Gathering to review draft Bilateral Security Agreement begins in Kabul
Editor’s Note: Next Monday, November 25, the AfPak Channel will be relaunched as the South Asia Channel on foreignpolicy.com. While we will continue to provide you with news and commentary from and about Afghanistan and Pakistan, the New America Foundation has partnered with the South Asia Program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International ...
Editor’s Note: Next Monday, November 25, the AfPak Channel will be relaunched as the South Asia Channel on foreignpolicy.com. While we will continue to provide you with news and commentary from and about Afghanistan and Pakistan, the New America Foundation has partnered with the South Asia Program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies to provide our readers with key stories and insights from India as well. Beginning this week, the daily brief will include an India section, with India-related posts to appear on the redesigned brief and site next week.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai opened the Loya Jirga (grand council) on Thursday by urging the thousands of Afghan dignitaries who had gathered in Kabul to support the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that will determine the size and scope of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan after 2014 (BBC, RFE/RL, VOA). Citing the draft document, whose language had finally been agreed upon late Wednesday evening, Karzai said that between 8,000 and 15,000 foreign troops could stay in Afghanistan through 2024, 10 years after the NATO combat mission will end (AFP, NYT, Pajhwok, Post). While Karzai said signing the agreement was in Afghanistan’s best interest, he acknowledged the lack of trust between the two governments, saying: "My trust with America is not good. I don’t trust them and they don’t trust me" (AJAM, Pajhwok, Reuters).
President Obama tried to address this issue on Wednesday by sending a letter to Karzai that pledged that the United States will continue to respect "Afghan sovereignty" under the new agreement (AP). Obama also said the U.S. military would not conduct raids on Afghan homes, except under "extraordinary circumstances" – a particularly sensitive issue for the Afghans.
The other contested issue, the immunity from Afghan law for U.S. troops who commit crimes in Afghanistan, also appeared to have been resolved, with the United States maintaining jurisdiction over their security forces and contractors (Pajhwok). According to Article 13 of the draft BSA, "Afghanistan, while retaining its sovereignty, recognises the particular importance of disciplinary control, including judicial and non-judicial measures, by the U.S. forces authorities over members of the force and of the civilian component."
But despite the personal letter from the U.S. president, Karzai told the jirga that the agreement should be signed after the presidential and provincial elections that are set to occur next April (AP, Pajhwok). Karzai’s decision to defer signing the agreement and leaving it to his successor had been seen as a possibility, though it raises concerns that it could be a potential deal breaker as the United States had wanted a finalized and signed security pact by the end of October.
The jirga is expected to last until Monday, November 25, and U.S. officials have said they will not comment as these are ongoing diplomatic negotiations.
At least six people, including two members of the militant Haqqani network, were killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike on an Islamic seminary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Thursday, the first strike to occur in the province and just the second outside of Pakistan’s tribal regions (AJAM, AP, BBC, ET, Pajhwok, Post, Reuters). Fareed Khan, a local police officer, told reporters that an unmanned aircraft fired at least three rockets at the madrassa, which reportedly belongs to the Haqqani network, in the province’s Hangu district (RFE/RL). Ahmad Jan, believed to be an advisor to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the militant group, and Hameedullah, another militant fighter, were reportedly among the dead (Pajhwok). Taliban sources confirmed Jan’s death, but the Haqqani network has not yet commented on the incident (Dawn). The other victims included students and clerics at the seminary.
The strike occurred one day after Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Special Advisor on Foreign Affairs, told the Pakistani Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs that the United States had promised not to carry out any drone strikes in the country while the Pakistani government conducted peace talks with the different militant groups operating in the country, though he did not provide any additional information about when those assurances were given (Dawn, ET, NYT). Imran Khan, a former cricket start who now heads the Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, criticized both the U.S. and Pakistani governments for the mixed messages, and the party, which controls the provincial government in Khyber Paktunkhwa, called for a protest against the strikes on Saturday (ET).
At least 10 people were killed and more than 30 were injured in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, on Thursday when a bomb targeting local Pakistani security forces exploded near the city’s Bareech market (RFE/RL). According to Arif Nawaz, a regional police officer, the explosives had been planted on a bicycle that was parked on the road and were detonated remotely. Pakistani newspapers reported that it was the fourth blast to occur in Quetta in 24 hours, with the other incidents killing a total of five people and wounding nine (Dawn, ET). No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.
