Singh will step down after elections, says Modi as PM ‘disastrous'
In a rare move, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the press on Friday in New Delhi, his third address to reporters in the ten years he has held office (full transcript of his speech and the following Q&A). Singh defended his tenure and said history would judge him kindly, but added that he would be stepping down as prime minister after elections are held this summer to pave the way for a "new generation of leaders" (WSJ, Economic Times). He did not name a successor, but mentioned that Congress deputy leader Rahul Gandhi had "outstanding credentials" (BBC). Singh also declared that more reforms should expected in the months ahead, including those that would invite more foreign direct investment and create jobs in manufacturing, but conceded that unbridled inflation had harmed the economic climate and perception of the Congress party (Economic Times).
He was far more candid than many had expected him to be, and openly blamed the opposition BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for being complicit in riots in Gujarat in 2002. He added that anyone who had "presided over [the] massacre of citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad" should not be made prime minister and that Modi would be "disastrous for the country" (Hindustan Times). The BJP hit back at Singh by calling his tenure a "wasted opportunity" (Times of India).
Singh said his best moment as prime minister was signing a nuclear deal with the United States, but he noted that the benefits from the deal were yet to materialize (NDTV). Singh, an economist who was widely seen as the architect of India's economic reforms in the early 1990s, was an unusual choice for prime minister at the time of his selection, but he has been one of the longest serving PMs in Indian history.
Outrage as Kolkata gang rape victim succumbs to injuries
A 16-year-old girl who was gang raped on Oct. 26, 2013 and set on fire on Dec. 23, 2013, succumbed to her injuries on Tuesday, sparking massive protests in both Kolkata and New Delhi (Times of India, BBC). Police reports show that the deceased was raped on two separate occasions, first in October and again when returning from filing a police complaint; they also noted that she was pregnant at the time of death. After a week's inaction, police acted on the girl's dying statement and have arrested two men in connection with the crime (Mumbai Mirror). The police had also allegedly snatched the body and forced the family to cremate it in order to prevent the Indian Trade Union from the using the body in a protest (DNA). Mamata Sharma, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women, has demanded an explanation from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the lack of security for the family of the deceased. The chief minister of neighboring state Bihar offered the family a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh ($1,607), further embarrassing the West Bengal government. While Bengal Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra assured the media of a thorough police investigation, Banerjee said protests by the opposition were a "conspiracy" to undermine work being done by her government.
Small contraction in manufacturing activity
Manufacturing activity in India during December 2013 showed a slight contraction as HSBC's Purchasing Manager Index fell from 51.3 in November to 50.7 at the end of the year (Hindu Businessline, Economic Times). HSBC's chief economist for India and ASEAN, Leif Eskesen, attributed the fall to "lingering structural constraints." The survey further listed persistent inflation, tighter financial conditions, slow progress on implementing structural reform, and the slow execution of key investment projects as reasons for the slowdown. It added that Indian manufacturing ended the year on a "strong footing," and showed an increase in output and new activity for a second straight month due to rising domestic and international demand. Inflation was also seen to have peaked in December, though Eskesen added that India's central bank may have to tighten its monetary policy to reign in elevated price levels.
Indian Standard Time no more
There will be no standard Indian time in Assam in 2014 as the northeastern state sets its clock one hour ahead (NDTV, Firstpost). Taking a cue from the old colonial system of "chaibagaan" timings, Assam's Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi justified the move by saying the northeastern states had been requesting their own time zone. The move is pending approval by the central government. Research cited by Firstpost says pushing the clock back by 30 minutes could save 2.7 billion units of electricity annually. The Hindustan Times spoke to a few people about how the move, and the consensus was that a new time zone would likely boost productivity, reduce power consumption, and inexplicably, curb alcoholism (Hindustan Times).
-- Shruti Jagirdar
Musharraf may receive treatment abroad
The ongoing legal saga concerning former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf continued on Thursday when reports emerged that he may travel to Dubai or London to receive treatment for a heart condition. According to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, three vessels in Musharraf's heart are blocked and an angioplasty or heart by-pass is required to clear them (Dawn). Muhammad Ali Saif, one of Musharraf's lawyers, said the ex-military ruler's legal team would petition the court to allow him to leave the country for medical treatment, should his doctors advise it, which prompted Haroon Rasheed to submit a petition barring Musharraf's departure (ET, Dawn). Rasheed is the son of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a cleric at the Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad who was killed in a 2007 security operation at the building. Musharraf was heading to court to answer charges related to that operation when he was suddenly taken to the hospital.
