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Efforts underway to rescue abducted Indians in Afghanistan

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Security officials in Afghanistan are working with local tribal elders to trace the seven Indian engineers abducted by the Taliban gunmen in the restive northern Baghlan province, media reports said on Monday.

Provincial police spokesman Zabiullah Shuja confirmed that the seven Indian engineers were abducted from the vicinity of Cheshma-e-Sher earlier today. He said the Indian engineers were working on a project for the construction of a substation and were kidnapped by the militants as they were travelling in the area to inspect the work progress.

Provincial governor Abdul Nemati said the security forces and the local officials are busy tracking the missing engineers and their driver. He said apart from the security forces and the government officials, the local tribal elders have also stepped up their efforts for the release of the Indian nationals.

The external affairs ministry from New Delhi has assured that they are constantly in touch with their Afghan counterparts.

The anti-government armed militant groups including Taliban militants have not yet commented regarding the report so far.

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Former UN chief Kofi Annan has died: foundation

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Geneva  |  Former United Nations Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan has died today after a short illness at the age of 80, his foundation announced.

“It is with immense sadness that the Annan family and the Kofi Annan Foundation announce that Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Laureate, passed away peacefully on Saturday 18th August after a short illness,” the foundation said in a statement.

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Taliban say no peace with ‘occupation,’ want US talks

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Kabul  |  The leader of the Taliban said today there will be no peace in Afghanistan as long as the foreign “occupation” continues, reiterating the group’s position that the 17-year war can only be brought to an end through direct talks with the United States.

In a message released in honour of the Eid al-Adha holiday, Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah said the group remains committed to “Islamic goals,” the sovereignty of Afghanistan and ending the war.

The Taliban have had a major resurgence in recent years, seizing districts across the country and regularly carrying out large-scale attacks.

Earlier this month, the Taliban launched a major assault on the city of Ghazni, just 120 kilometres from the capital, Kabul. Afghan security forces battled the militants inside the city for five days, as the US carried out airstrikes and send advisers to help ground forces.

The battle for Ghazni killed at least 100 members of the Afghan security forces and 35 civilians, according to Afghan officials.

A year ago, President Donald Trump announced that he would send additional U.S. forces to confront the Taliban. But since then the insurgents’ profile has risen, both on the battlefield and in the diplomatic sphere.

The Taliban sent a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet with senior officials earlier this month, and say they recently met with a senior US diplomat in Qatar for what they called “preliminary talks.” The US neither confirmed nor denied the meeting.

Earlier this week, the Taliban’s top political official, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, led a delegation to Indonesia, where he met Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi as well as Jusuf Kalla, Indonesia’s deputy president, according to a statement the Taliban sent to The Associated Press.

The three-day trip ended on Wednesday. The statement said Stanikzai discussed the presence of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan and the need for them to leave if peace is to return to the country, said Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman based in the group’s Qatar office.

While in Indonesia, Stanikzai also “exchanged views on bilateral relations,” Shaheen said in the statement, without elaborating.

From 1996 until 2001, the Taliban ruled in accordance with a harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Women were barred from education and forced to wear the all-encompassing burka whenever they left their homes, and the country hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

The Taliban have refused to enter into talks with the Afghan government, which they view as a U.S. puppet, saying they will only negotiate the end of the war directly with Washington. The group has said it is committed to regional security and would not pose a danger to other countries.

However, it has also demanded the complete withdrawal of all US and NATO forces. Although NATO officially ended its combat mission at the end of 2014, it has repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces, and it’s unclear whether the government in Kabul would be able to remain in power without foreign military aid.

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Stocks wobble on Turkey, US-China concerns

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London  |  US and European stocks wobbled yesterday on investor concerns over Turkey and the ongoing trade war between China and the United States.

A rebound in the Turkish lira was cut short by new threats by Ankara and Washington to impose more sanctions as the dispute over a jailed American pastor shows no sign of being resolved.

After spending most of the session lower, London’s blue-chip FTSE-100 rallied in the final minutes of trading to close a couple points higher. Paris closed marginally lower, while Frankfurt dipped 0.2 percent.

On Wall Street, stocks were also mixed in late morning trading, with the Dow up a tenth of a percentage point.

Asian stocks however, rallied after a positive lead from Wall Street overnight, with dealers cautiously optimistic about upcoming US-China trade talks — although worries festered over the future for emerging markets as a whole.

“The heightened tensions between the US and Turkey caused the Turkish lira to take a leg lower, and this reignited fears that the European banking system could be shaken by either defaults or non-performing loans from Turkey,” said market analyst David Madden at CMC Markets UK.

Turkey on Friday vowed to respond if the United States followed through on its threat to levy further sanctions if it does not release the American pastor being held on terror charges.

After having clawed back most of its losses on Friday and Monday, when it shed 20 percent of its value against the dollar, the lira began falling again on the new sanctions threats, dropping by five percent at one point.

“The currency is not out of the woods yet and sellers are pushing to see at which level it will hold,” said City Index analyst Fiona Cincotta.

The prospect of the United States and China returning to the table instead of trading tariff increases brought some relief to investors.

“Global trade worries have not disappeared,” said OANDA analyst Dean Popplewell.

“For now, the possibility of a Sino-US trade deal has brought some calm to the market — but trade and currency wars remain,” he added.

Negotiators from Washington and Beijing will meet later this month for the first publicly announced dialogue in weeks on their bitter trade dispute, which has seen both sides impose reciprocal tariffs on goods worth 34 billion.

The news helped global markets regain composure after several days of volatility sparked by fears that Turkey’s financial crisis could infect other economies.

“Markets are optimistic but remain wary,” said FXPro analyst Alexander Kuptsikevich.

“It is worth noting that the status of officials involved in the (US-China) negotiations is not very high, which eliminates the possibility of breakthrough decisions in the near future.” Tit-for-tat tariffs by the US and China on another 16 billion of each other’s goods are due to kick in next week, and President Donald Trump has threatened to go after even more Chinese imports in the future.

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