Lt. Gen. Raheel Sharif Appointed New Chief of Pakistan’s Powerful Army
Editor’s note: The South Asia Channel will be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow and Friday, and will resume regular briefs on Monday, December 2. Pakistan Replacements announced Lt. Gen. Raheel Sharif, the younger brother of one of Pakistan’s most decorated soldiers, was appointed as the country’s next army chief on Wednesday and will replace Gen. Ashfaq Parvez ...
Editor’s note: The South Asia Channel will be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow and Friday, and will resume regular briefs on Monday, December 2.
Lt. Gen. Raheel Sharif, the younger brother of one of Pakistan’s most decorated soldiers, was appointed as the country’s next army chief on Wednesday and will replace Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani when he steps down on Friday (AP, BBC, ET, Reuters, RFE/RL). Military officials said that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (no relation) also named Lt. Gen. Rashid Mahmood as the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, filling both of the high-powered positions after months of speculation. Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, approved both appointments, as well as the men’s promotions to the rank of four-star general (Dawn). The two generals, especially Sharif, are expected to continue Kayani’s focus on internal threats from militants and his avoidance of overt military interference in politics.
The appointments came one day after Pakistani officials released three senior Taliban prisoners to facilitate peace talks with the Afghan government (AP, Pajhwok). The former prisoners were identified as Mullah Abdul Ahad Jahangirwal, a former advisor to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the organization’s leader; Mullah Abdul Manan, a former Taliban governor in Afghanistan’s Helmand province; and Mullah Younus, a former Taliban commander. It is unclear where and to whom they were released.
A worker with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party was arrested in Peshawar on Wednesday for allegedly damaging NATO supply containers during an ongoing protest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province over U.S. drone strikes (ET). The demonstrations, which began on Saturday, have escalated, with participants stopping trucks coming from Afghanistan and searching them for NATO goods (Dawn). A few truck drivers have been roughed up in the process, prompting several trucker unions to threaten a strike as long as the blockade continues.
— Bailey Cahall
Blasts near site of anti-nuclear protest
A bomb blast on Tuesday killed six people in a village close to the site of anti-nuclear protests in Tamil Nadu. Blasts were heard at 6:40 pm in Tsunami Colony in Idinathakarai, a coastal fishing village which lies three kilometers away from the Indo-Russian nuclear power plant at Kudankulam (BBC, Hindustan Times, Times of India). While no one has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the attack, the police have arrested anti-nuclear activists Udayakumar, Pushparayan and Mukilan from the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) in connection with the blasts (Times of India). Protests in Kudankulam, most often organized by PMANE, have been going on for several years and are largely over issues of nuclear safety, livelihood, and the unwillingness of nearby villages to be situated close to the project. The protests, which seized the attention of India’s nuclear and political establishment, started out peacefully, but clashes with law enforcement authorities began increasing in 2011 and 2012. The plant began operations in October this year.
Third cyclone in six weeks heads for India’s east coast
The third severe cyclone expected to hit India in six weeks is headed towards the country’s eastern coast. Cyclone Lehar, with wind speeds up to 120 mph, is expected to make landfall on Thursday. A thousand officials from state and national disaster management bodies have helped evacuate 250,000 people from coastal areas in the state of Andhra Pradesh. While the death toll from Cyclones Phailin and Helen have been low (more than 100 people have died so far, compared to 15,000 in a 1999 cyclone strike), the effect on homes, and crops has been devastating, with over 1.2 million hectares of farmland destroyed (WSJ, BBC).
MNREGA wages to increase ahead of polls
According to press reports, the Indian government is looking to increase wages in its flagship rural employment guarantee program ahead of next year’s national elections (The Economic Times). A panel headed by the National Statistical Commission had recommended that wage increases be linked to the Consumer Price Index for rural and agricultural workers whose base year is 1986. The government has rejected the panel’s suggestions and has constituted a new one under the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research to revise the wage index for payments under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Program (MNREGA). While some agree the index’s base year could do with a reset, others have speculated that the wage hike is being brought in time for the national elections. MNREGA has been credited with electoral wins for the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition in the 2009 elections.
Allegedly targeting of sacred Buddhist sites
The terrorist group Indian Mujahideen (IM) is allegedly targeting Buddhist sites in India to avenge violence against the Muslim Rohingya ethnic grou
p in Myanmar. Government intelligence inputs suggest targets will include Buddhist sites frequented by foreign tourists in states such as Odisha and Uttar Pradesh (Hindustan Times). IM is allegedly behind the October 27 blasts at Gujarat Chief Minister, and BJP prime ministerial hopeful, Narendra Modi’s rally in Patna, Bihar as well as the July 7 blasts that killed two at the sacred Buddhist site Bodh Gaya. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said last week that the group was responsible for "three out of four attacks in the country" this year (DNA).
