The South Asia Channel

Gates Critiques Obama in Memoir; Musharraf May Leave Pakistan for Treatment; Khobragade Row Continues

Bonus Read: "No Winners in Bangladesh," Alyssa Ayers (CFR).  Afghanistan Gates says Obama "lost faith" in Afghan strategy  In his new book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offers a harsh assessment of President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the war in Afghanistan, according to multiple ...


Bonus Read: "No Winners in Bangladesh," Alyssa Ayers (CFR). 


Gates says Obama "lost faith" in Afghan strategy 

In his new book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offers a harsh assessment of President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the war in Afghanistan, according to multiple media outlets who received advance copies (BBC, NYT, RFE/RL, WSJ). Bob Woodward, reviewing the book for the Washington Post, noted that: "It is rare for a former Cabinet member, let alone a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command, to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president" (Post). While Gates describes Obama as "a man of personal integrity," he notes that the president was uncomfortable with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, writing that Obama "eventually lost faith in the troop increase he ordered [in 2009]," and that he was "skeptical, if not outright convinced it would fail" (VOA). For Obama, it was "all about getting out." 

But while Gates criticizes Obama for losing faith in the surge, he says the president was right to put firm limits on the number of troops he was willing to send into Afghanistan and for setting a withdrawal date. He also praises Obama for ordering the May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. It’s a somewhat contradictory view of the president, causing the Washington Post‘s Greg Jaffe to describe the book as "confusing, frustrating, and sometimes fascinating" (Post).

In response to the reviews, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden released a statement saying: "The President deeply appreciates Bob Gates’ service as Secretary of Defense, and his lifetime of service to our country… As has always been the case, the President welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies. The President wishes Secretary Gates well as he recovers from his recent injury, and discusses his book" (USA Today). 

Taliban deny sending girl on suicide mission

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, denied having any involvement in the case of a young girl who says her brother, a Taliban fighter, dressed her up with a suicide vest and told her to carry out a suicide attack on a police outpost in Helmand province (RFE/RL). Ahmadi claimed the story was "propaganda" by the Afghan government and that, according to Taliban policy, suicide bombers should only be adult males who volunteer to carry out such attacks. The girl, known only as Spozhmay, is being held by police in Lashkar Gah; her father has been arrested and police are searching for her brother (Post). 


Musharraf may leave country for medical treatment 

While a special court in Islamabad began reviewing former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s medical records on Tuesday to determine if he could be excused from attending trial proceedings against him, Pakistani security officials told several Western media outlets that the ex-military ruler may leave the country to receive medical treatment in exile. Though it is unclear where Musharraf would go, a senior security official in Islamabad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said: "It is good for everybody — including Musharraf — that he would go out of the country" (AP, LAT). Western diplomats and security analysts noted that Musharraf’s presence in Pakistan has become a political headache for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government, whose prosecution of the former leader — the first of a former senior military figure — has put the civilian government at odds with the country’s powerful army. 

Musharraf’s name is currently on Pakistan’s Exit Control List, which means he can move around the country freely, but cannot leave (ET). Begum Sehba Musharraf, the former president’s wife, currently lives in Dubai and has asked the government to remove his name from the list so he can seek medical treatment abroad. So far, however, the government has refused to grant this request. 

Six bodies found at Sufi shrine 

Pakistani police found the bodies of six men whose throats had been cut on Tuesday at a Sufi Muslim shrine in the port city of Karachi (RFE/RL). According to the police, a note signed by someone claiming to represent the Pakistani Taliban, was found next to the bodies at the Ayub Shah Bukhari shrine and warned people against visiting similar buildings. While the Pakistani Taliban has not yet commented on the incident, the militant organization has been blamed for previous attacks on Sufis in Pakistan — viewing both Sufism and visits to shrines as "incompatible with the Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalism espoused by the movement." 

Girl power

Forbes magazine released its third annual "30 Under 30" list on Monday, "a tally of the brightest stars in 15 different fields under the age of 30," and three Pakistani women made the cut in the Social Entrepreneurship category (ET). The most well-known woman on the list is Malala Yousafzai, who became an international champion of girls’ education after she was shot by the Pakistani Taliban in October 2012. She is credited with co-founding the Malala Fund, which aims to increase girls’ enrollment in formal education in the developing world; her co-founder, Shiza Shahid, is also on the list. Shahid, a graduate from Stanford University, was also listed on TIME magazine’s "30 Under 30" list in December 2013. Rounding out the list is Khalida Brohi, who founded Sughar, a non-profit organization that helps women start small businesses so they can become more financially independent, after witnessing the death of her friend in an honor killing. 

