Pakistani Politicians Killed in Dual Attacks; Mixed Reviews of Afghan Poll Security; India Polio-Free
Event Notice: "Battlefield Earth," a discussion on the future of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force, TODAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).
Wonk Watch: "Do NSA's Bulk Surveillance Program Stop Terrorists?," Peter Bergen, David Sterman, Emily Schneider, and Bailey Cahall (NAF). Find a news story about the paper here: "NSA phone record collection does little to prevent terrorist attacks, group says," Ellen Nakashima (Post).
Pakistani politicians targeted in weekend attacks
At least eight people were killed in Pakistan over the weekend in back-to-back bombings that targeted politicians in the country's restive northwest region (RFE/RL). According to Pakistani officials, at least five police officers died on Sunday when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the convoy of Amir Muqam, an advisor to Pakistani Minister Nawaz Sharif, as he headed to a meeting in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (AP, ET, VOA). Minutes later, a remote-controlled device went off; Muqam, however, was unhurt. It was the first attack on a member of Sharif's party since he took office in June.
In a separate incident on Sunday, Mian Mohammad Mushtaq, a provincial leader for the secular Pashtun Awami National Party, and two of his aides were killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in Peshawar. No one has claimed responsibility for either attack.
On Monday, a remote-controlled explosion disrupted the funeral prayers for Mushtaq, killing one policeman as he helped set up security gates for the event (Dawn). The service will be held later on Monday afternoon.
Pakistani Taliban takes pride in murder nominations
The Pakistani Taliban "patted itself on the back" on Sunday when Mullah Fazlullah, the organization's new leader, and Shahidullah Shahid, its main spokesman, were named in the report filed over last week's assassination of Chaudry Aslam Khan, the head of Karachi's anti-terrorism unit and one of the port city's toughest cops (ET). According to Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper, the group said in a statement: "It is a reward for us that [they] have been nominated in the murder case of Chaudry Aslam. With the grace of Allah Almighty we are not the killers of a weak person but nominated for killing a powerful man." They added that they will continue targeting "important personalities" in the future.
Aitzaz Hassan honored for actions
Prime Minister Sharif recommended Aitzaz Hassan for the Sitara-e-Shujaat (Star of Bravery) award on Friday, recognizing the 15-year-old boy who died last Monday after tackling a would-be suicide bomber in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province's Hangu district (AP, BBC). In a statement to President Mamnoon Hussain, Sharif asked him to approve the award, saying: "Aitzaz's brave act saved the lives of hundreds of students and established a sterling example of gallantry and patriotism" (NYT). Amjad Afridi, a senior advisor to the provincial government in Hangu, told Agence France Presse that Hassan's school and a new sports stadium to be constructed in the district would be renamed in Hassan's honor (AFP). He added that the local government would donate Rs. 5 million ($47,000) to Hassan's family.
Mixed views on security for upcoming elections
Afghan security officials are assuring the public that nearly all of the country's polling stations will be safe during the upcoming presidential and provincial elections, citing a recent security assessment that said safety can be "guaranteed" at 6,431 of the country's 6,845 stations (RFE/RL). Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, said that efforts are also underway to secure the remaining 414 polling stations (AP). The Afghan National Army's Gen. Murad Ali Murad added that he believed the security situation for the 2014 and 2015 elections was much better than that for the 2009 and 2010 polls.
But while Afghan presidential and vice presidential candidates welcomed the report's findings, the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) said on Sunday that the security report is not realistic (TOLO News, TOLO News). While TEFA did not elaborate on why they thought the report was overly optimistic, their concerns were echoed by a number of Afghan senators who said that nearly 50 percent of the polling stations "have no proper security that is necessary for transparent elections" (Pajhwok).
U.S. tried to oust Karzai?
While "Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long accused the Obama administration of trying to secretly engineer his political downfall," Yochi Dreazan noted in Foreign Policy's "The Cable" blog last Thursday that, "he may be right" (FP). Dreazan highlighted a passage from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' new book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, in which Gates' writes that the late Richard Holbrooke, then the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, "was doing his best to bring about the defeat of Karzai" during the 2009 presidential elections. He goes on to say that once Karzai became aware of U.S. efforts to unseat him, he turned to the country's warlords to win their support in the vote. Dreazan notes that: "The resulting election was dirty, even by Afghanistan's standards." The violence and widespread vote-rigging that plagued the poll is part of why the security of this year's elections is of such concern.
