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EU negotiators arrive in Athens for bailout talks

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

European Union (EU) negotiators arrived in Athens on Friday to begin discussions on a third Greek bailout.

Greek government officials are expected to hold talks during the first high-level negotiations in the Greek capital since leftist Alexis Tsipras became prime minister in January, BBC reported.

The negotiators comprise representatives of the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the eurozone’s main bailout fund.

The move comes after Greek MPs approved tough new conditions set by the EU lenders last week.

The new conditions included an increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) and pushing back the retirement age. On Wednesday, the ECB increased its cash lifeline to Greek banks by 900 million euros (about $980 million).

The IMF confirmed on Monday that Greece had cleared its overdue debt repayments of 2.05 billion euros ($2.24 billion) and was no longer in arrears.

Greece’s next major deadline is August 20, when it must pay 3.2 billion euros ($3.5 billion) owed to the ECB, followed by a payment of 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) to the IMF in September.

(With inputs from IANS)

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69 Years a Slave? Balochistan’s Struggle for Freedom : A Detailed Report

Baloch nationalists assert that theirs is a freedom struggle; they were occupied by Pakistan in 1948 and have been fighting since to free themselves.

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Balochistan
Baloch people address their protests as a freedom struggle to liberate and unify their people and land from control of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Wikimedia
  • Even after 70 years of Pakistan’s creation, Balochistan refuses to associate itself as a part of the country
  • Pakistan’s military occupation of Balochistan began in 1948 before which the province had existed as an independent state
  • The insurgency in Balochistan traces its roots in ethnic nationalism along with feelings of political and economic exclusion

Balochistan, August 31, 2017 : Located in the South West of Pakistan, the Balochistan province of Pakistan constitutes nearly 45 per cent of the country’s territory. However, even after 70 years of Pakistan’s creation, the people of the province refuse to associate themselves with Pakistan or its framework of a nation state. They believe they have been Balochis for over three thousand years, who have now been invaded.

“It is freedom struggle,” believes activist Naela Quadri Baloch like many other Baloch nationalists. According to her, Balochistan had been occupied by Pakistan in 1948 and “ever since we have been fighting against Pakistan to free ourselves”, she believes.

In 2016 during an interview with The Times of India, the women’s leader and activist Naela Quadri Baloch had asserted that Pakistan is not interested in Kashmiris but specifically in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir for its desire to control the Indus river system. Similarly, it is also not interested in the Balochis, but the land of the state for its strategic location and mineral reserves.

Baloch nationalists assert that Pakistan’s economy is dependent on loans from the IMF, World Bank and the Western countries that are allegedly taken on the pretext of Balochistan’s rich mineral resources. They further claim that Pakistan’s strategic importance is also due to Balochistan coast. Pakistan would not be able to survive, which is why it does not want Balochistan to emerge as an independent state.

Balochistan
Balochistan comprises of about 45 per cent of Pakistan’s territory. Wikimedia

While the world views it as an insurgency movement, Balochis address their protests as a freedom struggle to liberate and unify their people and land from control of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

They maintain that Balochistan was never a part of India or Pakistan and it had always been an independent country.

Balochistan At The Time Of Partition

Balochistan comprises of four erstwhile princely states – Kalat, Kharan, Lasbela and Makran, that had been unified by Naseer Khan, the Khan of Kalat.

During the British rule, the province was divided into British Balochistan (25 per cent) and Native Balochistan, occupying 75 per cent of the total territory with people pledging adherence to Naseer Khan.

Immediately following partition and the creation of Pakistan, Khan’s descendant, Mir Ahmed Yaar Khan was faced with three options – independence, or accession to either India or Pakistan. He decided upon independence, following which a communiqué was released on August 11, 1947 giving independent sovereign status to Kalat.

However, by October 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah mooted Kalat to formally join the state of Pakistan. The Khan of Kalat did not agree to the accession which was followed by a standstill between the two leaders upon the status of present-day Balochistan.

Becoming A Part Of Pakistan

By April 1948, the Pakistan army moved into the province and captured Kalat. The Khans’ attempts of an armed campaign against the Pakistan army went futile and the province was merged with Pakistan by June 1948.

At the center of Balochistan’s forced accession was Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who had previously been hired by the Khans for his legal services to negotiate Kalat’s independent status with the Britishers.

Before partition, Jinnah had successfully mooted an ‘Independent Status’ of Kalat for which he was graciously awarded with gold. But, Balochistan breathed as a free country only from August 1947 to March 1948, after which Jinnah breached trust and betrayed the Khan, forcing the Pakistani invasion and eventual accession of Kalat.

ALSO READ Violence surges yet again in Balochistan

Surprisingly, during the struggle and annexation of present-day Balochistan, the Indian Congressmen, Mahatma Gandhi or the then-Governor General Lord Mountbatten made no attempts to hinder in the remonstration. This indifference can be attributed to the Indian leaders’ failure to realize the strategic implication of a sovereign Balochistan at the time.

A Growing Ethnic Nationalism

Following the formation of Pakistan, distorted power relations existed among different Muslim ethnicities. Additionally, unchallenged power was exercised by Punjabis who comprised of about 56 per cent population of the state.

In 1954, the One Unit scheme was launched by the federal government of Pakistan to merge the four existing provinces of West Pakistan (Khyber-Pakhtunkawa, Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab) to form a homogeneous, united political entity in an attempt to,

  • Forge national unity on basis of Islam and geography
  • Reduce gross expenditure
  • Help eliminate ethnic prejudices.

The move triggered violence throughout the country and especially in Balochistan, wherein this was interpreted as a strategy to establish Punjabi domination.

Balochistan rose against the move, which came to an end in 1970 with the overthrow of the One Unit scheme.

However, following the rebellion, a strong sense of nationalism, propounding larger political autonomy and a separate state for Balochistan broke a full-fledged insurgency from 1973 to 1977; over 80,000 personnel were deployed to quell the rebellion.    

Armed struggle to achieve separation from Pakistan lasted throughout the 1970s, in which 3,300 army personnel and 5,300 Balochis were killed. However, the Pakistani government successfully compressed the movement.

Economic Alienation

Baloch nationalists have repeatedly argued that they are yet to receive any benefit from the development projects that have been initiated by the government in Balochistan.

  1. Reportedly, the Sui Gas Field in Balochistan caters to most urban households in the country. Despite producing about 45 per cent of gas for Pakistan, the province gets to consume a mere 17 per cent. Additionally, the Balochis get a nominal amount of Pakistani Rupees 6 for a 24-hour supply.
  2. The Pakistani government, in collaboration with China, initiated the development of the Gwadar port in the province, with an aim to better trade ties with Asia, Europe, and US. However, a large number of Punjabis and non-Baloch people were hired for the project, leaving an increasing population of Baloch engineers and technicians unemployed.
  3. Balochistan has one of the world’s richest reserves of copper and gold. However, as much as 16 kgs of gold is seized everyday by the Chinese under an arrangement with the government, which robs the Balochis of major economic benefits.
  4. Despite being one of the country’s key providing areas,
    • 80 per cent population of Balochistan continue to live in the absence of safe drinking water
    • 80 per cent people do not have access to electricity
    • 70 per cent children have never been to school
    • 63 per cent of Balochis live below the poverty line

While ethnic nationalist interests continue to worry Balochistan, a primary demand has also been about better control over the economic resources of the region.

However, the Pakistani government blames the nationalist struggle in the region for impeding the developmental process.

Political Subjugation By Islamabad

Balochistan makes up nearly 45 per cent of Pakistan’s territory but the Balochs comprise only 5 per cent of the total population, making them a minority in Pakistan.

Their representation in the National Assembly of Pakistan is also negligible (17 out of 342) which reveals that the Balochis have lost their say in policy formulations and are forced to adhere to laws that have been put in place for them by power honchos sitting in Islamabad.

Additionally, the Pakistan government centered in Islamabad has eradicated most of the Baloch activists and nationalists, calling them ‘foreign agents against the state’. This can be supplemented with the murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti who was an ex chief minister of Balochistan.

ALSO READ Akbar Bugti: Remembering the Balochistan Hero on his 11th Martyrdom Anniversary

Pakistan And Its inherent Demand of Balochistan

Ever since the creation of Pakistan, it has been evident that the Pakistan government is more concerned with occupying the physical territory of Balochistan, with meager interest in its indigenous population.

The Pakistan army, on command of the government has employed every possible armory against its own people of Balochistan, in an attempt to contain the province within its seizure. Furthermore, army cantonments have been established at Dera, Gwadar, Bugti and Kohlu to gauge activity and movement of the Baloch people.

Additionally, despite occupying 45 per cent of Pakistan’s territory, the budget allocated to Balochistan is minuscule in comparison to its vast landmass.

In 2002, General Pervez Musharraf had striked a deal with China over the Gwadar port development as part of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Baloch people condemned the allocation of land to the rich businessmen of Punjab and Karachi and further lamented the unemployment stemming from the project. The move also instigated further violence in the region.

Balochistan
Gwadar port in Balochistan. Wikimedia

As of now, according to report, all 22 districts of Balochistan continue to suffer at the hands of the enduring insurgency with the tally of displaced people now crossing over 2 lacs.

