The South Asia Channel

India Polls Favor BJP; Ismail Khan Survives Assassination Attempt; Briton Sentenced to Death in Rawalpindi

Bonus Read: "Dear Taliban: I See What You're Trying To Do, But It's Not Working," Jeffrey E. Stern (SouthAsia).

India 

Polls show "Modi wave" ahead of 2014 election

India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks likely to win the most seats in the upcoming national elections, a C-Voter poll for India Today forecast Thursday (India Today, Reuters, Bloomberg, Hindustan Times). The poll projected the BJP to win 188 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha (lower house), surpassing the party's previous high of 182 seats in 1999. The ruling Congress Party was projected to win as few as 91 seats, its lowest on record and down from 210 now. Neither the BJP nor any other party was projected to gain the 272 seats needed to win an outright majority.

The National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP, was projected to win 212 seats, up from 159 in the 2009 elections, while the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was projected to win 103, up from 259 in 2009. Other regional parties may win 228 seats, up from 125 in the 2009 elections, according to the poll. The poll also forecast that the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, which claimed a surprise victory in the Delhi elections in December 2013, would win 10 seats in the national polls. 

Another poll published Thursday by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and the CNN-IBN news channel projected that the BJP would win 152 of 450-odd seats spread over 13 states, while Congress would get between 55 and 113 of those seats (Times of India). The BJP will win 41 to 49 of the 80 seats in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, 16 to 24 of the 40 seats in Bihar, and well over half of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, along with a long-term ally, the poll showed (Reuters). However, the poll excluded Punjab, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. Another poll conducted by Nielsen for the ABP News channel put the BJP's share of seats in Uttar Pradesh at 32 (Times of India). The BJP won the most seats in four out of the five state elections held in December.

C-Voter collected responses from almost 21,800 Indians across 28 states, with a three percent margin of error at the national level, while the CSDS poll surveyed just under 18,600 voters in 18 states, with a margin of error that varies from state to state, according to Reuters.

FDA halts imports from India's Ranbaxy plant

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday banned Ranbaxy Laboratories, India's largest drug-maker, from distributing drugs from its Toansa facility in Punjab in the U.S. market, citing "significant" manufacturing violations (BBC, FT, AP, WSJ, Reuters, The Hindu, Times of India). The FDA said it has repeatedly tested materials from the facility and found them to be sub-standard quality. Ranbaxy said in a statement that it had "voluntarily and proactively suspended shipments" from the facility to the United States after it received the inspection findings earlier this month. The firm's shares plunged 20 percent following the news.

The FDA has previously banned products from the company's facilities in Paonta Sahib, Dewas, and Mohali from being exported to the United States, one of the biggest markets for India's rapidly growing generic drugs industry. Last year, the company paid $500 million in criminal and civil fines after it pleaded guilty to knowingly selling sub-standard drugs in the United States. 

CBI cracks down on hackers with FBI aid 

India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) cracked down on hacking hubs in Mumbai, Pune, and Ghaziabad on Friday and arrested one person for violating the Information Technology Act, acting on crucial inputs from the FBI (Times of India). CBI sources said the case was part of a major operation in which China, Romania, and the United States were working with India to track cyber criminals who were hacking into websites based in the United States and engaging in financial fraud. The investigation is ongoing, the sources said. 

India refuses to release Pakistani driver

India on Thursday rejected Pakistan's demand that it release a Pakistani driver who was arrested last week for smuggling narcotics across the border, amid a continued suspension of bilateral trade over the disputed Line of Control (First Post). Pakistan has argued that standard operating procedures dictate that the driver should be handed over the Pakistani authorities. India responded by saying that there was "no modality which exempts any person alleged to be involved in criminal activity from facing the full force of Indian law." Pakistan suspended bus services across the border on Tuesday, demanding the release of the driver. Last week, police detained a truck carrying 114 packets of narcotics, valued at Rs. 100 crore ($16 million) in the international market. The driver was arrested, along with two more people who were receiving the shipment. 

Make way for pachyderms

India's Supreme Court has responded derisively to the central government's suggestion of building underpasses and flyovers to ensure the safe passage of elephants over railway tracks, asking whether road signs should also be put up to instruct the pachyderms to use these safe paths (Times of India). Instead, the Supreme Court justices urged the government to study the safety model implemented by the state of Karnataka, which had no elephant deaths on its tracks last year. The case was presented to the Supreme Court following reports of a large number of elephant deaths in the eastern and northeastern states of Odisha, West Bengal, and Assam. In the last decade, 122 elephants have died on Odisha railways, 15 after being hit by trains and 107 due to electrocution.

