Most Americans Say Afghan War Not Worth Fighting; Musharraf Breaks Silence; Indian Government Asks for Review Of Gay Sex Ban
Not worth it
Two-thirds of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Thursday, "matching peak criticism of the war in Iraq" (ABC News, Post). The poll, which was conducted from Dec. 12 to Dec. 15, found that the criticism of the war held majorities across all demographic groups, though independents and liberals (71 and 78 percent, respectively) were more critical than conservatives (61 percent). However, despite the criticism and the recent standoff between Washington and Kabul over the Bilateral Security Agreement, 55 percent favored keeping some U.S. troop presence in the country for training and counterinsurgency purposes.
Kidnapped, hanged, and shot
Afghan police are investigating the kidnappings and brutal murders of a female police officer and a pregnant teacher in Uruzgan province, after their bodies were discovered on Wednesday outside Tarinkot, the provincial capital, near a foreign military base that was recently handed over to Afghan troops (Reuters, RFE/RL). According to Abdullah Hemmat, a provincial government spokesman, the two women -- who were sisters-in-law - were hanged and then shot. Family members told the police that the women had been missing since Monday. No one has claimed responsibility for the killings, though provincial police chief Matiullah Khan said he believes they are linked to family feuds.
Reports of the deaths emerged as women's rights advocates began expressing concern over the fates of Afghan female prisoners once foreign troops withdraw from the country (Reuters). One report cites the case of Farina, who like most Afghans goes by one name. Farina is serving a 20-year sentence in Herat province for stabbing her husband to death after he sold their three-year-old daughter to support his drug habit. While the first four years of her incarceration have been relatively comfortable -- foreign aid donors have ensured regular meals, heating, and healthcare -- as the Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team, which is the prison's main benefactor, winds down its operations, that could change. Advocates are concerned about what will happen to these prisoners, as many Afghan attitudes towards women have not changed, and the government's limited resources will likely go towards fighting the Taliban instead.
Musharraf speaks out
Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf spoke out for the first time since he was put under house arrest earlier this year, giving an interview to Pakistan's private ARY television channel on Thursday night. Musharraf, who is facing several charges of murder, restricting the judiciary, and treason, defended his nine-year rule, saying: "I am pretty sure I did not commit any wrong thing. Whatever I did was for the betterment and welfare of Pakistan and its people" (BBC). However, he did "seek forgiveness" from those who think "I have committed a mistake" (Dawn). The former military ruler also asked the people to support the country's powerful army and Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, and expressed his support for conducting peace talks with the Taliban (ET).
North Waziristan raids
The Pakistani army reported on Thursday that at least 33 suspected militants were killed and 12 were wounded during security raids they conducted in Mir Ali, the second largest town in North Waziristan (ET, Pajhwok, VOA). The vast majority of the casualties occurred when the army conducted raids in the area after a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck into a military compound on Wednesday evening, killing five soldiers and wounding at least 34 others (NYT). According to Pakistani officials, 10 more people, described as "Uzbek militants," were killed during an army search operation in the town. Local tribesmen, however, disputed these accounts, claiming that at least 25 civilians, including women and children, were killed by the military.
No one was killed in Balochistan on Friday when an improvised explosive device was detonated near a girls' college in the town of Chaman, though three people were injured (Dawn, ET). According to Atif Ikram, a local police police, the bomb was planted on a motorbike that was parked between the college and the local rail station. It is unclear if the school or Pakistani security forces were the targets of the attack; no one has claimed responsibility for the incident.
Pakistani aid threatened
The U.S. National Defense Authorization Bill of 2014 recently approved by the U.S. House of Representatives will continue aid to Pakistan, but with a few new caveats, the Pakistani press reported on Friday (Dawn, ET). According to reports, no funds will be appropriated until U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel certifies to congressional committees that Pakistan is taking appropriate actions against terrorists operating along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The funding has also been reduced from $1.65 billion in 2013 to $1.5 billion in 2014. The development came a little more than a week after Hagel warned Pakistani leaders that it would be difficult to maintain political support in Washington for aid as long as NATO supply trucks are blocked from crossing through the Torkham Gate border crossing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; the trucks have been prevented from passing through the gate for about four weeks by protestors opposing U.S. drone strikes in the area.
Chaudhry to be new foreign secretary
The Pakistani government officially announced on Thursday that Aizaz Chaudhry will become the country's next foreign secretary, replacing Jalil Abbas Jillani and ending weeks of speculation and uncertainty about the next Foreign service chief (Dawn). Abdul Basit, the current Pakistani ambassador to Germany, was originally selected to replace Jillani, but he will now become the high commissioner to India. Chaudhry, a career diplomat, joined the Foreign Service in 1980.
Here for the party
A new Afghan political party, the United Nation of Afghanistan, was formally announced in Kabul on Friday at a gathering of about 3,000 supporters (Pajhwok). Abdur Rahim Ayubi, a representative from Kandahar province, told reporters that he had been chosen to lead the new group, which is focused on peace, national unity, and civic engagement, and has 20,000 members in 30 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. Ayubi also promised the party would work to end ethnic and linguistic biases in the country, as well as corruption, and protect women's rights.
