Pentagon Submits Post-2014 Troop Proposal to Obama; AAP Protests End in Delhi; At Least 22 Shi'ites Killed in Attack Near Quetta
Bonus Read: "Afghanistan's Growing Identity Crisis," Jeffrey E. Stern (SouthAsia).
U.S. proposes 10,000-strong force, or none at all
Multiple media outlets reported on Tuesday that the Pentagon has proposed to President Obama that either 10,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in December or none at all (NYT, Pajhwok, TOLO News). The figure is the midpoint of a range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops that has been debated for months, with officials saying that anything less than that would be too few to protect the reduced contingent of diplomats and military and intelligence officials that would remain in the country. According to the reports, the U.S. State Department and all of the country's intelligence agencies support the plan, though it has met resistance from senior officials on the National Security Council, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who question why there are no in-between options for them to consider.
Regardless of what troop number is ultimately decided upon, however, the Wall Street Journal cited senior government officials who said that all troops would be withdrawn by the end of Obama's second term in 2017, a report that could not be confirmed by other news outlets (WSJ). There are currently more than 37,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Afghan broadcasters pull ads that favor U.S. troop presence
Afghan broadcasters who ran television ads urging Afghan President Hamid Karzai to end his refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) -- which would determine the size and scope of any post-2014 U.S. troop presence -- have pulled all of the spots after the country's attorney general launched an investigation into the commercials' sources of funding (Reuters). According to officials at TOLO TV, Afghanistan's most popular channel, the ads were provided by a company called Ads Village, which acknowledged that funding came from NATO's International Security Assistance Force or the U.S. Agency for International Development. Massood Sanjar, TOLO's manager, told Reuters that: "All adverts are treated with similar terms and conditions, whether it is on BSA or a brand of mineral water." He added that the station was paid $700-$1,000 a minute to air the advertisements several times over a 24-hour period.
Reporters at RFE/RL described the ads as relatively innocuous, with one featuring a television presenter asking Afghan citizens whether or not they supported the agreement, and another with a narrator listing the economic and security benefits of signing the agreement, accompanied by footage of Afghan security forces receiving training from NATO troops and Afghan civilians working in factories and on infrastructure projects (RFE/RL). However, Safatullah Safi, the head of Afghanistan's Media and Information Center, said the ads were misleading propaganda and "a threat to national security."
De-miners released, rescued after seven hours
Sixty-three land-mine-removal workers who were kidnapped in Herat province by unknown gunmen and held for seven hours on Tuesday -- the country's largest mass kidnapping in years -- were released after village elders intervened and security forces flooded the restive Pashtun Zarghun district where they were being held (Post, TOLO News). Farid Homayoun, the country director for the Halo Trust, a British demining organization that employs all of the workers, confirmed to the Washington Post that they had been released unharmed. He added that: "The Taliban have apparently said they were not behind it, and the identity of the kidnappers is not clear to us." A security operation in the district to find the kidnappers is ongoing (Pajhwok).
-- Bailey Cahall
AAP calls off anti-police protests
Delhi's chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, told his supporters on Tuesday to end the protests that had taken over the capital for two days, after the police force promised to take action over his accusation of police negligence (NYT, Guardian, WSJ, BBC, Economic Times, Business Standard, Times of India). Delhi police agreed to place two officers at the center of Kejriwal's allegations on leave to defuse the situation; one of the officers was in charge of the tourist area of Delhi where a Danish woman was allegedly gang-raped last week. Although he framed the deal as a victory, Kejrwal had originally demanded that five officers be suspended and that control of the police force be shifted from the central government to the government, in protest of alleged inaction against crime by the city's police force. "The people of Delhi have won," Kejriwal told reporters. "This is an important step towards making the Delhi police accountable to the people of Delhi and the elected government of Delhi."
The protest, which drew several hundred supporters, caused the police to barricade roads and close subway stations in central Delhi and quickly devolved into violence. Videos of the protests showed police punching and kicking one man after protestors toppled a barricade, and other officers beating fallen protestors with sticks. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee had urged state officials to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible to ensure the central government's smooth preparations for a military parade on Sunday, India's Republic Day holiday. Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party came to power in Delhi last month following an election campaign that promised to take on corruption in India. Kejriwal launched the protests after accusing the police of failing to act in a series of recent cases, such as the gang rape of the Danish tourist and the burning of an Indian woman in an alleged dowry dispute.
On Wednesday, Kejriwal underwent a series of tests in a Delhi hospital after suffering from a high fever and acute bronchitis (Economic Times, NDTV, The Hindu). The 45-year-old politician had spent Monday night in the open and conducted meetings with cabinet members from his car during his more than 30-hour protest.
India to begin using CPI to target monetary policy
An Indian central bank committee recommended using formal inflation targeting in a bid to make the country's monetary policy more transparent and predictable (FT, WSJ, Business Standard, Economic Times). In a 130-page report released Tuesday, the committee recommended that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) adopt a long-term consumer-price index inflation target within two percentage points above or below 4 percent. The RBI should target that goal by gradually reducing retail inflation, now at 9.9 percent, to 8 percent within the next 12 months and 6 percent within the next two years, the committee said. The report called for the RBI to establish a formal monetary policy committee under the leadership of the central bank governor, which would meet every two months to vote on interest rate decisions. Currently, the RBI governor undertakes those decisions. In the past, the RBI has weighed multiple criteria in its decisions on monetary policy, including growth rates, currency stability, inflation rates, and the cost of servicing government debt -- making the bank's moves difficult to predict.