In more recent times, the Pakistan army took aid of suicide bombers to tackle the ongoing insurgency. On August 8, 2017, as many as 54 lawyers became victims of a suicide attack, which is being touted as a State-funded action as the group included several Baloch activists who had been vocal about Pakistan army’s interference in state affairs.

ALSO READ Balochistan Suicide Bombing: Provincial Government Falsely blames India for the Attack

According to a report published in Dawn,prince of the now redundant Kalat state, Prince Mohyuddin Baloch who is now the  Baloch Rabita Ittefaq Tehreek chief,  had said that Balochis are not looking to wage wars. Until now, Balochis have not once attacked Pakistan, but only defended themselves.

He said the objective of their protests has been to draw the government’s attention. However, regretfully, no one is paying any heed to their cries.

Dr. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar had rightly quoted in an article in the Economic and Political Weekly that the “ethnic difference remains the single biggest fault line in Pakistani politics.”

The Balochistan insurgency thus, traces its roots in a ripe ethnic nationalism along with feelings of political and economic exclusion. This animosity among the country will continue unless Pakistan accepts its non-Muslim history.


 

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European Union (EU) Takes Lead in Campaign to Prevent Gender-based Violence during Humanitarian Crises

Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world

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A South Sudanese refugee and 32-year-old mother, who was raped for several days by a group of soldiers before she was allowed to leave, stands by a window at a women's center. VOA
  • Violence during times of war and natural disasters also affects men and boys
  • The EU says its mission is to strengthen awareness and encourage the humanitarian community to take stronger action to protect women, men, girls and boys in crisis zones
  • Monique Pariat, director-general for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, says more must be done to prevent gender-based violence from occurring in humanitarian emergencies

Geneva, June 21, 2017: The European Union is assuming the leadership of a global initiative to prevent gender-based violence during humanitarian crises.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. The United Nations and many human rights organizations have documented tens of thousands of cases of rape, sexual abuse and exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina and other places of conflict.

Violence during times of war and natural disasters also affects men and boys. So, the European Union’s Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence is inclusive of both sexes and all ages.

ALSO READ: June 19 is International Day for Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict 2017: Why Women in India are Victims of Sexual Abuse?

The EU says its mission is to strengthen awareness and encourage the humanitarian community to take stronger action to protect women, men, girls and boys in crisis zones.

Monique Pariat, director-general for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, says more must be done to prevent gender-based violence from occurring in humanitarian emergencies. She says many simple measures can be taken to mitigate violence.

“For instance, to have separate and properly illuminated toilets and washing facilities in camps. Safe access to water and food distribution points. Safe access to hospitals. That can have a very significant impact in preventing and reducing gender-based violence. We can do more also on the education to armed groups, to armies. There are a lot of activities we can promote that will reduce the risk and occurrence of these atrocities.”

Pariat says it is crucial to bring the Call to Action program to the field, adding it is there that these life-saving measures can have the biggest impact. Pariat also says preventive actions must be taken at the earliest onset of an emergency where victims and survivors are at greatest risk. (VOA)

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India-UK free trade agreement to be signed once it exits the European Union in 2 years Time

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European Union. Pixabay

New Delhi, March 28, 2017: With Britain set to launch the formal process of its exit from the EU on Wednesday, a prominent British entrepreneur has said that a joint working group of officials from both countries is working on an India-UK free trade agreement to be signed once it exits the EU in two years time.

“One of the very important steps forward of Theresa May’s (India) visit last November was that we now have a government-to-government working group with the Commerce Secretary and the International Trade Secretary in charge that is looking at the totality of the relationship,” Patricia Hewitt, Chair UK-India Business Council, told BTVi in an interview.

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“What I found since the referendum is the great enthusiasm on the part of India’s political and business leaders as well as Britain’s political and business leaders, for…it may be a free trade agreement…perhaps more accurately a comprehensive economic partnership. This was discussed further during Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s very successful visit to London recently,” she said.

“And the aim there is not only to identify things that both governments could act on immediately even before Brexit actually happens, but also to lay the groundwork for a more formal agreement..a bilateral agreement that could happen once the UK actually leaves the European Union,” she added.

British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to trigger Article 50 – the step that starts the process of negotiations for Britain’s formal exit from the EU – on Wednesday.

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There is consequent uncertainty over what will happen once Britain leaves the EU because it needs to make new trade agreements with the rest of the world.

Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced this joint working group last year following talks here with UK’s then Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox after Britain voted in a referendum to exit the EU.

Sitharaman said formal talks on a bilateral free trade agreement could only begin once the UK formally exited the EU.

Bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $14 billion in 2015-16, as compared to $14.33 billion in 2014-15. (IANS)