Cameron Makes Surprise Visit to Kabul; Nawaz Calls on Islamic Scholars to Combat Terrorism; Modi Delivers Radio Address

Afghanistan Cameron makes surprise visit to Afghanistan  British Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise visit to Kabul on Friday, becoming the first world leader to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who was sworn in on Monday (Pajhwok, Reuters, WSJ). Holding a joint press conference with Ghani outside of the Presidential Palace, Cameron promised ...

Dan Kitwood - Pool/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood - Pool/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood - Pool/Getty Images

Afghanistan

Cameron makes surprise visit to Afghanistan 

British Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise visit to Kabul on Friday, becoming the first world leader to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who was sworn in on Monday (Pajhwok, Reuters, WSJ). Holding a joint press conference with Ghani outside of the Presidential Palace, Cameron promised that Britain will always be "a strong partner and a good friend" to Afghanistan, and said that it is committed to helping Afghans build a "more secure, stable, and prosperous future" (RFE/RL). He also called on the new national unity government to "bring the country together in a way that can deliver non-corrupt, good governance to the whole of Afghanistan."

After the United States, Britain has contributed the most troops to the Afghan mission. In recognition of that service, and setting a new tone with NATO, Ghani said: "I want to say thank you to those families for the loss of their loved ones. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder (with Afghan forces) and we will remember them" (AFP). He went on to say: "Let me thank every soldier and civilian who was injured in Afghanistan and have left pieces of their bodies here. (They) have memories, some of them haunting memories, but I hope they will also remember the good heart of the Afghans." More than 450 British troops have died in Afghanistan.

While it is unclear how many British troops will remain in Afghanistan once the NATO combat mission ends in December, "Cameron pledged 178 million pounds ($287 million) a year until 2017 to support education, health and other public services in Afghanistan" (AP).

Afghan force casualties up by 30 percent

The Associated Press reported on Friday that "[a]n Afghan army desperate for more advanced military equipment is suffering death rates 30 percent higher in the 2014 fighting season, the army’s first against the Taliban without large-scale assistance from the U.S.-led international military force" (AP). According to U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, between 7,000 and 9,000 Afghan soldiers have been killed or wounded so far this year (RFE/RL, VOA).

Afghan and American military experts told the Associated Press, however, that a bigger worry than the increased number of deaths among the Afghan security forces is the potential havoc that could be unleashed, should the military fracture along ethnic lines. Though some international troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 to help train and advise the Afghan forces, the Afghan army will truly be on its own on the battlefield for the first time since 2001. Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan’s former minister of defense and an advisor to Ghani, noted: "They’re fighting, but they are suffering."

Pakistan 

Nawaz calls on religious scholars to combat terrorism

Speaking to a delegation of religious leaders from different schools of thought on Friday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said they had a responsibility to preach to their fellow Muslims that Islam is a religion of peace, not violence (Dawn). Sharif added that the role of the ulema (Islamic scholars) was extremely vital for the country, and asked the scholars "to show unity in their ranks." According to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, in June, over 100 ulema issued a fatwa declaring that the nation had a duty to support the military’s ongoing offensive against militants operating in North Waziristan as they "had murdered hundreds of innocent people and targeted schools, shrines, and hospitals and that those opposing the action were rebelling against the state." 

With Operation Zarb-i-Azb showing no signs of letting up, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations office released a statement on Friday that said at least 15 militants had been killed in air strikes in the Jamrud and Bara sections of the Khyber tribal agency (Dawn). Sources also told Dawn that three militant hideouts in the Chapri, Malakdinkhel, and Sipah areas of Jamrud had been destroyed in the strikes, but none of the information could be independently verified as journalists’ access to the area is limited.

Lawmakers push to protect Pakistani minorities 

In an address at the Quetta Press Club on Thursday, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, the head of the Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party, said there is a need to restructure Pakistan’s Constitution "in order to protect the country’s ‘oppressed nations’ from decades-long injustices" (ET). Noting "that Pakistan is a country where several nations with distinct cultures live," Achakzai said that if "proper rights are not given… it would result in terrorism and hatred among people."

