The South Asia Channel

Pakistan Arrests Activists Ahead of Protests; Kerry Returns to Kabul; Indian Cabinet Clears Bill to Try Minors

Pakistan

Pakistan arrests activists ahead of planned protests

On Wednesday, Pakistan began to arrest a number of activists ahead of two protests that will call for the government to resign including a march planned for August 14 in Islamabad and organized by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) (Reuters). On Wednesday, Rana Mashhood Ahmad, the law minister for Punjab province, told Reuters that 32 supporters of the activist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri who had called for a separate protest on Sunday had been arrested. Ahmad stated: "We have received intelligence reports that Qadri's activists are collecting weapons and preparing barbed sticks to attack law enforcers." A Qadri spokesperson said 538 activists were arrested but did not provide names for the individuals. Anila Khawaja, a PTI activist, also stated that two PTI activists were arrested on Wednesday.

According to a report Thursday in Dawn, the PTI has told its workers to besiege police stations and roads if police try to arrest them while cautioning them to remain unarmed (Dawn). The PTI's chapter president in Punjab province stated: "The government will see massive protest demonstrations across the province if police tried to stop protesters from using their democratic right."

The government's actions ahead of the protests have also received criticism from opposition parties. On Thursday, Syed Khursheed Shah, the leader of the opposition and a member of the Pakistan' Peoples Party, warned that if certain actions were taken against the march, political leaders' names will be "included in the list of dictators" (Dawn). Shah also stated, ‘Please don't worry about the PTI long march as it is the constitutional right of any political party in the country."

Turkey: Pakistan delaying trade deal

Murat Mustu, Turkey's commercial attaché at its consulate in Karachi, said Turkey was prepared to sign an already complete preferential trade agreement but that the deal was being delayed by Pakistan (ET, Dawn). Mustu stated: "It is the desire of Turkish government to stren­gthen trade ties with Pakistan. We must make efforts to in­­crease trade volume and in­­vestments in our countries." Abdul Jabbar, the diplomatic affairs sub-committee chairman for the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, however, noted that Turkish anti-dumping duties on textiles imposed in 2011 were hurting Pakistani exports.

Two killed in Balochistan attack

Two security personnel were killed, and six others injured, in an attack by unidentified gunmen in the Turbat area of Balochistan on Thursday (Dawn). Two militants were also killed in the clash but the others escaped. Balochistan is experiencing an ongoing separatist insurgency that has been linked to a number of attacks on security personnel in the province.

Afghanistan

Kerry returns to Kabul

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to return to Kabul on Thursday to assist with the resolution of the ongoing electoral crisis (Pajhwok). Kerry is expected to meet with Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah -- the two presidential candidates -- during his visit. On Wednesday a fight broke out between representatives of the two campaigns inside the Independent Election Commission's offices.

Bergdahl answers questions posed by U.S. army

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released as part of a prisoner exchange with the Taliban after being in captivity for five years, began to answer questions posed the U.S. army on Wednesday (RFE/RL, NBC). The army is currently in the process of determining whether to prosecute Bergdahl for desertion. According to Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl's lawyer, the questioning will take place at an army base in Texas.

Local police join Taliban

At least ten Afghan local police members in Kunduz province, including a commander, joined Taliban forces on Wednesday (TOLO News). Zalmai Farooqi, the district governor for Chahar Dara district, confirmed the defection stating: "The commander named Yar Mohammad was fighting against the Taliban in Yateem village of Chahar Dara district, but on Wednesday along with nine other local policemen decided to join the Taliban ranks." The Taliban have not commented on the defection, which comes after a series of insider attacks by members of Afghanistan's security personnel on their colleagues and NATO forces, including two separate attacks on Tuesday in which an Afghan soldier killed an American major general in Kabul and a Afghan police officer killed six of his colleagues in Uruzgan province. Bonus Read: "U.S. General's Killing May Be a Bad Omen," Peter Bergen and David Sterman (CNN).

--David Sterman

India

Cabinet clears bill to try minors as adults for heinous crimes

India's Cabinet approved on Wednesday a bill which will allow the Juvenile Justice Board to determine whether juveniles above 16 years of age involved in heinous crimes can be tried as an adult (Times of India, NDTV, Indian Express). Although minors accused of heinous crimes like rape and murder can be tried as adults under the new amendments, they cannot be sentenced to the death penalty or life imprisonment. Presently, minors under under 18 can be jailed for at most three years. The bill still needs the approval of the Parliament, and was amended in response to the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. A 17-year-old minor was convicted for the crime.

In other matters, the Cabinet also cleared proposals involving foreign direct investment (FDI) in the defense and railway sectors (Livemint, Hindustan Times, Business Standard, Economic Times). For the first time in the railway sector, the government approved a proposal to allow 100 percent of FDI in railway infrastructure excluding operations. The Cabinet also approved a proposal to raise the cap on FDI in the defense sector from 26 percent to 49 percent. However, ownership control in joint ventures for manufacturing defense equipment will still remain in Indian hands. Last month the Cabinet had approved a similar proposal where FDI for private insurance firms was capped at 49 percent on the condition that "control" remained with Indians.

The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), a state party ruling the eastern state of West Bengal, raised objections over the increase in FDI in the Parliament on Thursday (IBNLive). TMC leader Derek O'Brien said: "This government is subverting democracy. Parliament is in session. They are stuck with FDI in Insurance. They can't get it through in the Rajya Sabha [upper house of Parliament]. So what are they doing, using the excuse of saying that it is an executive decision to bring 100 per cent FDI in railways and 49 per cent in defence."

Indian government defends sacking governor

As opposition parties accused the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government of political vendetta for sacking Mizoram Governor Kamla Beniwal on Thursday, the government insisted that their decision was prompted by "serious allegations" against the governor (Livemint, IBNLive, The Hindu). Beniwal was sacked as governor of the northeastern state of Mizoram on Wednesday, just two months before her tenure would have ended. A report listing the "serious allegations" said that Beniwal indulged in activities leading to private gains, and misused her office to fly repeatedly to her hometown in the western state of Rajasthan. An 87-year-old Congress leader, Beniwal, as the governor of Gujarat, had a strained relationship with Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat.

In response to the opposition criticism, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said: "action against Kamla Beniwal was taken in accordance with the Constitution and there is no politics in it." Congress General Secretary and Communication Department Chairman Ajay Maken had tweeted: "If Governor Kamla Beniwal was to be removed, why was she transferred to Mizoram only a few days back? #Vendetta Politics." After Lt. Governor Virendra Kataria of Puducherry, located in southern India, Beniwal is the second governor to be removed from office. Soon after the Modi government assumed office, some governors appointed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government were forced to resign before their terms were over.

President rejects rapist's mercy plea

President Pranab Mukherjee rejected the mercy petition of death row convict Rajendra Pralhadrao Wasnik, who was found guilty of raping and murdering a three-year-old child, according to news reports on Wednesday (DNA, Times of India). During his two-year tenure, Mukherjee has rejected 22 mercy petitions cases involving 29 death row convicts, and commuted one death sentence. Unlike Mukherjee, his predecessors did not reject so many mercy petitions. President K. R. Narayanan did not take up any cases during his tenure, whereas President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam rejected one plea in his tenure. President Pratibha Patil, the most recent president, rejected three mercy petitions. Article 72 of the Indian Constitution empowers the President to pardon or commute sentences of a person convicted of an offense. The home minister with a council of ministers guide the President in these decisions.  

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Edited by Peter Bergen

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