December 13, 2013

Urge Karzai to ink security pact, US tells India

Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC


US President Barack Obama’s administration -- frustrated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s reluctance to sign a security agreement that would keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 -- has asked India to lean on the Afghan President to initial the pact.
The Obama administration senses an opportunity for this matter to be raised when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets Karzai in New Delhi on Friday.
“The United States did tell us that: President Karzai is coming. Perhaps it is a good idea to convey that it would be good to finalise this (US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement),” an Indian official said on the condition of anonymity.
The request was conveyed to Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh who wrapped up three days of meetings in Washington on Wednesday. Sujatha met senior officials at the State Department, the Pentagon and top lawmakers on Capitol Hill. US Secretary of State John F Kerry dropped in on Sujatha’s meeting with his deputy, William Burns, at the State Department on Tuesday.
US officials have sought the help of Afghanistan’s neighbours to urge Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that sets the framework for a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan, but is also key to billions of dollars in critical military and civilian aid to Afghanistan.
“India has always welcomed a BSA between the United States and Afghanistan, without getting into the details as to what it is in its present form. That is something that is for Afghanistan to decide and for it to come to an understanding with the United States,” the Indian official said.
“In our interactions with our foreign partners … we say it would be a good idea. We say, ‘Yes, we think it would be good for Afghanistan to sign this agreement,’” the Indian official added.
A loya jirga in Kabul in November approved the BSA and asked Karzai to sign it by the end of the year. But Karzai has refused to do so, while setting new conditions for the US.
James Dobbins, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as well as the leaders of Russia, China and Pakistan, have all personally urged Karzai to sign the BSA.
“And there is ... overwhelming support within the population (for the BSA). And I’m hopeful that over time that will begin to have an effect along with whatever advice he gets from friendly neighbours of whom, for instance, his upcoming visit to India could, I think, be quite influential because he highly respects and has good relations with the Indian Government,” Dobbins said.
The Obama administration has kept open the option of withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. US officials mentioned this so-called zero option in their discussions with Sujatha Singh and her delegation in Washington.
On a visit to Kabul in November, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Karzai that the US would have no choice but to start planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no US or NATO troops in Afghanistan. Karzai, however, appears willing to wager that the Obama administration would not make good on its threat.
In 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement with the Obama administration led the US to pull out all its troops in December that year.
While in India, Karzai is expected to follow up on a wish list he presented to New Delhi in May for military hardware, including helicopters, tanks and artillery.
India has invested $2 billion in aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan. It has also trained Afghan military officers. However, New Delhi has stopped short of selling weapons to Afghanistan out of concern that such transfers would provoke Pakistan.
The Indian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said a decision on Karzai’s wishlist would be made sometime this week.
Ignoring most voices
The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) sets the framework for a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan
PM Manmohan Singh will meet Karzai in New Delhi on Friday
Manmohan Singh and leaders of Russia, China and Pakistan have reportedly urged Karzai to sign the BSA
A loya jirga in Kabul in November approved the BSA and asked Karzai to sign it by the end of the year
But Karzai has refused to do so, while setting new conditions for the US
India seeks access to Headley
WASHINGTON: India has sought access to LeT operative David Headley, the Mumbai terror attack convict now lodged in a US prison, as it insisted on bringing to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 assault. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who concluded her four- day US trip during which she met top American officials, strongly raised the issue of access to 52-year-old Headley by Indian intelligence agencies, sources said. Remaining non-committal, the US officials said that they were working on it. — PTI

