Mexico flies 300 Indian migrants to New Delhi in ‘unprecedented’ mass deportation

Mexico flies 300 Indian migrants to New Delhi in ‘unprecedented’ mass deportation
MEXICO CITY/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Mexico has deported over 300 Indian nationals to New Delhi, the National Migration Institute (INM) said late on Wednesday, calling it an unprecedented transatlantic deportation.

The move follows a deal Mexico struck with the United States in June, vowing to significantly curb U.S.-bound migration in exchange for averting U.S. tariffs on Mexican exports.

“It is unprecedented in INM’s history – in either form or the number of people – for a transatlantic air transport like the one carried out on this day,” INM said in a statement.

The 310 men and one woman that INM said were in Mexico illegally were sent on a chartered flight, accompanied by federal immigration agents and Mexico’s National Guard. They arrived in New Delhi on Friday.

Most of the deportees were from India’s northern Punjab state, an Indian official said. Police will run checks if any of them had criminal history, another official said.

INM said the deportees had been scattered in eight states around Mexico, including in southern Mexico from where many Indian migrants enter the country, hoping to transit to the U.S. border.

The backlog of migrants in southern Mexico has grown as officials have stopped issuing permits for them to cross the country, said Caitlyn Yates, a research coordinator at IBI Consultants who has studied increasing numbers of U.S.-bound Asian and African migrants arriving in Mexico.

“This type of deportation in Mexico is the first of its kind but likely to continue,” Yates said.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Daina Beth Solomon in NEW MEXICO, Rupam Jain in MUMBAI, and Zeba Siddiqui in NEW DELHI; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo visits Kabul, hopes for a peace deal before September 1

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks from a helicopter with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass, as Pompeo returns to his plane after an unannounced visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, June 25, 2019. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

By Rupam Jain

KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during an unannounced visit to Kabul on Tuesday to discuss ongoing peace talks with the Taliban and the security situation ahead of Afghan presidential polls in September.

Pompeo stopped over on his way to New Delhi for meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials.

His visit to Afghanistan, which lasted about seven hours, comes ahead of a seventh round of peace talks between Taliban leaders and U.S. officials aimed at finding a political settlement to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan. The next round of peace talks is scheduled to begin on June 29 in Doha.

“I hope we have a peace deal before September 1. That’s certainly our mission set,” Pompeo said.

The talks between the United States and the Taliban will focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.

“While we’ve made clear to the Taliban that were prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear, we’ve not yet agreed on a timeline to do so,” said Pompeo.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.

In return for the withdrawal of foreign forces, the United States is demanding the Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for militant attacks.

“We agree that peace is our highest priority and that Afghanistan must never again serve as a platform for international terrorism.”

He said the two sides are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitment to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for “terrorists”.

The hardline Islamist group now controls more Afghan territory than at any time since it was toppled from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

At least 3,804 civilians were killed in the war last year, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Afghan soldiers, police and Taliban were also killed.

Taliban leaders nevertheless vowed this month to sustain the fight until their objectives were reached.

But momentum for talks with the Taliban is steadily building, with a special U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, pushing the process and insurgent leaders showing serious interest in negotiating for the first time.

Ghani has also offered repeatedly to talk with the Taliban but the group insists it will not deal directly with the Ghani government.

“All sides agree that finalizing a U.S.-Taliban understanding on terrorism and foreign troop presence will open the door to intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation,” Pompeo said, adding that next step is at the heart of the U.S. effort.

“We are not and will not negotiate with the Taliban on behalf of the government or people of Afghanistan.”

Pompeo’s meeting with Ghani came as members of the opposition party held a large public gathering in Kabul to protest against his overstaying in power after his five-year term ended in May.

Ghani has refused to step down and Afghanistan’s Supreme Court says he can stay in office until the delayed presidential election, now scheduled for September, in which he will seek a second term.

Political opponents of Ghani met Pompeo and U.S. officials.

Preparation for the polls and a crucial chance to end the war with the Taliban are running in parallel, with international diplomats and politicians based in Kabul trying to prevent them running into each other.

