Editor's note: The South Asia channel will not be publishing a daily brief on Monday, February 17, 2014 in honor of President's Day but will resume publication on Tuesday, February 18, 2014.
Chaos in Delhi assembly, Jan Lokpal Bill stalled, Kejriwal may quit
A special session to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Delhi assembly has been mired in chaos as Congress and BJP legislators created uproar over the Bill's constitutional validity (The Hindu, Indian Express, Firstpost). At the center of the protest was a letter from Delhi's Lieutenant Governor to the Speaker saying the Bill lacked the approval of the central government, which the Aam Admi Party insists is unnecessary for its introduction. Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal twice attempted to introduce the Bill, but was defeated when the assembly rejected the bill's introduction 42-38. Congress and BJP legislators then began to call for the resignation of Delhi's Law Minister Somnath Bharti. Addressing the press after the day's business, the AAP's Yogendra Yadav has said the possibility of Kejriwal's resignation as Chief Minister "cannot be ruled out" and his stand will be made clear after a meeting of the party's leadership this evening (The Indian Express). The AAP's Arvind Kejriwal had been at the forefront of a national campaign to create the office of an ombudsman (‘Lokpal') and had promised to pass a Bill to that effect upon being elected to the Delhi legislature.
China invites India to join ‘Maritime Silk Road'
China has invited India to be a part of an initiative to boost trade between Asian nations along the lines of the old Silk Road (Mint). The invitation was extended to India shortly after the conclusion of the 17th round of border talks between Special Representatives Yang Jeichi and Shivshankar Menon. Hua Chinyang, a spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said concept was still in its inception but was being envisioned as a platform for all existing forms of cooperation to "promote each other and accelerate regional countries' common development."Sri Lanka has also agreed to join the initiative, which seeks to improve connectivity between Asian nations over the sea.
The idea was first proposed by China's President Xi Jinping in his visit to South East Asia last year. China has also sought to revive the ancient trade route in talks with countries in Central Asia. In addition to the Maritime Silk Road, China has proposed a special corridor to boost trade between Bangladesh, Myanmar, India and itself, although it is unclear whether this will factor into the new initiative.
Hey girl, wanna start a revolution?
While there's no love lost in the Delhi Assembly, the Aam Aadmi Party is using the occasion of Valentine's Day to attract potential donors to its cause (NDTV). Those who profess "love for the nation and its people" have been called on to donate amounts in excess of Rs. 1402 to help the party fund its campaign to fight national elections. The appeal, made to sound entirely like a love letter, reminds the reader of having been "together since the Revolution of 2012" and asks for a chance to "renew our commitment." The Aam Aadmi Party says it is entirely funded by voluntary contributions from the public.
-- Shruti Jagridar and Ana Swanson
U.S. officials quietly stepped away from the timetable they previously applied to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) this week (Post). White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday that the U.S. wanted the agreement signed "promptly," which the Washington Post reports was a purposeful change in rhetoric according to an unnamed U.S. official. On Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the deal "needs to be signed soon." While President Obama wants the agreement signed as soon as possible to give the U.S. and NATO time to plan for a post-2014 presence or withdrawal from the country, it seems that U.S. officials are now wondering if the new Afghan president to be elected later this year might be easier to work with.
President Karzai did not help his case with Washington this week when he released 65 of 88 prisoners from the Parwan Detention Facility at Bagram Airfield, in spite of U.S. protests that they were "dangerous" fighters who would likely return to the battlefield (BBC, NYT,Pajhwok). Karzai followed up his actions by saying that the release of the prisoners was "of no concern to the U.S." and he "hope[s] that the United States will now begin to respect Afghan sovereignty" (RFE/RL).
Conserve, not rebuild
Conservation work at a World Heritage site in Afghanistan has been halted this week after a team from site the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO visited the site in December and saw that the team was actually rebuilding the Buddha statues that once occupied the site (Reuters). The UNESCO team saw pillars built into the rock that looked suspiciously like feet and stopped conservation efforts. The Buddha statutes were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 and although Afghanistan has requested permission from the World Heritage Committee to rebuild the statutes, the request has yet to be approved. Rebuilding the statues without official permission could lead to the site losing its World Heritage status.
The Pakistani police in the city of Karachi have filed criminal charges against senior Pakistani Taliban figures in connection with the attack on a police personnel bus that killed at least 13 and injured 60 others on February 13 (RFE/RL). Peace talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the government faltered when the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. But in light of the attack on the bus, negotiators from both sides decided to meet on Friday in Islamabad where it was expected that Pakistani government officials would suggest a concrete agreement for the ceasefire (ET). The government has said that if the talks fail, a military operation against the Taliban's main stronghold in the North Waziristan tribal area on the Afghan border might be an option (WSJ).
Pakistan joined Turkey and Afghanistan in reaffirming their joint resolve for sustainable peace in the region at the 8th Trilateral Summit in Ankara on Thursday evening (Pajhwok, ET). Both Pakistan and Turkey reiterated their support for a stable and secure Afghanistan and discussed issues facing the region, such as religious extremism, terrorism, and socio-economic development. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he hoped his elected successor would follow the trilateral dialogue process.
No Love on Valentine's Day
A student was injured in a Valentine's Day clash between two rival groups fighting over whether or not to celebrate the holiday at Peshawar University on Friday (DAWN, RFE/FL). The clash led to six hostel rooms being set on fire but rescue workers were able to stop the fire from spreading. Religious leaders and public officials in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have urged locals not to celebrate Valentines Day, saying it is a foreign holiday that has no religious value.
-- Emily Schneider
Edited by Peter Bergen