Karzai Believes U.S. Behind Attacks; Rahul Gandhi: First TV Interview; Bhutto Zardari Urges Military Operations
Event Notice: "Pakistan - U.S. Relations: The Way Forward," a discussion with Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's advisor on national security and foreign affairs, TODAY, 2:00 - 3:00 PM (SAIS).
Post: Karzai building case against Americans
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has "frequently lashed at the U.S. military for causing civilian casualties in its raids," but senior Afghan officials told the Washington Post's Kevin Scieff that "behind the scenes, he has been building a far broader case against the Americans, suggesting that they may have aided or conducted shadowy insurgent-style attacks to undermine his government" (Post). According to Scieff, Karzai has created a list of dozens of attacks that he believes the United States may have been involved in, including the Jan. 17 attack on the La Taverna du Liban restaurant in Kabul that killed 21 people, including three Americans. James B. Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, noted that: "It's a deeply conspiratorial view that's divorced from reality." While it is unclear where Karzai's suspicions have come from, they help explain why it has been so hard to conclude the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that will determine the size and scope of any U.S. troop presence that remains in the country when the NATO combat mission ends in December. Bonus read: "Reading Hamid Karzai," Marvin G. Weinbaum (SouthAsia).
U.S. urges Afghanistan to rethink prisoner releases
As news broke on Monday that the Afghan government had issued formal release orders for 37 prisoners at the Parwan Detention Facility at Bagram Airfield, U.S. officials in Washington condemned the move and urged Kabul to rethink its plan to ultimately release 88 detainees from the prison (RFE/RL, VOA, WSJ). Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, reiterated the organization's stance that the detainees in question should have their cases "referred to the Afghan criminal justice system," while Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to rethink his "irresponsible" decision and remember all that American troops have done for the country (Pajhwok). Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the Pentagon, added that: "These are bad guys...individuals with blood on their hands, both U.S., coalition, and Afghan blood" (TOLO News).
Aimal Faizi, a Karzai spokesman, criticized the United States' response, telling reporters that: "Foreign forces don't have any right to bring into question the decision of the judicial system of a country" (AP). He confirmed that the detainees would be released within one or two days.
With the relationship between Washington and Kabul becomes more acrimonious, some Afghan and Western officials told the New York Times that they now believe Karzai has no intention of signing the stalled BSA, and "that his administration is picking fights with the United States in an effort to win public support for his stance" (NYT). While the questions and concerns over detainees have long been a "thorny problem" between the two countries, it appeared to be settled in March 2013 when the United States agreed to turn the prison over to Afghan control. But it has reemerged as an issue since November, when Karzai first refused to sign the security pact.
NATO warns of difficulty securing foreign aid
While Afghanistan and the United States continued to trade harsh words over the planned detainee releases, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen released his own statement on Monday warning the Afghan government that it may be difficult for it to raise foreign funds if all Western troops withdraw from the country at the end of the year -- the so-called "zero option" that has been put forward if the BSA is not signed soon (RFE/RL). Rasmussen noted that funding Afghanistan's 350,000 soldiers and police officers "goes well beyond the financial capacity" of the Afghan government, and that if no Western troops are operating in the country, it will be "extremely difficult to generate financial support" for sustaining the Afghan security forces. He also repeated his concerns that the military alliance will have to pull out all of its troops as well if no BSA is signed, and added that member country defense ministers may "have to take some tough decisions" when they meet in February (Reuters).
Education Minister: Afghan progress reopening schools is irreversible
Farooq Wardak, Afghanistan's Education Minister, told reporters in London on Monday that Afghanistan's progress in reopening schools across the country "is irreversible and will survive any political upheavals" that follow once coalition combat forces withdraw at the end of this year (BBC). He added that "local communities were driving the demand for education" and would protect the schools, nothing that Taliban are guaranteeing the safety of the schools in some regions. Wardak announced that every child in Afghanistan would have a place in a primary school by 2020 and that an equal number of boys and girls would be enrolled by then as well.
