The South Asia Channel

5 NATO Soldiers Killed in Helicopter Crash in Kandahar; Priyanka Gandhi Takes on Larger Congress Party Role; Blasts in Karachi


5 NATO troops killed

A British helicopter crashed in Kandahar province on Saturday, killing all five NATO soldiers on board in what was the deadliest day for foreign troops this year (Post). The British defense ministry confirmed that all five of the dead were British and Maj. Gen. Richard Felton, commander of the Joint Helicopter Command, said the crash appeared to be a "tragic accident" (BBC). Although the Taliban says its fighters shot the aircraft down, the accident happened during a routing flight and the cause of the crash is thought to be technical problems.

Taliban's chief military commander steps down

Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir stepped down from his post as chief military commander of the Afghan Taliban on Saturday (WSJ). The Taliban leadership said in a statement that Zakir resigned "due to his ill health and heavy workload," but that as a member of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's overall leadership council, he is now busy with "other important jihadi work" (ET). Zakir, who gained prominence after being freed from the U.S. Prison in Guantanamo Bay in 2007, was one of the biggest opponents to peace negotiations with the Afghan government. His resignation could facilitate restarting of talks, which the Taliban said repeatedly it would not engage in so long as foreign troops are in the country.  

Heading for a run-off

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission released the full preliminary results of the 2014 Presidential Election on Saturday, which showed that Abdullah Abdullah leading with 44.9 percent of votes (WSJ, Pajhwok, BBC). Ashraf Ghani is in second place with 31.5 percent of votes and Zalmai Rassoul came in a distant third. The preliminary results are to be finalized by May 14, after the commission investigates fraud complaints, and a run-off is expected to be held in June.

-- Emily Schneider


Priyanka Gandhi takes on larger Congress party role 

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the daughter of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi and sister of Rahul Gandhi, the incumbent Congress party's choice for a prime minister, has begun playing a more prominent role as the Indian election enters its final stages (Economic Times, Telegraph). On April 30, Indians will again go to the polls in seven states and two union territories to fill 89 seats in the lower parliament.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last week launched an attack on Priyanka and her husband, Robert Vadra, accusing him of corruption and illegal business dealings and issuing a video and booklet related to Vadra's land deals (Indian Express, India Today). The attack alleges that nepotism allowed Vadra to make huge profits in real estate deals and flout laws including the Land Acquisition Act.

Priyanka responded by comparing the BJP to "panicky rats" and saying she wouldn't be scared by the attack. The Gandhi family also continues to attack Modi over what they describe as a socially divisive record. In a speech on Sunday, Priyanka said that what is needed to rule India is not "a 56-inch chest but a big heart" - a stab at Modi, who has mentioned his sizable chest in speeches.

Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi's top aide, on Sunday said that Congress may support a Third Front government in the event of a hung parliament (NDTV). In an interview in Gujarat, where he is campaigning, Patel said that Congress might support "like-minded parties" to "keep communal forces at bay," a reference to the BJP. Leaders of 11 regional political parties have come together to form the Third Front, designed to contest both the Congress and the BJP.  

Supreme Court stays death sentence for Red Fort attacker

The Indian Supreme Court put on hold the death sentence of a Pakistani man convicted of attacking Delhi's Red Fort in 2000, the latest in a series of high-profile cases in which the court has commuted death sentences because of an extended time spent on death row (BBC). Mohammad Arif, a Lashkar-e-Taiba militant who was convicted in 2005, carried out an attack on the 17th century fort in December 2000, killing three people.

The judges accepted an argument by Arif's lawyers that there had been an excessively long delay in deciding his case. The Indian Supreme Court in February commuted the death sentences of three men convicted of plotting the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi; in January, it commuted the sentences of 15 death row prisoners to life in jail on grounds of delay. 

Tampa hosts pirate-themed "Indian Oscars"

The International Indian Film Academy awards, known as the "Indian Oscars," were held this weekend in front of a crowd of 20,000 in Tampa, Florida. The show will be broadcast in June to an expected audience of around 800 million people worldwide (WSJ). Actors entered the Tampa stadium aboard a float built like a pirate ship, a nod to the city's pirate-themed parties. Hosts dressed as pirates demanded the key to the city from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who sat in the first row. 

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a film about the life of Indian track and field Olympian Milkha Singh, swept the board, winning best story award, best director, and best picture (BBC, Guardian). American actors were also in attendance: John Travolta received the "Outstanding Achievement in International Cinema Award," while Kevin Spacey tied a sarong over his tuxedo and danced the "Lungi dance" from the film "Chennai Express" with Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor (Guardian). Padukone, who appeared in hits like "Ram Leela," "Race 2," Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani," and "Chennai Express" in 2013, won the trophy for "Entertainer of the Year."

Launched in 2000, the IIFA awards travel around the world to expose the genre to various audiences. The Indian film industry sells 3.6 billion movie tickets a year, about a quarter in the United States.  

-- Ana Swanson


Blast kills 3 children

An explosion in a madrassa in Karachi's Frontier Colony killed at least three male students and injured 11 others on Monday (ET, Dawn, BBC, VOA). A police official told the media that there were around 20 children between the ages of seven and 14 in class at the Sunni seminary when the explosion occurred. Police are trying to determine if the blast was caused by a planted bomb or a hand grenade. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Sindh passes bill against child marriage

The Sindh Child Marriage Restrain Act of 2013 was passed in the provincial assembly on Monday, making marriage below the age of 18 punishable by law (ET). According to the new bill, the parents, bride, and groom can all be sentenced to three years in prison and find Rs45,000 ($745.00). The bill is the first of its kind in the country and civil society activists say it will take time to implement. For instance, the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body that advises the legislature whether or not a certain law is repugnant to Islam, met earlier this year said that laws limiting the age for marriage are "unIslamic" and children of any age could get married when they attained puberty (Dawn). Just last week, a jirga that was held in the Shamali area of Battagram decided to marry an eight-year-old girl to a 26-year-old man as a way to resolve the dispute between to families (Dawn). However, the police were notified and those involved were arrested.

-- Emily Schneider 

-- Edited by Peter Bergen 

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