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December 20, 2018: National Current Affairs
1. US terms peace talks with Taliban `productive`
• As Pakistan-backed peace talks between the United States and Taliban ended in Abu Dhabi with an understanding to reconvene, US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad on December 19, 2018 described the meetings with `Afghan and international partners to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict` as `productive` The US special envoy for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan during his brief stopover here met Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters to follow up on the two days of parleys in the Emirati capital before leaving for Kabul to take the Afghan leadership on board.
• While the Afghan government could not take part in the negotiations because of Taliban`s refusalto talk to the Ghani government, US embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire said: `The special representative expressed his appreciation for Pakistan`s efforts to encourage the Taliban to negotiate directly with the Afghan government and other senior Afghan political figures to reach a political settlement that ends the war in Afghanistan`.
• There was no official word on the outcome of talks from Pakistan`s Foreign Office. The Taliban have not confirmed meeting Afghan officials, saying they had held `preliminary talks` with the US envoy. They also said they had held `extensive` meetings with officials from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, repeating demands for international forces to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.
2. Groundbreaking of Mohmand dam set for next month
• In a rare move, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa will launch the Mohmand dam project in the first week of January.
• Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda said the prime minister would break ground for the dam project. Terming the event historic, the minister said: `The foundation stone will be laid in the first week of January and the ceremony will be attended by the army chief, prime minister and the chief justice.
• The dam will be completed in five years at an estimated cost of Rs300 billion to Rs315 billion. He said it was a major development that the 54-year-old project was finally moving towards the implementation stage. He praised the armed forces to restore peace to the militancy-hit area, enabling the government to launch work on the project.
• The dam would generate about 800MW of electricity and irrigate 17,000 acres of land besides meeting Peshawar`s water requirement. He said the Rs315bn required for the project would be arranged from local resources without seeking international loan. About Rs2bn is already allocated in the current year budget for the project launch.
3. Islamabad`s vote on death penalty at UN corrected
• A senior Pakistani diplomat on December 19, 2018 said that the United Nations had corrected Pakistan`s vote on the death penalty by including it among the votes cast against the resolution calling for a moratorium on executions.
• A vote count at the UN General Assembly`s plenary session on a draft resolution calling for a moratorium on executions by all states still retaining the death penalty created a stir when Pakistan was shown as having voted for the first time in f avour of the resolution.
• At the voting held in New York on Monday, 121 UN member states were shown to have voted in favour of the seventh resolution calling for a moratorium on capital punishment, whereas 35 countries were said to have voted against the resolution and 32 as having abstained.
• This was the highest number of countries to date to have voted in favour of the moratorium resolutions since 2007.
• The Foreign Office, however, clarified that Pakistan`s vote had been erroneously recorded by the UN.
4. Draft of new career policy for PSP officers finalized
• In a draft for a new career policy for the Police Service of Pakistan (PSPs), the government has proposed revival of the erstwhile All Pakistan Unified Group and provision of a reasonable quota for PSP officers in the Federal Secretariat in BS-20 to BS-22.
• The draft also proposes that promotion of PSP officers should be strictly linked to the requirements of field, staff and training assignments, mandatory and annual capacity building courses,360-degree evaluation, mandatory rotation and suitability for the senior leadership positions.
• It further proposes expansion of hard areas for PSP officers to interior of Sindh, particularly the districts of Khairpur, Shikarpur, Kashmore, Jacobabad, Ghotki and Tharparkar, to southern Punjab by including the districts of Rajanpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bhakkar, Layyah, Muzaffargarh and Bhawalnagar and to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by including Kohat district.
• In the earlier arrangements, only Gilgit Baltistan and Balochistan were hard areas for the PSP officers.
5. Asma given UN human rights award
• The late human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir has been posthumously awarded the United Nations Human Rights Prize that was received by her daughter Munizae Jahangir at a grand ceremony on December 18, 2018.
