Weekly Global Newscast | January 28 - February 3 , 2019


Pakistan Court Upholds Aasia Bibi’s Blasphemy Acquittal

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld the acquittal of a Christian woman charged with blasphemy, standing by its earlier verdict that sparked days of protests, death threats and nationwide chaos. The country’s top court in the capital, Islamabad, on Tuesday, dismissed the review petition against Aasia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy before being released last October.


‘Extremists had “said they would kill her despite the judgment of the supreme court. Therefore, I think she should leave the country.” The supreme court’s decision was welcomed by Christian and human rights campaigners, who have lobbied western countries to offer sanctuary to Bibi, her husband and five children. In November, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, said his country was in talks with Pakistan about helping her. Australia, Spain and France are also thought to have offered sanctuary. Chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa, one of a three-judge panel that considered the petition, said: “Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed.” He added: “The image of Islam we are showing to the world gives me much grief and sorrow.” Malook, who returned to Islamabad at the weekend after fleeing to the Netherlands amid death threats following October’s ruling, called the decision a victory for Pakistan’s constitution and rule of law. The court had “insisted on very strict proofs of blasphemy” and found none, he said. In a statement, Amnesty International said Bibi should be free “to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice”.’  Harriet Sherwood writes for Guardian.

 ‘ Meanwhile, the TLP, which had led three-day-long mass protests against Bibi’s acquittal in November, on Monday night rejected the SC bench formed to hear the review petition and threatened a protest movement if Bibi is given “judicial relief”. Most of the top TLP leadership, including its chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, is presently imprisoned in the wake of a massive crackdown launched by law enforcement agencies against the religiopolitical group. In a video message, TLP’s central acting emir Shafiq Amini had claimed that the government had promised them that a larger bench including Sharia court judges would be formed to hear the review petition against Bibi’s acquittal. He demanded that a larger bench be formed after dissolving the current bench. Asking TLP workers to “be prepared”, Amini said: “No one should expect a compromise from our end”. The TLP had called off its protests last year after reaching an agreement with the government — the foremost condition of which was the placement of Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List. The government, however, had only agreed to “initiate the legal process” to place her name on the list, while also agreeing that it would not oppose any review petitions being filed against the SC judgement.’ Haseeb Bhatti writes for Dawn.

All Foreign Forces Will Leave Afghanistan, Says President Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that all foreign forces will eventually leave the war-torn country – a key Taliban demand – as talks with the armed group progressed. Ghani said based on an international agreement, foreign troops will not be required in the future.


‘A senior US government official, speaking after six days of US peace talks with Afghan Taliban militants, said that Washington was committed to withdrawing foreign forces from Afghanistan to end more than 17 years of war. The official, who declined to be identified, described “significant progress” in talks last week with the Taliban in Qatar about a foreign troop pullout, but more negotiations were needed on a ceasefire and its timing. “Of course we don’t seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan,” the official said in the capital Kabul. “Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post peace government,” the official told Reuters. “We would like to leave a good legacy.” There could not be a withdrawal without a ceasefire, the official said. The issue looms as a sticking point in the next round of talks on Feb. 25, with the US official saying Taliban negotiators wanted a full withdrawal before a ceasefire. Despite the presence of US-led foreign forces training, advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts, the Taliban control nearly half of Afghanistan and stage near-daily attacks against the Western-backed Afghan government and its security forces. Agencies reported for Daily Times.

‘President Trump’s headway in Afghan peace negotiations with the Taliban raises the same question that has bedeviled other presidents who extracted American troops from foreign wars: Will the departing Americans end up handing over the country to the same ruthless militants that the United States went to war to dislodge? A hasty American withdrawal, experts said, would erode the authority and legitimacy of the Afghan government, raising the risk that the Taliban could recapture control of the country. Short of that, it could consign Afghanistan to a protracted, bloody civil war, with Taliban fighters besieging the capital, Kabul, as they did in the 1990s. These scenarios now seem possible because of the progress in direct talks between the United States and the Taliban. The chief American negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Monday that American and Taliban officials had agreed in principle to the outlines of a deal in which the insurgents would guarantee that Afghan territory is never used by terrorists, setting the stage for a total pullout of American troops.’ Mark Landler, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt write for The New York Times.

‘Negotiators for the U.S. and the Taliban insurgents have reached “agreements in principle” on key issues for a peace deal that would end 17 years of war in Afghanistan, the top U.S. envoy said. The statement by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad followed six days of talks last week with the Taliban in Qatar, where he urged the Islamic insurgent group to enter into direct negotiations with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Ghani assured Afghans that their rights will not be compromised in the name of peace with the Taliban, who have been staging near-daily attacks against Afghan forces, causing scores of casualties every week. Their offensive has not let up despite the severe Afghan winter and the insurgents now hold sway over nearly half of the country.’ Rahim Faeiz writes for The Washington Post.

Middle East & North Africa

Rifts and Absences Overshadow ‘Failed’ Arab Summit in Beirut

Saudi Arabia has ended a sweeping crackdown on corruption ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, that it said had recovered more than $106bn through settlements with scores of senior princes, ministers and top businessmen.


‘Saudi Arabia says it has concluded an anti-corruption campaign, begun by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after raising more than SR400bn ($106bn) through settlements with princes, businessmen and former officials. The government had summoned 381 people, including witnesses, as part of the campaign that was launched in November 2017, the royal court said in a statement on Wednesday. Settlements were reached with 87 after they confessed to the charges against them, the statement said. Eight people refused to settle and they were referred to public prosecution on corruption charges. The attorney-general refused to settle with 56 people because of existing criminal charges against them. Detainees who were not indicted on corruption-related charges were released, the statement added. Assets recovered included real estate, companies and cash. Many of the kingdom’s political and business elites were held in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh during the first three months of the campaign. Two sons of the late King Abdullah and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a well-known global investor, were among the detainees. Mohammed al-Amoudi, a Saudi-Ethiopian businessman, and Amr al-Dabbagh, a senior executive, were among those released over the past few days as the crackdown came to a close. Some of those originally held, including Adel Fakeih, a former minister, are believed to still be under detention. Government officials said the crackdown was necessary when the kingdom was embarking on an economic reform programme under the crown prince. However, critics say that it has unsettled the business community and shaken the confidence of investors.’ Ahmed al Omran writes for Financial Times.

‘The corruption investigation concluded Wednesday with the approval of King Salman, according to a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency. “The public prosecutor has refused to settle the cases of 56 individuals due to already existing criminal charges against them,” the statement said. An additional eight people have seen their cases referred to the public prosecutor after they refused to reach settlements. “Settlements were reached with 87 individuals after their confession to the charges against them,” SPA said. During the probe more than 400 billion Saudi riyal ($107 billion) were recovered by the state “in the form of real estate, companies, cash, and other assets”. The figure matches that announced a year ago by the attorney general, who at the time said 56 suspects remained in custody. Saudi’s anti-graft sweep led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been labelled by some critics as a shakedown and power grab, but authorities have insisted the purge targeted endemic corruption.’ Associated Press reported for the  Business Standard.

Sub Saharan Africa

Central African Republic Reaches Peace Deal With Armed Groups: UN

The Central African Republic (CAR) and 14 armed groups have reached a peace deal during talks in Sudan’s capital, the CAR government and the United Nations have said. The renewed peace negotiations between the armed militias and the CAR government have been going on in Khartoum since January 24. The government also confirmed the agreement on Twitter, saying: “A peace agreement has been reached … This agreement should be initialled tomorrow (Sunday) and its signature will take place in Bangui in a few days.”


‘A peace deal has been reached between the government of the Central African Republic and 14 armed groups after their first-ever direct dialogue aimed at ending years of conflict, the United Nations and African Union announced on Saturday. Details of the deal were not immediately available. Talks began Jan. 24 in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. “I am determined to work with the president and his government to address the concerns of our brothers who took up arms,” said Firmin Ngrebada, the cabinet director of the Central African Republic, according to the United Nations. The agreement represents rare hope for the impoverished, landlocked nation where religious and communal fighting has been ongoing since 2013. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in a conflict that has sent at least two people to the International Criminal Court.’ Associated Press reported for The New York Times.

