Karzai Rejects Jirga’s Recommendation to Sign BSA Pact With the United States
The Rack: "How is Hamid Karzai Still Standing?," William Dalrymple (NYT). Afghanistan One step forward, one step back Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected the final recommendation of an Afghan Loya Jirga (grand assembly) that he promptly sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States on Sunday, further increasing tensions between the two countries ...
The Rack: "How is Hamid Karzai Still Standing?," William Dalrymple (NYT).
One step forward, one step back
Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected the final recommendation of an Afghan Loya Jirga (grand assembly) that he promptly sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States on Sunday, further increasing tensions between the two countries (AJAM, AP, Pajhwok, Reuters, RFE/RL, VOA). While Karzai had called for the four-day meeting of thousands of Afghan elders, who reviewed the draft document, he told those gathered in Kabul that he would only sign the BSA after further negotiations. He also demanded that U.S. soldiers immediately cease conducting raids on Afghan homes, an issue that had resulted in an impasse during last week’s negotiations over the pact’s text, but one that had seemingly been resolved.
Sibghatullah Mujadidi, a longtime Karzai ally who presided over the jirga and publicly questioned Karzai’s desire to delay signing the pact until after next April’s presidential elections, spoke immediately after Karzai and threatened to "resign all my positions and seek refuge in another country" if the BSA was not signed in three days (BBC, NYT). Karzai then returned to the stage and insisted that "America cannot kill anyone in their homes," ending the assembly session in a rather dramatic fashion.
The jirga’s endorsement of the BSA, which will determine the size and scope of a U.S. presence in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in December 2014, was supposed to clear the agreement for ratification by the Afghan parliament and Karzai’s signature. It is unclear what exactly will happen now.
James Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, declined to comment on Karzai’s closing statements, saying only: "I am gratified that the loya jirga, which represents the Afghan people, overwhelmingly offered support for the bilateral security agreement and asked President Karzai to sign it by the end of next month" (NYT). The United States has said it will pull all of its forces out of Afghanistan – the so-called "zero option" – without a signed agreement, a stance that has been echoed by most of America’s coalition allies.
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice arrived in Kabul on Monday to meet with Karzai, at his request, according to Patrick Ventrell, Rice’s spokesman, though details of what the discussion would include were not provided (Reuters).
Speaking at a literary and cultural conference in Lahore on Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made an impassioned plea for resuming peace ties with India (Times of India). Sharif focused on travel between the two countries, saying: "We must aim to dismantle [the] visa requirement between the two countries." According to the Times of India, Sharif made the comment specifically because its correspondent was in the audience, and asked him to "go back and convince your government to sit with us and resolve issues." His comments come after months of cross-border firings between the two country’s security forces along the Line of Control in Kashmir, incidents that ended the 10-year ceasefire in the disputed territory and raised fears that the increasing tension in the region is a "new normal" (Post).
On the other side of the country, between 10,000 and 13,000 people gathered in the city of Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Saturday to protest U.S. drone strikes in the country, and they vowed to stop NATO supply trucks from crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border until the strikes were halted (AP, NYT, RFE/RL, VOA). While the protest, organized by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, was initially seen to have more symbolic value than practical impact, as there was little road traffic on Saturday, party members stopped NATO trucks on Sunday and roughed up their drivers (AFP, AP, Dawn, Pajhwok). As the protests continued on Monday, provincial police said peaceful protests along the roadway would be permitted, but trucks were not to be stopped. Several PTI lawmakers also walked to the U.S. consulate in Peshawar on Monday to submit a memorandum denouncing the strikes (ET). The U.S. government has not yet commented on the protests.
Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped the United States locate Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, was
charged with murder on Friday in a case that dates back to the mid-2000s (BBC, Bloomberg, CNN, LAT, RFE/RL). Samidullah Afridi, the doctor’s lawyer, said the charge relates to the death of a patient who died in 2006; the patient’s mother claims Afridi performed the operation, despite the fact that he was not a surgeon. Afridi was previously sentenced to 33 years in prison for belonging to the outlawed Lashkar-e-Islam group, a charge that he has denied. That sentence was overturned in August 2012, and a new trial is pending.
Lashkar-e-Islam was in the news again on Saturday, when militants associated with the group kidnapped 11 Pakistani teachers involved in a polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal agency (RFE/RL, VOA). According to Khyali Gul, a local official, the teachers were taken from the private Hira Public School in the agency’s Bara district, and transported to an area controlled by Mangal Bagh, the group’s leader. While Bagh has not spoken about the incident, Shahid Shahidullah, a Taliban spokesman, said the attack was in retaliation for the sectarian violence that rocked the city of Rawalpindi a week ago (Reuters).
