The South Asia Channel

Afghan Anxiety Increases Over U.S. Withdrawal Plan; Obama Outlines New CT Strategy in Speech; Modi Reveals Top Priorities

Bonus Read: "Nuclear South Asia is More Stable Than You Think," David J. Karl (SouthAsia).

Afghanistan 

Anxiety increases in Afghanistan over U.S. withdrawal plan 

Mixed reactions to President Barack Obama's announcement on Tuesday that he would like to leave 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in December, before fully withdrawing all troops two years later, continued to come in on Wednesday, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai praising the news and Afghan lawmakers questioning the stated timetable (VOA). Karzai declared that the country's national security forces were fully prepared to over operations and invited the Taliban to seize a "historic opportunity for peace;" the militant group has dismissed Karzai's appeal and demanded a full withdrawal of U.S. forces (WSJ). 

Afghan lawmakers, however, spoke out against Obama's plan, expressing concern that the Afghan soldiers are not yet ready to stand against the Taliban's attempts to destabilize the country (NYT). The Washington Post's Kevin Sieff noted that while Afghans knew the financial and military support they have received from the United States for the last 13 years would eventually fade, they weren't expecting it to be so soon (Post). He added that many Afghans thought U.S. troops would be in the country until 2024, as that is the date referenced in the as-yet-to-be-signed bilateral security agreement. Najib Mahmood, a professor of political science at Kabul University, told Sieff: "That was the general perception. But if Americans leave in 2016, we will be in full crisis."

Obama reiterated his withdrawal plan on Wednesday during the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, telling the graduates that they "had the distinction of being ‘the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan'" (AP). 

NATO soldier killed in helicopter crash

Multiple media outlets reported on Thursday that a member of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed the day before in a helicopter crash in the southern part of the country (Pajhwok, TOLO News). While ISAF did not provide many details about the incident, an Afghan official told the Associated Press that the crash occurred when the aircraft accidentally struck a communications antenna; 15 other soldiers were injured in the incident (AP).

The Associated Press also noted that in Jawzjan province, Manurullha, the intelligence chief of the Aqcha district, and his bodyguard were killed on Thursday morning when the car they were traveling in hit a roadside bomb. Three other officials were also wounded. Elsewhere, two roadside bombs exploded near Kandahar city, killing one police officer and wounding four others.

Pakistan 

Obama addresses counterterrorism strategy, drone strikes in speech

During Obama's speech at West Point on Wednesday, he focused on shifting the United States' counterterrorism strategy "to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold." The speech echoed statements he made a year ago during a speech at Washington's National Defense University (NDU) during which he made a case to wind down the "boundless global war on terror." According to a recent CNN article and data collected by the New America Foundation, it seems that he is on track to do just that, at least in Pakistan, where there has not been a drone strike since Dec. 25, 2013 (CNN).

The end of the strikes in Pakistan is particularly noteworthy as there have been some 370 strikes over the past decade that have killed between 2,080 to 3,428 people, according to New America (NAF). The cessation of the strikes can be attributed to a number of things, including running out of "high value" al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan's tribal areas, and very strong pushback from the Pakistani public and government who are opposed to the drone strikes on the grounds that they violate Pakistan's national sovereignty. Of the strikes, Obama said: "Our actions should meet a simple test: we must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield" (Post, WSJ).

The Pakistani government is also stepping up its own military operations against militants in North Waziristan, where the majority of the CIA drone strikes have occurred. Air strikes by the Pakistani air force, for instance, killed approximately 60 people in the region last week (ET). 

Sharif demands report on Lahore "honor killing" 

Responding to the outcry over the death of Farzana Parveen, a pregnant 25-year-old Pakistani woman who was stoned to death outside Lahore's high court on Tuesday, Pakistani Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to submit a report on the incident by Thursday evening (Dawn). Telling reporters that: "This crime is totally unacceptable," he added that those involved in the attack, which took place in broad daylight, should be promptly brought to justice (ET).

Parveen had been engaged to her cousin, but married another man against her family's wishes. Her father had filed an abduction case against her husband, which the couple was contesting. As they arrived at the courthouse for a hearing, nearly 20 members of her family attacked them with bricks.

Muhammad Iqbal, Parveen's husband, told several media outlets that the police outside the courthouse did nothing to stop the attack, which lasted about 15 minutes (BBC). He told Reuters, "I begged them to help us but they said, this is not our duty. I took off my shirt (to be humble) and begged them to save her" (Reuters).

Not one law 

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper noted on Thursday that Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has completed its first year in office with "a unique distinction -- it did not enact a single law" (Dawn). While 11 bills were passed by the National Assembly, where the PML-N enjoys a near-absolute majority, with the exception of the finance bill (which does not require Senate approval), it couldn't get a single one passed through the upper house, where the rival Pakistan Peoples Party holds sway, and signed by the president. The assembly passed five bills in February, three in March, and two in April, all of which are currently awaiting debate in the Senate.

-- Bailey Cahall 

India 

Modi reveals top policy priorities, 100-day agenda

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listed his top 10-point policy agenda on Thursday, asking ministers to focus on governance, delivery and implementation, and urgent resolution of pending matters (Live Mint, Economic Times, DNA). The aim of the agenda is to facilitate a smooth decision-making process and boost economic growth. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said Modi directed his cabinet ministers to prepare an agenda for the first 100 days and to involve state ministers by taking them into confidence and giving them "proper work." 

Modi's top 10 priorities include building confidence in bureaucracy; welcoming innovative ideas; promoting transparency in the government; establishing a system for inter-ministerial issues; creating a people-oriented system within the government machinery; addressing economic concerns; reforming infrastructure and investment sectors; implementing policy in a timely manner; incorporating stability and sustainability in government policy; and prioritizing education, health, water, energy, and infrastructure.

Modi tells ministers not to hire family members as staff

Modi also asked his council of ministers not to appoint family members as personal staff in the ministry on Wednesday (Hindustan Times, Economic Times, Business Insider). He discouraged nepotism, and asked ministers to refrain from granting government contracts to relatives and friends.

According to reports, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) issued a directive on Monday, asking all ministries and departments to "ensure strict compliance of procedure" for hiring personal staff of the ministers. The memo added that:"Prior approval of the ACC [the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet] is required for appointment in the minister's personal staff (other than the private secretary) at deputy secretary and above level. For appointment of PS [personal staff], ACC approval is required."

In the previous National Democratic Alliance government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, some ministers had caused a controversy by appointing their children as officers on special duty. The preceding United Progressive Alliance government under Manmohan Singh was also involved in a scam when former railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal appointed a relative as his officer on special duty.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang calls Modi

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang congratulated Modi on winning the Indian election by phone on Thursday, engaging in "telephone diplomacy" three days after Modi's swearing-in ceremony (India Today, NDTV). Li expressed China's desire to establish a robust partnership with the new Indian government. Modi noted that China was always a priority in India's foreign policy, and welcomed greater economic engagement between the two countries. He emphasized further his "keenness to work closely with the Chinese leadership to deal with any outstanding issues in bilateral relations by proceeding from the strategic perspective of our developmental goals and long-term benefits to our peoples." The two leaders agreed to maintain "frequent high-level interactions."

This was Modi's first telephone conversation with a foreign head of government since taking over as prime minister. Modi held bilateral talks on Tuesday with eight leaders of neighboring countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Two teenage Dalit girls gang-raped, hanged from tree 

Two Dalit sisters, aged 14 and 15, were gang-raped and killed on Wednesday in the small village of Karta in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh (NDTV, India Today, BBC). They went missing from their house the night before, and their bodies were discovered hanging from a mango tree the following morning. 

The incident triggered protests in the area with villagers alleging police apathy when they refused to register a first information report (FIR). A case of rape and murder was eventually registered against five individuals, but only after villagers blocked the roads. A case of conspiracy was also registered against the two police constables who refused to file a FIR. One of the accused has been arrested; the remaining suspects have fled. 

The National Commission for Women (NCW) has set up an inquiry committee and taken suo moto cognisance (take action on its own) about the gang-rape (FirstPost). Describing the shocking incident as "gruesome," NCW Chairperson Mamata Sharma said strict action will be taken based on the inquiry committee's report. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav told reporters today that: "whoever is found guilty will be punished" (NDTV). Dalit is a designation for a group of people regarded as untouchable in the Hindu caste system.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan 

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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