The South Asia Channel

Taliban denounce bomb blast that killed seven siblings in Paktika province

Editor's Note: Next Monday, November 25, the AfPak Channel will be relaunched as the South Asia Channel on foreignpolicy.com.  While we will continue to provide you with news and commentary from and about Afghanistan and Pakistan, the New America Foundation has partnered with the South Asia Program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies to provide our readers with key stories and insights from India as well.  Beginning today, the daily brief will include an India section, with India-related posts to appear on the redesigned brief and site next week.  

Littlest victims

Seven children from the same family were killed and at least three others were wounded in Afghanistan's Paktika province on Monday when they inadvertently triggered a bomb that had been planted near where they were playing (AJAM, AP, Pajhwok).  According to Afghan authorities, the victims were between 7 and 12 years old.  Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the provincial governor, blamed "the enemies of peace in Afghanistan" - a term often used to mean the Afghan Taliban - for planting the mine in the roadway (CNN).  The Taliban, however, denounced the killing on Tuesday and accused the Afghan Local Police of leaving the device in the ground (Pajhwok). 

Dozens of militants attacked the Shakh bazaar in the Qaisar district of Faryab province on Tuesday, killing three Afghan National Army soldiers and one local policeman (Pajhwok).  Abdul Jamil Siddiqui, the district chief, told reporters that three of the militants were also killed during the firefight.  Several Afghan officials said the fighters were members of the Pakistani Taliban, claims that have not been substantiated. 

A U.N. special report released on Monday says that between 10,000 and 12,000 Afghan Taliban fighters have been killed, wounded, or captured in 2013, a threefold increase over last year (AFP).  While the report highlights the successes of the Afghan security forces, it warns that the insurgency will likely continue as long as it has illicit sources of income, namely from Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation.  The report, which was written by the committee in charge of the U.N.'s list of senior Taliban members who are subject to international sanctions, added that the Afghan government needs to do more to prevent high-grade industrial explosives from reaching the hands of militant bomb-makers, noting that improvised explosive devices "now account for 80% of army and police casualties" (Guardian).

Abdul Sattar Sadat, the head of Afghanistan's Independent Electoral Complaints Commission, told reporters on Tuesday that the final list of presidential and provincial council contenders in next April's elections could change if charges against individual candidates are substantiated (Pajhwok). He said that the allegations include charges of war crimes, murder, and corruption, though he did not provide the names of the accused.  Sadat added that the list of presidential contenders had increased by one, going from 10 candidates to 11, but again, he did not provide the name of the additional candidate (Pajhwok). 

Sectarian clashes continue 

Syed Shabbir Hussain Shah, a Shi'ite professor at a Pakistani university, and his driver were shot and killed on Tuesday by unidentified gunmen in the city of Gujrat in Punjab province (ET, Reuters).  They were the latest deaths in a wave of increasing sectarian violence that began on Friday when eight Sunni Muslim seminary students were killed in Rawalpindi by Shi'ite Muslims traveling in an Ashura religious procession for supposedly insulting them as they passed.  While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Ali Nasir Rizvi, a district police chief, said the "incident looks like a targeted killing" (Dawn).  

At least five people, including two women and one child, were injured on Tuesday in a grenade attack on a shop in the Jannat bazaar in Balochistan's Gwadar district (Dawn).  Very few details were provided about the attack and no group has claimed responsibility for the incident.  However, Balochistan has long been plagued by violent attacks from separatists who are trying to win more autonomy for the province. 

Pakistan's Senate Standing Committee on Defence held a workshop on Monday to increase the awareness of Pakistani media personnel that digital security breaches could also threaten their physical security (ET).  The workshop was organized in reaction to the fact that Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists by multiple international organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.  Ronny Heine, a representative from the Konrad-Adenaur-Stiftung political foundation, which co-sponsored the event, said the idea was to "enlighten media personnel that ‘Pakistan is the most watched country'" in the world. 

Each conference attendee received a Cyber Security Manual that included remarks from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose leaks of classified documents have revealed the extent of the U.S. spy agency's surveillance around the world, who is quoted as saying: "There were people in news organisations who didn't recognise that any unencrypted message sent over the internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world. In the wake of this year's disclosures, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless."

Last Jew in Afghanistan 

Zabulon Simintov, the last known Jew in Afghanistan, told Reuters last week that he may leave the country if the security situation worsens in the coming years (Reuters).  He runs a small kebab café in Kabul that used to rely on hotel catering orders, but those have dried up as foreign troops prepare to leave at the end of next year, leaving him to contemplate what comes next.  Simintov, who also maintains the synagogue where the café is located and a nearby cemetary, is hoping he can rent the space and use the money to renovate the building.

-- Bailey Cahall 

Tough negotiations 

India stuck to its stance on Monday of refusing to make cuts in its carbon emissions at the U.N. Climate Conference in Warsaw.  Maintaining their position of making differentiated but equal sacrifices to combat climate change, Indian negotiators said they were unsure about the impact of alternatives to hydro-chlorofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons and their viability for domestic consumers.  India also said it was waiting for the results of a joint U.S.-India task force, which was convened after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with President Obama in September (Times of IndiaEconomic Times). 

The General Secretary of Vietnam's Communist Party, Nyugen Phu Trong, arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday in a bid to boost economic ties between the two countries.  So far, the outcome of these efforts have been mixed.  While the Indian conglomerate Tata Group looks forward to setting up a 1,320-megawatt thermal power project, the Indian government is likely to withdraw from a bid on Oil Block 128 in the South China Sea.  Yet bilateral energy and defense ties remain at the top of the agenda, with India offering a $100 million line of credit to Vietnam to purchase offshore vessels.  Ahead of his visit to the country, Trong praised India for its "constructive role" in the South China Sea (The HinduTimes of India). 

The Indian Space Research Organization hopes to coordinate its findings from the Mangalyaan Mars mission with those of NASA's newly launched Maven orbiter. The Mangalyaan, launched on November 5, will likely touch down on Mars in September 2014, after which the two missions will "help each other understand the red planet better" (Hindustan Times). 

She's got the power

Prime Minister Singh inaugurated the first bank for women in Mumbai on Tuesday, with hopes to open 500 branches of the Bharatiya Mahila Bank nationwide by 2017. With $184 million in initial capital, the bank is an effort to bring access to financial institutions to the 72 percent of Indian women that remain unbanked. While both men and women can hold accounts, women will be given priority in opening accounts and receiving loans.  Usha Ananthasubramanian, the bank's chairperson, said the bank's objective was to "empower and educate women financially" (BBC). 

India is considering a new proposal to bar foreign investors from taking controlling stakes in "rare and critical" pharmaceutical companies, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday (WSJ). A new proposal before the cabinet would cap foreign ownership in designated companies at 49 percent, a response to concerns that multinational companies could take over Indian producers of cheap generic medicines and compromise the local supply of these medicines.  A government report released the same day showed that foreign direct investment in the pharmaceutical industry more than doubled between April and August 2013, reaching a total of $1.07 billion and sparking concerns over foreign ownership (Economic Times).

Monkey menace 

India will soon begin a program of oral contraceptives, female sterilization, and vasectomies for its primate population in an effort to combat a growing "monkey menace" (Telegraph). Red-bottomed Rhesus macaques and Bhandar monkeys are notorious in New Delhi for stealing food, biting the unwary, chewing through Internet cables, and even knocking Delhi's deputy mayor from his balcony to his death in 2007. Until earlier this year, the capital's "monkey catchers" used larger Langur monkeys to scare away macaques, but a ban on the use and trade of Langur monkeys has forced officials to look for a new solution.

-- Shruti Jagirdar

Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

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