The South Asia Channel

NATO Prepares for Afghan Withdrawal; U.S. Team Targets Pakistani Haqqani Network; Indian Corporate Chieftain Arrested

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Afghanistan 

 

NATO to also prepare for full withdrawal

NATO defense ministers meetings in Brussels agreed on Thursday to begin preparing for a complete withdrawal of all forces currently in Afghanistan when the alliance's combat mission ends in December, should a new Status of Forces Agreement not be completed (Pajhwok, Post, RFE/RL, TOLO News). The announcement came at the end of the ministers' two-day meeting, and two days after President Obama told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he had ordered the Pentagon to prepare for a complete withdrawal as the Afghan government has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement between the two countries. However, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also made it clear that they expect Karzai's successor to sign the agreement, allowing coalition forces to remain in the country and continue training the Afghan security forces.

The Afghan presidential election is scheduled for Saturday, April 5, but if no candidate wins a majority, a runoff election could prolong the process by several months. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's military chief and the top U.S. commander in Europe, "said the military is seeking to keep prospects for the agreement open for as long as possible," but that a decision would have to be made at some point in the late fall or early winter, or else the forces would "risk leaving expensive equipment behind" (WSJ). 

While many officials have talked about how the possibility of a full withdrawal of foreign forces could embolden the Taliban, Adm. William McRaven, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that it could also trigger a resurgence of al Qaeda (AFP). McRaven noted that the core al Qaeda group has been weakened significantly over the past twelve years, but continues to pose a danger to people living in Afghanistan's Kunar and Nuristan provinces, as well as Pakistan's tribal regions.

Taliban militants reportedly kill Turkmen border guards

Taliban militants reportedly killed three Turkmen border guards in Afghanistan's Baghdis province on Wednesday night as they patrolled the area between the two countries (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Two other guards were injured in the attack. Neither Turkmen officials nor the Taliban have commented on the incident.

Pakistan

U.S. team going after Haqqani network in Pakistan

As the United States prepares to withdraw most -- if not all -- of its forces from Afghanistan in December, reports have begun to emerge that the country is intensifying its efforts to deal a "lasting blow" to the Taliban-linked Haqqani network (TOLO News). According to multiple U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters, the Obama administration created a special unit late last year to coordinate efforts against the Pakistan-based militant group (Reuters). The "fusion cell," as it is known, brings together special and conventional forces, as well as intelligence personnel and civilians. While an anonymous U.S. defense official told the wire service that: "Things are coming together... there's a lot of energy behind it right now," there are questions about how effective the cell can be this late in the NATO combat mission, and against a group many believe is supported by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (McClatchy). 

Meanwhile the Obama administration is considering targeting an American militant currently living in Pakistan with a drone. While previous reports about this issue had not listed the suspected al Qaeda member, the New York Times reported on Friday that he is known as Abdullah al-Shami, a nom de guerre meaning "Abdullah the Syrian" (NYT). While U.S. officials did not provide the Times with Shami's biographical information, one senior administration official said: "We have clear and convincing evidence that he's involved in the production and distribution of I.E.D.'s [sic]."

The report notes that the debate over targeting Shami has raised a number of questions about the United States' targeted killing program, such as "under what circumstances the government may kill American citizens without a trial, whether the battered leadership of Al Qaeda in Pakistan still poses an imminent threat to Americans, and whether the C.I.A. or the Pentagon ought to be the dominant agency running America's secret wars."

While U.S. drone strikes have killed four Americans fighting overseas, only one -- Anwar al-Awlaki -- was intentionally targeted. 

PTI ends NATO block in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province

Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party released a statement on Thursday announcing that it was ending its blockade of a key NATO supply route in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, one day after a Pakistani court ruled that it was illegal and unconstitutional (RFE/RL). The party, which controls the provincial government, had blocked the route through Peshawar since November 2013 in a protest over U.S. drone strikes. In the statement, the PTI took credit for a change in the Obama administration's drone policy -- there hasn't been a strike in Pakistan since Dec. 25, 2013 -- saying that pressure from the blockade had led to the shift (NYT).

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No such thing as bad press?

Social media has become a battleground for politicians around the world, with candidates using the platforms to interact with voters and voters often using them to make fun of the contenders. The BBC's Daud Qarizadah notes that the same thing is happening in Afghanistan, where the presidential hopefuls are increasingly confronting misrepresentations and unfavorable images on Facebook and Twitter (BBC). The angle of one photo of former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, for instance, makes it look like he's reciting a prayer with his back to Mecca's holiest site, the Kabaa, during his hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Another shows Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of Nangarhar province, sitting on a large gold throne, while his guests rest on smaller silver chairs -- a setup one user said looked more like a wedding than a campaign lunch.

-- Bailey Cahall

India

One of India's biggest corporate chieftains arrested

Subroto Roy, the head of one of India's largest corporate houses -- the Sahara Group, surrendered to the Lucknow police on Friday after allegations that he was evading arrest (Times of India, Economic Times). On Wednesday, India's Supreme Court issued a non-bailable warrant for Roy's arrest as his company is accused of failing to repay its investors over Rs. 20,000 crore ($3.2 billion) after the court declared two of its financial schemes illegal in August 2012. Minutes after his arrest, Roy's son Seemanto held a press conference to say that his father had been out consulting doctors and lawyers in Lucknow as he was taking care of his sick mother. The Sahara Group, worth over Rs. 68,000 crore ($10 billion), has investments in a Formula 1 racing team, a sprawling luxury township, and, at one point, the iconic New York Plaza Hotel (Hindustan Times).

Naxals kill six in Dantewada 

Maoist forces killed six policemen, including a station house officer, on Friday in an ambush in the district of Dantewada, Chattisgarh (BBC, Indian Express, AJE). The police were on their way to provide security to a road building operation near Shyamgiri Hills when the rebels detonated landmines near their vehicle and opened fire. Dantewada, a Maoist stronghold, has seen some of the deadliest Maoist violence in the last few years, with previous casualties including a 40-man police force and a political convoy. Maoists forces are reportedly present in 20 of India's 28 states.

-- Shruti Jagirdar 

Edited by Peter Bergen. 

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images