-- Bailey Cahall
Supreme Court refuses to review ban on gay sex
The Indian Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed petitions filed by several activists to review its December 11 verdict deeming gay sex a criminal offence punishable with life imprisonment (The Hindu, WSJ, BBC, NDTV). The one line order by Justices H. L. Dattu and S. J. Mukhopadhaya was a reiteration of the court's stance that it was up to the Indian parliament to make changes to Section 377 of the Indian penal code, which bans sex that is "against the order of nature." The court's December 2013 judgment had upheld the section's constitutional validity. The union government can either file a "curative petition" in the Supreme Court, which will require the matter to be heard by the court's senior most judges including the Chief Justice of India, or pass a law to amend the section in parliament. While Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal had previously said the government was considering all options to reverse the ban, it is unclear what its next steps are.
Rahul Gandhi gives first televised interview
Rahul Gandhi said he was "absolutely against the concept of dynasty" and repeated the charges that opposition candidate Narendra Modi "presided over a massacre" in a rare interview broadcast on Monday evening (Guardian, BBC, Business Standard, NYT, FT). The interview, conducted with Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of the channel Times Now, was Gandhi's first in his decade as a professional politician. Gandhi said it would not be the end of the world if his ruling Congress party lost the election; however, he predicted the party would win, and said he did not fear Modi. "In my life I have seen my grandmother die, I have seen my father die ... I have actually been through a tremendous amount of pain as a child. There is absolutely nothing I am scared of," he said. Reactions in the press and public ranged from complementary to highly critical. The Congress party named Gandhi to lead its general election campaign but stopped short of saying he would be its candidate for prime minister.
India raises key rates
The Reserve Bank of India raised its interest rates by 25 basis points to 8 percent in an attempt to ease inflation, indicating it will now base rate hikes on changes in the Consumer Price Index (Reuters, Hindu, NYT). The RBI said it foresaw high retail inflation (which RBI governor Rajan labelled a "destructive disease") in the near future but would cease tightening its monetary policy were the CPI to cool down. Last week, the central bank set a long term inflation target of 4 percent and hoped to curb inflation to below 8 percent by 2015 and 6 percent by 2016, in line with recommendations made to the bank by the Urjit Patel committee (The Hindu). The RBI kept the Cash Reserve Ratio unchanged at 4 percent. Indian stocks, bond and currency fell after the announcement but quickly recovered losses by the day's end.
United States to press Sri Lanka at U.N. Human Rights Commission
The U.S. State Department said Monday it will sponsor a resolution on Sri Lanka at the U.N. Human Rights Council, prompting speculation that it will call for an international investigation into human rights abuses and war crimes on the island (AP). The U.S. did not specify what is would say in the resolution, but officials said that the fact that the U.S. pushing a third resolution in three years reflects its concerns over a lack of progress in addressing issues of accountability and reconciliation. A top aide to the Sri Lankan president is in Washington this week to persuade U.S. officials that Sri Lanka is on a path towards national reconciliation. Sri Lanka has been relatively peaceful in the five years since its civil war, but it hasn't satisfied concerns over the apparent disappearance of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the last months of the war in 2009. Bonus Read: "Does Diplomacy Stand a Chance in Sri Lanka," Taylor Dibbert (SouthAsia).
Jewel thief seeks social change
A 23-year-old man who carried out one the biggest jewelry heists in recent times has recast his crime as a message on the problem of growing social inequality and widespread corruption in India (Times of India, The Hindu). G. Kiran Kuman said he stole jewelry worth Rs 6 crore ($950,000) from a store in Hyderabad to pay for a pilot training course and buy corrective surgery for his polio-stricken cousin, before having a change of heart. Kumar walked into a local television channel's office late on Sunday and told the receptionist that he was the one who had carried out the heist. "I am fed up with the way the system is functioning these days. Politicians are thieves who loot us for five years and I became a thief just for a night to show the world the growing inequality in the country," Kumar said. Ten special teams of the Hyderabad police had been searching for professional thieves across the country.