• The award was handed over to Ms Munizae, a journalist and human rights activist herself, by president of the General Assembly Maria Fernanda Espinosa, who conducted the proceedings in the General Assembly Hall before a large number of diplomats, human rights activists and senior UN officials.
• UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet paid tributes to Asma Jahangir`s contributions to advancing human rights and rule of law.
• The Human Rights Prize is awarded every five years to individuals and organisations in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
• Asma Jahangir was one of the four winners of the award which was announced by the UN in October.
December 20, 2018: International Current Affairs
6. US to withdraw all American troops from Syria, says Trump
• The United States would withdraw its troops from Syria, a US official announced on December 19, 2018 after President Donald Trump said America `defeated ISIS` in the war-ravaged country.
• The stunning move will have extraordinary geopolitical ramifications and throws into question the fate of US-backed Kurdish fighters who have been tackling Islamic State jihadists.
• `We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,` the Republican president tweeted.
• The US official told AFP that Trump`s decision was finalized on December 18, 2018.
• `Full withdrawal, all means all,` the official said when asked if the troops would be pulled from all of Syria.
• Currently, about 2,000 US forces are in Syria, most of them on a train-and-advise mission to support local forces fighting IS.
7. South Africa issues arrest warrant for Zimbabwe`s ex-first lady
• South African authorities issued an arrest warrant for Grace Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwe`s former leader who was accused of assaulting on woman in Johannesburg last year.
• The warrant follows a long legal process during which a South African court this year ruled that the government acted illegally in granting diplomatic immunity to Mugabe when the alleged attack was first reported.
• It also marked another setback for Grace and Robert Mugabe, who have kept a mostly low profile since the former president was forced from office in November 2017. Robert Mugabe, whose command over Zimbabwe once seemed impregnable, is now 94 years old and ailing.
8. EU agrees to ban some single-use plastics
• Plastic knives just won`t cut it any longer, if the European Union has its way.
• The 28-nation bloc moved closer on December 19, 2018 to banning single-use straws, plates, cutlery and cotton swabs after officials from EU member states and the European Parliament said they`re following recommendations by its executive branch designed to reduce marine pollution.
• Environmental campaigners have been calling for curbs on throwaway plastic that`s accumulating in the oceans. Scientific studies have found minuscule particles known as micro plastics are being consumed by animals throughout the food chain, though the impact on human health is unclear.
• The EU`s executive branch, the European Commission, estimates that almost 60 per cent of the 25.8 million metric tons (28.4 million tons) of plastic waste produced in the bloc each year comes from packaging, with much of it exported to third countries rather than recycled.
9. UK unveils post-Brexit immigration restrictions
• Britain published proposals on December 19, 2018 for European Union immigration curbs after Brexit as business groups warned the UK economy was not ready for the country to crash out of the bloc with no divorce deal in place.
• The proposals include a temporary work visa system similar to `guest worker` systems in other countries as well as a consultation on a salary threshold for workers who would be allowed to settle in Britain.
• The European Union also on December 19, 2018 said it was adopting backup plans in case of a no-deal Brexit, while Prime Minister Theresa May faced another barrage of criticism in parliament for delaying a critical vote on her withdrawal deal.
• May has vowed to end free movement of people from Europe, saying that this was one of the main reasons that Britons voted to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum.
• Immigration levels have already fallen since the referendum. Net migr ation to Britain was around 280,000 last year, a decrease from levels of more than 300,000 in 2014 and 2015.
10. US approves possible sale of Patriot missiles to Turkey
• The U.S. State Department has approved a possible foreign military sale of the Patriot air and missile defense system to Turkey for an estimated total of $3.5 billion, the Pentagon said December 19, 2018.
• According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the department approved the sale of 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missiles (GEM-T) missiles, 60 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles and associated equipment.
• The agency notified Congress of the possible sale. The sale includes radar sets, engagement control stations, launching stations, communications equipment, tools and test equipment, range and test programs and support equipment.
• Turkey had been trying to purchase the air defense system from the U.S., but the missiles have never been sold to Turkey when they were needed the most.