Suicide bomber targets bus carrying Afghan police
At least two people were killed and more than 20 were injured in Kabul on Sunday when a suicide bomber riding a bicycle detonated his explosives near a police bus that was carrying officers home for the day (Pajhwok, RFE/RL, TOLO News). Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, told reporters that the attack occurred along Kabul's Jalalabad road, the main route out of the capital and a regular site for Taliban militant attacks. The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident, the first suicide attack in the capital this winter.
Using relics to defy the Taliban
Years after the Taliban smashed every artifact in the National Museum of Afghanistan that bore a human or animal likeness, museum workers are now painstakingly reassembling the destroyed objects, a testament to the country's defiance and resilience, the New York Times' Rod Nordland reported on Sunday (NYT). While the museum is sending a message to the Taliban, Nordland notes that it is also speaking to warlords who looted the museum and those who let nearly 70,000 objects walk out the door. Though there are still thousands of damaged artifacts that need to be put back together, the report highlights the fact that many of the looted objects are beginning to return to the museum, allowing it to restore some of its collections. Bonus read: "The Keyholder," Jeffrey E. Stern (SouthAsia).
-- Bailey Cahall
India marks third polio-free milestone
For the third straight year, India has not any outbreaks of polio and is likely to be declared "polio-free" by the World Health Organization in the coming few months (AJE, Post, Times of India). Nicole Deutsch, head of polio operations for UNICEF, the U.N children's fund, in India hailed the achievement "a monumental milestone" (AFP). Union Health Minister Gulam Nabi Azad attributed India's success to the "unwavering political will at the highest level, commitment of adequate financial resources, technological innovation ... and the tireless efforts of millions of workers including more than 23 lakh (2.3 million) vaccinators" (BBC).
India's National PolioPulse program began in the mid-1990s and was supported by non-profit groups, U.N. agencies, and Bollywood stars. The program was supported by 2.4 million volunteers, 150,000 community workers, and a budget of $160 million.
However, polio vaccines will continue to be distributed in the high-risk states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar and Haryana, replacing the widely-prevalent oral drops for children. Sources speaking to the BBC still see a risk of the disease crossing over from Afghanistan and Pakistan where vaccinations have been suspended after several militant attacks targeting aid workers (BBC).
No dilution of army power in Kashmir: India's army chief
India's Army Chief Gen. Bikram Singh said on Monday there was no possibility of diluting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), given the current situation in the Kashmir valley and the possibility of spillover attacks after the United States completes its drawdown in Afghanistan (The Hindu, Indian Express). His remarks were in response to a question addressing recent statements by Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashanth Bhushan who called for the repeal of the act, citing human rights violations and alienation of the local population. Singh refrained from commenting directly on Bhushan's statement, saying instead that the army was going to "wait and watch for a while." The AFSPA, first passed in 1958, gives the Indian armed forces special powers in parts of the country deemed "disturbed areas," such as arrests without a warrant, firing upon any provocation and legal immunity for their actions to members of the armed forces. The act was recently extended for another year in the northeastern state of Manipur in November 2013 (The Hindu). On the same day, an encounter between militants and security forces broke out in Sopore, 55 kms. north of the capital Srinagar, killing two militants (NDTV).
Singh also addressed accusations in the Pakistani media holding India responsible for incursions along the Line of Control, saying: "If rules are followed by our neighbors, we follow them too. If rules are broken, we won't sit on it, we will break them too" (Business Standard). He later added that instances of violations had reduced considerably since the Directors General Military Operations from both countries met last December.
SC orders reexamination of 2012 acquittals, will hear Coalgate cases on Jan. 15
India's Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment on Monday, calling for the re-examination of all cases of acquittal in 2012 (WSJ India Realtime). In its judgment, the court directed all state governments to begin scrutinizing acquittals under a special committee comprised of senior government officers, police, and prosecution departments within six months to ensure the guilty have not escaped punishment. According to the National Crime Bureau, over 70 percent of the cases in 2012 ended in acquittal due to a lack of proper investigation, parties opting for out of court settlements, or corrupt case proceedings. Crimes against women have particularly low conviction rates and have been blamed on the lack of gender sensitization in investigative proceedings.
The Supreme Court also received the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI's) status report on the "coal gate" scam (The Hindu). The report will be reportedly read by Justice R.S. Lodha on Jan. 15, when several public interest litigations on the case are due to be heard. The CBI's investigation looked into 195 coal block allocations in which they reportedly found prima facie evidence of cheating, criminal misconduct, and corruption in 16 cases. However, unnamed sources told the Hindu that no criminal charges have been filed.
Khobragade defense submits case, diplomat speaks to press
Devyani Khobragade's lawyer submitted a four-page motion in a U.S. court on Monday, seeking dismissal of the case against the diplomat for allegedly underpaying her domestic worker, now that Khobragade has acquired immunity (NDTV). In its indictment before a grand jury on Thursday, the prosecution alleged that the diplomat had Sangeeta Richard enter into two contracts -- one which was used in her visa application, and in which the diplomat said she would pay Richard $9.75 per hour for 40 hours work per week, and another which set out the "true" terms of her employment, in which Richard was paid roughly $573 per month regardless of overtime hours. Khobragade's lawyer argued that the second contract did not replace the first one. "It simply guaranteed that a portion of the funds discussed and promised to be paid during the signing of the first contract would be paid in India," he wrote in an email to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
In an interview with India's Sunday Express, Khobragade expressed apprehension over whether she would be able to reunite with her husband and two daughters, aged 4 and 7, who remain in the United States (Indian Express). She said she also worried about her career and the new posting she would be given. "I have returned home, and it feels good to be among people who support you, but the legal battle remains," she said, noting that: "I have come to India but my stand still needs to be vindicated. And of course, I have been separated from my family, and I am under immense stress for my children."
The case has reportedly left other Indian diplomats in the United States on edge, and India's Foreign Ministry is pushing the Finance Ministry to change the status of domestic workers who travel to the United States with Indian diplomats (NDTV). Around 14 domestic workers for Indian diplomats are currently working in the United States on A3 visas, which subjects them to U.S. law. If the Foreign Ministry changes their status to Indian staffers, they would come under Indian law, but such a proposal requires clearance by the Finance Ministry. On Saturday, Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid blamed the United States for the "mini crisis" over the arrest and said more work was needed to repair bilateral ties (Business Standard, Guardian).
Weaker economic data spurs stock market increase
India reported an unexpected contraction in industrial output and exports late on Friday, signs that the India economy remains weak (WSJ). Industrial production fell 2.1 percent from a year earlier in November 2013, the second consecutive month of contraction, while export growth slowed to 3.5 percent in December 2013, down from more than 10 percent growth between July and October. Imports fell 15.25 percent from a year earlier, helping to narrow the trade deficit and ease pressure on the rupee.
Weak economic data pushed up domestic shares on Monday, as trader speculated that the central bank will hold off from raising interest rates later this month (WSJ). High inflation has forced India's central bank to maintain a tight monetary policy, which is choking consumption and investment, said Rajiv Biswas, chief economist for Asia-Pacific at IHS, a global information company. The government will announce consumer inflation data for December 2013 on Monday and wholesale inflation numbers on Tuesday.
India's Commerce Ministry is considering subsidies for its export sector after the European Union withdraws its preferential import duty scheme for some Indian products in 2014 (Hindu Business Line). India is among a number of countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Russia, and Malaysia, that will graduate this year from the union's scheme, which provides duty-free or low-duty access to exports from 90 developing and least-developed countries in all 27 European Union member countries. Textiles, chemicals, minerals, and automobiles will be among the affected products that will now attract normal import duties of 6 to 12 percent.
High on power: Kejriwal, Modi popular motifs in India's kite festival
Shoppers in Jaipur looking for kites to fly in the popular western Indian festival of Makar Sankranti can look forward to seeing Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as kite options (BBC). "People who come to my shop ask for Kejriwal kites, it's amazing what he has pulled off in Delhi, that's why he appears to be so popular," says Gafur Khan, whose family has been in the kite making business for generations. Another kite seller, Ashraf Ahmed, added that kites were a popular way of knowing which leader's star was on the rise. Psephologists might now want to set their gaze higher.
-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Edited by Peter Bergen.