Many Afghans are concerned that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, in its haste to end the war, could push for concessions that might weaken the democratic gains of the post-Taliban era.

(Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Smog chokes Indian capital as emergency measures fail to bring relief

A man covers his face with a handkerchief as he walks ina park on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India, November 9, 2017.

By Rupam Jain

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A thick cloud of toxic smog 10 times the recommended limit enveloped India’s capital, New Delhi, on Monday, as government officials struggled to tackle a public health crisis that is well into its second week.

A U.S. embassy measure showed levels of poisonous airborne particles, known as PM 2.5, had reached 498 on Monday afternoon, compared with the upper limit of “good” quality air at 50.

India’s weather office said rain was forecast over the next three days which could help clear the smog.

“Light rainfall is likely in states surrounding Delhi and in Delhi over the next three days, and this could result in a change in wind pattern in the region,” Charan Singh, a scientist at India Meteorological Department, told Reuters.

“Smog will start to abate starting tomorrow.”

But Skymet, India’s only private weather forecaster, said dense smog would continue over Delhi and the surrounding area for at least the next two days.

The Supreme Court is due to hear a petition filed by a New Delhi lawyer to direct government authorities to tackle the “intolerable and unbearable air pollution”.

The Delhi state government declared a public health emergency last week after pollution levels spiked, a yearly phenomenon blamed on a combination of illegal crop burning in northern states, vehicle exhaust and dust.

Over the weekend, authorities began using fire trucks to spray water in parts of the capital to keep the dust and other air particles down, but it has had little effect.

A senior federal government official said there was little more that could be done.

“We can only do this much, and now we will have to wait for rains to clean the atmosphere,” said Prashant Gargava, an official at the Central Pollution Control Board.

Gargava, who is in charge of monitoring air quality, said Delhi’s air has been consistently in the “hazardous” zone, despite measures such as a halt to construction and increasing car parking charges four-fold to encourage people to use public transport.

A man walks through smog near Delhi, India November 13, 2017.

A man walks through smog near Delhi, India November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

EVERY BREATH

The PM 2.5 airborne particles are about 30 times finer than a human hair. The particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing respiratory diseases and other ailments. Hospitals have seen a surge of patients coming in with respiratory complaints, according to media reports.

“Every second we are damaging our lungs, but we cannot stop breathing,” said Arvind Kumar, the head of the chest and lung surgery department at the Sir Ganga Ram hospital.

United Airlines said it had resumed flights from Newark, New Jersey, to New Delhi on Sunday, after suspending the service temporarily over concern about the bad air.

Authorities decided to reopen schools on Monday after closing them temporarily for a few days last week, but the decision is likely to add more vehicles on the road.

Enforcement agencies said they were unable to impose a blanket ban on the movement of commercial trucks.

Primary school teacher Aarti Menon said her family had been wearing face masks, even when indoors.

“Not everyone can afford an air purifier or air-conditioned car. We are all living in hell,” said Menon, a mother of two teenage daughters.

The National Green Tribunal, an environment court, has directed the city government and neighboring states to stop farmers from burning crop stubble. But the governments have not been able to do so.

New Delhi-based non-government group TARA Homes for Children, which supports 60 poor children, said it was seeking donations to buy at least five air purifiers.

“Some of the children have breathing issues and couldn’t go to school,” said a volunteer at the group.

 

 

(Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra, Sudarshan Varadhan, Suchitra Mohanty; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

 

In escalation, India says launches strikes on militants in Pakistan

An Indian soldier on patrol

By Sanjeev Miglani and Asad Hashim

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – India said on Thursday it had conducted “surgical strikes” on suspected militants preparing to infiltrate from Pakistan-ruled Kashmir, making its first direct military response to an attack on an army base it blames on Pakistan.

Pakistan said two of its soldiers had been killed in exchanges of fire and in repulsing an Indian “raid”, but denied India had made any targeted strikes across the de facto frontier that runs through the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

The cross-border action inflicted significant casualties, the Indian army’s head of operations told reporters in New Delhi, while a senior government official said Indian soldiers had crossed the border to target militant camps.

The announcement followed through on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warning that those India held responsible “would not go unpunished” for a Sept. 18 attack on an Indian army base at Uri, near the Line of Control, that killed 18 soldiers.

The strikes also raised the possibility of a military escalation between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan that would wreck a 2003 Kashmir ceasefire.

Lt General Ranbir Singh, the Indian army’s director general of military operations (DGMO), said the strikes were launched on Wednesday based on “very specific and credible information that some terrorist units had positioned themselves … with an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes”.

Singh said he had called his Pakistani counterpart to inform him of the operation, which had ended. India later briefed opposition parties and foreign ambassadors in New Delhi but stopped short of disclosing operational details.

“It would indicate that this was all pretty well organized,” said one diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because the briefing by Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was confidential.

Pakistan’s military spokesman slammed the Indian account as “totally baseless and completely a lie”, saying the contact between DGMOs only included communication regarding cross-border firing, which was within existing rules of engagement.

“We deny it. There is no such thing on the ground. There is just the incident of the firing last night, which we responded to,” Lt General Asim Bajwa told news channel Geo TV.

“We have fired in accordance with the rules of engagement[…] We are acting in a responsible way.”

Pakistan said nine of its soldiers had also been wounded. Neither side’s account could be independently verified.

India’s disclosure of such strikes was unprecedented, said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, and sent a message not only to his own people but to the international community.

“India expects global support to launch more focused action against Pakistan,” Sahni told Reuters. “There was tremendous pressure on the Indian prime minister to prove that he is ready to take serious action.”

NO MORE STRATEGIC RESTRAINT

The border clash also comes at a delicate time for Pakistan, with powerful Army Chief of Staff General Raheel Sharif due to retire shortly and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif still to decide on a successor.

The Pakistani premier condemned what he called India’s “unprovoked and naked aggression” and called a cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss further steps.

Share markets in India and Pakistan fell on India’s announcement. India’s NSE index closed down 1.6 percent after falling as much 2.1 percent to its lowest since Aug. 29, while Pakistan’s benchmark 100-share index was down 0.15 percent.

India announced its retaliation at a news conference in New Delhi that was hurriedly called, only to be delayed, as Modi chaired a meeting of his cabinet committee on security to be briefed on the operation.

“The prime minister is clear that this is exactly what we should have done,” a senior government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “Informing the world about the surgical strike was important today.”

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice spoke with her Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, before news of the Indian cross-border operation broke, the White House said.

Rice discussed deepening collaboration between the United States and India on counter-terrorism and urged Pakistan to combat and delegitimize individuals and entities designated by the United Nations as terrorists.

SIX-HOUR EXCHANGE

Exchanges of fire took place in the Bhimber, Hot Spring, Kel and Lipa sectors in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and lasted about six hours, the Pakistani military said earlier.

An Indian army officer in Kashmir said there had been shelling from the Pakistani side of the border into the Nowgam district, near the Line of Control, and the exchange of fire continued during the day.

There were no casualties or damage reported on the Indian side of the frontier. An Indian military source told Reuters that the operation was carried out on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control where there were between five and seven infiltration “launchpads”.

“It was a shallow strike. The operation began at around midnight and it was over before sunrise,” this source, who had been briefed by his superiors on the operation, said. “All our men our back. Significant casualties inflicted. Damage assessment still going on.”

Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in full, but govern separate parts, and have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

Tension between the South Asian rivals has been high since an Indian crackdown on dissent in Kashmir following the killing by security forces of Burhan Wani, a young separatist leader, in July.

They rose further when New Delhi blamed Pakistan for the Uri attack, which inflicted the heaviest toll on the Indian army of any single incident in 14 years.

India has been ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan, seeking to isolate it at the U.N. General Assembly in New York and winning expressions of condemnation from the United States, Britain and France over the attack.

China, another of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and a traditional ally of Pakistan, has urged dialogue between the two antagonists.

On Wednesday, officials from several countries said a November summit of a the South Asian regional group due to be held in Islamabad may be called off after India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan said they would not attend.

(Writing by Douglas Busvine; Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in SRINAGAR, Rupam Jain in NEW DELHI, Drazen Jorgic and Mehreen Zahra-Malik in ISLAMABAD.; Editing by Nick Macfie)