The South Asia Channel

Pakistan Launches Military Operations in N. Waziristan; Karzai: No BSA Without Peace Talks; Disputes Emerge Over Telangana Bill

Pakistan 

Pakistani government to launch security operation against banned groups

As Pakistani military gunships shelled suspected militant hideouts in North Wazirstan on Monday, reports emerged that the federal government is planning to launch a targeted security operation against banned organizations as part of a larger strategy to combat extremism and militancy (Dawn, ET). Pakistani intelligence officials said they believed members of these banned outlets would either flee to Afghanistan or hide in "Pakistan's settled areas" before the operation began. 

While it is unclear what the targeted banned organizations will do, thousands of residents began fleeing North Waziristan on Sunday (ET). According to a local resident named Rafiullah, "up to 13,000 people have left several villages in North Waziristan," and Pakistani officials confirmed that at least 8,000 people have arrived in Bannu, a neighboring town (RFE/RL). Arshad Khan, the head of Pakistan's Disaster Management Authority for the Federall Administered Tribal areas, noted that most people were going to Bannu, but added that since "no military operation has been announced... there are no instructions to make arrangements for internally displaced people."

Six children killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province

Six children -- five boys and one girl - all under the age of 10 died in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday when they reportedly played with an explosive device that went off (AP, ET, RFE/RL). Police in the town of Hangu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said the children apparently found the device in a field, mistaking it for a ball. The victims were cousins.

In Balochistan, "unidentified miscreants" blew up a natural gas pipeline in the Dera Bugti district late on Sunday evening (Dawn). No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which follows similar incidents on Jan. 11 and Jan. 20. 

Musharraf wins medical exemption

A special anti-terrorism court in Islamabad granted former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf a medical exemption from appearing before the judges on Monday, after reviewing the ex-military leader's medical records (Dawn). Musharraf had been heading to the court on Thursday, Jan. 2, when he was rushed to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi with chest pains; he has remained in the hospital ever since. While Musharraf has been granted medical exemptions before, they were often short-term passes; it is unclear if this exemption is a similar temporary measure, or a longer waiver. The trial -- one of many pending against the former president -- has been adjourned until Feb. 10.

Afghanistan 

Karzai: No BSA without peace talks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai once again refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Washington -- which will determine the size and scope of any U.S. troop presence that remains in the country once the NATO combat mission ends in December -- telling reporters on Saturday that Washington needs to first launch a genuine peace process with the Taliban (BBC). He also said that he will not sign the security pact "under pressure," adding that: "If America wants to stay as an ally with us, it should work with us as an ally not as an opponent" (RFE/RL). As for the prospect of the United States' pulling out all of its troops currently in Afghanistan -- the so-called "zero option" -- Karzai said that if peace cannot be achieved, "it's better for them to leave and our country will find its own way" (AJAM). 

The ongoing tensions between the United States and Afghanistan increased further on Monday when Afghan authorities announced that they have ordered the first wave of detainee releases from the Parwan Detention Center at Bagram Airfield (AP, BBC, TOLO News). While the U.S. military has said the detainees -- 88 of which may ultimately be released -- are "dangerous insurgents who have blood on their hands," Abdul Shukur Dadras, a member of a government committee reviewing the prisoners' cases, said at least 37 were to be released in the next two weeks due to a lack of evidence, with reviews of the other 51 cases ongoing (RFE/RL). The United States condemned the move as a "major step backward" for developing the rule of law in Afghanistan (Pajhwok, VOA).

While much of the dispute over the BSA has focused on the impact to Afghanistan, the New York Times noted on Sunday that U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly concerned that they could lose the air bases they use to launch drone strikes in Pakistan (NYT). If President Obama withdraws all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, CIA bases around the country would also have to be closed since they could no longer be protected. The concern is so great that the administration has organized a team of intelligence, military, and policy specialists to devise alternative possibilities, though at the moment, the bases are too far away for drones to reach Pakistan and would be "too distant to monitor and respond as quickly as American forces can today if there were a crisis in the region." 

The Times' Matthew Rosenberg also reported that there have been false claims in Afghan accusations over a U.S. air strike that occurred on Jan. 15. According to Rosenberg, a report about the strike "was the kind of dossier that the Taliban often publish, purporting to show the carnage inflicted during a raid by American forces: photographs of shattered houses and bloodied, broken bodies, and video images of anguish at a village funeral, all with gut-churning impact and no proof of authenticity" (NYT). While no one has disputed that civilians died in the strike, the Afghan and NATO counts greatly differ. Having reviewed the dossier - which Afghan officials say was created to justify Karzai's stalling on the BSA -- Rosenberg noted that at least two of the images in the report showed casualty photos that were at least three years old. While the Afghan government called a press conference on Sunday to refute Rosenberg's first report on the dossier, the villagers it brought to verify the authenticity of the photos identified one that was taken in 2009 (NYT). Rosenberg noted in his second report that: "Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Karzai, told Agence France-Presse on Sunday that the government was ‘taking this issue very seriously, to find out who put this photograph in the dossier.'" 

Attacks continue to rock Afghanistan

A suicide bomber targeting a minivan used by the Afghan army killed at least four people -- two soldiers and two civilian bystanders -- and wounded 22 others in Kabul on Sunday when he detonated his explosives while trying to board the vehicle (BBC, NYT, Pajhwok, RFE/RL, TOLO News, WSJ). The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which was followed explosions in Helmand and Nangarhar province that left at least six people killed and more than a dozen wounded (AP, The Hindu).

