The South Asia Channel

Obama to Halt Afghan Withdrawal; US Explores Deal to Limit Pakistani Nuclear Arsenal; India to Declassify Documents on Independence Leader

Afghanistan Bonus Read: “The Islamic State is making these Afghans long for the Taliban,” by Sudarsan Raghavan (Post) Obama to halt Afghan withdrawal President Barack Obama is expected to announce a halt on plans to withdraw from Afghanistan today according to multiple reports (NYT, Post, CNN, Reuters, NPR, Politico, TOLO News). Under the new plan ...

US soldiers arrive at the scene following a suicide car bomb attack on a European Union police vehicle along the Kabul-Jalalabad road in Kabul on January 5, 2015. A suicide car bomb hit a European Union police vehicle in Kabul on January 5, killing at least one passer-by but not injuring any of the passengers, officials said, days after the NATO combat mission ended in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO / Wakil KOHSAR        (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers arrive at the scene following a suicide car bomb attack on a European Union police vehicle along the Kabul-Jalalabad road in Kabul on January 5, 2015. A suicide car bomb hit a European Union police vehicle in Kabul on January 5, killing at least one passer-by but not injuring any of the passengers, officials said, days after the NATO combat mission ended in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO / Wakil KOHSAR (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan

Bonus Read: “The Islamic State is making these Afghans long for the Taliban,” by Sudarsan Raghavan (Post)

Obama to halt Afghan withdrawal

President Barack Obama is expected to announce a halt on plans to withdraw from Afghanistan today according to multiple reports (NYT, Post, CNN, Reuters, NPR, Politico, TOLO News). Under the new plan most of the 9,800 American troops currently in Afghanistan will remain through 2016 and drop to about 5,500 by early 2017. The troops will train Afghan forces as well as conduct operations against al Qaeda. The decision follows a months long review of policy in Afghanistan and a series of reports demonstrating the Taliban’s continued reach in the country including the group’s seizure of Kunduz City. The previous plan would have kept 1,000 troops or fewer in Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

Clashes kill 22 border police in Helmand

On Wednesday, 22 Afghan border police died in clashes with Taliban forces in Helmand province (VoA). The clashes occurred in Nawzad district, which the Taliban overran two months ago. According to Afghan officials, 35 Taliban soldiers also died in the fighting.

Kabul-Kandahar highway reopens

On Thursday, Afghan officials announced the reopening of the Kabul-Kandahar highway in Ghazni province after it had been blockaded by Taliban insurgents for three days (Pajhwok). Deputy Governor Mohammad Ali Ahmadi said insurgents had been cleared from the highway in operations on Wednesday. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the opening of the highway saying that it was a goodwill gesture.

Pakistan

US exploring deal to limit Pakistani nuclear arsenal

The United States is exploring a potential deal to limit Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, according to a report in the New York Times on Thursday (NYT). The talks are the first since A.Q. Khan was caught spreading Pakistani nuclear technology throughout the world and comes in advance of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington, DC next week. One focus of the talks is reportedly American fears that Pakistan is close to deploying tactical nuclear weapons. As part of the negotiations, a relaxation of export controls has reportedly been offered. George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stated: “If Pakistan would take the actions requested by the United States, it would essentially amount to recognition of rehabilitation and would essentially amount to parole.”

Asia Bibi placed in solitary confinement

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five sitting on Pakistan’s death row for blasphemy, was placed in solitary confinement this week (AJA). Prison officials said Bibi was placed in solitary for her own protection. A prison official told Agence France Presse: “She could be killed by any inmate or even a prison guard, so we have to be careful.” Bibi’s family and lawyers have expressed concern regarding her condition in prison and asked that she be moved to a hospital. Shamaun Alfred Gill, a spokesman for the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, stated: “Her life is in danger because of her health and the filthy prison conditions, and from fundamentalist elements within the prison.”

— David Sterman

India

Bonus Read: “Why the humble cow is India’s most polarising animal,” by Soutik Biswas (BBC).

Government to declassify files on independence leader

India’s government announced on Wednesday that it would begin declassifying secret files on Indian independence leader Subhash Chandra Bose next year (BBC, NDTV). Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the announcement after meeting with 35 members of Bose’s family. Bose, often reverently referred to with the honorific title “Netaji” (“leader”), was a revolutionary who attempted to raise an army of Indian WWII POWs to forcefully overthrow British rule in India. Bose’s venture failed, and he purportedly died in 1945 under mysterious circumstances, giving rise to numerous conspiracy theories ranging from Bose being held as a Russian prisoner in Siberia to him hiding in India as a holy man. The current official government line is that Bose died in an airplane crash over Taiwan and was cremated there. Modi also said that he would request foreign governments, including the Russian government, to declassify their own files on Bose.

India to re-launch “Science Express” train

As a part of a major climate change awareness initiative, the Indian government is set to re-launch a special train on Thursday that will serve as a mobile scientific exhibition on climate change (TOI, NDTV). The “Science Express Climate Action Special” was launched on its first trip in 2007 as simply the “Science Express.” The train has now been refitted with exhibits on climate change, and it will begin its journey in Delhi on Thursday. Along the way, the train will cover 18,000 kilometers (about 11,000 miles) and make 64 stops in 20 states before ending up in Gandhinagar in the western state of Gujarat on May 4 next year. The journey of the train is timed to overlap with the Paris Climate Conference, which will convene Nov. 30-Dec. 11 in an attempt to achieve a consensus on a unified global climate change policy. India has historically been averse to agreeing to binding carbon emission cuts, arguing that it would be a detriment to economic growth and poverty alleviation, but the current government has shown recent signs of softening its stance.

Nobel laureate named first Indian “Humanitarian of the Year”

Kailash Satyarthi, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in advocating children’s rights, is the first Indian to be named “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Harvard Foundation (WSJ).The Harvard Foundation is a part of Harvard University and seeks to reward those whose “works and deeds have served to improve the quality of lives.” Satyarthi’s non-profit organization, Bachpan Bachaon Andalan, has helped rescue over 80,000 children from forced labor, trafficking, and slavery. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girls’ education activist who shared the Nobel Prize with Satyarthi last year, is also a previous recipient of the honor.

— Udit Banerjea

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Edited by Peter Bergen

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

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