The South Asia Channel

Musharraf Formally Indicted for Treason; Taliban Attack Election HQ, Aid House in Kabul; Indians Question Sri Lanka Vote

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

Bonus Read: "Afghanistan's First Lady," Malali Bashir (SouthAsia).

Pakistan 

Musharraf indicted on treason charges

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was formally indicted for high treason on Monday, marking "the first time that an acting or former army chief has been indicted" for the crime (AP, BBC, ET, Reuters, RFE/RL, VOA). Appearing before a special three-member tribunal in Islamabad, Musharraf pleaded not guilty to all five of the charges, which stem from his 2007 decision to suspend the Pakistani constitution and declare a state of emergency.

The indictment occurred shortly after Musharraf arrived at the court, though Farogh Naseem, his lawyer, noted that the ex-military leader's appearance was voluntary and that an arrest warrant against him had not been executed (Dawn). It was the second time Musharraf had appeared in court since the trial proceedings initially began last December; there have been numerous delays due to security and health concerns by Musharraf and his lawyers (NYT).

Musharraf, who is facing a number of charges related to his time in office, could face the death penalty or life in prison, should he be convicted. 

Pakistani officials dispute claims over attacks, equipment

In an interview with Voice of America on Monday, Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's advisor of foreign policy and national security, denied new allegations from Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday that Pakistan is behind a string of recent attacks ahead of the country's presidential elections (VOA). Aziz told VOA's Ayaz Gul that Pakistani officials thought they had convinced Karzai that they had no favorites in Afghanistan and were maintaining a policy of non-interference. Of the latest accusations, he said: "It is rather unfortunate because there is no justification for it. What do we get out of disrupting the elections? For us, a smooth transition in Afghanistan is absolutely critical because without peace and stability in Afghanistan Pakistan cannot be stable."

Asif Yasin Malik, Pakistan's defense secretary, also told reporters on Monday that Pakistan would indeed be receiving leftover equipment when U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, disputing a recent statement by Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the head of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, that the hardware would remain in Afghanistan (Dawn). Malik added that Pakistani forces would first go through the equipment and then decide what they wanted.

Dunford released the statement last Thursday, after the Washington Post reported that surplus military equipment in the war zone was being given to Pakistan, causing an uproar in Afghanistan. The coalition has not yet commented on Malik's claims. 

Rumi attacked in Lahore, driver killed

Raza Rumi, a well-known anchorman for Pakistan's Express News, was attacked in Lahore on Friday when unknown gunmen opened fire on his car (VOA). While Rumi escaped unharmed, his guard was injured and his driver was killed in the incident. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the fourth such assault on media workers in Pakistan this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Rumi wrote about the incident in an op-ed for Pakistan's Express Tribune, titled "Escaping death in the Land of the Pure" (ET). He describes the assault -- the car's windows shattering as he lay on the floor - the lack of assistance he first received from the crowd that had gathered and a nearby private hospital, and called on citizens to turn "our collective outrage...into public pressure to change the direction of the state and stop it from committing hara-kiri at the altar of a fabricated ideology or regional ambitions." 

Afghanistan

Taliban fighters attack IEC headquarters, guesthouse

Taliban fighters attacked the headquarters of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kabul on Saturday, just one week before Afghans head to the polls to vote for President Hamid Karzai's successor (AP, BBC, NYT). According to reports, the burqa-clad militants climbed onto the roof of a nearby building and fired rockets into the heavily fortified compound.

Mohammad Zahir, Kabul's police chief, reported that there were no casualties among the IEC personnel who were in the building at the time, though Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said two members of the Afghan security forces were injured in the assault (VOA, RFE/RL). All five militants were killed in the fighting that followed the attack.

The incident came one day after militants attacked and then barricaded themselves in a guesthouse in Kabul that housed Roots for Peace, a nongovernmental organization funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (AP, Post, WSJ). While several people who were in the house at the time of the attack were able to get out safely, two civilian bystanders were killed and four guards were wounded. The four militants who attacked the compound, and one suicide bomber, were also killed in a shootout with Afghan security forces.

Roots for Peace, a California-based charity, has been operating in Afghanistan since 2003, "running projects to turn minefields into vineyards and orchards," but the Taliban issued a statement claiming the building was being used as a church to convert Afghans to Christianity (RFE/RL). According to the New York Times, there is a Christian-run day care center next to the guesthouse (NYT).

