The South Asia Channel

14 Indians Killed in Election Violence; Early Election Results in Afghanistan; Peace Talks with Pakistani Taliban Continue

India 

Maoist rebels kill 14 in election violence

Indian Maoist rebels killed 14 people in two separate attacks in the central state of Chhattisgarh on Saturday in an attempt at disrupting India's five-week national election (AP, Guardian, BBC). A land mine exploded under a vehicle in Bijapur district, where voting is due to take place next week, killing five election officials and two bus drivers. Following the explosion, rebels opened fire on the bus, injuring five more people. The rebels fled when paramilitary forces began firing back.

In another attack on Saturday, rebels killed five paramilitary soldiers and two civilians when they ambushed the soldier's vehicle in the Darbha Forest, in the state's south. Three soldiers were injured in the attack.

Polling began in Chhattisgarh on April 10 and will continue with two further rounds in coming weeks. The government has deployed tens of thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers to guard polling booths over the next month in insurgency-wracked areas.

Maoist rebels, who claim inspiration from Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting an insurgency against the government for more than three decades, and are most active in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and West Bengal. Thousands have died on both sides of the conflict.

India and China hold talks on Afghanistan and bilateral trade

Indian and Chinese diplomats held their sixth Strategic Dialogue in Beijing on Monday (IBN). Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh met with Chinese counterpart Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin to review bilateral relations, including plans for leadership-level visits in the second half of the year. The two sides were expected to discuss mutual concerns over stability in Afghanistan after the drawdown of US-led NATO troops by the end of this year (Mint). India was also expected to air concern over its $35 billion trade deficit with China and the lack of openness of Chinese information technology and pharmaceutical markets.

Artists, politicians, publish anti-Modi letter

Prominent artists, academics, and politicians, including writer Salman Rushdie, sculptor Anish Kapoor, and several British members of parliament, have published an open letter warning against the election of Hindu nationalist politician Narendra Modi and attacking his record in the 2002 Gujarat riots (BBC). Published in The Guardian, the letter described Modi's "failure of moral character and political ethics" in Gujarat as "incompatible with India's secular constitution." "Were he to be elected prime minister, it would bode ill for India's future as a country that cherishes the ideals of inclusion and protection for all its peoples and communities," the letter read.

"The courts in India have examined all evidence and have found nothing to link Mr Modi to the riots," BJP spokeswoman Nirmala Sitharaman told the BBC. The Gujarat riots were one of India's worst outbreaks of religious violence, in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed following the deaths of 60 Hindus in a train fire.

Two politicians banned for hate speech

India's Election Commission imposed a ban on two politicians from holding public meetings due to their "inflammatory comments," the strongest measures taken yet during the current campaign (BBC, Deccan Herald, The Hindu). The two politicians - Amit Shah, an aide to BJP's Narendra Modi, and Azam Khan, a senior minister in the Samajwadi party government in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh - were reprimanded for appealing to sectarian sentiment.

Khan was banned from speaking for saying that India's victory in the Kargil conflict over Pakistan in 1999 was ensured by Muslim soldiers, not Hindus. Shah had allegedly urged people at a public meeting to take "revenge" for last year's religious riots in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, in which 43 people died. Shah denied making the comments. Tensions remain high in Muzaffarnagar: A 10-year-old boy died in the city on Monday after unidentified persons opened fire at their house, apparently for voting for a particular candidate in the April 10 assembly polls, police said Monday (Deccan Chronicle).

-- Ana Swanson

Afghanistan

First official election results

Data released by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission on Sunday in the first official report of partial results from the Afghan presidential election showed Abdullah Abdullah leading rival Ashraf Ghani  (NYT, BBC). The early results account for 10 percent of the votes cast in 26 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. The commission warned, however, that these early results could change as counting continues over the next few weeks, and also pointed out that widespread fraud could change the results, too.  The commission said that 870 instances of fraud had been classified as serious enough to affect the outcome of the April 5 election - more than the 815 instances recorded in 2009.

Afghan border forces kill shepherds

Afghan security forces killed two Pakistani shepherds who had wandered into Afghanistan from the Bandini area of Pakistan's Killa Saifullah district (Dawn). An official told Dawn that the Afghan security forces opened fire on the two shepherds without warning and killed them on the spot. Security on both sides of the border was tightened after the incident. 

Taliban victim runs marathon

Najib was badly injured by shrapnel in an attack by the Taliban during the 2009 elections in Afghanistan (BBC). His brother was killed in the same attack. Luckily, He was able to get treatment for his injuries in the United States, and then earned a scholarship to study at Stowe school in England, but he said he wanted to help other children in his situation. So on Sunday morning, he ran in the London marathon as part of an effort to raise awareness for the lack of education available to children in Afghanistan.

Pakistan

Peace talks continue

The second round of direct peace talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistan government will take place in the coming days, according to Pakistan's interior minister, Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan (Post, ET, Dawn). Khan denied reports that the negotiations were deadlocked at a press conference on Sunday, and said the next meeting will focus on forming a comprehensive agenda from both sides.

He also denied reports that the Pakistani military is against the talks, citing the government's release of roughly 30 prisoners requested by the Taliban as proof of the military's cooperation.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Army killed seven militants in a tribal region about 30 miles south of the city of Peshawar on Sunday, security and tribal officials said. Among the dead is believed to be a local militant commander responsible for frequent attacks against security officials in the Peshawar area.

Charges dropped

A judge dismissed the attempted murder charges against a 9-month old boy, Musa Khan, on Saturday (NYT, BBC).  The baby, who was charged with attempted murder in connection to a violent protest in Lahore, gained international attention as a symbol of the Pakistani police's tendency to file exaggerated charges against poor families. Khan's lawyer argued that, under Pakistani law, children under seven years old cannot be prosecuted and the judge dismissed the charges. However, the outcry has led Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab Province and the brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to order an inquiry into the matter.

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen 

STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images