The justices emphasized that elephants were the natural habitants of the forest, and that the railways were the encroachers. "The elephant safety gets primacy over running trains," the court said. A prior Supreme Court order urged the railways to reduce the speed of trains on tracks passing through the forests, but the railways have been reluctant, citing reduced service to vital areas of the country. 

-- Ana Swanson

Afghanistan

Ismail Khan survives assassination attempt

Ismail Khan, a former Afghan water and energy minister and a current vice presidential contender, survived an assassination attempt at a mosque he was attending in Herat province on Friday; no one but the suicide bomber was killed or injured (AP, Pajhwok). According to reports, the attacker detonated his explosives in front of the mosque in Herat, the provincial capital, as Khan was leaving the facility; he had been delivering the mid-day prayers. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, and the Afghan Taliban have not yet commented on the attack.

Khan is one of the vice presidential candidates running with presidential contender Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, a former warlord. 

Volleyball players killed in Laghman province

Five young men playing volleyball in Laghman province were killed on Thursday when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their sporting ground (Pajhwok). While there were no immediate claims of responsibility, Sarhadii Zhouak, a provincial spokesman, blamed the Taliban, which severely restricted sports when they governed the country from 1996 to 2001 (RFE/RL). However, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the militant organization, told AFP reporters that: "We completely reject this allegation. We are not involved in this killing at all. Those who killed them are not our men" (AFP). The attack comes one week after four Afghan soccer players were killed in Kandahar province when a rocket, allegedly fired by Taliban fighters, struck a football field.

In southern Helmand province, Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor, confirmed on Friday morning that police had found the body of slain Afghan journalist Noor Ahmad Noori the night before (TOLO News). Noori was working for a local radio station in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah when he went missing on Thursday. No one has claimed responsibility for this attack either. 

No U.S. or NATO troops without signed BSA 

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday that there will be no U.S. or NATO troops in Afghanistan after the coalition's combat mission ends this December without the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), renewing the administration's call on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the security pact (Pajhwok). While Carney had told reporters a day earlier that President Obama was still considering troop options for a post-2014 presence in Afghanistan, he noted that if there isn't a signed BSA, "we would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future." Carney added that: "We do not think that is the best policy. But we simply can't plan for or have US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 without that agreement signed." 

Carney's statements followed those from NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who said the military alliance cannot conclude its own security agreement with Afghanistan until there is a signed BSA between Kabul and Washington. The agreements will determine the size and scope of any military presence that remains in the country after the end of 2014. 

Pakistan

British national sentenced to death for blasphemy 

A Pakistani court in Rawalpindi sentenced Mohammad Asghar, a British national of Pakistani origin, on Thursday to death for blasphemy after he wrote letters to various people claiming that he was a prophet (RFE/RL). Asghar's lawyers had claimed the 65-year-old -- who was arrested in 2010 -- had mental health problems, claims the court rejected. Asghar's lawyer told the BBC's Saba Eitizaz that she will appeal the verdict (BBC). While blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, human rights organizations say Pakistan's tough blasphemy laws are frequently used to settle personal scores and have demanded their repeal. 

UNODC: Human trafficking increasing in Pakistan 

The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime released a new report on Thursday that says human trafficking from and through Pakistan increased during 2013, noting "that the majority of Pakistani and Afghan nationals trying to illegally migrate by sea to countries like Australia are religious or ethnic minorities" (VOA). However, the report also revealed that Pakistan's "more organized and sophisticated" human smuggling networks are being used to help Pakistanis engage in fighting in countries like Syria and Egypt. 

Cesar Guedes, the U.N. office's Pakistan country chief, told Voice of America that most of the migrants are from either economically depressed or violent parts of the country, such as Balochistan, and that the trafficking of male Pakistanis to Europe for forced labor is a growing concern. Saud Mirza, the head of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency, said that they are currently working to uproot these trafficking networks, targeting immigration officers and tightening border controls.

Frontier Corps targeted in another bombing

Several people were injured on Friday when a bomb targeting a convoy of Frontier Corps personnel exploded along the Sariab Road in Quetta (Dawn, ET). According to reports, firing was heard in the area, suggesting it was a militant attack of some kind. Police have arrived on the scene and an investigation is underway. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which follows a week of similar incidents in both Quetta and other parts of the countries.

First celebrity calendar revealed

Lux, a Unilever subsidiary company in Pakistan, unveiled its first celebrity calendar on Wednesday in a star-studded launch at the Lahore Grande hotel (PakTribune). The calendar, which features supermodel Rabia Butt and actors Mehwish Hyatt and Fahad Mustafa, among others, was designed "to add a touch of glamour to life," according to Lux brand manager Enshè Ahmed Manto. Manto added that: "The pictures show the Lux world where a woman looks beautiful and stands out in even the most ordinary setting."

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.

SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

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