The South Asia Channel

Afghan Deputy Minister Kidnapped; Books by Former Indian Officials Stir Up Elections; Pakistan Arrests Alleged Cannibal


Deputy minister kidnapped

Afghanistan's deputy minister of public works, Ahmad Shah Wahid, was kidnapped Tuesday morning in Kabul on his way to work (BBC, RFE/RL). Four armed men in a vehicle opened fire on the minister's car, injuring the driver and abducting Wahid, as he was driving through the Khair Khana district in northwest Kabul. Officials say they are treating the incident as a criminal matter rather than related to the Taliban insurgency: Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, denied any knowledge of the kidnapping. Wahid is believed to be the most senior government official abducted in years.

Boehner visits troops

United States Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) and a group of senior House Republicans visited Afghanistan on Sunday and Monday to assess the country's political progress following the presidential elections on April 5 (WSJ, TIME). They met with U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, and with Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the commander of coalition forces for the country.  According to a statement from Boehner's office, "the delegation sent a strong, unequivocal message that the House of Representatives wants to maintain a right-sized presence in Afghanistan to successfully complete the work that has been done to date, and to honor the sacrifice of thousands of troops and civilians, as well as their families." Boehner is the highest level official to visit Afghanistan since the election; President Obama last visited Afghanistan in May 2012.

-- Emily Schneider


Books by Congress insiders spell trouble for party

Two books, one by a former Prime Ministerial aide and another by a former secretary of the Coal Ministry, have been released in the middle of the ongoing Indian election. In his book The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, Sanjaya Baru, a former aide to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, claims his boss was "defanged bit by bit" and undermined by his own party, leading to a drift in governance (BBC).

Manmohan Singh's daughter, Upinder Singh lashed out at Baru, describing the move as "nothing but a stab in the back...a huge betrayal of trust." Speaking to the press at her residence in New Delhi she said Baru greatly exaggerated the access he enjoyed with the Prime Minister, and ascribed several things to him in the book, which she described as both "audacious" and "unethical." She also mentioned that Baru "promised" the book would be published after national elections were held (Indian Express).

P.C. Parakh, a former secretary in the Coal Ministry, also released a book titled Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths, on the alleged scam surrounding the allocation of coal blocks. The scam had implicated the office of the Prime Minister. Parakh claims the Prime Minister's authority was undermined by then coal minister Shibu Soren and his minister of State Dasari Nayaran Rao.

Political analyst N. Bhaskara Rao said the books were "bad news" for the Congress, as they "push PM Manmohan Singh to one corner," damage Congress leader Sonia Gandhi's credibility as "a sacrificer" and give "new ammunition" to the opposition BJP (Mint).

India's Supreme Court recognizes third gender 

In a historic ruling, India's Supreme Court granted the granted recognition of transgender as a third gender category (The Hindu, BBC, Hindustan Times). The bench, presided by Justice Radhakrishnan and Justice AK Sikri , declared, in part: "Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue." The ruling also ordered the government to make the gender designation official in forms such as voter IDs and passports and to find quotas for transgendered people in jobs and education institutions, in line with benefits accorded to other minority groups. The bench also reiterated equal opportunities for transgendered people in education, healthcare and employment, as is accorded to male and female members of the population.

Speaking to the press outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi said "for the first time I feel proud to be an Indian." Estimates say there are over two million transgendered people in India, many of whom live in poverty and face regular discrimination.

The Indian government had made earlier steps to ensure recognition to transgendered people during the 2009 election when it became permissible to sign up to vote as a transgender. Other South Asian countries to recognize a third gender include Nepal and Bangladesh.

Indian born poet wins the Pulitzer

Indian born poet Vijay Seshadri has won the 2014 Pulitzer prize in the poetry category for a ‘distinguished volume of original verse,' for his collection, ‘3 sections' (Times of India, Business line). The announcement describes Seshadri's work as a "compelling collection of works that describes the human consciousness from birth to dementia in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless."  Born in Bangalore, India in 1954, Seshadri moved to Columbus, Ohio at age 5 and went on to study at Columbia University. He currently lectures in poetry and non-fiction at Sarah Lawrence College, New York. Other persons of Indian origin to have previously received the Pulitzer include Gobind Behari Lal in 1932, Jhumpa Lahiri in 2000, Geeta Anand in 2003 and Siddhartha Mukherjee in 2011. 


Alleged cannibal arrested

Mohammad Arif Ali, a Punjab resident, was arrested on suspicion of cannibalizing a young child on Monday after neighbors reported to police that his house smelled like rotting flesh (NYT, BBC, RFE/RL, ET). Police say they recovered a severed head of a child from his home. Arif Ali and his brother, Mohammad Farman Ali, were jailed in 2011 for two years after stealing the body of a dead woman from her grave. They admitted to using her lower limbs to make meat curry and were sentenced under the law of desecration to the grave since Pakistan has no law relating to cannibalism. Arif Ali told police that his brother had disinterred the child's body from a graveyard and that they had then cooked and ate the remains, according to Amir Abdullah, the district police chief. Police are still searching for Farman Ali.

Three attacks on NATO convoys

Monday saw three separate attacks on NATO supply trucks, all in the Khyber agency, all by unidentified militants. Two people were killed and at least two people were injured when militants attacked a convoy of supplies on their way to troops stationed in Afghanistan  (ET, Dawn). Two rockets were fired on the trucks while they were making their along the highway in Jamrud Tehsil. Officials reported that security forces and militants exchanged gunfire for half an hour following the initial attack and that the militants then fled the area. Soon after, militants attacked another vehicle near Ali Masjid and set it on fire, killing the driver, who was still inside the vehicle. A search operation was launched in the area to find those responsible and 15 suspects have been arrested.  Earlier Monday, two militants attacked a container truck near the Hawaldari checkpoint and injured the driver before escaping on motorcycles. No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.

Making history

Nargis Tori, a woman from Pakistan's Kurram agency, won the position of vice president of the Awami National Party (ANP), a political party that represents one seat in Parliament, in elections held in Parachinar City (ET). She is the first woman to hold this office. Voter turnout was at 55 percent and Nargis had the majority of votes, making her a prominent figure within the cabinet. During a ceremony held in their honor on Monday, the new officers vowed to strive to solve their constituency's problems.  

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen 

Rahmatullah Alizadah/AFP/Getty Images