Assembly election exit polls signal strong showing for BJP
Exit polls suggest that the BJP is poised to win at least three of the Indian state assembly elections that began in November, giving the main opposition party greater momentum in its contest against the ruling Congress Party (AJE, Times of India, WSJ). Polls by India Today-ORG, the Centre for the Study of Developing Socities, and Nielsen showed similar results in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh, though results diverged in Delhi. The BJP will likely retain power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and take over from the incumbent Congress Party in Rajasthan, according to exit polls conducted by C-Voter and broadcast on the Times Now television channel.
The BJP is also projected to win 31 of New Delhi's 70 seats, coming in ahead of the Congress Party and the recently formed Aam Aadmi Party, which Bloomberg reported had 24 and 11 seats, respectively (Bloomberg). Separate exit polls cited by the Wall Street Journal put the Delhi seats won by Congress and Aam Aadmi at 18 each (WSJ). The polls gave no results for elections in Mizoram, a northeastern state currently ruled by Congress that also held elections. The official vote count for India's first five assembly elections will be announced on Dec. 8. Indian shares and the rupee both rallied on the news of a strong BJP showing, as some investors and analysts perceive the party as being more business-friendly (Times of India).
Bihar government increases compensation for surrendering Maoists
The government of the eastern state of Bihar approved a new surrender policy on Tuesday for Maoist insurgents willing to give up arms (Mint). Under the scheme, Rs. 2.5 lakh ($4,047) will be awarded to surrendering Maoists from central, state, and regional committees, including members of the Maoist politburo. This is an increase from the Rs. 10,000 ($161) offered for surrender and Rs. 3,000 ($49) for monthly maintenance offered under the previous scheme. The amount will increase in cases where the Maoists surrender with their weapons. There has been a recent surge in Maoist violence in the state, as evidenced by the fact that on the same day that the policy was announced, six policemen were killed in a landmine explosion in the state's Aurangabad district (BBC). The Maoist rebel group, which is active in about a third of India's 647 districts, aims to overthrow the Indian government through armed struggle and establish a communist society (BBC).
India enriching uranium for military purposes, U.S. think tank says
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think tank based in Washington, D.C., claimed on Wednesday that India has set up a uranium enrichment facility near Mysore (Times of India). Using commercial satellite imagery to back their claims, ISIS reports that the building is a gas centrifuge facility near the Mysore Rare Minerals Plant in southern India. The report notes that this activity runs counter to international safeguards and may be used for powerful nuclear weapons. In 2010, ISIS lobbied against the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal, which granted India the right to enrich uranium for commercial power-generating purposes.
"India's rape epidemic" makes Time Top 10
TIME magazine listed "India's Rape Epidemic" as one of the top international stories of 2013 on Wednesday; it came in at #9, just ahead of Supertyphoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines last month (TIME, Times of India). Meanwhile, India's Information Technology Department presented a Rs. 1700 crore ($27 billon) plan to India's finance minister that would use technology to increase women's safety in the country (Times of India). Under this plan, the department hopes to roll out basic phones with panic buttons set up to alert a local control room. The plan also includes GPS tracking of public transport in cities with a population over a million, installing closed circuit television cameras, and placing more ‘panic buttons' in buses and rickshaws.
Inmates in a high-profile political murder case in the southern state of Kerala have reportedly been posting photos from their time in jail to Facebook (BBC, Deccan Chronicle). Despite mobile phones being banned in jail, the group of inmates has been active on the social media site. The findings have sparked an outcry in the state and some have called for the resignation of Home Affairs Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan as a result.
-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Rise in polio cases
The WHO announced on Wednesday that, in 2013, Pakistan has topped the list of the three countries where the poliovirus remains endemic (Business Recorder, ET). According to the international health agency, Pakistan has reported 72 polio cases so far this year -- a jump over last year's total of 57 -- while Nigeria and Afghanistan reported 50 and nine cases, respectively. Dr. Elias Durry, the WHO's polio eradication chief, noted that they were making progress -- vaccinating 33 million children in November -- but were still facing challenges, including attacks on polio vaccination workers and suspicion over the vaccine. According to the WHO, parental refusals prevented them from inoculating nearly 50,000 children during the country's latest vaccination drive (Dawn).
