The South Asia Channel

U.S., Afghanistan Sign BSA; Modi Meets Obama at White House; Polio Cases Top 180 in Pakistan

Afghanistan  U.S., Afghanistan finalize BSA  The United States and Afghanistan finally signed the long-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) on Tuesday, allowing nearly 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country after the NATO combat mission ends in December (AP). Amb. James B. Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Mohammad Hanif Atmar, a former Afghan ...



U.S., Afghanistan finalize BSA 

The United States and Afghanistan finally signed the long-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) on Tuesday, allowing nearly 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country after the NATO combat mission ends in December (AP). Amb. James B. Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Mohammad Hanif Atmar, a former Afghan interior minister who is now President Ashraf Ghani’s national security advisor, signed the security pact at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, just three months before the bulk of foreign forces are set to withdraw (Pajhwok, TOLO News).

According to the Washington Post‘s Sudarsan Raghavan, the 9,800 U.S. troops that stay in Afghanistan will be there to "help train, equip, and advise Afghan military and police forces" (Post). He also noted that, under the BSA: "American forces would keep some bases in the country. It also prevents U.S. soldiers and military personnel from being prosecuted under Afghan laws for any crimes they may commit; instead the United States has jurisdiction over any criminal proceedings or disciplinary action inside the country. U.S. contractors and their employees do not fall into this category and would be subject to Afghan laws."

John Podesta, a senior advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama who was in Afghanistan for Ghani’s swearing-in ceremony on Monday, told reporters that the signing of the BSA was "an important step in strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries" (VOA). Bonus Read: "Afghanistan’s New Leaders Are Committed, The U.S. Should Be, Too," Ioannis Koskinas (SouthAsia).

Now that the BSA has been finalized, Ghani is expected to sign a similar agreement with NATO later this week, laying out the terms that would allow between 3,000 and 4,000 troops — mostly from Britain, Germany, Italy, and Turkey — to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 (BBC, RFE/RL). Media outlets noted that about 12,500 total coalition troops will still be in Afghanistan at the start of 2015.

Taliban kill Afghan-Australian man

Sayed Habib Musawi, a 56-year-old Afghan man who fled to Australia 14 years ago and recently returned to his home country, was killed by the Taliban for having an Australian passport, according to international news outlets (Guardian, RFE/RL). Though it is unclear when exactly Musawi died, he was reportedly captured by the Taliban on Sep. 20 as he traveled from Jaghori to Ghazni province, and his body was found on Sep. 22 (Guardian). Musawi, who had only been in Afghanistan since May, was a member of the Hazara minority community, which has been regularly persecuted by the Taliban.

— Bailey Cahall 


Modi meets Obama at White House

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Washington, D.C. on Monday, and attended a private dinner hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama (IBNLive). Upon his arrival at the White House, Obama greeted Modi in the Gujarati language, saying "Kem Chho? (How are you?)," and Modi responded: "Thank you very much Mr. President" (NDTV). After the dinner, which lasted 90 minutes, a joint India-U.S. vision statement was released, which stated: "Chalein Saath Saath, forward together we go," and read: "As leaders of two great democratic nations with diverse traditions and faiths, we share a vision for a partnership in which the United States and India work together, not just for the benefit of both our nations, but for the benefit of the world" (Indian Express). After the meeting, Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India’s ministry of external affairs, said that Obama and Modi will write a joint editorial for a leading U.S. journal, though further information was not given. Bonus Read: "Friends Again at Folly’s Expense: U.S.-India Summit Skirts Kashmir and Ukraine," Anish Goel (SouthAsia).

Earlier on Monday, Modi met with and assured U.S. business executives that there would be a friendlier business environment and tax stability in India. Modi met CEOs from several large U.S. companies, including Boeing, PepsiCo, Google, and General Electric. Modi told the company leaders that he would convert the recent Indian Supreme Court judgment on coal blocks into an "opportunity to move forward and clean up the past" (Indian Express, Livemint). The Supreme Court, earlier this month, cancelled 214 illegal and arbitrary coal block allocations.

Modi also talked at the Council of Foreign Relations on Monday. When asked about the recent Indo-China border dispute, Modi said: "India and China are capable of resolving issues through talks. There is no need for any arbitration" (Economic Times). Modi spoke about the expanding influence of terror groups in South Asia, saying: "People of all communities in India are driven by a core philosophy. That is symbolized by Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi. Non-violence is at the core of our philosophy, all the terrorism in our country is exported and not home-grown" (NDTV). Modi further talked about Afghanistan, and cautioned the United States against a hasty troop withdrawal, noting: "The process of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan should be very slow. Afghanistan should be allowed to stand on its feet and then only can it stop the rise of the Taliban" (Livemint).

Before heading to Washington, D.C., Modi also met with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Indian Express). External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also attended the meeting, which lasted 45 minutes. The former president congratulated Modi, and said: "I am thrilled. No one had the knowledge and votes before you to build a national economy" (NDTV). Both Modi and Swaraj congratulated the Clintons on becoming grandparents.

The Congress party commented on Modi’s visit to the United States on Monday, calling him a "very good event manager," but blaming him for getting "carried away" and diluting the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. Senior Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said: "One does not emulate Gandhi by seeking to become a fashion icon and a rockstar changing eight designer suits as Gandhi always put on half a dhoti [a traditional Indian wraparound garment]" (DNA). Modi had referenced Gandhi in his speech to over 18,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Sunday.

However, Congress praised Modi’s U.N. Assembly speech, where he responded to Pakistani criticism (Hindustan Times). Modi said on Saturday: "We want to promote friendship with Pakistan too, but we can only talk without the shadow of terrorism over us" (Times of India). Congress leader Shashi Tharoor — @ShashiTharoor — tweeted: "Strong speech by @PMOIndia at #UNGA2014. Soaring internationalism, support for democracy & environment, anti-terrorism. Good reply to Pak" (Economic Times).

Indian government to repeal obsolete laws

Indian Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Monday that the central government has identified 287 obsolete laws to be repealed in the winter session of Parliament (Economic Times, The Hindu). Prasad said further that the government has written to various departments for urgent feedback on existing outdated laws in their respective jurisdictions. In the previous Parliament session earlier this year, the government had introduced a bill to repeal 36 obsolete laws.

Prasad also said that, based on the recommendation of the Law Commission, the Law Ministry is planning to repeal 700 appropriation acts, which have lost their relevance. This is the first time since 2001 that the Law Ministry is undertaking such an exercise.

Last month, Modi created a committee to identify "obsolete" laws, which hamper governance. On Sunday, during his address at Madison Square Garden, he reiterated his decision to identify and scrap obsolete laws, saying: "If every day I can get rid of one old law, I will be most happy" (WSJ).

India’s first transgender news anchor

In August, Padmini Prakash became India’s first transgender anchor after she read her first bulletin during India’s Independence day on Lotus TV, which is based in the southern state of Tamil Nadu (Post). Speaking about her new job, the 34-year-old Prakash said: "I was very worried because I also had to focus on my diction and maintain a steady narrative pace to ensure that there was clarity and viewers could understand me" (Reuters). However, Prakash also expressed her joy in making an impact in the transgender community in India, noting: "This would change the way people think about transgenders. We have to keep proving ourselves. I’m so happy as if I’ve touched the peak of the world" (NDTV). Prakash also spoke of her personal challenges, and said that when she was 13, her parents, ashamed of her sexual orientation, disowned her. According to estimates, India has about two million transgender people who have been ostracized and are living on the fringes of society (BBC). It was only in April 2014, that the Indian Supreme Court legally recognized India’s transgendered community as a third gender.

— Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan


NIH: 2014 polio cases top 180

Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH) reported on Monday that 10 more polio cases had been reported across the country, raising the total number of cases in 2014 to 184 (ET). The vast majority of the cases have been reported in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (127), though children have been struck with the virus in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (33), Sindh province (17), Punjab province (2), and Balochistan (5) as well.

Pakistan is one country where polio remains endemic, but its case numbers are more than 10 times those reported in Afghanistan and Nigeria, the other two countries hardest hit by polio. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership led by national governments and spearheaded by the World Health Organization, as of Sep. 24, six and 10 cases have been reported so far in Nigeria and Afghanistan, respectively, but 166 have been recorded in Pakistan (GPEI). The organization’s numbers have not yet been updated with these latest reports.

Vaccinating children in Pakistan, however, continues to be difficult. Dawn reported on Tuesday that nearly 17,000 children in Peshawar missed the latest vaccination drive due to their parents’ refusal to participate (Dawn). And polio vaccination teams often come under attack. Indeed, three people were injured in Gujranwala on Tuesday when their team was attacked, just one day after the vaccination drive started (ET).

Scotsman to return to jail where he was shot

Lawyers acting on behalf of Muhammad Asghar, a 70-year-old Scotsman of Pakistani descent who was shot last Thursday by a prison guard, have appealed to British Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene, after reports emerged that Asghar will return to the jail where he was attacked (BBC). Asghar, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was sentenced to death for blasphemy in January after reportedly sending letters to a number of people claiming to be a prophet. He has been held in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail ever since.

Reprieve, the legal organization representing Asghar, said the prison does not have the facilities necessary to treat individuals with mental illnesses as severe as Asghar’s, and his lawyers "noted a marked deterioration in his condition following the recent attempt on his life."

— Bailey Cahall 

Edited by Peter Bergen.

Neeli Shah is a Washington D.C.-based economics, law, and policy professional. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Twitter: @neelishah

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