The South Asia Channel

Afghan Vice President Dies; Indian Supreme Court: Deadline for Convicted Lawmakers; Pakistani Drought


Bonus read: 2 Star-Crossed Afghans Cling to Love, Even at Risk of Death, Rod Norland (NYT)

Vice President Dies

Vice President Muhammad Qasim Fahim, 57, died on Sunday from an undisclosed illness, less than a month before elections (NYT, Post, WSJ, Pajhwok, Aljazeera, RFE/RL). Fahim, a former warlord who was crucial in ousting the Taliban, was a leader of the country's ethnic Tajik minority and was influential in helping Afghan President Hamid Karzai gain the support of northern warlords and Afghan Tajiks. Fahim parlayed his success as a commander during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s into a position of power within the government, ascending the ranks in spite of protests from many that his record was less than perfect; he was often accused of drug trafficking, corruption, and human rights abuses. But Fahim was expected to play an important role in Afghanistan's transition after the American military withdrawal this year by helping the Afghan administration navigate ethnic politics and maintain security. President Karzai has declared three days of national mourning for Fahim; his funeral ceremony will take place on Tuesday in Kabul.

Taliban threatens elections

The Taliban has warned Afghans not to participate in next month's presidential elections and told them to stay away from voting booths, saying it will use "all force at its disposal" to disrupt the vote in a statement issued on Monday (Reuters, Aljazeera, RFE/RL). The statement said the elections were a "sham" and that "casting ballots and participation is considered assistance of the Kuffar [infidels] and their stooges against Islam." Dozens of Afghan security forces and civilians were killed on the day of the 2009 presidential election.


Skip the Crowds (and militants) next ski season

Bamian, Afghanistan, a mountain town situation at 9,000 feet is best known for its ancient Buddhas that the Taliban destroyed but is becoming a ski destination for international tourists (NYT). East Horizon, a private airline, offers fliers a safer way to get to central Afghanistan's mountains by bypassing insurgent checkpoints on the roads. The two year-round hotels, the Noorband Qala and the Highland, offer about 30 rooms between them now, but two new hotels are scheduled to open in 2014 and Bamian will boast rooms for up to 300 tourists. Alison Tigg, a railway surveyor from London who was in the region recently, praised the town and its lack of crowds, saying "because there are not a lot of tourists, you just melt into it a bit more" and added that the bragging rights that come with a trip to a country at war are an added bonus. 


Supreme Court sets deadline for trial of convicted lawmakers

India's Supreme Court on Monday ordered that trials of Indian lawmakers convicted of serious crimes must be completed within a year, in an effort to expedite proceedings against sitting members of parliament and legislative assemblies (The Hindu, Times of IndiaIndian ExpressBBC). A bench headed by Justice R.M. Lodha ruled that trial courts that do not complete trials within a year will have to submit explanations to the Chief Justice of the respective high court. The Chief Justice of the high court can choose to extend this period, according to the decision.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that sitting officials found guilty of offenses carrying a jail term of at least two years should be barred from elections. Many trials against lawmakers have been kept pending for years, however, allowing members of parliament and assembly to continue to serve despite facing corruption and criminal cases. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, an election watchdog, 1,460 serving lawmakers across India currently face criminal charges.

Election Commission regulates social media spending

India's Election Commission has issued a set of rules to govern how candidates and political parties use social media, bringing political activity on sites such as Wikipedia, Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook under its purview (Indian Express). The Election Commission ruled that candidates should provide details on any "authentic social media accounts" in the affidavit they submit when they are nominated for office. 

Candidates will also be required to ensure that all political ads they released to any internet-based media or social media website have been pre-certified by the EC-appointed Media Certification and Monitoring Committees at district and state levels. In addition, candidates using social media to campaign will be required to include all spending on social media ads in the final statement of expenditure for candidates and parties, as stipulated by the Representation of the People Act of 1951. The provisions of the moral code of conduct will also apply for the first time to content posted online by candidates and political parties.

The Centre for Media Studies estimates that Indian politicians may spend around $5 billion on campaigning for elections next month, triple the expenditure in the last national poll in 2009 (NDTV). The sum would be second only to the $7 billion spent by candidates, parties, and support groups in the 2012 U.S. presidential race, the world's most expensive election to date.

Indo-U.S. energy dialogue commences

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz arrived in India on Monday to begin a three-day dialogue on energy with his counterpart Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of India's planning commission (The Hindu). The talks are expected to address issues including the security and supply of strategic oil reserves, South Asia regional energy integration, and the civilian use of nuclear energy. New Delhi is expected to seek a waiver on legacy investments in the upstream oil and gas sector, including in shale gas, in Sudan and other countries sanctioned by the United States. India is also interested in exports of liquefied natural gas from the United States (Reuters).

Moniz's visit was planned for January, but was delayed after a diplomatic conflict erupted between India and the United States over the arrest and handcuffing of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York. 

Wearing pants does not amount to cruelty, says Bombay court

The Bombay High Court ruled that refusal to have sex with a spouse during a honeymoon does not amount to cruelty and thus is not adequate grounds for divorce (NDTV). A wife occasionally wearing shirts and pants to the office and going out of town for work also do not amount to cruelty toward her husband, the court ruled.

The court was hearing an appeal filed by a 29-year-old wife whose husband had sought divorce on the grounds of cruelty. "The married life should be assessed as a whole and a few isolated instances over certain period will not amount to cruelty," justices V K Tahilramani and P N Deshmukh wrote in their decision. 

--Ana Swanson


Drought in Tharparker

A report submitted by the chief secretary of Sindh in the Supreme Court during the hearing of Tharparkar suo motu notice case said a total of 67 deaths of infants and children occurred in the last three months in the Thar desert (ET, DAWN). The number, which is lower than those cited by news agencies that estimates the death toll is closer to 125, have been attributed to pneumonia, sepsis, birth asphyxia, and malnutrition resulting from poor living conditions brought on by drought (DAWN). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced an aid package work Rs1 billion ($16 million) for the area to help bring relief in the form of food and better health care access (ET). The Thar Desert begins 200 miles from Karachi and runs to the border with India. Livestock, the economic mainstay of Tharparker, is dying because of the famine, too.

High-risk polio campaign

Health workers administered polio vaccines to thousands of children amid tight security on Sunday, the first day of the new polio drive aimed at Karachi's 24 high-risk areas (ET). The campaign is scheduled for every Sunday for the next four weeks and will target areas of Karachi that are both highly dangerous to health workers and highly sensitive to the polio virus. Certain measures, such as outfitting each vaccination team with a security detail and imposing a 10-hour ban on motorcycle traffic on Sundays, are being taken to try to lessen the security risk. A separate campaign in Balochistan that will span five districts began Monday and will last three days (ET). 

--Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen