of Afghan forces” in Nangarhar, but gave no details.

According to Attaullah Khogyani, the provincial governor’s spokesman, the attack happened in Rodat district, some 25km from Jalalabad.

Civilians, security forces and Taliban members were among the casualties as people celebrated the second day of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Speaking from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse described the bombing as a “very devastating blow” for the “unprecedented gathering of the Taliban and Afghan security forces in Jalalabad”.

Extension of government ceasefire
The attack came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the government’s extension of a ceasefire with the Taliban, without giving a timeframe.

Rare Eid of ‘calm and peace’ as Taliban, government truce holds
In a televised address to the nation, Ghani called for the Taliban to also extend the truce, which is due to expire on Sunday after both sides agreed to halt hostilities for Eid.

Ghani also said that in the spirit of Eid and the ceasefire, the attorney general’s office had released 46 Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban had announced a ceasefire for the first three days of Eid, which started on Friday, promising not to attack Afghan security forces for the first time since the 2001 US invasion.

That came after Ghani said that security forces would temporarily cease operations against the Taliban for eight days, starting last Tuesday – though he warned that operations against other fighters, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group, would continue.

Governors in Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul said both sides had adhered to the ceasefire.

In his speech, Ghani also touched upon the subject of regional influences and international forces in Afghanistan.

“The Afghan government is ready to discuss the roles of neighbouring countries and the presence of international forces, their roles and the future destiny of them,” he said.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, welcomed Ghani’s remarks.

“We support President Ghani’s offer to extend the ceasefire and begin peace talks,” Pompeo said in a statement.

“As President Ghani emphasised in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces. The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions.”

NATO forces also expressed their support for an extension to the ceasefire.
“This is a unique opportunity for the Taliban to show they want the peaceful future that the Afghan people demand and deserve,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

“There seems to be some momentum for peace,” Al Jazeera’s Glasse said.

“The government’s gamble to issue a unilateral ceasefire paid off with this Taliban ceasefire, and now everyone is going to wait and see what the Taliban is going to do.”

Omar Samad, a former adviser to the chief executive of Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera that the suicide bombing was a reminder to everyone in the country, including the Taliban, of the “existentialist threat on our doorstep”.

What we saw today is a reminder that ISK (the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan) is a potent threat, that something needs to be done about it,” Samad said, speaking from Washington DC.

“Maybe the Taliban and the Afghan government can come to terms on how to deal with the Islamic State,” he added.

“That could be a historic point for maybe a dialogue between the two sides. If that happens then I think that Afghanistan has better days ahead. ”

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

American embassy shift

THE Trump administration’s decision to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last month could not have come at a worse time for the Arab-Israeli conflict. In retrospect, even some Israeli politicians have said that the US should not have shifted their embassy on the anniversary of the ‘Nakba’ — the period the Palestinians allege their land was forcibly annexed by Israel 70 years ago.

Coming just before the holy month of Ramazan, President Donald Trump’s symbolic move triggered massive violence in the overcrowded Gaza Strip — leading Israeli troops to shoot and kill 62 Palestinians, and wound thousands of other demonstrators.

But while the bloodshed in Gaza grabbed world headlines, the images of stone-throwing Palestinians being shot by armed Israelis barely made it on US television.

Zahid Bukhari, who heads the Centre for Islam and Public Policy in Washington D.C., criticises the “power of big money” for the “virtual media blackout”, and the ensuing silence in American public opinion.

Bukhari said that with growing Jewish settlements and Israeli check posts, the ‘two-state solution’ no longer seems viable. Instead, he finds Palestinian Muslims rethinking that ‘one state’ may be the way forward, “to challenge Israel the way South Africans contested apartheid”.

Some Palestinians think that ‘one state’ may be the way forward.
Jewish-American Professor Marc Gopin, who heads the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Washington D.C., has found similar thinking among moderate Jews.

He says that with 20 per cent Israelis being of Arab descent, “good Jews” are talking about a “shared democratic state” that could redistribute the ethnic and religious population and “still accommodate the Jewish and Zionist dream”.

But having worked with Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem for over 30 years — where bloodshed has plagued generations — Gopin cautions that the state can be viable “only if the ethnic populations guarantee each other’s security”.

