Editor's Note: On Monday, December 9, the AfPak Channel was relaunched as the South Asia Channel on foreignpolicy.com. While we will continue to provide you with news and commentary from and about Afghanistan and Pakistan, the New America Foundation has partnered with the South Asia Program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies to provide our readers with key stories and insights from India as well. Our daily brief now includes an India section, and India-related posts will appear on the newly redesigned site in the coming weeks. The site will also house South Asia-focused articles from other Foreign Policy contributors. For the latest from the site, visit southasia.foreignpolicy.com and follow us on Twitter: @FP_SouthAsia.
Border blockade risks billions
A day after U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, reports emerged on Tuesday that he had warned the country's leaders that they risk billions of dollars in U.S. aid if they do not resolve the current protests in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that are blocking NATO supplies from Afghanistan (VOA). Pakistan has received more than $10 billion in Coalition Support Funds from the Pentagon, making it the program's biggest financial recipient. According to Carl Woog, a Pentagon spokesman, Sharif said he would take "immediate action" to resolve the issue and assured Hagel that the situation would improve soon and that Pakistan would ensure the smooth exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan (Bloomberg, ET).
Imran Khan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leader who organized the protests against U.S. drone strikes in the country, reportedly saw Hagel's visit as a sign that the blockade -- which began on Nov. 23 -- was successfully pressuring the United States, according to PTI Information Secretary Shireen Mazari (Bloomberg). Mazari added that the party plans to continue its protests until the United States halts all of its drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal regions, or Sharif takes a firmer stance against the U.S. program. Khan also rejected a request on Monday from other NATO member countries that the supply route between Afghanistan and Pakistan be reopened, again linking the blockade to the U.S. drone strikes (ET).
Alternative economic options
With Hagel warning that it come become more difficult for the United States to commit large amounts of aid to Pakistan if the protests continue, Sharif turned to the European Union on Tuesday, telling a groups of ambassadors in Islamabad that Pakistan's economy could be restored with E.U. collaboration and support (ET). Further details about what those efforts would entail were not given.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry also announced on Tuesday that experts from Iran and Pakistan would meet soon to review an ongoing gas pipeline project, speeding up the countries' efforts to link Iran's South Pars gas field and consumers in Pakistan (Dawn, RFE/RL). While Iran has built most of the 900-km pipeline, Pakistan has made little progress on its section due to a lack of funds and warnings that it could be in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. The decision to "fast track implementation" of the project came during a meeting between Pakistan's Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and Iranian Minister of Petroleum, Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, according to the ministry's statement.
Seminary supports polio vaccine
One of Pakistan's most prominent seminaries publicly expressed support for the polio vaccine on Monday, issuing a fatwa declaring that the vaccine is both legitimate and Islamic, and urging parents to get their children vaccinated (RFE/RL). The madrassa, the Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqaniya mosque, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is believed to have strong influence over the Pakistani Taliban, who have long been suspicious of the polio vaccination program and have opposed it anti-Islamic. The decree comes a little less than a week after the World Trade Organization announced that Pakistan had topped the list of countries where the disease is still endemic (the other two are Nigeria and Afghanistan, in that order).
-- Bailey Cahall
Hazare renews hunger strike to push anti-corruption bill
Bolstered by the success of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Delhi's recent elections, anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare renewed his indefinite hunger strike among 5,000 supporters in his native Ralegan Siddhi, Maharashtra on Tuesday morning to pressure the Indian parliament to pass the ‘Jan Lokpal' Bill (BBC, Times of India). The bill, re-introduced in 2011 after Hazare-led anti-corruption protests erupted nationwide, aims to establish an ombudsman (Lokpal) to investigate cases of corruption. The protests came in the wake of several high profile scams in the sale of spectrum to private telecommunications companies and private profiteering by organizers of the Commonwealth Games.
Hazare's fasts ended with the passage of a watered-down version of Hazare's Bill in India's lower house in December 2011; the bill has since stalled in India's upper house of parliament. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Hazare shortly after he began his fast on Tuesday, assuring him the government was serious about passing the bill in the current session of parliament (Indian Express). The AAP is led by one of Hazare's top aides and adopted the creation of a Jan Lokpal in Delhi as a central plank during the elections.
Sonia Gandhi calls party meeting over election defeat
After admitting the Indian Congress Party needed "deep introspection" after its electoral defeat, party president Sonia Gandhi summoned a meeting of senior party leaders to chart the organization's next steps (Hindustan Times). Party general secretaries and observers from the five states that held elections -- Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Mizoram -- were in attendance, as were senior ministers from the United Progressive Alliance government, Ghulam Nabi Azad and AK Antony, who missed a cabinet meeting to attend. Gandhi was believed to have highlighted infighting among state units as being cause for concern, while party functionaries blamed price increases and inadequate preparation (many were appointed state secretary less than six months before the election) for the defeat.
