U.S. Debates Striking Citizen in Pakistan; 1st Polio Case in Kabul Since 2001; U.S. Challenging Indian Solar Laws
Bonus Read: "The NSA's Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program," Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept).
U.S. weighing drone strike on U.S. citizen in Pakistan
The Obama administration is currently debating whether or not to launch a drone strike against an American believed to be associated with al Qaeda and actively plotting terrorist attacks, the Associated Press reported on Monday. The deliberation is "the first time American officials have actively discussed killing an American citizen overseas since President Obama imposed new restrictions on drone operations last May" (NYT). The administration's new policies also show a preference for having the Defense Department carry out strikes against Americans overseas, though an exception could be made to allow the CIA to carry out the strike instead (AFP, FOX News).
While officials would not confirm the identity of the suspect, or provide any details about what evidence they may have about the suspect's involvement in terrorist activity, the Wall Street Journal noted that a CIA review last year concluded the individual in question met Obama's criteria for a drone strike (WSJ). However, under Obama's new policy, the Justice Department must also review any decision to add an American to the "kill list." According to the reports, that review is still underway; a senior U.S. official told the Journal that a strike was not imminent and there was "time for a review." The White House, the CIA, and the Pentagon have all declined to comment on the reports.
Pakistani anti-drone campaigner has "disappeared"
Kareem Khan, whose brother and son were killed in a drone strike in December 2009, has "disappeared" just days before he was due to testify before European officials, his lawyer said on Monday (AFP). According to Shahzad Akbar, Khan was picked up from his home in Rawalpindi by security forces on Feb 5., and has not been seen or heard from since. Akbar added that he filed a report with local police officers, but found no arrest records for Khan, leading him to suspect that Khan was picked up by Pakistani intelligence agents. Khan, who has been involved in legal proceedings related to the deaths of his family members, was due to appear before the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday, and travel to Europe this Saturday to speak to German, Dutch, and British parliamentarians about his experiences with drone strikes.
Back-to-back explosions in Peshawar cinema
At least seven people were killed and nearly 30 others were wounded in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on Tuesday when three back-to-back explosions rocked the city's Shama Cinema (Dawn, ET). According to the reports, between 50 and 70 people were watching a film when the explosions occurred. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident.
In a separate attack, Faisal Saeed, a Pakistani employee at the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar was shot and killed on Monday as he headed home from work (Post). Najeeb Khan, a local police officer, told reporters that Saeed was walking home when unidentified gunmen opened fire and then fled. Saeed's death is the latest in a string of targeted assassinations in the city.
First polio case since 2001 reported in Kabul
Afghan officials launched a three-day polio vaccination campaign in Kabul on Monday, after the discovery of the first case of polio in the capital since 2001 (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). While Afghanistan remains one of three countries in the world where polio remains endemic -- the other two are Pakistan and Nigeria -- new cases are typically reported in remote parts of the country, not the capital (TOLO News). According to Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health, a three-year-old girl from eastern Kabul was diagnosed with the disease in Pakistan, where she is being treated; it is the second reported case of polio this year.
Soraya Dalil, Afghanistan's health minister, told the BBC that opposition to vaccination drives by the Pakistani Taliban are "undermining [Afghan] efforts" to eradicate the disease; only 14 cases were reported in 2013, down from a high of 80 two years ago (BBC, VOA).
Two NATO contractors killed in Kabul suicide attack
NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed on Monday that two coalition contractors were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul, though no further details were provided (AP, RFE/RL). Hezb-i-Islami, an Islamic militant organization, claimed responsibility for the attack, which also killed and wounded several Afghan civilians (TOLO News). Police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai told reporters that the attacker rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a convoy as it left the city's Pul-e-Charkhi prison. It was the first attack on a NATO convoy in Kabul since December 2013 (NYT).
U.S. military shifting Afghan exit plans
With negotiations over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the United States and Afghanistan still stalled, the U.S. military has revised its withdrawal plans to "allow the White House to wait until President Hamid Karzai leaves office before completing a security pact and settling on a post-2014 U.S. troop presence" (WSJ). The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the decision to wait reflects a growing sense in Washington that there is little chance U.S. relations with Karzai will be repaired and the security pact signed before the country holds elections in April. According to one senior U.S. official, "If he's not going to be part of the solution, we have to have a way to get past him... It's a pragmatic recognition that clearly Karzai may not sign the BSA and that he doesn't represent the voice of the Afghan people."
While the U.S. military seems to now believe that it can wait until this summer -- or later -- to make a decision on a post-2014 troop presence, the Journal notes that NATO allies have told the Pentagon that they don't have the same luxury; NATO has been waiting until the BSA is signed to finalize its own security agreement with Afghanistan.
Pajhwok Afghan News reported on Tuesday that Karzai will likely sign the BSA before he leaves office, but after the presidential elections (Pajhwok). Citing an anonymous Afghan official, Pajhwok said it was unlikely Karzai would leave the issue to his successor after investing so much in the negotiations over the pact and presenting it to the Loya Jirga, which approved it in November 2013. However, the official reiterated that Karzai would sign the document once some of his key conditions -- like ending U.S. raids on Afghan homes and making progress in talks with the Taliban -- are met.
