The South Asia Channel
Ash Carter: U.S. “Rethinking” Afghan Policy; India’s Budget Session Begins; Karachi Police Whistleblower Abducted
Afghanistan Ash Carter: U.S. “rethinking” Afghan policy Newly sworn-in U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Saturday in order to conduct his own assessment of the security situation there (Post, RFE/RL). Carter met with Gen. John F. Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan; Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, the ...
Ash Carter: U.S. “rethinking” Afghan policy
Newly sworn-in U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Saturday in order to conduct his own assessment of the security situation there (Post, RFE/RL). Carter met with Gen. John F. Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan; Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, the head of United States Central Command; Afghan President Ashraf Ghani; and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Carter told reporters: “President Obama is considering a number of options to reinforce our support for President Ghani’s security strategy, including possible changes to our timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops” (NYT). Carter also added that the United States is “rethinking the details” of the U.S. troop drawdown, including changing the timeline, possibly keeping U.S. bases operational longer, and the scope of U.S. counterterrorism raids.
New Afghan scholarship program sends students to Pakistan
On Saturday, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Janan Mosazai, signed a memorandum of understanding with a Pakistani university to send Afghan students to study in Lahore (VOA). Afghanistan has pledged $1 million, which will be added to the $2 million given by the Pakistani government, to send students to the Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the top business management training schools in the region. This agreement marks the first time that Afghanistan will use public funds to support students’ higher education abroad. Five to ten Afghan students are expected to arrive as early as this summer to begin classes in the fall.
Afghanistan arrests Chinese Muslims
On Friday, Afghan security officials said they had arrested and returned 15 Chinese militants to China in order to persuade the country to exert influence over Pakistan regarding peace talks with the Taliban (Reuters). This comes after widespread reporting last Thursday that the Taliban had signaled a willingness to negotiate. The militants were ethnic Uighurs — Turk-speaking Chinese Muslims — who object to Beijing’s rule over their region in western China.
Indian aid worker freed from Taliban
An Indian Jesuit priest working with an aid organization in Afghanistan was freed on Sunday, eight months after being kidnapped by six Taliban gunmen in Herat (TOLO News, Pajhwok). Father Alexis Prem Kumar, 47, was the country director of international NGO Jesuit Refugee Service in Afghanistan for four years before the abduction. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi negotiated for his release. To announce the release, Modi tweeted: “Delighted at securing the release of Indian Jesuit priest Father Alexis Prem Kumar from captivity in Afghanistan. Have spoken to Father Alexis Prem Kumar.”
India’s budget session begins
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee addressed a joint session of both houses of Parliament at the opening of the budget session in New Delhi on Monday (BBC, WSJ, Economic Times). Mukherjee urged all members of Parliament to work in a “spirit of cooperation and mutual accommodation,” and said: “Our Parliament is the sanctum sanctorum of democracy… My government will constantly endeavour for smooth conduct of legislative business and enactment of progressive laws in the Parliament which reflects the will and aspirations of the people” (Livemint). During this budget session, the railway budget will be announced on Thursday, Feb. 26 and the annual budget on Saturday, Feb. 28.
The government wants to pass six ordinances this session, including an increase in the foreign direct investment in insurance from 26 percent to 49 percent, and changes to the land acquisition bill. Opposition parties have united to oppose the land acquisition bill, stating that the bill will force farmers and the poor to lose their lands. In 2014, the government used an executive order to amend the land acquisition bill and facilitate the buying of land for industrial projects. Anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare began a two-day protest in New Delhi on Monday demanding that the government withdraw their changes to the bill.
China protests Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh
China protested against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh on Friday, and said that the visit was “not conducive to the overall development of bilateral relations” (Economic Times, IBNLive). The Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement, which stated: “The Indian side’s insistence on arranging activities by leaders in the disputed region infringes on China’s territorial sovereignty and interests, magnifies the dispute on the border issue, and violates the consensus to appropriately handle the border issue” (Reuters). The Chinese foreign ministry also summoned Ashok K. Kantha, India’s ambassador to China, on Saturday to lodge their protest against Modi’s visit.
