The South Asia Channel

Ghani Faces Setbacks Ahead of U.S. Visit; Pakistan Hangs 12 Convicts; Former Security Advisor Praises Modi’s Foreign Policies

Ghani Faces Setbacks Ahead of U.S. Visit; Pakistan Hangs 12 Convicts; Former Security Advisor Praises Modi’s Foreign Policies

Afghanistan

Ghani faces setbacks ahead of U.S. visit

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his administration have not been able to initiate peace negotiations with the Taliban ahead of Ghani’s planned visit to Washington, D.C. at the beginning of next week (WSJ). Efforts to begin talks with the Taliban began as early as February, when Afghan government officials said they expected to meet with Taliban represtatives in early March. The peace talks were supposed to serve as a pivotal achievement for Ghani’s visit. Although formal talks have not yet begun, some progress has been made with the Afghan government making contact with different factions of the Taliban, and recieving support from Pakistan to put pressure on the group

Second commander with links to ISIS killed in Afghanistan

Hafiz Waheed, a militant commander suspected of having links to ISIS, was killed in an air strike over the weekend, according to a statement by Afghan officials on Monday (AFP). Nine other fighters, who were also reportedly associated with ISIS, were killed in the strike, which was part of the Operation Zulfiqar offensive in the Sangin district of Helmand province. The Afghan military is carrying out operations in the area, which is a Taliban stronghold. Waheed succeeded Abdul Rauf Khadim after Khadim was killed in a U.S. drone strike in February. Khadim was a former Taliban commander and U.S. detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who reportedly changed his allegiance to ISIS before his death. Rasol Zazai, an army spokesman in Helmand, said that Waheed had active followers in several areas of Sangin.

Meanwhile, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, said that recent reports indicate that ISIS has moved into Afghanistan. Speaking to the U.N. Security Council on Mar. 16, he said that ISIS has “firm roots” in the country.

Pakistan

Pakistan hangs 12 convicts

Pakistan hanged 12 male convicts on Tuesday, the largest number of people to be executed on the same day since an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in December (Reuters). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted the moratorium on Dec. 17, the day after gunmen affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar and killed over 130 students and teachers. Since then, 27 people have been executed — not all of them convicted militants or terrorists. An Interior Ministry spokesman said of the 12 men executed on Tuesday: “They were not only terrorists, they included the other crimes, some of them were murderers and some did other heinous crimes.” Currently, there are more than 8,000 Pakistanis on death row.

Pakistani Christian protests turn violent

Protests by members of Pakistan’s Christian minority in Lahore turned violent on Monday, with demonstrators smashing cars and throwing stones and police using tear gas and water cannons on the crowd (BBC). The protests were in response to suicide attacks on two churches on Sunday that killed 17 people. In Youhanabad, a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, a mob brutally killed two men they suspected were involved in the bombings, beating them and then burning them to death (ET).

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called for calm and said that the “Youhanabad incident was heart piercing” and he added that although the government would “stand by the Christian community,” it would “take strict action against all those who lynched two men and vandalized property.”

India

Bonus Read: “In Rural India, Hoping for Jobs and Education in a Growing Economy,” Carol Giacomo (NYT) 

Former security advisor praises Modi’s foreign policies

Shivshankar Menon, who served as a national security advisor and foreign secretary under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, praised current Prime Minister Narendra Modi for projecting India’s stand more “vigorously,” according to news reports on Monday (Zee News, Economic Times). Menon also said that Modi has been “very successful” in pursuing India’s foreign policies, and that ​his government has shown “ingenuity and creativity” in dealing with Pakistan. Menon further stated that India’s growing relations with the United States should not be seen as an effort to counter China.

On India’s relations with Pakistan, Menon said that criticism of the present government for delaying diplomatic talks was a “bit unfair,” and added: “These are tactical things… whether you talk today, whether you postpone it, whether you go to them or they come to you… if we look only through the tactical prism then there will be one day euphoria one day despair” (Indian Express). Menon further said: “But it [Modi government] has shown great ingenuity and creativity if you look at the formation of the government in J&K [Jammu and Kashmir] for example. If you are willing to do that internally, and if you are ready to show the same flexibility with your neighbours, not just with Pakistan… I think there is hope.”

Upcoming EU-India summit called off

A European Union (EU)-India summit scheduled for April was called off due to a delay on the EU’s part to confirm a proposed set of dates for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s​ visit to Brussels, according to news reports on Monday (NDTV, Reuters, Livemint). The EU-India summit was scheduled to take place when Modi also visits Germany and France. According to reports, the ​EU did not respond to a set of dates proposed by the Indian government after Italy raised objections over a case concerning Italian marines Italian marines. Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are facing charges for killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012, where they mistook them for pirates. At that time, the marines were serving as security personnel on an Italian oil tanker.

Indian jewelers threaten to strike over new government plan

Indian jewelers threatened to strike over a new ​government plan which requires customers to quote their permanent account number (PAN — a tax code used to prevent tax evasion) for major jewelry purchases, according to news reports on Monday (Reuters, Economic Times, NDTV). According to the jewelers, ​approximately 80 percent of the jewelry business in India comes from rural customers who don’t have PANs. Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced on Feb. 28 that PANs​ would be mandatory for sales of more than $1,592 to prevent the circulation of black money. According to the World Gold Council, Indians purchased 622 metric tons of gold jewelry worth $26.9 billion in 2014 (Bloomberg).

— Emily Schneider and Neeli Shah

Edited by Peter Bergen

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images