The Arab-Israeli security debate was rekindled in December 2017, when Trump announced he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.

US presidents have for decades deflected their closest ally Israel’s request to move the embassy to Jerusalem by signing a waiver every six months citing ‘security concerns’.

That changed when Donald Trump got elected president. Middle East observers trace his controversial decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem to his base of “extremist Jews and Christian Evangelicals”.

Their presence was evident at the embassy shifting ceremony in Israel. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner were special guests at the ceremony, as was Jewish-American casino owner and billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Remarkably, Adelson became the president’s biggest donor after candidate Trump pledged to move the embassy in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful Israeli lobby group in Washington.

Trump’s approval ratings have also shot up among Evangelical Christians who believe Israel was created as the result of a ‘biblical prophecy’. Some 80pc of Evangelicals supported Trump’s bid for election in 2016, with their support being critical for his party’s re-election in this November’s mid-term polls.

Republican Party office-bearer in Chicago Talat Rasheed says that the president’s fulfilment of his bold campaign promises, demonstrates his “true leadership qualities”.

Rasheed says that if Muslim nations are so distressed by the Trump administration’s decision, they need to come up with a solution. He questions why the Muslim world, including feuding Saudi Arabia and Iran, has failed to resolve the 70-year-old Palestinian problem.

International observers believe that the OIC meeting hosted by Turkey — coming on the heels of the violence the same week in Gaza — gave a ‘psychological boost’ to Palestinians.

The final communiqué by presidents and prime ministers from 57 Muslim countries declared “East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine”. They also invited the US to rescind its “unlawful decision”, because of the chaos it could ignite in the region.

But as the US presses its thumb on the scale in favour of Israel, Iran intensifies support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. Iran’s potential to enrich uranium after Trump broke off the Iran nuclear deal is raising alarm in Israel. Palestinians still back Hamas whose designation as a ‘terrorist group’ may split the international community, but also preps the region for war.

Foreign policy observers say that for the US to be a broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict, whether it is for a two-state or a one-state solution, it will have to take a more even-handed position. Absent that, it is feared that the US will lose its leverage on an issue that is at the heart of the Middle East conflict.

The writer is a journalist based in Washington D.C. and author of Aboard the Democracy Train, Pakistan Tracks the Threat Within.
Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2018

History beckons for Trump and Kim

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are the unlikeliest of statesmen, but fate has thrown the US President and the North Korean tyrant an opportunity granted to few historic figures — together they can change the world.

Their summit in Singapore on Tuesday — which will begin with a one-on-one meeting, alongside translators — represents an opening awaited for 70 years but that was unthinkable just months ago as they traded insults that sparked fears of a slide into nuclear war.

It could launch a process that could open the world’s last Cold War frontier, finally usher in a permanent peace to end the 1950-53 Korean war, reshape the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region and bring millions of North Koreans out of famine and isolation.

Trump arrived in Singapore following a bitter showdown with US allies over his trade tariffs that caused the G7 summit in Canada to break up in acrimony.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Monday there are strains in relations between the US and its closest allies but was optimistic the relationships would survive.

“There are always irritants in relationships. I am very confident the relationships between our countries — the United States and the G7 countries — will continue to move forward on a strong basis,” Pompeo said while briefing the press in Singapore.

Nonetheless, the meltdown potentially raised political pressure on the President to come home from his summit with Kim with some genuine progress.

But if successful, the summit will be mentioned in the same breath as President Richard Nixon’s journey to meet Chinese patriarch Mao Zedong and the superpower talks between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that precipitated the end of the Soviet Union.

But it also represents a massive risk, since a failed summit could short-circuit diplomacy and bring the two countries closer to a disastrous military conflict.
Each side enters the talks in a plush resort on Singapore’s Sentosa island expressing optimism.

The official North Korean news agency said Sunday that Kim was ready to talk about “denuclearization” and a “durable peace” at a summit held “for the first time in history under the great attention and expectation of the whole world.”

Trump said Saturday that Kim has a “one-time shot” to make history.

“I feel that Kim Jong Un wants to do something great for his people,” he said.

