Musharraf Rushed to Hospital; U.S. Intelligence Pessimistic on Afghanistan; Indian Helicopter Deal Scrapped
Musharraf taken to hospital, treason trial delayed
The treason trial against former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was delayed for a third time on Jan. 2 as the ex-military ruler was taken to a hospital with a suspected heart problem (AP, Reuters, VOA). While the nature of Musharraf's reported heart condition is unclear, Agence France Presse quoted one of his aides who said he was in "bad shape" (RFE/RL). Musharraf had been ordered to appear before the court in Islamabad after security concerns had prevented him from appearing at two previous indictment hearings, most recently on Jan. 1.
The trial, which was supposed to start on Dec. 24 and is related to Musharraf's 2007 imposition of emergency rule, was initially adjourned after explosives and handguns were found near his residence and was delayed again on Jan. 1 after security officials discovered more explosives along the former leader's route to the court house (AJE, BBC, Dawn, Post, RFE/RL, VOA). Citing the ongoing security concerns, Musharraf's lawyers asked for another adjournment, but Justice Faisal Arab, who is leading the panel hearing the case against Musharraf, ordered the former president to appear on Jan. 2 (ET). While the court had threatened to arrest Musharraf if he failed to appear, it decided not to issue the warrant due to the cause of Musharraf's absence (Dawn, ET). The trial is set to resume on Jan. 6.
Musharraf's hospitalization is the latest drama in the ongoing legal cases against the former president. On Dec. 29, in a rare meeting with foreign journalists, Musharraf claimed the treason case was a "political vendetta" against him and suggested that the country's powerful army was upset by his treatment (AFP, BBC, Post). Speaking to reporters from his farmhouse villa, where he has been under house arrest since April, Musharraf stated: "I would say the whole army is upset...The feedback I have received is that the whole army, they are worried, and they are totally with me, I think, on this issue" (NYT). According to Musharraf, "Certainly, they wouldn't like anything happening to their ex-army chief," though he did not comment on what Gen. Raheel Sharif, the new Chief of Army Staff, might think of the prosecution.
According to the BBC's M. Ilyas Khan, many in Pakistan view the reports about Musharraf's heart condition and security concerns with skepticism, and Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Pakistan's defense minister, claimed on Pakistani television that the explosives were actually planted by Musharraf's supporters in an attempt to derail the trial (BBC, NYT).
American held hostage by al-Qaeda calls for help
Warren Weinstein, an American citizen who was kidnapped in 2011 by al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, appeared in a video released by the militant organization on Dec. 25 and called on President Obama to release al-Qaeda fighters in U.S. custody in exchange for his freedom (Post). The video, which was sent to several foreign journalists, was accompanied by a handwritten "Letter to the Media," dated Oct. 3. It is unclear when the video was made. In the video, Weinstein criticized the U.S. government, saying: "Nine years ago I came to Pakistan to help my government, and I did so at a time when most Americans would not come here, and now when I need my government it seems that I have been totally abandoned and forgotten" (AP).
According to his family, Weinstein, a former country director for J.E. Austin Associates, a development firm, "fell in love with the country and its people, feeling so safe and welcome that he did not think twice about taking his [family] to remote villages" when they visited him (Post). He was kidnapped just two days before he was scheduled to leave the country.
India and Pakistan exchange nuclear facilities list
A week after the Indian and Pakistani director-generals of military operations met in Lahore for the first time in 14 years, the two nuclear-armed countries exchanged lists of their nuclear facilities on Jan. 1 (AP). The exchange, which is part of a 1988 pact that bans the countries from attacking each other's nuclear sites, has occurred every New Year's Day since 1992. According to Pakistan's Express Tribune, the two countries also exchanged prisoner lists, reporting that 281 Indian prisoners are currently being held in Pakistan, while 396 Pakistanis have been detained in India (ET). Further details were not provided.
Pessimistic views on Afghanistan as BSA deadline passes
With no movement by either Kabul or Washington to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) by the Dec. 31 deadline, a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) predicted that the gains made in Afghanistan since 2010 "are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017" (Post). First cited by Ernesto Londoño, Karen DeYoung, and Greg Miller in the Washington Post on Dec. 28, the intelligence assessment predicts that the Afghan Taliban and other power players in the region will become more influential as the NATO combat mission comes to an end in December 2014, especially if the BSA -- which will determine the size and scope of any post-2014 U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan -- is not signed (Bloomberg, Dawn, Reuters, VOA). The report, which was rejected by Kabul as "baseless," appears to have split the Obama administration, with some U.S. officials agreeing with the underlying conclusion that the security situation in Afghanistan will deteriorate rapidly without a continued international troop presence and ongoing financial support, and others arguing that the NIE doesn't adequately reflect the gains the Afghan security forces have made in recent years. Spokespeople for James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, whose office coordinates the assessments, and the CIA have declined to comment on the report or its findings (LAT).