Attacks against athletes in Afghanistan also continued on Sunday when unidentified gunmen shot and killed two brothers in Takhar province as they headed home from a bodybuilding club in the Chah-i-Aab district (Khaama Press, Pajhwok). No one has claimed responsibility for the killings, and an investigation is underway.

Former paratrooper's photographs show everyday Afghan lives

Paul Hutchings, a former army paratrooper from Wales and a current private security contractor working in Afghanistan, has taken extraordinary photos of Afghanistan, providing insight into everyday life in the war-torn country (Wales Online). According to Hutchings, who has worked all over Afghanistan, he wanted to offer a view of Afghanistan that isn't being captured or "portrayed by the mass media." As such, his pictures include shots of people traveling around town -- on the backs of motorcycles and in the trunks of cars -- as well photos of people scrounging for food in trashcans, and selling shoes at the local bazaar.

-- Bailey Cahall

India

Andhra chief minister may reject Telangana Bill, angers leaders 

Kiran Kumar Reddy, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, has expressed his unhappiness with the central government's bill to create a new state of Telangana, as it failed to justify reasons to divide Andhra Pradesh for its creation (Indian Express). In a draft of the bill sent to the speaker of the state's legislative assembly, Reddy says the bill was sent to the assembly "in utter disregard (of) linguistic homogeneity and administrative viability." Senior Congress leader P. Lakshmiah spoke out against the move, saying Reddy was "interfering with constitutional procedure" and was "undemocratic and irresponsible." The decision to introduce the bill in the assembly now rests with Speaker N. Manohar who, at Reddy's behest, could send the bill back to the central government urging it to plug loopholes, which would further delay the creation of the state.

Army closes Pathribal case against Kashmiri officers

The Indian Army has dismissed charges against five soldiers who were accused of rounding up five Kashmiri men, dressing them in fatigues, and then shooting and burning them in 2000, an incident that is widely known as the Pathribal case (NYT). The soldiers said the men were Pakistani militants, but locals and a previous Indian government investigation both suggested the men were innocent civilians who were snatched from their homes. Kashmiri politicians and rights groups expressed outrage at the verdict, calling the decision a huge setback for reconciliation efforts between the Indian government and those seeking Kashmiri independence (Times of India). 

AAP leader expelled less than a month after Delhi elections, 

Vinod Kumar Binny, a member of Delhi's Legislative Assembly from the newly formed Aam Admi Party (AAP) has been expelled by the party's leadership for lashing out against top leaders (Times of India, Indian Express, The Hindu). Binny, who had left the Congress party to join the AAP, held a press conference on Jan. 16 and accused leaders of deviating from the party's core principles. His remarks were seen as a violation of the party's code of discipline and he was expelled from the AAP on Sunday. Binny proceeded to go on a hunger strike on Monday, but called it off a few hours later, allegedly on advice from party leader Arvind Kejriwal's erstwhile associate Anna Hazare. Binny has promised to renew his agitation if a bill to create an anti-corruption ombudsman (the Jan Lokpal bill) is not passed by the assembly in 10 days. Kejriwal responded by saying that Binny's actions were the result of being rebuffed for ministership and a seat in the national polls.

India, Japan boost ties in state visit

India and Japan signed a series of energy partnerships, infrastructure development pacts, and defense agreements, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concluded a state visit to New Delhi this weekend (VOA, WSJ). Defense agreements covered maritime security, India-U.S.-Japan naval exercises, and a civil-nuclear deal, as well as meetings between Indian and Japanese national security advisors on China's military rise and strategic conflicts in East Asia and the Middle East (Hindustan Times). Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also said that India was discussing the possibility of buying an amphibious aircraft called the US-2 and co-producing it in Japan.

Japanese companies were also invited to help develop a new port in Chennai and construct infrastructure in India's politically sensitive northeastern region, where Chinese infrastructure projects are discouraged (Economic Times, Times of India). Japan agreed to help advance energy efficiency in telecommunication towers across the country and provide loans to increase power generation in India and assist with the construction of the New Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor project and high-speed rail systems in India (NYT).

The two prime ministers also issued a statement saying that their meeting underscored the importance of freedom of over-flight in accordance with principles of international law, a veiled criticism of China's air defense zone (Mint). On Monday, China said it hoped that India's defense ties with Japan would be "conducive" to regional peace and stability (The Hindu).

Afghanistan expecting a lot from India

In an interview with Mint on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Regional Business Leaders enclave, Mohammad Shinwari, Afghanistan's deputy commerce minister, indicated that he expected "a lot from India in terms of political and financial support" (Mint). Shinwari described the hurdles faced by traders in Afghanistan and said he hoped the country could begin importing from India through the India-Pakistan Wagah border. While he acknowledged that Afghanistan would be an aid-based economy in the coming future, he said the government was looking to ramp up investments from India in its resources sector. Shinwari also spoke of deepening military ties between the two nations.

India lifts ban on Airbus A380s

India's civil aviation ministry lifted a ban on Monday on landings by Airbus A380 planes at the country's four main airports, clearing the way for the super jumbo jets to service passengers in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad (NDTV, Economic Times, PIB). India had put the ban in place due to concerns that foreign carriers might cut into the business and profits of state-run Air India. International carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa, and British Airways are expected to benefit from the decision (Mint).

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson 

Edited by Peter Bergen.

ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images

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