09:55 Sonic booms over Amritsar? Yes, IAF carried out exercises along Pak border: The Indian Air Force carried out a major readiness exercise last night over Punjab and Jammu in which a large number of fighter aircraft participated. During the exercise, Indian Air Force jets, including frontline aircraft, flew at supersonic speeds in the border districts including Amritsar in Punjab, sources said here. The reason for carrying out the combat drill was to be prepared for thwarting any misadventure by the Pakistan Air Force to intrude into the Indian air space, they said.
Twitter was abuzz in the early hours of Friday after users in Amritsar said they heard “two loud sounds”. #Amritsar was trending on Twitter with users sharing theories what the sounds could be. The police have tried to calm the nerves of the local users, saying “everything was okay” in the city.
“I appeal to the people to not believe in rumours on social media. Everything is okay. As per our information nothing has happened,” Jagjit Singh Walia, ADCP Amritsar, told news agency ANI.
The IAF has been on a high alert ever since it carried out air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist camp in Balakot town of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunwa province on February 26. A couple of days ago, two PAF fighter jets flew at supersonic speeds over Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir around 10 kilometres from the Line of Control in the Poonch sector.
After the PAF started flying its planes close to Indian borders and were detected and monitored closely by the air defence network, the Indian fighter plane fleet was also ready to respond to them.
The IAF had an edge over the adversary in the aerial combat as its vintage MiG-21 fighter flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman shot down a modern F-16D fighter plane of the PAF in a beyond visual-range fight.
09:24 US summons visiting Afghan NSA in rare rebuke:
In an unusual move, the United States summoned Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib hours after he blasted Special US Representative Zalmay Khalilzad for bypassing the elected government of Afghanistan in their direct peace talks with the Taliban.
“Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale summoned Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib today to reject the public comments attributed to National Security Advisor Mohib criticizing the US approach to reconciliation,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said after the meeting the between the two officials.
Over the past two days, Mohib at various public forums — during an appearance at a Washington DC-based think-tank and in an interaction with reporters — described the US’s talks with the Taliban as surrender discussion.
He alleged Khalilzad was keeping the “duly elected” Afghan government in dark and that in the latest round of talks in Doha, they were humiliated and made to wait in a hotel lobby.
“We don’t know what’s going on. We don’t have the kind of transparency that we should have,” Mohib told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
He claimed the Afghan government was getting the information in bits and pieces.
“The last people to find out (about the peace talks) are us,” Mohib claimed.
He alleged the Afghan-born US diplomat Khalilzad has personal ambition in Afghanistan.
“The perception in Afghanistan, and people in the government think that perhaps — perhaps — all of this talk is to create a caretaker government of which he will then become the viceroy,” Mohib alleged.
But Palladino said Under Secretary Hale in his meeting with the Afghan NSA “underscored” the “longstanding” US assistance and support to Afghanistan.
Hale expressed America’s commitment to the Afghan government’s stability and full participation in the peace process, the State Department deputy spokesman said.
“He also reminded National Security Advisor Mohib that Special Representative Khalilzad represents the Secretary, and that attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad are attacks on the Department and only serve to hinder the bilateral relationship and the peace process,” Palladino said in a strongly worded statement. — PTI
09:23 Kartarpur talks with India went well ‘overall’, says Pakistan:
Pakistan on Thursday said that the meeting with India to discuss and finalise the modalities of the Kartarpur corridor went well overall, despite some differences on some issues, and the talks were held in a positive and conducive environment.
Mohammad Faisal, DG (SA and SAARC) of Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs, which led the delegation, said that discussions were held on issues related to the corridor, its construction, road, and other technicalities, The Dawn reported.
Terming the meeting as an achievement, Faisal said that both India and Pakistan had issued a joint statement after a few years, adding that the same was reached in 2015.
Reading out the statement, he said, “Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.”
“Both sides also held expert-level discussions between technical experts on the alignment and other details of the proposed corridor,” he added.
An eighteen-member Pakistani delegation had arrived in India on Thursday. The Indian delegation was led by S.C.L. Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
India and Pakistan agreed to work “expeditiously” to operationalise Kartarpur corridor and decided to hold a meeting of the technical experts on March 19, which will be followed by another round of talks on the issue on April 2.
“The first meeting to discuss the modalities and the draft Agreement for facilitation of pilgrims to visit Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Kartarpur Corridor was held today at Attari, India in a cordial environment. Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartapur Sahib Corridor,” according to a statement by India’s Ministry of External Affairs.”It was agreed to hold the next meeting at Wagah on 2 April 2019. This will be preceded by a meeting of the technical experts on 19 March 2019 at the proposed zero points to finalise the alignment,” the statement added.
On November 26 last year, India’s Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.
Two days later, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Narowal near Lahore.
Once the corridor is opened, it would allow Sikh pilgrims direct access to the historic Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan, where Guru Nanak Dev breathed his last in 1539.
09:02 Bangladesh cricket team escapes NZ shooting:
Bangladesh’s cricket team escaped unscathed after a deadly shooting at a mosque in New Zealand, an official said on Friday.
Opening batsman Tamim Iqbal wrote on Twitter: “Entire team got saved from active shooters!!! Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers.” Local media said multiple people were killed in the incident.
Bangladesh Cricket Board spokesman Jalal Yunus said most of the team were bussed to the mosque in Christchurch and were about to go inside when the incident happened.
“All members of the Bangladesh Cricket Team in Christchurch, New Zealand are safely back in the hotel following the incident of shooting in the city. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) is in constant contact with the players and team management,” the Bangladesh Cricket Board said on Twitter.
08:31 Shooting at mosque in New Zealand, multiple casualties reported:
Armed police in New Zealand swarmed central Christchurch on Friday amid a shooting at a mosque in the South Island city.
“A serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter,” Al Jazeera quoted Police Commissioner Mike Bush as saying.
Local media reports suggest that a gunman entered the mosque on Friday and started shooting with an automatic weapon.
“A gunman – dressed in black with a helmet carrying a machine gun – came into the back of the mosque and started firing into the people praying there,” Al Jazeera quoted local media as saying.
Several casualties are feared, as authorities are yet to confirm the exact figure of deceased or wounded.
Further information is awaited.
Images used for representational purposes only.
00:59 UK MPs back Brexit delay:
The United Kingdom Parliament on Thursday voted in favour of delaying Brexit beyond March 29 as the chaotic process of the UK’s divorce from the European Union plunged the country into a political deadlock.
The motion for delaying the Brexit Day was passed in the House of Commons by 412 votes to 202.
However, the delay in the Brexit process would now require the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining EU member states, which in effects gives the 28-member bloc the power to dictate the terms of an extension.
Meanwhile, the EU officials have indicated that are not interested to provide more time for political tussles in the UK and would approve an extension only if there were a specific reason for one.
EU Council chief Donald Tusk on Thursday said the bloc could approve a long postponement ‘if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it’, indicating the possibility of a softer Brexit only if May abandons her stand, especially her opposition to being in a customs union with Europe.
However, other EU leaders have warned of not supporting an extension if the UK cannot be clear about what it wants.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said he wasn’t sure if more time was the answer.
The EU needs ‘more decisions’ from London, he said in Brussels, adding, “We have to know, what is the intention of the British parliament? What are the choices of the British authorities?”
Thursday’s round of Brexit tussles came a day after the UK Parliament voted to reject the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement in place. — PTI