As Kabul criticized the NIE's findings, a new CNN/ORC International survey released on Dec. 30 showed that the war in Afghanistan, the U.S.'s longest military conflict, is its most unpopular one as well. According to the poll just 17 percent of the 1,035 people surveyed said they support the war, down from 52 percent in December 2008 (CNN, VOA). Keating Holland, the director of CNN Polling, noted that: "Opposition to the Iraq war never got higher than 69%...while U.S. troops were in that country, and while the Vietnam War was in progress, no more than six in 10 ever told Gallup's interviewers that war was a mistake" (AJAM).
More than 500 Afghan prisoners released
Tensions between the United States and Afghanistan continued into the new year as an Afghan commission reviewing the cases of detainees at the military prison near Bagram Airfield revealed on Dec. 31 that it is planning to release more than 650 prisoners from the facility. According to reports, between 536 and 562 detainees have already been freed and the commission is planning to release 88 more prisoners, committed insurgents who coalition and Afghan officials say should face trial (AP, Reuters, TOLO News). Anonymous Afghan and U.S. officials told the New York Times that they're worried the releases, which come just months after the U.S. handed control of the detention facilities in the country over to the Afghans, "could scuttle talks [over the BSA] altogether and lead to a complete Western withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014" (NYT). A number of Afghan vice presidential candidates and Kabul residents also expressed their concerns over the planned releases, telling TOLO News that: "it's very regrettable that this is happening at a time we need security" (TOLO News). Abdul Shakor Dadras, a member of the three-person panel, said the NATO and Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security have until Jan. 3 to produce evidence against the detainees, evidence security officials for both countries say they have already provided.
Happy birthday to you, and you, and you, and you
While Jan. 1 is primarily celebrated around the world as the first day in a new year, in Afghanistan, it has become a de facto birthday for thousands of Afghan citizens who aren't entirely sure when they were born (Post). According to the Washington Post's Kevin Sieff, protracted wars in the 1980s and 1990s, a lack of standardized identification cards, and a government requirement for an approximate birth date on the Islamic calendar led to the confusion in record keeping. When the United States and NATO partners arrived in 2001, bringing with them "a flurry of job opportunities, visa applications and Web sites that all required a specific birthday on the Roman calendar," many Afghans chose Jan. 1 as it was easy to remember.
-- Bailey Cahall
Augusta Welland helicopter deal scrapped
India's Ministry of Defence issued a statement on Jan. 1 cancelling its $770 million helicopter deal with Augusta Welland International Ltd. (Hindustan Times, Reuters, Times of India). Irregularities in the deal to procure 12 helicopters for "VVIPs" in the Indian government surfaced in February 2013 when it was alleged that the firm used middlemen Guy Haschke and Christian Michel to bribe bureaucrats and politicians; former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi has been named one of the 14 accused of accepting a bribe. The cancellation of the deal represents a further setback to the firm's Italian owner Finmeccanica, with credit rating agencies also having recently downgraded the company's bond to junk status. Indian Defence Minister A.K. Anthony met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hours before the deal was scrapped, but the content of their discussions is unknown. The Indian government has agreed to arbitration regarding its decision to cancel the deal, and has appointed Justice B.P. Reddy as its chief arbitrator. While the past few years have seen many allegations of corruption in defense deals, this is the first time a contract has been cancelled in response to those allegations.
AAP wins trust vote; subsidizes water and power
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won a trust vote in Delhi's Legislative Assembly on Jan. 2 that gives it a majority support of members to form the state government (CNN-IBNLive, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Mint, NDTV). Delhi's new chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, is said to have implored members to rise above party affiliation and vote for "the support of the common people." In his speech ahead of the vote, Kejriwal emphasized 17 major issues facing members of the assembly, such as the passing of an anti-corruption bill, the rights of the common man in deciding how public money is spent, better safety for women, and an end to donations-for-admission in Delhi's school system. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party attacked the AAP on its alliance with the Congress Party, with whose support the trust vote was won, saying this alliance with a "corrupt Congress" had negated the people's mandate (Hindustan Times).
In his first five days as chief minister, Kejriwal has introduced schemes to bring subsidized electricity and water to Delhi residents. Starting Jan. 1, households with a working water meter will get 176 gallons of free water every day, and the chief minister slashed power tariffs by over 50 percent for 34 million Delhi households (WSJ India Realtime, Times of India). Kejriwal also met with India's chief auditing body, the Comptroller Auditor General, to conduct an investigation into the finances of private electricity providers. The move has prompted legislators in Mumbai to call for similar measures (Indian Express).
Khobragade's U.N. transfer under U.S. review
The U.S. State Department is reviewing the Indian government's decision to transfer diplomat Devyani Khobragade from its consulate in New York City to its permanent mission at the United Nations in order to provide her with full diplomatic immunity in an ongoing legal battle involving her former domestic worker (Indian Express). However, a spokesperson for the department declined to comment on when a decision on the case would be made. Speaking to The Hindu, U.S. government sources in New York said they would continue their investigation of the case and that more evidence was being gathered to prosecute Khobragade (The Hindu). Meanwhile, in response to the Indian government's request for the salary details of local staff working in the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, the State Department said it compensates its local staff according to prevailing laws in the country of operation (NDTV).
-- Shruti Jagirdar
Edited by Peter Bergen.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images