The first face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the US and North Korea is the culmination of years of tension, North Korean nuclear and missile tests, and thwarted diplomacy involving the US, South Korea, Japan and China to try to contain the North Korean threat.

It brings together a former real estate magnate and reality television star with a ruthless dictator half his age who was once seen as a precocious madman but who has emerged as a shrewd diplomatic operator.

The meeting comes at an auspicious moment: with the US President who says he’s the world’s best dealmaker but seeks a legacy-defining achievement, a popular South Korean President Moon Jae-in who has made dialogue across the DMZ his life’s work, and Kim, who hopes to avoid the grizzly fate of toppled autocrats and to enshrine his rule for decades.

The situation is so urgent now because a blitz of nuclear and missile tests that last year brought the North Koreans close or past the point of capping an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the US mainland with a nuclear bomb.

That new reality left Trump facing a fateful choice of taking military action against the rogue nation that could spark a war that could kill thousands, or even millions of people, on the Korean Peninsula, or to launch a daring diplomatic bid to negotiate away the nuclear threat.

Has anything changed?

Trump’s history of dealmaking guides his quest for the biggest deal of his life
The long history of failed diplomacy between US administrations and North Korea has many skeptics wondering if anything has changed.

Pompeo noted the checkered history Monday, saying the US “has been fooled before” but the two countries must come together and have “sufficient trust in each other,” to get a deal done.

“The United States has been fooled before. There’s no doubt about it. Many presidents previously have signed off on pieces of paper only to find that the North Koreans either didn’t promise what we thought they had or actually reneged on their promises,” Pompeo said.

“We’ll each have to ensure that we do the things, we take the actions necessary to follow through on those commitments and when we do we’ll have a verified deal and if we can get that far we will have a historic change,” he added.

In the short-term, the summit offers Kim the prospect of easing biting sanctions.

Longer term, it’s possible he could lure US investment to chart a way to greater prosperity for the hermit state while keeping his oppressive rule intact — perhaps on the model of China or Vietnam.

Trump faces the grave responsibility of dealing with a national security threat that could put the lives of tens of millions of Americans at risk. And the summit could be a rare unifying moment in a presidency that is certain to be remembered as one of the most divisive in history.

The President has already mused about his chances of winning a Nobel Peace Prize. Eradicating the North Korean nuclear threat would indisputably rank among America’s top diplomatic wins since World War II.

Success in Singapore, twinned with the booming US economy, would also give Trump a strong argument in tough midterm elections. Supporters would cite it as another reason why Robert Mueller’s Russia probe is a massive distraction.

The fact the summit is happening at all is a win for Trump, though it likely has more to do with the severe sanctions imposed on North Korea by the administration with buy-in from China than his threats last year to rain “fire and fury” on “Little Rocket Man.”

But Kim is also reaping rewards.

His meeting with the US President fulfills one of North Korea’s premier goals — sharing a stage with the world’s top superpower. Such recognition is in itself a de-facto admission that by the United States that Pyongyang merits respect as it is now effectively a nuclear power.

And apart from releasing a trio of US prisoners and staging what most experts believe is a public relations stunt by dismantling a nuclear test site, Kim has offered no meaningful concessions.

No one who understands North Korea believes Kim will easily cede his nuclear weapons.
“My own sense is that he would only be ready to (totally disarm) at the end of a very long process and that his goal at the present time is to remain a de facto nuclear power while reducing the sense of worry and threat about that so he can begin to develop the economy,” said Kathleen Stephens, a former US ambassador to South Korea.

“I do think he is very serious about wanting to make North Korea a more normal country, looking more like its neighbors, more like a successful Asian economy,” said Stephens, now with the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University.

Kim’s strategic choice
Much will rest on whether Kim has made a strategic choice to use his nuclear arsenal as leverage in return for security guarantees and investment from the United States or whether North Korea is playing a familiar game of demanding concessions for pseudo disarmament.

Many analysts point out that nukes are Kim’s ultimate safety net and any deal with the US would require intrusive inspections by foreign assessment teams over a period of years that he may find impossible to accept.

