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Punjab attack: No evidence that terrorists used Ravi river route, says BSF

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By Jaideep Sarin and Parminder Bariana

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Gurdaspur (Punjab):  Despite Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in parliament that the three terrorists who launched the attack in Dinanagar town of Punjab’s Gurdaspur district on July 27 had entered India by crossing the Ravi river along the India-Pakistan border, doubts are now being raised about the authenticity of the GPS (global positioning system) coordinates recovered from the killed militants.

“We have not found any evidence of the terrorists using the route (as indicated by the GPS coordinates),” BSF Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police N.K. Mishra told IANS.

Sources in the Border Security Force (BSF), which guards the India-Pakistan border 24×7, pointed out that no traces of the movement of terrorists through the Ravi river route and beyond have been found which could establish that they entered from the Makoda area of Bamiyal sector of Gurdaspur district.

The area borders Pakistan on the west and Jammu and Kashmir on the north.

“It is impossible that no traces were left by the terrorists while crossing the well-guarded river or footmarks on the river bank or even crawling tracks in the wild growth (Sarkanda) in the area.” a BSF source, involved in investigating and tracking the route taken by the terrorists, told IANS in this frontier sector.

“The GPS coordinates found on the equipment recovered from the terrorists could be misleading,” he added.

BSF officers feel that the terrorists could have entered through some place in adjoining Jammu and Kashmir and later arrived in Punjab.

BSF officials also point out that even if the GPS coordinates were to be believed, it was impossible for the terrorists to traverse the terrain so quickly and reach Dinanagar for carrying out the attack.

As per the GPS coordinates recovered, the terrorists entered through the Ravi river in Makoda area and moved along Narowal, Bala Pindi, Chak Alla Baksh (all in Pakistan), railway track near Talwandi village, Chottu Nath Mandir, Dinanagar to Taragarh road, near village Jakhar Pindi to SSM College in Dinanagar.

It was believed that the terrorists followed this route on the intervening night of July 26-27, planted bombs on the railway track near Parmanand railway station and then moved to Dinanagar town for the attack.

The BSF sent a team of its troopers on the route and found that the team took over six hours to reach the railway track alone. This did not include the time taken to cross the river, which is not easy to cross either, and planting of bombs on the railway track.

The attack in Dinanagar started around 5.25 am. The terrorists engaged security forces in an over 11-hour long gun-battle before being neutralized by the Punjab Police.

“The GPS coordinates could have been loaded on the sets to mislead security agencies. The terrain is not easy to move freely. Even otherwise, how could such heavily armed terrorists not be seen by anyone all along even though it was night time,” one officer said.

The Ravi river has Cobra electric wires and the river is guarded round-the-clock with motorboats, day and night devices and floodlights. The river, in the current monsoon season, has a heavy flow of water.

The electrified, barbed wire fencing along the border has also not been breached in the sector, BSF sources said.

(IANS)

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US-Taliban Meeting Cancelled, 14 Members on “The US and UN Blacklist”

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

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US, Taliban, Pakistan
FILE - Taliban political chief Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, in the first row, second from left, Abdul Salam Hanafi and other Taliban officials pray during the intra-Afghan talks in Moscow, Feb. 6, 2019. VOA

An upcoming meeting in Pakistan between a delegation of the United States and Taliban representatives has been cancelled, according to information coming from both sides.

A Taliban leader confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that the meeting was cancelled, “by the Americans.” A Taliban statement issued later in the day said the talks were postponed because many members of its 14 person negotiating team were unable to go overseas since they are on “the US and UN blacklist.” Several of them are on the U.N. Security Council sanctions list which bars them from international travel.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official said Zalmay Khalilzad, who was supposed to lead the American delegation, is not planning to visit Islamabad this week.

US, China, Taliban
FILE – U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, center, speaks during a roundtable discussion with Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

The U.S. said it had not received an official invitation from the government of Pakistan for this meeting which was first announced by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid a couple of days ago.

Mujahid’s statement had set February 18 as the date of the talks and said a formal invitation had been issued by Pakistan. In addition, he said, the Taliban delegation would also meet the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

“The next round of negotiations with the Taliban will be in Pakistan, and as a result of these negotiations, there is a chance of stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

US, China, Taliban
FILE – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this handout photo released Jan. 18, 2018. VOA

Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry reacted strongly to the announcement of a meeting in Islamabad, saying it was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

“#Afghanistan complains to #UNSecurityCouncil on #Pakistan’s engagements with the Taliban on which #Afg Govenrment is not consulted,” Tweeted Sibghatullah Admadi, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign office.

Previously, Afghanistan launched a similar complaint against Russia for allowing Taliban members to travel to Moscow for a conference in which nearly 50 Afghans, including various political leaders, former jihadi commanders, and civil society activists were invited. However, the Afghan government was not invited to that conference because the Taliban have so far refused to engage with the Kabul administration despite pressure from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and others.

President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at those attending the conference saying they had no “executive authority” to make any agreements.

“Let hundreds of such meetings be held,” he said.

Some analysts say Ghani’s statements indicated his frustration at being left out of the negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban that first started last Summer. Since then, the two sides have held several rounds of talks.

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The last meeting in Doha early January lasted for six days and Khalilzad said the two sides had agreed “in principle” to a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in return for guarantees that Afghan soil will not be used by any terrorist groups or individuals.

Speaking in a public event at Washington based United States Institute of Peace, Khalilzad said the Taliban do not want to “sit with the government alone” because they did not want to give President Ghani an advantage in the presidential elections scheduled in July.

“There are indications that they will be willing to sit with the government in a multi-party arrangement,” he said. (VOA)