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LeT militants held in Kashmir ‘got arms training in Pakistan’

SRINAGAR, Feb 3: Police arrested last week two young Kashmiri men who had travelled to Pakistan on valid visa allegedly for weapons training at camps run by the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group, underscoring the movement of militants through routes they would avoid.

According to police, Abdul Majeed Bhat from Kreeri and Mohammad Ashraf Mir Nilla of Pattan, both places in northern Kashmir’s Baramulla district, were taken into custody at the Wagah-Attari border post in Punjab when they returned from Pakistan.

“They were on our radar for the past five months. We had information from since they entered Pakistan and joined militant training,” Baramulla senior superintendent of police Imtiaz Hussain said on Saturday.

The duo allegedly confessed to undergoing arms training in Pakistan during questioning.

“They revealed they had undergone terrorist training in Pakistan along with large number of Pakistani boys and most of them from Balochistan, some as young as 10,” a police statement said.

Taking the train to Pakistan is not a new strategy for militants, but often avoided as the risk of detection is extremely high.

“This is not the first time … Two militants who had undergone training in similar circumstances have been killed in the past,” Hussain said.

Most militants prefer the treacherous mountain trails to travel to and from Pakistan. However, it has become equally dangerous to walk the off-roads as the Indian military has intensified border patrol and security in the past several years.

As cross-border movement has become difficult, most of the active Kashmiri militants have been trained in the jungles of the state. Young Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, whose killing in the summer of 2016 triggered unprecedented unrest in the Kashmir Valley, was not trained in Pakistan, neither did his predecessors.

“In the past couple of years, police unearthed several modules that lure young boys to Pakistan to get trained and join militancy,” Hussain said.

Suspected militants Azharuddin alias Qazi from Kupwara and Sajad Ahmad alias Babar from Sopore, had allegedly gone to Pakistan on valid visa for arms training. They were killed on February 4 last year in Sopore.

Another suspected militant, Abdul Rashid Bhat, who had travelled to Pakistan on a visa, was arrested last July.

Police said a youth named Suhaib Farooq Akhoon of Baramulla went to Pakistan last August and was trained at a Lashkar camp. He is said to be active in the Valley now.

The authorities asked parents to report to police any prolonged absence of their children.

Thankfully, the NDA govt has only one more year: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Feb 1: Congress president Rahul Gandhi hit out at the government on Thursday over the Union Budget, saying only promises were made in the past four years and “thankfully” just one year of the NDA dispensation is left.

Taking to Twitter, Gandhi said four years of the NDA regime are over but it continues to only promise farmers about fair price to their produce.

He alleged the government came out only with fancy schemes during this period and did not provide employment to the country’s youths.

“4 years gone; still promising FARMERS a fair price. 4 years gone; FANCY SCHEMES, with NO matching budgets. 4 years gone; no JOBS for our YOUTH. Thankfully, only 1 more year to go. #Budget2018,” he said on Twitter.

Not possible to double farmers' income by 2022: Manmohan Singh

NEW DELHI, Feb 1: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said it is not possible to double farmers' income by 2022 until the agricultural growth is 12 per cent.

"The government says farmers' income will be doubled by 2022. But it's not possible until the agricultural growth is 12 per cent. Until we achieve that ... It is just a hollow assurance," Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad quoted Singh as saying after a meeting of opposition parties here.

"The fiscal deficit seems to have increased," the former prime minister said.

Earlier in the day, Singh said it was to be seen how the government would fulfill its promises.

"I do not think I can blame the budget for being motivated by scoring points in elections, but what worries me is that the fiscal arithmatic is at fault," he told NDTV.

When questioned if the budget was reform-oriented, the former PM said the word reform has been used and abused too many times.

"I don't want to comment on it," he said, asking whether the farm crisis is a thing of the past and if not, what is the strategy to deal with it.

Congress trounces BJP in Rajasthan bypolls, Trinamool wins in Bengal

NEW DELHI, Feb 1: The Congress snatched two Lok Sabha and one assembly seat from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in high-stakes bypoll fights in Rajasthan on Thursday, delivering a jolt to chief minister Vasundhara Raje ahead of state elections later this year.

The Congress won the Alwar and Ajmer Lok Sabha seats by 196,496 and 84,414 votes respectively. In the Mandalgarh assembly seat, the Congress won by almost 13,000 votes. Despite a high-voltage campaign led by the CM, the BJP couldn’t take the lead in any of the 17 assembly segments.

