The South Asia Channel

AP Journalists Killed, Wounded in Khost; Pakistani Taliban Extend Ceasefire; AgustaWestland Middleman Takes Plea Bargain

Bonus Reads: "Why the U.S. and India are Trading Fewer Goods and More Insults," Anish Goel (SouthAsia); "When Two Sharifs Fight, Musharraf Gets Trampled," Reza Nasim Jan (SouthAsia); "Don't Turn Away from Afghanistan," David Miliband (SouthAsia).

Afghanistan

Western journalists killed, wounded in Khost

Anja Niedringhaus, a German news photographer working for the Associated Press (AP), was shot and killed by an Afghan police officer in Khost province on Friday, while her Canadian colleague, Kathy Gannon, was seriously injured (AFP, Reuters, TOLO News). According to reports, they were traveling with a convoy that was delivering election ballots to a remote town along the Pakistani border when the incident took place. Mubarez Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told reporters that the suspected attacker had been apprehended at the scene and an investigation is underway; no motive has been given (Pajhwok, RFE/RL, VOA). 

Niedringhaus was a part of the team of 11 AP photographers that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for their coverage of the Iraq War (AP). Gannon, who is reportedly in stable condition, has been covering war and unrest in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as other parts of the region, for three decades. 

The attack was the latest to occur against journalists in recent weeks: Sardar Ahmad, Agence France Presse's senior Afghan reporter, was killed along with his wife and two of his three children on March 20 when gunmen attacked the Serena Hotel in Kabul, and Swedish journalist Nils Horner was shot and killed in Kabul on March 11.

The incident came one day ahead of the 2014 Afghan presidential elections, which will choose current President Hamid Karzai's successor. The BBC's Lyse Doucet said on Friday that the run-up to this election has been one of the bloodiest, and fears of electoral fraud are growing (BBC). The Wall Street Journal also reported on Thursday that eastern Afghanistan, where Khost is located, will likely face some of the worst election-related violence as Afghan and Western officials have noted an influx of fighters crossing the border from Pakistan (WSJ).

Afghanistan prepares for 2014 vote 

Despite the increasing levels of violence around the country, Afghanistan is prepared to hold Saturday's vote. The Independent Election Commission announced on Thursday that polling stations will be open from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM, though the official closing time can be pushed back if need be (TOLO News). Commission chairman Mohammed Yusuf Nuristani added that the polls will be monitored by 325,000 domestic and international observers (Pajhwok). While fraud is still a concern, U.N. officials noted that only 750 polling stations have been closed in insecure areas, a much smaller number than the 2,000 that were shuttered during the 2009 vote (VOA). Bonus read: "In pictures: Afghanistan prepares for elections" (BBC). 

In a nationally televised address on Thursday, Karzai said that broad participation during the 2014 campaign season "suggested a promising future for Afghanistan," and "would guarantee the continuation of the government system he assumed leadership of a decade ago" (TOLO News). He also asked all government officials, particularly security personnel, to avoid working for or against any candidate during the vote, saying that: "Expressing different and opposing views during the election campaign is one of the principles of democracy. But I am sure that once the election campaign is over, the candidates will respect people's votes, prioritize the national interest, and will accept the legitimate results of the election" (NYT).

Pakistan

Taliban extend ceasefire to April 10

The Pakistani Taliban announced on Friday that it would be extending the ceasefire it declared on March 1 until April 10, after the government released at least 16 Taliban prisoners earlier this week (VOA). Shahidullah Shahid, the group's spokesman, said the militant organization had ordered all of its fighters not to conduct attacks against the Pakistani government and law enforcement agencies until further notice (Dawn, ET, Pajhwok). According to Shahid's statement, the Taliban's shura council will meet on April 10 to decide their next course of action.

Chaman border crossing closed 

A security official told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper on Friday that the Friendship Gate in Chaman along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border had been closed earlier that morning, one day before Afghans head to the polls (Dawn). According to the official, the border has been completely closed by both countries in an effort to prevent "any untoward incident" on the eve of the election, as well as during the vote itself.

Though Pakistan does not have a preferred candidate in this year's presidential election, Saifullah Khan Mehsud, an expert on Pakistan's restive tribal border regions at the FATA Research Centre, told Agence France Presse that the Pakistani government wants "peace and stability on the Afghan border because it has a direct impact on peace and security in Pakistan" (AFP). It also fears a new wave of refugees, should the vote not go well or be accepted as legitimate by the losing candidates and the Afghan public; nearly 1.6 million Afghan refugees fled to Pakistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. 

"Burka Avenger" wins Peabody award 

The University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication announced on Wednesday that Pakistan's "Burka Avenger," an animated television show about a burka-clad schoolteacher who fights local thugs seeking to shut down the girls' school where she works, will receive one of the 2013 Peabody Awards (Dawn). The Urdu-language show, which airs on Geo TV, emphasizes the importance of girls' education and other lessons, such as not discriminating against others.

The awards, some of the most prestigious prizes in broadcasting, recognize "excellence and meritorious work by radio and television stations, networks, webcasters, producing organizations, and individuals" on an annual basis, and will be handed out at an awards ceremony in New York City on May 19.

-- Bailey Cahall

India

AgustaWestland middleman settles for plea bargain

Guido Haschke, the middleman mired in corruption allegations in the multi-million euro AgustaWestland chopper deal with India has entered into a plea bargain with Italian prosecutors (Indian Express). Prosecutors have been looking to prove that 51 million euros were distributed in bribes to facilitate the sale of 12 helicopters to India in 2010. While the company has sought to prove that the payments were made for "engineering consultations," several witnesses for the prosecution have said the payments did not have a legitimate purpose. Several bills and invoices from the company also appear to have been forged.

Prosecutors have also questioned Haschke about whether the initials "AP" mentioned in a budget sheet stand for key Congress party aide Ahmed Patel. While investigators from India's Central Bureau of Investigation have attended all of the hearings in Italy, they are awaiting responses from all of the countries linked to the alleged money trail before taking further steps.

Sting operation on Babri Masjid demolition released 

Cobrapost, a media outlet known for its exposes, released an investigative report on Friday alleging the attack on a 16th century mosque, the Babri Masjid, in 1992 was a premeditated move, carried out by trained workers and was known in advance to then-BJP President L.K. Advani and then-Prime Minister Narasimha Rao (Cobrapost, Firstpost, Times of India, India Today). The organization's sting operation claims that the project, labeled "Operation Janmabhoomi," was carried out by 38 members of the Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu organization, who had received training from retired military officers. The aftermath of the demolition saw Hindu-Muslim riots flare up in many parts of the country, including Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Kanpur and Delhi. The BJP has approached the Election Commission asking that the report not be published (Business Standard). 

Kejriwal punched in Delhi

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal was punched in the back by an unidentified person on Thursday while addressing a rally in Dakshinpuri, South Delhi (Indian Express, The Hindu). While the man was later "thrashed" by party supporters, Kejriwal blamed the attack on the BJP saying: "some people are ready to go to any extent to become Prime Minister." Kejriwal has been attacked a number of times in the past, including last week in Haryana, when he was attacked by a purported supporter of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare.

Shahi Imam supports Congress

One of Delhi's most important religious leaders, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid, has appealed to Muslims to vote for the Congress party in the upcoming elections (NDTV, Hindustan Times). Calling communalism a major threat to India, Bukhari also asked that the Trinamool Congress party be supported in West Bengal and the Rashtriya Janata Dal party in Bihar, both of which have been supporters of the ruling Congress-led coalition. 

The move follows a meeting he held days earlier with Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, who had asked that he ensure the minority vote would not be split. The BJP has approached the Election Commission about the meeting on the grounds that it is "an appeal for votes on the basis of religion" (Indian Express). 

-- Shruti Jagirdar

Edited by Peter Bergen. 

Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images