India to Evacuate Citizens from Yemen; Abdullah: Peace Talks Could Begin Shortly; Sharif Says Threat to Saudi Arabia Would Evoke a Strong Response
Indians to be evacuated from Yemen
India plans to send two ships to Yemen to evacuate approximately 3,500 Indians currently working there, according to news reports on Thursday (Livemint, Indian Express, NDTV). In response to the security concerns in Yemen, after Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against Houthi rebels, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued its third advisory recommending that Indians leave the country. Most of the Indians working in Yemen are nurses from the southern state of Kerala. According to Oommen Chandy, the state’s chief minister, Yemini hospital authorities have seized the nurses’ passports, making it hard for them to leave.
Modi wants to trim universal health plan
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the health ministry to cut back a proposed universal healthcare plan, according to news reports on Friday, after a draft policy estimated the costs to be $18.5 billion over five years (Reuters, Livemint). The ambitious plan, which was announced by Modi in his 2014 election manifesto, would have provided diagnostic services, insurance, and free drugs for serious ailments to Indians. In stating the reason for delaying the proposed healthcare plan, a government official was reported as saying: “The constraint on India’s financial resources was conveyed to health officials, and even to those from other ministries” (Times of India).
Former PM to be given highest civilian award
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee will present the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India, the country’s highest civilian award) to former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in New Delhi on Friday (Indian Express, NDTV, BBC). Vajpayee, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, served as India’s prime minister for six years from 1998 until 2004. During his time as prime minister, Vajpayee worked towards improving relations with Pakistan. In 1999, Vajpayee took a historic bus journey to Lahore, and signed the Lahore Declaration with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to promote peace and security. The BJP government announced the award last December after Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommended Vajpayee’s name to Mukherjee.
Bonus Read: “Why I am ashamed to be a man in Afghanistan,” Karim Haidari (BBC).
CEO: Peace talks could begin in a few weeks
Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive, told reporters on Thursday that peace talks with the Taliban could begin in the next few weeks, but noted that those discussions would not necessarily translate into success (Pajhwok). He added that the date, venue, and composition of the delegations have not been discussed, though he stressed that women would be represented. According to Abdullah, the government’s conditions for talks with the Taliban have remained the same: They must end their violent attacks, sever their links with terrorist groups, and accept the Afghan Constitution.
Ghani says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Pakistan relations
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on Thursday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told event attendees that he is “cautiously optimistic” about improved relations with Pakistan, which he considers integral to peace efforts with the Taliban (AFP). Though he has faced criticism at home for making rapprochement with Afghanistan’s nuclear-armed neighbor a key policy, Ghani defended his position as critical to ending the ongoing conflict with armed militants.
In response to a question about Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, Ghani said that the massacre of 153 people, mostly children, in Peshawar, Pakistan in December 2014 had brought the two countries together, and that: “I’m hopeful that we will have sufficient wisdom not to sink, but to swim together” (Pajhwok).
Sharif: Any threat to Saudi Arabia would evoke strong Pakistani response
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told government officials at a meeting in Islamabad on Thursday that any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan (RFE/RL). According to reports, Sharif called the meeting to discuss a request from the Saudi kingdom to have Pakistan join a Gulf-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. While no decision was made on whether or not Pakistan would participate in the military campaign, Sharif noted that Pakistan enjoys close relationships with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and attaches great importance to their security. Several media outlets reported that meeting participants decided to send a high-level delegation to Saudi Arabia on Friday to assess the situation (ET).
Speaking before the National Assembly on Friday, Pakistani Defense Minister Kawaja Asif stressed the country’s role as a “facilitator” in ending conflicts in the Muslim world, and noted that Pakistan “will not take part in any conflict that could result in differences in the Muslim world, causing fault-lines present in Pakistan to be disturbed, the aggravation of which will have to be borne by Pakistan” (Dawn).
Deadly Taliban attacks target police officers
Pakistani officials told reporters on Friday that seven police officers had been killed in two separate Taliban attacks that targeted the country’s security forces. According to the officials, two policemen were killed and 14 others — including two civilian bystanders — were wounded in Karachi when a bomb attached to a motorcycle exploded as a bus carrying police officers passed by (Dawn, VOA). Ghulan Qadir Thebo, the local police chief, told Pakistan’s Express Tribune that the officers were on their way to guard Bilawal House, the home of former president Asif Ali Zardari, when the explosion occurred (ET).
— Neeli Shah and Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.
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