The South Asia Channel

Pakistan to Grant India MFN Status; Investigation Begins Against Ex-Gujarat Ministers; Bomber Attacks Crowded Afghan Market

Bonus Read: "Why India's Culture of Handouts Is So Harmful," Eric Randolph (SouthAsia).

Pakistan 

India to be given Most-Favoured Nation status

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported on Tuesday that India will be granted Most-Favoured Nation status on Friday, but only after Pakistan receives substantial trade concessions from New Delhi (Dawn). According to the paper, the announcement will be made after a special cabinet briefing led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Dawn's source in Pakistan's commerce department also said that in addition to lowering their respective duty taxes on goods, each country will reduce its list of products that cannot be imported/exported to the other and open the Wagah border crossing to facilitate the movement of cargo trucks and containers. 

Pakistan could get billions of dollars in U.S. equipment 

The Washington Post's Tim Craig noted on Sunday that the "U.S. military may have another option for disposing of $7 billion worth of armored vehicles and other equipment it's struggling to get rid of now that its war in Afghanistan is ending" -- giving it to Pakistan (Post). According to the report, discussions between American and Pakistani officials over the equipment have been going on for months and focus on "leftover military hardware that the United States does not want to pay to ship or fly home." Although no final decisions have been made, Craig writes that Pakistan is particularly interested in the U.S. Army's mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles as they could help Pakistani forces slow their high casualty rates in fights with the Taliban; more than 20,000 soldiers have been killed or injured since 2001. As one Pakistani military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: "We will not take it for the sake of just taking it, and we will not take it because it's free. We will take it because we need it."

A day after Craig's story appeared, Afghanistan's TOLO News reported that a number of officials felt Afghanistan's military should have been given priority with regard to the equipment (TOLO News). According to Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior Affairs: "These equipments [sic] must be handed over to Afghan forces. As you are aware, Afghan forces play an important role in fighting terrorism, we need modern technology and equipment that can help our forces on the scene. This is a good time for help to our troops and we will work on learning its technology in the future." However, the U.S. army is concerned that the Afghan security forces will not unable to use the equipment and that to prevent it from falling into the hands of militants, it needs to either be destroyed or given to someone else.

-- Bailey Cahall

India

CBI begins inquiry against ex-Gujarat ministers 

India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Tuesday registered a preliminary inquiry against former Gujarat ministers who allegedly attempted to derail a probe into the 2005 killings of Ishrat Jahan Raza, a 19-year-old girl from Mumbai, and three men who had alleged links to terrorists (Hindustan Times, Economic Times). The CBI recovered a CD capturing a discussion between the ministers of how to derail the investigation in November 2011, a day before the final hearing in the case in the Gujarat high court, Indian media reports said.

Officers of the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch in the state of Gujarat killed Raza, Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali Rana, and Zeeshan Johar on June 15, 2005. Police claimed they were operatives of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba on a mission to assassinate Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat. However, a judicial probe and subsequent police investigation concluded that the encounter was staged, and the four killed were in prior police custody. Gujarat police officials and four officials of the Intelligence Bureau have been charged for colluding to procure custody of the victims and supplying weapons, which were planted on the four.

The CBI investigation comes as Modi, now the prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), prepares to contest parliamentary polls.

India, Italy clash over "choppergate" payment, marine trial 

India's defense ministry said on Tuesday that it will appeal an Italian court order which rejected its attempt to recover the $387 million it paid for a scrapped helicopter deal with Finmeccanica SpA, an Italian defense contractor (BBC, WSJ, Times of India). India canceled the $753 million helicopter deal with AgustaWestland, a unit of Finmeccanica, in January after allegations surfaced that the company used almost $67.6 million in bribes to win the deal. The contract was for 12 luxury helicopters that were to be used to transport VIPs, three of which were delivered. A court in Milan on Monday prohibited Deutsche Bank from paying the amount back to India, according to a statement by Finmeccanica.

Italy also appealed to the United Nations to help free two Italian marines who are being tried in India for killing two Indian fishermen in 2012 (Times of India). "Italy is willing to try the marines at home, but in the meantime we ask for their freedom," Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said ahead of a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone shot two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012, sparking diplomatic tensions between India and Italy. The marines, who now await trial in the Italian embassy in New Delhi, said they mistook the men for pirates. They may face up to 10 years in jail under India's anti-piracy law.

Wikileaks clarifies that it does not support Modi

WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website founded by Julian Assange, clarified Monday that it never endorsed Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, as "incorruptible" (NDTV). The claim came after some BJP supporters circulated posters quoting Assange as saying that "America is scared of Modi because he is incorruptible." In a series of tweets, WikiLeaks said its documents claimed not that Modi is "incorruptible," but that he is popular because he is "viewed" as such. A cable sent by Michael S. Owen, the U.S. consul general in Mumbai, and published by WikiLeaks relates conversations with other Indian politicians who describe Modi as incorruptible.

-- Ana Swanson 

Afghanistan

Suicide bomber attacks provincial market

At least 16 civilians were killed and more than 40 were injured in Faryab province on Tuesday when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a market in Maimana, the provincial capital (AFP, Pajhwok, Post, TOLO News, VOA). According to Governor Mohammadullah Batash, the bomber was driving a rickshaw and blew himself up when he neared a checkpoint at the market's crowded entrance (RFE/RL). No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred as local citizens were on their way to work, and it is unclear if there was a specific target (Reuters).

The attack came one day after Ján Kubiš, the Special Representative and Head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said that election-related violence is increasing ahead of the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for April 5. Speaking before the U.N. Security Council on Monday, Kubiš said that the level of "poll-connected violence" was lower now than it was during the Afghan elections in 2009 and 2010, but noted that the number of attacks has been rising recently (RFE/RL). In particular, Kubiš said he was "gravely disturbed" by a recent Taliban threat to disrupt the election process by "unleashing a campaign of terror attacks" and urged Afghans to "not let spoilers and terrorists deprive you of your choice, of your future" (Pajhwok). According to the U.N., Afghan civilians are increasingly bearing the brunt of the Taliban's attacks, with 2,959 civilians killed and 5,656 wounded in Afghanistan last year, a 14 percent rise from 2012 (BBC).

Zahir Tanin, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United Nations, also told the U.N. Security Council on Monday that he is "certain" Kabul will soon sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States which would allow some foreign troops to remain in the country once the NATO combat mission ends in December (AP). While Tanin said the Afghan people had demonstrated at last November's Loya Jirga (grand council) that they "believe in the importance of continuing strategic relations with the United States, NATO and the wider international community," his statement was sharply at odds with President Hamid Karzai's final address to the Afghan parliament on Saturday. In that speech, Karzai reiterated that he will not sign the security pact and argued that Afghanistan didn't need any foreign troops to remain past 2014. 

Karzai appoints Qanuni as first vice president 

Aimal Faizi, Karzai's spokesman, confirmed on Tuesday that the Afghan president had appointed Mohammad Younus Qanuni, the leader of the Jamiat-i-Islami political party, to succeed Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim as first vice president; Fahim died last Sunday, Mar. 9, from cardiac arrest (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Qanuni, who has previously served as Afghanistan's interior minister and speaker of the Wolesi Jirga (lower house), will now be referred to the lower house for approval.

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen. 

NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images