“Every statement, every utterance from Kim Jong Un has not even conveyed a hint of his inclination to denuclearize,” said Evans Revere, a former senior State Department official with long experience of negotiating with North Korea.

But Revere added that there was some reason for hope.

“The North Koreans, for various reasons, are closer to being willing to freeze or even give up their program than they have ever been, and that is not a bad thing,” he said.
Huge gaps remain between the sides, however.

North Korea sees denuclearization as entailing the exit of US troops from the peninsula and the withdrawal of the US nuclear umbrella for South Korea and Japan.
Kim has also called for a “phased and synchronous” approach to disarmament — code for financial concessions from the US and its allies for reciprocal steps from the North.

The Trump administration initially opposed that approach, which failed for previous White Houses and demanded swift, comprehensive and irreversible denuclearization.

But after meeting North Korea’s senior envoy Kim Yong Chol at the White House earlier this month, Trump showed signs of flexibility.

“We’re not going to go in and sign something on June 12 and we never were. We’re going to start a process,” Trump said.

The worst-case scenario is that the summit becomes little more than a photo-op that fails to kickstart a viable diplomatic process. The best outcome may be a joint statement that calls for denuclearization and future US security guarantees for North Korea and the eventual normalization of relations.

Both sides could offer to take confidence-building steps as signs of good faith. Trump has said he could possibly invite Kim to the US, and it’s also possible Kim could invite the US President to make a historic journey to Pyongyang.

But it will be impossible to truly evaluate the success of the summit for months or years to come.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Allie Malloy Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report from Singapore.

Bomber attacks meeting of Islamic scholars in Afghanistan

At least seven people were Monday killed by a suicide attack on a meeting of several thousand Islamic scholars in Afghanistan who were discussing issuing a fatwa, or religious ruling, against such attacks.

The bomber, who was on foot, detonated the explosives at around 11:30 a.m. local time near the Loya Jorga hall at the Kabul Polytechnic University, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish told CNN. At least nine more people were injured in the blast, which targeted Afghanistan’s Ullema Council.

It is not yet known who was behind the attack.

Security officers secure the road leading to the venue of the scholars’ meeting in Kabul on Monday.

Terrorists have killed dozens of people in Kabul in recent months, including 10 journalists in April.

On May 30, it was the turn of the Interior Ministry to be targeted. A policeman was killed along with a suicide bomber and all seven gunmen.

Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has also increased attacks across the country. The US-backed government in Kabul has been found itself increasingly struggling against terrorist assaults since the withdrawal of the majority of NATO troops in 2014.

Plane returns from Rawalpindi leaving US diplomat in lurch

ISLAMABAD: An aircraft that arrived at the PAF’s Nur Khan Airbase in Rawalpindi to reportedly fly out Colonel Joseph Emanuel Hall of the United States’ embassy has returned after the diplomat failed to obtain clearance from pertinent authorities.

Sources told The Express Tribune that officials at the airbase reached the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to determine if the diplomat was allowed to leave the country. Hall, the defense and air attache at the US embassy, was jumping traffic lights when he hit a motorcyclist on April 7. 22-year-old Ateeq Baig died on the spot. Another was injured in the Margalla Road traffic accident.

US envoy placed on ‘blacklist’ for killing biker

The Ministry of Interior later placed Hall’s on a ‘blacklist’, prohibiting him from leaving the country without prior permission. FIA officials told The Express Tribune the prospects of Hall leaving Pakistan were remote. “His name is on the blacklist. He won’t be allowed to fly out,” an FIA official said.

Motorcyclist responsible for accident with US Embassy car: police
Muhammad Idrees, the father of the deceased motorcyclist, had earlier moved the Islamabad High Court in connection with the episode. Idrees petitioned the court to have Hall’s name placed on the ECL and a police probe conducted.

The IHC on Friday gave the Interior Ministry two weeks to reach a decision on placing the diplomat’s name on the ECL. The court also observed that Hall did not enjoy full diplomatic immunity.

Iranians fear the future after Trump exits Iran nuclear deal

TEHRAN, Iran — President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many people here in the Islamic republic.

Many Iranians hoped the Obama-era pact would lead to prosperity and closer ties with the West.
But with the agreement now on the rocks, some Iranians feel double-crossed by America and say they are pessimistic about their country’s future.

Many Iranians feel they haven’t seen the economic benefits of the nuclear deal. While it allowed Tehran to sell its crude oil and natural gas on the international market, Iran’s economy remains weak with high unemployment and inflation.

Azita Moghadam, a 25-year-old student, described Trump as a “racist and dishonest person who doesn’t care about the people of Iran.”

She added: “Iran’s economy will take a hit by Trump’s decision. A poor sense of security and poor economy are my biggest fear for the future.”

Foreign firms doing business in Iran may face sanctions, U.S. warns
Hamid Salehi, 27, a car salesman, said he felt Iranians would face fewer opportunities to improve their livelihoods now that the nuclear deal was in doubt.

“We had high hopes of better relations with the world and easier business after the deal” he said. “That’s all gone now.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also criticized Trump for his decision.

“This man will turn to dust and his body will become food for worms and ants, and the Islamic republic will still be standing,” he said, referring to the U.S. president. “I said many times from the first day: Don’t trust America.”

Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University who is a former spokesman for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the West, said it was inevitable that Iranians would lose trust in the U.S. because of Trump’s decision to violate the agreement.

He predicted that the country would no longer be prepared to “engage with the U.S. to negotiate on other disputed issues like weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and the regional conflicts.”

Mousavian also suggested that Iran is now likely to turn its back on the West and instead build closer diplomatic and trade ties with Russia and China.

Dr. Mohammed Marandi, a professor at Tehran University and a political analyst, agreed.

“No group, no political faction that once said we should talk to America holds that position anymore, as a result it strengthens the argument that Iran should move closer to Russia and China,” he said.

Marandi said there had been a huge rise in the number of Iranian students and business owners going to China, accompanied by an increasing number of direct flights between the two countries in recent years. More Mandarin language courses have also become available in the country, including a degree program at the University of Tehran.

What is the Iran nuclear deal?
Marandi said Trump’s withdrawal from the pact leaves America being seen as “dishonest and unreliable, and unwilling to abide by its own commitments.”

A telephone survey of 1,003 Iranians conducted in April by IranPoll, a Toronto-based firm, found 67 percent of respondents felt the country should “retaliate” if the U.S. violated the nuclear deal. The survey had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Iranian lawmakers set fire to a paper U.S. flag in the Parliament Wednesday, while shouting “Death to America!” They also burned a piece of paper representing the nuclear deal and stomped on the papers’ ashes.

Although the burning of U.S. flags is common in Iran and harsh criticism of America has been a staple of Iranian politics for years, that was the first time observers could remember anything being set alight inside the Parliament.

And while chants of “Death to America” are commonplace in Iran, most Iranians frequently interact with the West, even if only through online videos and illegally obtained movies.

Many also have family members abroad, with Los Angeles a popular destination for Iranian ex-pats.

Ali Arouzi reported from Tehran, Saphora Smith reported from London, and Rima Abdelkader reported from New York.

Another $1 billion loan makes its way from China

ISLAMABAD: Desperate to boost foreign exchange reserves over the $11-billion mark, Pakistan has received another loan of $1 billion from the China Development Bank as authorities remain adamant, at least in public, not to read the writing on the wall.

Pakistan secured on Saturday financing of $1 billion, said Dr Miftah Ismail, the newly-appointed finance minister, while addressing a post-budget press conference. He did not officially disclose the name of the Chinese institution.

However, sources in the finance ministry said the China Development Bank has given $1 billion out of an estimated $1.5 billion. In its revised estimates, Pakistan has budgeted about $2 billion injection from Chinese financial institutions alone. This includes $1.5 billion from the China Development Bank and $500 million from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).

With the fresh injection, Chinese financial institutions have so far given $2.2 billion to Pakistan to help the country steer through difficult times. Earlier, the ICBB gave $1 billion at three-month floating interest rate of London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) plus 3.02%.

Earlier this month, the Bank of China also gave $200 million.

Disbursements of foreign loans remained at $7.53 billion from July through March of this fiscal year due to delay in release of some loans by Chinese financial institutions. The China Development Bank loan was initially expected to be disbursed in March.