Delhi logjam continues
As the prospect of a hung assembly in Delhi looms, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which garnered the most seats in the recent state elections, said it awaited a phone call from the state's Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to formally set up the next government (Firstpost, Indian Express). Under the Indian constitution, the single largest party can only form a government after it is invited to do by the president for a national election or the governor in state elections. Neither the BJP nor AAP, the party with the second largest number of seats, has staked a claim to the majority, and both parties have expressed their readiness to fight in elections again (Times of India). The AAP has reportedly begun preparations for the 2014 assembly elections in the neighboring state of Haryana (Economic Times). In related news, while it is yet unclear if Arvind Kejriwal will replace Sheila Dixit as chief minister, he will soon take her place in New Delhi's Municipal Council (Hindustan Times).
Nokia's unpaid India tax bill an obstacle to Microsoft deal
The Nokia Corporation may face a $3.4 billion tax bill in India as it tries to unfreeze local assets to close the $7.2 billion sale of its handset business to Microsoft Corporation by Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday (WSJ, Times of India). Nokia proposed setting aside almost $400 million to unfreeze its Indian assets, people familiar with the company's plans said (NYT). The company's back-tax bill was previously estimated at $340 million. In September, India froze some of Nokia's assets, including a large factory in Chennai, to ensure the company had sufficient funds to pay taxes. Indian tax authorities say Nokia owes the money on exemptions claimed on software exports, though Nokia denies breaking any tax rules.
Flashes of envy no more
India's Supreme Court has restricted the use of flashing red lights atop cars for government officials. Under the new ruling, vehicles belonging only to the president, prime minister, cabinet ministers, senior judges, and other ‘high constitutional functionaries' will carry red beacons, but no flashers and sirens. Coveted as a status symbol, government officials and other 'VVIPs' have often clamored to have red lights atop their car to signal their seniority, but the beacons were nuisances to commuters as the cars frequently held up traffic. And last October, a jewelry thief allegedly used a red beacon vehicle as his getaway car (BBC, Times of India).
-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Billions in U.S. aid approved
The U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees reached a deal on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 on Monday, approving $6.2 billion in U.S. aid to support the Afghan security forces (Pajhwok). The funding bill totals $632.8 billion, of which $80.7 billion is earmarked for overseas operations such as the war in Afghanistan. The money is designed to provide Afghan security forces with the capabilities needed to take full responsibility for the country's security by December 2014, when NATO combat troops are set to withdraw; support programs that recruit, retain, integrate, and train female officers; and build up Afghanistan's infrastructure. With the committees' agreement, the authorization bill will now go to both houses of Congress for approval and then to President Obama for his signature.
Afghanistan's own "Iran" option
Just as Pakistan has started looking at non-U.S.-led solutions to its various economic problems, a recent trip to Tehran by Afghan President Hamid Karzai shows that Kabul is also considering its own alternatives (RFE/RL). According to Graeme Smith, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, while Tehran cannot match the security Washington is offering Kabul in the as-yet-unsigned Bilateral Security Agreement, the Islamic republic's support could help Afghanistan develop a non-aid-dependent economy and restart the stalled reconciliation talks with the Afghan Taliban. With strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties, and growing economic and political partnerships, Omar Samad, a senior Central Asia fellow at the New America Foundation and a former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada, says it is not surprising that Karzai is looking to increase Afghanistan's connections with regional actors, especially amid heightening tensions with the United States.
Woman rescued from stoning
Police in northern Afghanistan rescued a woman on Tuesday who had been sentenced to death by stoning for allegedly cheating on her husband (AFP, RFE/RL). The woman, known only as Halima, had been turned over to the Taliban faction in Kunduz province after her husband accused her of infidelity for having an affair with a man in a neighboring village. According to Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for the provincial police, officers raided the remote village of Dasht-i-Archi when they learned about the planned execution, and while they saved Halima, the Taliban fled the scene before police arrived.
Steve Tatham, a British military officer and propaganda expert, recently wrote a report on U.S. "information operation and strategic operations" for the U.S. Army War College that noted U.S. efforts to denounce The Innocence of Muslims video last year ultimately missed their mark (USA Today). According to Tatham, the U.S. government purchased several television ads in Pakistan in September 2012 that featured statements by President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and while he credits the government with trying to do something to counter the riots over the video, the ads required access to a television set and the ability to understand English or the superimposed Urdu script, two requirements that are hard to come by in a country where between 30 percent to 40 percent of the population live beneath the poverty line and literacy is less that 55 percent.
-- Bailey Cahall
MARK WILSON/AFP/Getty Images