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Amid Political Tension, 70 Hindu Pilgrims arrive in Pakistan to attend Sant Shada Ram Anniversary

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Representational image. VOA

Lahore, November 23, 2016: More than 70 Hindu pilgrims from India reached Lahore to participate in 308th birth anniversary of Sant Shada Ram in the Sindh province.
On Tuesday, the officials of Evacuee Trust Property Board received the pilgrims at Wagah border.

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According to ETPB spokesman Amir Hashmi said, “Seventy-one Hindu pilgrims, including 17 women, arrived in Lahore on Tuesday to take part in festivities on the birth anniversary of Sant Shada Ram in Mirpur Khas.”

He further added that the ETPB, which takes care of the holy places of the minorities in Pakistan, ensured reliable security services for the Hindu pilgrims visiting.

71 Hindu pilgrims arrived in Lahore on Tuesday to take part in festivities on the birth anniversary of Sant… Click To Tweet

He further said that the board has arranged the visit of the pilgrims in seven cities of Sindh.
Hashmi further added that the Pakistan had issued visas to 84 Indian applicants.

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He said, “Of them, 13 did not come here due to reasons best known to them.”

One of the visiting members Bansi Lal said, “My father who had 2,000 acre land, left his village close to Mirpur Methaleo during partition. After 70 years, I am fortunate to get opportunity to visit our ancestral place. This visit has brought me immense joy and spiritual satisfaction.”

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The Hindu pilgrims will be returning to Lahore on December 2 and will be leaving for India the very next day.

by NewsGram team with PTI inputs

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India Police Warned 2 Weeks Ago of Attack on Hindu Pilgrims in Kashmir

The attack sparked outrage across Kashmir and much of India

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An Indian border security force soldier stands guard at a temporary checkpoint near a pilgrim base camp near Pahalgam, about 100 Kilometers south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, July 11, 2017. VOA
  • The memo, marked “top secret,” warned that a “sensational attack by terrorist outfits cannot be ruled out” in the mostly Muslim region
  • Indian security officials had been expecting an attack
  • The police also said that the bus had been traveling at night, despite instructions to avoid the roads after dark

As India’s government on Tuesday blamed separatist rebels for gunning down seven Hindu pilgrims and wounding 19 more in Kashmir before fleeing into the night, rebel groups in the disputed region condemned the rare, deadly attack on civilians and insisted they had no part in it.

A memo that was circulated to regional police, military and paramilitary units two weeks ago indicates Indian security officials had been expecting an attack. The memo, marked “top secret,” warned that a “sensational attack by terrorist outfits cannot be ruled out” in the mostly Muslim region.

The memo, dated June 25 and verified as authentic by The Associated Press, said “terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 yatris (pilgrims) and about 100 police.”

It described circumstances eerily similar to what transpired Monday night: “The attack may be in the form of standoff fire on yatra (pilgrimage) convoy, which they (militants) believe will result in flaring of communal tensions throughout the nation.”

Police said the attack began with gunmen unleashing a hail of bullets on an armored police vehicle and, soon after, on a nearby police patrol. They said that a bus carrying 60 Hindu pilgrims had been passing through the area when the patrolling police and militants were exchanging fire, and that some bullets struck the bus and its passengers.

Terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 yatris (pilgrims) Click To Tweet

The police also said that the bus had been traveling at night, despite instructions to avoid the roads after dark. Though security had been increased along the route for the pilgrimage, the thousands of deployed soldiers and police do not patrol overnight.

ALSO READ: Terror Strikes Again: 7 Amarnath Pilgrims killed, 32 Injured in a Terror Attack in Anantnag

Several bus passengers who were wounded gave a different version of events, saying the bus had been targeted from three directions during the attack. They said the driver kept driving the bus as it was being struck with bullets near the southern town of Anantnag on the main highway linking Kashmir with the rest of India.

The annual summer pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine, which began June 29 under heavy security, has been targeted in the past. Opponents of Indian rule in Kashmir accuse Hindu-majority India of using the pilgrimage as a political statement to bolster its claim to the disputed region.

On Tuesday, thousands of Hindus continued the religious pilgrimage undeterred, as Indian soldiers and police increased security along the Himalayan route for buses carrying pilgrims to the base camps where they start walking the path to the high mountain cave.

None of the rebel groups fighting to oust India from the mostly Muslim region has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the three top separatist leaders in Kashmir condemned it.

They demanded an independent investigation into the attack.