In the past, the central bank has used wholesale prices to gauge inflation -- a measure that does not include the services sector, which makes up two-thirds of India's economy. The consumer price index is generally regarded as a more accurate measure. Nomura, the Japanese investment bank, wrote in a report that the targeting framework implies that interest rates will remain higher in India for longer.
India's Sensex, the benchmark index of the Bombay Stock Exchange, closed at an all-time high of 21,336.67 on Jan. 22, up 0.41 percent for the day (Economic Times, Times of India). Analysts attributed the spike to a strong showing by Indian companies in the third quarter, easing inflation, and expectations of a rate cut by the RBI and potentially greater liquidity from China and the United States. The last record high for the index was reached on Dec. 9, 2013, after the results of the assembly elections were announced. On Tuesday, Mumbai's National Stock Exchange launched interest rate futures for the first time (Live Mint). The contracts allow investors to minimize interest rate risk by buying contracts for a future date at a lower price now.
Police uncover urban Maoist network
Police in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh claimed to have detected a "massive urban network" of the Maoist insurgency after arresting Dharmendra Chopra, a businessman who was allegedly looking after the group's financial and logistical interests (The Hindu). Chopra was arrested last Friday near the Raipur airport as he was rushing to catch a flight to Delhi, while his nephew Neeraj had been arrested the previous day. Police said the two were helping channel supplies to the Maoists, a rebel group that carried out an insurgency that has killed hundreds of people annually in the last decade. Chopra and his nephew allegedly delivered hundreds of thousands of rupees to other states to fund the purchases of weapons and fixed deals between mining companies and Maoist leaders. Last week, Chhattisgarh police said middlemen allegedly acting for large companies had held meetings with the rebels to negotiate lifting the de facto ban on them mining in the region (Indian Express).
Study reveals $145 billion in trade-based money laundering
An investigation into trade-based money laundering in India found about 200 cases of illegal movement involving more than Rs. 9 billion ($145.6 billion) during 2013 and the first month of 2014 (Economic Times). Financial intelligence agencies, including the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, which investigates smuggling and commercial fraud, and the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, carried out the report. Trade-based money laundering typically involves over- and under-invoicing goods and services to transfer or move money illicitly -- sometimes by wealthy companies or individuals who are seeking to protect their wealth against financial or political crises.
-- Ana Swanson
Shi'ite pilgrims targeted in Quetta
At least 22 people were killed and more than 30 were injured in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, on Tuesday when a bomb exploded near a bus carrying a number of Shi'ite Muslims who were returning from a pilgrimage to Iran (AFP, AJAM, BBC, RFE/RL, WSJ). Pakistani officials said the bus was traveling in a convoy when a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden vehicle into the bus (ET). Nooruddin, an alleged spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian militant organization, claimed responsibility for the attack and said the group would carry out more in the future. It was the second attack on Shi'ite Muslims near Quetta in less than a month; on Jan. 1, three people were killed when another suicide bomber attacked another bus filled with religious pilgrims.
In a separate incident near the same location, six members of the country's border security forces were killed by unknown gunmen on Wednesday as they escorted a Spanish bicyclist to Quetta from Iran (VOA). The cyclist and nine other guards survived the attack, but are recovering from injuries they sustained during the incident (AP). While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Mohammad Ibrahim, a local police official, told the Associated Press that he suspects Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was behind the assault.
Attacks on polio teams continue, six guards killed
On the third day of Pakistan's latest polio immunization campaign and a day after three vaccination workers were killed in Karachi, six members of a police patrol were killed in the Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkwha province on Wednesday as they headed to guard another vaccination team; a young boy was also killed (BBC, Dawn, RFE/RL). According to reports, a bomb was planted on a bicycle near the side of the road and was detonated remotely as the police vehicle drove by the Sardheri Bazaar. Thirteen people were also injured in the attack, some critically, so the death toll may rise (ET). No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, though Pakistani militants have long been opposed to the vaccination campaign.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the poliovirus remains endemic, but Nigeria and Afghanistan -- the other two -- actually cut the number of polio cases in their respective countries in 2013, while the number of children paralyzed by the disease more than doubled in Pakistan (WSJ). Pakistan's struggles to defeat polio also stand in stark contract to neighboring India, which said last week that it was polio-free after three years of no new cases.
Rise of the multi-plexes
While Pakistan's film industry has only produced a dozen or so films in the last few years, the BBC Urdu's Amber Shamsi noted that a rapid change is underway as an increase in Western-style multi-screen cinema complexes across the country are enabling people see low-budget films, as well as the more expensive Bollywood hits (BBC). She added that "Waar," an action film about Pakistan's fight against terrorism, has become a box-office smash (made for $25,000, it has grossed more than $2 million), thanks in large part to its appearance on screens in larger theaters.
-- Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.
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