The South Asia Channel

Nine Killed in Attack on Luxury Kabul Hotel; Modi, Advani to Contest Seats in Gujarat; Pakistan to Import Electricity from India

Bonus Read: "How Indian Youth Are Shaking Up the 2014 Election," Sriram Balasubramanian (SouthAsia).

Afghanistan 

Nine killed in attack on Kabul hotel 

At least nine people were killed and six were injured inside Kabul's luxury Serena Hotel on Thursday night when four teenagers entered the building's restaurant and opened fire, shooting patrons indiscriminately (Pajhwok, Reuters, TOLO News, WSJ). According to reports, the victims were a mix of Afghans and foreigners, children and adults. Sediq Sediqi, Afghanistan's Interior Minister, said that four foreign nationals from Canada, New Zealand, Pakistan, and India were among the victims, while Pajhwok Afghan News reported that a former Paraguayan diplomat was killed in the attack as well (AP, Pajhwok). The Agence France Presse wire service also announced that its Kabul reporter, Sardar Ahmad, his wife, and two of his three young children died in the attack; the third is still in critical condition (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). 

Afghan police said they believe the gunmen entered the hotel, smuggling small pistols in their shoes, and hid in the bathroom for several hours before launching the attack (CNN, VOA). All four were killed in an ensuing shootout with Afghan security forces.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the assault and said the attackers had fired at hotel guests that were celebrating the Afghan new year. According to the BBC, the Afghan government has also blamed the attack on Pakistan's recent ceasefire with the Taliban, saying that it has allowed the militants to focus on targeting Afghanistan instead (BBC).

The heavily fortified Serena Hotel, considered one of the most secure buildings in the Afghan capital, is frequently used by foreign officials, wealthy Afghans, and development workers, and has been a frequent target of insurgent attacks (NYT).  

More detainees released from Parwan Detention Center

The Afghan panel reviewing the cases of the remaining prisoners at the Parwan Detention Center at Bagram Airfield released 55 more inmates on Thursday, including 40 that had been detained by British forces in Helmand province (Pajhwok). The releases come just one month after Afghanistan's Attorney General Office freed 65 other prisoners, despite strong opposition from the United States.

Abdul Shakoor Dadras, a member of the panel, told reporters that 15 prisoners had denied having any connection with insurgents and that there was no incriminating evidence against the inmates that had been arrested by the British. However, Dadras also noted that: "We can't say who will join or who will not join the insurgent group" (TOLO News).

650 inmates have been released since the facility was transferred to the Afghans in 2012, and the cases of a further 48 prisoners are under review.

-- Bailey Cahall

India

Modi, Advani to contest seats in Gujarat 

Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial nominee for India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will contest a second parliamentary seat in Vadodara, in his home state of Gujarat, according to the BJP's fifth list of candidates (NYT). The BJP announced on Mar. 15 that Modi will run for a seat in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. India's Election Commission allows candidates to run for a maximum of two seats. If a candidate wins both seats, he or she has to vacate one within 10 days and allow a by-election to take place in the district.

The party list also assigned BJP senior leader Lal Krishna Advani to a seat in Gandhinagar in the northern state of Gujarat, a decision that reportedly sparked opposition from Advani himself and caused controversy within the party (BBC, The Hindu, Hindustan Times).

Advani, a founding member of the BJP and a former deputy prime minister, had initially requested to contest a seat from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. On Wednesday, however, the BJP overruled his request and announced his candidacy from Gandhinagar. Modi then met with Advani on Thursday to persuade him to rethink the decision. The BJP later relented, with President Rajnath Singh releasing a statement saying it was up to Advani to choose between Gandhinagar, the constituency he has represented for five terms, and Bhopal, the seat he wanted. "It is the unanimous view of the party that the choice of where to contest from should be left to Advaniji himself," Rajnath said.

Advani has long held ambitions to become the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, and reportedly shares an uneasy relationship with Modi. Last year, Advani briefly quit the BJP after Modi was appointed to head its election campaign, saying the party's current leaders were "now concerned with their personal agendas." He later withdrew his resignation at the urging of senior party leaders.

In the ruling Congress party, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram announced that he will not contest the general elections next month. A list of 50 names released by the party on Thursday night showed that his son, Karti P. Chidambaram, will be named as the Congress candidate from the Sivanganga constitutency in Tamil Nadu instead (NDTV, Economic Times). Chidambaram is the third senior congressmen from the state of Tamil Nadu to opt out of the elections this year.

Four sentenced to life in Mumbai rape case

An Indian court on Friday sentenced four men to life in prison for gang-raping a receptionist, the first time a Mumbai court has handed down the maximum sentence for rape under India's new laws (Times of India, Economic Times, WSJ, Mint). Showing leniency in this case would "make a mockery of justice," the judges presiding in the case said.

Three of the men also await sentencing on Monday for the gang rape of a photojournalist last year. Under the penal code, these men could be sentenced as "repeat offenders in a rape case," a charge which carries the death sentence as a maximum punishment. The attack on the photojournalist came eight months after the gang rape and subsequent death of a student in New Delhi, which paved the way for new laws and stricter punishments aimed at safeguarding women.

India rejects Chinese help for Malaysia plane search 

India has rejected a Chinese request to assist with the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 over concerns that the request might be an excuse for military spying (Indian Express, NDTV, Times of India). China had requested permission to allow four warships to enter the territorial waters of the Andaman Sea to locate the plane, which had 150 Chinese nationals on board. The Chinese Navy was told that the Indian Navy and Air Force were already scanning the area, government sources told the Press Trust of India.

India rejoined the search for the missing aircraft earlier this week, after receiving new search directions from Malaysia. India is ready to deploy long-range maritime surveillance aircraft, including the P-81 aircraft and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, for search operations in a new search area south of Indonesia (WSJ).

-- Ana Swanson

Pakistan

Pakistan set to import electricity from India 

A long-discussed electricity deal between India and Pakistan moved once step closer to finalization on Friday when Pakistan sent a draft power trade deal to India for its review (Dawn). According to reports, the draft was sent to India once the World Bank offered to finance a feasibility study and transmission line that would bring 1,200 megawatts of power from India to electricity-strapped Pakistan.

A senior government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Pakistan would initially import 500 megawatts of power, but would increase that to 1,200 megawatts over time. He added that the plan could be implemented within a year of laying the transmission line.

While India has expressed its intent to export electricity to Pakistan, if the requisite infrastructure is available, it has not yet commented on the draft deal (Economic Times). 

Fears that Amjad Shahid Afridi has been kidnapped

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported on Friday that the family of Amjad Shahid Afridi, a senior bureaucrat, fears he has been kidnapped after his car was found abandoned on a motorway in Peshawar the day before (Dawn). Local police officials said Afridi was staying at a government-run guest house after being transferred from Islamabad to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's provincial capital. While his latest assignment in the region has not yet been finalized, Afridi has previously served as the province's education secretary and secretary for information technology.

Meow! 

Three police officials guarding Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's farmhouse on the outskirts of Lahore were suspended for negligence this week after a cat devoured one of Sharif's peacocks (IBN). According to a police official, a gardener found the peacock's body on Tuesday and the incident was reported to the superintendent of police. While the men were indeed on guard, the police report noted that they "did not anticipate a cat eating the peacock at night." It is unclear if their suspensions are permanent, or what precautionary measures are being taken to protect the remaining birds. 

-- Bailey Cahall 

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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