The South Asia Channel

Zia Indicted in Bangladesh; Abu Ghaith Takes Stand in Own Defense; Militants Raid Police Compound in Nangarhar

Editor's Note: The New America Foundation's International Security Program is looking for Pakistani fellows to participate in its New Voices Program, an initiative to bring Pakistan's next generation of leaders to meet with policymakers and persons of influence in Washington, DC. For more information about the six-week fellowship, as well as application requirements, please check out the fellowship listing here.

Bonus read: A new survey by the National Council for Applied Economic Research paints a grim picture of the lives of married Indian women. 

India

Bangladeshi opposition leader indicted

Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and several other opposition leaders were indicted on corruption charges on Wednesday in Dhaka (BBC, Guardian, NYT, Post, WSJ). Zia, her son Tarique Rahman, and seven of their associates will face trial on April 21 for allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable funds.

Bangladesh's Anti-Corruption Commission filed two sets of charges against the defendants in 2008, accusing them of misappropriating about $430,000 intended for the Zia Orphanage Trust, a charity named after Zia's late husband. Zia's lawyers deny the charges and say they were politically motivated.

Judges on Wednesday rejected a request by Zia's lawyers to postpone trials for the two cases, which have already been delayed more than 50 times. The hearing turned raucous after the judges decided to proceed with the indictment, with lawyers for the defense and prosecution hurling abuse at the judges and each other. 

The trial threatens to inflame the country's already tense political situation. Zia's party mounted a series of protests last year that largely paralyzed the country, then boycotted national elections in January, which were won by Awami League leader Sheik Hasina. Zia has called the January elections a "scandalous farce."

Four convicted in Mumbai rape case 

A Mumbai court convicted four men on Thursday of the gang rape of a 22-year-old photographer while she took photos at an abandoned mill compound in Mumbai last year. (Guardian, Hindustan Times, Mint). The judge said the four men would be sentenced on Friday, when they may be given life in prison. A fifth man accused of the crime is being tried by a juvenile court. 

In the same hearing, three of the men were also found guilty of gang-raping an 18-year-old telephone operator one month earlier at the same compound. She came forward to police after the photographer's case made headlines. An additional minor is being tried in the second case.

The attack sparked public outrage last year over the lack of safety for women in Mumbai, which had long been considered safer than the capital of New Delhi.

India issues election guidelines for social media 

India's Election Commission issued detailed guidelines for major social networking sites on political advertisements, including asking them to obtain certification for content before posting it (The Hindu, Hindustan Times, Indian Express). The commission asked social media sites to maintain records of political parties' expenditure on advertisements and ensure that candidates do not post material online that violates India's moral code of conduct, which governs candidate behavior during an election.

The guidelines are applicable to Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia, as well as other social networking sites. The Election Commission said it was issuing the guidelines as part of its broader efforts to address the problem of paid news. All major political parties are using social networking sites as part of their campaign strategy, particularly to reach young voters.

-- Ana Swanson 

Pakistan

OBL's son-in-law takes the stand

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, bin Laden's son-in-law and a former spokesman for al Qaeda, took the stand in his own defense on Wednesday and said that when the al Qaeda leader "asked him to rally Muslims world-wide the day after the 9/11 attacks, he agreed" (WSJ). Speaking in the New York federal court, where he is on trial for conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to the militant organization, Abu Ghaith said he was hesitant to accept the request, "but acquiesced because he believed in the message."

According to Abu Ghaith, bin Laden gave him four or five "bullet points" which he used to record a 20-minute video taking responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, which he claimed were "a natural result for the oppression that befell Muslims." However, he said he didn't know about the attacks beforehand and "insisted [that] he wasn't speaking on behalf of al Qaeda or referring to the group when he said ‘we' in that or subsequent videos;" instead he was referring to the entire Muslim community.

His surprise testimony -- his lawyers had previously said they were unlikely to call him to the stand -- makes Abu Ghaith one of the most senior alleged al Qaeda leaders to testify in a U.S. civilian court. 

Pakistani officials dispute OBL allegations

Pakistani officials responded on Thursday to a story published a day earlier by the New York Times' Carlotta Gall which said Pakistan knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding, calling Gall's claims "totally baseless" (ET). Rao Qamar Suleman, a former Pakistan Air Force chief, said the facts in the article had been distorted, while Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, the director general of the Inter Services Public Relations unit, said the accusations were not credible and had already been proven wrong (ET).

In the article, titled "What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden," and adapted from Gall's forthcoming book, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2004-2014, the veteran journalist writes that in 2011, a source told her that Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, then the head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, knew that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. In 2012, another source told her that the ISI actually had a special "supersecret" desk devoted just to handling the al Qaeda leader.

Neither Gall nor the New York Times has responded to the criticisms.

Afghanistan

Taliban storm police compound, kill 11

At least 10 police officers, including the district police chief, were killed and more than 20 people were injured in Nangarhar province on Thursday when Taliban militants stormed a police compound in Jalalabad; one civilian was also killed (AP, Pajhwok, RFE/RL, VOA). According to Gen. Mohammed Ayub Solangi, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister, the early morning assault began with several explosions outside the compound's entrance -- which is near the provincial governor's residence, several government buildings, and a state-run television station -- and was followed by a gun battle that lasted for several hours (AFP, BBC, NYT). Reports indicate that all seven assailants were killed in the fighting.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, telling media outlets that it had been carried out by Taliban fighters. It was the latest in a series of attacks by the Taliban, which has said it is trying to disrupt the presidential election scheduled for April 5. 

Elsewhere in Zabul province, Ghulam Jilani Farhai, the deputy police chief, was wounded on Thursday when a gunman attacked the vehicle he was traveling in; one police officer was killed and another was wounded in the incident (Pajhwok). According to Brig. Gen. Ghulam Sakhi Rough Lewanai, the provincial police chief, the shooting took place near police headquarters and the attacker has been arrested. The Taliban claimed responsibility for this attack as well.

Both attacks occurred one day after a bicycle bomb killed two people and injured several others in Ghazni province's capital city, though no one has claimed responsibility for that blast (AP, RFE/RL). Zahir Khan, a police officer in charge of Andar district's criminal investigation unit, was among those killed in the explosion (Pajhwok, TOLO News).

Militants storm candidate offices in Herat

Militant fighters also attacked the campaign offices of three presidential candidates in Herat province on Thursday, though no casualties were reported (Pajhwok). According to provincial police officials, a rocket was fired into Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai's office in the Islam Qala district, while militants stormed Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf's office in the Shindand district. Pajhwok Afghan News reported that an assault was launched against Abdullah Abdullah's office in the Injil district, though it is unclear what exactly occurred.

Security concerns in Badakhshan province also prompted Governor Shah Waliullah Adib to announce on Thursday that election materials will be airlifted by NATO helicopters to 14 provincial districts over the next few days (Pajhwok). Adib noted that the presence of Taliban insurgents and a lack of roads made it impossible to transport the materials over ground routes. Coalition aircraft have been similarly used in Afghanistan's previous elections as well. Bonus read: "Taliban Bastion Awaits Afghan Vote," Yaroslav Trofimov (WSJ).

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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