India-U.S. Diplomatic Row Deepens; U.K. Afghan Mission Accomplished; Peace Talks Focus of Pakistan’s National Security Committee
Event Notice: "Regional Connectivity in South-Central Asia," a discussion with Fatema Sumar, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, TODAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).
Diplomatic row over arrest of Indian diplomat deepens
The recent arrest of Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, has escalated into a major diplomatic conflict, with Indian officials decrying her ill treatment and launching retaliatory measures against U.S. diplomats in India (BBC, Live Mint, Times of India). Khobragade was arrested in New York over visa fraud charges and was subsequently released on a $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty. Prosecutors in New York say that Khobragade claimed she paid her Indian maid $4,500 per month, but actually paid her below the U.S. minimum wage – reportedly $3.31 an hour. Indian media reports complained that Khobragade was handcuffed in public as she was dropping her daughter off at school, strip-searched, subjected to DNA swabbing, and confined with drug addicts until her release. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf responded by telling reporters that U.S. diplomatic security officials followed standard procedures during Khobragade’s arrest. Harf added that, under the Vienna Convention, the Indian deputy consul general only has immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.
In India, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid called the action "completely unacceptable," and the diplomat’s father, Uttam Khobragade, a retired official of the Maharashtra government, met with Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, the former chief minister of Maharashtra, to ask for help in seeking justice for her. The India government responded on Tuesday by summoning U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell and downgrading the privileges of U.S. diplomats in the country by withdrawing identity cards that entitle consular officers to diplomatic immunity and airport passes for diplomats and their families. It also stopped import clearances for the embassy, including one for liquor, and removed the traffic barricades outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. Senior Indian government leaders, including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Shinde, also refused to meet with a visiting delegation of five U.S. congressmen for a second day. India warned that it may begin examining the salary structures of Indian employees at the U.S. embassy and whether American diplomats are "adhering to the spirit of each Indian law" (The Hindu). Senior BJP leader Yashwant Singha commented on Tuesday that India should retaliate by arresting the same-sex companions of American diplomats, after an Indian Supreme Court verdict restored a ban on gay sex last week (NDTV).
Anti-corruption Lokpal Bill passed
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill 2011 was passed, with amendments, by India’s Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) on Tuesday afternoon, nearly two years after it was first introduced (NDTV). The bill will now return to the Lok Sabha (lower house) for a final discussion and, if passed, will become law. If enacted, the bill will create extrajudicial bodies within states called ‘Lokpal’ and ‘Lokayuktas’ that will investigate cases of corruption against certain public servants (PRS India Bill Brief). The Samajwadi Party, which has publicly expressed its disapproval of the bill, walked out of the house ahead of the debate (Times of India). The opposition BJP, which enjoys a majority in the upper house, expressed its support for the bill and insisted on the formation of Lokayuktas in every state. Congress Party sources that spoke to NDTV have credited Vice President Rahul Gandhi with pushing for the bill’s passage ahead of May’s national elections. Anna Hazare, the anti-corruption activist who recently renewed his campaign urging the government to pass the bill, continued his hunger strike on Tuesday and vowed to refuse food until the law was enacted.
Singapore to deport 52 Indians after worst riots in 40 years
Singapore is set to deport 52 Indian citizens and has issued warnings to 200 others for their involvement in riots earlier this month in the country’s Little India precinct (Times of India, WSJ, VOA). Clashes between police and a crowd of 400 foreign workers erupted on Dec. 8 after an Indian worker died in a traffic accident. Thirty-five people were charged with inciting riots after several vehicles were set ablaze (Straits Times). A ban on alcohol was enforced in the region last weekend to relieve tensions and a shuttle service for foreign workers living in the area has been suspended. The case has brough heavy scrutiny to Singapore’s treatment of its migrant worker population. Foreign nationals comprise 20% of Singapore’s population.
Land acquisition act to come into force in January
India’s new Land Acquisition law will go into effect on January 1, 2014, the Economic Times reported on Monday (Economic Times). Titled "The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013," the law compensates private landowners with up to four times the market value of land in rural areas and requires the approval of 80 percent of the residents on the land before plots can be
acquired by a private company. All residents will also need to be resettled before the land is acquired. The act replaces India’s 119-year-old law on land acquisition and was passed by parliament on Aug. 27 during its monsoon session.
— Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the country’s troops in Afghanistan on Monday and boldly declared that their mission will have been accomplished by the time they withdraw at the end of next year (Pajhwok, Telegraph). Speaking at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, Cameron acknowledged that: "we will not leave behind a perfect country or a perfect democracy," but said the troops "can come home with their heads held high" (Guardian). Most media reports about Cameron’s comments — which were in response to a reporter’s question — linked them to former U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2003 speech about victory in the Iraq war, which was made under a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished" and was followed by years of insurgency in the country. Bonus read: "What kind of Afghanistan will foreign forces leave?" (BBC).
Cameron also reaffirmed Great Britain’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan, saying that while there will be no combat troops in the country after 2014, "We are going to go on funding the Afghan National Army and police into the future" (AFP, BBC). The British prime minister also mentioned the officer training academy — known as "Sandhurst in the Sand" — the country is managing to help develop the Afghan security forces’ officer corps. Around 5,200 British troops are still serving in Afghanistan.
Cameron "confident" BSA will be signed
During his pre-Christmas visit to British troops, Cameron waded into the debate over the stalled Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the United States, saying that signing the pact is in the interest of Afghanistan, NATO, and the United States (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). He also said that he is "confident the Kabul-Washington bilateral accord will be signed," though he did not provide any further information about the source of his confidence. Cameron noted that the signing, or lack thereof, of the BSA would not affect Britain’s withdrawal timetable, but argued it would help the military alliance properly plan for a post-2014 mission.
Cameron’s comments came as Pir Syed Ahmad Gilani, a former jihadi commander and Mahaz-i-Millie-I-Islami party leader, said signing the BSA sooner rather than later is in Afghanistan’s national interest (Pajhwok). Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, Gilani linked the signing of the BSA to "cooperation from the international community" during next April’s presidential and provincial elections. He also urged the Afghan Taliban to take part in the reconciliation process, stressing the need for direct talks between the Afghan government and the militant organization.
Peace talks top priority
Pakistan’s new National Security Committee held its inaugural meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday and declared that conducting peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban were the group’s top priority (ET). Chaired by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the meeting focused on creating a national security strategy, increasing the country’s internal security, and enhancing Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan. According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune, the committee agreed that the country’s economic development is dependent on ensuring greater security and approved a number of measures designed to strengthen border security and develop the country’s tribal regions. The committee also agreed to help Afghanistan with the stalled peace talks with its own Taliban faction. Bonus read: "Despite Tensions, Some Signs of Progress in Afghan-Pakistan Relations," Ayuz Gul (VOA).
Militants attack NATO fuel tanker
Pakistani gunmen opened fire on a tanker truck carrying fuel to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday, causing the truck to catch fire; no casualties were reported (Dawn, ET). With the Torkham Gate border crossing in Khyber Paktunkhwa province closed due to protests organized by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party against U.S. drone strikes, trucks carrying supplies to forces aligned with the military alliance have had to pass through Balochistan, where they have been repeatedly targeted by militants. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in the province’s Khuzdar district.
Earlier on Tuesday, at least two people were killed and four were injured in Pakistan’s Kurram tribal region when the vehicle they were traveling in struck a landmine (Dawn, ET). While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack in Parachinar, the agency’s capital city, Kurram is one of the country’s seven semi-autonomous tribal areas and has a history of sectarian clashes.
Hungry, hungry pilot
Captain Noushad, a picky airline pilot, delayed a Pakistan International Airlines’ flight heading from Lahore to New York City for about two-and-a-half hours on Saturday when he learned the catering crew couldn’t provide him with sandwiches (The Nation). According to Pakistan’s The Nation, while the flight did include "peanuts, chips, and biscuits," Noushad insisted on sandwiches, which could only be ordered from a nearby five-star hotel. While he eventually received the requested sandwiches, it is unclear what kind they were. Hopefully they were good.
— Bailey Cahall