The South Asia Channel

Koirala Elected Nepal’s PM; Afghan Civilian Casualties Up in 2013; Haq: Taliban Respond Positively to Talks

Event Notice: "Afghanistan Development Goals: 2014 and Beyond," a discussion about USAID's future goals in Afghanistan with Donald "Larry" Sampler Jr., the Assistant to the Administrator in the agency's Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, TODAY, 12:15 - 1:45 PM (NAF). 


Nepal chooses PM, ending deadlock

Nepal's parliament has elected Nepali Congress party chief Sushil Koirala as its prime minister, ending a deadlock in the government that has lasted since an election two months ago (VOA, BBC). Koirala was elected with 405 votes in the 605-member parliament on Monday, after securing the support of the Communist Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party. It is not yet clear whether other parties will join the coalition government.

The Nepali government has been gridlocked since November, when no party won a majority in the Constituent Assembly elections. Koirala must now oversee the drafting of a new constitution, a task that the main political parties have wrangled over for years. The fourth member of his family to become prime minister, Koirala was jailed for three years in his 30s for his involvement in the hijacking of a plane in India, which was known to be carrying cash that his relatives wanted to use to fund their party.  

Kashmir under curfew amid separatist protests

A curfew continued for the second consecutive day in most parts of the Kashmir valley as officials attempted to suppress separatists' plans to observe the death anniversaries of Mohammad Afzal Guru, who was convicted of a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament complex in 2001, and Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, a Kashmiri independence leader (Economic Times, Business Standard, Times of India, Indian Express). Separatists had called for a three-day shutdown until Feb. 11 to mark the death anniversaries of Guru, who was hanged one year ago, and Bhat, who was hanged 20 years ago. 

Police clashed with demonstrators and detained more than 500 people -- about 250 separatists and an equal number of "stone-throwers" -- on Sunday, the first day of the three-day strike, The Hindu reported (The Hindu). The Washington Post reported that about 200 separatist activists were detained (Post). The assembly of four or more people was banned in several districts, including Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir. On Monday, authorities relaxed restrictions on the movement of people, but kept up barricades and concertina wires. Mobile services were also restored on Sunday evening after being suspended in the morning.

The chief minister of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, tweeted his displeasure with local security agencies on Sunday after learning that Internet services had been shut down without his knowledge and approval (The Hindu). "I think the restrictions on the Internet in the valley are an overreaction. Please have them lifted... in future the decision to cut Internet services should be discussed with me," he tweeted at 11:30 a.m. Internet services were restored roughly six hours later.

Kejriwal threatens to resign over stalled legislation

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal reiterated on Sunday and Monday that he will quit his post if proposed anti-corruption laws that were central to his campaign are not passed in the state assembly this week, raising the possibility that the Aam Aadmi Party government will collapse (BBC, Business Standard, Times of India, WSJ). The Delhi assembly plans to consider the Jan Lokpal bill, which would create an independent body to investigate politicians and civil servants suspected of corruption, and the Swaraj bill, which seeks more decentralized governance, on Thursday. "To wipe out corruption, I am willing to forgo the chief minister's seat hundred times over," Kejriwal tweeted on Monday. Kejriwal denied media speculation that he is trying to become a "martyr" before his party contests parliamentary polls, saying: "I am not trying to be toppled" (Times of India).

Political parties have clashed over whether the proposed Jan Lokpal bill needs the consent of the federal government before the Delhi assembly approves it. The Congress party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party have called Kejriwal's effort to move the bill directly to the Delhi assembly "unconstitutional," since it contradicts a 2002 executive order that makes federal consent compulsory for laws introduced into Delhi's assembly. Kejriwal called the 2002 order unconstitutional and arbitrary, and wrote to India's home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, asking him to withdraw it. The government reached out to the Law Ministry on Monday for a "final opinion" on the issue (Economic Times).

India hopes for Olympic return

The Indian Olympic Association elected new officials, including a president, and amended its constitution on Sunday in an attempt to overturn the ban imposed on it by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for violating international codes (Times of India, The Hindu, NDTV, WSJ). The IOC banned India in December 2012 for voting in some officials who had been accused of corruption and others who exceeded the age limit (BBC).

The IOC, which oversaw the election, will now consider whether to allow India back into the Olympic fold, perhaps in time to let the three Indian athletes participating in the Sochi Winter Olympics walk under the Indian flag at the games' closing ceremony. The athletes had to march under the IOC's flag during last Friday's opening ceremony due to their country's disqualification. 