Pakistan’s economy has come under pressure with external account worries remaining the focus of economic managers. With a widening current account deficit, foreign exchange reserves have slipped below $10.9 billion at the mid of this month. Chinese loans would temporarily stabilise reserves to close to a three-month import cover.

To a question, Ismail again said on Saturday that Pakistan would avoid knocking the doors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “We are trying our best to avoid the IMF package and today, have secured $1 billion financing from China,” said Ismail.

The government has been trying to contain the current account deficit and the increase in custom duty rates by another 1% is one such measure that will help control imports, said Ismail.

Independent economists predict that Pakistan will return to the IMF by September or October this year, as it cannot sustain the external account pressure without combined support of the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The government is so far navigating the crisis by taking expensive short-term foreign commercial loans. For the outgoing fiscal year, the government had budgeted $8 billion in loans that it has now officially revised upwards to $10.6 billion.

However, the finance ministry’s internal plans talk about $12.5 billion minimum foreign borrowings for this fiscal year, ending June 30.

The public debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio has estimated to peak to 70.1% by the end of fiscal year 2017-18. This is the highest level in the past 15 years and also in violation of the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act of 2005.

For the next fiscal year 2018-19, the finance ministry has budgeted $9.6 billion in external loans, which are $3.4 billion less than the foreign financing plan Pakistan shared this month with Moody’s International, said sources in the finance ministry.

For the next fiscal year, the government has budgeted $3 billion foreign commercial loans and $2 billion worth of Eurobonds, according to Estimates of Foreign Economic Assistance 2018-19 that the government shared with the National Assembly on Friday.

It also expects slightly over $1 billion from Islamic Development Bank and $1.4 billion from the ADB

Chinese workers thrash policemen in Khanewal

Chinese engineers and other staffers, engaged in the construction of M4 Motorway from Bahawalpur to Faisalabad, attacked policemen deployed for their security after the foreign workers were barred from leaving their camp’s premises without a security squad, DawnNewsTV reported on Wednesday.

Several mobile phone clips doing rounds on social media show Chinese nationals approaching the police officials in a provocative manner and attacking them. A video showed a Chinese national standing on the bonnet of a police van, another video showed several Chinese nationals trashing policemen and some local people in plain clothes.

According to police officials, Chinese engineers and other officials wanted to leave their camp in Khanewal and visit a “red-light” area on Tuesday night. They resorted to agitation when denied permission to leave the camp without being accompanied by security officials.

Later, the Chinese engineers also cut power supply to the police camp established within the main construction camp, the officials added.

On Wednesday morning, the Chinese workers stopped work on the project and abandoned heavy machinery and vehicles on various roads in the area. They also resorted to violence and attacked police in their camp.

Subsequently, the protesting Chinese engineers wrote a letter to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, claiming that police officials refrained them from performing their duties and attacked them.

They also accused the security in-charge of attempting to hit the Chinese workers with his vehicle. Police officials, however, rejected the accusations and said they were fabricated.

Later in the day, Khanewal DPO Rizwan Omer Gondal held a meeting with the protesting Chinese workers following which they agreed to open the blocked roads.

Meanwhile, the police officials made it clear to the Chinese engineers that they will not be allowed to leave their camp without security arrangements.

This was not the first time when Chinese nationals in Pakistan attacked local police. In 2016, a clash occurred between the police and Chinese workers as the latter insisted on staying at a construction camp at night, but the former opposed the idea due to security reasons.

According to media reports, citing sources, some Chinese nationals associated with the Chinese army and trained in martial arts had attacked and injured police personnel deployed for their security.

However, the police had avoided taking any legal action against the Chinese to avert further conflict. In fact, the then CPO had suspended three SHOs and six other policemen for not restraining themselves from a clash.

The Taliban Have Gone High-Tech. That Poses a Dilemma for the U.S.

WASHINGTON — Once described as an ill-equipped band of insurgents, the Taliban are increasingly attacking security forces across Afghanistan using night-vision goggles and lasers that United States military officials said were either stolen from Afghan and international troops or bought on the black market.

The devices allow the Taliban to maneuver on forces under the cover of darkness as they track the whirling blades of coalition helicopters, the infrared lasers on American rifles, or even the bedtime movements of local police officers.

