The South Asia Channel

Indian Cabinet Clears Telangana; Poll Shows Afghan Optimism; Sharif to Khan: End Drone Protests


All clear for Telangana 

The Union Cabinet cleared a bill on Friday that would create a new state of Telangana from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (Hindu Businessline, Indian Express). In an apparent resolution to one of the bifurcation's major sticking points, the current Andhra Pradesh capital of Hyderabad will be shared by the two new states, Telangana and Seemandhra, for 10 years. The cabinet is said to have made a decision on water sharing between the states and the establishment of separate high courts and bureaucratic cadres. The current plan would make Telangana a 10-district state, and India's 29th state overall. The agitation for a separate state had been sustained for 44 years, with cabinet approving Telangana's creation on Oct. 3. The bill now requires passage by the Indian parliament before it goes into effect.

Indian judge guilty of sexually harassment

A three-member Supreme Court panel, led by current Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, found former judge Ashok Ganguly guilty on Friday of "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" against his former intern, Stella James (Indian Express, WSJ). Reports say Ganguly appeared not to believe the ruling, but politicians from his home state of West Bangal have been increasingly pressuring him to retire as the state's commissioner for human rights. Based on the panel's ruling, the Delhi police have asked James to file a formal complaint against Ganguly (Times of India). The incident came to light on Nov. 6, when James wrote about being sexually harassed by a former senior Supreme Court judge on a blog belonging to her alma mater. The post went viral almost immediately and the Supreme Court panel was set up in a week's time to investigate the matter. 

Bill on communal violence amended 

Giving in to protests by the opposition BJP, the Indian National Congress/Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has amended provisions to a bill it hopes to introduce in the parliamentary winter session that would curb communal violence (The Indian Express).  A 2011 draft of the bill had described victims of communal violence as belonging to "religious or linguistic minorities," raising objections from the BJP for putting the onus of perpetrating violence on the majority community. The current draft now identifies victims as belonging to any religious or linguistic group.

The other major objections were to the two super authorities the 2011 bill proposed to implement the law -- a seven-member National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation, and similar bodies in states. The UPA's new bill replaces the two with the National Human Rights Commission and state human rights commissions, but assigns them mostly similar powers and functions "related to maintaining communal harmony." The bill creates a framework for speedy investigations of religious or ethnic violence and the rehabilitation of victims of such violence.

Irregularities alleged at Bharti Airtel, PricewaterhouseCoopers 

Jai Menon, the chief information officer of Bharti Airtel, India's largest telecom services provider, has been asked to leave the company after violating its code of conduct, Indian media quoted multiple people as saying (Hindu Business Line, Economic Times). A source told Economic Times that Airtel discovered during an internal investigation that Menon had financial interest in some third-party entities that were awarded company contracts. Airtel has launched an investigation into the matter. Menon dismissed the allegations as baseless, saying he decided to exit the company almost a month back. Menon joined the company in 2002 and was responsible for its IT infrastructure, including awarding contracts to hardware and service vendors. 

The Indian Supreme Court is also conducting a probe into the activities of multinational accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and its network audit firms for allegedly indulging in financial irregularities and fudging of accounts (Economic Times, The Hindu, NDTV). The Centre for Public Interest Litigation, a non-governmental organization, filed the complaint alleging that PwC evaded income tax and violated statues governing foreign direct investment, foreign exchange management, and central bank guidelines. The center also claimed that the violations posed a large loss to the public exchequer since payments worth billions of rupees in subsidies, export incentives, and grants are done based on the certification of auditors. 

India cuts red tape for overseas listings

The Indian government modified its investment rules on Friday, allowing unlisted companies to directly carry out initial public offerings on foreign stock exchanges (Business Standard). Prior to the rule change, unlisted companies were not allowed to be included in overseas markets without a prior or planned listing in Indian markets. By giving companies more flexibility to raise funds or retire debts abroad, the measure may help India contain its high current account deficit. The government aims to bring the deficit below $56 billion this year, compared with $88.2 billion last year. 

Smile! You're on Facebook 

A Facebook study on the use of stickers and smiley faces has concluded that Indian users are among the angriest in the world (Times of India). Indians are among the users who are least likely to communicate their love or affection through Facebook stickers. The study, which was carried out with help from researchers at the University of California Berkeley, Yale University, Stanford University, found that Indian Facebook users were also less likely than their peers in other countries to be awed, sympathetic, or embarrassed. "[S]cientists are only beginning to understand how unspoken rules of human interaction apply to attitudes and behavior online," a Facebook spokesperson said in response to the study's findings. 