Elsewhere in Islamabad on Thursday, lawmakers representing minorities in the country’s Senate Panel demanded that the government deploy army personnel to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province to protect non-Muslims (ET). According to the senators, minorities such as Hindus and Sikhs live "in [a] state of fear" as organized groups are increasingly targeting them. They also argued that a new military crackdown was needed as militants have started regrouping in the tribal regions.

— Bailey Cahall

India

Modi delivers radio address

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his first radio speech — titled "Man ki Baat" (A talk from the heart) — on Friday, which was broadcast on the state-run All India Radio, FM channels, community radio stations, and television (BBC). Modi talked about recent programs he had launched, including the "Clean India" program, and encouraged people to use khadi (hand-woven cloth) products to help the poor. Speaking about the country’s inherent strength, Modi said: "The strength of the country is in the huts of the poor, the strength of my country lies in villages, the strength of my country in mothers, sisters, youth, and farmers. The country will progress on the basis of your strength, this I believe in. I have faith in your strength, so I believe in the future of India" (Indian Express). 

In his address, Modi also shared some suggestions he had received by email, which included banning polythene, increasing dustbins, introducing skill development courses beginning in the 5th grade, and starting special programs for gifted children. Modi asked people to write to him about issues they would like to be addressed, saying: "I urge people to share details of inspiring incidents. I will share them with the country" (NDTV). Modi said he would speak to people through the radio at least once a month, further elaborating: "It is such a simple medium…. I can reach even remote areas from wherever I am" (Livemint). 

Al Qaeda’s sub-continent chief may be of Indian origin

Indian intelligence agencies are investigating whether Maulana Asim Umar, the head of al Qaeda’s new unit in the Indian subcontinent, originates from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, according to the Indian Express (Indian Express). It was reported on Friday that before emigrating in the 1990s, Umar studied at the famous Dar-ul-Uloom seminary in Deoband (Financial Express). An intelligence official said: "No firm details have emerged so far… But from the bits and pieces of information we have, we’re increasingly convinced that Maulana Umar is likely of Indian origin, perhaps even an Indian national." In a video posted online in early September, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri promised to spread Islamic rule and "raise the flag of jihad" across the "Indian subcontinent" (Hindustan Times).

Earlier this week, Modi said at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York City that terrorism in India is not homegrown (NDTV). Maulana Ashraf Usmani, a spokesperson for the Deoband seminary, in response to the reports, said: "I want to emphatically underline that the Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband is unequivocal in its condemnation of terrorism, and, indeed, in its opposition to all forms of wrongdoing. Wherever this man got his ideas, it was not here."

Indian singer says women wearing jeans are against Indian culture

India’s legendary singer K.J. Yesudas, from the southern state of Kerala, said on Thursday that women wearing jeans provoked "undesirable" behavior, and were "against Indian culture" (NDTV). Yesudas, renowned for singing Indian classical and devotional songs, spoke at a gathering at the Swati Thirunal College of Music in Kerala’s capital, Trivandrum, and said: "Women should not wear jeans and trouble others. You should dress modestly and do not behave like men," adding that: "People would be tempted to pay attention to what’s beyond it… Don’t do it to attract and make others do the undesirable" (BBC). The singer also said: "Whatever should be covered, should be covered. We appreciate what’s concealed and that’s our culture." 

Yesudas’ comments invoked sharp criticism and by Friday, Indians were expressing their outrage on Twitter. Female activists asked Yesudas to apologize, and withdraw his statements immediately. Mahila (Woman) Congress leader Bindu Krishna said: "Did Yesudas, who spends many days in America, fails [sic] to know about the changes in Kerala society. His retrogressive comments were not fitting for a civilized society" (Indian Express). Krishna further said: "Yesudas is a great singer and all Indians are proud of his contribution to music. It is unfortunate that this sort of an anti-woman comment has come from him." 

— Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

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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