The South Asia Channel

NATO Airstrike Reportedly Kills Afghan Civilians; Modi Addresses Gujarat Riots; Pakistani Politicians Put Up United Front


NATO airstrike reportedly kills civilians

Afghan officials said that a NATO airstrike on Tuesday killed one woman and two children and wounded one man in eastern Afghanistan (NYT, Pajhwok). Officials said that a coalition aircraft fired a rocket into a village in the Nadir Shah Kot district of Khost province, striking an area where the family was gathered in their tent. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as a "violation of agreements between the two countries," referring to the United States who leads the coalition forces, and ordered an investigation. NATO released a statement saying that it was aware of the reports of civilian casualties and was looking into the allegations. Neither NATO nor Karzai offered a description of the events that led up to the airstrike and it is unclear what might have prompted the attack.

Female lawmaker shot

Miriam Kofi, who represents northeastern Badakhshan province in the Wolesi Jirga, Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, was shot in a residential district north of Kabul on Wednesday (Pajhwok). An eye witness told Pajhwok Afghan News that Kofi was in stable condition after an unknown gunman shot her in the foot. Kofi is the sister of another lower house member, Fauzia Kofi. The attack came just hours after the deputy works minister, Ahmad Shah Wahid, was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen.

-- Emily Schneider


Modi addresses Gujarat riots, faces heat over "paid interviews" 

In an interview aired on TV channel Asian News International, BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, rejected claims he had stayed silent on the issue of the 2002 riots in Gujarat. Modi said he had answered "every top journalist" on the riots between 2002 and 2007 but that "there was no exercise to understand the truth" (Times of India, NDTV, Economic Times). While further describing the media's reaction, he said: "If the media would not have worked to malign Modi then who would know Modi today?" Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when communal clashes in the state killed 790 Muslims and 294 Hindus. In 2012, a Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court, cleared Modi of any involvement with the riots. Modi has since expressed regret for the riots, but despite repeated demands, has never apologized for them.

Meanwhile, Qamar Waheed Naqvi, the editor of India TV, another TV channel that aired an interview with Modi, quit, alleging the interview had been "fixed" in advance. His move adds fuel to the claims by other journalists that the episode sounded like a "public relations exercise" and was likely paid for by the party (Times of India). The Congress Party has taken up the matter with India's Election Commission saying the interview was "paid news" and thus violated the commission's code of conduct (Indian Express).   

Inflation rears its head again 

After a nearly three month cooling period, wholesale and retail inflation showed increases in March, according to data released Tuesday. India Wholesale Price Inflation (WPI) increased to 8.31 percent from 8.1 percent in February and Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) rose to 5.7 percent from 4.68 percent in the same period (Mint). India's Reserve Bank, which has maintained an aggressive inflation-targeted approach to setting its benchmark rates, hopes to rein in retail inflation to 8 percent by 2015 and 6 percent in 2016. However, the move faces several risks in the coming months. Madan Sabnavis of Care Ratings indicated that an El Nino weather pattern could disrupt agricultural supplies leading to further inflationary threats that could last till fiscal year 2015.  Rating agency Standard and Poor's, which has graded India at BBB-, has pointed to inefficiencies in India's supply chain and increases in minimum support prices for agricultural goods and higher rural wages as contributing to India's rising inflation. 

Playground politics

Jibes exchanged between Congress's Rahul Gandhi and BJP's Narendra Modi on the election trail, while expectedly vicious, have also turned unexpectedly infantile, with references to a "toffee model" and a "balloon model" taking up headline space across newspapers in India (Economic Times). In a continued reference to Narendra Modi's links with industrial house Adani, Gandhi said Modi sold land in Aurangabad to Adani for about one rupee per square meter, the cost of a simple toffee in India. In another rally Gandhi likened the state of Gujarat to a balloon, saying the balloon of Gujarat shining would burst every time a farmer cast their vote.

While Modi retorted saying the "young" Gandhi could only think of toffee and balloons, BJP's Arun Jaitley poked fun at Congress's new strategy ("main nahin, hum," which translates to "not me, us") by saying it sounded like Rahul saying, "main nahin, mom," a reference to mother Sonia Gandhi stepping up for her son in the polls. To use a classic playground reference, someone needs to call for a time out.  

-- Shruti Jagirdar


So we meet again

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari met in Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss a host of issues (Dawn). This is the second meeting between the two since the Nawaz's Pakistan Muslim League took office from Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party last year. According to reports, they discussed former president Pervez Musharraf's trial, Karachi's law and order situation, the peace negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and other matters related to politics and national security. Prior to the one-on-one meeting, delegation level talks were also held between the two parties; according to an anonymous senior PPP leader, the meetings were meant to symbolize a united front among the country's political forces in the present circumstances (ET).

Public guilt trip for policy reasons

For the first time ever, Pakistani tax authorities are publicly shaming defaulters by publishing their tax details in a directory (Reuters, ET). Authorities have found it is almost impossible to chase down the large number of defaulters - many are powerful politicians - through the country's distressed legal system. There's been little political will to improve the tax collection process, since many legislators and ministers are also tax evaders. But ending tax evasion is a key condition of a $6.7 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which is being paid out in increments and could stop if Pakistan fails to reform.

Tax authorities are hoping that publication of the directory will bring about a change in policy. "We hope this will become the talk of the town," said Shahid Asad, the spokesman of the Federal Board of Revenue. "People will be living these luxurious life styles and others will be saying to them - where is your name on that list?"

Lahore Literary Festival

Lahore is recovering from a long weekend of literary exchange after more than 45,000 people gathered in the city over three days for the second annual Lahore Literary Festival (NPR). While the city was once a royal capital and center for learning, cultural gatherings have all but disappeared due to political instability and violence of recent years. But with the recent terrorist attacks that have targeted public spaces, and journalists in particular, festival organizers wanted to create a space for the exchange of ideas that was not hampered by terrorism. The packed grounds of the festival suggest it was a success for the artists, authors, and attendees.  Bonus read: "Why Pakistan is so Dangerous for Journalists," Saba Imtiaz (SouthAsia).

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen