The South Asia Channel

Rahul Gandhi will accept PM Nomination; Obama Speaks Out About Gates Memoir; Infanticide on Rise in Karachi

Bonus Read: "India-China Border Agreement: Much Ado About Nothing," Monika Chansoria (SouthAsia).

India 

Rahul Gandhi indicates he will accept PM nomination

In an interview with India's Dainik Bhaskar on Tuesday, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi displayed a willingness to accept a prime ministerial nomination (Dainik Bhaskar, The Hindu, Indian Express, WSJ India Realtime). He brushed off remarks he made in early 2013 ("power is poison") and said his thinking did not mean a reluctance to take on positions of leadership, adding that he is a "sepoy of the Congress" and was ready to do what the party's high command asked of him. Gandhi's remarks come ahead of Friday's All India Congress Committee meeting, where the party is expected to announce its candidate for prime minister. The party has also reportedly engaged public relations firms Dentsu India and Genesis Burson-Marstellar in a 500 crore ($8.1 million) media blitz ahead of this year's elections, which promises to present Gandhi as a "decisive, no nonsense leader" (Times of India). The party denies the move saying Gandhi did not need an image makeover (Economic Times).

U.K. investigates Golden Temple ties 

The British government is investigating allegations that Margaret Thatcher's administration secretly helped Indira Gandhi plan the storming of the Golden Temple in 1984, a controversial attempt to flush out militants that killed more than 1,000 people (Times of India, NDTV). British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered his cabinet secretary to look into the matter after Tom Watson, a Labour party member of parliament, said that recently declassified documents suggested that Thatcher had made the decision to help design the so-called "Operation Bluestar" in secret, without telling the British parliament. 

The documents, which were released by the National Archives in London under the 30-year declassification rule, indicated that India asked for assistance in planning the raid, and that Britain's Special Air Service officials were dispatched to help. In retaliation for Operation Bluestar, Sikh bodyguards assassinated Gandhi five months after the attack.

Watson has asked the government to verify the authenticity of the documents and reveal whether other documents that could offer more information have been "withheld or suppressed" (BBC). "The prime minister has asked the cabinet secretary to look into this case urgently and establish the facts," a U.K. government spokesperson said. India's foreign ministry declined to comment on the news on Wednesday, saying it was seeking more information from the U.K. government (Live Mint).

Home minister Shinde faces Dawood controversy

Sushil Kumar Shinde, India's home minister, is facing allegations that he tried to prevent Delhi police from interrogating an associate of Dawood Ibrahim, India's most-wanted criminal, in connection with match-fixing in the Indian Premier League, after Shinde's name also emerged in the case (NDTVEconomic Times). R.K. Singh, the former home secretary, also alleged that Shinde lied about U.S. involvement in the efforts to catch the mafia don. 

Contrary to what Shinde said last week, the United States has offered no help in tracking down Ibrahim and bringing him back to India from Pakistan. "Even if an agency belonging to another country agrees to help us in a mission on a third country's soil, this should not be made public. The FBI has made no such commitment, at least as long as I was there," Singh said. According to Singh, Shinde has also facilitated corruption in the assigning of important police posts. The BJP said that Shinde should be sacked if an inquiry proves the charges to be true (Economic Times, The Hindu). 

No bananas allowed in retail, republic

Delhi's Aam Admi Party has withdrawn permission to foreign supermarket chains to set up shop in the state, setting the stage for another confrontation with the central government (BBC, Business Standard). Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told reporters that: "the choice was to be made between giving more choices to consumers and controlling unemployment. Therefore, we took a stand against FDI [foreign direct investment]" (Times of India). Kejriwal added that he was going to meet traders and industrialists in the next few weeks to better understand how they could have a "conducive and honest environment" to work in. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma deemed the move "irresponsible, ill-considered, abrupt and arbitrary," before adding "we are not a banana republic" (The Hindu). 

The decision to allow FDI in retail has been heating up Indian politics over the last few years; while the central government allows 51 percent investment by foreign entities in multi-brand retail, its implementation is left to the states. Thus far, 12 states, those mostly led by the Congress party, have approved the move and the United Kingdom's Tesco is the only foreign retailer with a green light to set up. 

Law graduate seeks to reverse SC's "hands off" approach to sexual harassment by former judges 

Over a month after Stella James submitted an affidavit accusing former Supreme Court judge Ashok Ganguly of sexual harassment (and a week after his resignation as a human rights chief), another law graduate has filed a sexual harassment complaint against another former Supreme Court judge, Swatanter Kumar, current head of the National Green Tribunal (Times of India, Economic Times). The complainant, only identifying herself as Ms. X, approached the Supreme Court on Dec. 5, 2013, but had her request for an enquiry turned down by the court, which was unwilling to take action against someone who was no longer a sitting judge. The Supreme Court, however, will hear her writ petition again on Wednesday, where the complainant has asked for "acknowledgement of the truth of the allegations," and that the court set up an inquiry in line with prevailing ‘Vishakha guidelines' against sexual harassment at the workplace. The complainant added she was encouraged by the "swiftness and seriousness" with which the court dealt with the Ganguly case. 

Sri Lanka frees 20 Indian fishermen 

Sri Lanka freed at least 20 Indian fisherman on Monday, and a court in the eastern port district of Trincomalee ordered the release of a further 30 Indian fishermen, after Sri Lankan authorities seized the Indian nationals for poaching in Sri Lankan waters (Times of India, Business Standard). Salman Kurshid, India's external affairs minister, spoke with his Sri Lankan counterpart, G.L. Peiris, by phone on the issue. Sri Lankan fisheries minister Rajitha Senaratne plans to visit New Delhi this week to discuss longer-term measures to prevent fishermen from engaging in unlawful fishing in each other's waters. The issue has been a frequent irritant to bilateral ties. Sri Lanka detained 320 Indian fisherman and 98 boats between Oct. 17 and Dec. 4, 2013, while India held 210 Sri Lankan fisherman and 43 boats between Aug. 21 and Dec. 27 last year, a group called the Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen has said (Times of India). 

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson 

Afghanistan 

Obama has faith in Afghan strategy

With former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' new memoir set to be released on Tuesday, President Obama addressed criticisms made in the book on Monday during a press conference with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, his first public reaction to the book (RFE/RL). Speaking to reporters, Obama said it was his duty to constantly question U.S. military tactics when sending troops to war, dismissing claims by Gates that he had lost confidence in the 2009 Afghan troop surge (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Obama also noted that the strategy that he, Gates, and the rest of his national security team came up with in 2009 was the "right strategy" and is allowing U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of last year.

The Obama administration also strongly refuted allegations made in the book that U.S. officials had tried to interfere in Afghanistan's 2009 presidential elections. In the book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, 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, something he describes as a "clumsy and failed putsch." Marie Harf, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, told reporters during her daily press briefing: "I'm disagreeing with his words in that assessment. We've been very clear throughout... in general, we don't take a position on who should win elections. We don't endorse candidates. We don't endorse parties" (Pajhwok). She added that it was up to the Afghan people to decide who their leaders should be.

HIA's Hekmatyar changes tune on elections

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord and the leader of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), an Islamist political party and militant organization, reversed his previous boycotts of Afghan elections on Monday, calling on his supporters to take part in the upcoming April vote (TOLO News). He also encouraged his followers to compete against the HIA's rivals, though he did not specify a candidate or a particular party. Qaribur Rahman Saeed, a former spokesman for the organization and a current HIA representative in Europe, told Pajhwok Afghan News that an HIA candidate would be announced shortly, enabling "its supporters to exercise their right to vote with confidence and enthusiasm" (Pajhwok). 

Afghanistan given FIFA "Fair Play" Award

FIFA, the international football (soccer) association, awarded Afghanistan with the organization's Fair Play Award for 2013 on Monday for its "dedication and hard work to develop football at the grassroots level" and building "the foundation for the game, nurturing a national league in the midst of violence and destruction" (RFE/RL). Tokyo Sexwale, a FIFA Fair Play Committee member, said at the awards ceremony that the Afghan federation's efforts had widened the sports appeal to include women and families, and praised it for easing regional tensions by hosting its first international match against a neighboring country in nearly a decade (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Afghanistan and Pakistan played against each other in Kabul in August 2013 - Afghanistan won, 3-0. 

Pakistan

Infanticide on the rise in Karachi 

Al Jazeera America reported on Tuesday that, as Pakistan becomes more urbanized and Karachi's population, in particular, grows exponentially, infanticide in the port city is on the rise (AJAM). While killing children, particularly girls, is not a new phenomenon in South Asia, the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan's largest welfare organization, notes that the number of dead babies its ambulances pick up has increased by almost 20 percent a year, each year since 2010. Other aid agencies like the Chhipa Welfare Association and the Aman Foundation report similar increases, a trend they think may continue to grow along with Karachi's cost-of-living. With many families in Karachi straddling the poverty line and having limited access to education or birth-control options, infanticide seems to be one way families are trying to minimize the number of mouths that need to be fed.

Police injured in Dera Ismail Khan blast 

Between two and eight police officers were injured in Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday when a remote-controlled bomb exploded near their police van (Dawn, ET). While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, the explosion comes as Pakistan celebrates Eid Milad-un-Nabi, the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Strict security measures have been put in place across the country.

***

The Icy Sun 

Fereshta Kazemi, a native Afghan who grew up in Los Angeles and stars in the movie "The Icy Sun," has been struggling for over a year to make sure the picture, which focuses on the aftermath of a woman's rape, is shown uncensored in Afghanistan (AJAM). Though Kazemi has faced criticism for tackling such a taboo subject, she is undeterred, arguing that the scene of a woman coping with her rape is poignant and important in a country where violence against women is increasing. While the first uncensored screening of the film last February was sparsely attended by members of the press, her determination seems to be paying off. Young female fans have praised Kazemi for the movie's honesty, and at the second International Afghanistan Human Rights Festival in October 2014, she took home the festival's Best Actress Award. 

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen. 

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