In response to China’s comments, Indian Minister of Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said: “Why should someone (China) have problem with PM visiting any part of his country? He’ll definitely visit again… There can be debate regarding 1 or 2 metres of land or border, but there can’t be any debate regarding entire territory or State” (Zee News). During his visit to Arunachal Pradesh on Friday, Modi inaugurated a power station and a train line, and said: “Arunachal Pradesh is getting both gati (momentum) and urja (energy) today. Both are essential for progress. We must remember that slogans alone cannot eradicate poverty” (Indian Express). Tensions between India and China flare up occasionally as both nations disagree over the demarcation of their shared border
Congress VP Rahul Gandhi goes on sabbatical
Rahul Gandhi, vice president of the Congress party, has taken a leave of absence to “reflect upon recent events and the future course of the party,” according to news reports on Monday (Economic Times, Indian Express). A senior Congress party leader, who declined to be identified, said: “Rahul Gandhi wants to take a short break. He wants to assess his role and the party’s future” (Reuters). Under Gandhi’s leadership, the Congress party faced numerous electoral defeats, including losing the national elections to Modi in 2014 and the elections in New Delhi earlier this month, where the Congress party did not win a single seat.
Opposition parties were quick to mock Gandhi for missing the first session of Parliament. Prakash Javadekar, the minister of information and broadcasting and a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, said: “If somebody wants to go on leave [of absence], he can go. But the people of the country have sent Congress on a long leave. This is definite” (DNA). Aam Aadmi Party leader Kumar Vishwas tweeted: “It takes special audacity to go on leave on the first day of school” (NDTV).
Karachi police whistleblower abducted
A medico-legal officer at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Dr. Shehzad Ali, claims police were attempting to coerce him into changing the results of a post-mortem report on “an alleged police encounter casualty” when he was abducted over the weekend (ET). Dr. Ali claims the abduction was related to an autopsy report he wrote three weeks ago where he concluded that the civilian death was caused by close-range gunshot wounds. Dr. Ali said he was “kidnapped and subjected to inhumane torture for not agreeing to tamper with the post-mortem report of a police-encounter casualty.” According to Dr. Ali, several armed policemen dressed in civilian clothing broke into his house at 2:30 am on Sunday and forced him to delete all of his medico-legal records from his personal laptop before taking him to an unknown location where he was tortured and then released. Karachi police chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo denied the involvement of any policemen and said that there was no evidence on record of the kidnapping (Dawn).
Pak-China economic corridor deal ok’d
On Monday, the federal cabinet approved the Pak-China Economic Corridor deal, Pakistan’s biggest road project (Dawn). Phase I of the economic corridor, which will link Islamabad to Raikot, began in December 2014 with a segment connecting Havelian to Thakot — construction which is being financed by China. The cabinet also approved the start of negotiations with China for importing 1000 megawatts of electricity by laying a new transmission line, and is expected to approval an agreement for a discounted loan from China for the Karachi Nuclear Power Projects I and II, and loans from Japan in order to carry out energy reforms.
Government might cut gas, power to encourage vaccinations
An anonymous source within the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Directorate of Health told the Express Tribune that there are several new ideas to get Pakistanis to vaccine their children, including the government “enact[ing] a law to cut gas and electricity connections of those who refuse to vaccinate their kids” (ET). This idea is a direct response to recent protest in which people in KP threatened to not immunize their children if the government fails to ensure stable gas and electricity supplies. When contacted for a response, KP Health Services Director General Dr. Parvez Kamal told the Express Tribune: “Yes, we have some very intelligent people in the health sector and different ideas are being tabled to prevent children from contracting diseases such as polio, which the provincial government plans to eliminate at all costs.”
Edited by Peter Bergen
Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images