The South Asia Channel

Pakistan Assembly Approves Amendment For Military Terrorism Courts; Afghan Gov’t Pressured to Form Cabinet; Thousands Flee Border Fighting

Event Notice: “Undercover Jihadi,” a discussion with Mubin Shaikh and Dr. Anne Speckhard, WEDNESDAY, 9:00 – 10:30 AM (New America). Pakistan National Assembly approves military courts amendment Pakistan’s National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, approved a constitutional amendment on Tuesday that would establish military courts to try civilian terrorism suspects (BBC, VOA). The bill, ...

Pakistani security and media officials gather in front of the Parliament House building in Islamabad on January 6, 2015, as legislators voted for an amendment in the constitution that will protect the establishment of military courts. Pakistan's lower house of parliament on January 6 approved the setting-up of military courts to hear terrorism-related cases, after a Taliban massacre at a military-run school in the northwest shocked the nation. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had announced the plan after the militants gunned down 134 children and 16 adults at the Peshawar school last month. AFP PHOTO/ Aamir QURESHI (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Event Notice: “Undercover Jihadi,” a discussion with Mubin Shaikh and Dr. Anne Speckhard, WEDNESDAY, 9:00 – 10:30 AM (New America).

Pakistan

National Assembly approves military courts amendment

Pakistan’s National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, approved a constitutional amendment on Tuesday that would establish military courts to try civilian terrorism suspects (BBC, VOA). The bill, which is designed to accelerate the trials of alleged terrorists and would last for two years after becoming law, passed in the 342-seat assembly with a vote of 247-0 (RFE/RL). The vote, however, was not unanimous as the members of several religious parties and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf opposition party abstained (Dawn, ET, Reuters). The amendment will now go to the upper house, the Senate, and President Mamnoon Hussain for approval, and is expected to become law later this week.

While the measure, which is one of several to be instituted since December, when the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar and killed 145 people, had support from a majority of the country’s parliamentarians, several members of Pakistan’s legal community are concerned about a “sort of covert martial law” (WSJ). Though senior government officials have said that strong safeguards would be built into the legislation to prevent abuse, Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst, told the Wall Street Journal that the military “has [already] entered the civilian domain to a great extent.”

The bill’s passage came just one day after the Pakistani government halted the execution of Shafqat Hussain, a man sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in 2004 for involuntary manslaughter (BBC). Human rights organizations have argued that Hussain was tortured into giving a confession, and that he should not have been tried in such a court as the charges against him weren’t related to terrorism. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced the stay of execution on Monday and said a team would investigate Hussain’s case.

Psaki: No Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds for Pakistan since 2013

Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, told reporters on Monday that no funds have been issued to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act — which authorized the release of $1.5 billion a year in non-military aid to Pakistan from 2010 to 2014 — since 2013, dismissing a report by Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance Affairs on Dec. 29 that the U.S. Congress had released $532 million of aid to the country (Dawn). Psaki added that while different kinds of funds have been used for Pakistan since 2013, “Congress hasn’t been notified of [any] new funding, and they haven’t approved any funding” (ET).

Afghanistan 

Bonus Read: “Ferrying the Dead of Both Sides in a Cruel Afghan War,” Azam Ahmed (NYT).

Parliamentarians push government to form cabinet

Members of Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) told the national unity government on Tuesday that if it did not approve a federal cabinet by Wednesday, the legislative body would use its authority to create one instead (TOLO News). While Mohammad Mohaqiq, the country’s deputy chief executive, told TOLO News that President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah have agreed on several key points regarding the cabinet nominees, the news outlet noted that the government has delayed the cabinet’s creation a number of times since being sworn in three months ago.

The jirga’s announcement came one day after civil society activists formed a symbolic cabinet of 26 individuals, and blamed the delay for “causing economic stagnation and deteriorating security conditions” across Afghanistan (TOLO News). The delay in forming a cabinet has also “sparked a wave of online jokes, with even the Taliban insurgents joining in,” Reuters reported on Tuesday (Reuters). According to the wire service’s Kay Johnson, the jokes mask concerns about the stability of the unity government in the months ahead as foreign troops withdraw, though the fact that the Taliban has joined in is particularly embarrassing for the new administration.

U.S. military says no changes to withdrawal timeline

One day after the CBS news program “60 Minutes” aired an interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in which he suggested that the United States’ plans to withdraw from the country should be “re-examined,” a U.S. military spokesman told reporters that the current plan “remains in effect” (RFE/RL). U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren added that: “[T]here have been no changes to the drawdown timeline,” noting that the United States still intends to cut the number of troops in the country to about 5,000 by the end of this year and to draw down to a “normal” embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016. There are currently 10,800 American forces remaining in Afghanistan.

— Bailey Cahall 

India-Pakistan Border

Thousands flee Kashmir amidst border tensions

Nearly 10,000 villagers abandoned their homes in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir as intense firing continued between India and Pakistan over the Line of Control on Monday (Indian Express, Reuters, Economic Times). Both countries have accused each other of violating an existing ceasefire agreement, and at least 10 deaths of Indian and Pakistani soldiers and civilians due to the violence have been reported over the past week. While Pakistan claimed that its troops were “effectively responding to India’s [unprovoked] firing,” an Indian official said: “The firing is going on and we are giving befitting reply to Pakistani shelling” (BBC).

The United States expressed concern over the rising tensions between India and Pakistan on Monday. Jen Psaki, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, said: “We certainly remain concerned and watch over tensions along the border. We encourage dialogue between the [two] countries” (Daily Times). Both India and Pakistan have claimed Kashmir in its entirety, and the dispute has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than 60 years.

India

India elects its first transgender mayor

Madhu Kinnar, 35, became India’s first transgender mayor on Sunday after winning elections in Raigarh, located in the central state of Chhattisgarh (AJE, Times of India). Kinnar, who used to dance and sing on trains to earn her living, beat her Bharatiya Janata Party opponent by more than 4,500 votes. Kinnar said: “People have shown faith in me. I consider this win as love and blessings of people for me. I’ll put in my best efforts to accomplish their dreams” (NDTV). India’s Supreme Court recognized transgender people as a third gender in a landmark ruling in April 2013.

U.S. brewery apologizes for using Gandhi on a beer can

The New England Brewing Company, a U.S.-based brewery, apologized for using the name and image of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on its label for one of its beers, according to news reports in Monday (Times of India, AP). The U.S.-based company apologized after a petition was filed in an Indian court, which stated that the use of Gandhi’s image could be punishable by law. The beer carrying the image is called Gandhi-Bot and is an India Pale Ale. The company describes Gandhi-Bot as an “ideal aid for self-purification and the seeking of truth and love” (BBC).

— Neeli Shah

Edited by Peter Bergen.

AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

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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