Media outlets reporting on the attacks over the weekend noted that the increasing violence ahead of Saturday's presidential election is causing some international monitors to leave the country or curtail their activities, which could threaten the credibility of the vote. According to the New York Times, the National Democratic Institute, "a mainstay of previous Afghan elections," closed its Kabul office and sent its monitors home after the Mar. 21 attack on the Serena Hotel (NYT). The International Republican Institute is also not involved in this election, and while U.N. officials are still in the country, they are operating under numerous security restrictions, which will make it difficult to monitor polling stations and mitigate any instances of fraudulent voting. Bonus read: "Tea, Soup, Sweets -- And A Little Bakshish -- Crucial To Afghan Campaigning," Frud Bezhan (RFE/RL).

Council candidate and entourage kidnapped in Sar-i-Pul

Abdul Jabar Haqbeen, the governor of Afghanistan's Sar-i-Pul province, told reporters on Monday that Taliban gunmen had abducted Hussain Nazari, a local candidate running for a provincial council seat, and seven members of his entourage overnight (AP, Pajhwok). According to the reports, the men were traveling to the provincial capital, but had no security escort with them. Haqbeen added that elders in the area are trying to negotiate with the Taliban for their release.

-- Bailey Cahall

India

Bonus Read: "Sri Lanka's Long Road to Reconciliation," Eliot Engel (SouthAsia).

Indians question abstention in Sri Lanka vote 

Several Indian politicians have questioned the country's choice to abstain from the recent U.N. Human Rights Council vote that approved an international investigation into war crimes committed in Sri Lanka (NYT). The council on Thursday voted 23 to 12 on a U.S.-sponsored resolution to call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate allegations of violations and human rights abuses. India was among 12 countries that abstained. 

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters on Friday that he believed India should have supported the resolution, though he pointed out there is no political consensus on the issue (Hindustan Times). A native of Tamil Nadu, where ethnic Tamils are sympathetic to Sri Lanka's minority group, Chidambaram said that officials in the external affairs ministry could have taken action.

Some media reports questioned whether the Congress party's decision to abstain from the vote will hurt its prospects in Tamil Nadu, where local politicians reacted with indignation to the decision (Economic Times). M.K. Stalin, the treasurer of the state's Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam party, condemned the decision to abstain and accused the central government of abandoning ethnic Tamils (Times of India). He attributed the decision to his party's exit from the ruling United Progressive Alliance, which the Congress leads.

India's ambassador to the U.N., Dilip Sinha, said before the vote on Thursday that India remains engaged in Sri Lanka's relief and reconstruction process, but that human rights issues should be addressed through national mechanisms.

Militant Bhullar's sentence commuted to life

India's Supreme Court on Monday commuted the death sentence of a Sikh militant convicted of a car bombing in Delhi more than two decades ago to life in prison (NDTV, BBC, Hindustan Times, Mint). Devinderpal Singh Bhullar's wife had petitioned the court to stay his execution, citing the long delay in deciding his appeal and alleged mental illness he developed on death row. Bhullar was sentenced to death in 2001 for orchestrating a 1993 bombing in Delhi that killed nine people. He filed a mercy plea in 2002 that was rejected by the president in 2011.

In January, the Supreme Court commuted the sentences of 15 death row prisoners due to "inordinate and inexplicable" delays in their execution. The court also said in the verdict that mental illness and the use of solitary confinement could make a convict eligible for a reduced sentence. India has more than 400 convicts on death row, but it rarely carries out executions.

Court orders BJP, Congress to take action in Delhi 

The Supreme Court also asked the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress to clarify within two weeks whether they can form a government together in Delhi (NDTV). In February, the court asked the two parties to explore the possibility of "joining hands," after a government formed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) left office in February. Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP leader, resigned as chief minister on Feb.14 after his bill to set up an anti-corruption ombudsman failed.

The AAP has argued for fresh elections to be held, but the central government opposed this. Both the BJP and Congress have requested the court to take the matter up after general elections conclude in mid-May. The BJP won 33 of Delhi's 70 seats in the elections held in December, while the AAP won 28 and Congress won eight. After the BJP said it didn't have the support needed for a majority, the Congress offered external support to the AAP to form a government. 

Fake Facebook likes, Maoist messages proliferate ahead of election 

Facebook has started cracking down on fraudulent accounts with a suspiciously high number of "likes" in an attempt to combat the use of fake online followers to boost politicians' social media presence (Hindustan Times). Facebook data show that close to 52,000 pages exist for Indian politicians and political parties, only 60 of which are verified. Company officials say they are taking actions against sellers of fake clicks and working to shut them down. Facebook has around 93 million monthly active users in India.

India's Maoist insurgents have begun using bulk SMS services for the first time to ask people to boycott upcoming polls in Bihar and Jharkhand, police officials said Monday (NDTV). Reports said the short mobile messages were issued on behalf of "Avinash," the spokesperson for the Communist Party of India-Maoist border zonal committee. The group has also sent messages ordering its party cadres and units to target and attack security forces during the election. 

-- Ana Swanson

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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