The South Asia Channel

India Surpasses Japan in Terms of PPP; Karzai Says Illegal Detention Centers Still Operating; Battle Near Pakistan Border

India

India surpasses Japan in terms of PPP

According to a report by the World Bank released on Tuesday, India has surpassed Japan to become the world's third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) (Indian ExpressEconomic Times). Using data from 2011, the International Comparison Program reveals that India went from being the world's 10th largest economy in 2005 to the world's 3rd largest in 2011. According to the report, India accounts for 6.4 percent of the world's GDP in terms of PPP, ahead of Japan's 4.8 percent, but is far below China, which generates 14.9 percent of the world's GDP in PPP terms and the United States (17.1 percent).

Election Commission ‘furious' with Narendra Modi

India's Election Commission has ordered Ahmedabad police to lodge a formal complaint against BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for flashing his party's symbol (the lotus) and giving a speech to voters outside a polling station in Ahmedabad (NDTV). According to election rules, no canvassing is permitted within 100 meters of a poll booth. The notice can be read in its entirety here. "But first," said Modi, "let me take a selfie."

Voting continued in 89 constituencies across 7 states and will see the fates of several political heavyweights such as Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi (from Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh), BJP President Rajnath Singh (Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh) as well as Modi (Vadodara, Gujarat) (NDTV).

An impressive 44 percent of voters across 9 constituencies in West Bengal turned up to vote before 11 am (one wonders if this was because of, or despite, Bollywood Disco dancer Mithun C) while only 5 percent turned up to vote in Srinagar during the same time period (NDTV). The turnout in Gujarat was reportedly relatively brisk with 47 percent having shown up to vote by 3 p.m. (Indian Express). The state of Punjab, which saw 13 Lok Sabha constituencies go to vote, saw minor clashes between party workers from the Akali Dal and the Congress in Moga and Amritsar (NDTV). 

158, not out 

A shop owner from Tamil Nadu, Mr. K. Padmaraj, has contested the Indian elections 158 times, earning him a spot in India's Limca Book of Records ( NDTV). Unfortunately dubbed "India's biggest loser" by the media outlet interviewing him, Mr. Padmaraj says his motivation to contest the elections repeatedly stems from a desire to show people that a humble cycle shop owner can aspire to leadership in the world's largest democracy. Always "choosing to run against newsmakers," he has contested this election against the BJP's Narendra Modi in Gujarat and has previously contested against former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While having lost Rs. 12 lakh in deposits, he believes he has "never contested to win" and that "the results don't matter."

-- Shruti Jagirdar

Afghanistan

Karzai: U.S., U.K. still run illegal detention centers

Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused U.S. and British forces on Tuesday of continuing to operate illegal detention facilities in the country (Post, VOA). An investigation panel Karzai appointed found that six Afghan detainees remained at a British-run facility at Kandahar Air Field while another 17 were at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province. The head of the investigation commission, Gen. Ghalum Farooq Barakzai, said that no detainees were found at the American facilities but stated that they should no longer even exist.

British military authorities said in a statement that "detainees are held at the request of the Afghan authorities when there is evidence linking them to criminal activities" and went on to note that detention is crucial to preventing insurgents from attacking troops and civilians. U.S. Defense Department spokeswoman Elissa Smith said that: "[E]very facility that we use for detention is known not only by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, but also by the (International Committee of the Red Cross)" (Post). The accusations are the latest rift between Karzai and his allies, who have been noticeably frustrated with Karzai's increasingly anti-American rhetoric.

Social media still connecting Afghans

Paywast, a social media network in Afghanistan initially financed by the United States, is still going strong with 1.6 million users even after American financing ended in 2011, the New York Times reported on Tuesday (NYT). The project began as an effort to counter extremists' violent ideology with social media, but has evolved into far more, granting Afghans access to information they didn't have before, which has strengthened education efforts and encouraged political debate. 

Similar projects in other countries funded by the United States have failed, most spectacularly in Cuba, where the Associated Press recently reported the program was actually a covert effort to encourage dissent (AP).  Paywast does not openly acknowledge that it was financed by the United States, but Eileen O'Conner, deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia and the senior director of communications and public diplomacy in the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the fact was never hidden from the Afghan government or its citizens.

Pakistan

Battle near border

Afghan security forces backed by NATO air power repelled an assault on Wednesday by more than 300 militants including foreign fighters on an army base near the Pakistani border in south-eastern Afghanistan (Reuters). Fighting began when insurgents tried to storm the base using rocket-propelled guns, heavy machine guns, and mortars. Afghan officials say that as many as 60 militants were killed, but NATO has not commented on the clash. British defense ministry officials told the BBC that those orchestrating the attack were Pakistan-based militants; the district where the attack took place is about 7 miles from the Pakistani town of Miramshah in North Waziristan, which is known to be a stronghold of the Haqqani network (BBC).

Taliban worried about South Waziristan

The Pakistani Taliban Quetta Shura (the political council) contacted members of the militant organization's peace committee Tuesday night to express concerns about the situation in South Waziristan, the country's Express News reported on Wednesday (ET). According to Professor Mohammad Ibrahim, a Taliban intermediary, the group's spokesperson Azam Tariq expressed the Taliban's concerns regarding the movement of troops, helicopters, and artillery in the area (Dawn). Ibrahim added that the government was informed of the Taliban's concerns and that discussions about the resumption of peace talks are ongoing. 

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb in South Waziristan killed five militants, including key commander Amir Hamza, and injured three others on Wednesday (ET, Dawn). The device was planted on the side of a road in Ladha tehsil and was activated via remote control when a vehicle was near by. The incident is a continuation of the ongoing infighting between rival factions of the Taliban. 

-- Emily Schneider

-- Edited by Peter Bergen 

STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images