The South Asia Channel

India Sets Election Dates; Afghan Public Protection Force Disbanded; Pakistani Peace Talks Resume


India sets election dates

India's election commission announced Wednesday that the country will begin the nearly six-week process of electing its next 543-seat lower house of parliament on April 7 (GuardianNYTTimes of India). The 543-seat Lok Sabha will elect the country's new prime minister.

More than 800 million voters are eligible to participate in the election, 100 million more than the 2009 vote.  To deal with this volume of people, voting will occur in stages and close to 4 million employees will be deployed at 930,000 polling booths. The Indian constitution requires that voters not have to travel more than 1.2 miles from their homes to vote.

The voting will occur over nine separate phases to allow security personnel to shift around the country: April 7, April 9, April 10, April 12,April 17, April 24, April 30, May 7, and May 12. Many states have more than one polling date. Counting will occur on May 16, and the new parliament must be constituted by May 31. Assembly elections will also be held simultaneously in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Sikkim.

The announcement caused the "model code of conduct" for parties and governments to come into immediate effect. Guidelines aimed at ensuring a fair election and campaign process, the model code bars such behavior as using loudspeakers without applying for permission, trash talking other candidates, distributing liquor, and laying foundation stones of projects and programs (WSJ). Indian media noted that Akhilesh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, announced a spree of measures including several development projects just 30 minutes before the Election Commission released the election dates (Times of India).

Saudi Arabia to release Indian prisoners

In a humanitarian gesture, Saudi Arabia announced their willingness to transfer hundreds of Indian prisoners to India, except those serving death sentences (Business Standard, NDTV). The announcement was made at the end of crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud visit to the country between February 26 and 28. The move is in accordance with the ‘Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons involving deprivation of liberty ‘ that was signed between the two countries in Riyadh in 2010 and is a mark of "growing trust and cooperation in a wide spectrum of areas." Saudi Arabia, home to 2.8 million Indians largely working blue collar jobs, also has the highest number of Indian prisoners in any Gulf state.

 Anti-acid attack campaigner given U.S. award

On Tuesday, an Indian woman who goes only by the name of Laxmi was awarded the International Women of Courage award by Michelle Obama for her tireless campaigns against acid attacks (Times of India, NDTV). At 16, Laxmi herself faced an acid attack for rejecting the romantic advances of her friend, after which she became an advocate for justice for those that had suffered attacks. In 2013, through her efforts and those of others, the Supreme Court passed an order regulating the sale of acid in the country.

Laxmi talked about the ease with which acid was still available for purchase despite the Supreme Court's order and called upon the Indian government to make survivor rehabilitation a national priority, including the payment of treatment for victims of these attacks and assistance with securing government jobs. With Indian national elections being announced the same day, Laxmi urged political parties to include the issue of cracking down on acid attacks against young women an election priority.

Technical difficulties

Police in India have failed to act on hundreds of corruption complaints over an eight-year period because they did not know a computer password (Indian Express). Delhi officers were unable to operate a portal holding more than 600 complaints since 2006, according to complaints by India's anti-corruption agencies, the Central Vigilance Commission, which collates complaints against government officials and directs law enforcement to investigate them. Two senior police officers have now been trained in the system. Police in Delhi "remain committed to public grievances," a senior officer said.

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson


Afghan Public Protection Force disbanded

The Afghan Ministry of Interior said in a statement Monday that they are disbanding the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), a guard force that protects U.S. military supply convoys, international aid programs, and foreign installations (WSJ). Although the APPF is a government agency, it is paid by the clients it guards, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development. The APPF will be folded into the Ministry of Interior and the Afghan National Police, whose salaries are paid by the Afghan government. The APPF was created in 2010 by President Karzai as part of a plan to have the government capitalize on the lucrative private security business and private contractors have been phased out ever since.  The announcement puts U.S. military and international aid organizations in a predicament because it essentially dissolves the 17,000-person force that was going to guard internationally funded reconstruction projects.  But U.S. Army Col. Jane Crichton, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition, said there had been no immediate impact on security and said, "we are not aware of any decisions or significant changes to support that affect the coalition in the near-term."

Taliban commander slain

Afghan security forces killed Hazrat Kul, a Taliban commander, in Khinjan district of central Baghlan province, according to officials on Wednesday (Pajhwok).  Hazrat Kul was accused of killing an Afghan National Army soldier, coordinating attacks on supply convoys, and torching 12 oil tankers in the Salang Pass. According to local residents, he was also forcing youths to take up arms against the government.

Seven Afghan Local Police (ALP) officials were killed in a clash with militants on Wednesday in the Qaisar district of northeastern Faryab province (Pajhwok). An investigation has been launched into the incident, but it is believed that one of the ALP officials developed ties with the Taliban that aided in the attack.


Peace talks resume

Peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) resumed Wednesday in the northwestern town of Akora Khattak (ET, DAWN). The meeting between negotiators comes after the TTP declared a month-long ceasefire this past weekend and follows a deadly attack on a courthouse in Islamabad on Monday, which the TTP denied being involvement in. Government negotiator retired Major Amir to Pakistani media that the negotiators had agreed to certain terms and conditions during the first meeting, one of which was forming a new government committee, perhaps involving members of Pakistan's military (DAWN).  However, some are already voicing concerns over the hypothetical arrangement; Syed Khursheed Shah, the senior leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), told reporters that including Army personnel in the dialogue process would be dangerous (DAWN). 

The resumption of peace talks is garnering criticism from militants as well. Maulana Samiul Haq, chief of Juamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Samiul Haq (JUI-S), said on Wednesday that attempts will be made to sabotage the peace talks (ET). Speaking to media in Nowshera, he said that "the third enemy" will create obstacles for the peace talks -referencing the TTP's statement following the Islamabad courthouse attack in which the TTP denied responsibility and urged the government to look for a "third enemy."


Boys club

The founder of the first judicial council for women in Pakistan has been invited to join a traditional, male-only grand Jirga (CSM). Tabassum Adnan, a mother of two, launched Pakistan's first women-only Jirga called Khwando-Jirga, or 'sisters' council,' last year in Swat valley. Adnan says she wanted to help women who suffer from physical abuse and acid attacks perpetrated by men and her Jirga now has around 30 active members. She recently became the first woman to be invited to participate in the grand male Jirga of Swat.

--Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen