The South Asia Channel

Bin Laden Son-in-Law Convicted; Pakistan's President Visits Afghanistan; Indian Candidates Accused of Involvement in Riots

Event Notice: "Afghanistan 2014: Dispatches from the Presidential Campaign Trail," MONDAY, 12:15 - 1:45 PM (NAF). 

Bonus Reads: "When the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban Unite," Michael Kugelman (SouthAsia); "A Shift in Afghanistan's Balance of Power," Moh. Sayed Madadi (SouthAsia). 

Al Qaeda

Abu Ghaith convicted in New York

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and a former al Qaeda spokesman, was found guilty of conspiring to kill Americans and of providing material support to terrorists on Wednesday, becoming the most senior al Qaeda operative to be convicted in a U.S. civilian court since 9/11 (Post, WSJ). An anonymous jury returned its guilty verdict in the Manhattan federal court after only six hours of deliberation conducted over two days. As the Wall Street Journal notes: "The quick conviction stands in contrast to the military commissions handling the cases of detainees at Guantanamo Bay which have moved more slowly." Abu Ghaith faces life in prison though his lawyer, Stanley Cohen, said his client would be appealing the verdict.

Pakistan 

Peace committees lay groundwork for continued talks

Representatives for the Pakistani government and the Taliban met for seven hours at an undisclosed location in North Waziristan on Wednesday, the first time the two sides conducted face-to-face talks since the peace process was launched last year (NYT, RFE/RL). According to multiple reports, the meeting predominantly focused on ironing out logistical issues for further talks, though both sides also discussed extending the ceasefire that began in February. While further details were not provided, Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman, told the Wall Street Journal that the "meeting took place in a pleasant and friendly atmosphere" (WSJ). 

Speaking to reporters outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on Thursday, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party chairman Imran Khan commented on the ongoing negotiations, saying that the talks "made it clear which groups want peace and which do not" (ET). While he did not elaborate on what those groups were, Khan added that the Taliban did not want to enforce sharia (Islamic) law in Pakistan by force, claiming that they wanted to end the U.S. war instead (Dawn). Khan argued that he has been saying the same thing for 10 years, but did not provide any more information. The comments conflict with those from the Taliban themselves, who have consistently argued for the implementation of sharia law across the country. 

Aslam: No intelligence provided on militants moving to Syria

Tasneem Aslam, a spokesperson for Pakistan's Foreign Office, told reporters on Thursday that the United States had not provided any intelligence information to the government that could prove militants were traveling from Pakistan to Syria (Dawn). Speaking at her weekly press conference, Aslam was responding to questions about a report published by the New York Times on Wednesday that quoted CIA Director John Brennan as saying that dozens of al Qaeda militants were moving from Pakistan to Syria to establish bases from which they could plan attacks on Europe and the United States. 

According to the report by the Times' Eric Schmitt: "New classified intelligence assessments based on information from electronic intercepts, informers and social media posts conclude that Al Qaeda's senior leadership in Pakistan, including Ayman al-Zawahri, is developing a much more systematic, long-term plan" to recruit and train the more than 1,000 American and European Muslims that have gone to Syria to fight against President Bashar Assad's forces (NYT). The concern is that these fighters could then return home to conduct attacks, though one Western security official said: "At this stage, it's a lot less organized than a directed plan." 

Aslam: Kidnapped Iranian guards not in Pakistan 

At the same press conference, Aslam reiterated that five Iranian border guards who went missing six weeks ago are not being held in Pakistan (ET). She told reporters that there was no proof the men were in the country, and added that the government has and will continue to make every effort to find them (RFE/RL).

Her comments came three days after Jaishul Adl, a Sunni Muslim rebel group operating in southeast Iran, claimed to have killed one of the missing soldiers (VOA).

Afghanistan 

Pakistani president makes first visit to Kabul

Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain arrived in Kabul on Thursday, making his first visit to Afghanistan since taking office last September (RFE/RL). Hussain, who was accompanied by Pervaiz Rashid, Pakistan's Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, joined several other Eurasian leaders in the country to celebrate Nowruz, the Persian new year (ET, Pajhwok). According to reports, Hussain's visit is part of an effort to strengthen Pakistan's relationship with Afghanistan, though he will also meet with the other leaders to discuss regional security and economic cooperation. Bonus read: "Afghans Criticize Government's Handling Of International Norouz Event," Frud Bezhan (RFE/RL).