Musharraf's admission to a cardiac hospital in the garrison city of Rawalpindi prompted much speculation in Pakistan as to whether the former president was truly ill or if he was just trying to avoid appearing in court (Pajhwok). Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party tweeted: "I can't believe this coward ever wore the uniform of our brave and courageous armed forces," while leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement issued a statement of support for Musharraf (Dawn). Musharraf's chief lawyer, Ahmed Raza Kasuri, dismissed Zardari's comments, saying, "Musharraf is not afraid of anyone. He spent his whole life like a commando. He is not a coward" (NYT, Post).
Polio eradication possible in 2014
Pakistani health officials participating in a two-day Technical Advisory Group conference in Islamabad in November 2013, said they were confident that 2014 could be the last year of polio cases in the country as the root cause of the infection is known (Dawn). According to the officials, the government can eradicate polio if it tackles the political and management issues that have hindered vaccination efforts in some of the country's semi-autonomous tribal regions. While the group did not appear to provide specific recommendations to correct those issues, it indicated that the government should focus its efforts on children living in the city of Karachi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Punjab province, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
That goal, however, hit a snag on Thursday when vaccination workers in Khyber Agency refused to conduct an immunization drive in Landikotal, citing ongoing security concerns (ET). Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio remains endemic, and with 85 reported cases in 2013, it passed Nigeria and Afghanistan to top the list.
U.S. senators press Karzai on BSA, prisoner release
Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), and John Barrasso (Wyo.) criticized Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent decision to release 88 prisoners from the detention facility at Parwan province's Bagram Airfield on Thursday, saying it would "have an unbelievably negative impact on bilateral relations" (Pajhwok). Speaking at a press conference after meeting with Karzai in Kabul, the two senators alleged that the detainees were involved in direct attacks against Afghan citizens and Afghan security forces, as well as coalition soldiers, and should be put on trial in Afghanistan instead (Post, RFE/RL, VOA). The U.S. congressmen, who were in Afghanistan to discuss the stalled Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the two countries, said the differences on the pact -- which will determine the size and scope of any post-2014 U.S. troop presence -- were narrowing, but the prisoner release threatens to undermine those gains (AP, Reuters, TOLO News).
As most U.S. troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, regardless of whether or not the BSA is signed, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the Afghan security forces are making gains against the Taliban, especially in Helmand province (WSJ). According to the report, "the Afghans have emerged from the warm-weather fighting season in nominal control of every heavily populated district of Helmand." While U.S. officials note that it is too early to declare victory in the province, the results "should inject optimism into the often-gloomy debate over the country's future." Though the Taliban still launch attacks and can move freely in many parts of the province, and the Afghan military still struggles with casualty evacuations and resupplying its troops, U.S. Marines in the area note that: "...it's nowhere near what it used to be."
Militant groups renounce violence
A day after unidentified gunmen killed Yalda Waziri, a senior female government official, as she left her office in Afghanistan's Herat province, the country's National Directorate of Security (NDS) revealed on Friday that six militant groups operating in Herat, Kandahar, and Nangarhar provinces have joined the peace process (BBC, Pajhwok). According to the NDS, the groups - which were led by three different commanders and totaled 43 individuals -- renounced violence and surrendered their weapons.
In Logar province, six civilians were killed and 18 were injured on Thursday when a bomb exploded in a market in the province's Baraki Barak district (Pajhwok). While no one has claimed responsibility for the incident, Mohammad Rahim, the district's administrative chief, blamed insurgents for planting the device, which was attached to a motorbike parked in the area.
Order in the court
Pakistan's national shari'a court appointed Ashraf Jehan to the bench on Monday, making her the first female judge to join the court in its 33-year history (Business Recorder). Agha Rafiq Ahmed, the court's chief justice, said of the appointment, "There was no bar in the constitution to make a woman the judge of Shariat Court and there is no discrimination between men and women." Jehan had previously served as a judge on the high court in Sindh province. Ahmed, who rarely speaks to the media, added that he was pleased to comment on Jehan's historic appointment, saying, "I took the initiative as it would send the message in the world that we are enlightened people and would dispel many misconceptions."
-- Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.