The South Asia Channel
Heavy Losses for Afghan National Army in 2014; India, Pakistan Resume Talks; Pakistan’s Biometric Data Collection Ongoing
The South Asia Daily brief for Tuesday, March 3, 2015.
Bonus read: “A Thin Line of Defense Against ‘Honor Killings,’” Alissa J. Rubin (NYT)
Heavy losses for Afghan National Army in 2014
The Afghan NationalArmy (ANA) lost more than 20,000 members in 2014 due to desertions, discharges, and deaths in combat, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). From January to November 2014, the ANA’s numbers declined by 11 percent, to 169,000 soldiers. Although the U.S.-led coalition said that the ANA’s size had increased slightly in the past few months — reaching 173,000 in January 2015 — the force is still the smallest it has been since the fall of 2011.
The report by SIGAR was scheduled to be released last week, but a day before its scheduled publication, the coalition command in Afghanistan informed the inspector general that it had been supplying incorrect data on the size of the ANA throughout 2014 (NYT). That data overestimated Army’s size by thousands of troops — at one point by more than 14,000. The coalition blamed the incorrect data on an accounting error.
Ghani sacks police officers, diplomats
Twenty-seven senior Afghan police officers have been fired as part of what the Afghan government is calling a move towards good governance (BBC). Seventeen of them were district police chiefs in Kabul, while others were officers involved in counter-narcotics operations. The changes were ordered by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who, since taking office last September, has dismissed many officials accused of corruption. However, according to the BBC’s Jonathan Beale, the latest dismissals are not as radical as previous ones, and a number of the officers have been given new jobs.
Meanwhile, around 40 Afghan diplomats, including 11 ambassadors, were dismissed “on the basis of their tenure and age and not meeting the required criteria,” according to sources speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News (Pahjwok). The decision was the result of a meeting between Ghani and Foreign Minister Salahudding Rabbani. According to Pajhwok, most diplomats appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are relatives of government officials and lawmakers.
India, Pakistan resume diplomatic talks
Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyan Jaishankar met with his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry in Islamabad on Tuesday, and pledged to improve relations between the two countries (Economic Times, Nation, Livemint). It was the first foreign-secretary-level talk since August 2014, when India called off talks with Pakistan after Abdul Basit — the Pakistani high commissioner to India — met with Kashmiri separatist leaders just a week before the talks were scheduled to occur. After the meeting, Jaishankar told reporters: “We are going to work together to find common ground and narrow differences… We agreed that ensuring peace and tranquillity on the border was vital” (Indian Express). It was reported on Tuesday that Pakistan would propose a series of new confidence-building measures to improve relations between the two countries. Jaishankar is also expected to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his two-day visit.
New Delhi rapist blames victim in new documentary
The BBC announced on Monday that it will air a documentary titled “India’s Daughter” on March 8, which includes an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the men accused in the 2012 gang-rape of a young woman in New Delhi (BBC, WSJ, IBNLive). The BBC reported that Singh blames the rape victim in the interview, saying: “A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy… Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good,” and adding: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy” (Time). On Dec. 16, 2012, a 23-year-old student was brutally gang-raped and tortured by six men on a moving bus in New Delhi as she headed home with a male friend after watching a movie. The woman died of her injuries two weeks later, triggering nationwide protests and drawing massive international media coverage.
Indian guru persuaded 400 men to castrate themselves
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, an Indian spiritual guru with a reported wealth of more than $50 million, after he allegedly persuaded approximately 400 men to get their testicles removed, according to news reports on Monday (India Today, The Independent, Mirror). Singh, known as the “Guru in Bling,” claimed that the castrations would bring the men closer to God. While the men were castrated in 2000 in a hospital owned by Singh, the news only came to light recently after Hans Raj Chauhan, one of Singh’s followers, recorded a statement with the CBI. Although Singh has never been convicted, several female followers have accused him of sexually assaulting them in the past, and he was charged with conspiracy after an investigative journalist was murdered in 2002.
Biometric data collection drive ongoing
In one of the world’s largest efforts to collect biometric information, Pakistan has ordered mobile phone users to verify their identities through fingerprints (Guardian). The prints are being stored in a national database that it is hoped will curb the proliferation of illegal and untraceable SIM cards and in turn, cut down on terrorism. At the beginning of 2015, there were 103 million SIM cards in Pakistan that officials were not sure were properly registered. Mobile phone companies have until April 15 to verify the owners of the SIM cards. In the past six weeks, 53 million SIM cards belonging to 38 million residents have been verified through biometric screening, according to officials.
Vaccines wasted by health officials
Pakistani authorities suspended two health officials on Tuesday after discovering that $3.7 million worth of vaccines donated by UNICEF were stored at a high temperature and rendered ineffective (AFP). Saira Afzal Tarar, the state minister of National Health Services Regulation, said: “It appears that one person was switching off the generator when it was turned on, apparently to save fuel.” The vaccines protected against five different diseases with a single shot, although they did not cover polio, which is endemic in Pakistan.
— Emily Schneider and Neeli Shah
Edited by Peter Bergen
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images