Nanny rocks US relations


Devyani Khobragade
New Delhi, Dec. 13: India today summoned US ambassador Nancy Powell to register its strongest protest against America in several years after New York police arrested a 39-year-old Indian diplomat posted there.
Devyani Khobragade was arrested on Thursday morning while she was dropping her daughter to school, handcuffed in court and released on bail only hours later on a bond of $250,000 (Rs 1.55 crore at current exchange rates).
Khobragade, the deputy chief of mission at the Indian consulate in New York, has been in the US for less than a year, and is accused by Manhattan’s Indian-American US attorney Preet Bharara of furnishing fake documents to obtain a visa for an Indian nanny.
Sangeeta Richard, the nanny who is absconding since July but has complained to the police against Khobragade, went to the US on an Indian government official passport as an employee of a diplomat, officials here said.
The judge ordered Khobragade, who pleaded not guilty, not to leave the US and set the next hearing for January 13.
A criminal complaint in the Manhattan court alleged that though the minimum US hourly wage in the area then (2012) was $7.25 (around Rs 398 at the then exchange rates), the housekeeper was paid only $3.31 (around Rs 182) an hour, PTI reported.
The complaint claimed that the visa application said the housekeeper would be paid $4,500 (Rs 2.47 lakh) a month or $28 (Rs 1,540) an hour. But the diplomat allegedly reached an agreement to pay the housekeeper Rs 30,000 a month. At 40 hours a week, it was equivalent to $573.07 a month or $3.31 an hour at the exchange rates prevailing then. (The maid was supposed to begin working in November 2012.)
The diplomat faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted on two counts.
It is usual for nannies and housemaids travelling with diplomats to get official visas. But it also means in this case that the charges against Khobragade, if proven, will raise questions on negligence — at the least — on the part of the Indian government in allowing fraud to be committed in seeking official visas.
“We are shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the US authorities,” ministry of external affairs joint secretary and spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.
“There is nothing, nothing that entails the humiliation of a young woman diplomat with two children publicly,” the foreign ministry spokesperson added.
Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s charge d’affairs at its embassy in Washington, has also “forcefully” communicated India’s objections to Nisha Desai Biswal, nominated this year as assistance secretary of state in charge of south and central Asia by President Barack Obama, officials said.
India’s reaction in Khobragade’s case is unlike anything New Delhi has displayed in recent years.
Summoning diplomats of a foreign nation is a standard mechanism used by nations to articulate concerns. India, Akbaruddin said, had told the US embassy in New Delhi in “no uncertain terms” that Khobragade’s arrest was “absolutely unacceptable.”
Officials confirmed to The Telegraph that India has not summoned a US ambassador to its foreign office in several years — not for protests against personal humiliation and not to articulate concerns over policies.
Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh’s rare decision to summon Powell on Friday was driven by key arguments that officials said make Khobragade’s arrest distinct from other recent disputes with the US and other countries.
First, officials said, India is convinced that New York law enforcement officials severely overreached in arresting Khobragade. The diplomat had in September obtained an order from Delhi High Court restraining Richard, the nanny, from instituting any actions and proceedings against her outside India.
US authorities were made aware of the high court order, and so had “no business” arresting her, an official said. The nanny’s official visa has also been scrapped, the official said.
Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, local police can arrest foreign diplomats on their land in serious cases of crime — but only after a series of procedures that include reaching out to the country’s mission.
Bharara’s office, officials here said, never contacted the Indian embassy in Washington, consulate in New York, or Khobragade herself, before arresting her.
“She wasn’t running away anywhere,” an official said. “They could have told the mission head that they have concerns and need to question her, instead of publicly humiliating her when she was dropping her daughter to school.”
Second, India recognises that an indictment for Khobragade would mean an embarrassment to the country — not just because she is an Indian diplomat but because India could be accused of overlooking immigration fraud committed on an official passport.
In Mumbai, Uttam Khobragade, the father of Devyani, lashed out at the US for the diplomat’s “unwarranted” arrest and demanded an apology.
“They have no powers to arrest her like this when her husband is away in Beirut for a conference and she is alone with two small daughters. They arrested her in a public place like a school, and without lady police. Where is their jurisdiction when the matter is clearly a civil case between two Indian citizens?” said the retired IAS officer whose name had cropped up in the Adarsh Housing Society scam probe. Devyani owns a flat in the Colaba highrise.
Khobragade, who retired in 2011, continued: “Can we pay Rs 5 lakh in India? She (the domestic help) was paid handsome money. If she is not happy with her pay, she should stop working and return to India.”
Asked if he had spoken to Devyani after the incident, he said: “Yes. She is composed. She is more brave than me. She has resumed work.”
Khobragade was among 15 of Maharashtra’s IAS officials whose kin were allotted flats in the 31-storey Adarsh society. In 2012, father and daughter had deposed before the two-member judicial commission probing the Adarsh scam and denied wrongdoing.