Karzai Visits India; Iran Cancels Pakistan Pipeline; Australia Ends Combat Mission in Afghanistan

India 

Karzai woos India Inc., reiterates BSA stance

During his four-day state visit to India, on Friday Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed progress on the 2011 bilateral agreement with India, the stalled Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, and the scope of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Speaking to the press in New Delhi, Karzai remarked that he was "very satisfied" with India's role in Afghanistan's reconstruction, adding that military training and assistance was "better than" what was reported in the press (NDTV, Times of India). He also addressed members of India's commerce and industry body, ASSOCHAM, in Pune during his visit, and described India's business community as "natural partners" in facilitating trade, while emphasizing Afghanistan's vast untapped mineral resources. Indian companies present at the event, however, expressed their cautiousness about investing in the country while Afghanistan was still unsafe (Bloomberg).

Meanwhile, some members of Afghanistan's Meshrano Jirga (upper house of parliament) asked him on Sunday to sign the BSA instead of seeking greater defense cooperation from India (Pajhwok). Sens. Ali Akbar Jamshedi and Hidayatullah Rihayee, legislators from Daikundi and Bamiyan provinces, respectively, said the United States and other Western nations were more capable of equipping and training the Afghan security forces, and that the longer Karzai delays in signing the security pact, "the happier the Taliban and other insurgent groups will be." Their comments came a day after Karzai reiterated his stance that he will not sign the BSA until the United States agrees to end raids on Afghan homes and help restart the stalled peace talks with the Afghan Taliban (Reuters, VOA). According to Karzai, the two conditions are "absolute prerequisites" for his endorsement of the security pact that would leave thousands of U.S. troops in the country when the NATO combat mission ends next December.

Supreme Court rejects plea to modify ruling on convicted politicians

India's Supreme Court turned down an appeal on Monday to include politicians who were convicted of serious offenses in the past in its July 10 ruling disqualifying convicted criminals from sitting in the country's parliament or state legislatures (The Hindu). Lok Prahi, an Indian non-governmental organization, filed two separate applications seeking to modify the July 10 order, which said the ruling would not affect sitting members of parliament or state legislatures who were convicted before the order was pronounced. The organization's second plea asked authorities to vacate the parliamentary seats of Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, a member from Bihar, and Congress leader Rasheed Masood, both of whom have been declared guilty and are being held in corruption cases. Twenty-seven members of parliament and legislative assemblies who have been convicted of crimes continue to serve in the legislative bodies, Lok Prahi said.

Lawmakers clash over AP bifurcation bill

The Andhra Pradesh (AP) state assembly began considering a bill for the bifurcation of the state on Monday, amid strong protests by lawmakers from Seemandhra (Times of IndiaNDTV). The Telangana legislators pushed for an immediate debate of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, which would carve the new state of Telangana out of AP, against the opposition of their counterparts from Seemandhra (the parts of AP that would remain after the separation of Telangana). The clash resulted in unprecedented conflict with Telangana legislators thumping their desks and staging a sit-in to push for an immediate debate. In a legislative council, Seemandhra legislators burned and tore up copies of the draft bill, and the opposing groups almost came to blows, with several legislators pushed to the ground during the struggle. In the end, both houses were adjourned, and it was not clear when the bill would be taken up for debate. President Pranab Mukherjee has requested that the bill be returned with comments by Jan. 23. 

A year since Delhi gang rape, media examines if any progress has been made 

On Dec. 16, 2012, a young physiotherapist was brutally raped by seven men aboard a moving bus in Delhi and died from injuries that occurred during the attack. One year later, international media took a look at strides India has made to prevent similar attacks and safety measures that have not yet been implemented (NDTV, Post). While India's parliament has passed laws awarding heftier punishments for those convicted of crimes against women, Asian Age, the Hindustan Times, and the Pioneer, among others, noted that attitudes towards women have not changed (BBC). The Hindustan Times, for example, reported that several judgments on rape cases have been biased, based on a woman's "chastity and marriageability," while Agence France Presse noted that justice is not as readily forthcoming for women in rural India (Hindustan Times, AFP, NDTV). Some media reports focused on micro-level changes in Indian behavior, such as the demand for self-defense classes, and the Wall Street Journal highlighted dispatches from a gender-sensitivity training workshop for policemen in Delhi (Reuters India Insight, WSJ India Realtime). Overall, the verdict in the media was that while there is greater discussion and introspection surrounding violence against women, such crimes have not yet abated.

Across the country, several vigils in remembrance of the victim and street performances were held to bring attention to what more could be done for women's safety (BBC). The central Indian government also issued a press release on Monday, detailing expenditures made on women's safety schemes under the Nirbhaya Fund by the Ministry of Finance (PIB).   