While many of the country's polio cases have been reported in Pakistan's tribal regions, after two poliovirus cases were reported in Karachi within a 24-hour period, the WHO said the city is likely headed towards an "explosive polio outbreak" (ET). The National Institute of Health in Islamabad confirmed that it was the fifth poliovirus case to emerge in the city, which was also the site of the country's first reported polio case in 2013.
Drone protests downplayed
After rallying in the streets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for nearly two weeks, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party moved its protest against U.S. drone strikes to Islamabad on Thursday with a rally outside the country's parliament building (ET). The party also filed a petition with the National Assembly, the exact contents of which are unknown. While the PTI recently declared the Pentagon's decision to halt shipments from Afghanistan through the province while the protests continued a "tactical success," U.S. officials downplayed the situation. Marie Harf, a deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, told reporters on Wednesday no "long-term impact to our retrograde movement" was expected (Dawn). In his own press conference, Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's advisor on national security and foreign affairs, said the protests helped him underscore the negative impact of U.S. drone strikes in a recent meeting with James Dobbins, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but that he doubted it would have any impact on U.S. plans to depart Afghanistan (VOA).
One policeman was killed and another was wounded on Wednesday night when militants attacked a checkpoint in Bannu in northwestern Pakistan (AFP). According to Noor Wali, around five militants on motorcycles threw hand grenades into the checkpoint and opened fire on the building, causing the casualties. While no one has claimed responsibility for the incident, officials suspect the Pakistani Taliban as the group has been fighting the state and targeting security forces for years.
At least 25 civilians and four American troops were injured in Kandahar province on Thursday when a suicide bomber attacked a military convoy outside a bazaar in the Maiwand district (Pajhwok). According to local officials, a convoy of U.S. troops was passing through the market when the attack occurred. Javed Faisal, the provincial governor's spokesman, confirmed that the convoy was the target of the attack but said the exact number of people wounded was still unknown. Neither NATO nor the United States has commented on the incident.
No movement on BSA
As NATO's two-day annual conference came to an end on Wednesday, alliance officials signaled a new urgency for the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the United States and Afghanistan to be signed, but said that there had been little movement to end the stalemate (NYT, RFE/RL). Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's secretary general, noted that many of the provisions in the BSA would be similar for any agreement allowing NATO troops to stay in the country when the current combat mission ends next December, a reminder that the United States is not the only country with money and soldiers at stake. While Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that the security pact would not be signed until after the country's presidential elections next April, Western officials told the New York Times that President Obama will likely need to make a decision about how the United States is going to proceed before he gives his annual State of the Union address in January.
Other administration officials told the Washington Post on Wednesday that negotiators are trying to find a workaround to the current standoff - a way for Karzai to keep his pledge of not signing the BSA, but still give the United States the document it needs and wants if it is to keep troops in the country after 2014 (Post). It is unclear, however, what that solution might be as Aimal Faizi, Karzai's spokesman, dismissed recent comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that someone other than the president could sign the agreement.
As the impasse over the BSA continues, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs announced on Wednesday that it will hold a hearing next week on the post-2014 presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (Pajhwok). The committee has asked James Dobbins, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Donald Sampler, the assistant to the administrator in USAID's Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, and Michael Dumont, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia to testify. The hearing, scheduled for Dec. 11, will focus on the BSA, Afghanistan's upcoming presidential elections, oversight of U.S. assistance programs in Afghanistan, and a number of other related issues.
After the Washington Post reported on Wednesday that U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James Richardson found "no evidence" that the construction of a never-been-used $36 million, 64,000 sq. ft. headquarters in Afghanistan was in "violation of [any] law or regulation," John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said he was starting a new probe of the facility (Bloomberg). Sopko, who lambasted the project in July after completing his own review, criticized Richardson's investigation for containing "a number of unsupported statements" and failing "to adequately explain its key findings and recommendations."
Don't be tardy for the party
Wahab Riaz, a 28-year-old player for Pakistan's cricket team, was arrested by police in Lahore on Thursday for breaking local laws against excessive wedding celebrations (AFP). Punjab authorities passed a rule late last month banning marriage ceremonies from going past 10:00 pm and serving more than one dish in a meal. According to Mohammad Amir, an inspector in the city, Raiz, who was married on Saturday, was charged after police raided his house at 11:00 pm that night and discovered five dishes had been served. The law has been widely condemned in Lahore, which is known for having some of the most lavish ceremonies in the country.
-- Bailey Cahall