Strike Balance For Indo-Pak Talks, Pakistan Tells US

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Islamabad—Pakistan on Thursday asked Washington to strike a balance in its policy towards South Asia if it was interested in having a dialogue between Pakistan and India and said it was ready for mediation between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Speaking at the second Kabul Process conference, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that his government was ready to recognise the Taliban as a political group and offered unconditional talks with the militant group to “save the country”. The Afghan Taliban are a political entity and Pakistan supports the dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told journalists here.

 “The talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are actually discussions between two political forces, and Pakistan will support it…Pakistan is also ready for one-on-one mediation with the Afghan Taliban,” he said. He said Pakistan wants peace and stability in the neighbouring country, while stressing that there was no military solution to the Afghan conflict.

 “The US can have an interest in Pak-India discussions, but before that it should create some balance in its South Asia policy,” he said. He also talked about the so-called “institutional interests” in Pakistan and said that practice of portraying interests of institutions as the greater national interest “will also be changed soon”.

Asserting that Pakistan will frame its foreign policy keeping in view the national interests, Asif said, “We will not sacrifice our own interests for the protection of the interests of the United States.” “The effects of the 80s and the Musharraf era still exist, Pakistan will not make the same mistakes now to keep American interests above its own interests,” he said. He was referring to the military governments of General Zia-ul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf that allied with the US respectively in 1980s and after 9/11 to support it against erstwhile USSR and terrorism.

Russia Now Has ‘Invincible’ Weapons: Putin Warns

Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin has boasted the country has developed a new generation of “invincible” weapons in his state of the nation address on Thursday, warning global powers they must now reckon with Moscow’s military might.

Putin used the address to outline economic, and social policy ahead of his widely expected return to the Kremlin in the 18 March election, but nearly half the speech was dedicated to Russia’s top-notch weaponry.

The president usually delivers the annual speech in the Kremlin but this year spoke from a nearby exhibition centre – allowing him to show a series of high-tech video montages of missiles manoeuvring across mountains and oceans, and heading over the Atlantic.

Putin quoted a speech he gave back in 2004, saying that Russia would develop a new generation of weaponry, a promise that he said has now been fulfilled.

 “No one really wanted to talk to us basically. No one listened to us then. Listen to us now,” Putin said, prompting a standing ovation from the audience of top officials, lawmakers and celebrities.

Putin showed tests of a new missile system that he said could fly at 20 times the speed of sound and manoeuvre up and down and is not owned by any other country.

 “This makes it absolutely invincible for any forms of air and missile defence,” he boasted, calling it an “ideal weapon”.

In addition, Russia has developed unmanned underwater devices that move much faster than submarines and torpedoes and can carry nuclear warheads, Putin said, adding: “It’s just fantastic!”

He also praised a new generation of young scientists working on such weaponry, calling them “the heroes of our time”.

 ‘Destroy the world’

Putin, who has led Russia for almost two decades and is seeking a historic fourth Kremlin term that would extend his rule to 2024, also laid out a number of social, economic and environmental measures.

In the absence of any programme and with Putin having refused to take part in TV debates with other candidates, the address suggested cutting poverty and improving the environment would be top goals for his expected new six-year term.

The 65-year-old said he aimed to cut the country’s “unacceptable” poverty rate in half over the next six years, but said 22 million fewer Russians were now living below the poverty line than when he was first elected president in 2000.

 “The well-being of Russia and the well-being of our citizens must be the foundation of everything, and it is in this area that we must make a breakthrough,” Putin said.

He also promised further regulations for businesses in order to reduce industrial emissions, as he spoke of millions of people forced to drink water “that does not meet standards” and “black snow” in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.

 “People in industrial hubs can go for weeks without seeing the sun because of smog,” he said.

Putin was given an ecstatic reception in the hall during the televised address but some online comments were less enthusiastic.

 “The old man only perked up when he was talking about how he can destroy the world. A moment of truth!” said political analyst and former Kremlin advisor Gleb Pavlovsky on social media.

Despite campaign promises when Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012 after four years as prime minister, his last term was marked by a fall in living standards and Russia’s international isolation, critics say.

Boosted by a slavish domestic media and foreign interventions, including the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, his approval rating remains sky-high and official polls suggest he is likely to take 70% of the vote.

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