The South Asia Channel

U.N. Releases Drone Report; Sri Lanka Frees Dozens of Imprisoned Fishermen; Gang Violence Rocks Karachi

Bonus Read: "Something Rotten in the State of India," Ana Swanson (South Asia Channel).

Afghanistan

U.N. releases report on drones

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, released his 21-page report examining drone strikes on Tuesday and called for independent investigations into the strikes (Guardian, The Atlantic, RT).  The report -- which was a commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council following a recent series of strikes that resulted in unexpected civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere -- samples 30 drone strikes and discusses more than 300 alleged deaths between 2006 and 2013. Having reviewed the strikes, Emmerson called on the states responsible to conduct a "prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation [...] whenever there is a plausible indication from any source that civilian casualties may have been sustained." An interactive website accompanies the report, guiding readers through each section of the report with maps, drone pictures and descriptions, and videos documenting evidence collection.

In an interview with the Guardian before the release of the report, Emmerson said that Britain's squadron of Reaper drones currently deployed in Afghanistan will most likely not be returning to the United Kingdom. Instead, he noted: "The plan is to deploy them to parts of Africa and the Middle East where they can be used for surveillance...over a wide range of territory [in conflicts] where one party is a jihadist group." Britain's Minister of Defense said no decisions on redeploying the drones had been made, but Emmerson's comments and his report add to the growing international concern over the impact of the growing use of armed drones.

Former al Qaeda operative testifies at trial

Saajid Badat, a former al Qaeda operatative, testified on Tuesday as a key witness for prosecutors in their case against Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the alleged al Qaeda spokesman who is accused of providing material support to terrorists (WSJ, ET, TIME, NYT). Badat testified in court that he met regularly with top al Qaeda leaders during the three years he was in Afghanistan from 1999 to 2001, but said he never heard of or spoke to the defendant, who is Osama bin Laden's son-in-law. Badat, a 34-year-old British national was billed as a key witness for the prosecution, but his testimony on Tuesday about his involvement in the infamous plot to blow up airplanes with a shoe bomb in 2001 and his 20-50 meetings with bin Laden left out any involvement of Ghaith. The testimony could undermine the prosecution's case and boost the defense's claim that Ghaith was a low-level player in the organization and not a senior leader, as prosecutors have alleged.

Badat did mention that he flew from Pakistan to the Netherlands and then on to the United Kingdom with a bomb in his shoe in 2001, but did not detonate it because "Plan A" had been to blow up a domestic flight in the United States. He also told jurors that in 2001 he gave a group of Malaysians affiliated with al Qaeda, and intent on blowing up a Malaysian airliner, a shoe bomb "to help them access the cockpit of the plane."

-- Emily Schneider

India

Sri Lanka releases 116 Indian fishermen ahead of talks

A day ahead of talks between India and Sri Lanka, a Sri Lankan court ordered the release of 116 Indian fishermen on Tuesday (The Hindu). The talks will be on the issue of fishermen, who are largely Tamil, being arrested by the Sri Lankan navy for transgressing international boundaries and will involve officials and fishermen's association leaders from both countries. The issue is especially contentious around Katchatheevu, an islet ceded to Colombo in 1974, which Indian fishermen insist is part of their traditional fishing area.

Elsewhere, the state of Tamil Nadu had threatened to withdraw from talks unless the Sri Lankan government also released 177 Tamil fishermen and 44 boats in its custody (The Hindu). While there has been no further comment from the Tamil Nadu government, it appears the talks will proceed as planned and will be the second in a series of talks to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels.

SC: Unexplained delay in granting mercy plea can lessen death sentence

On Tuesday, India's Supreme Court dismissed a central government petition asking it to reverse its Jan. 21 stand that inordinate and inexplicable delays in addressing mercy petitions allow the court to lessen a death sentence to a life sentence (NDTV, Deccan Chronicle, Hindustan Times). While announcing this verdict in January, the Supreme Court, headed by a panel under Chief Justice P. Sathasvam, had commuted the death sentences of 15 people, citing delays in the time taken by numerous presidents to answer their mercy petitions. Other reforms recently pushed by the court include ensuring speedier trials for lawmakers, who, if found guilty, risk losing their seat in the legislature. The court has also referred the matter of what constitutes "hate speech" to an independent law commission and is expected to pass a verdict on it soon (DNA).

Unexpected rain, hail causes havoc

Unseasonal weather patterns have caused hailstorms in the plains and snowfall in parts of northern India, resulting in significant losses in lives and livelihoods (NDTV). In Hyderabad, hailstorms have caused traffic jams and the disruption of power and telephone lines (Times of India). In Maharashtra, it is estimated that there has been damage to winter crops in 1.1 million hectares across 28 districts (Indian Express). The state's chief minister called for immediate talks on financial assistance to farmers, since several are already under the burden of paying back crippling loans. Parts of the Srinagar-Jammu highway have been closed for four days and flights into Srinagar have been cancelled on account of bad weather. 

-- Shruti Jagirdar

Pakistan

Gang violence in Karachi

Rival gangs opened fire in the midst of Karachi on Wednesday, killing 14 people, including eight women and three children (Reuters, Dawn, ET). The shootout occurred in Lyari, a notoriously dangerous neighborhood in the port city where rival gangs have been fighting for control for years. The indiscriminate attack was sparked by the recent death of a gang leader's brother, who was killed by police on Tuesday night. Police and paramilitary forces have since entered Lyari and two attackers have been killed in shootouts with security forces.

Attack on polio vaccination team

Two policemen who had escorted a polio vaccination team in Pakistan's north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province's Dera Ismail Khan district were killed by an unidentified gunman on Wednesday (BBC, Dawn).  The two policemen were returning home after a day spent protecting health workers who were part of an ongoing anti-polio campaign when they were killed. The ongoing attacks against polio workers in the province prompted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party chairperson Imran Khan to call for the inclusion of the polio issue in the agenda for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban; Khan's Party controls the provincial government (ET). 

A Taliban ban on the polio vaccine has prevented the campaign from reaching children in North and South Waziristan during the three-day drive across the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which started on Monday (Dawn).

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen.

Nigel Roddis/Getty Images