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Indian pilgrims overwhelmed in Pakistan

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Islamabad: Pilgrims from India who arrived in Pakistan at Katas Raj temples have called for eternal peace and warm relations between India and Pakistan.

“I am waiting for the day when citizens from both the countries living in the border areas can cross onto each other’s soil during their morning walk without any fear and barriers,” Dawn online quoted Sushma Gupta as saying in a ceremony at Katas Raj temples on Saturday.

Gupta was one of 124 Hindu pilgrims from India who arrived at Katas Raj in Katas village of Chakal district of the Punjab province on Friday under strict security.

“When we left for Pakistan, we were curious throughout the journey about how we would be received, and what Pakistan would be like. But when we reached Wagah border, we were left stunned by the love and warmth with which we were greeted,” Gupta said.

“Coming here, we found everything was same. Our language, culture, dress and our fields are all same,” Gupta said.

A cultural event was arranged at the temples on Friday night, during which Hindu artists from Sindh sang bhajans.

The recitation of the poetry of Saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was particularly well received.

Speaking at the ceremony on Saturday, Evacuee Trust Property Board chairperson Mohammad Siddiqul Farooq said the people of both the countries have always dreamt of everlasting peace and love between the two nations, which would only be possible if the governments took practical steps to attain peace.

“Although Partition caused irreversible loss to the people of both the countries, Partition is a reality and now we must accept this stark reality and move on. The best way to move forward could be that we open our hearts to each other,” he said.

Farooq said the ETPB is working to improve the facilities at Katas Raj temples. He also vowed to increase the number of pilgrims in the future.

“I am happy to tell you that last December 85 pilgrims came from India but this time, 124 people have arrived.”

Shiv Pratab Bajaj, the leader of the pilgrims’ caravan, said he would not forget the love and affection showered upon the people by the Pakistani side.

“Last December I demanded a hostel for pilgrims and this time, I am left overjoyed to see that construction is going on,” he said.

The pilgrims were also presented with gifts including dry fruits and shields.

Neelum Sharma and her husband Aditya from New Delhi were among the visiting pilgrims. They said this was their first time in the country and that they wished to visit Pakistan every year.

“When I left for Pakistan, my bedridden uncle asked me to pay homage to his motherland,” Neelam said.(IANS)

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Taliban And The U.S. Set To Meet in UAE

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and the war with the Taliban has since killed nearly 150,000 people, including Afghan civilians

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USA, afghanistan, taliban
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

A Pakistan-arranged meeting between U.S. and Taliban officials will be held Monday in the United Arab Emirates to push a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan.

The special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, will lead the U.S. team at the talks in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the gulf state, a senior Pakistani official privy to the development confirmed to VOA on Sunday.

The official, requesting anonymity, said Islamabad has facilitated the dialogue after President Donald Trump wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier this month seeking his cooperation in bringing the Taliban to the table for peace negotiations.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a brief statement sent to VOA, has confirmed participation of its political negotiators in Monday’s meeting with American officials, but said that representatives of the host country, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia will also be in attendance.

Imran Khan, Taliban
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Nov. 21, 2018. VOA

Initially, it was Khan who disclosed on Friday that Pakistan-aided talks between U.S. and Taliban officials would take place on December 17, though he would not say where.

The Pakistani prime minister, while speaking in the northwestern city of Peshawar, explained his country has agreed to assist in Afghan peace efforts because Washington has changed its position by requesting help, instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. leaders have previously insisted.

A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday hailed Khan’s remarks and support for a political reconciliation in the war-ravaged neighboring country.

“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” the spokesperson told VOA.

“Special Representative Khalilzad has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan,” noted the U.S. embassy official.

taliban, afghanistan
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

 

In his speech on Friday, Khan said that if peace were achieved in Afghanistan, his country will be the immediate beneficiary in terms of security, economic stability and regional connectivity.

Khalilzad, is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks. He is 14 days into an 18-day visit to the region and has already visited Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium.

Since taking office in September, the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy has held two meetings with the Taliban in Qatar, where the insurgent group operates its so-called “political office.”

But those talks have been for the sake of talks, say insurgent and Pakistani officials.

Demands, accusations

Pakistani officials privy to Khalilzad’s interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all U.S. and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.

Afghanistan, Taliban
Security forces inspect the site of a deadly blast in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

 

Washington has long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces.

Also Read: U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and the war with the Taliban has since killed nearly 150,000 people, including Afghan civilians, security forces, insurgents and more than 2,400 American soldiers, according to an American University study released recently.

The longest war effort in U.S. history has also cost Washington nearly one trillion dollars. The Taliban has expanded its insurgent activities and currently controls or hotly contests about half of Afghanistan. The conflict is said to have killed more Afghan civilians and security forces in 2018 than in any other year. (VOA)