Millions of Indians Vote in Third Phase; Lahore Baby Charged in Attempted Murder; U.S. Leaves Landmines in Afghanistan
Event notice: The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014, Today, 12:15pm (The New America Foundation).
Millions of Indians vote in third phase
India's general election entered its third phase on Thursday, the first big day of the elections with around 110 million voters eligible to vote (Times of India, BBC, Guardian). Voters went to the polls in 11 states and three union territories, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Kerala, Bihar, Odisha, and Maharashtra. Police and paramilitaries were deployed across 14 states and territories to ensure security. Two paramilitary police were reported killed and three injured by a landmine blast in the town of Jamui in eastern Bihar, where Maoist rebels called for a poll boycott (Zee, Guardian).
The race was particularly fierce in the capital of Delhi, which has only seven Lok Sabha (the lower house of Parliament) seats but is seen to carry political significance (NDTV, WSJ). Delhi papers called the contest a "three-way contest" for the first time, as the BJP and Congress took on the Aam Aadmi Party, which took control of the Delhi government in assembly elections in December. The AAP is fielding 70 candidates in national elections.
Delhi newspapers featured headlines encouraging people to vote and full-length paid advertisements for Narendra Modi, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate. Some BJP ads urged voters to give the party a decisive mandate with 300 seats (WSJ). Since 1984, no single party has won a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha, meaning parties have had to form less stable governing coalitions.
Modi reveals wife Jashodaben
Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, admitted for the first time in his political career that he is married (Deccan Herald, Business Standard, Indian Express, Economic Times, NDTV). In an affidavit filed before the Election Commission along with his nomination papers for the Lok Sabha seat in Vadodara, Gujarat, Modi reported himself as a married man, though he wrote "have no information" in the columns requiring details on the spouse.
According to reports, his wife Jashodaben Nerendrabhai Modi, is a retired government school teacher living in Modi's home town, Vadnagar, in the western state of Gujarat. Joashodaben has told papers she met him at the age of 17, and they lived together for three years before parting ways amicably (NDTV). Their marriage was never formally annulled.
Modi contested four assembly elections, but always left the "spouse" column in his affidavit blank. He has never talked about being married in public, instead saying that he has no family life and that his life is dedicated to the nation. During one speech, Modi said that since he did not have a family, he could not practice corrupt ways. Some have speculated that Modi kept the wedding secret in order to advance through the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization that frowns on key workers marrying (NDTV).
BJP insiders said that legal advisors had asked Modi to come clean on the issue of his marriage. The Congress party has also urged Modi to clarify his marital status while filing nomination papers for the Lok Sabha elections.
Modi also declared assets worth $250,000, including $86,000 in cash, bank deposits and jewelry. He also declared a house in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, worth $166,000.
Baby out on bail
In the most recent development in a case attracting international attention to Pakistan's dysfunctional judicial system, a 9-month-old who faces charges of attempted murder has been released on bail until April 12 (NYT, Post, CNN). The baby was charged alongside four adults for throwing stones at gas company workers who tried to disconnect households that failed to pay their bills in a Lahore slum this past February. The police charged an entire family with attempted murder in connection with the incident. The absurdity of the case was apparent when the child was produced in court last week and the official record reflected that he had to be subdued with his milk bottle. His family has taken him into hiding until the matter is resolved.
Violence continues in Karachi
Qaqar Shah, a lawyer who was vice president of the Pakistan Muslim League, was shot and killed in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal area of Karachi Thursday morning (Dawn, ET). Shah was shot three times by unidentified men riding motorbikes who opened fired on his car while he was driving to the city's high court. The Sindh High Court Bar Association boycotted court proceedings for the rest of the day to protest the lawyer's killing. The incident comes one day after violence claimed 12 lives across Karachi (Dawn).
NATO convoy attacked
Gunmen in northwest Pakistan attacked NATO trucks carrying supplies to Afghanistan on Thursday (Dawn, ET). The attack took place just west of Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as gunmen riding motorbikes fired on the trucks as they passed through the Jamrund bypass. The driver of the last truck was killed. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident.
Land mines aren't leaving
A growing number of Afghan children are dying from U.S. explosives that litter about 800 square miles of land in Afghanistan the Washington Post reported on Wednesday (Post). Since 2012, the United Nations' Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan has recorded 70 casualties in and around U.S. or NATO firing ranges or bases; 88 percent of those victims were children. The Post found 14 casualties that were not included in the U.N. data and that the numbers are increasing. As part of the planned 2014 withdrawal of NATO and U.S. forces, the U.S. military has vacated firing ranges that are packed with explosives; the military has removed munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its ranges. Officials say they intend to clean up the ranges, which cold take two to five years, but funding has not yet been provided for the $250 million project.
Two steps forward and one step back
Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission told reporters that ballot boxes from 20 of the country's 34 provinces have been transported to Kabul for the final vote count after the April 5 presidential election (RFE/RL). The spokesman for the commission, Noor Muhammad Noor, said the remaining ballot boxes will reach the capital by April 15. Noor warned it is far too early to predict a winner because counting the ballots after they arrive at the capital will take weeks.
However, for current Afghan President Hamid Karzai, it might not matter who wins since all three of the top candidates, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and two former foreign ministers, Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul, have said that he will have an advisory role in their administration (RFE/RL). Though he's constitutionally barred from seeking another term in office, Karzai's political influence is far-reaching and he's been working behind the scenes to make sure he retains some role in the new administration. What his new role will be, and what it could mean for getting the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States signed - something Karzai has refused to do - remains to be seen.
Probe begins in AP journalist attack
Afghan central government authorities began questioning the unit commander, named Naqibullah, who killed an Associated Press photographer and wounded a correspondent on April 4 after he was transported to the capital on Wednesday (Post). Local security officials who spoke with the man who killed photographer Anja Niedringhaus and seriously wounded senior correspondent Kathy Gannon after he was first detained said he seemed like a pious man who might be under the influence of Islamic extremists. When asked by Gul Mohammad, the counterterrorism director in Khost, where the attack occurred, Naqibullah said it was done in revenge for a January 15 airstrike in the Ghorband district of Parwan province. He also said he was inspired by a lawmaker and cleric who encouraged holy war against Americans and other foreigners.
-- Emily Schneider
Edited by Peter Bergen