U.S. increasing secret activities in Afghanistan; Modi calls Sharif; Taliban attack mosque in Peshawar

Editor’s Note: The South Asia Channel will not be publishing a daily brief on Monday, February 16, but will resume publication on Tuesday, February 17.  Afghanistan United States increasing secret activities in Afghanistan American special operations forces, assisting Afghan special forces, have “significant[ly] increase[d]” the number of night raids conducted in Afghanistan after seizing a ...

US soldiers from Bravo and Delta Company
US soldiers from Bravo and Delta Company
US soldiers from Bravo and Delta Company, 2-87 Infantry Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team guard suspected Taliban insurgents as they arrive at the Forward Operating Base Pasab in Zahri district of Kandahar province on August 15, 2011, following their capture during a five hour ground and air assault operation. According to Major Kirby Dennis, operations officer of Task Force 2-87, this US army operation will reduce the insurgents offensive capability following the capature of eight individuals, including two suspected Taliban leaders and assorted bomb making components. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's Note: The South Asia Channel will not be publishing a daily brief on Monday, February 16, but will resume publication on Tuesday, February 17. 

Editor’s Note: The South Asia Channel will not be publishing a daily brief on Monday, February 16, but will resume publication on Tuesday, February 17. 

Afghanistan

United States increasing secret activities in Afghanistan

American special operations forces, assisting Afghan special forces, have “significant[ly] increase[d]” the number of night raids conducted in Afghanistan after seizing a laptop in a raid to arrest al Qaeda leader Abu Bara al-Kuwait last October (NYT). American military officials told the New York Times: “the intelligence seized in the raid was possibly as significant as the information found in the computer and documents of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan” in 2011. This increase differs from the Obama administration’s declaration that the U.S. role in Afghanistan is virtually over. Anonymous American and Afghan officials said U.S. forces were not acting as advisers but taking direct combat roles in the raids.

Alleged Afghan ISIS member sentenced

Abdul Qadir Wahidi, also known as Abu Ibrahim Khurasani, was sentenced to 15 years by a provincial court in the central province of Ghazni this month for being a spokesman for ISIS and participating in the kidnapping of the head of Ghazni’s transportation department, according to an anonymous local official who spoke to Radio Free Afghanistan (RFE/RL). Wahidi made a video in last September with three others claiming to be Afghan militants representing a group called the Islamic Organization of Great Afghanistan that was pledging allegiance to ISIS. Last month, an ISIS spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, announced the leadership council for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Wahidi was not included.

General John F. Campbell, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the “nascent [ISIS] presence in Afghanistan represents more of a rebranding of a few marginalized Taliban,” (Pajhwok).

Afghanistan moves up on free journalism ranking

Afghanistan currently ranked 122 out of 180 on the 2015 Reporters Without Borders freedom of information index released Thursday, up six places from last year (TOLO News). Afghanistan performed best out of its regional neighbors: Pakistan ranked 159 (down one place), India ranked 136 (up four places), and Iran ranked number 173 (unchanged). On Friday, the eve of World Radio Day, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani praised journalists, in particular radio journalists, saying: “Our radio journalists should promote national harmony and bridge the gap among people. The radio set is available almost in every home and the radio journalists play a highly significant role in bringing positive changes to people’s lives,” (Pajhwok).

–Courtney Schuster

India

Modi calls Sharif

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – an economic and geopolitical cooperation between South Asian nations) leaders on Friday to convey his best wishes ahead of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup (WSJ, Economic Times). Modi tweeted: “Spoke to [Afghani] President @ashrafghani, [Bangladeshi] PM Sheikh Hasina, [Pakistani] PM Nawaz Sharif & [Sri Lankan] President Sirisena. Conveyed my best wishes for the Cricket World Cup,” and “5 SAARC Nations are playing & are excited about the World Cup.Am sure WC will celebrate sportsman spirit & will be a treat for sports lovers.”