Hussain's visit comes one day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon met and signed five different bilateral agreements on trade and investment, cultural collaboration, arts partnerships, media coalitions, and greater cooperation between the countries' respective radio television stations (Pajhwok). Rahmon also commented on the impending withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan at the end of this year, saying: "[W]e are focused on expanding security, military and border and judicial relations with Afghanistan to overcome possible security threats in the future" (TOLO News). 

Naeem formally withdraws from 2014 race 

Speaking to reporters in Kabul on Wednesday, Sardar Muhammad Nadir Naeem confirmed what many already suspected: that he was withdrawing from the race for Afghanistan's next president and throwing his support behind Zalmai Rassoul (AP, Pajhwok, RFE/RL, TOLO News). The grandson of and former chief of staff for Afghanistan's King Zahir Shah, Naeem was the third candidate to withdraw his candidacy in as many weeks, and the second to support Rassoul. His departure leaves eight candidates competing to become current President Hamid Karzai's successor. Afghans will head to the polls on Saturday, April 5. 

Rassoul, a former foreign minister, is considered one of the leading contenders, along with former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. 

Cricketers win "Spirit of Sport" Award

Afghanistan's cricket team won the Laureus Spirit of Sport Award, one of the "premier honor[s] on the international sporting stage," on Wednesday night at an event in Kuala Lumpur (TOLO News). The award, which is designed to recognize "the most remarkable men and women from the world of sport," was given to the cricketers for the impressive growth of cricket in Afghanistan over the last 12 years. Noor Mohammad Murad, the Afghanistan Cricket Board's CEO, traveled to Malaysia to accept the award and commented that cricket is more than a game in Afghanistan, noting that it has contributed to efforts for peace, unity, and development (Pajhwok). Bonus read: "The batsman," Jeffrey E. Stern (SouthAsia).

-- Bailey Cahall

India

Five accused in Muzaffarnagar riots run for office

Ahead of national elections in Uttar Pradesh, various political parties have fielded five candidates that stand accused of being complicit in the Muzaffarnagar riots that occurred last August, India media outlets reported on Thursday (NDTV, Economic Times). Three candidates from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and another from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) have been accused of making inflammatory speeches that sparked massive riots between Hindu and Muslim communities in the Muzaffarnagar district, killing 40 and forcing more than 50,000 to flee their homes.

The Supreme Court indicted the Uttar Pradesh government on Wednesday for failing to protect its citizens in the riots, but did not called for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Instead, the panel -- led by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam -- called for the arrests of all those accused in the riots, regardless of their political affiliation (Indian Express). The court has taken a tough stance on criminals in politics recently, passing orders requiring expedited cases for any accused legislators and ensuring that those found guilty lose their seats (New Indian Express). 

Supreme Court rules big changes to Indian cricket 

The Supreme Court's handling of a case involving spot-fixing (or betting) in the Indian Premier League also promises to bring sweeping changes to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the sport's governing body in the country. On Thursday, the current head of the BCCI, N. Srinivasan, agreed to step down from his post after the court threatened to pass an order demanding his resignation; judges handling the case described his unwillingness to resign in the face of allegations "nauseating" (NDTV). The court recommended that former Indian cricket player Sunil Gavaskar replace Srinivasan in the interim and Gavaskar has indicated his willingness to do so (The Hindu).

The court has also proposed suspending two teams at the center of the spot-fixing scandal, the Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings (owned by Srinivasan's firm India Cements), from playing in this year's Indian Premier League tournament, scheduled to start April 16 (BBC). There has been no comment from the International Cricket Council on the ongoing investigation.

Star power

Indian astrologers and gurus have begun to weigh in on the potential outcomes of the upcoming Indian election, offering prospective candidates election strategies based on their dates of birth, as well as advice on what jewelry they should wear for better luck (WSJ India Realtime). Bihar politician Lalu Prasad Yadav reportedly filled his swimming pool with garbage on the advice of a guru in order to prevent the recent spate of defections occurring in his party. It has also been reported that Nandan Nilekani, once head of India's largest software company Infosys, consulted astrologers before filing his nomination papers in Bangalore.

Bejan Daruwalla, who calls himself the "world's most famous astrologer," has even suggested that Venus would propel a large number of female voters to come out and vote in this election. He also advised candidates to wear more yellow topaz as the stone aligns with the dates on which results are most likely to be announced. In a country where several look to the advice of astrologers to decide marriage timings, real estate purchases, and business prospects, it is not unusual for soothsayers to divine other uses for their talents. 

-- Shruti Jagirdar 

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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