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson


Afghan poll shows optimism 

While Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced concerns that the delay in signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the United States and Afghanistan would erode the confidence of the Afghan security forces, a survey by the Asia Foundation found that a majority of Afghans remain optimistic about their country's future (CNN, Pajhwok, VOA). The survey is featured in a new report, titled "Afghanistan in 2013: A Survey of the Afghan People," which cites reconstruction efforts, better access to education, and the active presence of the Afghan National Army and Afghan Local Police as some of the main reasons for this optimism (Pajhwok). Though many of the Afghans surveyed did say they are still concerned about security, there is a general hope about next April's elections and the government's ability to stabilize the country.

BSA failures continue 

Amb. James Dobbins, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters on Thursday that he had failed to make any breakthroughs on the stalled BSA during his discussions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (Pajhwok). According to Dobbins, who arrived in Kabul late on Wednesday night, both sides stuck to and insisted on their positions. Dobbins was the latest Obama administration to attempt to break the deadlock, as efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice have also failed. 

As Dobbins headed back to Washington, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a letter to President Obama urging him to stop insisting that Karzai sign the BSA and wait until his successor is chosen in next April's presidential election (Pajhwok). Levin went on to say that the administration's actions "contribute to President Karzai's mistaken belief that the United States needs Afghanistan more than Afghanistan needs the United States." It is the first time that a top Democrat in Congress had taken a stance other than that being pursued by the administration, which has not commented on the letter. 

Female police officer killed 

Masooma, an Afghan policewoman in Nimruz province, was shot and killed by two unidentified gunmen on Thursday, becoming the fourth female officer killed in the last six months (NYT). According to Gen. Abdul Rahim Chikhansori, the acting provincial police chief, "she was very active in her job. The enemy of Afghanistan didn't tolerate her great service and active approach, and unfortunately she was martyred." While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Chickhansori's words indicate that officials think the Taliban are behind her death. Masooma's daughter and two other family members were also injured in the incident.  


Differences over protests

With the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) protests against U.S. drone strikes coming to Islamabad on Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, his interior minister, to figure out a way to end them (ET). Officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told Pakistan's Express Tribune that Sharif told Khan that: "PTI Chairman Imran Khan should be convinced that the protests and sit-ins are not yielding any results to his drone strategy. Instead, they are causing damage to [the] national economy and provincial administration..." Sharif reportedly added that if Khan, who is one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. drone program, did not end the protests, the governor, chief secretary, and inspector general in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province -- where the protests started -- should be directed to look into the matter themselves.

While many of the vehicles attempting to transport NATO supplies across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been turned back by protestors, reports emerged on Friday that eight trucks were able to cross the border between Nov. 27 and Dec. 3 (ET). According to Mairaj Khan, a political administration official at the Torkham border crossing, the trucks had been in the area awaiting customs clearance before the PTI protests began, though it is unclear how they were able to make it over the border. Bonus Read: "Pakistan NATO truck blockade elicits shouts and shrugs," Zulfiqar Ali and Mark Magnier (LAT). 

Provincial leader killed 

Maulana Shamsur Rehman Muavia, a provincial leader of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat religious organization -- the current name for the banned militant Sipah-e-Sahaba sectarian group -- in Punjab, was shot and killed on Friday by unknown gunmen in Lahore (Dawn, ET). According to initial reports, the assailants opened fire on Muavia's vehicle as he traveled through the city. There have been no immediate claims of responsibility, but an investigation into the attack is underway. 

Baloch elections

The government in Balochistan is preparing for Saturday's local elections by outlining a comprehensive security plan and increasing the police presence in the restive province (Dawn). Due to several violent attacks by armed separatist groups during the national elections in May, Asad Gilani, the provincial secretary of home of tribal affairs, said 55,000 security personnel, including 5,000 army officers, would be deployed across the province to protect the polls. Col. Tariq, representing the country's Southern Command, added that 11 security officers would be stationed at "very sensitive" polling stations, while nine would guard those deemed "sensitive" (Dawn). Around 18,000 candidates from nationalist, religious, and mainstream political parties are contesting the 4,168 seats. 

Behind the music 

While "Pakistan Idol," the latest in-country version of the popular American talent show, is set to premiere in Pakistan on Friday, its highly anticipated theme song has already hit the airwaves. Sung by Ali Zafar, a popular musician who wrote and composed the song himself, the anthem encourages "all young Pakistanis to go out in the world and prove their talent" (Daily Times). The lyrics of the song are proving extremely popular, but so is the corresponding video. And thanks to the Daily Times, one can now watch the video knowing that nearly 1,200 safety pins were used on the shoulders of the red leather jacket Zafar wears in the video and that he sprained his ankle during a high jump around the 2:13-minute mark.

-- Bailey Cahall