The South Asia Channel

Musharraf Survives Assassination Attempt; Hundreds of Indian Candidates Face Charges; Taliban Bomber Turns on Commanders

Bonus Reads: "Burying Open Secrets: India's 1962 War and the Henderson-Brooks Report," Shruti Pandalai (SouthAsia); "What's to Become of Afghanistan's Mines?," Lynne O'Donnell (SouthAsia); "More of the Same in Afghanistan," Moh. Sayed Madadi (SouthAsia).


Musharraf survives assassination attempt

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on Thursday, when a roadside bomb planted under the Faizabad Bridge exploded shortly after his convoy had passed by (BBC, Dawn, NYT, RFE/RL, VOA). According to police, the explosion occurred along the ex-military leader's route from the army hospital in Rawalpindi where he has been staying since January to his home on the outskirts of Islamabad. No casualties were reported, and no one has claimed responsibility for the incident.

Aasia Ishaq, Musharraf's spokesperson, told reporters that the retired general was already at home when the explosion occurred, having left the hospital about 20 minutes earlier than scheduled (AP, WSJ). She added that it was up to the Pakistani authorities to make sure nothing happens to him. According to Pakistan's Express Tribune, this is the fifth time explosives have been found near Musharraf's home or travel route (ET).

The explosion occurred one day after Pakistan's Interior Ministry rejected a request from Musharraf to go abroad to seek medical treatment for the heart condition that put him in the hospital and to see his ailing mother (AP, Dawn). Irfan Siddiqui, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's advisor on national affairs, said the request was rejected because it could be difficult for the government to bring Musharraf to court once he leaves the country; he was indicted for treason on Monday and several other cases related to his time in office are currently pending.

Sharif frees 16 Taliban prisoners 

Pakistani officials told Reuters on Thursday that at least 16 Taliban prisoners were freed with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's approval on Tuesday in an effort "to invigorate a shaky peace process with the militant group" (Reuters). According to the report, the Taliban had called for a one-month ceasefire on March 1, but refused to extend it, saying the government was not serious about meeting their demands. 

Among those demands are releasing 800 prisoners the Taliban describe as innocent family members. Islam Zeb, a government official in South Waziristan, confirmed the releases, telling Reuters that: "They are not major commanders. They are innocent tribals who were arrested during different search operations in South Waziristan in the last two to three years." He added that another 100 prisoners would be released in the next few days. 

-- Bailey Cahall


Studies show rise in criminal charges, illicit spending among candidates

Nearly one-fifth of the candidates in India's upcoming election are facing criminal charges, according to research published on Wednesday (Guardian). The Association for Democratic Reforms, a think tank, found that 18 percent of the 1,492 candidates it analyzed faced charges, including rape, murder, and extortion. Some charges may be unfounded, however, as political opponents sometimes use the judicial process to smear rivals, and police in many states are corrupt.

The study covered about half of India's 35 states and union territories, examining the electoral declarations filed by the candidates who are contesting more than 120 seats in the 545-seat lower house of parliament. The Association for Democratic Reforms's Jaydeep Chokar said the organization expects the number of candidates facing charges to rise as it analyzes declarations from thousands of more candidates.

Another study by Indian think tank CMS found that roughly one-third of the $4.97 billion in total spending on the Indian election may be "black" money (Hindustan Times). N. Bhaskara Rao, CMS's chairman, the spending in question could be "unaccounted money," which is mostly used for voter mobilization or "note-for-vote" payoffs. The $4.97 billion total will be the largest amount ever spent in an Indian election. Rao attributed the rising spending to increasing competitive pressure and corruption in the polls. 

‘Don't think with your heart, Varun Gandhi'

Varun Gandhi, a BJP parliamentarian from Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh is currently under fire from his party for praising his cousin Rahul Gandhi's development work in his constituency, Amethi (Indian Express, BBC). While both men are grandsons of Indira Gandhi, their respective families have been estranged for decades and now belong to rival political factions. While Rahul has been publicly appreciative of the praise, Varun took to Twitter to backtrack, saying his comments did not warrant an endorsement of any party, as media reports suggested the BJP was left "red-faced" by the move. Varun's comments come at a time when the BJP's candidate in Amethi, television actor Smriti Irani, has publicly criticized Rahul's efforts in her election campaign. Meanwhile, Varun's mother told him "use your brain more than your heart" (NDTV).

Meal with a message

The World Health Organization has enlisted the help of Mumbai's ubiquitous meal deliverymen, known as Dabbawalas, to spread health awareness among the city (Hindu Businessline, Mint). On April 7, 400,000 lunchboxes in the city will come with tags carrying messages on malaria and dengue prevention as part of a campaign called ‘Small bite, big threat.' According to the organization's India representative, Nata Menabde, vector-borne diseases account for 70 percent of infections among poor and marginalized communities in developing countries, and unplanned urban infrastructure (such as in Mumbai) only exacerbate the problem.  

Mumbai's Dabbawalas, who deliver home-packed lunches to 150,000 office-goers across the city, already have many feathers in their starched white caps; the groups are recognized around the world for their delivery efficiency and were the subject of a recent, award-winning Bollywood movie.

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson


Taliban suicide bomber turns on commanders, kills 15 

At least 15 senior Taliban commanders were killed and nine other militants were injured in Afghanistan's Ghazni province on Tuesday "by a suicide bomber reportedly attempting to keep them from carrying out plans to disrupt Saturday's elections" (TOLO News). According to the country's National Directorate of Security, the men were reportedly meeting to discuss and plan attacks for Saturday's election when the bomber decided to turn against them.

The Taliban have long threatened to disrupt the 2014 presidential election, and violence around the country has been increasing in recent weeks. However, many Afghans have said they plan to participate in the election anyway to show the Taliban that "[w]e are not scared" (BBC).

With the election just days away, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement on Tuesday calling this year's vote "a pivotal moment after more than a decade of sacrifice and struggle" (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). He asked Afghan leaders to commit "to an inclusive, fair, and transparent process," and said that a peaceful transfer of power from President Hamid Karzai to his successor is "just as important as the progress achieved over the past decade in building a stronger, more secure and prosperous Afghanistan." Bonus read: "In Afghan presidential election, pro-Western front-runners compromise to woo votes," Kevin Sieff (Post).

Kerry's comments were echoed by Jan Kubiš, the U.N.'s Special Representative for Afghanistan, who said on Wednesday that there will be no foreign interference in Saturday's elections, which "are the elections of the Afghan people" (Pajhwok, TOLO News, VOA). Kubiš added that Afghans should use the election as an opportunity to shape the country's future through peaceful democratic means.

But while there is Western optimism that the 2014 elections will go better than those in 2009, which were marred by widespread fraud, security is still a concern. The New York Times' Azam Ahmed notes that in the Charkh district of Logar province, the government's district headquarters is "a building so devastated by rocket attacks and Taliban gunfire that it looks more like a bomb shelter than an administrative office," or a polling station (NYT). According to Ahmed, though security forces have come to the district to make voting a nominal possibility, the Taliban have long held sway over the area, and it is unlikely that any citizens will actually vote on Saturday. Bonus read: "War and Unrest Provide for a Scarred Campaign Trail in Afghanistan," Matthew Rosenberg and Azam Ahmed (NYT). 

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.