-- Bailey Cahall
Government petitions Supreme Court to review gay sex ban
The Indian government filed a review petition on Friday against a recent Supreme Court ruling that restored a colonial era ban on gay sex in India (BBC, NDTV, Economic Times, Indian Express). The Ministry of Home Affairs asked for an open hearing against the ruling, calling it "erroneous" and against the principles of equality and liberty enshrined in the Indian constitution. On Dec. 11, the Delhi High Court set aside a 2009 verdict that decriminalized gay sex, and upheld the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian penal code, which criminalizes intercourse "against the order of nature."
Convictions under the ban are rare, but gay activists say that police have used the law to harass and intimidate homosexuals. The Supreme Court ruling has been heavily criticized by government officials, with Congress party president Sonia Gandhi saying it is "an archaic, unjust law," and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram arguing the ruling has taken Indian "back to 1860." The BJP has expressed ambivalence over the ruling, with Arun Jaitley, the opposition's leader in the Rajya Sabha (India's upper house of parliament), saying the debate is not yet over (Economic Times).
Indian army, Afghan special forces carrying out first joint exercise
The Indian army is training nearly 60 members of the Afghan special forces in the deserts of Rajasthan, army officials said on Friday, as Afghanistan prepares to secure the country after the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014 (Live Mint, NDTV). The training began earlier this month and is focused on counter-insurgency and counterterrorism operations. This is the first joint exercise between Afghan special forces and Indian troops, though Afghan military officers have been attending military courses in India for years. In addition to training for its forces, Afghanistan recently asked India for military equipment, including helicopters, tanks, and field guns. India, however, has been reluctant to deliver heavy weapons to the country for fear of provoking Pakistan and other armed groups in Afghanistan.
Khobragade standoff continues
The diplomatic standoff between the United States and India over the recent treatment of Devyani Khobragade continued on Friday, as India demanded an unconditional apology from the United States and the dropping of charges of visa fraud against the former deputy consul general (Economic Times). U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf reiterated the United States' stance that this is a law enforcement issue and the charges would not be dropped, adding that Khobragade's transfer to India's permanent mission at the U.N. did not grant her "retroactive immunity.'" Indian Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid formally addressed the government's progress on the issue in a statement to the Rajya Sabha, asking politicians across all parties to put forward a united front in the media and saying that the Finance Ministry would begin streamlining hiring practices for staff serving in Indian missions abroad (PIB). Sections of the Indian press continued to be critical of India's manner of dealing with diplomatic crises, adding that an Indian sailor released this week after five months in a Togo jail could have been out sooner had the government acted more swiftly (BBC).
Pre-poll alliance murmurs
With national elections less than six months away, regional political parties have begun stating their conditions for pre-poll alliances, as well as their coalition preferences. Media reports suggest that Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, who had been released on bail last Friday after being handed a five-year sentence on corruption charges, is considering allying with the Congress Party to jointly contest elections in Bihar (Hindustan Times). Reacting to the news, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had raised the prospect of his own alliance with Congress earlier this year, said Congress and RJD were "natural allies" and that his party, the Janata Dal United, was banking on the people's vote to see it through election season (Economic Times). The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party said it would like to see current Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha as prime minister, possibly ruling out an alliance with Congress and the BJP. Tamil Nadu currently hold 39 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house), but the AIADMK is expected to win many of these seats after securing over a two-third majority in the 2011 assembly elections (Mint). Tamil Nadu's other major political party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, stated on Friday it would remain in an agreement with the Congress Party's United Progressive Alliance and dismissed reports it was looking to side with the BJP in national elections (The Hindu).
Indigenous aircraft gets operational clearance
India's first indigenously designed light combat aircraft, Tejas Mark I, received initial operation clearance on Friday at a ceremony in Bangalore (Times of India, NDTV, WSJ). Indian defense minister A.K. Antony handed over a "Release to Service" document to Indian Air Force chief NAK Browne, paving the way for the induction of the Tejas into the Indian Air Force. The air force plans to integrate the new aircraft into its existing fleet over the next 12 to 15 months, and have the Tejas battle ready by the end of 2015. The plane, India's first locally designed and developed supersonic fighter jet, has been in the making for almost three decades and has seen several delays and huge cost overruns.
Three peacekeepers killed in Sudan
Three Indian peacekeepers were killed in South Sudan on Friday as attackers stormed a United Nations base where civilians had taken refuge from violence (Times of India). About 1,500-2,000 rebels from the Nuer, the country's second-largest ethnic group, stormed the base in Jonglei state, targeting about 30 members of the majority Dinka ethnic community who had sought shelter in the base. Forty-three Indian peacekeepers were present in the base, along with six U.N. police advisers. The U.N. Mission in South Sudan strongly condemned the attack and sent 60 troops to reinforce in the base and helicopters to evacuate the staff (Live Mint).
-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Edited by Peter Bergen.
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