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British Prime Minister Theresa May seeks to boost Business Ties with India

May’s visit to India is intended to start the process of building bilateral trade ties as Britain prepares to leave the European Union

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British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, at the India-U.K Tech Summit in New Delhi, Nov. 7, 2016. VOA
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New Delhi, November 08, 2016: Calling Britain a committed and passionate champion of free trade, British Prime Minister Theresa May, is pitching for deeper business ties with India.

“It is why as Britain leaves the European Union, we are determined not to turn our backs on the world, but to forge a new outward looking role for ourselves,” the British leader said Monday in New Delhi as she began her first visit outside Europe.

May’s visit to India is intended to start the process of building bilateral trade ties as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pressed New Delhi’s concerns on tighter immigration laws that have adversely impacted Indian students and professionals in Britain, the British leader held out the possibility of a better visa deal for India.

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“The UK will consider further improvements to our visa offer if at the same time we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain in the UK,” May said after holding talks with Modi in New Delhi. She said, “The UK will continue to welcome the brightest and best of Indian students with latest figures showing that nine out of 10 applications are granted.”

She also announced a plan to grant easier access to business travelers from India.

Earlier, the Indian Prime Minister stressed that it would be important for Britain to allow for greater mobility of skilled professionals and students as the two countries seek to enhance trade in goods and services.

“Education is vital for our students and will define our engagement in a shared future. We must therefore encourage greater mobility and participation of young people in education and research opportunities,” said Modi.

Immigration and diminishing visa numbers have become a sticking point between the two countries. British universities are a popular stop for Indian students, but in the past five years there has been a dramatic drop in the numbers attending due to restrictions on allowing students to stay in Britain after completing their studies. Indian businesses also say that increasing investments have to be linked to allowing freer movement of professionals.

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Chef Atul Kochhar (L) slices tomatoes at his Benares restaurant in Mayfair, central London, Jan. 21, 2015. VOA
Chef Atul Kochhar (L) slices tomatoes at his Benares restaurant in Mayfair, central London, Jan. 21, 2015. VOA

But with the vote for Brexit mandating curbs on immigration, officials said there would be no relaxation in numbers or criteria, only in the process.

Much of the visit focused on May’s mission to improve business links with the world’s fastest growing economy. Both countries have decided to set up a working group to lower barriers to trade and investment as they eye a free trade deal post-Brexit.

The British leader said business deals worth more $1.24 billion are set to be signed during her visit, which concludes Tuesday. She will also visit the Information Technology hub of Bengaluru, commonly known as Bangalore. May also said India’s plans to build scores of smart cities will unlock business worth $2.5 billion for British businesses.

Calling the potential of a relationship with India “limitless,” May described India as a leading power, and said Britain would back its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

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In a reference to India’s growing tensions with Pakistan, Modi said he had conveyed to May the need for the international community to take strong action against states that support and sponsor cross border terrorism. (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.

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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)