The South Asia Channel

Dual Attacks Kill More than 25 Pakistani Soldiers; At Least 21 Killed in Attack on Kabul Eatery; AAP, Police Clash in Delhi

Editor's Note: Dr. Anish Goel, a former key aide of U.S. President Barack Obama and the current director of geopolitical affairs for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, has joined the New America Foundation's National Security Program as a Senior South Asia Fellow. While at the foundation, Goel will write on U.S. foreign policy in South Asia, regional dynamics, and their implications for U.S. national security.


Pakistani Taliban attack military convoy, market

At least 20 Pakistani soldiers were killed and nearly 30 were wounded in the town of Bannu in North Waziristan on Sunday, when a bomb ripped through a military convoy at a local base (BBC, RFE/RL, VOA). According to Pakistani security officials, the bomb was planted "in a civilian vehicle that had been hired to accompany the unit" of Frontier Corps personnel (NYT, WSJ). The Pakistani Taliban claimed it was behind the attack and vowed more would follow. However, Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the militant organization, added that the Taliban were ready for meaningful dialogue with the Pakistani government, if it could show its sincerity for peace talks (Dawn). 

But the Taliban's sincerity was left in doubt on Monday, when the attack in Bannu was followed by one in Rawalpindi, which killed at least 13 people and injured 29 others in a market near the Pakistani military's headquarters (AJAM, BBC, RFE/RL). The victims included at least eight army personnel and five civilians, the army's Inter-Services Public Relations office said in a statement (ET, Pajhwok, WSJ). Haroon Joya, the police superintendent in the garrison city, said the attack was carried out by a teenager dressed as a garbage collector and riding a bicycle, adding that the attacker detonated his explosives after being stopped at a checkpoint (NYT). The Taliban claimed responsibility for this attack as well. 

Pakistan's security forces responded to the attacks by heavily shelling suspected militant positions in North Waziristan on Monday night, killing at least 25 people and injuring several others (BBC, NYT, RFE/RL). According to Pakistani press reports, the attacks had not been previously planned, and "Pakistan Air Force jets were called to hit hideouts of the militants involved in attacks on security forces" (Dawn, ET). The assault by military fighter jets and helicopter gunships came as domestic pressure grew on Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take tougher action against the militants.

Polio workers killed in Karachi 

Three polio workers were killed and two others were wounded in the port city of Karachi on Tuesday, a day after Pakistani officials launched a new vaccination drive (BBC). Reports say that gunmen opened fire in the Qayyumabad area of the city, killing one man and two women who were administering the polio drops (Dawn). Two separate attacks on polio teams occurred in Manshera and Panjgur, where unidentified gunmen killed one vaccination worker and a car used by the polio team was stolen, respectively (ET). The attacks were the latest in a series targeting polio vaccination teams in the country, one of three where polio is still endemic (Nigeria and Afghanistan are the others). No group has claimed responsibility for the incident, though the Taliban has long opposed the vaccination efforts. 


Deadly restaurant attack kills dozens

At least 21 people, including 13 foreigners, were killed in Kabul on Friday when suspected Afghan Taliban militants struck a Lebanese restaurant popular with Westerners "in what appeared to be a well-coordinated assault, with a suicide bomber clearing a path for two gunmen, who rushed in and fired on diners" (NYT). According to Afghan and Western officials, the attack was one of the deadliest against Western civilians in the Afghan capital since 2001, with at least three Americans, two Britons, the Lebanese country director for the International Monetary Fund, and a Russian U.N. official among the victims (AP, LAT, NBC, Post, RFE/RL, TOLO News, VOA). Many reports noted that the attack on the eatery, Taverna du Liban, was a departure for the Taliban, which typically targets highly fortified government offices and symbols of the Western presence in the country. 

While the Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident, which it said was retribution for a coalition airstrike last week that killed a number of Afghan civilians in Parwan province, on Sunday, Afghanistan's National Security Council -- which is headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- accused "foreign intelligence services" of being behind the deadly attack, saying it was too "sophisticated and complex" for "ordinary Taliban" (BBC, Pajhwok). However, it did not elaborate on which foreign agencies might be responsible. And though Karzai condemned the attack, the council also released a statement on Sunday reiterating the president's stance that "there should be an immediate end to all operations and airstrikes by foreign forces," further increasing tensions between Afghanistan and the West (Fox News, NYT, WSJ).

The attack came one day after Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told the BBC's John Simpson that the group is "confident of victory" over the NATO-led forces, noting that, historically, Afghanistan has always defeated its occupiers (BBC).  

NATO base hit by Taliban insurgents

Three days after the attack on Taverna du Liban, nine Taliban fighters attacked a coalition base in southern Kandahar province, killing at least one NATO soldier (AP, BBC, NYT, Pajhwok, Post, RFE/RL). According to Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the provincial governor, the incident began when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device outside the facility, and eight other gunmen tried to storm the base's entrance; all were killed by coalition troops (LAT, TOLO News, WSJ). Faisal added that the assailants were wearing uniforms that resembled those of international soldiers.

More than 60 Afghan deminers kidnapped in Herat province 

More than 60 Afghan deminers working to clear Soviet-era anti-tank mines from Herat province were seized on Tuesday by unknown gunmen, the largest mass kidnapping to occur in the area (Pajhwok, Reuters, TOLO News). Farid Homayoun, the country director for the Halo Trust, a British demining organization, confirmed that the Afghans all worked for the company. According to Homayoun, the kidnappers arrived shortly after the workers reached the area where they were to be working that day, forcing them to drive to a nearby village and then marching them out of the village towards nearby mountains. While some deminers were able to escape, the vast majority of them have not been seen since; a rescue operation is underway. No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

-- Bailey Cahall


AAP protestors, police clash in Delhi

Supporters of India's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) broke down barricades and clashed with police twice on Tuesday as they continued to protest the failure of Delhi police to act against drugs, prostitution, and rape crimes (Economic Times, NDTV, WSJ). Arvind Kejriwal, an AAP leader and the newly appointed chief minister of Delhi, launched the protests to push for control of the Delhi police to be transferred from the union home ministry to the Delhi government, a demand made by earlier chief ministers as well. He has described the police force as "compromised" and asked for the suspension of five policemen for failing to make arrests based on the orders of his law minister, Somnath Bharti. Bharti demanded last week that police raid a house suspected of prostitution and drug abuse, but police said they had no legal warrant (BBC).