With this new battlefield visibility, the Taliban more than doubled nighttime attacks from 2014 to 2017, according to one United States military official who described internal Pentagon data on the condition of anonymity. The number of Afghans who were wounded or killed during nighttime attacks during that period nearly tripled.

That has forced American commanders to rethink the limited access they give Afghan security forces to the night-vision devices. Commanders now worry that denying the expensive equipment to those forces puts them at a technological disadvantage, with potentially lethal consequences.

For years, American commanders have been reluctant to give night-vision equipment to rank-and-file Afghan soldiers and police officers out of concern of widespread corruption among those forces.

The devices — headsets and infrared lasers — are usually given only to elite Afghan commandos and police special mission units, according to American military officials.

As some of this equipment falls into Taliban hands, the militants are joining a larger trend, said David W. Barno, a retired lieutenant general who led the war effort in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. Advanced equipment, such as drones and precision weapons, is being seized by other extremist groups in other global conflict zones, he said.

“It’s going to be a problem,” Mr. Barno said, “and it’s going to change how we operate.”

With the spread of the devices, infantry units on patrols have been told not to use certain marking devices that can be seen only by night-vision equipment. Helicopter crews have been made distinctly aware that their aircraft are no longer cloaked by darkness.

In one case last November, Taliban fighters wearing night-vision goggles attacked a police outpost in Farah Province, in western Afghanistan. By the time the predawn assault was over, eight Afghan officers lay dead in their beds, Haji Abdul Rahman Aka, the elder of the province’s Pule Regi area, said at the time. Only one Afghan officer survived.

The frequency and ferocity of the nighttime Taliban attacks are linked to attempts by Afghan forces, based in small checkpoints across the country, to hold territory that has been wrested away from the militants.

Previously unreported documents, obtained by The New York Times, underline concerns about the Taliban’s growing sophistication on the battlefield after 16 years of war — and American commanders’ efforts to stunt it.

The documents show that the American military has begun to send older models of night-vision hardware to regular Afghan Army units. Those headsets cost an estimated $3,000 each, officials said.

One of the first batches of night-vision equipment for conventional units in southern Afghanistan, part of a monthslong pilot program, was sent to the embattled 215th Corps in Helmand Province in the spring of 2016.

Only 161 of the 210 devices were returned, according to the military documents obtained by The Times, and the equipment was not effectively used, in part because the forces were not properly trained to use it.

Afghan troops said the missing devices were reported as “battle losses,” but could not support that claim with any proof or records to explain where or when they were left behind, according to the documents.

At the time, the commander of the 215th Corps was Maj. Gen. M. Moein Faqir. He was later arrested on sweeping corruption charges that included misuse of food money meant for his troops.

Last year, and with better results, night-vision equipment was sent to the 205th Corps, located around Kandahar, the military documents showed.

Five devices were lost between July and December, when the program ended, according to the documents. Over the summer and fall, the Afghan National Army suffered 15 percent fewer casualties around Kandahar than it had during the same period in 2016.

The documents credited the night-vision equipment for the marked reduction, concluding that the devices are “becoming an integral part of base defense plans.” The American military is now planning to equip the unit with roughly 2,500 night-vision goggles as part of what the documents described as a concept for a “permanent program.”

Despite those measured successes, it remains unclear if the American military will give the devices to the rest of the Afghan Army.

The American military headquarters in Kabul has said it equips only Special Operations units in the Afghan Army and police forces with night-vision technology.

Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman for United States forces in Afghanistan, declined to comment on the plans to distribute the devices to the Afghan National Army, as outlined in the military documents. He said American commanders would provide Afghan national defense and security forces “with the resources necessary to promote security throughout Afghanistan.”

But some American advisers closer to the ground fight are already trying to get the technology for their Afghan counterparts, according to a United States official. He said that would require a decision made through the leadership in Kabul and the Pentagon to allow American commanders to distribute the devices to even more Afghan security forces.

With the night-vision devices, Taliban fighters have been able to approach Afghan bases nearly undetected before attacking.

