Editor's Note: The South Asia Channel will be conducting an interview this week with Larry Sampler, who will be sworn in on Friday as the head of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and we are soliciting questions from our readers. Should you have a question you would like us to consider, please send it to Bailey Cahall (firstname.lastname@example.org) using the subject line: "Question for Larry Sampler," or submit it via our Twitter account (@fp_southasia) using #LarrySamplerQ&A.
Bonus Read: "Imran Khan, a Pakistani provincial leader, complicates NATO plans for Afghanistan," Tim Craig (Post).
Bangladesh election ends in violence, Awami League victory
The ruling Awami League party lead by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned to power in Bangladesh on Monday, winning 232 of the 300 elected seats in one of the most violent elections in the country's history (Times of India). The election was marred by street fighting, a low turnout, and a boycott by the primary opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which left about half the seats uncontested. On Monday, four people were killed and 15 were injured in election-related violence in a suburb of the capital, Dhaka (The Hindu). At least 18 people were killed on Sunday after police fired at protesters and opposition activists torched more than 100 polling stations (Post, VOA). Unnamed election officials said turnout was only 22 percent, down from 87 percent in the 2008 election, according to the Times of India. The BNP has called for a re-election under the oversight of a "neutral, caretaker government" to ensure a fair outcome (CNN). Incidents of violence had been increasing in the months leading up to the elections and had prompted several civic groups to urge the government to reschedule them. The fierce rivalry between the Awami League, a center-left party led Hasina, and the BNP, a center-right party led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, has dominated Bangladeshi politics for the past two decades.
Delhi's Aam Aadmi Party eyes general elections
A leader of the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi ("Common Man") Party, Yogendra Yadav, said on Sunday that the party will put up candidates in at least 15 to 20 of India's 28 states in this year's general elections, to be held in April or May (BBC). The party is conducting a "rigorous screening process" and will announce its first list of candidates by Jan. 20, he said, adding that candidates facing corruption allegations or with criminal charges will not be considered. Yadav also noted that while general elections will be contested under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal, now the chief minister in Delhi, "it was too early to discuss the party's prime ministerial candidate."
The AAP also apologized and distanced itself on Monday from the remarks of two of its high-ranking leaders: senior party member Prashant Bhushan's statement on Sunday that he favored a referendum in Kashmir to decide on Indian army deployment, and AAP leader Kumar Vishwas' statements in an eight-year-old video that some saw as offensive to Muslims (Business Standard). Kejriwal said Monday that the AAP does not support a referendum in Kashmir, and that deployment of the army should be decided on the basis of internal security threats (Times of India).
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, top executives from multinational companies such as Infosys Ltd., Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC. and Apple India Pvt. have joined the AAP as party members (WSJ). Shazia Ilmi, a senior member of the AAP, said the party, which ran on an anti-corruption platform, is not reading too much into the new members. "We are not seeing anybody as a special category," she said. On Sunday, Kejriwal made headlines by saying he had decided to forgo the two spacious five-bedroom flats that traditionally house the Delhi chief minister and asked for smaller accommodations, after his plans to move into the official residence were met with widespread criticism (BBC).
Lift off: India enters elite space league with indigenous cryogenic rocket engine
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched a communications satellite with an indigenously-developed cryogenic (where the fuel is made of gases stored at low temperatures) engine from Sriharkota, Andhra Pradesh on Monday (Indian Express, BBC). Hailed by the Indian press as the "ultimate frontier in rocket science," only China, France, Japan, Russia, and the United States have similar capabilities. Weighing over 2,000 kilograms, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle D5 (GSLV D5) launched the 1,982 kg. GSAT 14 satellite into near perfect orbit. The successful launch comes 20 years after a program to build an indigenous cryogenic engine was started and has spurred ISRO to begin working on the GSLV Mk II, a 4,000. kg communications satellite launching rocket.
Government can audit telecom companies
On Monday, the Delhi High Court ruled that the Indian government could audit the accounts of private telecommunications companies under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act (BBC, Indian Express, Times of India). Petitions by the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers and the Cellular Operators Association of India had argued that India's auditing body, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), could not look into the financial details of private companies. The CAG's request was spurred by a multi-million dollar scam in 2010, where firms had allegedly received 2G spectrum at below market prices from the telecommunications ministry.
Gujarat police refuse to file FIR against Modi
The Gujarat police have allegedly refused to file a first information report (FIR) implicating Chief Minister Narendra Modi and one of his top aides, Amit Shah, in an unauthorized spying scandal, multiple news outlets reported on Monday (NDTV, The Hindu, Times of India). The case came to light in November 2013 when investigative news portals Cobrapost and Gulail released taped conversations from 2009 between Shah and police officer G.S. Singhal, where the illegal surveillance of a woman was sanctioned, allegedly at the behest of Modi. The complainant, suspended Indian Administrative Services officer Pradeep Sharma, has alleged that the police at Gandhinagar's Sector 7 police station took his application request for an FIR -- which would require the police to begin immediate investigation into the case -- but refused to investigate and suggested Sharma approach a Commission of Inquiry or a court to seek redress. Sharma, sacked in 2010 on corruption charges, will now approach the deputy superintendent of police, but added that only a FIR could look into matters of a criminal nature.
Blasts occur across Pakistan
At least 10 people, including three children, were killed and nine were injured in Pakistan's Khyber tribal area on Monday in an explosion at a home in the Tirah valley, though there are conflicting reports about whether the house belonged to a tribal elder or a banned militant organization (BBC). According to Pakistani officials cited by Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, the blast occurred at the home of Hakeem Khan Akakhel, an elder in the area's Tirah valley (Dawn). However, the country's Express Tribune reported that the building belonged to Lashkar-e-Islam, a banned militant group in the area (ET). An investigation into the cause of the blast is ongoing.
Earlier on Monday, a suicide bomber killed a 14-year-old boy in the country's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province when he detonated his explosives outside a government high school in the Ibrahimzai area of Hangu (Dawn). Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned extremist Sunni organization, claimed responsibility for the blast in the Shi'ite-dominated town (RFE/RL).
The explosions in Khyber and Hangu occurred two days after back-to-back blasts in Balochistan killed one person and injured 11 more, including Abdul Majid Abro, an advisor to the provincial chief minister (AFP). According to Mohammad Akhtar, a local official, one person was killed and nine were injured in the province's Sibi district when an explosives-laden motorcycle bomb was detonated near a taxi stand. The second attack occurred in Quetta, the provincial capital, injuring Abro and one of his colleagues. No one has claimed responsibility for either incident.
Report: Sectarian violence increased in 2013
An Islamabad-based think tank, the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, released its "Pakistan Security Report 2013" on Sunday, revealed that sectarian violence is continuously increasing across the country and that the number of suicide attacks increased by 39 percent (Dawn). According to the report, there were 208 incidents of sectarian-related terrorist attacks across Pakistan in 2013, which left 658 people dead and 1,195 injured. It also noted that suicide attacks in the country rose from 33 in 2012 to 46 in 2013. Based on the report's numbers, Sindh is the most dangerous province, with 132 attacks, followed by Balochistan (33), Khyber Pakhtunkwha and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (26), and Punjab (17).
Musharraf granted exemption, court demands medical records
A special court hearing the treason case against former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf granted the ex-military ruler an exemption from appearing in court on Monday due to his being in the hospital, but instructed his lawyers to present Musharraf's medical records to the court by 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning (AFP, Dawn). Musharraf had been heading to the court on Friday when he was taken to the hospital with a heart condition. Prosecutor Akram Sheikh accused Musharraf of intentionally avoiding the court hearings, which have been repeatedly delayed since they began on Dec. 24 (ET).
Base rocked by explosion, no casualties
Camp Eggers, a predominantly American military base in the heart of Kabul, was hit on Saturday evening when a grenade exploded during a routine vehicle inspection, though no casualties were reported (CNN, NYT, Reuters, TOLO News). A few miles away, second explosion occurred around the same time when a mine was dropped into a drainage ditch. The Afghan Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the explosion at Camp Eggers, which is a short walk from the Afghan presidential palace, the headquarters of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, and the U.S. embassy.
The attack on Camp Eggers occurred several hours after Taliban fighters killed an American soldier in Nangarhar province when they attempted to storm a joint Afghan-NATO facility in Ghani Khel (AP, LAT, RFE/RL, VOA). The U.S. service member, whose identity has not been released, was the first coalition combat casualty of the year.
Violence against women more brutal in 2013
Violent crimes against women in Afghanistan topped previously reported numbers to hit record levels in 2013 and became increasingly brutal, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (Reuters). Sima Samar, the chair of the commission, told Reuters that: "The brutality of the cases is really bad. Cutting the nose, lips, and ears. Committing public rape. Mass rape... It's against dignity, against humanity." Samar attributes the increase in crimes to a culture of impunity and the impending departure of international troops and aid workers, which she believes will leave Afghan women more exposed to attacks.
Afghanistan's baffling hunger crisis
Afghan hospitals across the country are reporting significant increases in severe child malnutrition cases, the New York Times reported on Saturday, though the causes are in dispute (NYT). According to figures from the United Nations, the cases in 2013 increased by 50 percent or more compared to those registered in 2012, and Dr. Saifullah Abasin, the head of the malnutrition ward at Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul, said "this is the worst I've seen since ." While most doctors and aid workers agree that the continuing conflict and refugee displacement are contributing to the rise in malnutrition cases, some also argue that the growing number of cases is a sign that more poor Afghans are hearing about available treatments and seeking them out.
You're gonna hear me ROAR!
The snow leopard is a moderately large cat, whose small population is widely distributed throughout the mountains of Central Asia, though it appears they are increasingly enjoying the environment in Afghanistan (Khaama Press). According to the National Environmental Protection Agency of Afghanistan, the country's snow leopard population is on the rise. While specific numbers were not provided by the agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Wildlife Conservation Society say about 100 to 200 snow leopards are in Afghanistan, and Ghulam Nabi Sar Faraz, the head of the agency's office in Badakhshan province, noted that 50 to 60 leopards are in the province's Wakhan district.
-- Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.