Masking the bitter taste of inflation

A new show in India is hoping to help cooks resolve an increasingly common conundrum in the country: how to cook without onions, a staple ingredient that has quadrupled in price this year (WSJ). Chef Pankaj Bhadouria, the winner of the first season of MasterChef India, teaches viewers of Kifayati Kitchen how to cook popular classics, such as chicken kali mirch -- chicken seasoned with black pepper -- and yam and lentil cutlets without using onions and tomatoes. Substitution is a dying art, according to Bhadouria, who adds: "How to use seasonal vegetables, what to cook with during economic hardship, variations on a recipe, all these exist in our culture." 

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson

Pakistan

Iran cancels pipeline 

After complaining that Pakistan had done little to construct its portion of a gas pipeline intended to bring natural gas from Iran to the power-starved country, Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Ali Majedi announced on Saturday that Iran was canceling a planned $500 million loan to help Pakistan complete the project (AP). Having already invested over $2 billion to build its portion of the pipeline, Majedi said Iran had no obligation to finance the construction of the Pakistani section and doesn't have the additional $2 billion needed. He added that Pakistan has welcomed Iran's offer to approach third parties, including European companies, to help it finance the remaining section of the pipeline.

Violent attacks leave at least four dead

At least three members of Pakistan's Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) were killed in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on Monday when a roadside bomb was detonated remotely near their vehicle (AP, Dawn, Pajhwok). According to BDU Assistant Inspector General Shafqat Malik, the incident occurred as the team went to inspect the site of another blast at a motorcycle repair shop (ET). Malik told reporters that while deaths were a "great loss," the unit's morale was high and said it would "continue its duty in the on-going war on terror." He added that while there are only 34 qualified and trained BDU employees in the province, the unit is actively trying to increase its ranks to ensure its presence in all 25 provincial districts.

Allama Nasir Abbas, a prominent Shiite cleric, was shot and killed on Sunday by unknown gunmen in Lahore (BBC). Police reported that Abbas had been heading home from a religious gathering when the attack occurred. Shiite Muslims gathered outside the governor's house on Monday to protest Abbas's murder and have blocked streets throughout the city (Dawn). No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, though an investigation is ongoing.

ISAF commander visits GHQ

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the U.S. commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, arrived in Rawalpindi on Monday and met with Pakistan's new Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, at the army's General Headquarters (Dawn). According to Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations team, Dunford arrived on a routine coordination visit, and the two military leaders "discussed matters of mutual interest," including improving communication across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. 

Dunford's visit came after reports emerged on Saturday of a suspected U.S. drone strike on a boat in the waters of the Kabul river along the countries' shared border (Dawn, ET). While there has been no official confirmation of the strike from Kabul, Islamabad, or Washington, reports have suggested that between four and seven suspected militants were injured or killed. 

Afghanistan

Heading home

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Monday that the country's last remaining combat troops in Afghanistan have withdrawn from Uruzgan province, ending Australia's 12-year combat mission (BBC, Pajhwok, VOA). With nearly 1,500 troops deployed to Afghanistan, Australia has been one of the coalition's largest non-NATO contributors. Four hundred military experts are expected to remain in the country to train Afghan security forces in Kabul and Kandahar.

Karzai notes consequences of BSA stance

As he spoke to reporters in New Delhi on Saturday, Karzai said that he understood his defiance of the United States by not signing the BSA would have "serious consequences," noting that the "Afghan people are short of resources. Our military and police will suffer" (RFE/RL). While there are concerns over what a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops -- a "zero option" threatened by Washington if the BSA is not signed soon -- will mean for Afghanistan's security forces, Khalil Sediq, the chairman of the Afghanistan Banks Association, noted on Monday that Karzai's stance on the BSA has also caused a flight of capital from the country (Pajhwok). Speaking at a meeting in Kabul, Sediq said uncertainty about the country's future has led to declining investments and a hesitation to expand businesses. Khan Afzal Hadawal, the deputy governor of Da Afghanistan Bank, countered that the country had the resources necessary to stabilize the economy.

Sediq's comments came just days after the Washington Post reported that "One-way, outbound flights have become the backbone of the beleaguered Afghan travel industry," with real estate prices plunging and the nation's currency steadily losing value (Post). According to Ahmed Shafiq, a manager at one of Kabul's most popular currency exchanges, it's a sign that "Afghans are losing hope." 

*** 

Twinsies

Agerola, a community in the Naples province of Italy and the ancestral home of Gen. Paolo Avitabile, an Italian soldier-turned-mercenary who was hired by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the 1800s to govern Wazirabad (modern-day Peshawar), recently sent a letter to Pervez Khattak, the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, expressing an interest in creating a twin city relationship with between the province's capital (ET). According to a letter from Agerola Mayor Luca Mascolo, the affiliation would encourage the study of cities' culture, art, literature, and language, as well as increase links between non-governmental organizations and trade associations operating in both places. Mascolo noted that "there is a growing awareness and appreciation between the two cities for each other's culture and people," and "We look forward to the limitless possibilities of this relationship."

-- Bailey Cahall 

Saurabh Das/AFP/Getty Images

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