The South Asia Channel

Kerry Arrives In India; Afghanistan Aid Surpasses Marshall Plan Cost; Pakistani Taliban Factionalization Driving Kidnapping Boom


Bonus Read: "Indo-U.S. Relations: Moving Beyond the Plateau" Harsh V. Pant (South Asia)

Kerry arrives in India for strategic dialogue

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Finance and Defense Minister Arun Jaitley in Delhi on Thursday during a three-day visit to India to discuss ways the two countries can cooperate on trade, investment, and security (Hindustan Times, IBNLive, Livemint). Kerry also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and toured the laboratories of the Indian Institute of Technology. Kerry will co-chair the 5th Indo-US Strategic Dialogue with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj later on Thursday. Further, Kerry is expected to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.

During his visit, Kerry will discuss with Modi and his government regional issues including India-Pakistan relations, China's growing assertiveness, and Afghanistan. Kerry's agenda also includes pushing India to agree to the World Trade Organization (WTO) trade deal before its midnight deadline on Thursday. Penny Pritzker, U.S. commerce secretary, who is in Delhi with Kerry told the Press Trust of India on Wednesday that the United States is "very disappointed" with India's stand on the WTO talks, however, remains optimistic that a deal will be reached on Thursday. Last week, India had said that it will not endorse a WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) protocol by its July 31 deadline, unless the country's concerns on food security and public stockholding were addressed.

In an interview with NDTV on Thursday, Kerry said that Modi was denied a visa by a "different government," and said further: "We will welcome PM Modi and definitely give him a visa" (NDTV). Kerry's trip is expected to set the stage for Modi's visit to the United States in September. Ahead of Kerry's visit, Modi held a meeting with Swaraj and Jaitley on Tuesday to discuss the agenda for his upcoming visit to Washington in September (NDTV, Economic Times).

Sonia Gandhi reacts to new book by former Congress loyalist

Congress President Sonia Gandhi said on Thursday that she will write her own book to "reveal the truth" and rebut allegations made by former external affairs minister and one-time Congress loyalist Natwar Singh (NDTV, Hindustan Times, Economic Times). An angry Gandhi told NDTV that "I will write my own book and then everyone will know the truth," and said further: "I can't be hurt, I have seen my mother in law riddled by bullets, my husband dead... I am far from getting hurt with these things..."

Singh, ahead of the release of his new book, "One Life is Not Enough," alleged in an interview on Wednesday that Gandhi's decision not to take up the prime minister post in 2004 was not because of an "inner voice" as she had claimed. According to Singh, Gandhi did not take up the position because her son Rahul Gandhi, Congress vice-president, was concerned that she would be assassinated like her husband Rajiv Gandhi and mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, both former Indian prime ministers.  

Singh also describes Gandhi as an "authoritarian" and "Machiavellian" in his book. Congress has dismissed Singh's comments as "ridiculous." Singh, once considered close to the Gandhi family, had resigned as a cabinet minister from the Congress-led coalition government in 2005 after allegations of corruption.  

General Dalbir Singh Suhag takes over as India's Army chief

General Dalbir Singh Suhag became India's 26th Army Chief after his predecessor, Army Chief General Bikram Singh retired on Thursday (IBNLive, NDTV, Economic Times, Hindustan Times). Suhag, 59-years-old, who was the vice chief of the Army Staff, will have a 30-month tenure, and will head the 1.3 million strong Indian Army. Suhag comes from a family of soldiers and had participated in the Indian Peace Keeping Force operation in Sri Lanka in 1987.

Suhag's appointment was clouded with a controversy triggered by a "discipline and vigilance" ban in connection to an intelligence operation in Assam, located in northeastern India. The outgoing United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had designated Suhag as next the army chief in May, ignoring protests from then Army Chief V.K. Singh. Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had questioned the appointment of Suhag at that time, after taking over office in May, Defense Minister Arun Jaitley said that the dispensation made during the UPA government would continue.

Singh, during his farewell ceremony as the outgoing army chief on Thursday, said that India had given a "befitting reply" to Pakistan after an Indian soldier was beheaded in January 2013 by the Pakistan army on the Kashmiri Line of Control (LoC), a military boundary between the Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir. Describing the Indian Army as "a robust organization," Singh said: "Our troops are responding to transgressions. This has been happening for many years. At the centre of any combat power is the soldier and our soldiers are the finest."

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan


Afghanistan aid surpasses Marshall Plan costs

Reconstruction aid to Afghanistan has surpassed the inflation-adjusted cost of the Marshall plan as the United States' largest foreign assistance effort ever, according to a report by Elias Groll in Foreign Policy on Wednesday (FP). Afghanistan has received $104 billion in aid, while the cost of the Marshall plan was $103.4 billion after taking inflation into account. However, Groll notes that $62 billion of the aid to Afghanistan went to stand up the Afghan military, a task that was not as necessary in post-World War II Europe.

No parliamentary system as part of electoral deal

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in an op-ed on Wednesday that the electoral deal he brokered between Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah did not seek to establish a parliamentary system (Pajhwok). Spokespeople for both candidates confirmed Kerry's statement on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Wednesday that it had accepted the United Nations' proposed guidelines for the election audit (TOLO News). According to the IEC, the audit has been postponed for the Eid holiday, but will resume on Saturday.

Afghan Ministry of Defense rejects SIGAR report

The Afghan Ministry of Defense rejected a report released earlier this week by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that said thousands of weapons provided by the United States to Afghan security services were missing (Pajhwok). Gen. Daulat Waziri, a spokesman for the ministry, argued on Wednesday that not a single weapon had been lost, but he added that if some had gone missing while carried in American convoys, the ministry was not responsible for such losses. According to the SIGAR, report 747,000 weapons valued at $626 million have gone missing in Afghanistan since 2004.


WSJ: Taliban factionalization driving kidnapping boom

The Pakistani Taliban's factionalization is driving an increase in kidnapping for ransom as the various factions seek to fund themselves, according to a report published in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday (WSJ). The report said that the Taliban provides safe haven in Taliban controlled areas to kidnappers in exchange for a cut of the profits, and according to one quoted Pakistani government official, the Taliban buys victims from the criminal gangs and then increases the ransom. The Taliban, however, denied having links to kidnapping gangs.

At least 19 drown off Pakistan's beaches

At least 19 people have drowned off Pakistan's beaches this week, officials announced on Thursday (AP, BBC, ET, Dawn). Shoaib Sadiqui, Karachi's city administrator, said the high count was because the people had ignored safety warnings. Ibadat Nisar, a senior police officer, noted: "The government imposed a ban on swimming in the sea before the start of the monsoon season in June and police were deployed to implement the ban, but people became violent." Pakistan has since deployed helicopters as part of its rescue missions.

Germany announces one million Euros in food aid to Northwest Pakistan

The German government announced that it would provide €1 million to the World Food Programme's project in North Waziristan to aid internally displaced persons, according to a report in Dawn on Thursday (Dawn). A spokesperson for the German embassy in Islamabad noted the large number of people displaced by Pakistan's ongoing military operation in North Waziristan and said: "The assistance would ensure the food security and nutrition of IDP in the north-west, support their return and facilitate recovery and would restore and stabilise the nutritional status of vulnerable populations in Pakistan's most food-insecure areas."

--David Sterman

Edited by Peter Bergen