A delegation of senior Afghan officials from the country’s High Peace Council arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday and met with Sharif on Thursday to discuss the country’s security situation (Dawn, Pajhwok). The meetings occurred as the jirga got underway in Kabul to discuss the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan. The delegation is also expected to meet with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former senior Taliban commander who was released from Pakistani custody in September, but has not been seen since; further details about that meeting were not provided (Reuters).
Cricket has been growing in popularity in Afghanistan since the 1990s, when many young children picked up the game while living in Pakistani refugee camps (Reuters). But the sport’s popularity didn’t necessarily translate into national team success until this year, when Afghanistan qualified for the International Cricket Council’s 2015 Cricket World Cup (Radio Australia). The tournament, which will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand, is a huge step for Afghanistan’s cricket team, especially since the council just granted the team the Associate-level status needed to qualify for the tournament this past June. This month, the team hopes to master the T-20, the shortest form of the game, by playing 16 affiliates, or second-tier teams, in the United Arab Emirates. Bonus read: "The batsman," Jeffrey E. Stern (AfPak).
— Bailey Cahall
Oil’s well that ends well?
Vietnam offered India seven oil blocks in the South China Sea on Wednesday, the last day of a visit by Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary, to New Delhi (Times of India). Vietnam and India also signed an agreement on oil exploration for three years, the contents of which were not released. China, which in the past has strongly opposed Indian oil exploration projects in the region, gave a guarded reaction to the announcement (Economic Times). Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said China’s position on the South China Sea issue is consistent and that China hopes "relevant countries can do more things that are conducive to peace and stability in the region." Carolyn Batholomew, commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, told U.S. lawmakers during a congressional hearing that China was "newly assertive" in its relations with India this year (Times of India).
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrated two of its party members on Thursday who had been accused of inciting violence during riots in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh this past September. Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, members of the state’s Legislative Assembly, had been accused of disseminating hateful videos and making inflammatory speeches that stoked Hindu-Muslim tensions. The ceremony, reportedly held because a local court ruled they were innocent, took place ahead of BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s speech in Agra. BJP President Rajnath Singh said he was unaware of the decision to honor the two accused (Hindustan Times, Times of India).
The founder-editor of one of India’s best-known news weeklies has taken a hiatus from his post following allegations of sexual assault. Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka Magazine has admitted to an "unfortunate incident" involving a female journalist at the magazine’s festival "Thinkfest" in Goa earlier this month. He offered to step down from his role as editor for the next six months (Hindustan Times). Several have been critical of the move, terming it a "paid holiday," and the victim herself is purportedly unhappy with the magazine’s response to the incident (NDTV). The past few weeks have seen more Indian women speaking out against sexual harassment at the workplace; last week allegations of sexual assault were made against a former judge of India’s Supreme Court by his former intern (BBC). Issues of women’s safety have also been receiving political attention in Delhi’s upcoming state elections with several parties highlighting the need to tackle sexual violence in their agenda (WSJ).
Let ‘em loose
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pitched for greater autonomy for Public Sector Units (PSUs) along with increased competition with the private sector. When speaking about state owned enterprises at the BRICS International Competition Conference in New Delhi on Thursday, he said, "by virtue of their ownership, they have been shielded from competition and have long enjoyed captive markets. A crucial issue is the exposure of these firms to increased competition." Prime Minister Singh also discussed the need for greater cooperation among the BRICS countries, including the setting up of a BRICs development bank and contingency fund (The Hindu).
Cow-Towing to the party line
Election promises in the poll-bound state of Rajasthan now include a ‘cow ministry’ and a ‘world university on cow science’. Besides outlining proposals for youth employment, increased medical access, and increasing the number of government jobs in its manifesto, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has decided to up the election ante by promising to set up a Ministry for Cow Conservation and a university to research cow-centric subjects and conserve indigenous breeds of cow (Business Standard). The world’s largest livestock fair began in Pushkar, Rajasthan last week.
— Shruti Jagirdar
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