The South Asia Channel
U.S. Senate Prevents Blockage of F-16 Sale; Intra-Taliban Clashes Flare Up in Herat; Modi Arrives at World Culture Festival
Pakistan U.S. Senate prevents blockage of F-16 sale On Thursday, the U.S. Senate rejected by a vote of 71-24 Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s attempt to bring to the floor a resolution to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan (Reuters, DefenseNews, The Hill). Sen. Paul was opposed by the two senior members of ...
U.S. Senate prevents blockage of F-16 sale
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate rejected by a vote of 71-24 Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s attempt to bring to the floor a resolution to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan (Reuters, DefenseNews, The Hill). Sen. Paul was opposed by the two senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin of Maryland. The Committee has jurisdiction over U.S. arms sales to foreign countries. While Sen. Corker supports the sale, his opposition to subsidizing the deal using U.S. taxpayer dollars to reduce the cost to Pakistan remains. Corker said, “Prohibiting a taxpayer subsidy sends a much-needed message to Pakistan that it needs to change its behavior, but preventing the purchase of U.S. aircraft would do more harm than good by paving the way for countries like Russia and China to sell to Pakistan while also inhibiting greater cooperation on counterterrorism.”
Pakistan receives $122 million in aid from Saudi Arabia
On Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed to a deal with Saudi Arabia that will see $122 million come into Pakistan from the Kingdom this year (ET). Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif are in Riyadh to attend the “North Thunder” 20-nation military exercise. The deal, officiated by Pakistani Economic Affairs Division Secretary Tariq Bajwa and Vice Chairman of the Saudi Fund for Development Yousaf Ibrahim al Bassam, consists of five grant agreements totaling $67 million and a separate loan valued at $55 million. A relatively low sum, the deal may nonetheless indicate growing economic ties – on top of increased military cooperation via the 34-nation anti-terrorism coalition – between the two nations. The $122 million is the largest aid package Islamabad has received from Riyadh in the last five years.
22 tribesmen arrested in connection to abduction of eight government employees
Eight Pakistani government employees en route to inspect a dam were kidnapped on Thursday in the Toi Khula area of South Waziristan, located in the FATA region along the border with Afghanistan (RFE/RL). The top government official in South Waziristan, Zafrul Islam, told AFP that the captives include the director of the Chao Tangi dam project, two geologists, and other technical staffers from the FATA Development Authority (FDA). After the abduction, Pakistani authorities arrested 22 tribesmen in connection to the kidnapping (Reuters). Masood Khan, a political officer, said, “We have arrested 22 tribesmen to put pressure for the release of the eight FDA officials as the kidnapping took place in their area and it is their collective responsibility to help authorities in the recovery.” No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction, but al-Qaeda and Taliban militants are known to operate in the area.
Army officer shot dead in Peshawar
Speaking to Dawn News, Superintendent of Police Peshawar Cantt Kashif Zulfiqar reported the death of Pakistan Army Lt. Col. Tariq Ghafoor who was killed in Peshawar’s Hayatabad area on Friday (Dawn). A Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman, Muhammad Khorasani, claimed the group’s responsibility for the attack. Lt. Col. Ghafoor was the son of retired Maj. Gen. Fazal Ghafoor, who served as Inspector General Frontier Corps from 1994-1997 and then as a diplomat.
Bonus Read: “If Reconciliation Fails in Afghanistan, What’s Plan B?” by Michael Kugelman (War on the Rocks)
Intra-Taliban clashes flare up in Herat
Intense fighting between rival factions of the Taliban led by Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and Mullah Mohammad Rasool in the Shindand district of Herat led to roughly 100 deaths as of Thursday (Guardian). This further complicates the Afghan peace talks in which four countries – the United States, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – are seeking to involve Taliban officials in negotiations with Afghan government officials. To date, no one from Mullah Mansoor’s leading faction has expressed the intention or desire to do so because their demands, including a complete withdrawal of U.S.-NATO forces from Afghanistan, are insupportable for the United States and coalition partners. Since the announcement of the death of the group’s founder Mullah Mohammad Omar in July 2015, the group has been plagued by infighting, yet also control the most territory in Afghanistan since 2001.
DoD: Taliban is splintering in Helmand, IS weakening in Khorasan
Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, deputy chief of staff for communications for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said on Thursday that the United States sees three distinct Taliban factions forming in the southern Helmand province, none of which are loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor (VOA). Shoffner said, “It will be very interesting to see where the revenue goes amongst those three groups and where their loyalties lie,” especially as the start of poppy harvesting season – the source of heroine and, according to the U.S. military, half the Taliban’s revenue – begins soon.
Additionally, the branch of the Islamic State (IS) based in the Khorasan region on the AfPak border has been relegated to one district in Nangarhar province, down from four or five districts in February. Brig. Gen. Shoffner estimates that the number of IS fighters in Afghanistan is “probably on the lower end” of between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters. The decrease in fighters and controlled territory can be attributed to more U.S. airstrikes and clashes with the Taliban over access to money and personnel and ideological disagreements.
Modi arrives at World Culture Festival
Renowned spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s “World Culture Festival” opened today in Delhi with an appearance by Prime MInister Narendra Modi (NDTV, BBC, WP). Despite rains, hundreds of thousands of followers came to the opening day of the three day event, and an estimated total of 3.5 million visitors are expected to participate in the festival. The festival attracted some controversy as numerous environmental groups have filed petitions at the National Green Tribunal (NGT), India’s top environmental court, and expressed serious concerns about the impact of the event on the Yamna River, upon whose banks this event is being hosted. The court allowed for the event to continue as planned if the organizers paid 50 million ruppees (almost $740,000) in fines.
Industrial output falls by 1.5 percent in India
Government data released on Friday indicated that industrial output in India contracted at an annual rate of 1.5 percent in January (Reuters, LiveMint). This is the third consecutive month in which Indian industrial output has decreased. Many experts had previously predicted a 0.5 percent drop in industrial output.
Bill to decriminalize homosexuality shot down in parliament
The lower house of the Indian parliament, Lok Sabha, voted against a bill by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor that was aimed at decriminalizing homosexuality in India (HT/PTI). The bill attempted to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), instituted under the British Raj, which criminalizes homosexuality.This is Tharoor’s second unsuccessful attempt at introducing the bill to the lower house in the past three months. In 2013 the Supreme Court of India overturned a 2009 verdict of the Delhi High Court that deemed Section 377 of the IPC unconstitutional.
Pakistan allows cricket team to travel to India
The Pakistani government on Friday cleared the country’s national cricket team to participate in the World T20 cricket tournament in India (Reuters). Previously, Pakistan said its cricket team would only go to India if they were able to secure public guarantees from the Indian government for the safety of its players. The venue for the match between India and Pakistan, scheduled for March 19, has already been shifted from Dharamsala to the city of Kolkata after a security team from the Pakistan cricket board was unsatisfied with the security arrangements in Dharamsala.
Edited by Peter Bergen
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