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Pakistan tells Biden to ‘push forward’ Afghan peace talks | Pakistan News



Karachi, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said his country has hopes for greater engagement with the new US government and called on Joe Biden to follow up on the ongoing Afghan peace process and US troops withdrawal from the country.

Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, against whom the US has fought an almost 20-year war, are continuing in the Qatari capital Doha but progress remains slow.

There has been an increase in violence in recent weeks, with a surge in targeted attacks and bombings across the country for which the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban.

Pakistan facilitated the intra-Afghan talks and the US-Taliban dialogue and has now called for the US to stick to the agreements.

“I think they (Biden administration) should realise there is an opportunity in Afghanistan and they should persevere with what was initiated and not reverse things,” Qureshi told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

“Push them forward, because, after a long time, we have started moving in the right direction.”

Former US President Donald Trump accelerated a timeline for troop withdrawal agreed with the Taliban in February last year, as the Biden administration comes in with 2,500 US soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan.

Under last year’s historic deal, all US troops are due to leave Afghanistan by April, but the Pentagon recently hinted it could delay that if violence does not abate.

“We are concerned because we feel violence can vitiate the climate,” Qureshi added.

“Pakistan has done a lot, we have really bent backwards to create an environment to facilitate the peace process,” he said, while blaming “spoilers” for the violence, identifying them as internal Afghan players “who have benefited from the war economy” and alleging that “there are elements from outside who do not share our vision, which is a peaceful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan.”

“It is a shared responsibility to begin with but the ultimate responsibility is with the Afghan leadership. It’s their country, it’s their future.”



‘Convergence of interests’

Biden will inherit not only a tricky endgame to the US’s longest war but also a relationship with nuclear-armed Pakistan that sank to new lows during his previous stint in power.

Under former US President Barack Obama, when Biden was vice president, US-Pakistan relations were marked by bitter recriminations about the war in Afghanistan and the frequent US accusations of Pakistan supporting the Taliban and its ally, the Haqqani network.

In 2018, Trump slashed security assistance to Pakistan by $1.1bn over the same allegations, accusing Islamabad of having given the US “nothing but lies and deceit”.

Relations began to warm as the Trump administration took up direct negotiations with the Taliban – carried out mainly by the US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad – in a process facilitated by Pakistan.

“They should be supportive of what, I feel, is a convergence of interests,” said Qureshi.

“Our approach, thinking, objectives and shared visions are very much in line with the priorities of the new administration. And that convergence can be built further.”

At a US Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden’s Secretary of Defense nominee Lloyd Austin termed Pakistan “an essential partner” to peace in Afghanistan.


China relations ‘not a zero-sum game’

Qureshi also called on the US not to view Pakistan’s close ties with China – an economic and political rival to the US – as a “zero-sum game”.

“They have to understand that our relationship with China is not a zero-sum game for them,” he said, making note of China’s $60bn investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

“They (the US) should come, compete and invest.”

He added that Pakistan was willing to act as a mediator between China and the US, a role it played in 1972 when it facilitated talks to set up an historic visit to Beijing by then-President Richard Nixon.

“Pakistan traditionally has had the opportunity and has built bridges between the two. In this environment, where there is a change … Pakistan can be a bridge-builder.”

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Study suggests strong link between obesity and COVID death rate | Coronavirus pandemic News



COVID deaths about 10 times higher in countries where half or more of the population is overweight, new study finds.

The death rate from COVID-19 is about 10 times higher in countries where half or more of the population is overweight, according to a report by the World Obesity Federation.

The report released on Wednesday titled COVID-19 and Obesity: The 2021 Atlas has shown that being overweight is a “highly significant predictor” of developing complications from contracting COVID-19 such as hospitalisation, intensive care and mechanical ventilation, as well as being a “predictor of death” from the disease.

The researchers say that countries in which fewer than 40 percent of people are overweight had fewer coronavirus-linked deaths, whereas countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Italy, where more than 50 percent of the population is overweight, had a much higher death rate.

“An overweight population is an unhealthy population, and a pandemic waiting to happen,” the report said.

The report flagged that in the UK, 73.7 percent of 10,465 patients who were critically ill with confirmed COVID-19 were overweight or obese.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has the lowest level of overweight people in the population and the world’s second lowest COVID death rate.

It also highlighted that overweight and obesity could be risk factors for dangerous outcomes in people under 60 years old, with those who have a body mass index (BMI) between 30 and 34 twice as likely to be admitted to ICU compared with the ones with a BMI under 30.

“Reducing one major risk factor, overweight, would have resulted in far less stress on health services and reduced the need to protect those services from being overwhelmed,” the report found, suggesting that people who are are obese or overweight should be prioritised for testing and vaccination.

A survey last month by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the obesity rate in the United States was 42 percent, higher than the 40 percent found in a 2015-16 study.

COVID-19 has killed more than 500,000 people in the US so far and 2.56 million across the world.

Information collected over the past two decades has also shown that excess bodyweight is linked to worse outcomes in MERS, H1N1 influenza and other influenza-related infections.

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