The South Asia Channel

Pakistani Militants Allegedly Recruiting Indians; Afghanistan to Release Prisoners; Musharraf Exempted from Court

Bonus Read: "Akhilesh Yadav on Muzaffarnagar," Niharika Mandhana (WSJ).

India 

Muzaffarnagar riot victims allege attempts at Lashkar recruitment

The Delhi Police's Special Cell has claimed it has evidence that Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is attempting to recruit operatives in the riot-hit district of Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh (The Hindu, Indian Express). The Delhi police have arrested two men, Mohd Rashid and Mohd Shahid, from Mewat, Haryana after two Muzaffarnagar locals alleged Rashid and Shahid had approached them to discuss carrying out kidnappings and other nefarious activities (NDTV). India's Intelligence Bureau had been tracking the duo's movements and alleged that they had visited Muzaffarnagar and its neighboring district, at the behest of LeT leader Abdul Subhan, six times since the riots ended in September 2013. However, India's Home Ministry is not entirely convinced by the assertions and has asked for more evidence. Spokespeople from the Congress Party have been using the Delhi Police's move to vindicate Rahul Gandhi's controversial assertion that members of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency had also begun recruiting in the region after riots ended (Times of India). 

The reports of recruitment comes as the Uttar Pradesh government receives flak for its forced closure of relief camps for those displaced by the riots. Four months after riots hit the district, an estimated 15,000 riot victims continue to live in relief camps and fear returning home to face renewed violence. Conditions have been made worse by a wave of cold weather, and an increase in child deaths (NYT, The Hindu, WSJ).

Thousands flee Assam and Nagaland after ethnic clashes 

Ethnic violence has also engulfed the northeastern states of Assam and Nagaland, where thousands have begun to flee after clashes between the Karbi and Rengma Naga tribes began late last month. On Dec. 27, a group known as the Karbi People's Liberation Tigers attacked Rengma villages in the Bokajan area of the Karbi Anglong district and killed six Rengma Nagas. This was followed by retaliatory violence on Jan. 3 when seven Karbis were found dead in Nagaland. Government estimates say 2,000 people have taken shelter in nine relief camps across the Assam-Nagaland border (BBC, NDTV). 

Ganguly steps down from human rights post 

A.K. Ganguly, a former Supreme Court justice accused of sexual misconduct, resigned on Monday as chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (AJE, BBC, NYT). Sources said on Tuesday that West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan had accepted his resignation (Live MintThe Hindu, Times of India,). Ganguly has been accused of sexually harassing a law intern, Stella James, in December 2012 -- a charge he denies. A committee of three judges appointed by the Supreme Court to look into the allegations found in December 2013 that Ganguly had exhibited "unwelcome behavior" toward the intern, but the court chose to take no action because the judge had retired. Ganguly initially refused to leave his post as human rights chief, but pressure mounted on the former judge to step down after Indian media published the intern's deposition before the court-appointed panel. The Additional Solicitor General and one of India's senior most lawyers, Indira Jaising, also spoke out against Ganguly's continuation as a human rights chief and had previously made the affadavit against Ganguly public (Hindustan Times). 

Plea bargaining continues in Khobragade case

Prosecutors have engaged in "hours of discussion in the hope of negotiating in a plea" in the case of Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat whose recent arrest in New York City led to an outcry in India, the U.S. prosecuting attorney said in court papers Monday night (NYT, Post). The U.S. government has "outlined reasonable parameters for a plea that could resolve the case," but the defendant has not responded, the papers said. A letter sent late Monday by Khobragade's lawyer to a federal magistrate judge said there had been "significant communications" with prosecutors and other government officials. The letter requested a 30-day extension of the deadline for filing an indictment against Khobragade, which the lawyer indicated is Jan. 13; only the defense can waive the right to be indicted within 30 days of arrest. Several people close to the case said the postponement could ease pressure on the State Department, which is at odds with federal prosecutors over how the arrest was conducted, according to the Washington Post. Khobragade's arrest and strip search on charges of underpaying her housekeeper have led to furious criticism in India.

Pakistani officials on Monday expressed their support for India in the Khobragade case, saying such treatment should not be meted to any official of another country (NDTV). "[T]he Vienna Convention ought to be respected in letter and spirit by everybody," Pakistan High Commissioner to India Salman Bashir said from the sidelines of an event in New Delhi. Former Pakistan foreign secretary Shaharyar M. Khan seconded the comments, saying: "This kind of treatment with diplomats should not happen. It is written clearly in the Vienna convention - both for diplomatic and consular conduct."

Supreme Court orders government to set up independent environment tribunals 

The Indian Supreme Court has directed the central government to establish ‘green tribunals', or independent environmental regulators, in every state by Mar. 31 (Mint, Indian Express). The move is seen as lessening the involvement of the Ministry of Environment, which recently came under fire for delaying mining and construction projects in several states. The decision, issued by Justice A.K. Patnaik, invoked the need for a regulator under the Forest Conservation Act of 1986 to carry out "independent, objective and transparent appraisals" of projects.

India's bad loans reach record high

Non-performing loans in India have climbed to a record high, data from the central bank show, as growth slows and domestic interest rates rise to curb inflation (WSJ). Non-performing assets at Indian banks reached 4.2 percent of total loans in September 2013, up from 2.4 percent in 2009, according to the bank. Analysts said the ratio could rise to 5.7 percent in the next four months. With domestic interest rates rising to curb inflation just as growth has been slowing, an increasing number of borrowers risk defaulting on loan payments. The pressure on lenders has led the Indian government to inject cash into state-run banks for the past six years.

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson 

Afghanistan 

Afghanistan to free reportedly dangerous prisoners 

Abdul Shakor Dadras, the head of a review board looking into the cases of prisoners being held at a detention facility at Bagram Airfield, said that Kabul will release 88 prisoners from the prison as planned, despite concerns from Afghan and U.S. officials (Reuters, TOLO News). Speaking to Reuters late on Sunday evening, Dadras said the evidence against the prisoners does not warrant keeping them any longer and they will be released as soon as possible. U.S. officials have argued that about 40 percent of the prisoners were in involved in attacks that killed 57 Afghans and 60 coalition soldiers. The dispute adds to the strain in relations between Afghanistan and the United States, which began deteriorating when Afghan President Hamid Karzai decided not to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). 

While the United States has repeatedly pushed back the deadline for signing the BSA -- which will determine the size and scope of any U.S. troop presence in the country after the NATO combat mission ends this December -- the White House said on Monday that the deal should be signed "in a matter of weeks if a contingent of U.S. troops is to remain" in the country (Pajhwok, Reuters). Speaking to reporters, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "Our position continues to be that if we cannot conclude a bilateral security agreement promptly, then we will be forced to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan." Though Karzai has said the BSA is something for the next Afghan president to consider (elections will be held in April), U.S. observers have noted that may be too far away for President Obama, speculating that he will have to make a decision about U.S. troops by his State of the Union address later this month.

Girl found with suicide vest held by police 

Afghan police detained a 10-year-old girl on Sunday who was wearing a suicide vest and attempted to attack a police outpost in Helmand province (AFP, Reuters). According to Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, the girl is thought to be the younger sister of a prominent Taliban commander, who encouraged her to attempt the attack (BBC). The girl, known only as Spozhmay, is one of the youngest suicide bombers recorded by the Afghan government (NDTV). She is currently being held in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, and an investigation into the incident is underway (RFE/RL).

Pakistan

Musharraf granted two-day exemption 

After reviewing the medical records of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, a special court hearing a case against him granted the ex-military ruler a two-day exemption from appearing in court and adjourned the hearing until Wednesday (Dawn). The court, led by Justice Faisal Arab, also said that a ruling related to the medical report, potentially extending the exemption while Musharraf is in the hospital, would be announced on Thursday (Post). Musharraf had been heading to the court on Thursday, Jan. 2, when he was rushed to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi with chest pains. Musharraf's family is seeking permission for him to leave the country for medical treatment, but many Pakistanis are skeptical about the former president's health conditions (Post). According to Pakistan's Express Tribune, the report states that one of Musharraf's arteries is blocked, one of his shoulders isn't working properly, he has problems in his left knee and spinal cord, and he is suffering from hypertension (ET).

Prince Saud al Faisal, Saudia Arabia's foreign minister and the first top Saudi official to visit Pakistan since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office in June 2013, addressed speculation that his visit to the country was somehow related to Musharraf's ongoing legal drama (ET). Speaking to reporters during a press conference in Islamabad, Faisal said: "I have not come here for any sort of deal with regards to the former president." Faisal maintained that his visit is focused on key bilateral, regional, and international issues and that "Saudi Arabia will not interfere in Pakistan's internal affairs." Some had questioned the timing of Faisal's visit, thinking it was a sign the Saudis were trying to help Musharraf leave Pakistan. 

No one tasked with leading peace talks 

Pervaiz Rashid, Pakistan's federal information minister, said on Monday that the government has not yet assigned a single person to spearhead peace talks with the Taliban (ET). According to Rashid, Sharif has been leading the process in general and "has requested all religious and political forces to assist him in this regard." While Rashid declined to comment on arguments beween the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party's Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman and Maulana Sami-ul Haq over leading the peace process, he said both religious leaders were "extraordinarily important" to the talks.

"They call him Flipper"

A maritime museum in Karachi is hosting a trained beluga whale, dolphin, and sea lion from Russia in "a water show that will be the first of its kind to take place in Pakistan" (ET, RFE/RL). The mammals will perform for about an hour, three times a day, in a specially built pool and stadium that can seat about 2,000 people. Sharif, a trainer from Egypt, said he was honored to be a part of the show and hoped the Pakistanis enjoyed the performances. The show will run for about two months in Karachi before moving on to Lahore and Islamabad, though the times can be extended based on the public's response. Shows began this week. 

-- Bailey Cahall 

Edited by Peter Bergen. 

STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)