The South Asia Channel

U.S. Force in Afghanistan May be Cut to 10,000; Hate Speech in Indian Elections; 8 Dead as Pakistani Police Attacked Twice


U.S. forces may go below 10,000 troops

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan may drop to well below 10,000, the minimum demanded by the U.S. military to train Afghan forces, Obama administration officials briefed on the matter told Reuters (Reuters). According to the report, White House, State Department, and Pentagon officials resumed discussions on how many troops should remain in Afghanistan when the current U.S.-led coalition ends in December after the country's general election on April 5. Officials say the decision to consider a smaller force, possibly even less than 5,000 troops, is based partly on the Afghan security forces' abilities to contain the Taliban-led insurgency. Currently, there are about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from 100,000 in 2011.

Campaign worker killed

A prominent campaign worker in Afghanistan's presidential election was shot outside his home in Logar province on Tuesday (Post, RFE/RL). Esmatullah, who only goes by one name, was returning home from visiting a friend Monday afternoon when unknown gunman opened fire outside his house. Esmatullah worked as an election observer for presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, who is currently in fourth place, according to partial results. Mohammad Fahim Kadamani, a spokesman for Sayyaf's campaign, confirmed that Esmatullah was an election observer and blamed the Taliban for his death. The Taliban, howver, disputed this, telling the Associated Press by telephone on Tuesday that they did not target Esmatullah because of his status as a former mujahedeen fighter against the Soviets (AP). Esmatullah was also known as Commander Tor for his role in the struggle against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Parwan blast

A bomb blast in Charikar City, the capital of Parwan province, injured at least 17 people, including on child, Tuesday morning (Pajhwok). Brig. Gen. Kahlilullah Ziaee told Pajhwok Afghan News that the explosives were placed in a vehicle beloning to the  Afghan Local Police while the police were away from the scene. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

-- Emily Schneider


More hate speeches elicit disgust, police action in Indian elections

On Monday, the leader of the right-wing Hindu group the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Praveen Togadia, came under fire for an alleged hate speech made in Rajkot, Gujarat (Indian Express). Togadia and members of the VHP and its youth wing the Bajrang Dal were allegedly recorded protesting outside a Muslim businessman's house for moving into a majority Hindu locality, giving him 48 hours to vacate the property or risk rioting and the property's seizure by VHP activists. Gujarat's Chief Electoral Officer Anita Karwal said inquiries into the matter had begun and that local police had been asked to file a First Information Report (FIR) against Togadia for his remarks. While BJP spokespeople have denied Togadia's involvement in the incident, a copy of the speech found its way to the Times of India who published excerpts from the recording in Tuesday's papers (Times of India).

In a separate incident, BJP's Bihar leader Giriraj Singh had an FIR filed against him for saying those who criticize (party Prime Minister candidate) Narendra Modi belong in Pakistan (Indian Express, Economic Times).Singh's comments received censure from several quarters, including Modi who distanced himself from the incident in a television interview (Indian Express). Meanwhile, Hafiz Saeed, wanted in India for allegedly masterminding the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, took to Twitter to say Hindus in Pakistan felt safer than Muslims in Gujarat (Indian Express). Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah spoke about the incident at a rally in his home state, saying he would gladly go to Pakistan rather than stop criticizing Modi (Indian Express).

Supreme Court to hear curative plea on gay sex ban

Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Sathasivam announced on Tuesday that the court was likely to hear the curative petition filed against Section 377 early next week (Mint, Times of India). A December 2013 judgment by two Supreme Court justices upheld the validity of Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code, an 1861 law that penalizes gay sex with a prison term. The petition will be heard by a four member bench headed by the Chief Justice and was made by a group comprising the Naz Foundation, filmmaker Shyam Benegal, and parents of LGBT persons, among other non-governmental organizations.

After an April 15 judgment granting recognition and rights to India's transgendered people, activists are hopeful that the verdict will tilt the arguments in favor of repealing the ban (Firstpost). According to the National Legal Services Authority, the recent judgment describes discriminating against minorities based on sexual orientation as running counter to Article 15 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law.

India seeks to rename the Internet

At NETmundial, a global meeting on Internet governance in Sao Paolo, representatives from India are expected to further "internationalize" operating core Internet resources by proposing to rename the Internet " the equinet" (Firstpost Tech, The Hindu). Indian officials say this is an attempt to ensure the Internet is "owned by the global community" and is free from the interest of particular stakeholders. The Indian concept note on the topic throws around terms such as ‘universal benefaction' and ‘cyber jurisprudence' but stayed silent on whether this would likely stir up a bunch of horse memes.

 -- Shruti Jagirdar


Police attacked

Two attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in less than 10 hours have targeted police and killed at least eight people (Reuters, WSJ).  A bomb planted in a motorcycle exploded on Nowshera Road in Charsadda early Tuesday as a police van passed by, killing three people and injuring 33 others. Senior police officer Shaifiullah Khan said the van, which was carrying 13 policemen headed to work, was the target of the attack (ET). The bomb was made up of four kilograms of explosives and was detonated by remote control, but the investigation is still ongoing.

In a separate attack, six men, five of whom were policemen, were killed when a police car and an escort van were attacked by armed assailants during a routine patrol in the Badhaber area of Peshawar on Monday evening (ET). According to reports, the officers in the escort vehicle fired back at their attackers, causing them to retreat, and officials then called for support to evacuate and care for the injured, but when the emergency crew arrived to transfer the injured, the assailants returned and attacked the ambulance. Nasir Durrani, the provincial police chief, told the Al Jazeera that the attacks could be retaliation for the recent arrests of rebels in the region (AJE).

U.N. staff safely recovered

Sami Nawaz and Farrukh Saleem, the two employees of the United National International Children's Fund (UNICEF) who were kidnapped on Thursday, April 17, were recovered on Monday during a police raid in Karachi (ET). The police raided the kidnappers' hideout on the outskirts of the port city and were able to free the Nawaz and Saleem, but the two unidentified kidnappers managed to flee. UNICEF confirmed that the men were safe as a result of a police operation, but gave no further details about the incident (Reuters).

-- Emily Schneider

-- Edited by Peter Bergen