"That's not mine"
The fate of a cargo plane that allegedly crashed in Afghanistan's Wardak province on Sunday night remained a mystery on Tuesday, with neither Afghan nor coalition security forces claiming the plane as theirs (Pajhwok). Attaullah Khogiani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told reporters that local residents saw four people parachuting from a four-engine propeller aircraft, though their whereabouts are unknown (RFE/RL). The cause of the reported crash is also unclear at this time, though the area where the plane went down has been covered in heavy snow, making bad weather a possible culprit. An investigation is currently underway.
-- Bailey Cahall
U.S. challenges Indian solar laws in WTO
The United States has launched a new challenge in the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the domestic content requirement of India's solar program, claiming that the rules contravene international norms and hurt the American solar manufacturing industry (FT, WSJ, Times of India, Mint). Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative, said Monday that the United States was requesting consultations at the WTO over Indian rules that stipulate that solar power developers who operate in India must use Indian-made products.
While the United States launched a similar challenge a year ago, Froman said it has had little effect. When India launched the latest phase of its solar program in October 2013, India changed its rules to allow half of the key equipment for solar power developers to be imported, but it also broadened the types of technology that had to be Indian-made.
India is the second-largest export market for U.S. solar products, and its national solar program is set to grow 20-fold during the next decade. Annual U.S. exports of solar products to India were $119 million before India introduced its local content requirements, but they "have fallen off precipitously since then," Froman said.
Anti-corruption action ordered against industrialist, ministers
Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has ordered Delhi's anti-corruption bureau to file a First Information Report against industrialist Mukesh Ambani, Minister for Petroleum Veerappa Moily, and former minister Mukund Deora (Indian Express, Mint, BBC, Times of India). Kejriwal alleges that Ambani, the head of the Reliance India Ltd. energy company, conspired with Congress ministers to raise prices on natural gas drawn from Reliance reserves from $4.20 per million British thermal units to $8.00 per million British thermal units. Although the new prices, which are to take effect April 1, are said to be linked to global indices, Kejriwal argued the move would make gas prices in India some of the highest in the world, and allow Reliance to profit by Rs 1.2 lakh crore ($19 billion). The company's stock fell by one percent in an otherwise steady market in response to the news (Economic Times).
Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party came to power on an anti-corruption platform, but relies on minority support from the Congress party. However, it has recently targeted Congress actions in the state, such as former Chief Minister Sheila Dixit's role in a scam surrounding the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This is the first time the party has gone after senior Congress members and a high profile industrialist such as Ambani, who is ranked by Forbes as the richest man in India.
Six Congress MPs expelled for anti-Telangana stand
Six Congress parliamentarians from Andhra Pradesh were expelled from the party for raising no-confidence motions against the Congress-led state government (The Hindu, Indian Express). In a statement to the press, Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi said the action had been endorsed by party president Sonia Gandhi in response to the MPs acting out of turn. The move comes days ahead of the cabinet's decision, and expected presidential assent, to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh into two new states: Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The government has also allegedly contemplated introducing a bill that would divide the state in the upper house, where there are fewer anti-Telangana members, to prevent the bill from expiring at the end the current session. However, legal opinion suggests the legislation counts as a ‘money bill,' and can only be introduced in the lower house of parliament (The Hindu).
Cricket official implicated in Premier League fixing case
A spot-fixing investigation into the Indian Premier League (IPL) found Gurunath Meiyappan, a top cricket team official with the Chennai Super Kings, guilty of illegal betting and passing on information about the team to bookmakers (BBC, Times of India). A three-member panel set up by the Indian Supreme Court and headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal submitted a 170-page report on spot-fixing -- players bowling "wides" and "no-balls" at certain pre-arranged times -- and illegal betting in the league to the court on Monday. "Roots of corruption and malpractices have crept in deep into the game of cricket, more particularly the IPL," the report said.
The report also urged further investigation into Meiyappan, who is the son-in-law of N. Srinivasan, the head of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the owner of the Chennai Super Kings. Meiyappan was arrested on charges of illegal betting last year, but was since released on bail. The report also called for a probe into allegations of betting and spot-fixing against Raj Kundra, part-owner of the Rajasthan Royals, and the involvement of international stars, including six Indian players who were named in police-taped conversations between bookies.
X marks the spot
A report by The Indian Express revealed that Charan Das Mahant, a member of parliament from Korba in Chhattisgarh, sent a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year urging him to dig for gold, after a religious guru dreamt about buried treasure in a local village (Indian Express). Mahant's letter argued that finding the treasure would encourage businesses to follow the Congress party instead of the rival BJP, bringing about a "shift in attitude of [the] corporate world from the present blatant pro-Modi towards to the Congress." He also claimed the findings would move India from 11th to 6th in the world in terms of gold holdings, strengthening the rupee, spurring double-digit growth, and reducing India's current-account deficit.
-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Edited by Peter Bergen.
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