Musharraf Ordered to Attend Court Hearings; Child Suicide Bombers Increasing in Afghanistan; Khobragade’s Plea Rejected
Musharraf ordered to attend court hearings
After reviewing the medical records of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, a special court looking into treason charges against the ex-military ruler ordered him to attend his next hearing on Jan. 16, saying on Thursday there is nothing in the report that provides a reason for him to miss anymore court appearances (BBC, Dawn, ET). Musharraf has been in the hospital since last week, when he suffered from chest pains as he headed to the court. The hearings have been repeatedly delayed since they began on Dec. 24, 2013, and multiple media outlets have said Pakistanis view the security and health concerns cited by Musharraf's lawyers with skepticism. Musharraf is the first former military ruler to face trial for treason in Pakistan; he also faces separate charges of murder and restricting the country's judiciary.
Meanwhile, another former Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, made his first appearance in court on Thursday since completing his term in September 2013 to face corruption charges related to a number of different cases (Dawn, ET). According to reports, the session was brief and was quickly adjourned until Jan. 18, when the court will decide whether or not to formally indict Zardari for allegedly taking bribes, laundering funds, and illegally constructing a polo ground at an official residence. The cases against Zardari were first filed while he was still in office, but he was protected by presidential immunity. They were reopened a month after he stepped down.
Amb. Jilani conducts first meetings on Capitol Hill
Amb. Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan's new ambassador to the United States, met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and other Congressmen on Wednesday, his first formal interactions on Capitol Hill since his appointment to Washington in December 2013 (Dawn). According to a statement released by the Pakistani embassy, Jilani and Feinstein discussed strengthening ties between the two countries and other "matters of mutual interest, including Afghanistan." Jilani also met with Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Elliot Engel, the committee's ranking member (D-N.Y.), inviting both of them to visit Pakistan.
Aziz criticizes U.S. "war on terror"
Speaking to reporters in Islamabad on Wednesday, Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's advisor on national security and foreign affairs, claimed the U.S.-led ‘war on terror' "has achieved less and caused more damage, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan" (Pajhwok). He also criticized the U.S. drone program, saying that, while the strikes have achieved their objectives of killing high-value targets in Pakistan's tribal regions, they have caused local residents to turn against the Pakistani government (Business Recorder).
Child suicide bombers a growing concern
With the case of Spozhmay, a 10-year-old girl who was allegedly instructed by her brother, a Taliban fighter, to carry out a suicide attack on a police outpost in Afghanistan's Helmand province, garnering international attention, Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) said that the use of child suicide bombers is a growing trend in the country, and called on Afghan families to stop sending their children to Pakistani madrassas (TOLO News). According to the NDS, many of these children are not educated, but recruited to various militant organizations and often abused. While there is a Child Reform and Training Center in Afghanistan, that aims to rehabilitate children caught before they can conduct an attack, many "remain under the sway of the education they received while with the insurgents."
As for Spozhmay, she has asked Afghan President Hamid Karzai for help in finding a new home, saying that she fears being given a second suicide vest and told to conduct another attack if she were to return to her family (AP).
BSA remains mired in politics
As White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the Obama administration's stance that the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the United States be signed in a matter of weeks, not months, Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told reporters on Wednesday that Secretary of State John Kerry has not been in touch with Karzai over the stalled security pact (Pajhwok). Speaking at her daily news conference, Psaki said: "It is safe to assume our team on the ground, the ambassador, our negotiating team, is in very close contact," but added that: "The secretary has not been in touch with President Karzai." If signed, the BSA will determine the size and scope of any U.S. troop presence that remains in the country after the NATO combat mission ends in December this year. However, Karzai has said signing the agreement will be up to the next Afghan president (elections will be held in April), prompting U.S. officials to threaten a full withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.
While Kabul and Washington seem to be holding fast to their positions on the BSA, reports emerged on Wednesday that Islamic scholars are split over the agreement (TOLO News). Afghanistan's Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs said that 80 of the 2,500 participants in last year's Loya Jirga (grand assembly) on the BSA were Islamic scholars, the "overwhelming majority" of which voted in favor of the pact, but more than 100,000 mosques are not registered with the ministry, giving other Islamic scholars an open platform. At least one imam, Said Farooq Hussaini, is against the BSA, telling worshippers during last Friday's prayers: "You [the Afghan government] warn us that if they [U.S. troops] leave Afghanistan, religious wars will begin, but we assure you that we will stop this trick of yours."
No food for you!
Philippe Lafforgue, a French expatriate in Islamabad, "thought he had cooked up the perfect recipe for [other] expats" in the Pakistani capital when he opened La Maison, a small French bistro, in October 2013, but Lafforgue's decision to not serve Pakistanis, unless they were accompanied by "foreign-passport holders" has landed him in hot water (Dawn, NBC News). After Cyril Almeida, a prominent Pakistani journalist, was refused a reservation, he took to social media, launching a campaign against the restaurant with the hashtag #NoToApartheid. While police are now investigating Lafforgue, he says his position was one of respect, not discrimination, arguing that he serves non-halal food and that not feeding Pakistanis was the only way he could comply with Islamic tenets and Pakistani laws that prohibit the consumption of alcohol and pork by Muslims.
-- Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.
US rejects Khobragade's plea, Energy Secretary cancels India visit
A U.S. federal court has rejected Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade's plea to extend the date for a preliminary hearing on a case of visa fraud beyond January 13 (Times of India). In a letter to the magistrate dated January 7, Khobragade said the "pressure of the impending" deadline of the indictment and preliminary hearing made it difficult to seek a meaningful resolution of the case with the U.S. government. Since Khobragade's arrest was on December 12, U.S. law says she must be indicted by January 13.
The U.S. Energy Secretary Daniel Moniz has also postponed his visit to India until after relations between the two countries improve (Times of India).
AAP launches anti-corruption helpline
In an unexpected move, Arvind Kejriwal has launched an anti-corruption helpline in Delhi and promises to turn every citizen into ‘an anti-corruption inspector' (Indian Express). Citizens who have encountered instances of graft can call (011) 27357169, and if their case holds merit, speak to an advisor on how to conduct a sting operation to catch the offending government individual red-handed. Evidence from these operations will then be passed on to Delhi's anti-corruption department who will receive additional police support to take action the suspects. Kejriwal promises each case will be processed within 24 hours. The move proved overwhelmingly popular and the helpline received 4,000 phone calls in 7 hours (NDTV).
Bangladesh: Zia loses security personnel, opposition leaders go into hiding
Chief of the Bangladesh National Party and Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia is set to lose her security detail as fallout of boycotting recent elections. Zia, who has been Bangladesh's Prime Minister twice, received privileges as Leader of the Opposition for the past five years, including 22 Ansars personnel, 8 police personnel, and 2 policemen from the special branch; she will lose this protection force as she will not be a member of parliament for the first time in 23 years (The Hindu). Zia has also continued to speak out against the results of Bangladesh's recent election and has complained of being put "under virtual house arrest" with around-the-clock police vigilance and blockades by trucks (The Telegraph). In a recent interview to the Financial Times, Zia said, "democracy is not in Bangladesh right now. It's dead now. We want free, fair, credible and participatory elections ...as early as possible" (Financial Times).
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina offered Zia a figurative olive branch on Monday and said she was open to discussions on how to end violence and unrest in the country but asked Zia to ‘shut up' shortly thereafter (Zee News, Mint).
The police have been increasingly conducting raids on members of Bangladesh's opposition parties and have reportedly sent several into hiding. On Tuesday, detectives arrested four opposition leaders, including an adviser to the opposition chief and former Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia. Several senior leaders had been arrested in the months preceding elections including a former minister of law. Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the arrests were arbitrary and were employed in "weakening critics, limiting dissent and consolidating ruling party power" (ABC News).
India may roll-back more oil subsidies
Petroleum Secretary Vivek Rae, while in New Delhi on Thursday, revealed the Ministry of Petroleum would shortly propose a monthly hike in diesel prices to the Cabinet (The Hindu). The move is in line with suggestions made by the government appointed Kirit Parikh panel that had recommended a Rs. 5 increase in the price of diesel, a Rs. 250 per cylinder increase in the price of cooking gas, and a Rs. 4 increase in the price of kerosone oil to ease the government's subsidy burden. Mr. Rae added, "while we are buying crude oil at $110 a barrel, domestic companies should get at least $65 a barrel for invest in future exploration activities." The government had attempted a partial roll-back of subsidies last January by increasing diesel prices by half a rupee per litre for retail customers while increasing the price by Rs. 11 for some wholesale customers.
At the same event on Thursday, oil major BP's India head Sahsi Makundan said India's infrastructure bottlenecks and presence of oil subsidies had distorted the market making it less attractive for investment in the oil and gas sector (The Hindu).
A legislator in the state of Andhra Pradesh has unveiled a statue of Sonia Gandhi as a goddess for a temple he is building in homage to the Congress leader. P. Sanakara Rao, from Mahbubnagar, said he was building her likeness as the ‘goddess of Telangana' for her role in carving out the proposed state after decades of agitation in the region. The 9-foot statue holds an ear of maize in one hand and a bowl of grain in another. Ironically, the statue's creator hails from what will likely become Telangana's rival state of Seemandhra (BBC, Times of India).
-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Edited by Peter Bergen
FAROOQ NAEEM/ AFP