Afghan Taliban have had sanctuary in Pakistan: Ex-top US general

WASHINGTON: A former top US military official has told lawmakers that the Afghan Taliban have had sanctuary in Pakistan and the terror group originated from the madrassas in that country.
During a Congressional hearing on Tuesday, General (rtd) Joseph F Dunford, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told lawmakers that the probability of civil war is high in the wake of a precipitous US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“We know that the Taliban have had sanctuary in Pakistan. We know that they have an active diplomatic effort travelling to Moscow, travelling to Beijing, travelling to other countries. We know they travel in the Gulf. We know Iran has provided some material support,” he said.
Dunford said the Taliban gets its financial support from drug trade.
The Taliban, he said is a Sunni terrorist organisation. “There’s no question that the Taliban originates from the madrassas in Pakistan,” he said in response to a question. Dunford told lawmakers that the terrorist threat has been reduced because of the US trained Afghan forces and continued US military presence.
“We believe that the threat can reconstitute itself in a period of about 18 to 36 months and present a threat to the homeland and to our allies,” he said, adding that the Afghan forces are highly dependent on US funding, as well as operational support. They will remain so for some time.
“The probability of civil war is high in the wake of a precipitous US withdrawal,” he said, adding that Afghanistan meets the definition of a fragile state. Despite very real challenges, with support, the Afghan government can deliver minimally effective governance.
Dunford, who chairs Afghan Study Group of the US Institute of Peace, told lawmakers that the Taliban were not meeting the conditionality of the February 2020 agreement. That was as a result of not seeing a broad reduction in violence and as a result of not seeing the Taliban demonstrate the will or capacity to prevent Al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a platform.
“We are not advocating for a unilateral declaration that we remain behind after the first of May. We’re recommending that the Taliban actually hear that same message from other regional stakeholders, not the least of which is China, Russia and Pakistan,” he said.
“We do think that continued negotiations with the Taliban to highlight the fact that we remain committed to the February 2020 Agreement. We have demonstrated that, by drawing down to 2,500, we remain committed,” he said.
The US and the Taliban reached an agreement in February 2020 that called for a permanent ceasefire, peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and a withdrawal of all foreign forces by May 1. There are about 2,500 US troops currently in the country.
The Taliban had their ouster at the hands of US-led troops in 2001.
The US has long considered Pakistani cooperation crucial to efforts to end the war in Afghanistan. PTI LKJ AKJ
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Biden admin reverts to 2008 version of citizenship test By Lalit K Jha
Washington, Feb 24 (PTI) The Biden administration has announced to do away with the stringent Trump-era citizenship test and revert to the easier 2008 version, making the US naturalisation process more accessible to all eligible individuals.
The new process comes into effect on March 1, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said in a press release on Monday.
On December 1 last year, USCIS implemented a revised naturalisation civics test, called the 2020 civics test, as part of a decennial test review and update process.
The civics test is administered to applicants who apply for US citizenship through naturalisation and is one of the statutory requirements for naturalising. Applicants must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of government of the United States.
The previous Trump administration had introduced some changes to the 2020 civics test. It increased the number of questions from 100 to 128 and the correct answers in the multiple-choice questions had political and ideological overtones.
Announcing the reversal of the Trump policy, USCIS said the 2020 civics test development process, content, testing procedures, and implementation schedule “may inadvertently create potential barriers to the naturalization process”.
“This action is consistent with the framework of the Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems, which directs a comprehensive review of the naturalization process to eliminate barriers and make the process more accessible to all eligible individuals,” it said.
The federal agency asserted that the 2008 civics test was “thoroughly developed over a multi-year period with the input of more than 150 organisations, which included English as a second language experts, educators, and historians, and was piloted before its implementation”.
USCIS aspires to make the process as accessible as possible as directed by President Joe Biden’s request to review the process thoroughly, it said.
The decision to naturalise demonstrates an investment in and commitment to US, USCIS said, adding that it is committed to administering a test that is an instrument of civic learning and fosters civic integration as part of the test preparation process.
Applicants who filed their application for naturalisation on or after December 1, 2020, and before March 1, 2021, likely have been studying for the 2020 test; therefore, USCIS will give these applicants the option to take either the 2020 civics test or the 2008 civics test, it said.