On Tuesday, a scuffle took place and Delhi cops were pelted with stones as the police blocked the way of other supporters who were trying to join the protest. Six protestors were taken to the hospital, an AAP member said, while reports said four policemen and two journalists were also injured. Delhi police warned that it would take action against "violent" AAP supporters.

Kejriwal said that his protest could be "indefinite" and threatened to fill the street with hundreds of thousands of people if the government did not concede to his demands by Jan. 26 (Business Standard, NDTV). Kejriwal held a cabinet meeting inside his car on Tuesday evening, after spending the night along with his six cabinet colleagues and scores of supporters outside the Rail Bhavan, the venue of their protest (BBC).

A day earlier, he declared himself an "anarchist" as he defied police lines and barricades to try reach a place near the home ministry in central New Delhi (Guardian). "Some say I am an anarchist, the I am spreading anarchy. I am willing to agree to that," Kejriwal said. "So today I want to spread that anarchy to [the minister of interior's] home too." Kejriwal has blamed Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde for the "utter chaos." Shinde said Tuesday he would not revoke his decision not to suspend the police in question, and that the ministry would only take action after an inquiry report was received (Times of India, The Hindu, Business Standard). 

The AAP faced criticism for the protests from commuters and other political parties. Four Delhi metro stations were closed on Monday and Tuesday and buses were diverted due to the ongoing protests, inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of people, according to reports (Asian Age, Economic Times, WSJ). The Congress party commented that Kejriwal was "turning the capital into an anarchist state," while the BJP accused the AAP of speaking the language of Maoists and being clueless about running the government (Economic Times, Economic Times). The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a petition seeking action against Kejriwal and Bharti for resorting to "agitation and street fight" to remove the police officials (NDTV, Economic Times, Live Mint, The Hindu). The petition argued that they are violating the law by agitating on the streets against other constitutional authorities.

Supreme Court commutes 15 death sentences in landmark verdict

Fifteen death row inmates had their sentences commuted to life terms on Tuesday, as India's Supreme Court ruled that a death sentence can be commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of a delay in deciding a plea, and that a convict suffering from insanity or schizophrenia cannot be hanged (BBC, The Hindu). The judgment also held that solitary confinement of a death row convict and other prisoners is unconstitutional. The court said that prison authorities must provide legal aid to prisoners facing death sentences, so they can appeal their sentences on grounds of illness or delayed decisions. The judgment was expected to have implications in various cases, including three prisoners who were given death sentences in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and four associates of Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, a notorious bandit who was active for years in the states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu (Economic Times, The Hindu). 

Minister's wife found dead after affair claims

Sunanda Pushkar, the wife of Shashi Tharoor, a high-profile Congress party member, was found dead in a hotel bed Friday night, after suffering what a hospital spokesman said was an "unnatural and sudden" death (NYT, CNN, Guardian, Telegraph, WSJ). Her death followed a drama over an alleged affair between Tharoor and Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar that was heavily covered by India's 24-hour news channels. Pushkar was quoted last week as saying that she had sent out a series of messages on Twitter that proved her husband had been in a "rip roaring affair" since April 2013 and that she would seek a divorce. Tharoor and Pushkar then issued a joint statement down-playing the episode and implying that their Twitter accounts had been hacked.

Doctors who carried out the autopsy on Pushkar said they found injury marks on the body, and that she may have overdosed on drugs (BBC). Tharoor, who briefly checked himself into a hospital with chest pains, urged a swift investigation into the death and gave his testimony on Sunday to the magistrate that is leading the inquest into his wife's death (BBC, Guardian). Tarar denied having an affair with Tharoor and said she was "shattered" by Pushkar's death (Telegraph). Pushkar became Tharoor's third wife in 2010, in the wake of a cricket league scandal that led to his resignation as junior minister for foreign affairs.

Congress seeks to expand minority status, BJP criticizes reliance on doles

Rahul Gandhi asked Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to grant minority status to the Jain community after meeting with a delegation of Jain leaders on Sunday (NDTV). Reports said the Congress party's 2014 elections manifesto would include an ambitious affirmative action agenda, including reservations of jobs for scheduled castes and tribes in private companies with investments worth Rs 100 crore ($1.6 billion) or employing 1,000 people (Times of India). The manifesto also calls for reservations in private schools and vouchers for graduates.

Meanwhile, the National Commission for Backward Classes is conducting public hearings on providing reservations of central government jobs for the Jats, a minority group in northern India (Economic Times). The hearings come a month after the government asked the commission to make an early decision on providing reservations for the community. The inclusion of Jat community members in the list of Other Backward Castes (OBCs) is widely believed to benefit the Congress electorally, the Economic Times reported. Approximately 90 million Jats live in states such as Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, and Bihar.

BJP candidate Narendra Modi criticized the Congress party's reliance on doles, privileges, and sectional giveaways and outlined his "idea of India" as an inclusive and non-discriminatory state in a speech given on Sunday at a meeting of his party's national executive (Times of India, BBC, Hindustan Times). 

-- Ana Swanson

Edited by Peter Bergen.