The South Asia Channel

India Joins Search for Missing Flight; Canadian Troops Leave Afghanistan; Taliban Attacks Persist Despite Ceasefire

India

India searches uninhabited islands for missing Malaysian flight

India joined the ever-expanding search for the missing Malaysian airlines flight MH370 on Friday, with the Indian navy, coast guard, and air force beginning operations in the Andaman and Nicobar islands off India's east coast (WSJ India Realtime, WSJ: Map, Hindustan Times, NYT). There are 572 islands that make up the Andaman archipelago, but with only 37 inhabited, the search requires the use of heat-seeking devices to sift through the dense tropical jungle. According to Reuters, the last plot on the military's radar tracking system suggested that the plane was flying toward the Andaman islands, which lie between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal (Reuters). The diversion of the place so far from its intended route from Kuala Lampur to Beijing has raised suspicions of foul play. Thus far, 12 nations have contributed resources to the search for the missing Boeing 777 flight.

Three convicted, six acquitted in 2008 nun rape case 

A local court in Cuttack in the state of Odisha pronounced its judgment on Friday in a 2008 case where communal riots in the district of Kandhamal led to the attack and gang rape of a nun, who was subsequently paraded naked through the streets of Baliguda town (MintTimes of IndiaBBC).  A case against the accused was filed in August 2010. While the court will shortly announce punishments for the three men who have been found guilty of rape , six have been acquitted due to a lack of evidence. The 2008 riots killed 38 people and were triggered by the murder of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (a Hindu nationalist organization) leader Laxmanananda Saraswati.

WPI inflation eases

Data released by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry on Friday suggest that India's Wholesale Price Index, India's main measure of inflation, decreased to 4.68 percent in February (Reuters, Hindustan Times). At 8.10 percent, consumer inflation also reached a 25-month low and decreasing food prices helped ease inflationary fears since January, according to the reports. Despite the falling numbers, the Reserve Bank of India is expected to continue targeting inflationary expectations through monetary policy. However, unseasonal rain and hail, which destroyed crops in several parts of India last week, may push food prices up in the immediate future, at a time when India is headed for national elections

-- Shruti Jagirdar

Afghanistan

Canada pulls its combat troops

After more than 12 years of war and the largest deployment of personnel since World War II, Canadian military operations in Afghanistan came to a formal close this week (CNN, WSJ). Over 40,000 troops have been rotated in and out of the country since NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) first entered the country in 2001. In a ceremony in Kabul on Wednesday to mark the withdrawal, Maj. Gen. Dean Milner, Canadian commander of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan recognized the sacrifices made by Canadian troops during their deployment, saying: "I think we can feel proud about our accomplishments down in Kandahar," A reference to missions conducted by 3,000 Canadian troops in the troubled region in 2010 and 2011.

The withdrawal comes as part of a larger commitment by NATO to remove all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, though ISAF has reported that the Canadian government has committed to spending $330 million to help fund Afghan security forces.

Taliban fighters attack polling station

Taliban-linked militants attacked the campaign offices of three election candidates in eastern Laghman province on Friday, damaging buildings but failing to cause any casualties (Pajhwok). The offices in the Qargai district's Chahargagh bazaar belonged to provincial council runners, according to Sarhadi Zwak, the governor's spokesman. A statement by the Taliban claiming responsibility for the attack follows a warning issued by the group on Monday that they would attack those associated with the election process.

Elsewhere, four Taliban militants were killed on Friday when a roadside bomb they were planting in the Nawzad district of southern Helmand province exploded (Pajhwok). In the same district, police killed two militants who were also planting a roadside bomb. Taliban commander and mine-making expert Mullah Asmat was reportedly among those killed. The Taliban have not commented on the incidents.

Pakistan

Explosions in spite of cease-fire

At least ten people were killed and 31 were injured in an explosion in Quetta on Friday, when a bus passed by a bicycle outfitted with a bomb (Dawn, ET). According to the city's Bomb Disposal Squad, more than five kilograms of explosives were used in the bomb and the blast was heard up to five kilometers from the scene. The police believe the target was a Frontier Corps' vehicle, which passed by the area a few moments earlier.

At least seven people were killed in a suicide bombing in the village of Sarband, near Peshawar, on Friday (ET, RFE/RL, Dawn). The bomber approached a van carrying police and detonated his explosives, killing those inside and women and children who were nearby More than two-dozen people were wounded. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attacks come in spite of a month-long ceasefire declared by the Pakistani Taliban on March 1 as a goodwill gesture to restart peace talks with the Pakistani government.

Rape victim self-immolates 

An 18-year-old first-year female student in Punjab set herself on fire in protest on Thursday after the court granted bail to the man who allegedly raped her (Dawn, ET). According to the girl, she was returning home from college on Jan. 5 when the accused, and four of his accomplices, raped her in a deserted section of the province's Bet Mir Hazar area. She filed a report with local police, who registered a case of attempted rape, lodged a protest with the police station on Thursday when her main accuser was released. She then doused herself with petrol and set herself on fire outside the police station. She died Friday morning (Dawn)

--Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen

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