India and Pakistan are playing the opening ICC World Cup game on Sunday. While tensions have been high between India and Pakistan, both countries have used “cricket diplomacy” in the past. During his call to Sharif, Modi also said that India’s new foreign secretary, S. Jaishankar, will plan a visit to Pakistan soon. Last year, the Indian government canceled foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan, after Abdul Basit, Pakistani high commissioner to India, met with Kashmiri separatists.

BJP wins Assam elections

After the rout in the New Delhi state assembly elections, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the civic elections in northeastern state of Assam, according to news reports on Thursday (Indian Express, Times of India, NDTV). While the BJP won 38 of the 74 municipal boards and town committees, the opposing Congress party, which had won 71 boards and committees five years ago, won only 17 bodies. Modi tweeted: “I congratulate Assam BJP for the commendable performance of the Party in the Municipal Polls held across the State.” Assam will hold state assembly elections next year.

Train derails in South India

After colliding with a boulder, a train derailed in the southern state of Karnataka killing at least 11 people and injuring dozens, according to railway officials on Friday (BBC, WSJ, Livemint). Officials further said many bodies were trapped in the wreckage, and the toll was likely to rise. India’s railway network carries over 18 million passengers daily and operates 9,000 passenger trains. Last year, 23 people died in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh after a passenger train collided with a goods train.

Couples to protest on Valentine’s Day

Hundreds of students dressed in colorful wedding clothes plan to protest outside the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha (All India Hindu Assembly – a right-wing Hindu organization) on Saturday, in response to the right-wing organization’s announcement that on Feb. 14 they will punish couples carrying roses, sitting in public spaces, hugging, and celebrating Valentine’s Day, the “foreign festival” (Hindustan Times). Vidhyalakshmi Kumari, who is organizing the protest, said: “Why give the sabha’s volunteers so much trouble? So we have asked all lovers to gather outside the Mahasabha’s Mandir Marg office for the most epic mass marriage ceremony Delhi will ever see… This is about creatively fighting forces that undermine our right to love and occupy public spaces” (Indian Express).

A student group from New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University sent an open letter to the Hindu Mahasabha, which stated: “It has come to our notice that you and your self-appointed brigade of protectors have vowed to undertake a programme on February 14, where you promise to marry off anyone who openly expresses their love… Will you marry a boy to a boy he likes? Or a girl to a girl? Will you … repeal Section 377? We will be outside your office on February 14.” Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes sexual activities “against the order of nature,” including homosexual acts.

— Neeli Shah

Pakistan

Taliban attack mosque in Peshawar

On Friday following afternoon prayers, a Shiite mosque in Peshawar was attacked by at least 5 or 6 militants killing at least 19 and injuring over 50 (BBC, Dawn). Police killed one of the attackers in a gunfight outside the mosque and arrested a second militant. Three explosions could be heard within the mosque, with at least one militant detonating a suicide vest (Reuters). Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector General Nasir Durrani said the attackers did not enter through the heavily guarded front entrance, but instead, climbed a high wall and cut barbed wire to enter. The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack with spokesperson Muhammad Khorasani saying: “It is the revenge of Dr. Usman who was hanged last month for attack on the army’s headquarters,” (ET).

Military courts hear first terrorism cases

Military courts began to hear 12 terrorism cases of civilians that were referred to the courts under the new amendment to the Pakistani constitution (Dawn, ET). The government has been given ten days to submit statements regarding a petition filed against the establishment of the military courts. After the ten days has expired, the cases will have a full hearing by a 17-judge panel.

Obama and Sharif to meet

President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed on Thursday to meet “at a mutually convenient time,” said the White House (Reuters). The two spoke via telephone for almost 30 minutes about counterterrorism and other issues the White House National Security Council said on Twitter (ET). The Prime Minister’s House told the Express Tribune that Obama updated Sharif about his recent trip to India and Sharif apprised Obama of the status of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the military action in North Waziristan. Sharif also expressed his belief that India should not be given a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council due to U.N. violations regarding Kashmir.

–Courtney Schuster

Edited by Peter Bergen

ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

Courtney Schuster is a research associate with the International Security Program at New America and an assistant editor with the South Asia Channel.
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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