-- Ana Swanson 


U.N.: Afghan civilian casualties up in 2013 

A new U.N. report, released on Saturday, noted that the "Afghan government's share of blame for civilian casualties rose drastically last year, largely reflecting an intensification in the ground conflict between insurgents and Afghan troops" (NYT). Despite a number of complaints from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the report notes that only three percent of the civilian casualties last year were caused by international forces, a reflection of the fact that responsibility for security operations has been primarily handed over to Afghan forces. But the report adds that the decline in civilian casualties that was seen in 2012 was reversed, with civilian casualties -- totaling 8,615 people -- increasing by 14 percent in 2013, making it the worst year for civilian casualties since 2009 (BBC, Post, RFE/RL, VOA). While nearly three-quarters of the casualties were attributed to the Taliban, 27 percent could not be attributed to either the Taliban or government forces, something the report describes as a "fog of war" dynamic that is increasingly shaping the conflict (Reuters). Bonus read: "Afghan Forces Need to Protect Civilians Too," Sarah Holewinski (SouthAsia).

The report was released the same day the Washington Post's Kevin Sieff reported that Afghan soldiers are desperate for Karzai to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States. Sieff notes that while Afghan soldiers have grown confident in their abilities to combat the Taliban insurgency, everyone is concerned about what will happen when U.S. soldiers and funding leave (Post). According to Col. Mohammad Dost, a battalion commander in Zabul province, "If the international community leaves, there is no question that we will lose ground to the Taliban. It's the biggest worry for every soldier now." As such, soldiers are starting to more publicly voice their concerns in television interviews and newspaper op-eds. While some have lost their jobs for speaking out, others are continuing to agitate for a quick signing of the security pact that will determine the size and scope of any U.S. troop presence in the country once that NATO combat mission ends in 2014.

All of this comes as Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the number two American commander in Afghanistan, handed over control of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command to Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson on Saturday, the last such handover as NATO's mandate expires in December (AP). Speaking after the ceremony, Anderson said his immediate focus would be on supporting the upcoming Afghan elections, not the possibility of U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan post-2014.

U.S. to reveal new aid plan for Afghanistan 

The Obama administration will unveil a new package of aid initiatives to Afghanistan on Monday, hoping to shield the country's economy from the departure of foreign troops and an expected drop in international assistance (Pajhwok). Reuters reports that the three U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) initiatives -- which total nearly $300 million -- will extend assistance to Afghanistan's food sector, help the Afghan government boost revenue and join the World Trade Organization within a year, and secure agreements between U.S. and Afghan universities to help train young Afghans for jobs. According to Larry Sampler, the Assistant to the Administrator in USAID's Office for Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, the focus is on making Afghanistan "as healthy [and] sustainable... possible going forward" (Reuters). 


Taliban reacts positively in shura council with negotiators

Religious cleric Maulana Samiul Haq, one of the members of the Taliban peace committee, told reporters on Monday that the militant organization had responded positively in a shura council with its negotiators this past weekend, though he did not provide many other details (Dawn, ET). While he added that the war "could not be resolved in a matter of minutes," he said that nothing would be kept from the public and that the Taliban representatives would present the full results of their discussions to the government's peace committee on Tuesday. Haq's comments came one day after Pakistan's Express Tribune quoted a senior government official who said the group had agreed to a ceasefire while the dialogue process is ongoing (ET).

Despite the initial success of the talks, however, Maulana Abdul Aziz, the cleric at Islamabad's Red Mosque and another Taliban negotiator, delivered a blow to the process on Friday when he questioned one of the government's conditions for continued discussions. Pakistan's government has insisted that the negotiations are held within the parameters of the country's constitution, while Aziz argued that only the Quran should be respected (VOA). As a result, Aziz said he would still be a member of the Taliban's negotiating team, but would not come to the table until a clause was included about imposing Islamic law throughout the country (AFP).

Baloch rebels disable three separate pipelines in Punjab

Members of the banned Baloch Republican Army (BRA) blew up three separate gas pipelines in Punjab province on Sunday night, cutting supplies to millions of homes (AP, BBC, VOA). Arif Hameed, the head of state-owned Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd., said it would take at least two days to fix the pipelines in Pakistan's most populous and wealthy province; Punjab is also Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's power base (RFE/RL). While the pipelines have been frequently targeted by separatists in the past, this was the first time all three pipelines were attacked simultaneously (Reuters). According to Sarbaz Baloch, a BRA spokesman, the attack was in response to the recent discovery of several bodies of Baloch activists.

Eight killed at Sufi gathering 

At least eight people were killed and 10 more were wounded in Karachi on Sunday when unidentified gunmen attacked a Sufi religious gathering in the port city (AP, BBC, RFE/RL). According to Pakistani officials, the gunmen first threw grenades into a building where a Sufi cleric was receiving his followers, and then opened fire. While the majority of Pakistan's Muslims practice Sufi-influenced Islam, they have increasingly come under attack by Sunni Muslims who don't consider them true believers. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

A separate attack in Peshawar on Monday left four women dead and at least six people wounded in the city's Essa Khel Garhi district (Dawn, ET). Security officials said that a suicide bomber detonated his explosives as police were conducting a raid on a nearby house. Two people have been arrested in connection with the incident and an investigation is underway.

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.