The South Asia Channel

Afghan Security Forces: High Death Toll; US Diplomat to India to Smooth Ties; Militant Group Claims Islamabad Attack

Afghanistan

A statement released Sunday by President Hamid Karzai's cabinet put the total number of Afghan soldiers and police officers killed during the war at just over 13,000, far more than previously known (NYT).  According to the newly released numbers, the Afghan death toll is four times higher than that of the international coalition, which has lost 3,425 soldiers during the 13-year conflict. The numbers also showed that more clashes have taken place in the past three years as Afghan forces took over a larger share of the responsibility for the security of the country.

In the past, Afghan ministries had released incomplete death toll counts and had stopped releasing any at all for the past year or so. Just last month, Afghanistan Ministry of Defense spokesman Gen. Zaher Azimi declined to share the casualty count with the media following the attack on 21 Afghan police officers by the Taliban.  It's unclear why the cabinet decided to release the numbers now, but the release coincides with Karzai's first U.S. newspaper interview in two years published on Sunday, during which he told the Washington Post he was angry with the U.S. and that "Afghans died in a war that's not ours" (Post). 

Pakistan

Former TTP faction claims responsibility for court attack

A former  Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) faction, Ahrar-ul-Hind, has claimed responsibility for the attack on Pakistan's capital court complex on Monday morning (Post, NYT, DAWN, ET, BBC). The attack, which began at 8:30 a.m. and lasted 45- minutes, involved men described as "professional terrorists" by the police entering one of Pakistan's safest and most heavily guarded areas and gunning down a district court judge, at least three lawyers, and the chief constable. It ended when the gunmen blew themselves up in front of a courtroom. It was the deadliest attack in Islamabad in five years.  

The spokesman for Ahrar-ul-Hind said that it had carried out the attack to show its displeasure with the cease-fire agreement between the TTP and the Pakistani government that had been reached just hours before. "We will carry on attacks on urban areas, police and markets until there is a complete imposition of sharia law," the spokesman said. But the TTP, who has declared a ceasefire in order to engage in peace talks and denied involvement in the attack, also said they "bound to follow Sharia and are struggling for Sharia" but that they "consider violation of the ceasefire contrary to Sharia and [hence] forbidden," according to a spokesman. 

Meeting to discuss peace talks

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is meeting with the committee negotiating with the TTP on Tuesday to discuss the situation following the ceasefire declaration from both sides and in wake of the attack on the court house in Islamabad (DAWN, Business Standard).  He is expected to direct the four-member committee on how to proceed in light of this most recent attack. Approximately 110 people have been killed in militant attacks since Sharif announced the peace dialogue between the TTP and Pakistani government in January (DAWN). 

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Football for all

FIFA, the governing body for football across the world, announced on Saturday that they would authorize the wearing of head coverings for religious purposes during matches (Gulf News, AFP).  The decision will allow women who wear a veil and men who wear a turban in their daily lives to partake in matches.  Afghan and Pakistani sports officials were quick to laud the decision; the senior official in the Afghanistan football federation said that the decision "shows respect to the culture and religion of others." Pakistan currently has 22 women's football clubs with around 400 players, although male spectators unaccompanied by female relatives are not allowed to enter stadiums to watch the games. Bonus Read: "Fighting the Good Fight for Women's Rights in Afghanistan," Khorshied Samad, (South Asia).

--Emily Schneider

India

U.S. diplomat travels to India to patch ties

The Obama administration has dispatched a senior U.S. diplomat, Nisha Desai Biswal, to India in an effort to smooth ties between the countries (WSJHindustan Times). Biswal, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, will meet Indian business leaders and government officials during a three-day trip to Bangalore and Delhi. "We want to move past disagreements we've had because we have so many issues that are important for us to work closely on," Jen Psaki, the spokesperson for the State Department, said in a briefing Monday.

When asked if Biswal would meet with opposition leaders, Psaki said no such meeting was planned. "We don't take a position on the future of leadership in India. Obviously, that's up to the people of India." The United States and India have suffered a series of setbacks in the last year, including trade disputes and a standoff over an Indian diplomat who was charged with visa fraud. 

On Tuesday, Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma accused the United States of excessive trade protectionism (Reuters). Speaking at a news briefing, Sharma said that India's patent law was compliant with WTO rules, and that the country would not agree to tougher rules on protecting intellectual property. He also complained that Washington made it too hard for Indian nationals to obtain visas. 

Singh meets Rajpaksa ahead of UNHRC vote

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajpaksa on the sidelines of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar (Times of India, NDTV, India Today).

The two reportedly met for 25 minutes on a day when more than 30 Indian sailors were detained by the Sri Lankan Navy. While Singh re-iterated the need for the humane treatment of Indian fishermen, he did not indicate which way India would vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council, where Sri Lanka stands accused of violations against its minority Tamil population.  Parties in Tamil Nadu such as former ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have pressured the Indian government to take a firmer stance on Sri Lanka and attacked Singh's plans to meet Rajpaksa.

While India has voted against Sri LANKA in 2012 and 2013, both times seeking commitments on reconciliation and rights accountability for Tamils, it is unclear which way India will vote when the UNHRC resolution is brought up in the coming weeks.

Delhi hotline for women faces closure

Delhi's 24-hour hotline for women, set up in alongside a slew of initiatives to ensure women's safety in the capital, now risks being shut down due to lack of funds and Delhi's recent political instability (NDTV, Times of India).

Khadijah Faruqui, head of the 181 helpline, has reached out to Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung to over delays in payment of wages and the resulting uncertainty around the firm's future. Faruqui added that Delhi's elections in December had diverted attention away from the helpline's problems. The team contracted to run the hotline has not had its terms of service renewed since December and its employees, largely all women from poor backgrounds, have been working without a salary for two months.

Faruqui said the hotline has had an incredible success rate, with over 2,500-3,000 calls per day and logs 86 percent of crimes against women reported in Delhi. Former Chief Minister Shiela Dixit, who had approved setting up the helpline, said its neglect was a sign of "insensitivity towards women," and promised to take up the issue with Jung herself. 

Calling all fraudsters

An independent politician is planning to contest the forthcoming general elections in India on a "pro-corruption" ticket (BBC). Lawyer Naresh Singh Bhadauriya has registered the Khas Aadmi Party -- or "Special Man's Party," a play on Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or "Common Man's Party" -- in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Bhadauriya launched his campaign by marching through the streets carrying a banner that said, "Only the corrupt, schemers, fraudsters, etc. are eligible for membership. Bhadauriya said his party would form a coalition with any political party, except the AAP. 

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson

Edited by Peter Bergen

Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images