The South Asia Channel

U.S. 'Zero Option' Back on Table in Afghanistan as BSA Talks Remain Stalled

The Rack: "Book review: ‘Magnificent Delusions ' by Husain Haqqani, on U.S.-Pakistan relations," Richard Leiby (Post).


Zero option back on table 

U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday to discuss his rejection of the Loya Jirga's recommendation that he sign that Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, and reports are emerging that the conversation did not go well.  According to a White House press release, Rice told Karzai that: "Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan" (AFP, AP, Pajhwok, Reuters, RFE/RL).  The so-called "zero option" has been threatened before during the tense negotiations over the security pact, but many Afghan observers did not think it would actually come to pass. 

Rice added that the United States was ready to sign the deal, now that it has been approved by the jirga, but Karzai outlined new conditions for signing the agreement, including U.S. help restarting stalled peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and returning all of the Afghan citizens currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, and reiterated his stance that it should be signed after next April's presidential elections (AJAM, BBC, NYT, Pajhwok, Post).  The United States has not publicly commented on these additional caveats, except to say that waiting until after the Afghan elections is not a viable option. 

Karzai's firm stance against signing the BSA has put him at odds with many of his countrymen.  As the Los Angeles Times wrote, "From presidential candidates to grocers and spice merchants, many Afghans threw up their hands in frustration and exasperation with their elected president" (LAT).  The report went on to say that Afghans were baffled to see Karzai reject the recommendations of the Loya Jirga, which he had personally convened.  Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, a member of Afghanistan's parliament, added that: "You could just see the discomfort and confusion in the loya jirga when the president spoke.  These are people with influence and power.  They reflect the will of the Afghan people, but their decision was ignored." 

Stoning to return? 

Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice has reintroduced public stoning for convicted adulterers in a draft revision of the country's penal code, Human Rights Watch reported on Monday (AJAM, Fox News, Guardian).  The international rights organization urged the Afghan government to reject the proposed sentences -- stoning for married adulterers, flogging for unmarried offenders -- and asked aid donors to send a clear message by withholding funding (Pajhwok, VOA).  The report, which was released on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, highlighted concerns that rights for women in Afghanistan are starting to disappear as NATO troops prepare to withdraw at the end of next year. 


Domestic drones revealed

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the head of Pakistan's military, unveiled two domestically-developed surveillance drones on Monday at a ceremony in Rawalpindi (AP, Post).  According to a press release, the development of the unmanned platforms -- called ‘Burraq' and ‘Shahpar' -- is "a landmark and historic event, wherein a very effective force multiplier has been added to the inventory of the armed forces" (Dawn).  While Pakistan already has several types of unarmed, unmanned surveillance drones in operation, these two are the first to be created in the country.  The military did not state whether or not the two systems could also be armed with precision missiles like the U.S. drone fleet. 

As the Pakistani military celebrated its new drone platforms, hundreds of protestors gathered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to block one of NATO's supply routes from Afghanistan for a fourth day (BBC, ET, RFE/RL).  The blockade started on Saturday when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, which controls the provincial government, called on its supporters to rally against U.S. drone strikes in the country's tribal regions.  Protestors have been stopping trucks in Peshawar, the provincial capital, and roughing up the drivers of trucks carrying NATO supplies.  As a result, a truckers union in Karachi has threatened to cancel all shipments to Afghanistan if the blockade continues (Pajhwok). 

Altaf Hussain, the head of Pakistan's Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), added his voice to the protests on Tuesday and said that all political parties should continue their express their opposition to U.S. drone strikes until the government announces that it will begin shooting them down (Dawn).  However, Hussain also said that those protesting the strikes should declare "jihad" against militant organizations, like the Pakistani Taliban, operating inside the country and that that would be when MQM supporters would physically join them in the streets. 

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday that, six months after President Obama spoke at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. and signaled a desire to move the CIA's drone operations to the Department of Defense, most of the strikes occurring in Pakistan and Yemen are still being launched by agency operators (Post).  Though senior CIA and Pentagon officials have been meeting to find a way for the military's Joint Special Operations Command to assume control of the drone program, sources familiar with the discussions say the CIA will likely maintain its drone fleet and "stay deeply involved in targeted killing operations."

