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China, Pakistan and Russia to Meet in Moscow regarding Islamic State Extremists in Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's national unity government has reportedly questioned the motives of the trilateral dialogue

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FILE - Afghan police walk past Islamic State militant flags on a wall, after an operation in the Kot district of Jalalabad province east of Kabul, Aug. 1, 2016. China, Pakistan and Russia will meet in Moscow, Dec. 27. 2016, to review "gradual growing" threat of Islamic State from spreading beyond Afghanistan. VOA

Islamabad, December 27, 2016: Top Foreign Ministry officials from China, Pakistan and Russia will meet in Moscow on Tuesday to review what they perceive as a “gradually growing” threat to their frontiers posed by Islamic State extremists in Afghanistan.

“This is an existing forum for undertaking informal discussions on issues of regional peace and stability, including the situation in Afghanistan,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria told VOA.

Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Aizaz Chaudhry, will lead Islamabad’s delegation, he added. Officials say future meetings could include Iran.

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Chinese, Pakistani and Russian officials say they were driven to joint action by the efforts of IS affiliates to establish a foothold in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government has reportedly questioned the motives of the trilateral dialogue, which will take place without Kabul being represented.

Russian officials maintain the “working group on Afghanistan” is one of several initiatives Moscow has undertaken with regional countries, including Afghanistan, to develop a “wider partnership” for containing IS influence.

Beijing, Islamabad and Moscow say the three-way talks will also explore ways to bring the Taliban to the table for peace talks with the Afghan government. All three governments maintain overt contacts with the insurgent group.

Russia and officials in Pakistan argue that military operations by the U.S.-led international forces and their Afghan partners have not weakened the Taliban but instead created ungoverned areas where terrorist groups like IS, also known as Daesh, can establish a foothold.

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told the U.N. Security Council last week that the deteriorating security situation has encouraged IS militants fleeing Syria and Iraq to look at Afghanistan for shelter. He said they will eventually pose a threat to Russia through neighboring central Asian states.

Using another acronym for IS, he said, “There is also information about the presence in Afghanistan of ISIL camps and safe harbors where people from central Asian states and northern Caucasus republics are being trained and where 700 terrorist families from Syria have already arrived.”

Churkin again rejected Afghan and U.S. concerns that Moscow’s overt ties to the Taliban are meant to undermine international efforts aimed at establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“Our contacts with representatives of Taliban are limited to the task of providing for the security of Russian nationals in Afghanistan and also aimed at moving the Taliban towards joining with the process of national reconciliation,” he said.

Pakistani officials say Russia is eager to include Iran in future meetings of the tripartite “working group” and that the issue will be taken up at Tuesday’s meeting. Iran borders both Afghanistan and Iraq, where IS is present, and is fighting Islamist insurgents among other anti-regime forces in Syria.

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While U.S. counterterrorism forces in partnership with Afghan forces have conducted major operations against IS fighters, the Taliban have also engaged in clashes with the rival group to deny it space in Afghanistan. Russian officials say they are developing ties with the Taliban to prevent IS influence from spreading into Afghan border provinces.

File -Taliban suicide bombers stand guard during a gathering of a breakaway Taliban faction, in the border area of Zabul province, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2016. VOA

Washington and Kabul point out that Afghan security forces have effectively prevented the Taliban from overrunning any urban center during this year’s fighting, despite repeated assaults in northern, southern and eastern Afghanistan.

The U.S. commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, earlier this month voiced concern over what he called “overt legitimacy” being granted the Taliban by Russia and neighboring Iran.

“Their [Russia’s] narrative goes something like this: That the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government.And of course the Afghan government and the U.S. counterterrorism effort are the ones achieving the greatest effect against Islamic State,” Nicholson said.

He said the public legitimacy Russia has lent to the Taliban is “not helpful,” arguing that, “It is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents.”

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Afghan and U.S. officials also charge that Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban and militants of the Haqqani terrorist network are prolonging the war and have helped the insurgents extend their influence in Afghanistan since most international combat troops left the country about two years ago.

Islamabad rejects the allegations as baseless and insists it is promoting Afghan peace and stability by acting to ensure stability in Pakistan, which shares a porous 2,600-kilometer border with the strife-torn country.

“It is self-defeating to cover up failures in Afghanistan by leveling allegations against Pakistan,” said Pakistani Foreign Secretary Chaudhry in an interview with state-run television ahead of Tuesday’s talks in Moscow. (VOA)

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Amazon Plans to Close its Domestic Marketplace in China by Mid-July

Amazon shoppers in China will no longer be able to buy goods from third-party merchants in the country, but they still will be able to order from the United States, Britain, Denmark and Japan via the firm’s global store

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FILE - Amazon plans to close its domestic marketplace in China to focus on more lucrative businesses there. VOA

Amazon.com Inc. plans to close its domestic marketplace in China by mid-July, people familiar with the matter told Reuters, focusing efforts on more lucrative businesses selling overseas goods and cloud services in the world’s most populous nation.

Amazon shoppers in China will no longer be able to buy goods from third-party merchants in the country, but they still will be able to order from the United States, Britain, Denmark and Japan via the firm’s global store. Amazon expects to close fulfillment centers and wind down support for domestic-selling merchants in China in the next 90 days, one of the people said.

Home-grown e-commerce

The move underscores how entrenched, home-grown e-commerce rivals have made it difficult for Amazon’s marketplace to gain a foothold. Consumer insights firm iResearch Global said Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Tmall marketplace and JD.com Inc. controlled 81.9 percent of the Chinese market last year.

“They’re pulling out because it’s not profitable and not growing,” said analyst Michael Pachter at Wedbush Securities. Ker Zheng, marketing specialist at Shenzhen-based e-commerce consultancy Azoya, said Amazon had no major competitive advantage in China over its domestic rivals.

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FILE – A logo of JD.com is seen on a helmet of a delivery man in Beijing, June 16, 2014. VOA

Unless someone is searching for a very specific imported good that can’t be found elsewhere, “there’s no reason for a consumer to pick Amazon because they’re not going to be able to ship things as fast as Tmall or JD,” he said.

Amazon’s customers in China will still be able to purchase the firm’s Kindle e-readers and online content, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing unit that sells data storage and computing power to enterprises, will remain as well.

The U.S.-listed shares of Alibaba and JD.com rose 1% Wednesday after Reuters first reported the move, before paring gains later in the day. Amazon’s shares closed flat.

US retreat, e-commerce showdown

The withdrawal of the world’s largest online retailer — founded by the world’s richest person — comes amid a broader e-commerce slowdown in China. Alibaba in January reported its lowest quarterly earnings growth since 2016, while JD.com is responding to the changing business environment with staff cuts.

 

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FILE – A worker removes an advertisement billboard of Indian online marketplace Flipkart, installed along the roadside in Mumbai, India, Oct. 16, 2015. Amazon.com Inc. is concentrating on India and its competition, Flipkart. VOA

It also follows the Chinese e-commerce retreat of other big-name Western retailers. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sold its Chinese online shopping platform to JD.com in 2016 in return for a stake in JD.com to focus on its bricks-and-mortar stores.

Similarly, the country appears to factor less in the global aspirations of fellow U.S. tech majors Netflix Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Pachter said.

ALSO READ: Microsoft, Amazon in Race For $10bn Pentagon Project

Amazon bought Chinese online shopping website Joyo.com in 2004 for $75 million, rebranding the business in 2011 as Amazon China. But in a sign of Tmall’s dominance, Amazon nevertheless opened an online store on the Alibaba site in 2015.

The firm is still expanding aggressively in other countries, notably India, where it is contending with local rival Flipkart. (VOA)