The South Asia Channel

U.S. Ambassador to India Resigns; Afghan Forces Seize Tons of Explosives; U.S. Says Pakistan Not Getting Surplus Hardware

Bonus Reads: "India Needs a Plan B in Post-2014 Afghanistan," Shanthie Mariet D'Souza (SouthAsia); "Why Pakistan is So Dangerous for Journalists," Saba Imtiaz (SouthAsia).


Nancy Powell resigns as U.S. envoy

After nearly two years as U.S. ambassador to India, Nancy Powell resigned from the post on Tuesday with plans to leave India at the end of May (BBC, Time, Indian Express). According to the U.S. State Department, Powell will retire to her home in Delaware, a move she has been planning for "some time."

Powell's resignation comes months after U.S.-India relations soured over the arrest and expulsion of an Indian diplomat in New York over alleged visa fraud, but Department spokespersons insisted that had nothing to do with her resignation. In a statement, Powell "expressed her appreciation for the professionalism and dedication of the U.S. mission to India team" and thanked those who have "extended traditional warm Indian hospitality to her and who have supported stronger bilateral ties." Powell previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Nepal, and Pakistan.

Modi eligible for U.S. visa if elected as prime minister 

A report published on Monday by the U.S. Congressional Research Service indicated that Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, would be automatically eligible for a U.S. visa if elected to the country's top job (Times of India, Indian Express). According to the report, Modi, who currently has a nine-year visa ban for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, would be given an A-1 visa to the United States were he to become head of state, irrespective of the purpose of his visit. In such a case, only President Obama would have the authority to deny Modi a visa if he deemed his visit detrimental to U.S. interests. The report, titled "Visa Policy: The case of Narendra Modi," was prepared at the request of lawmakers who oppose granting a visa to Modi.

Supreme Court dismisses center's plea on Rajiv killers

India's Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea by the central government to appeal the court's decision to commute the death sentences of Rajiv Gandhi's killers (Indian Express). The court stuck to its previous stance that a delay by various Indian presidents in deciding the fate of the three convicts involved in the 1989 murder of then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was grounds for its decision to lessen the death penalty. However, the court has not yet decided whether or not the central government or the government of Tamil Nadu is allowed to remit their sentence.

‘Rhinos being killed to make way for Bangladeshis': Modi 

The Gods of April Fools have unintentionally granted us with this gem from the campaign trail: While addressing a rally in Dhemaji, Assam, Modi allegedly said rhinos were being killed in the state to make space for migrating Bangladeshis (NDTV, Firstpost). "Aren't rhinos the pride of Assam?," Modi asked before quickly launching into his conspiracy. "I am making the allegation very seriously," he said. "People sitting in the save Bangladeshis...they are doing this conspiracy to kill rhinos so that the area becomes empty and Bangladeshis can be settled there."

-- Shruti Jagirdar


Afghan forces seize tons of explosives

Afghan security forces seized more than 22 tons of explosives in Takhar province on Monday, just four days before Afghans head to the polls to vote for President Hamid Karzai's successor (Pajhwok, Reuters). Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told Reuters that the discovery of the explosives, as well as six landmines, will prevent hundreds of bomb attacks from occurring and improve the overall security of the elections.

The discovery comes as thousands of Afghan security forces are placed on high alert and move to protect polling stations and other buildings around the country (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Hundreds of new checkpoints have been set up and security personnel are increasing their searches of vehicles, as well as launching a number of operations around Afghanistan.

But neither the increased violence nor the multiple checkpoints is dampening voter enthusiasm ahead of Saturday's vote. As the Wall Street Journal noted on Monday, hundreds of Afghans have been spending hours, if not days, waiting in line to register to vote in the elections (WSJ). According to the Journal, the campaign, complete with crowded nationwide rallies and lively televised debates, "has triggered a last-minute rush for voter cards by Afghans who hadn't bothered to vote in previous elections."

Candidates cancel televised debates due to security concerns 

While presidential candidates have participated in a number of televised debates already, RFE/RL reported on Tuesday that they have canceled their appearances in two debates scheduled for this week due to growing insecurity in Kabul (RFE/RL). RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan had organized a debate for April 1, while Ariana TV, a private television channel, had scheduled one for April 2. However both organizations received notices on Monday from the candidates' campaign teams letting them know that they would not be attending.

According to the report, all three frontrunners -- Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, and Zalmai Rassoul -- were expected to take part in the debates, but "[e]ach cited insecurity and unavailability for their last-minute cancellations."

Roadside bomb kills 14 in Kunduz

The violence that has been plaguing Kabul over the last week spread to northern Kunduz province, where at least 14 people were killed by a powerful roadside bomb on Monday (Pajhwok). Syed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for the provincial police, told reporters that the blast occurred when police commander Mohammad Omar's pick-up truck struck the bomb in the Khanabad district. While Omar, a pro-government commander known for fighting the Taliban, escaped unharmed, all of the victims were his relatives.


U.S.: Pakistan will not get excess equipment from Afghanistan

Marie Harf, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, told reporters on Monday that the United States has not and does not intend to transfer surplus military equipment -- known as excess defense articles (EDA) -- from Afghanistan to Pakistan (Pajhwok). However, she noted that the United States is currently reviewing Pakistan's request for equipment from the worldwide EDA pool, but that no hardware would be coming from Afghanistan.

Harf's comments were the most recent in a growing number of conflicting statements that have emerged since the Washington Post first reported that millions of dollars in equipment could be transferred from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Last week Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the head of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said the hardware would remain in Afghanistan, but Asif Yasin Malik, Pakistan's defense secretary, told reporters earlier on Monday that Pakistan would indeed be receiving the leftover equipment. Bonus read: "Islamabad's (Charm) Offensive," Joshua T. White (SouthAsia).   

Political party members found dead, tortured in Karachi

The bodies of two men who had been abducted in Karachi were found near the port city's national highway on Tuesday, Pakistani media outlets reported (Dawn, ET). According to the reports, the men were repeatedly tortured before they were shot and killed. Identified only as Sanaullah and Masrur, the victims are believed to be members of a political party, though no further information was given. No one has claimed responsibility for the abductions or deaths.

In a separate incident, Tahir Ahmed, an Ahmedi man living in Hyderabad, was taken into police custody on Tuesday after he was accused of desecrating the Quran (Dawn). Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported that Ahmed allegedly used the Quran to hit a 12-year-old seminary student, though Ahmed's wife claimed the accusations stemmed from a dispute between their son and his accuser. The matter is currently under investigation. 

Rap the vote?

In the latest installment of its "Afghan Voices" series, BBC News profiles Ramika, a 19-year-old female rapper from Kabul who recently competed to create a rap anthem for Saturday's presidential elections (BBC). A music student at Kabul University, Ramika uses rapping to highlight the plight of Afghan women and to encourage Afghan youth to participate in the country's young democracy. While she notes that her family was unhappy with her rapping at first, mainly due to concerns about her safety, they have since come around and support her dream to become a professional rapper. 

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.