The South Asia Channel

US Sanctions Pak-based Hawala; Indian Supreme Ct. Asks Modi About Lok Sabha Position; Bergdahl Swap Was Illegal, Says GOA

Pakistan

U.S. sanctions Pak-based Taliban-funding hawala

The U.S. Treasury Department said on Thursday that it placed sanctions on a Pakistan-based hawala, a network of informal money brokers, and its owner for funding the Taliban. Haji Basir and Zarjmil Company, based in Balochistan province, has been distributing money to Taliban members in Afghanistan and Taliban through the network operating outside of traditional banking systems. Taliban leaders have also used it to transfer money to commanders and the hawala used Pakistani banks at times, according to the U.S. Treasury (Pajhwok). The Treasury also placed Haji Abdul Basir, the owner of the hawala, under sanctions, saying he distributed thousands of dollars to Taliban members through the hawala and was the "principal money exchanger" for senior Taliban leadership in Pakistan (WSJ).

Imran Khan calls out the United States

Imran Khan, the head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and leader of political protests that have been gripping Pakistan for the last week, on Thursday accused the United States of interfering in the country's political crisis (WSJ). "You like only those governments in Muslim countries that are your slaves," Khan said in remarks directed at the United States, adding: "Is there another democracy for you, and another for us?" His comments came after the State Department said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government was legitimate.

Khan also suspended talks with the Pakistani government that had begun Wednesday, claiming the government was planning an "aggressive crackdown" on the thousands of protestors in Islamabad (BBC). Khan's party said it had presented six demands, which included the resignation of Sharif, for continuing discussions with the government, but the government said the demands had no legal basis.

-- Emily Schneider

India

SC asks Modi government to explain LoP status

The Indian Supreme Court told Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on Friday that it is concerned about the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) position in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) remaining vacant, and asked the central government to clearly state its position at the next hearing (Indian Express, Livemint, NDTV). A bench led by Chief Justice R. M. Lodha said that the LoP position "conveys a voice different from the government's," and further elaborated: "We are not waiting for any amendment or any session of the parliament. We will interpret it if the government does not do it by the next date of hearing."

?Although the Congress party had claimed that, as the single-largest opposition party, it should be recognized as the LoP, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan rejected their demand for the position on Tuesday. As per ?the Parliament?'s rules, to be eligible for the LoP post, the biggest opposition party in the Lok Sabha should have at least 10 percent ?(55) of the total seats. Congress managed to get only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year.

The judges commented on the vacant LoP status as they were hearing a case challenging the delay in appointing the members of the Lokpal, a national anti-graft ombudsman, which was passed by the Parliament in December 2013. The Lokpal's selection committee must include the LoP, along with Modi and Lodha. Speaking further about the anti-corruption Lokpal, the bench said: "The Act cannot be kept in cold storage if problems have emerged.... The Parliament may not have envisaged such a situation but it now needs to be interpreted so that the process is fast-tracked."

FM stirs controversy over 'One Small Incident Of Rape'

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley caused outrage on Thursday when he said: "One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of global tourism," at a tourism ministers' conference (Livemint, IBNLive). Jaitley clarified his statement on Friday, and said: "I regret that some word that I used was construed as insensitive, that was never my intention. I have been always been very outspoken about issues relating to crime against women. I am very sensitive to these issues myself" (NDTV). Congress leader Shobha Oza called Jaitley's comment "an idiotic and horrendous statement," and said he "must apologize to the women of the nation" (NDTV).? Congress party members protested outside the Bharatiya Janata Party office in New Delhi on Friday.

On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old student was brutally gangraped and tortured by six men on a moving bus in New Delhi. The woman died of her injuries a fortnight later, triggering nationwide protests and drawing massive international media coverage. In response to Jaitley's comments, the victim's father said: "He is talking about losses to the treasury. What about the irreparable loss that we have suffered? Does he even have an idea what the family of a rape victim has to undergo each day?"

U.S.-based economist likely to be India's chief economic adviser

U.S.-based economist Arvind Subramanian is set to be named as the chief economic adviser to Modi's government, according to sources at the finance ministry on Friday (Indian Express,WSJ, Economic Times). Subramanian, a Dennis Weatherstone Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, was recommended to the post by Jaitley. The chief economic adviser position has been vacant since September 2013, when Raghuram Rajan left the position to become the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, India's central bank. If confirmed for a three-year term, Subramanian will produce the annual Economic Survey, a document on the country's economic development, and a mid-year economic update that is presented to the Parliament. Subramanian obtained his undergraduate degree from St. Stephens College in  Delhi; his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad; and his M.Phil and D.Phil from the University of Oxford in England.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Afghanistan

Bergdahl swap was illegal

A review by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released on Thursday found that the Obama administration broke the law when it exchanged five Taliban commanders for captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl without giving Congress 30 days' notice. The GAO said that the Defense Department violated the Defense Appropriations Act when it failed to inform Congress about its plan to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and when it used money for the exchange that was not intended for that purpose. The Pentagon disagreed with the GAO's opinion, saying on Thursday that the Justice Department determined before the transfer that the move was legal. Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said: ""The administration had a fleeting opportunity to protect the life of a U.S. service member held captive and in danger for almost five years" (Post). He explained: "Under these exceptional circumstances, the administration determined that it was necessary and appropriate to forego 30 days' notice of the transfer in order to obtain Sgt. Bergdahl's safe return."

Red Cross says five Afghan staff freed

The International Committee of the Red Cross announced on Wednesday that five of its workers who were abducted for a week in Herat province have been freed from the local militia fighters who kidnapped them. Afghan Red Cross spokesman Hedaya Kaiyana told RFE/RL on Thursday that the workers had been freed after negotiations with the militia, but that no ransom was paid for their release. (RFE/RL). Afghan police and tribal elders were involved in the negotiation process that led to their release, according to a spokesman for the provincial security forces. The group was giving away live sheep to impoverished Afghans on August 14 when militants seized the sheep and kidnapped the workers.

--Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen

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