The South Asia Channel

Abdullah Survives Taliban Attack; Pakistani Jets Bomb Militant Hideouts; Indian Court Stays Release of Rajiv Killers

Bonus Read: "Will the U.S. negotiate with terrorists?," Peter Bergen and Bailey Cahall (CNN).

Wonk Watch: 15th report by the U.N.'s Al-Qaida/Taliban Monitoring Team (UN).

Afghanistan

Abdullah survives Taliban attack

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah's campaign confirmed on Thursday that he had survived a Taliban attack on his motorcade the night before (RFE/RL, TOLO News, WSJ). According to reports, the attack occurred in the Surobi district of Kabul, along the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, as Abdullah returned from a campaign event in Nangarhar province. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said three of Abdullah's guards had been killed, a claim the candidate and his campaign denied. Despite losing to current President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 election, Abdullah is considered a leading contender for this April's vote.

Elsewhere in Kabul, at least two people were killed and four others were injured on Thursday when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives vest outside the city's Nasir Khusraw Cultural Center (Pajhwok, TOLO News). No one has claimed responsibility for the incident. 

U.S. soldier confesses to fuel theft

U.S. Army Spc. Albert Kelly III pleaded guilty on Wednesday "to taking $57,000 from an Afghan trucking company as part of a scheme to divert loaded fuel trucks from an American military outpost" in Khost province (AP, Pajhwok). Kelly admitted to redirecting the trucks from Forward Operating Base Salerno, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and receiving cash payments for logging in more fuel than was actually delivered. His plea is latest in a series of convictions related to similar schemes across Afghanistan. Kelly faces up to 10 years in prison and has been ordered to pay about $100,000 in restitution to the U.S. government; he will be sentenced in May.

Study says cutting Afghan forces could threaten stability

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that a new study by the Center for Naval Analyses, a Virginia-based non-profit organization, concluded that plans to cut the size of Afghanistan's security forces would jeopardize U.S. hopes of stabilizing the country as most coalition troops leave this year (WSJ). According to the Journal, under current U.S. and NATO plans, Afghanistan's security forces would be cut from a peak of 352,000 to 228,500 after 2015. The assessment, which was prepared for the Pentagon, says that, in fact, a larger force is needed to combat the rising threats from insurgents in the country. However, that would require coalition partners to spend billions of more dollars in Afghanistan at a time when popular support for the international community's efforts there is dwindling.

Pakistan

Military fighter jets pound militant hideouts

Pakistani officials told reporters on Thursday that air force jets bombed suspected militant hideouts in the country's restive tribal regions overnight, killing at least 35 people; 15 have been confirmed as militants (BBC, Dawn, ET, RFE/RL, VOA). The strikes, which focused on Mir Ali in North Waziristan, came just days after peace talks between the government and Taliban peace committees stalled over claims by the Taliban's Mohmand affiliate that it had killed 23 soldiers in its custody since 2010. A government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had authorized the strikes, saying that: "It was the only option to teach the Taliban a lesson" (Reuters). However, it was unclear if the raids "signaled the beginning of a full-fledged offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan," or were in retaliation for recent terror attacks by the militants (NYT).

The strikes occurred hours after the Pakistani army said "more than 100 soldiers had been killed by Taliban militants in the last five months, a rare admission of casualties since the start of government efforts to engage the insurgents in peace talks" (Reuters). Despite Sharif's stated commitment to the talks, the lack of progress had given rise to speculation that the military was preparing for an offensive against the militants.

Pakistan's Express Tribune also reported on Thursday that Maulana Samiul Haq, the head of the Taliban's peace committee, had been given authority by the Taliban to decide on a ceasefire with the government (ET). The news came one day after the Pakistani Taliban had offered to observe a ceasefire in the hope of resuming the stalled peace talks. With one of the group's conditions for the ceasefire being no more government raids on militant compounds however, it is not yet clear how the aerial bombings will impact the reconciliation efforts.

-- Bailey Cahall 

India 

Supreme Court stays release of Rajiv killers

The Indian Supreme Court has decided to halt the Tamil Nadu (TN) government's release of seven people accused in the murder of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, citing procedural lapses (The Hindu, The Indian Express). Instead, the court will hear pleas from the central government and the state on March 8 to decide on the issue. TN Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha convened a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss the release of three recently pardoned convicts on death row and four others serving life terms in the case. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reacted to the news by saying the TN government's decision was untenable and contrary to principles of justice. The lower house of the Indian parliament was also adjourned over member opposition to the TN government's move (Times of India).

China wants to fund 30 percent of India's infrastructure spending

A Chinese working group has reportedly submitted a five-year plan to boost economic and trade cooperation with India, with an offer to finance $300 billion worth of planned infrastructure development spending (Economic Times). The offer, which would finance up to 30 percent of the $1 trillion targeted investment during India's 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-2017), exceeds any current investment made by a foreign country. Despite being India's largest trade partner, China has thus far contributed little infrastructure investment. The proposal outlines plans to invest in roads, railways, telecommunications infrastructure, and solar and nuclear power facilities. The Indian government has been wary of encouraging Chinese investment in sensitive border regions, including Kashmir and the northeast, and strategic sectors like telecommunications.

Supreme Court says religion no bar in adoption 

India's Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Muslim personal law cannot prevent an individual from adopting a child under the juvenile justice act, a decision that is likely to revive the debate over the adoption of a uniform civil code (NDTV, Indian Express, Hindustan Times). The court was responding to a demand by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to issue directions to all Child Welfare Committees to follow the principles of Islamic law before declaring a Muslim child available for adoption. Asserting that Islamic law did not recognize an adopted child to be on par with a biological child, the board had advocated what is known as a "kafala system," in which the child is given a caretaker, but remains the true descendant of his biological parents.

A bench led by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam responded by saying that people were free to adopt children irrespective of their religion, caste, or creed, and that the juvenile justice act "cannot be stultified by principles of personal law." The justices noted the ruling was a "small step" toward reaching a uniform civil code, saying: "Personal beliefs and faiths, though must be honoured, cannot dictate the operation of the provision of an enabling statute." 

Hot in here

While the past week has seen some unexpected forms of protests from Indian legislators, two members of Uttar Pradesh's Legislative Assembly decided to up the ante by protesting shirtless during the Governor's address to the legislature (Hindustan Times, Indian Express). The members, both from the Rashtriya Janata Dal party, stood on their respective seats bearing placards protesting the state government's handling of law and order issues and increasing concerns from local farmers. Several female members of the legislature, among many others, were reportedly aggrieved by the move and, after "covering their faces with their scarves or with paper," decided to call for action against the offending representatives. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Azam Khan, however, chose not to restrain the house, saying that "they were born nude, so they decided to strip on the floor of the house," while urging the governor to continue his speech.

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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