‘The Central African Republic struck a peace deal with 14 armed groups after direct talks to end years of conflict, the UN said on Saturday. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since 2013 in a conflict that has sent two people to the International Criminal Court. The parties were due to sign a draft deal on sharing power and transitional justice, said Sudan’s chief negotiator, Atta Al Manan. The final deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday. “This is a great day for Central African Republic and all its people,” said the African Union’s commissioner for peace and security, Smail Chergui.’ Associated Press reported for The National.


US Set to Suspend Nuclear Arms Control Treaty With Russia

The Trump administration is expected to announce on Friday that it is withdrawing from a Cold War-era arms control agreement that has kept nuclear missiles out of Europe for more than three decades. An American withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty has been expected for months and follows repeated accusations by Washington that Moscow is violating the treaty – a charge the Kremlin denies.


‘Russia’s announcement over the weekend that it would suspend its obligations under a Cold War-era nuclear treaty essentially seals the fate of a pact the U.S. recently said it plans to abandon and heightens the risk of a new arms race. In what he termed a “tit-for-tat response,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that his country would suspend its involvement in the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and accused Washington of breaching the agreement.’ Ann M. Simmons and James Marson write for The Wall Street Journal.

‘Russia for several years denied the missile existed but has more recently acknowledged its existence, saying its range does not violate INF limits. “This is in reality, under international law, Russia’s final chance,” a senior administration official said. “If there is to be an arms race, it is Russia that has undermined the global security architecture.” In his statement, Trump warned that unless Russia destroyed its missile by August: “We will move forward with developing our own military response options and will work with Nato and our other allies and partners to deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct.” Washington’s European allies have been anxious that the death of the INF treaty would lead to a return to the tense days of the 1980s, and an arms race involving short- and medium-range missiles on European soil. But a senior administration official said any new missiles were still in the research and development phase and deployment was far from imminent. He insisted that the US was only considering conventional missiles in the INF-prohibited range. The official said that while Putin’s development of the new missile was primarily in response to new Chinese capabilities, for the US, “this has nothing to do with China”. “For the US, this is about the threat to arms control and to European security,” the official said. In remarks shortly before the president’s statement was released, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said: “Countries must be held accountable when they break the rules. Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests, and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it.” In his statement, Trump said his administration “remains committed to effective arms control that advances United States, allied, and partner security, is verifiable and enforceable, and includes partners that fulfill their obligations.” However, neither the Trump nor Pompeo gave any indication whether the administration would agree to extend the 2010 New Start treaty, the last remaining arms control agreement constraining the arsenals of the two major nuclear weapons powers.’ Julian Borger writes for Guardian.


Trump Sees ‘Good Chance’ of North Korea Deal in Second Kim Summit

Donald Trump has said he sees a “good chance” of reaching a deal with North Korea on denuclearisation, as senior US and South Korean officials met to discuss an upcoming second summit between the US president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.


‘The US’s special envoy for North Korea has said Donald Trump was willing to offer diplomatic relations and economic aid in return for progress towards “closing the door on 70 years of war and hostility” on the Korean peninsula. Stephen Biegun, who is due to visit Seoul on Sunday for talks with his counterpart, Kim Hyok-chol, warned that Washington has “contingencies” in place if denuclearisation talks fail, but said: “President Trump is ready to end this war. It is over. It is done. We’re not going to invade North Korea. We are not seeking to topple the regime.” Speaking weeks before Trump is due to meet the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a second summit, Biegun said the denuclearisation process relied on Pyongyang providing a detailed account of its nuclear and missile programmes. “Before the process of denuclearisation can be final, we must have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean weapons of mass destruction and missile programmes through a comprehensive declaration,” Biegun said in a speech at Stanford University in California on Thursday. Biegun noted that Kim had committed – both at his first summit with Trump in Singapore last summer and in follow-up talks with the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo – to “the dismantlement and destruction” of all North Korean plutonium and uranium sites.’ Justin McCurry writes for Guardian.

‘North Korea also must agree to have disarmament experts inspect its facilities to confirm they are no longer usable, he said. Such a declaration and access for inspectors has been a sticking point in the past. The North has balked at submitting an accounting of its sites and demanded that the U.S. ease sanctions before it makes any concessions. The U.S. has said repeatedly that sanctions will stay in place until denuclearization is complete, although it has held open the option of taking other confidence-building measures, including potential security guarantees.’ Mathew Lee and Paul Elias write for The Washington Post.


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