Passing the torch
Iftikhar Chaudhry, chief justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, retired on Wednesday and was replaced by Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Thursday (Dawn, RFE/RL, Times of India, VOA, AFP, ET). Chaudhry, who helped oust former president Pervez Musharraf in 2008 and led the court in firing then-prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in 2012, is credited with promoting human rights in Pakistan. He has also been accused of taking partisan positions, although many say he brought independence to the judiciary. The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists said in a report published earlier this month that Chaudhry's court had gained "public acclaim for demanding government accountability," but noted that it also acted in a "political and partisan manner." Chaudhry served on the Supreme Court for over six years, the longest term in Pakistan's history.
Seven members of Pakistan's Sindh Rangers paramilitary group were injured and one was killed on Thursday when a bomb went off near their vehicle in Karachi (Dawn, ET). The bomb was remote-controlled and consisted of three to five kgs. of explosives, according to the Bomb Disposal Squad. The device was planted on a motorbike in the neighborhood of Landhi, but a search operation following the explosion failed to turn up any further evidence, though police have detained a number of people for questioning. At least two of the Rangers are in critical condition.
One man was killed and at least three others were wounded on Wednesday by an angry mob in Quetta (Dawn, ET). The violence began after a man at Quetta's Hazar Ganji fruit market found a crate of Iranian-grown pomegranates that were wrapped in pages torn from the Quran, according to Asad Gilani, Balochistan's provincial home secretary. A mob formed soon after the discovery and took up a chant against Shiite Muslims, who are a religious majority in Iran. The crowd gained momentum as they marched to Quetta's main market, the Liaquat Bazaar, where someone opened fire. According to RFE/RL, hundreds of Sunni men from Ahl-e Sunnat Waljamaat, a conservative Islamist party, were part of the crowd, calling for government action and saying that the fruit arrived from Iran already wrapped in pages from the Islamic holy book (RFE/RL). Police are investigating the incident.
-- Emily Schneider
Prominent leaders denounce SC ruling
A day after the Indian Supreme Court announced its verdict on Wednesday criminalizing gay sex, several prominent leaders have spoken out against the decision and in support of equal rights for the gay community. United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi said she was "disappointed" in the decision and added: "I hope that Parliament will address the issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those directly affected by the judgement" (Economic Times). Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram called the move "wrong" and said that "we had gone back to 1860," noting that while legislative options would take time, they would not be ruled out (NDTV). Rural Minister Jairam Ramesh termed the move "retrograde," saying it "does not do justice to a modern liberal India" (Times of India). Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal promised to bring a law to parliament ridding the Indian Penal Code of Article 377, saying that: "Time is of the essence. We must de-criminalise adult consensual relationships" (NDTV). Meanwhile, the human rights chief at the United Nations, Navi Pillay, said the recent Supreme Court judgment violates terms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an agreement ratified by India in 1979 (Reuters, NDTV).
Parliamentarians caught in oil bribe scam
A sting operation by investigative website Cobrapost caught several members of parliament who were willing to lobby for a fake oil firm in exchange for money (Cobrapost, Times of India). Dubbed "Operation Falcon Claw," the investigation accuses 11 MPs from across party lines of being willing to issue letters of recommendation for a fictitious company, Mediterranean Oil Ltd, to secure exploration and rigging rights; this without checking its antecedents and in exchange for sums as little as Rs. 50,000 ($810) and as high as Rs. 50,00,000 ($81,000). Some even recommended other MPs who could be approached to increase lobbying pressure on the petroleum ministry. Parliamentarians caught requesting the bribes came from parties as varied as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, Janata Dal (United), the Indian Congress party, and the Bahujan Samaj party.
Lokpal Bill to be brought before Rajya Sabha
As Anna Hazare's hunger strike enters its third day, the Indian government promisesd to bring the Lokpal Bill into the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian's parliament, "immediately" (Times of India). Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said a select committee created to look into the bill has asked the Rajya Sabha to take it up for discussion. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath added that: "Our priority is to pass the Lokpal Bill." The bill aims to create an ombudsman who will look into cases of corruption and was first demanded by Hazare during a hunger strike in 2011 that turned into a nationwide anti-corruption movement.
