Kerry: U.S. Regrets Khobragade Treatment; Dozens Killed in Pakistan Security Operation; Carney: BSA Negotiations Are ‘Over’
Kerry expresses regret over Khobragade, attention shifts to maid
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon on Wednesday to discuss the recent arrest of Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her domestic help (Hindu Business Line, Hindustan Times, NBC, Times of India). Allegations that Khobragade was mistreated during processing have sparked protests outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and an escalating diplomatic row between the two countries. Ignoring diplomatic protocol, Kerry telephoned Menon from his plane after he learned that Salman Khurshid, his Indian counterpart, was busy in parliament. According to State Department spokesperson Marie Harf, Kerry expressed his regret over the events during his conversation with Menon, and his concern that the issue not hurt the two countries' close and vital relationship. Kerry also raised the issue of the security of U.S. diplomats in India after hearing reports that India had removed the concrete barriers outside the embassy.
Dana Sussman, the lawyer for Sagreeta Richard, Khobragade's employee, said she was disappointed and frustrated that the media and officials had focused on the treatment of the Indian diplomat, rather than the crimes committed against her client (Hindu Business Line). "The actual story has been lost" in the uproar that has erupted over the case, said Sussman, staff attorney in the anti-trafficking program at Safe Horizon, a victim assistance agency. "[T]here are charges against Khobragade for violating U.S. law and those charges relate to the underpayment of wages to a domestic worker. That is the story."
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York prosecuting the case, defended his decision to charge Khobragade in a strongly worded statement on Wednesday (NYT, VOA, WSJ). Bharara said the diplomat's conduct showed that "she clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers." Why is there "so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?" he asked.
Mayawati, the chief of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Dalit icon, accused the government on Wednesday of dragging its feet in the case because Khobragade is a Dalit, or member of a Scheduled Caste, a historically disadvantaged community in India. The case "has also unmasked the [central government's] anti-Dalit mentality," Mayawati said outside parliament. "Had it been any other woman, the government would have taken some major action by now," she argued.
AAP gets more time to decide on government formation
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde stated on Thursday that the central government was willing to give Delhi's Aam Admi Party (AAP) until Monday to decide whether they would be willing to form a government in the state (The Hindu). With 28 seats, the party is eight seats short of a majority in the state assembly, but has refused to form an alliance with either the Indian Congress Party or the BJP. The BJP, with 32 seats, declined to form a government last week and opted instead to run in fresh elections.
In a bid to seek popular opinion on the next course of action, the AAP encouraged responses from its electorate and has received over 450,000 text messages, emails, and phone calls. It will continue to solicit opinions through Sunday evening (Economic Times, NDTV).
Meanwhile, party leader Arvind Kejriwal spoke out against media reports alleging a rift between him and anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, calling Hazare his "guru" and alleging that "crores" had been spent by rival political parties to create the impression of a divide (Times of India).
Chidabaram: India prepared to deal with U.S. bond tapering
India is better prepared to deal with the consequences of a mild tapering of the U.S. Federal Reserve's bond-buying program than it was earlier this year, finance minister P. Chidambaram said in a statement on Thursday (Mint, Times of India, The Hindu). According to Chidambaram, the markets have already factored in the reserve's long-anticipated decision. The U.S. central bank said on Wednesday night that it will begin lowering the amount of securities it purchases in January from $85 billion to $75 billion per month for 2014. India's economic affairs secretary, Arvind Mayaram, echoed the comments, telling reporters that the country is in much better shape due to measures to bolster foreign exchange reserves and control the current account deficit. The rupee and Indian stock markets declined only slightly after the news broke on Thursday, with the S&P BSE Sensex closing 0.9 percent lower at 20675.32 and the National Stock Exchange's 50-share Nifty down 1 percent to 6156.85 (Mint, WSJ). India has attracted $19 billion in foreign institutional investor inflow so far this year; $7.5 billion of that came after September, when the reserve's decision to postpone the taper to 2014 pushed Indian stock markets to all-time highs (Business Standard).
Ministry of Defence Releases Year End Review
India's Ministry of Defence released a review of its achievements for the year on Thursday, and has named its rescue and relief operations during the flash floods that occurred in Uttarakhand in June as its most visible accomplishment (Press Information Bureau). The review highlights several other accomplishments in research and development, such as the launch of indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, and the successful testing of long-range missiles, including the Agni-V. The ministry counts the acquisition of its second aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya; the commissioning of a MiG29K squadron; and a "record" number of joint naval exercises as additional milestones. The review comes a day before the first indigenously built supersonic fighter, the Tejas Mark I, is expected to receive operational clearance (Times of India).
