The South Asia Channel

Hamid Mir Stable After Gun Attack; Abdullah Abdullah Widens Lead in Afghan Vote; Mining Ban Lifted in Goa

Bonus Reads: "A Military Operation in North Waziristan? Not Likely," Moeed Yusuf (SouthAsia); "How to Jump Start the Afghan Economy," Faiysal AliKhan (SouthAsia).

Pakistan 

Hamid Mir stable after attack 

Doctors at Karachi's Aga Khan University Hospital reported on Sunday that journalist Hamid Mir was stable after undergoing surgery to repair three gunshot wounds he sustained on Saturday when he was attacked by unknown gunmen (Dawn). Mir, who hosts a popular television talk show on Geo News and is seen as a critic of Pakistan's powerful intelligence and military establishment, was on his way to work when the assailants opened fire on his vehicle (BBC, NYT, RFE/RL, VOA). 

It was the second attempt on Mir's life -- a bomb was found in his car in 2012 -- and the second attack on a prominent Pakistani journalist in recent weeks; in March, Raza Rumi, a television anchor in Lahore, survived a similar attack. No one has claimed responsibility for the assault on Mir, though a commission has been set up to investigate the incident (AFP).

More than 40 killed in bus crash 

At least 42 people were killed and nearly 30 were injured in Sindh province on Sunday when an overcrowded bus full of passengers heading to Karachi collided with a tractor-trailer in the town of Sukkur (TOLO News, VOA). While "Pakistan's roads are in notoriously bad condition," officials are still investigating the cause of the crash, which they said was one of the country's worst traffic accidents in recent years (RFE/RL, NYT).

U.N. staff kidnapped in Karachi

Pakistani police reported on Saturday that gunmen had kidnapped two local U.N. employees in Karachi on Thursday (Reuters). The two male employees, identified as Sami Nawaz and Farrukh Saleem, worked for UNICEF, the multinational organization's children's fund (RFE/RL). While no one has claimed responsibility for the incident, many of the port city's neighborhoods are considered Taliban strongholds, including Shorab Goth, which is near where the men were abducted. UNICEF has not yet commented on the kidnappings.

Afghanistan

Abdullah lead widens, but runoff still likely

Former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah is holding an 11-point lead over his rivals, the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Sunday, though many observers still expect a run-off election to occur (BBC, NYT, Pajhwok, Post, WSJ). According to the commission, Abdullah leads with 44.4 percent of the vote, followed by former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, who has 33.2 percent; almost 50 percent of the votes have been counted (RFE/RL, VOA). A presidential candidate must secure more than 50 percent of the valid ballots to win the first round of voting. If no one crosses that threshold, a run-off election between the top two candidates will be held. Bonus read: "Analysts See Promising Trends in Afghan Election," Hasib Danish Alikozai (VOA).

A day after the IEC released the latest polling numbers, Ghani asked it to stop issuing partial results until all fraudulent ballots have been discounted (Pajhwok). He also asked civil society activists, religious scholars, and tribal elders to help ensure a transparent counting process. Bonus read: "Interview: Ghani Says 'All Walks Of Afghan Life Will Be Represented'" (RFE/RL).

According to the Electoral Complaints Commission, 150 ballot boxes -- totaling nearly 100,000 votes -- in Herat province will be discounted due to "obvious signs of tampering" (TOLO News, Pajhwok). While further information was not provided, the commission received some 900 complaints related to the 2014 election. The IEC has also ordered a recount of ballots from nearly 500 polling stations; it is unclear if those stations were in Herat (RFE/RL).

Hundreds of NATO bases handed to Afghans 

Amin Habib, the head of Afghanistan's Military Bases Transition Commission, told the country's National Security Council on Sunday that around 335 foreign military bases have been handed over to the Afghan security forces ahead of the 2014 withdrawal of coalition forces (Pajhwok). He called on the Afghan defense and interior ministries to ensure the bases are used properly by Afghan soldiers, while Rangin Dadfar Spanta, President Hamid Karzai's national security advisor, suggested the bases be used as industrial business parks.

A place to chill

NBC News' Kiko Itasaka notes that: "In many countries, young workers head out for a quick bite or drink after work. In Kabul, they head to the very trendy "CherryBerry" and splurge on frozen yogurt" (NBC News). The shop, located on a busy street in Afghanistan's capital city under a bright red awning, is the brainchild of Umer Sarfaraz, a 25-year-old entrepreneur, who got the idea during a trip to Dubai. 

At $3 to $5 a serving, the frozen treat is very expensive for some (the average monthly salary in Afghanistan is $130), but customers say the price is worth it. Tarqiz Maroof, a young computer analyst, told Itasaka: "Here we can forget about problems. It is just for relaxing. I do not think about the elections, I do not think about my job, I am just picking toppings." 

-- Bailey Cahall

India

Supreme Court okays iron ore mining in Goa

India's Supreme Court overturned a ban on iron ore mining in the western coastal state of Goa on Monday, setting an upper limit of 20 million tons of extraction per year (Hindustan Times, Mint, Business Standard). The three-judge bench, headed by Justice Ananga Kumar Patnaik, also asked the state government to form an expert panel to submit a report on the industry within six months. Mining will not be permitted within 1 kilometer of national parks and wild life sanctuaries, the ruling said.

The court banned mining operations in Goa in October 2012, after a report submitted by a previous commission showed that illegal mining in the state had resulted in a loss of $5.8 million to the exchequer in the last 12 years. Before the ban, Goa was India's third-largest iron ore exporting state. This was the second illegal mining case to come before the Supreme Court; the court previously kept mining operations on hold for over a year in the neighboring state of Karnataka.

Election votes won with money, drugs 

Political parties in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu have begun using a "mobile contact" system to evade monitoring by the Election Commission and distribute money to voters (Economic Times). The parties use local acquaintances to identify voters and direct them to a tea shop or grocery store, where a store owner loyal to a particular outfit gives them money. The practice is nearly impossible to police, despite close monitoring by the commission. Some banks have suspended the direct deposit of cash into accounts to prevent voting fraud, according to an unnamed State Bank of India official.

In the northwestern state of Punjab, some political parties are distributing drugs as payment to workers (Scroll.in). The halls of Punjab's 80 licensed drug rehabilitation centers are expected to fill up in the next few days, as parents send their children into treatment to keep them away from the drugs being distributed during the state's April 30 elections. Parties need young men to do party work and gather crowds during the election, and they are often paid with drugs, said Avtar Singh Aujla, the center's owner. "Some of them overdose on free smack and die."

Reuters reported on April 15 that Indian election officials had seized a record $36 million in cash, as well as 100 kilograms of heroin, that was concealed in cars, private planes, and even ambulances that was intended to buy off voters and pay for expenses above set spending limits, mostly in Punjab.

In the first 40 days after the model code of conduct came into force at the beginning of March, the Election Commission has seized drugs worth $115.9 million in Punjab, including 136 kilograms of heroin, 14,823 kilograms of poppy husk, and 76.2 kilograms of opium. Due to its proximity to the poppy fields of Afghanistan, Punjab has a long history of opium consumption. In the early 1990s, however, poppy husk began to be replaced by synthetic derivatives of opium, including morphine and heroin, which are shipped in from Delhi.

India launches cricket match-fixing investigation

India's cricket board has appointed a three-member investigative panel to look into allegations of corruption in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the world's richest cricket tournament (BBC). An Indian court previously urged the board to probe claims that 13 players and officials collaborated with bookmakers to fix matches. The seventh edition of the IPL's 20-over tournament, which features eight teams of international players, began last week and runs until June 1. 

-- Ana Swanson

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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