The South Asia Channel

Pakistan Peace Talks Halted; Militants Attack Afghan Police Compound; Deaths of South Asian Workers in Qatar Alarming

Bonus Read: "Can the United States and BJP Do Business?," Anish Goel (SouthAsia).

Pakistan

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar announced on Thursday that peace talks with the Taliban have been halted, saying "dialogue and violence cannot take place side by side" (ET, Aljazeera). The press conference followed air strikes that were carried out Wednesday night in Pakistan's tribal regions in which at least 30 militants were killed (BBC, Dawn, ET).  The air strikes were launched just hours after Pakistan's army said more than 100 soldiers had been killed by Taliban fighters in the past five months and followed weeks of faltering talks with the Taliban.  Although the army publicly supported Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's negotiated talks, senior military officials expressed frustration in private, leading some to believe that the air strikes may be the start of a broader military offensive that will take center stage now that peace talks have been abandoned.

Musharraf deemed a civilian

The special court constituted to try former military ruler Pervez Musharraf ruled on Friday that the trial would take place in a special civilian court, and not a military court (Dawn, ET, AFP). Musharraf appeared for a hearing before the special court on the 18th of February, where his defense argued that he should be tried by a military court and not the special court because of jurisdictional issues (NYT).  The special court announced their ruling on Friday, saying that since Musharraf was no longer in the army, he can be tried exclusively in a special court. The ruling is one in a series in the case that has raised tensions between Pakistan's civilian government and military. The 70-year old is facing treason charges, which can carry the death penalty, over his decision to impose a state of emergency in 2007 when he was president.

Not quite gold

Mohammad Karim, Pakistan's sole representative in the 2014 Winter Olympics, placed 70 spots behind the winner, American Ted Ligety, in the Men's Giant Slalom on Thursday (Dawn, Nation).  Even though he did not finish in the top 50, which was his goal, Karim did place over the Indian skier. Karim is only the second Pakistani ever to compete in the winter games.

Afghanistan

Militants attacked the Sarobi district police compound east of Kabul on Friday, setting off a firefight that left one officer dead and four others wounded and closed the main road of the city for hours (BBC, Pajhwok, Post). According to Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi, a suicide bomber first infiltrated the gates of the police compound early in the morning and detonated the bomb he was carrying.  Two other male attackers, each of whom was wearing a burqa, then opened fire.  All three attackers were killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack via an emailed statement.

-- Emily Schneider

India

Deaths of South Asian migrant workers in Qatar raises alarm

In recent months, human rights groups have been raising alarm over increasing number of deaths of Indian migrant workers in Qatar (Mint, The Guardian, BBC) . On Monday, India revealed around 455 Indian citizens working in Qatar died of natural causes in 2012 and 2013. Around 37 Indians have died since the beginning of this year, with the average rate of death being roughly 20 deaths per month over the entire period. The Indian government added the death rate wasn't higher than they had expected for the population of 500,000 Indian workers in Qatar.  According to the ITUC's Tim Noonan, the figure may be higher as many Indians may not be registered with the embassy. Amnesty International, which has been closely following developments of migrant worker conditions in Qatar,  has requested more details from the Indian government surrounding the deaths and urged the Indian government to work more closely with countries in the Gulf region.

A previous report published by the organization described conditions for migrant workers as "inhuman" with no access to sanitation, oppressive working conditions and overcrowded living arrangements.  News agency Agence France Presse has reported that 191 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar in 2013, many of them from "unnatural" heart failure, with the figure adding up to at least 360 over two years.

Most migrant workers are in Qatar to assist with building infrastructure ahead of the 2022 World Cup. While FIFA continues to stick to its decision to hold the cup in Qatar, it has released a list of :working rights" for migrant workers in the region.

Fresh controversy over 2012 troop movement

An interview in the Indian Express of former Director General of Military Operations AK Choudhary has resurrected a January 2012 incident where the movement of two army units near Delhi allegedly spooked the Indian government(Indian Express, Hindustan Times). "There was misconception or there was perceptional difference or there may be distrust," Choudhary was quoted as saying of the incident, which he descrbed as a regular troop exercise. Choudhary was subsequently summoned by then  defense secretary Shashi Kant Sharma who told him he "had just come back from the highest seat of power and that they are worried". Choudhary's comments are a vindication of sorts for the Indian Express as the incident first came to light in an April 2012 article by the paper, but has been strenuously denied by the government and the army for 2 years. Shortly after the interview surfaced, the National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon said there was no distrust between the army and the government (Times of India).

Kejriwal questions Modi on gas pricing, relationship with Ambani 

Former Delhi chief minister and current leader of the Aam Aadmi Party Arvind Kejriwal has written to BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi asking him to come clean on his relationship with mega-industrialist Mukesh Ambani (Times of India, The Hindu, Indian Express).  Kejriwal alleges Ambani's Reliance Group is being paid more for its gas from the KG Basin in Gujarat than was previously agreed to by the Indian government and has questioned Modi's silence on the issue. The letter, which Kejriwal read out at a press conference in New Delhi, reads "a common man wants to know whether if your party forms government and you become the Prime Minister, would you bring down the gas price from 8 dollar per unit to 4 dollar? " Kejriwal alleges BJP and Congress opposition to Delhi's ‘Jan Lokpal' bill, an incident that caused him to resign, was motivated by his attacks on Mr. Ambani.

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson

Edited by Peter Bergen

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