India expands insider-trading rules
New rules put up for comment by the Securities and Exchange Board of India on Wednesday would include government employees and sitting judges among those that can be prosecuted for insider trading (Indian Express, Reuters, Times of India). The board issued draft regulations that would broaden the definition of "insider" to include immediate relatives, company employees, directors, public servants, and other people holding statutory positions. Employees with sensitive information will be required to disclose their trades to their company, and those who are perpetually in possession of sensitive information will be given a window to trade in their securities through a pre-scheduled plan. Under the current rules, only senior executives are liable for trading violations. India's insider trading rules have not been changed for two decades, despite major transformations in almost all other aspects of stock trading.
High court lifts Nokia asset-freeze
A New Delhi court ruled on Thursday that Nokia can transfer Indian assets that were seized by authorities in a tax dispute, removing a hurdle to the completion of the company's $7.4 billion deal with Microsoft (FT, Economic Times). The Delhi High Court also said that Nokia must deposit $367 million into an escrow account as a condition for lifting the freeze on its assets. The tax case will continue separately. If Nokia loses, it may have to pay as much as $3.4 billion, including penalties and interest. Tax authorities had issued an order to freeze Nokia's physical assets, including a plant in the southern city of Chennai, one of the company's biggest phone-making factories.
-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Second Kabul blast an accident, not attack
After a large explosion shook central Kabul on Thursday, Afghan officials announced that the incident was the result of an accidental mortar detonation at an arms depot near the country's National Directorate of Security (NDS), not a militant attack (AFP, BBC, Reuters, RFE/RL). Coming a day after an attack on a German convoy entering NATO headquarters at the Kabul International Airport, the explosion sparked a brief panic in the Afghan capital. But, as with the airport attack, no casualties were reported. The blast, which occurred near the U.S. embassy in Kabul and NATO's headquarters, damaged one NDS building and set off emergency sirens throughout the city. According to Gen. Farid Shamal, a NDS spokesman, the explosion was caused by an electrical short, which ignited the ordnance in the building (Pajhwok).
U.S. backing off BSA deadline
As the standoff over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the United States and Afghanistan continues into its third week, the Obama administration has begun to soften its demand that the security pact be signed by the end of the year. While U.S. officials insist that the administration could still end all U.S. military support by the end of 2014 if Afghan President Hamid Karzai or his successor doesn't sign the BSA, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday that while it should be finalized by the end of the year to help facilitate the planning process, "if they sign it on Jan. 10 [is that] going to be a huge problem? Probably not" (Post).
Amb. James F. Dobbins, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, echoed this stance, according to the Washington Post, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that: "We haven't at this point set a date beyond which we're no longer prepared to wait. We simply believe there's a big cost in waiting, and it's a cost [that's] going to be paid for by the Afghan people."
In an interview with RFE/RL, Eklil Hakimi, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, said the BSA would serve as a basis for "a relationship based on trust" between the two countries, suggesting that the security agreement would be signed at some point, but he reiterated Karzai's stance that it is something to be addressed by the next administration (RFE/RL). Afghanistan will be holding presidential elections next April. Bonus read: "Karzai: There is ‘No Deadline' to Sign Troop Deal," Stephanie Gaskell (Defense One).
Compensation claims denied
A German court threw out a compensation claim on Wednesday by relatives of the scores of Afghan civilians killed in a German-ordered NATO air strike in Afghanistan in 2009, ruling that Georg Klein, the commander who ordered the strike, had not acted negligently (Reuters, RFE/RL). The strike, which killed more than 90 Afghans, was ordered to prevent two fuel trucks NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban fighters in Kunduz province from being used by the insurgents. Though the victims were identified as civilians, the Bonn regional court was "convinced" that Klein "did not act in dereliction of his duty... He correctly identified the fuel tankers as a [sic] military objects." It added that it believed the German commander had made sufficient checks before authorizing the strike, asking contacts on the ground seven times if civilians were present and hearing seven times that there were not. Relatives of the victims who were present protested the decision outside of the court.
Glitter and gold
While many Afghans are beginning to panic about the loss of foreign investment and security when coalition combat troops withdraw at the end of next year, and businessmen are fleeing to Pakistan, Turkey, or Dubai, Mohammed Ibrahim Caravan is confident in the future and betting on his home country (LAT). Caravan is the man behind Saleem Caravan City, a brand-new 160-acre housing complex in Kabul that features two mosques, a school, a shopping mall, and a swimming pool. The $160-million facility is also surrounded by security walls, features a high-tech security system, and armed guards patrol the grounds. Nearly 200 of the 300 homes within the gated community - selling for between $250,000 and $300,000 - have been purchased, many by top officials in the Afghan army, police, and government.
-- Bailey Cahall
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images