Researchers in Pakistan confirmed on Saturday that the island that appeared suddenly after an earthquake struck Balochistan on September 24 is disappearing (VOA). The "Earthquake Island" was initially 18 meters above sea level, 152 meters long and 182 meters wide but, according to Abdul Rahim, a biologist working for the World Wide Fund for Nature, it has since dropped to 15 meters above sea level. Rahim went on to say that the island is mostly mud and is expected to fully vanish within a year.
— Bailey Cahall
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour briefed Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh on Iran’s historic nuclear agreement with six world powers over the weekend when he visited New Delhi on Monday (The Hindu). The deal, which is focused on Iran’s nuclear program, has several economic implications for India, namely making it easier for energy-hungry India to buy gasoline from Iran using euros. The two officials discussed measures to broaden economic cooperation, such as the bilateral enhancement of the strategic port of Chabahar in Iran.
Prior to their meeting, the Indian media was awash with reactions to the historic deal (BBC). The Times of India has called the deal a "big relief" since India has recently tried to juggle its strategic and economic relationship with the United States and "civilizational ties" with Iran. The Hindu hopes the agreement will help India improve its trade relations with Iran, where the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led a delegation of 200 businessmen last year. There are also renewed hopes in the press of India rejoining the gas pipeline that originates from the South Pars field in Iran and travels to Pakistan. However, media outlet NDTV was more cautious, saying a majority of the economic sanctions against Iran remained the same and that the pipeline remained a "distant dream."
An Indian court found dentist couple Rajesh and Nupur Talwar guilty on Monday of murdering their 14-year-old daughter Aarushi and domestic help Hemraj. The verdict, delivered by a court in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh comes six years after the sensational double murder case gripped the attention of the Indian media. The couple, charged with murder and misleading an investigation, has insisted they are not guilty. The court will pronounce its sentence on Tuesday (BBC, Hindustan Times, Indian Express).
State elections begin
Voting in state elections began on Monday in the northeastern state of Mizoram and the central state of Madhya Pradesh (Indian Express, Hindustan Times). Nearly 72 percent of Mizoram’s electorate (those eligible and registered to vote) had come out to vote by 3 p.m. local time, in a state where eligible women voters outnumber men, albeit by a small margin. Central paramilitary forces have been deployed along Mizoram’s border with neighboring states Manipur and Tripura and its international border with Bangladesh, although no incidents of violence were reported.
Young voters in Madhya Pradesh have reportedly been receiving special attention this election cycle as they emerged as a growing constituency; there are over 16.2 million voters between the ages of 18 and 29 in the state. Fifty-five percent of the electorate had cast their vote by 2 p.m. local time, and while incidents of violence were few, there were reports that elections had been rigged in a few areas (Indian Express, Hindustan Times).
India was named as the world’s most attractive investment destination, according to a report by consultancy EY, surpassing Brazil, China, Canada and the United States, which rounded out the top five (Economic Times). The sharp depreciation of the rupee and relaxation in foreign direct investment norms in a variety of sectors, including multi-brand retail and telecommunications, have made the country appealing to foreign investors, EY said. Many Indian companies are also looking to divest non-core businesses, due to heavy debts and macroeconomic pressures.
Sugar industry’s "Ponzi scheme"
In Uttar Pradesh’s troubled sugar industry, a financial arrangement between sugar millers, farmers, and banks that one farmer likened to a "Ponzi scheme" may be on the verge of unraveling (Indian Express). According to a report by the Indian Express, for the last several seasons, sugar mills have acted as intermediaries for banks, helping one set of farmers mortgage their land to buy inputs like seeds and fertilizer, and then using the proceeds to repay another set of farmers. This year, a sharp decrease in the price of sugar has caused at least 60 of the 101 private mills in the state to suspend their operations. If the banks refuse to provide loans this season and mills are unable to raise funds, the Ponzi scheme will be exposed. The millers are heavily indebted to the farmers, owing nearly Rs 2,500 crore ($400 million) for the last season, according to the report. Millers have urged the government to provide them with a bailout due to the sharply falling price of sugar.
In a country where citizens often bemoan the snail’s pace of the legal system, an unprecedented 2.8 million cases were presided over in seven hours (Hindustan Times). At an event organized by India’s National Legal Services Authority, several state and district legal service authorities or ‘lok adalats’ jointly took up the cases, which were largely civil suits, bank recovery cases, and traffic violations. While 30 million cases remain, the marathon session marks a huge step in the country’s effort to provide justice for its citizens. The ease in adjudication was possible because the cases had been grouped and worked on in advance of the verdicts.
— Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
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