More power

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif broke ground on the Karachi Coastal Power Project, a large-scale effort to expand Pakistan's energy sector, on Tuesday and vowed that six nuclear power plants would be constructed by 2050 (Dawn, ET).  Sharif said the plants will help the country overcome its chronic electricity shortages, and added that three new dams would also be built, increasing Pakistan's hydroelectric power capacity. 

Christ the King

After suffering 82 years of general wear and tear, the Christ the King Monument outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi was restored and re-consecrated on Sunday in a ceremony by His Excellency, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, the apostolic nuncio (envoy) to Pakistan (Dawn, ET).  Noting that Christian and non-Christians worked together to restore the memorial, the Most Reverend Joseph Coutts, the archbishop of Karachi, told attendees: "The monument is a reminder of what Karachi was and what Karachi can be."  According to most sources, Christians make up approximately two percent of Pakistan's population.

-- Bailey Cahall


Five years later

On the five-year anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian press assessed the city's and country's preparedness to face another 11/26-style attack.  News reports highlighted the improved coordination between Indian intelligence agencies and the institution of weekly intelligence meetings at with the Home Secretary's office (Economic Times).  A hub for the National Security Guard has also been created in Mumbai and an elite group of commandos, Force One, has been established to improve the capabilities of the anti-terror squad.  However, Mumbai residents interviewed by the Wall Street Journal doubted the city is any safer than it was five years ago, with one interviewee saying: "the security has been beefed up, but the sense that we are secured is still lacking." 

However, several experts have pointed to Lashkar-e-Taiba (the terrorist group responsible for the Mumbai attacks) as having grown stronger over the last five years (Economic Times). Another newspaper, Mint, highlighted Pakistan's lack of success in proceeding with its trial of the Mumbai plotters and failure to bring Lashkar leaders, including Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, to justice (Mint).

Political calculations 

A third front of various regional parties who hold office at the state level would need the support of either the Congress Party or the BJP to form a national government following next year's elections, Ram Vilas Paswan, the chief of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and a member of India's upper house of parliament, said in a recent interview (Economic Times).  The front, with support from 14 regional parties, including Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Uttar Pradesh's Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, have been trying to position themselves as a non-Congress, non-BJP secular alternative.  Paswan said his party is seeking to maintain an alliance with the current Congress coalition in power, since "the alliance would have to be secular," but the onus is on the ruling party to decide their partners.  The LJP was previously allied with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), but is looking for new allies after Lalu Prasad, the RJD head and a former Bihar chief minister, was put in jail for embezzlement in the Fodder Scam.

Case updates

Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were handed life sentences on Tuesday for murdering their daughter Aarushi and their domestic worker Hemraj, though the Central Bureau of Investigation had been pressing for a death sentence (Mint, Economic Times).

Meanwhile, the victim of an alleged sexual assault quit her job at Tehelka magazine as Goa police flew to Mumbai on Tuesday morning to record her statement to law enforcement authorities (Times of India).  Tarun Tejpal, the magazine's founder and editor, as well as the accused in the case, is likely to face prosecution, and filed for anticipatory bail on Monday (Indian Express).

Illicit funds detected 

India's Central Economic Intelligence Bureau has reportedly discovered Rs 3000 crore ($4.8 billion) in illicit funds or "black money" in the first half of this year, according to the Economic Times (Economic Times).  The bureau received 843 inputs from tax commissioners and law enforcement and intelligence agencies to uncover 174 cases of tax evasion and the routing of illicit money.  Earlier this year, the government's tax amnesty scheme, the ‘Private Placement Program,' netted Rs 2,280 crore ($3.6 billion) in unaccounted income. 

Black gold

India's Sensex rose on Monday after the announcement of a historic deal to curb Iran's nuclear program lowered oil prices and boosted global stock markets (Mint). The deal is expected to lift oil exports to India, Iran's second-largest oil buyer, which may help to dampen inflation.  Because payment routes have been blocked by sanctions, Indian refiners currently owe Iran $5.3 billion for oil imports.  Refiners said they would start transferring the cash as early as next week. 

Stemming the cash outflow

Overseas investments and remittances from India fell sharply in August to Rs 470 crore ($75 million), data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) show (Hindu Business Line).  The total was down from a monthly average of $115 million between April and July of this year.  Analysts attributed the drop to restrictions the RBI launched in August that reduced remittances from $200,000 to $75,0000 and barred the purchase of property abroad in an effort to stabilize the rupee. 

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson



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