Initially, such ambushes were attributed to Taliban forces known as “Red Units” located in Afghanistan’s southern provinces. But over the last year, the night-vision devices have frequently turned up in the country’s north and east, according to two American military officials, signaling a widespread distribution into other groups of Taliban fighters.

Those officials said the Taliban were using both tightly controlled American-made devices and gear that is widely available for purchase. In some cases, American officials said, the equipment was left on the battlefield by United States or Afghan troops, including those who were killed in action.

In others, Afghan soldiers are believed to have sold the devices to the extremists.

That was disputed by Gen. Dawlat Waziri, who until recently served as spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense. He said all night-vision equipment provided to Afghan troops by the American military had been “accounted for.”

“No case of night vision sold by our soldiers to the Taliban has been reported,” General Waziri said.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said fighters obtained night-vision devices after attacking Afghan bases or capturing members of the Afghan security forces.

Rank-and-file Afghan police officers are particularly under threat by increasing numbers of deadly nighttime attacks, said one of the American military officials. Those units are spread farther into sparsely populated areas across Afghanistan than are army soldiers.

Officers with the Afghan National Police, especially in the south, have been making desperate requests for the equipment for months, the official said. The police are part of the Ministry of Interior, which is suspected of rampant corruption.

In Helmand Province, Marine Corps advisers are helping a request by the 505th Zone of the Afghan National Police to receive night-vision devices, Col. C.J. Douglas, the head of the Marines’ police advising component there, said in an email.

It is unclear if the Afghan police unit will get them

U.S. sanctions Pakistani companies over nuclear trade

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The United States has imposed sanctions on seven Pakistani companies over suspicion they have links to the nuclear trade, potentially hurting Pakistan’s ambitions to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Pakistani government spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan have been strained in recent years over Pakistan’s alleged support for Islamist militants waging war in Afghanistan, something Pakistani officials deny.

The U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security, Commerce imposed the sanctions on the Pakistani companies on March 22 by placing them on its “Entity List”.

The companies had been “determined by the U.S. government to be acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”, the bureau said in a report on a U.S. government website.

The Department of Commerce’s Entity List does not freeze assets but requires that U.S. and foreign companies doing business with those on the list first obtain a license.

Companies placed on the Entity List will need special licenses to do business in the United States.

None of the seven sanctioned Pakistani companies, which are not well known, could be immediately reached for comment, nor could a Singapore-based company which the bureau said was linked to one of the Pakistani companies.

Pakistani officials have in the past been accused of handing over nuclear secrets to North Korea.

The government has denied the accusations though Pakistan has a poor record on nuclear proliferation.

The Pakistani scientist lionized as the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, in 2004 said he had sold nuclear secrets to North Korea.

A U.N. nuclear watchdog said in 2008 that Khan’s network smuggled nuclear weaponization blueprints to Iran, Libya and North Korea and was active in 12 countries.

Of the latest companies to be sanctioned, Singapore-based Mushko Logistics and Pakistan-based Mushko Electronics “procured items for several Pakistani entities on the Entity List”, the U.S. bureau said in its report.

Another company, Solutions Engineering, “has been involved in the procurement of U.S.-origin items on behalf of nuclear-related entities in Pakistan that are already listed on the Entity List”.

Three of the companies – Akhtar & Munir, Proficient Engineers and Pervaiz Commercial Trading Co. (PCTC) – were on the list due to “involvement in the proliferation of unsafeguarded nuclear activities that are contrary to the national security and/or foreign policy interests of the United States”.

Marine Systems was placed on the Entity list for helping other already-sanctioned bodies obtain items without a license, while Engineering and Commercial Services (ECS) was sanctioned for “involvement in supplying a Pakistani nuclear-related entity on the Entity List”.

The sanctions could deal a blow to Pakistan’s application to join the NSG, a 48-nation club dedicated to curbing nuclear arms proliferation by controlling the export and re-transfer of materials that could foster nuclear weapons development.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan applied to join the NSG in 2016 but little progress has been made.

The United States has been concerned about Pakistan’s development of new nuclear weapons systems, including small tactical nuclear weapons, and has been trying to persuade Islamabad to make a unilateral declaration of “restraint”.

Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robert Birse