“This incident goes against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos,” the separatist leaders – Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammed Yasin Malik – said in a joint statement.

Police were searching for the assailants, who they said were from the Pakistan-based rebel group Lashkar-e-Taiba. India also blames the group for a 2008 attack that left 166 people dead in India’s commercial capital of Mumbai.

“We’re investigating the attack, but we know certainly that the Lashkar has done it. We’ll soon deal with them,” police Inspector-General Muneer Ahmed Khan said.

Lashkar-e-Taiba denied any involvement in the attack, which they called “reprehensible” and “un-Islamic,” according to a statement sent to local media in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

The group said India was behind the attack, “to sabotage the freedom struggle of Kashmiris” and fulfill “its nefarious agenda” to crush the popular anti-India rebellion.

“No Kashmiri has ever targeted any pilgrims, and this barbarity and atrocity is the trademark of Indian forces,” the group’s statement said.

Residents said they were afraid of a possible backlash by Hindu nationalists and Indian forces against Kashmiris elsewhere in India.

“My two brothers are studying in India,” school teacher Shagufta Kaunsar said. “I don’t know if it’s really safe for them there. We’re already telling them to come back home.”

Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of Kashmir, asked India’s home ministry to protect Kashmiri students and workers across the nation. “Possibility of backlash can’t be ignored,” he said in a Twitter message.

Most of the pilgrims wounded in the attack were released from hospitals on Tuesday. The bodies of those killed were flown to New Delhi on their way to the pilgrims’ west Indian states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The attack sparked outrage across Kashmir and much of India.

In the Jammu region of Kashmir, which is dominated by Hindus, hundreds of protesters shouted angry slogans against the militants and burned a faceless effigy meant to represent both terrorism and Pakistan, which India blames for supporting the rebels. Many shops and businesses were shuttered for a protest strike in Jammu.

Meanwhile, students in the Gujarati city of Ahmadabad gathered for a sit-in to protest all religious violence, while peace activists planned a candlelight vigil in New Delhi on Tuesday night.

The Press Trust of India news agency said the last major attack on Amarnath pilgrims occurred in 2000, when gunmen killed 30 people in the Pahalgam area, including local porters carrying pilgrim’s baggage up the mountain path. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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India’s Textile and Fashion Heritage now part of Google project

Google's project 'We Wear Culture' is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

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we wear culture
Google's new art project 'We wear Culture' digitizes fashion, Wikimedia
  • Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India
  • It intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures
  • Its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

June 15, 2017: To a certain extent, a culture is defined by what is worn by its people. In a country as diverse as India, vast and varied spectrum of cultures and clothes is one of the specialties. Google’s latest virtual exhibition project now provides us the opportunity to explore and know more about it.

Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago, from the ancient Silk Road to the unmatched elegance of the Indian Saree,  from the courtly fashion of Versailles, to the Victorian ballgowns with intricate thread work.

According to Amit Sood, director of Google Arts and Culture,”We invite everyone to browse the exhibition on their phones or laptops and learn about the stories behind what you wear. You might be surprised to find out that your Saree, jeans or the black dress in your wardrobe have a centuries-old story. What you wear is true culture and more often than not a piece of art.”

Culture is defined by what is worn by its people. Click To Tweet

The company also mentioned that noteworthy collections from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and varied weaves from across India, from Gharchola to Patola to Temple to Ikat sarees will be included in the online project, as it intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures.

ALSO READ: New Google Project Digitizes World’s Top Fashion Archives.

According to PTI reports, the world fashion exhibit also includes designs from north-eastern India including the weaves of tribes such as the Nagas, Meitis. it will showcase the traditional attire from Meghalaya called ‘Dhara’ or ‘Nara’ worn by the Khasi women as well.

As a part of the exhibit, Sewa Hansiba Museum has brought the unique colorful and rich embroidery arts, applique and mirror work from different communities such as the Ahir, Rabari, Chaudhury Patel and many others from the western part of India online.

The exhibition conducted by Salar Jung Museum brings to light the Sherwani and its journey of becoming the royal fashion statement of the Nizams from 19th century Hyderabad. Fashion and textiles enthusiasts can revisit Colonial Indian attires with Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Over 400 online exhibitions and stories sharing a total of 50,000 photos, videos and other documents on world fashion are open to exploration as well.

The ‘We wear Culture’ initiative highlights significant events in the growth of the world fashion industry; the icons, the movements, the game changers and the trendsetters like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang