The South Asia Channel

Kerry Meets Modi; Karzai Spokesman Says Election Results by Aug. 25; Military Mandate in Islamabad Goes Into Effect

India

Kerry meets PM Modi ahead of the Washington Summit

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, to discuss bilateral issues and strategic relations ahead of the summit meeting between Modi and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in September (NDTV, Livemint, Economic Times). Modi conveyed to Kerry his appreciation for Obama's "thoughtful and detailed letter" and asked both sides to prepare for "concrete outcomes during the Summit to take the relationship to an entirely new level, on the basis of vision, strategy and action plan," according to a Prime MInister's Office (PMO) statement.  

During the meeting, Kerry urged Modi to resolve the World Trade Organization (WTO) global trade deal soon. "Failure to sign the Trade Facilitation Agreement sent a confusing signal and undermined the very image Prime Minister Modi is trying to send about India" a U.S. State Department official told reporters after Kerry's meeting with Modi (NDTV). India did not endorse a WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement protocol by its July 31 deadline, because the country's concerns on food security and public stockholding were not addressed.

On Thursday, Kerry co-chaired with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj the 5th Indo-US Strategic Dialogue where they discussed "transformative initiatives" in areas of security and energy (Economic Times, Times of India, Business Standard). During the meeting, Swaraj raised the issue of the United States' surveillance activities, and termed it "unacceptable" between friends. According to a classified document released in July, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2010. At a joint press briefing after the dialogue, Swaraj said that she had informed Kerry that the people of India were upset over the surveillance activities. In response, Kerry said: "We will continue to work actively with India wherever we see a threat to our shared interest and we fully respect and understand the feelings expressed by the minister."

Indian government to push key labor law reforms

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government approved proposals to 54 amendments to the Factories' Act, 1948, the Apprentices Act, 1961, and the Labor Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Act, 1988, on Wednesday (Indian Express, Livemint, Economic Times). On Thursday, Labor Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said: "The Cabinet has given its approval (for the amendments). The amendments would be beneficial for the laborers." Tomar said further: "We expect that it will be tabled in the present session of Parliament."

The proposed changes include enabling women to work night shifts, doubling the overtime limit for workers, and allowing more trades to be included under the Apprenticeship Acts. While industry experts welcomed the proposal to amend labor laws, labor unions strongly criticized the amendments. D. L. Sachdeva, national secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress said: "We are opposed to the proposal to put women in the night shift. We are also opposed to increasing the overtime limit to 100 hours from 50 hours per quarter" (Economic Times).

Monkey impersonators to protect India's Parliament

India's Minister of Urban Development Venkaiah Naidu informed the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) on Thursday that 40 trained men had been hired to disguise themselves as menacing monkeys to deal with the monkeys that have been terrorizing the Parliament House in Delhi (WSJ, Times of India, Business Standard). The trained men will imitate sounds of the the grey langur -- a bigger, predatory monkey -- to scare away the rhesus macaques -- smaller, menacing monkeys -- in and around the Parliament House. In addition to the trained men, rubber bullets were also being used to manage the monkeys. Naidu also said that a team of dog catchers visit Parliament House and its surrounding areas twice a week to capture stray dogs.

Delhi has a large population of stray monkeys, which are considered a public nuisance as they attack people and their premises. In 2007, S. S. Bajwa, Delhi's deputy mayor died after falling from the terrace of his house when he was attacked by monkeys (Times of India). Last year, before the Indian government enforced a rule against holding captive langurs, monkey catchers with their trained langurs used to guard neighborhoods in Delhi.   

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Afghanistan

Karzai spokesman say no more extensions, election results by Aug. 25

Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Afghan president Hamid Karzai, stated on Friday that there would be results to Afghanistan's run-off election by Aug. 25 (Reuters, Pajhwok). Faizi stated: "There will be no extension because Afghanistan is suffering." He also emphasized the importance of the upcoming NATO summit hosted by the United Kingdom in September, saying the new president would attend it.

IEC: Candidates accepted U.N. criteria

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Thursday that both presidential candidates - Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani -- had accepted the United Nations' proposed criteria for the electoral audit, allowing the audit to resume on Saturday (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, the head of the IEC, stated: "Now both the candidates are bound to obey these principles."

Karzai meets new U.S. special envoy

Karzai met with Dan Feldman, the new U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), on Thursday (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Feldman was appointed in early July following the retirement of the previous SRAP, Amb. James Dobbins. According to a statement from the Presidential Palace, the two discussed the ongoing audit of votes in Afghanistan's election.

Pakistan

Military mandate in Islamabad goes into effect

The Pakistani government's decision to task the military with assisting in the provision of security in the capital city, Islamabad, will go into effect on Friday (Dawn). Five army companies have reportedly been deployed to the city to protect key institutions including the parliament house and major judicial offices. An interior ministry spokesman emphasized that the military would only assist the police, and would not take over the city's security. Interior Minister Pervaiz Rasheed denied that the decision to authorize the use of the military was related to a planned Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf march on August 14.

Saudi airline postpones resumption of flights to Peshawar

Saudi Arabian Airlines postponed its resumption of flights to Peshawar International Airport on Thursday due to ongoing security concerns (Dawn). The airline suspended its service to the airport after a June 25 attack on a flight that left one woman dead. Four other international airlines ceased operations to the airport following the attack, but two have since resumed flights.

--David Sterman

Edited by Peter Bergen

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