Wednesday January 23, 2019
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Hindu Woman Elected to Pakistan Senate in Historic First

"I will continue to work for the rights of the oppressed people, especially for the empowerment of women, their health and education,"

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Krishna Kumari works in her office in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Feb. 12, 2018. VOA

A woman from Pakistan’s marginalized Hindu minority has been elected to the Pakistan Senate for the first time ever in an election over the weekend in which a Taliban-linked cleric was defeated.

Krishna Kumari, a member of the Pakistan People’s Party, hails from the so-called untouchables, the lowest rung of the caste system that still prevails in Pakistan and neighboring India.

Lawmakers in national and four provincial assemblies on Saturday elected half of the 104-member Pakistan Senate to six-year terms.

ALSO READ: Pakistan Faces Rising Criticism over Inability to Curb Extremism and threat it poses to its Neighbours

Deposed premier Nawaz Sharif’s party holds a plurality of 33 seats in the upper house of parliament after winning 15 in Saturday’s elections. Former President Asif Zardari’s party came in second, followed by the party led by former cricket star Imran Khan.

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“I feel delighted, this was unthinkable for me to reach the senate,” Kumari told The Associated Press. Wikimedia Commons

Khan’s party supported Maulana Samiul Haq, a mentor to a number of Taliban leaders, but he fell short. Extremist groups in Pakistan have mobilized mass rallies in recent years to protest U.S. policies and support tough anti-blasphemy laws, but have largely failed to translate their clout into electoral victories.

Most of Pakistan’s Hindu population fled to India as part of the population exchange that followed the 1947 partition. Those who remain to live on the political and economic margins, and like other minorities they have endured discrimination at the hands of the Muslim majority.

ALSO READ: Will Pakistan listen to the USA and Stop Harboring Taliban and other terrorist groups?

Kumari, who was born and raised in a remote district, attributed her success to her parents, who encouraged her to pursue her education and eventually helped her to earn a university degree. She later worked for a non-governmental organization before joining the Pakistan People’s Party of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The party nominated her for a seat reserved for minority candidates from the Sindh province, where it holds a majority.

“I will continue to work for the rights of the oppressed people, especially for the empowerment of women, their health and education,” she said.

Kumari, who worked in the fields alongside her parents as a child, will take the oath of office later this month alongside some of the biggest landowners in the country. (VOA)

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Pakistan Increases Efforts To Save The U.S.-Afghanistan Peace Talks

Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington.

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Imran going around world begging for funds: Sindh CM, VOA

Pakistan has intensified efforts to keep the U.S.-led dialogue with the Afghan Taliban on track, but official sources in Islamabad maintain the responsibility for the “success or failure” of the fledgling peace process rests “exclusively” with the two negotiating sides.

The caution comes as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, landed in the Pakistani capital Thursday amid expectations a direct meeting could take place between his delegation and Taliban negotiators during his stay in the country.

Prior to his departure Wednesday from Kabul, Khalilzad told reporters that talks with the Taliban will “happen very soon. That’s what we’re working toward.” He did not elaborate further.

Meanwhile, in a significant move, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday and discussed the efforts being made for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

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U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua led their respective delegations in talks in Islamabad, Jan. 17, 2019. VOA

Khan’s office said in a statement that Ghani expressed his gratitude for Pakistan’s “sincere facilitation” for Afghan peace and reconciliation.

It said the prime minister “assured President Ghani that Pakistan was making sincere efforts for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan through an inclusive peace process, as part of shared responsibility.”

Official sources in Islamabad expected “important developments” over the next two days but they would not share further details. “There is no room for missed opportunities” under the circumstances, they insisted.

Pakistani officials maintain in background interviews with VOA that the U.S.-Taliban talks are being facilitated in the hope that they would ultimately lead to an intra-Afghan dialogue for political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. All sides in the peace process will share “the credit and benefits of a success,” they insisted.

“Similarly, given sincere desire and efforts of everyone, no one should be exclusively blamed if the main interlocutors fail to agree due to own lack of flexibility that is very much required from both the U.S. and the Taliban at this stage,” a senior official privy to the Pakistani peace diplomacy told VOA.

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U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Jan. 17, 2019. VOA

Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan where he briefed Ghani and other top officials of Afghan government on the U.S.-led peace initiative.

The Taliban has held several meetings with Khalilzad’s team in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but the insurgents have persistently refused to engage directly with the sitting administration in Kabul. Their refusal is blamed for a lack of progress in negotiations that started last summer, after American diplomats gave in to a major Taliban demand and met them directly.

Khalilzad, however, made it clear on Wednesday the insurgent group would have to engage with the Afghan government for the process to move forward.

“The road to peace will require the Taliban to sit with the Afghan government. There is a consensus among all the regional partners on this point,” the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy told reporters in Kabul.

He went on to warn that if the Taliban chose to fight over peace talks, the United States would support the Afghan government.

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A general view of the Taliban office in Doha, Qatar, May 2, 2015, site of several past negotioations with the Taliban. VOA

The Taliban threatened earlier in the week to pull out of all negotiations if the United States backed away from discussing the key insurgent demand for a troop withdrawal plan and pressured the insurgents into speaking to the Afghan government.

Diplomats privy to the peace process support the U.S. effort for the Taliban to speak directly to the current administration in Kabul to resolve internal Afghan matters. They see the Ghani-led National Unity government as a “legitimate” entity possessing official representation at the United Nations and maintaining diplomatic missions in world capitals.

The last substantial talks between Khalilzad and Taliban officials took place in Abu Dhabi about a month ago and Pakistan took credit for arranging it and bringing an authoritative team of insurgent negotiators to the table.

Officials in Islamabad say that Pakistan’s “biggest contribution” has been that it has “broken the political stalemate that was there in Afghanistan for several years.”

Prime Minister Khan has repeatedly stated that finding a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan is a top foreign policy priority for his government. While speaking to Khan on Thursday, Ghani invited him to visit Kabul at his earliest convenience and the Pakistani leader reciprocated by inviting the Afghan president to visit Islamabad.

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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

Pakistan has long been accused of sheltering Taliban leaders and covertly helping them orchestrate insurgent attacks, charges Islamabad rejects.

U.S. officials, however, acknowledge the “positive role” Pakistan has played in the current Afghan peace effort. The thaw in traditionally mistrusted bilateral ties was visible earlier this month when U.S. President Donald Trump announced he intended to maintain a “great relationship” with Pakistan.

Also Read: Peace Talks With The U.S. Stalled: Taliban

“So, I look forward to meeting with the new leadership in Pakistan. We will be doing that in the not too distant future,” said Trump.

Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington, though the Trump administration has so far given no such indication. (VOA)