“There will be a transition period where both tests are being offered. The 2020 test will be phased out on April 19, 2021, for initial test takers. Applicants filing on or after March 1, 2021, will take the 2008 civics test,” USCIS said. PTI LKJ
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US senators asked to draft legislative package to ‘outcompete’ China, invest in alliances like India By Lalit K Jha
Washington, Feb 24 (PTI) US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has asked his Democratic colleagues to draft a legislative package to “outcompete” China, create new American jobs and invest in strategic partners and alliances like NATO and India.
On a caucus call on Tuesday, Schumer discussed his push to direct Senate committees to draft a legislation to protect American jobs and outcompete China.
He said his intention is to put the legislation on the Senate floor for a vote this spring.
“Today I directed the chairs and members of our relevant committees to start drafting a legislative package to outcompete China and create new American jobs,” Schumer said.
The new legislation, he said, must achieve three goals. They should enhance American competitiveness with China by investing in US innovation, American workers and American manufacturing; invest in strategic partners and alliances: NATO, Southeast Asia and India; and expose, curb, and end once and for all China’s predatory practices which have hurt so many American jobs, Schumer said.
The legislation will have as its centrepiece a bicameral, bipartisan bill, the Endless Frontiers Act, which Schumer introduced last year with Senator Todd Young, Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna and Senator Mike Gallagh in the House.
“It will take the key cutting industries and make American investments so we will outcompete China in all of them. In addition, we will make serious investments in strengthening the US semiconductor industry to outcompete China and stop depending on foreign sources,” Schumer said.
He said at present semiconductor manufacturing is a dangerous weak spot in US economy and national security and that has to change.
“You’ve all seen that auto plants throughout America are closed because they can’t get the chips. We cannot rely on foreign processors for the chips. We cannot let China get ahead of us in chip production. This will be part of the proposal that we will introduce,” Schumer said.
“We will also talk about the build out of 5G and how America can remain number one there. And all of these have bipartisan support. The bill we will intend to introduce…will be bipartisan. Our intention is to put this legislation on the Senate floor for a vote this spring,” he said.
This month alone, nearly 20 anti-China legislations have been tabled or reintroduced in either chambers of the US Congress.
During a US Senate Finance Committee hearing, Senator Todd Young pushed the Department of the Treasury to assure Americans that they are not unknowingly investing in US-sanctioned and other questionable Chinese corporations that are linked to human rights abuses.
Also in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Young wrote that if the Biden administration were to undo policies of the last four years, Americans could be unwittingly supporting Chinese companies affiliated with the Chinese military and others who are committing genocide against the Uyghur population in China, manufacturing advanced weapons systems, and constructing an oppressive surveillance state.
“One of China’s most glaring weaknesses is access to the kind of large-scale financing that only US capital markets can adequately provide,” Young wrote.
“As this is one of our country’s greatest strengths, we must take every measure necessary to protect it. We must place American investor protection and our national security interests ahead of any fleeting investment gains when it comes to the financing of the Chinese Communist Party and its affiliated enterprises and activities,” he said.
Four Republican senators Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Chuck Grassley and Rob Portman in a letter to President Joe Biden have urged him to implement the proposed rule requiring US academic institutions disclose their relationships with Confucius Institutes, which are funded by the Chinese Communist Party.
“We have significant concerns regarding the CCP’s nefarious actions and urge you to follow through on your commitments to advancing the interests of the American people as we collectively respond to the challenge that the CCP poses,” they wrote.
“We believe it is critically important to better understand and reduce the CCP’s influence on the American people, including through the Hanban, its propaganda arm that runs Confucius Institutes through the PRC Ministry of Education. The proposed rule is a necessary step in that effort and would bring needed transparency to Confucius Institutes,” the senators said.
They alleged that Confucius Institute funding comes with strings that can compromise academic freedom.
The Chinese teachers sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging they will not damage the national interests of China. Such limitations attempt to export China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics, the senators said.
“Confucius Institutes exist as one part of China’s broader, long-term strategy. Through Confucius Institutes, the Chinese government is attempting to change the impression in the US and around the world that China is an economic and security threat.
“Confucius Institutes’ soft power encourages complacency towards China’s pervasive, long-term initiatives against both government critics at home and businesses and academic institutions abroad,” they said. PTI LKJ SCY
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