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India backs UN-led initiative for ceasefire in Afghanistan: Jaishankar




Our Special Correspondent


March 30: India backs a regional process to be convened under the United Nations to achieve a political settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan as the situation in the war-torn country continues to cause grave concern, External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Tuesday.

Jaishankar made the remarks in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan in Central Asia, while speaking at the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process to find a lasting solution to the situation in Afghanistan. It is a regional initiative of 15 countries, including China, Russia, Iran and Central Asian states. This was the first reaction from the Indian side to the UN-led initiative proposed by United States President Joe Biden’s administration.

Addressing a gathering that included Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Jaishankar also said durable peace in Afghanistan requires a “genuine ‘double peace’” or “peace within Afghanistan and peace around Afghanistan”. “It requires harmonising the interests of all, both within and around that country,” he added.

India’s backing for a regional process on Afghanistan convened by the UN came against the backdrop of worries in New Delhi that the country has been kept out of other processes such as Russia’s “extended troika”. It was first suggested by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a letter sent to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in February.

Jaishankar said: “India welcomes any move towards a genuine political settlement and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan. We appreciate the international recognition of foundational principles that will determine their contours.”

“We support a regional process to be convened under the aegis of the United Nations. UN stewardship would help to take into account all relevant UN resolutions and improve the odds for a lasting outcome,” he added.

In his letter, Blinken had outlined four elements as part of a high-level diplomatic effort involving regional countries and the UN to move quickly toward a settlement in Afghanistan. One of these four elements is a meeting to be convened by the UN of foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the US to forge a unified approach on Afghanistan. The date for this meeting is yet to be finalised.

Jaishankar said the situation in Afghanistan continues to be a “cause for grave concern” as violence and bloodshed are “daily realities and the conflict itself has shown little sign of abatement, whatever may be the promises”.

Noting that the past few months have witnessed an escalation in targeted killings of civil society, he said that “2020 sadly marked a 45% increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan over 2019”, while “2021 does not look very much better”.

“The continued involvement of foreign fighters in Afghanistan is particularly disturbing. Heart of Asia members and supporting countries should, therefore, make it a priority to press for an immediate reduction in violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” he said.

According to a UN report issued last year, some 6,500 Pakistani fighters, including members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, were active in Afghanistan. Indian and Afghan officials have for long accused Pakistan’s military establishment with deep links with elements of the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network.

Jaishankar said that ensuring Afghanistan is free of terrorism, violent extremism and drug and criminal syndicates is a “collective imperative”. He added: “A stable, sovereign and peaceful Afghanistan is truly the basis for peace and progress in our region.”

India has supported all efforts to accelerate dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, including intra-Afghan negotiations, and attended the inaugural virtual session of the Doha talks in Qatar last year. “If the peace process is to be successful, then it is necessary to ensure that the negotiating parties continue to engage in good faith, with a serious commitment towards reaching a political solution,” he said.

At the same time, Jaishankar reiterated India’s interest in preserving the gains made over the past two decades in Afghanistan, including the democratic framework under which elections are held through universal suffrage, sovereignty in domestic and foreign policy and protection of the rights of women, children and minorities.

India is also committed to the development partnership with Afghanistan, which involves pledges of $3 billion, including more than 550 community development projects covering all 34 provinces, in order to ensure a self-sustaining nation.

As the lead country on trade, commerce and investment confidence-building measures under the Heart of Asia process, India will continue to work on improving Afghanistan’s connectivity through projects such as Chabahar port in Iran and dedicated air freight corridors between Indian and Afghan cities, Jaishankar said.

A lot of speculation regarding Jaishankar’s visit to Dushanbe has focused on whether he will hold a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Qureshi. However, there was no official word from the Indian or Pakistani side about such a meeting.

Ahead of the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia process, Jaishankar held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday night and shared India’s perspectives on the peace process. He also met his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif and discussed bilateral cooperation, including for Chabahar port.

Jaishankar held a separate meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and discussed “Afghanistan-related developments and our bilateral relations”, he said in a tweet.

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Veteran singer and musician Professor Sanath Nandasiri passed away at the age of 81




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Overtime gravy train for public sector back



Govt. MPs make contradictory statements on state of economy

By Shamindra Ferdinando

UNP National List MP Wajira Abeywardena on Sunday (26) disclosed the issuance of a circular by the Finance Ministry to restore overtime and other payments in the public sector.

The declaration was made in Galle soon after Transport and Media Minister Bandula Gunawardane lamented that the government was short of billions of rupees to pay public sector salaries, pensions, Samurdhi payments and meet recurrent expenditure.

Minister Gunawardena and UNP National List MP Abeywardena addressed the local media after the handing over of several buses to the Galle SLTB depot.

Cabinet Spokesman Gunawardena said that the government needed as much as Rs 196 bn before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and its projected revenue was Rs 173 bn. In addition to that Rs 500 mn was required to settle what Minister Gunawardena called bilateral debt.

Minister Gunawardane said that a part of the first tranche of USD 333 mn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would be utilised to pay public sector salaries.

Of the USD 333 mn received so far, USD 121 had been used to pay the first installment of USD 1 bn credit line secured from India early last year, according to State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera in the second week of August last year revealed as much as Rs 3 bn had been paid as overtime to Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers for several months. This disclosure was made in response to a query raised by Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella.

One of the major demands of the public sector trade unions on the warpath over the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government’s new tax formula is the restoration of overtime.

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Now, Opposition wants Finance Secy. hauled up before Privileges Committee



Prof G L Peris

Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (27) urged Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to act speedily on the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) request to summon Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena before the parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

Addressing the media on behalf of the Freedom People’s Alliance, the former External Affairs Minister said that the Treasury Secretary had challenged the parliament by withholding funds allocated in the budget 2023 to the Election Commission thereby sabotaging the election.

Prof. Peiris said that there couldn’t be a far worse violation of parliamentary privileges than a government official undermining Parliament.

Instead of appreciating the intervention made by the Supreme Court to facilitate the delayed Local Government polls, the ruling party had sought to challenge the apex court, Prof. Peiris said, urging Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to fulfill his obligations.

Prof. Pieris said that if the government lacked funds, just one percent of USS 333 mn received from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was sufficient to conduct the election.

The ex-minister said that the IMF wouldn’t oppose the utilisation of a fraction of the first tranche of USD 2.9 bn loan facility provided over a period of four years to guarantee the constitutional rights of the Sri Lankan electorate. (SF)

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