-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari weighs in on military operations
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, called on Pakistan's authorities to take military actions against militant groups, like the Pakistani Taliban, in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday (BBC). Although the BBC's Lyse Doucet, who conducted the interview, pointed out that most political parties, including Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party, had agreed to pursue peace talks and not military action, Bhutto said politicians must "wake up" to the threat posed by militant groups. He explained that: "dialogue is always an option but we have to have a position of strength... How do you talk from a position of strength? You have to beat them on the battlefield."
While Bhutto confessed that he never saw himself as "being in politics," he added that: "now I think it is time for me or there is the opportunity for me to start taking on more responsibility." Bhutto's comments are timely as Pakistan's National Assembly is gathering to discuss the country's response to a series of recent militant attacks, including one on an army convoy earlier this month and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif (no relation) Tuesday to discuss the overall security of the country, including the matter of peace talks (ET, Reuters, Dawn).
Pakistani officials warn of potential Taliban attack
The Taliban may be planning an attack on tourists in Pakistan's mountainous northern region, officials warned Monday (Dawn, Telegraph). Giglit-Baltistan and Chitral, known for their mountains and glaciers, draw thousands of climbers and tourists each year. However, according to a senior official, "the interior ministry has warned of suicide bombings and attacks on tourists," saying that the "Pakistani Taliban can strike the region." Last year, an attack by the Taliban in the same region killed nine foreigners at a base camp and was the deadliest assault on foreigners in the country in years (AFP, Telegraph). Police in Giglit-Baltistan have increased security as a result of the most recent warnings.
Polio campaign halted due to attacks
Pakistani authorities have been forced to call off the most recent nationwide anti-polio campaign after an attack killed three polio workers and injured another last Tuesday (ET, Dawn). That attack, which occurred in Karachi's Qayyumabad district, an area categorized as "safer" by the authorities, has made it "too difficult to categorize the localities as safer and sensitive after that incident," according to a senior official. "The volunteers are immensely terrified after that incident and no one is ready to work without security," he added. Authorities are weighing the options and considering how best to proceed, but in the meantime, the campaign is at a standstill.
"I am Malala" event cancelled
An event in Peshawar to launch Malala Yousafzai's memoir, "I am Malala," was cancelled on Tuesday after pressure from local officials (RFE/RL). The book launch had been organized by Peshawar University's Area Study Centre in collaboration with the Bacha Khan Education Trust, a non-profit education network set up by the secular Pashtun Awami National Party, and a civil society NGO called Strengthening Participatory Organisation. But Peshawar's police chief Ijaz Khan told the BBC that the book launch was stopped "due to security concerns" and that the university administration had not provided enough notice to ensure sufficient police presence (BBC). Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party runs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital, said he was at a loss to understand the decision, tweeting: "am at a loss 2 understand why Malala's book launch stopped in Peshawar. PTI believes in freedom of speech/debate, not censorship of ideas" (ET).
"Storm in a Teacup"
An all-day music festival called "Storm in a Teacup" brought together independent artists and bands from across Pakistan this past Sunday (ET). The event, which took place at Lahore's Peeru Café, was a new platform for the indie music scene within Pakistan. True Brew Record's CEO Jamal Rahman, the creator of the event and a long-time promoter of the live music scene in Pakistan, said that the focus of the event was on promoting indie artists who came from Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. "When it comes to our music, the tough time is right now! We have come all the way from Karachi on our own money but, Jamal has really done a great job in arranging this event," said Saad Shams of Jumbo Jatt, one of the bands to play at the festival. Although some of the events organizers were worried the audience was not ready for such musical diversity, the bands played well into the night and a wide variety of music was showcased.
-- Emily Schneider
-- Edited by Peter Bergen.