The South Asia Channel

Fighting in South Waziristan; Bomb Blasts Hit Chennai Train; U.S. State Department: Afghan and Pakistani Taliban Still Lethal

Event notices: Reporting in Pakistan, Today, 12:15pm, (The New America Foundation). Join the conversation online #Pakpress.

No Good Men Among the Living, Tonight, 5:30pm (The New America Foundation). Join the conversation online #goodmenliving. 


Fighting in South Waziristan

The Pakistani Taliban claimed on Wednesday that Pakistani security forces have launched an operation in South Waziristan that has been ongoing for the past two days and targeting militant positions in the area (ET). Azam Tariq Mehsud, a member of the Taliban Shura council, told journalists by phone from an undisclosed location that "whenever the Taliban show seriousness in peace talks, the security forces launch operations against them," and added that since the Taliban had declared a unilateral ceasefire (which ended on April 16) for the success of peace talks that "now the ball is in the government's court."

Mehsud also contacted Taliban intermediary Muhammad Ibrahim to help convey the group's concerns over the South Waziristan operation. Ibrahim has been busy working to restart the peace negotiations: he addressed a tribal Jirga in Peshawar on Thursday. He was joined by Maulana Samiul Haq, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam political party, who assured the jirga that the Taliban would accept the Pakistan Constitution as law (Dawn). Haq added that he had advised the Taliban to act patiently in the matter of peace talks, but urged both side not to delay since the persisting conflict could only by solved through peaceful negotiations.

The mystery of the right arm left arm spin bowler

In the late 1970s and 80s, Pakistanis began noticing a line of text below many of the beautifully painted trucks and lorries on the roads that said: "Kafeel Bhai Ghotki Wally - Right Arm Left Arm Spin Bowler" (Dawn). It appeared so frequently, that many motorists stopped truck drivers to ask what it meant. The line was actually a signature of the painter, Bhai, a young cricket enthusiast who thought he was the only bowler in the world who could throw an off-spin from both arms. But after a disappointing amateur cricket career, he began making a living painting trucks. A French art magazine published some of his work in 1992, and offered to bring Bhai to France to paint buses, but after hearing that he might not be able to sign his work, Bhai refused the offer.  Soon after that, Bhai simply stopped painting. Some believe he moved to Karachi with his wife. 

-- Emily Schneider


Bonus read: "An Uneasy Inheritance of India's Political Dynasty," Gardiner Harris (NYT) 

Chennai train blast kills one, injures nine

Two explosions on a train in the southern city of Chennai killed one 22-year-old woman and injured nine others on Thursday (BBCGuardianTelegraphWSJ). The bombs were planted in two separate coaches of the overnight Bangalore to Guwahati express train, which had just pulled into the station in the capital of Tamil Nadu when the bombs went off, according to authorities. Officials are not sure if Chennai was the target, since the train was running behind schedule.

The blasts, which authorities described as "low-intensity," came despite heightened security during the six-week Indian general election. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in a region of India that is considered relatively peaceful.

In Srinagar, in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is often rocked by separatist violence, two explosions targeting election rallies injured 14 people this week. On April 12, a landmine exploded under a bus carrying poll workers in Chhattisgarh, killing 14.

India records high voter turnout, except for Jammu and Kashmir

Final counts showed voter turnout was high in the seventh phase of the polls on Wednesday, despite a severe heat wave in many parts of the country (Deccan Herald). In Gujarat, the voter turnout was about 62 percent, almost 15 percent higher than 2009 (Hindu Business LineMint). LK Advani, a veteran member of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, stood for office in Gujarat's Gandhinagar, while Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, competed with Congress' Madhusudan Mistry in Vadodara. Voter turnout reached 72 percent in Telangana (Times of India), and at least 81 percent in West Bengal, 73 percent in Punjab, and 60 percent in Bihar (Indian Express). 

In Srinagar, the capital of the restive border state of Jammu and Kashmir, turnout was low after separatists called for a boycott of the vote. By midnight in Srinagar, only a quarter of its 1.2 million eligible voters had cast their ballots - an indicator of the relative strength of local militants and separatists (Guardian). Separatist leaders said the boycott was justified by the heavy security presence in Kashmir, where the 600,000 security forces outnumbered those who went to the polls. Firing by security forces left one youth dead and two injured in Srinagar on Wednesday. 

The BJP was not expected to receive much support in Srinagar; the Abdullah family has dominated Kashmiri politics for decades, and their party has won the Srinagar seat in nine of the past 11 elections. In the 2004 and 2009 national elections, voter turnout was 18 percent and 25.6 percent, respectively (NYT).

-- Ana Swanson


Terrorism still a growing threat

The State Department said in its annual global report on terrorism released on Wednesday that the central organization of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan was "much diminished" by international efforts, but that affiliates of the militant group in Africa and the Middle East were becoming more "operationally autonomous and aggressive" (Reuters, Dawn, ET). The report identified a 43 percent increase in the number of terrorist attacks in 2013, counting 9,707 terrorist attacks around the world (Post). Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan were among the countries where the highest number of attacks occurred. Although nearly half of the attacks caused no fatalities, the most lethal attacks in 2013 were conducted by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Nigeria's Boko Haram, and al-Qaida in Iraq.

Explosion at coal mine

An explosion in a coal mine in the Dar-e-Sof district of Samangan province on Wednesday killed at least 17 miners and three people are still missing (RFE/RL, Post). Provinicial Govenor Hirullah Anush told reporters that the excavation work at the mine was the cause of the explosion and that the head of excavation had ignored warnings by authorities on April 29 about safety concerns and the possibility of such a blast. He also said the province has about 2,000 coal mines that are technically legal, since they pay taxes to the government, but added that  the mines operate in difficult conditions and the provincial government has tried to shut down some that were deemed unsafe.

-- Emily Schneider

-- Edited by Peter Bergen