The South Asia Channel

Military Chief to Step Down When His Term Ends in November 2016; India and France Sign Fighter Jet Deal; Afghan Taliban Attend International Conference in Qatar

Pakistan Bonus read: “Pakistan’s Monster,” by Dexter Filkins (The New Yorker) Military chief to step down when his term ends in November 2016 Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif, seen as Pakistan’s most powerful man, announced Monday through the military’s public relations office that he will step down from his position when his term expires in November ...

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with army chief Raheel Sharif during a ceremony to mark the country's Independence Day in Islamabad on August 14, 2015. Pakistan on August 14 celebrated its 68th anniversary of the country's independence from British rule. AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI        (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with army chief Raheel Sharif during a ceremony to mark the country's Independence Day in Islamabad on August 14, 2015. Pakistan on August 14 celebrated its 68th anniversary of the country's independence from British rule. AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan

Bonus read: “Pakistan’s Monster,” by Dexter Filkins (The New Yorker)

Military chief to step down when his term ends in November 2016

Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif, seen as Pakistan’s most powerful man, announced Monday through the military’s public relations office that he will step down from his position when his term expires in November 2016 (ReutersDawn). In the three years of Gen. Sharif’s tenure, the Pakistani military has dramatically increased their aerial and ground assaults on militant groups in the western part of the country. Believing an extension of his term may undermine these efforts, Gen. Sharif is quoted through Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Lt.-Gen. Asim Bajwa’s Twitter saying, “Pakistan Army is a great institution. I don’t believe in extension and will retire on the due date.” This decision contrasts with both of Gen. Sharif’s predecessors, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Pervez Musharraf, who sought and obtained extensions to their original three-year terms.

Pakistani military says attack on university directed by Taliban in Afghanistan

On Saturday, a Pakistani military spokesman announced that the four attackers at Bacha Khan University were trained and based in Afghanistan (Reuters). “The attackers were prepared in Afghanistan,” army spokesman Lt.-Gen. Asim Bajwa said. “We have come to the conclusion that terrorism cannot be fought when there are accomplices and facilitators.” The attackers used public transportation from the Afghan border to Mardan, and were assisted by other Pakistani Taliban militants once in Pakistan.

On Monday, Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, near Peshawar – the site of last Wednesday’s shooting that killed 22 people – reopened. Prayers, vigils, and other events continue to be held this week (BBC). On Saturday, the Pakistani military apprehended five suspects accused of facilitating the attacks by providing shelter, transport, and arms to the four dead attackers (AP). LT.-Gen. Asim Bajwa, the military spokesman, said the military is still looking for three others: a man, his wife, and his niece.

–Albert Ford

India

Bonus Read: “Desperate for Slumber in Delhi, Homeless Encounter a ‘Sleep Mafia,'” by Ellen Barry (NYT)

India and France sign fighter jet deal

India and France announced a deal over the sale of 36 French Rafale fighter jets to India on Monday (BBCThe Hindu). “We have completed an inter-governmental agreement for the purchase of 36 Rafales, with the exception of the financial aspects,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande. India has plans to purchase a total of 126 fighter jets for an estimated cost of $12 billion to upgrade its ageing military air fleet. Hollande is in India for a three-day visit, and he will be the the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations on Tuesday. On Sunday, the two leaders focused on business-to-business issues, while on Monday the focus of their talks was intergovernmental issues. The two countries signed an additional 13 agreements on Monday covering a variety of areas of cooperation, including space, science and technology, and railways.

India to build satellite tracking station in Vietnam

India will set up a satellite tracking and imaging center in Vietnam, Indian officials announced on Monday (Indian Express). In exchange for allowing India to build the center, Vietnam will gain real-time access to imaging and data from India’s earth observation satellites. By locating the tracking station in Vietnam, India will be able to extend its range of coverage. India’s satellites are expected to cover a region including parts of China and the South China Sea, where Vietnam and China are engaged in a maritime territorial dispute. While the agreement has been billed as civilian in nature, security experts say that it has clear military and intelligence applications. “In military terms, this move could be quite significant. It looks like a win-win for both sides, filling significant holes for the Vietnamese and expanding the range for the Indians,” said Collin Koh, a marine security expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Three medical students commit suicide

Three students of S. V. S. Yoga Medical College in the southern state of Tamil Nadu committed suicide on Saturday by jumping into a well (BBCIndian Express). In a suicide note, the three students blamed college administrators for charging excessive fees for poor facilities and accommodations. An investigation by the Indian Express revealed unhygienic living conditions, a lack of proper medical training facilities, and severe irregularities in teaching practices. Students and parents have held protests at the college demanding action against the administration. Police have arrested the principal of the college and the son of the owner, and they are still searching for the owner.

–Udit Banerjea

Afghanistan

Afghan Taliban attend international conference in Qatar

Representatives of the Afghan Taliban’s political office attended a conference in Qatar on Saturday organized by Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international crisis group focused on ending conflicts (NYT). The conference was “aimed at finding a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan,” but was not a part of the official peace process which was restarted on Jan. 11.  Referring to itself as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the Taliban said the group sought to take “healthy advantage” of the Pugwash initiative to “relay the legal demands of our nation and our just policy to the world directly.”

On Sunday, the group released a summary — emailed by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid — of statements made during the conference in Qatar (NYT). While asserting that its “political office” in Qatar is the only entity authorized to carry out negotiations on its behalf, the Taliban’s statement listed “preliminary steps needed for peace,” demanding the release of unnamed prisoners, the removal of the Taliban from the U.N. blacklist, and the formal recognition of their political office (RFE/RL, Reuters). “Without them,” the statement said, “progress towards peace is not feasible.” The next round of official talks on Afghan peace involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States are scheduled for Feb. 6 in Islamabad.

US General: Afghan Army facing structural shift

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, the head of public affairs for the U.S.-NATO mission, told The Associated Press on Monday that the Afghan army’s 215 Maiwand Corps in Helmand is currently being “rebuilt,” with several key commanders being replaced (NYT). The reasons for the changes “are a combination of incompetence, corruption and ineffectiveness,” according to Shoffner. The corps’ commander has been replaced, along with “some brigade commanders and some key corps staff up to full colonel level,” Shoffner said. Helmand has been a battleground since last fall, with fighting taking place in 10 districts.

Suicide attack kills three border policemen in Afghanistan

Three border policemen were killed and three others wounded on Monday in a suicide attack near an important border crossing in southern Afghanistan, according to an Afghan official (NYT). Zia Durrani, the police spokesman for Kandahar province, says five suicide bombers stormed the border police headquarters at Spin Boldak, which is on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. Durrani said that after the attackers entered the building, a firefight followed for approximately half an hour before the attackers detonated explosive vests. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

–Alyssa Sims

Edited by Peter Bergen

AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

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