“Well done Rajasthan Congress! Proud of each and every one of you. This is a rejection of the BJP by the people of Rajasthan,” Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress won thumping victories in the Noapara assembly and the Uluberia Lok Sabha seat but the spotlight was stolen by the BJP, which leapfrogged the CPI(M) to second place and increased its voteshare in both seats.

In contrast in Rajasthan, the BJP saw a strong swing against it and failed even in urban areas, considered a party stronghold where the Congress scripted a revival.

Raje had led the campaign and ministers along with party workers, booth-level operatives and local functionaries were deputed but appeared to have failed in the face of massive infighting and anger among farmers, Rajputs and government workers.

“Our efforts shall continue and we will keep the welfare of the people of Rajasthan at the forefront,” Raje tweeted.

The defeats will raise more questions about the leadership of Raje, who is battling rising cow vigilante attacks, protests by farmers, doctors strike and resentment over low hikes in government salaries. In addition, the dominant Rajput community is angry with the BJP over the recently released Bollywood film Padmaavat, which they feel insults them.

Sources said changes at the organisation level are expected as the party will try to stem the rising resentment against it. State BJP president Ashok Parnami said as much as a press conference on Thursday evening, stating that the party would remove shortcomings.

The results will buoy the Congress, which won just 21 seats in the last assembly elections and drew a blank in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

“The bypoll result clearly shows the undercurrent…what people think… In this bypoll not just rural, urban and farmers supported the party, but the youth, which was misguided by BJP, came with Congress,” said Congress state chief Sachin Pilot, who led the campaign.

The party had performed well in the local body elections last year and Thursday’s showing will boost Pilot, himself a former MP from Ajmer.

In West Bengal’s Uluberia Lok Sabha seat, the Trinamool won by a margin of around 474,000 with 61% of the vote and the BJP came second with 23%. The ruling party’s votes rose by about 200,000 while that of the BJP by around 160,000. Crucial rural polls in the state are scheduled this summer.

“The results prove people have voted overwhelmingly for the waves of development that Mamata Banerjee unleashed,” said Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee.

The gains came at the expense of the CPI(M) and the Congress, which is set to lose its deposit. Uluberia comprises Dhulagarh, where communal clashes in December 2016 helped the BJP launch a high-pitched campaign. In the Noapara assembly seat, the saffron party cornered 38,711 votes, 15,132 more than what it got in the 2016 assembly polls. The Trinamool candidate won by around 63,000 votes.

“The results prove CPI(M) and Congress are non-existent in Bengal and BJP is the only alternative to Trinamool. The results will only improve with time,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha, who was also a former president of Bengal BJP.

Need to work together: Sonia Gandhi to opposition parties on joint strategy in Parliament

NEW DELHI, Feb 1: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi today urged the opposition parties to adopt a common strategy to take on the BJP and work together on issues of national importance.

"Need to work together on issues of national importance, adopt common strategy both inside and outside Parliament," said Sonia Gandhi.

The UPA chairperson's comment came during a meeting of opposition leaders to plan a joint strategy for the ongoing Budget Session of Parliament.

The meeting, held at the Parliament Library Building, is seen as part of efforts to galvanise support of all 17 parties which had come together during the presidential and vice presidential polls against the ruling party.

Senior Congress Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was one of the attendees of the meeting, dismissed speculations that the meeting was a precursor to UPA-III, saying there is only a broad consensus among the non-NDA parties to oust the present government.

Azad said that Gandhi cautioned the opposition leaders against the ideology of hate and communal and caste violence.

Gandhi also raised the issue of "Aadhaar misuse" by the Narendra Modi government to "breach" privacy of citizens. She said Aadhaar was meant for welfare schemes but is being misused by the government.

"She also raised the issue of economic health of the country, which she said, remained precarious.

"Another point she raised was that of unemployment which is a matter of great concern for the entire nation and the government is not doing anything in this regard," Azad said.

Gandhi said the price rise of the essential commodities in general and of petrol, diesel and gas in particular is another matter of great concern for the nation.

Azad said that Congress President Rahul Gandhi also stressed that although in different states different parties are in power or in opposition and is a clash of interests is bound to be there, but "when the states issue would emerge then we would find a solution to that".

"But as an opposition we are whole then those who are not in NDA, that means those who do not follow the NDA's ideology and they would want that the government should go out. And for that we shall work together," Azad reported Rahul Gandhi as saying.

Azad said a group of seven parties has already been formed and it would decide the future course of action.

The meeting was attended by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, senior party leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge; NCP chief Sharad Pawar; National Conference president Farooq Abdullah; RJD's Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav, TMC's Derek O'Brien, CPI national secretary D Raja and SP's Ramgopal Yadav.


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