— Bailey Cahall

India ends expat privileges in response to Khobragade suit 

India ordered the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to stop all "commercial activities" at a club it operates and submit the club’s tax returns by Jan. 16, as the diplomatic spat over the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York City continues (BBC, Guardian, Indian Express, WSJ). The club, the American Community Support Association, offers American citizens and their families’ access to a bar, restaurant, recreational facilities, and imported duty-free items. An Indian government notice said the club’s operation was "incompatible with the functions of the mission and a clear violation of Article 41 (3) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961." 

"These facilities within the premises of a mission are only meant for diplomats," a senior foreign ministry official told the Washington Post, adding that: "If it is extended to non-diplomats, then it becomes a commercial venture and they should have paid taxes in India" (Post). The Indian government also asked the embassy to stop screening movies without the necessary domestic licenses and told the New Delhi police to stop granting immunity to embassy vehicles for traffic violations. Khobragade was detained on Dec. 12 on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her maid. New Delhi continues to exert diplomatic pressure in the hope that the State Department will grant Khobragade a G1 visa, which would protect her from prosecution. 

Migrants and domestic workers demand dignity at New Delhi conference

As the high-level diplomatic spat over the treatment of Khobragade’s domestic help continued, representatives of migrant and domestic workers protested in New Delhi to argue for greater representation in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), a government-sponsored conference for non-resident Indians (The Hindu). The protestors argued that the PBD’s agenda should include issues concerning the labor diaspora, including low- and semi-skilled migrant workers, and put forth a variety of demands, including the ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention of the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations; public debate of the proposed Emigration Management Bill, 2011; inclusion of labor rights, wage, working conditions, social protection, and healthcare for migrants workers in bilateral labor agreements; and registration of agencies involves in overseas recruitment. At present, this year’s PBD convention has allotted less than 20 minutes on its third day to discuss issues faced by migrants, protestors said. They also condemned "the one-sided response of the government in the Devyani Khobragade-Sangeeta Richard case."

Top Maoist leader surrenders 

A top leader and spokesperson from India’s main Maoist rebel group surrendered on Wednesday before the Special Intelligence Branch (SIB) of the Andhra Pradesh police (Indian Express). Gumudavelli Venkatakrishna Prasad, alias "Gudsa Usendi," a high-ranking leader within the organization’s Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, has over 30 years of experience with the group and oversaw several operations in Chhattisgarh, a state with considerable Maoist activity. He is said to have been responsible for the May 27, 2013, ambush in Bastar, which killed 27 members in a Congress party convoy, including the state’s Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel.

Prasad, who took on a greater role after top leader "Kishenji" was killed in 2011, was active within the organization’s think-tank, creating propaganda material and issuing major press statements. While the SIB has not confirmed the surrenders of Prasad and his wife Raji, sources quoted by the Indian Express speculated about whether or not a fallout between top party leaders was responsible for the move.

AAP headquarters attacked over Kashmir comment

Police arrested Pinki Choudhary, the leader of the Hindu Raksha Dal activist organization, and detained one other person on Wednesday, following an attack by the group on the office of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) (The Hindu, Indian Express, India Times). Around 40 activists, primarily in their 20s and 30s, attacked the AAP’s office in the Kaushambi township of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, just outside of Delhi, breaking flowerpots, tearing party posters, and smashing glass doors with bricks and stones. Choudhary told reporters after his arrest that the group was angered by recent remarks by AAP leader Prashant Bhusan on Kashmir.

Bhushan recently said a referendum should be carried out in Kashmir to decide whether the Indian army would be deployed there; the AAP subsequently distanced itself from the remark, saying that troop deployment should be decided based on national security rather than referenda. After the attack, Bhushan blamed the blamed the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh parties and their affiliated organizations for the attack on the party’s office, saying they were "extremely frustrated with the rise of AAP" (Times of India). The BJP responded by condemning the violence and saying it would never support anyone who resorted to such acts (Economic Times). 

All Indians should have bank account by 2016: RBI committee

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) released a report on Wednesday with suggestions to increase financial inclusion and proposing broad-based changes to India’s banking system (The Hindu, Firstpost, Economic Times). The ‘Committee on Comprehensive Financial Services for Small Business and Low Income Households‘ was created in September 2013 under Nachiket Mor, a member of RBI’s central board of directors, to better understand how a full range of credit products could be accessible to every Indian. The report recommends the creation of banks exclusively for payment services and deposit products for small businesses and low-income households. The report envisions every Indian above the age of 18 holding a bank account by 2016 and suggests this can be made possible by issuing a free electronic account tied to the now mandatory biometric identification card, the "Aadhar." The report also recommends the gradual abolition of the statutory liquidity ratio, as well as merging financial regulators within every state to cover a wider range of issues, such as the regulation of microfinance institutions. The committee was created the day Raghuram Rajan took over as governor of the RBI.

— Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson 

Edited by Peter Bergen. 

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