-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Dozens dead in heavy fighting in North Waziristan
Dozens of suspected militants were killed or wounded in the Mir Ali section of Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region on Thursday during a raid by Pakistani security forces, though the exact number of casualties is not yet known (AFP, BBC, Dawn, RFE/RL). According to reports, Pakistan's army conducted raids on two hotels in the area after a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck into a military compound on Wednesday, killing five soldiers and wounding at least 34 others (AFP, Dawn, ET). Ansarul Mujahideen, a militant group with ties to the Pakistani Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, the Taliban's former leader, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Nov. 1.
Meanwhile, as protests organized by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party against the U.S. strikes continued blocking NATO supply trucks from leaving Afghanistan and crossing through the Torkham Gate in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Wednesday, U.S. officials said they might have to start flying the military equipment out of Afghanistan instead (Dawn). The admission comes more than a week after Pakistani officials told U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel that they would take "immediate action" to stop the protests, with little progress actually seen. According to the U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, there are about a hundred trucks stacked up at the border, with hundreds more loaded and waiting at compounds around Afghanistan. Sending the trucks over the Pakistani land routes will cost about $5 billion, while flying the cargo out will cost between five and seven times that.
As the PTI protests neared going into a fourth week, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution on Wednesday that included a call for states using drone strikes as a counterterrorism measure to comply with international law (Dawn, ET). The section on drones, which was the result of intense efforts by the Pakistani delegation, was included in a larger 28-paragraph resolution, titled "Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism," that addressed a number of human rights issues. The resolution notes that state use of unmanned aircraft should "comply with their obligations under international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality." It was the first time the General Assembly has spoken out on the use of armed drones.
New Pakistani envoy to India announced
Abdul Basit, Pakistan's current ambassador to Germany, was named the country's the new high commissioner to India on Thursday, after officials deemed the earlier choice, Syed Ibne Abbas, "too junior" for the role (Economic Times, The Hindu, NDTV). Basit's appointment marks the fourth high-profile replacement of a Pakistani envoy within the last month; he is set to replace current High Commissioner Salman Bashir. Since joining the Foreign Service in 1982, Basit has held diplomatic assignments in Moscow and New York, and once served as a spokesman for the Foreign Office.
As media reports continued to come out about the negative impact Afghan President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States is having on the Afghan economy, the White House took its firmest stance on the stalled security pact, saying it could not wait any longer for changes to come from Kabul (Pajhwok). Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters at his daily news conference on Wednesday: "There is not time here. We cannot, as has been suggested, wait for further developments in Afghanistan. This [agreement] was negotiated in good faith; the negotiation is over. There are no changes that are going to be made to that agreement." Carney added that the BSA "can either be signed or not signed, and we believe the message is clear, emanating from Washington and from our representatives in Kabul, that it's time to sign this agreement."
Meanwhile, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, a member of a Pakistani delegation currently visiting Afghanistan, expressed his support for Karzai's decision, saying: "This is totally the internal matter of Afghanistan, the Loya Jirga endorsed the signing of the security agreement and Afghanistan is a sovereign country" (TOLO News). Sherpao went on to say that: "We just want peace and security in this country and we will support any decision taken by the Afghan government."
His comments somewhat conflicted with those of Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's advisor on foreign affairs, who told the Pakistani Senate on Wednesday that the country was remaining neutral on the BSA and maintaining a policy on non-interference in Afghanistan (Pajhwok).
Helmand peace deal?
As the war of words over the BSA continued, the New York Times reported on Wednesday that an Afghan National Army commander stationed in Helmand province's deadly Sangin district has brokered a cease-fire and turf-sharing agreement with the local Taliban contingent (NYT). While the exact details of the accord are unknown, the Times notes that it is "an example of the sort of ground-level bargaining that some see as increasingly likely once international troops withdraw next year." According to the deputy district governor and the local police commander, the deal involved ceding at least two checkpoints in the district to the Taliban; a delegation from Kabul is currently investigating the situation.
Ethnic divisions exposed
The Afghan government's efforts to introduce new biometric national identification cards in time for next April's presidential and provincial elections is causing an identity crisis in the country, according to RFE/RL (RFE/RL). The report notes that the government wants to use the cards to help minimize voter fraud and promote national unity, but the omission of citizens' ethnicity -- which would be included in the card's smart chip, but not listed on the card itself -- has caused fights among politicians and walkouts in parliament. Those opposed to the cards are concerned that putting everyone under an "Afghan" designation would be politically advantageous for Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group.
Sweets and shawls
While the PTI protests blocking the Torkham Gate have raised tensions between the U.S. and Pakistani governments, they have also irked Pakistani trucker unions, several of which threatened to go on strike when some of the drivers were roughed up by protestors. In a bid to make peace with Afghans who also complained that the protests were adversely affecting their businesses, PTI workers distributed jaggery -- a date/sugar candy -- and shawls to members of the Afghan Transit Trade union on Wednesday (ET). According to Sajjad Nangash, the district president of the PTI's youth organization, the gifts were a "goodwill gesture and to clarify any misconception about protesters hurting trade between the two neighbouring countries." While likely appreciated, it is unclear if the handouts had their desired effect.
-- Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.