The South Asia Channel

U.S. Soldier Bowe Bergdahl Alive; Lawyer: Musharraf Needs U.S. Treatment; Indian Supreme Court Investigates Coalgate

Bonus Read: "Five Resolutions for U.S. South Asia Policy in 2014," Michael Kugelman (SouthAsia). 

Afghanistan

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl still alive, reports say

CNN's Jim Sciutto reported on Wednesday that U.S. military officials have obtained a new video of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. prisoner of war, showing that he is still alive (CNN). Anonymous government officials confirmed the report, saying that the video obtained in recent days shows a frail Bergdahl, who appears to be in declining health, but not seriously ill (AP, NYT, VOA). They added that he referenced the December 2013 death of Nelson Mandela, a so-called proof of life. Bergdahl disappeared in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province in June 2009, and authorities believe he is being held by Taliban-linked militants in Pakistan. It was the first video of Bergdahl in nearly three years.

Coalition airstrike, civilian deaths test U.S.-Afghan relations

Relations between Washington and Kabul are being tested once again after Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused U.S. troops of killing eight civilians, including seven children, on Wednesday during a military operation in Parwan province (NYT, Post, TOLO News). According to Karzai and Shah Wali Shahid, the deputy provincial governor, the incident occurred around 1 a.m. when U.S. Special Forces attempted to enter an insurgent stronghold. A gun battle followed, prompting the troops to call in an airstrike that killed the children and a female relative in the house. NATO's International Security Assistance Force released a statement on Thursday confirming that an incident had occurred during a joint Afghan-coalition operation, saying that 10 insurgents, 2 Afghan civilians, and one coalition soldier were killed (Pajhwok, VOA). Due to the conflicting reports, Karzai has ordered an official inquiry into the incident (Pajhwok).

Afghanistan seeks help in counter-narcotics effort

Din Mohammad Mobariz Rashidi, Afghanistan's minister of counter narcotics, told reporters on Wednesday that Afghanistan needs more financial assistance for its anti-narcotics efforts after opium cultivation hit a record high in 2013 (Reuters). Reuters notes that, despite "more than a decade of efforts to wean farmers off of the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban insurgency," Afghanistan remains the world's top cultivator of the poppy plant, from which opium and heroin are derived. Speaking after a meeting with Yury Fedotov, the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Rashidi said Afghan farmers needed to be provided with alternate livelihoods before they could be convinced to stop cultivating poppies.

Addressing U.S. concerns about the increased poppy cultivation on Wednesday, Erin Logan, who is the principal director for counter-narcotics and global threats at the Pentagon, told a Senate panel that the United States intends to establish an intelligence center in Bahrain to continue fighting the Afghan drug trade once the coalition mission ends in December 2014 (Pajhwok, Post).

Pakistan

Musharraf needs medical treatment in U.S., lawyer says

Anwar Mansoor Khan, a lawyer for former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, submitted a letter to a special court in Islamabad on Wednesday, asking for permission to move the ex-military ruler to the Paris Regional Medical Center in Paris, Texas (RFE/RL). According to several news reports, the letter by Dr. Arjumand Hashmi, Musharraf's U.S.-based doctor, advised that the retired general go to the United States for further medical care (ET). The court is set to hear one of many legal cases currently pending against Musharraf, who has so far been barred from leaving the country while the trial is ongoing.  

While Musharraf had been ordered to appear before the court on Wednesday, after numerous missed appearances and adjournments, the three-judge panel granted him another exemption from appearing at the proceedings until Jan. 23 (Dawn). The court then ordered doctors at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi, where Musharraf has been seeking treatment for a heart condition since Jan. 2, to assess Musharraf's condition -- how serious it is, will he require surgery, how long will he remain in the hospital, etc. -- and asked that its report on the former president's health be submitted by Jan. 24. 

Pakistani army sets up permanent base in Swat Valley 

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced on Wednesday that the country's powerful army would be setting up a permanent military base in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province's restive Swat Valley (RFE/RL). While the army had declared in July 2009 that it had regained control of the region from Mullah Fazlullah, who took control of the district in 2007 and is now the head of the Pakistani Taliban, militant attacks have continued. With more than 20,000 troops in and around the area, Sharif said the base will be "a brigade-level cantonment" for Swat and the adjacent Malakand district (ET). 

Sectarian violence rising in Pakistan 

A surge in sectarian killings across Pakistan is raising new concerns about the country's stability, the Washington Post's Tim Craig reported on Wednesday, noting that violence against Shiite Muslims and other minorities is spreading to major cities and increasingly targeting the country's professional class (Post). According to the report, the Pakistani Institute of Peace Studies noted that there were 687 sectarian killings in Pakistan last year, a 22 percent increase over 2012; findings echoed by the Pew Research Center which found religious conflict has increased around the world (AFP).

But while these deaths represent a small portion of the total 4,725 lives that were lost in 2013, sectarian unrest is becoming more routine in the country's cities. Craig cites two attacks at Sufi shrines that occurred this month in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, and Mardan that left eight men dead. He also noted that: "Among the victims last year were a prominent poet in Karachi, a well-respected doctor in the eastern city of Lahore and a university leader in the eastern city of Gujrat," something Salman Zaidi, the deputy director of the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank, described as a "brain drain by force. 

***

About-face

As the Afghan Taliban looks to regain power after coalition forces withdraw in December, they have tried to soften the group's public image by publicly stating that they support women's education. While this usually comes with a caveat that the girls must be taught in an Islamic environment, the group has actually gone beyond words to open the Afghan School in Kabul. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the school was founded by Mullah Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil and Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, both former Taliban government officials, to "bridge the divide between modern schools and madrasses" (WSJ). While boys and girls are strictly divided at the institute, which runs from primary school to high school, Muttawakil noted with pride that his daughter attends the school and "is one of the top students in her class," a remarkable change considering that girls were banned from attending similar institutions when Muttawakil was the group's foreign minister in the 1990s.

-- Bailey Cahall 

India

Supreme Court questions government in Coalgate scam

India's Supreme Court is questioning the central government on the functioning of a screening committee that made recommendations on the allotment of coal reserves, the latest development in a scandal that puts Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who previously led the coal ministry, in the middle of the controversy (DNA IndiaTimes of India). The scandal centers on alleged corruption in the allocation of coal blocks from 1993 to 2008 to 61 private companies, including Tata Power, Reliance Energy, ArcelorMittal, and Hindalco. The court questioned the central government on how 11 companies had been allocated blocks between 2007 and 2008 without participating in a selection process that saw 178 other applicants use official channels to seek allocations (Times of India).

Meanwhile, India's central government told the 61 mines that those that do not obtain environmental clearances by a set deadline will have their allocations taken away (The Hindu). The central government has given the companies until Feb. 5 to obtain the requisite clearances for their blocks and produce proof that supports their approval or face de-allocation. The Times of India writes that the move was calculated to disengage Singh from the "Coalgate stink" and prevent the Supreme Court from ordering blanket cancellation of the allocations, as it did in a previous scandal over corruption in the 2G phone spectrum allocation (Times of India). 

AAP support builds, Bihar axes 576 staffers on corruption 

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said it is looking at contesting more than 400 of the 545 seats in India's lower house of parliament in the 2014 general elections, scaling up its ambitions from a previous goal of 200 (Times of India, The Hindu). Of the thousands of applications it has received for its ticket, the party said it had found 182 to be "valid." The AAP has reportedly recruited 1.2 million new members in the last five days to bring its total membership to more than two million. The AAP set a target of enrolling more than 10 million members by Jan. 26.

To be recognized as a national party, the AAP will need to have recognition in at least four states or win at least six percent of the vote. Official recognition entitles a national party to use its reserved symbol for its candidates throughout India and obtain broadcast facilities and other perks during elections. The party's anti-corruption platform vaulted it to a surprise finish in the Delhi assembly elections in early December 2013. On Dec. 26, the party formally announced its bid to contest national parliamentary elections. But as the party's numbers swell, it is also facing increasing discontent among its ranks, with the hashtag #quitaap becoming a top trend on Twitter (Business Standard). 

The government of the northern state of Bihar has launched its own anti-corruption campaign and is likely to dismiss 576 officers and employees from its service within two months over allegations of corruption (Times of India). Nitish Kumar, the state's chief minister, told department heads and district magistrates in a meeting held Wednesday that the government has zero tolerance for corruption. Officials have been directed to speed up departmental proceedings against those facing corruption allegations.

Indian police arrest two in rape case

Indian police have arrested two homeless men in connection with the gang-rape and robbery of a Danish tourist in New Delhi and are searching for the other alleged attackers (WSJ, BBC, VOA, Economic Times). The two men, who were arrested at a railway station in the capital, were among a group of eight that allegedly accosted the tourist at knife-point late Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Delhi police said. Some of the woman's belongings were recovered from them, including an iPod, a mobile phone, and some cash. The men are likely to appear before a court this week. The 51-year-old victim of the attack flew back to Denmark on Wednesday. 

Amid criticism for his silence on the gang-rape, Arvind Kejriwal, the newly appointed chief minister of Delhi, shifted the blame for local crimes against women to the police force, asking police on Thursday to suspend four of its officers for refusing to act against sex and drug gangs and in a case of a man burning a woman (Times of India). Kejriwal called the Delhi police "highly compromised" on Thursday and warned that action will be taken against errant officers (Economic Times, NDTV). "Why are rapes happening in Delhi? ... If crime does not happen in Delhi, it is not because of the Delhi Police, but in spite of it," Kejriwal said. The charge came after Delhi police allegedly refused to act on a tip about the city's sex trade. 

Time runs out for U.S. embassy club

Thursday was the last day for the U.S. embassy in New Delhi to cease its commercial activities, including its in-house club, a shutdown that was ordered following the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragde in New York City (WSJ). Meanwhile, spouses of U.S. diplomats who teach at the American schools in Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai have come under official scrutiny (Times of India, NYT). India requested that the United States provide details on these workers, some of whom are suspected to lack the requisite work permits, as well as the pay scale of Indian staff working with the U.S. embassy and consulates.

Following the fall-out over Khobragade's arrest on visa fraud charges, India accused the U.S. embassy in New Delhi of having long hosted commercial facilities within its compound for non-diplomats, a violation of Indian tax law. India has said it will not restore special airport access for the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats until the same privileges are extended to Indian diplomats in the United States.

-- Ana Swanson 

Edited by Peter Bergen. 

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