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Pakistani, Tajik leaders reiterate call for inclusive government in Afghanistan

The leaders of the two countries stressed that peace and stability in Afghanistan is fundamental for the prosperity and progress of the region

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Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon have reiterated their call for the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan.

The leaders of the two countries stressed that peace and stability in Afghanistan is fundamental for the prosperity and progress of the region.

“In this regard, they considered it important for Afghanistan to have an inclusive government,” the two leaders said in a joint statement issued by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.

Sharif and Rahmon also expressed concern on terrorism threats and stressed the need for Dushanbe and Islamabad to cooperate in the fight against terrorism.

Although the statement did not specify what security threat the two countries face, Pakistan has previously claimed that attacks in the country are rooted in the presence and activities of the Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan has also expressed concern that the risk of terrorist groups infiltrating Tajikistan from Afghanistan is increasing.

The Islamic Emirate, however, has denied the claims and stressed that it will not allow Afghanistan’s territory to be used against other countries.

During his visit to Dushanbe, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Tajikistan.


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Erdogan says Biden, U.S. complicit in alleged Israeli war crimes

“We are an unwavering NATO ally. However, we do not believe that this impedes our ability to establish positive relationships with nations such as China and Russia,” Erdogan told Newsweek.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration are complicit in what he called Israeli war crimes and violations of international law in the Gaza conflict, and he called for sanctions against Israel, Reuters reported.

In an interview with Newsweek during the NATO summit in Washington, Erdogan said Israel’s “brutal murder” of civilians, its strikes on hospitals, aid centres and elsewhere constituted war crimes.

“The U.S. administration, however, disregards these violations and provides Israel with the most support. They do so at the expense of being complicit in these violations,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.

“At this juncture, who will impose what kind of sanction against Israel for violating international law? That is the real question and no one is answering that,” he said.

Israeli consistently rejects charges that it has committed war crimes in its battle against the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It denies deliberately targeting civilians, read the report.

More than 38,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, have been killed since the war broke out on Oct. 7, according to Gaza medical authorities. About 1,200 Israelis were killed in the cross-border Hamas raid that triggered the war.

NATO member Turkey has denounced Israel’s assault on Gaza, halted trade with it, and voiced support for Hamas. It has repeatedly criticised Western countries for backing Israel and called for Israel to be punished by international courts, Reuters reported.

Asked about Turkey’s cordial ties with Russia and China, and Ankara’s recent contacts with the BRICS group and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Erdogan said Turkey carried out its diplomacy with a “win-win” approach and therefore could not rule out engaging with non-Western entities.

“We are an unwavering NATO ally. However, we do not believe that this impedes our ability to establish positive relationships with nations such as China and Russia,” Erdogan told Newsweek.

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Russia promises to discharge Indians “misled” into joining its army, Indian official says

Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra the situation affected an estimated 35-50 Indians, of whom 10 had already been brought home. He said the two countries would now work to expedite the remaining cases.

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Russia has promised to discharge Indians who were falsely induced to join its army, an issue Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised at talks with President Vladimir Putin, an Indian official said on Tuesday.

New Delhi has been seeking the release of its nationals whose families say they were lured to Russia by the promise of “support jobs” in the army, and were later forced into active combat in Ukraine.

“The Prime Minister strongly raised the issue of early discharge of Indian nationals who have been misled into the service of the Russian army,” Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra told reporters in Moscow as Modi wrapped up a two-day visit.

The Russian side had promised the early discharge of all such people, he said.

Kwatra said the situation affected an estimated 35-50 Indians, of whom 10 had already been brought home. He said the two countries would now work to expedite the remaining cases. – Reuters 

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Satellite photos show Iran expanding missile production

Three Iranian officials, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed that Modarres and Khojir are being expanded to boost production of conventional ballistic missiles.

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Recent satellite imagery shows major expansions at two key Iranian ballistic missile facilities that two American researchers assessed are for boosting missile production, a conclusion confirmed by three senior Iranian officials.

The enlargement of the sites follows an October 2022 deal in which Iran agreed to provide missiles to Russia, which has been seeking them for its war against Ukraine. Tehran also supplies missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, both members of the Iran-backed Axis of Resistance against Israel, according to U.S. officials.

Images taken by commercial satellite firm Planet Labs of the Modarres military base in March and the Khojir missile production complex in April show more than 30 new buildings at the two sites, both of which are located near Tehran.

The images, reviewed by Reuters, show many of the structures are surrounded by large dirt berms. Such earthworks are associated with missile production and are designed to stop a blast in one building from detonating highly combustible materials in nearby structures, said Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

The expansions began at Khojir in August last year and at Modarres in October, Lewis said, based on images of the sites.

Iran’s arsenal is already the largest in the Middle East, estimated at more than 3,000 missiles, including models designed to carry conventional and nuclear warheads, experts say.

Three Iranian officials, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed that Modarres and Khojir are being expanded to boost production of conventional ballistic missiles.

“Why shouldn’t we?” said one official.

A second Iranian official said some of the new buildings would also allow a doubling of drone manufacturing. Drones and missile components would be sold to Russia, drones would be provided to the Houthis and missiles to Hezbollah, the source added.

Reuters was unable independently to confirm the Iranian officials’ comments.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on the expansion of the complexes. Tehran has previously denied providing drones and missiles to Russia and the Houthis. Hezbollah’s media office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam said a boost in Iran’s weapons manufacturing would not have any impact in Yemen because the Houthis develop and manufacture aircraft independent of Iran.

Lewis analyzed the Planet Labs imagery with Decker Eveleth, an associate research analyst at CNA, a Washington thinktank, as part of a Middlebury project that monitors Iranian missile infrastructure.

“We know that Russia is on the hunt for low-cost missile capabilities, and it has gone to Iran and North Korea,” said Lewis.

Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the transfer of North Korean missiles to Russia. The Russian embassy in Washington and North Korea’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.

The two U.S. researchers said in separate interviews that it was not clear from the photos what kinds of missiles would be produced at the new facilities, which still appeared to be under construction.

Any increase in Tehran’s missile or drone production would be concerning to the United States, which has said that Iranian drones help sustain Russia’s assault on Ukrainian cities, and to Israel as it fends off attacks from Iran-backed groups, including Hezbollah.

The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the reseachers’ analysis.

A U.S. National Security Council spokesperson declined to confirm their assessment, adding that the United States has implemented various measures, including sanctions, intended to constrain Iranian missile and drone production and exports.

Reuters in February reported that Iran had sent surface-to-surface ballistic missiles to Russia for use against Ukraine. Iran denied providing the weapons. Washington said it could not confirm the transfers but it assumed Tehran intended to provide missiles to Moscow.

NEW BUILDINGS, DIRT BERMS

Shahid Modarres and Khojir are overseen by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the elite paramilitary organization that plays a central role in Iran’s missile and nuclear programs. It controls large segments of the Iranian economy and answers directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The complexes have long been associated with the development and production of Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and rockets for the country’s space program.

On Nov. 12, 2011, a massive explosion destroyed a large swath of Shadid Modarres associated with solid fuel missiles, killing 17 IRGC officers. They included Gen. Hassan Moqaddam, regarded by Iran as the “architect” of its ballistic missile program.

Construction at Shahid Modarres, which began again after the 2011 explosion, accelerated last year, the second Iranian official said.

“I think the Iranians may have chosen not to berm the buildings (before the explosion) because they didn’t want to draw attention to them,” said Lewis. “They learned the hard way.”

Eveleth and Lewis said the sites’ long history with Iran’s missile program – Shahid Modarres is considered by some experts as its birthplace – and the numerous dirt berms support their assessment that Tehran is expanding ballistic missile production.

“When we see where you basically have an entire production line that is bermed like that, that’s usually missiles,” said Eveleth. –  Reuters

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