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Pakistan to deploy 371,388 troops – ‘Hope’ for Afghan peace talks — US

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to coalition forces at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan on July 9. Pompeo is on a trip traveling to North Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Abu Dhabi and Brussels. (AFP)

KABUL, July 10, (Agencies): US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday there was “now hope” for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taleban, during an unannounced visit to Kabul. Pompeo’s first visit to Afghanistan since he was sworn in as America’s top diplomat in April came amid renewed optimism for peace in the war-weary country following last month’s unprecedented ceasefire by the Taleban and the government. “An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo told a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. “Many of the Taleban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s very deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy,” he said, referring to Trump’s muchvaunted South Asia policy announced last August.

But he added: “Make no mistake, there’s still a great deal of work to do.” Pompeo’s visit to the Afghan capital follows a ceasefire during Eid, when the Islamic holiday was marked by spontaneous street celebrations involving Afghan security forces and Taleban militants. Fighters on both sides expressed a deep fatigue with the grinding conflict, raising hopes that an end to hostilities was possible after 17 years of war that began with the US-led invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taleban from power.

But the insurgents refused the government’s request to extend their three-day ceasefire, launching attacks that have seen scores killed or injured. US-backed Ghani, who is under international pressure to ensure credible parliamentary elections are held in October ahead of next year’s presidential vote, has been leading the push for peace talks. Ghani thanked Pompeo for US support, hailing Trump’s strategy as a “game changer” in the conflict. Meanwhile, a suicide attacker blew himself up near an Afghan security forces vehicle on Tuesday, killing at least 12 people, mostly civilians, officials said, in the latest deadly violence to rock the country.

The explosion in the eastern city of Jalalabad also left at least five people wounded and set a nearby petrol station alight, the provincial governor’s spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP. Some of the victims were brought to hospital with severe burns, health director Najibullah Kamawal said, confirming the casualty toll. “I saw a big ball of fire that threw people away. The people were burning,” Esmatullah, who witnessed the incident, told AFP.

Pak to deploy 371,388 troops: Pakistan’s army spokesman says the military will deploy more than 371,000 security forces to polling stations to ensure free, fair and transparent national elections on July 25. Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor told reporters Tuesday the military will not be directly involved in the voting process. He said the army decided to deploy 371,388 troops at the request of the country’s elections oversight body to ensure order during the election. Ghafoor asked people to vote for the candidates or parties of their choice without any fear.

His comments come days after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif accused a spy agency of pressuring one of his candidates to change his political loyalty. Ghafoor says there is no truth to the allegation. Meanwhile, Pakistan opposition leader Imran Khan, a former cricket star who hopes to become the next prime minister, unveiled his party’s manifesto Monday ahead of this month’s parliamentary elections. Khan is promising 10 million new jobs and better health and education facilities if he wins the July 25 vote. Titled “Road to New Pakistan,” the manifesto is similar to other ambitious past pledges by political parties that were never realized.

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