Deal or no deal
Indian electioneering has been blamed for the collapse of a trillion-dollar free trade deal considered at the WTO this week, which was the culmination of a 12-year effort to streamline customs procedures globally (AP, Reuters, VOA). India reportedly put up new opposition to the deal on Monday morning, even after winning a large concession in the form of the right to break WTO rules by subsidizing food and stockpiling it in the name of food security. India’s Congress Party recently passed a Food Security Bill guaranteeing food grain at minimum prices for two-thirds of the Indian population. Officials will have another opportunity to pass the deal at a biennial WTO meeting in Bali from Dec. 3-6, where Indian officials will seek a deal that allows them to run the food subsidy program without many restrictions, according to a senior official at India’s trade ministry. The Bali deal would add $960 billion to the world economy and create 21 million jobs, 18 million of them in developing countries, according to a study by the Peterson Institute in Washington, D.C.
One in four hurt by weak economy: Gallup
A Gallup poll indicated that India’s poor economic performance in recent years has led to a sharp deterioration in well being, with a full quarter of Indians reporting that they are suffering (Indian Express, Hindustan Times). Average suffering in India more than doubled between 2006 and 2008, and again from 2010 to 2012, the report said. The U.S. polling agency blamed India’s economic slowdown, as well as the government’s failure to combat corruption, red tape, and excessive restrictions in its markets for labor, energy and land. The increase in suffering in India has had a ripple effect across South Asia, due to India’s strong economic ties with its neighbors, the report added.
A silver lining?
Amid this week’s dark economic news, a report from the Wall Street Journal suggested that India’s economy may be finally turning a corner. India’s economy may have rebounded slightly in the last quarter, according to 17 economists surveyed by the paper (WSJ). Growth in the farm and industrial sectors may have lifted GDP growth to 4.6 percent in the second quarter ended in September, the economists projected, up 4.4 percent growth in the previous quarter. Industrial output has grown compared with the previous year, and bank loans also indicate that businesses are looking to expand, the economists said. The country is due to report second-quarter GDP data on Friday.
Some bo(u)ndless optimism
Following the introduction of rupee bonds by the World Bank and IMF, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is weighing issuing rupee-denominated offshore bonds to raise funds for development projects in the private sector (Economic Times). Nahari Rao, an officer-in-charge at the ADB India resident mission, said the idea was in its very early stages, and ADB has yet to decide the timing and amount of the issue. Earlier this month, the World Bank raised $160 million from the United States in its first offshore sale of rupee bonds, in an effort to provide some relief to the depreciating rupee.
Stop telephoning me-e-e-e-eh
The Indian telecom regulatory authority, TRAI, has given banks and insurance companies two weeks to cease making unsolicited, ‘pesky’ calls to attract customers (Economic Times). As India’s telephony base has grown, so has the increase in nuisance calls by telemarketers, a case that has been dealt with severely by India’s telecom authorities. The regulator threatened to stop phone connections of offending firms and levy a fine of Rs 5000 (about $80) per complaint received.
— Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Aid workers killed
Six Afghan workers for the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), a French aid organization, were shot and killed by unidentified gunmen on Wednesday in Afghanistan’s Faryab province (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). According to Mohammadullha Batash, the provincial governor, the Afghans were killed as they went to inspect a project in the Almar district (AP). ACTED, which has 34 reconstruction projects currently ongoing in Afghanistan and employed 864 Afghans last year, released a statement condemning the killings. While some Afghan officials blamed the Taliban for the deaths, no one has claimed responsibility for the incident.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Akbar Ayazi on Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that he is ready to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States as soon as his two new demands — the cessation of U.S. raids on Afghan homes and U.S. help restarting the stalled peace talks with the Afghan Taliban — are met (RFE/RL). Karzai didn’t really address the diplomatic furor that he caused when he rejected the Loya Jirga’s (grand assembly’s) recommendation that he sign the document immediately, and said of the threatened ‘zero option’ — withdrawing all U.S. troops from the country at the end of 2014 — "It is up to the Americans whether they want to stay or go. Even if we sign a thousand agreements with them, if it doesn’t suit their interests they will leave — just as they left Afghanistan alone in 1990s during the years after jihad" (Pajhwok).
While Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesman, recently said, "We don’t believe there’s any zero option," that is not a sentiment widely shared by other Afghans (NYT). Sibghatullah Mujadidi, the jirga’s chairman, vowed to quit his government post and go into exile if the security pact was not signed in the next few days, while others are concerned the withdrawal of U.S. forces and money will cause the Afghan security forces to disintegrate and plunge the country into civil war.
As the impasse over the BSA — which will determine the size and scope of any U.S. mission that remains in Afghanistan after next year — continues, more reports are starting to emerge that billions of dollars of international aid are at stake (Pajhwok). According to Al Jazeera America, some organizations, including schools, are already starting to close their doors as donor fatigue sets in (AJAM). Many of the United States’ coalition partners and international donors are also waiting until the BSA is signed to outline their own post-2014 commitments, meaning a lot more is at risk than just U.S.-Afghan relations.
Voices/faces of the people
As Afghanistan prepares for next April’s presidential and provincial elections, the country’s Independent Election Commission is working hard to register as many eligible voters as possible. But while many seem to be registering, they are not entirely sure if they will vote. After visiting a Kabul registration office on Sunday, the Associated Press’s Amir Shah and Kathy Gannon reported on Tuesday that voters are concerned about fraud and the fact that so many warlords are on the ballot (AP). Yet others are hopeful that the elections will bring change. With photos that were taken by Anja Niedringhaus, the reporters profile 12 Afghan voters, putting a face on everything that is at stake.
— Bailey Cahall
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