The South Asia Channel

Pakistan Reels From Fallout Over WHO Restrictions; Clash Breaks Out Over Afghan Aid; Millions Vote in India’s Election

Bonus Reads: "Paying Homage to Bin Laden, Mosque Re-emerges as Bastion of Militancy," Declan Walsh and Salman Masood (NYT); "The Great Game That Won't Be," Michael Kugelman (SouthAsia).  


Pakistan reeling from fallout over WHO restrictions

Multiple media outlets reported on Tuesday that Pakistan is still reeling from the fallout of the World Health Organization's recent travel restrictions, intended to prevent the spread of polio across Pakistan's borders, and confusion is rising among travelers (BBC). Pakistan's Dawn newspaper noted that travelers took to social media to try to find out more information about where they can receive the polio vaccination drops, as well as get a certificate proving that they have been vaccinated (Dawn). The Washington Post cited Saira Afzal Tarar, Pakistan's Minister of State for Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination, who said the government is convening emergency meetings to figure out a way forward and implementing a number of protective measures, including setting up vaccination desks at the country's airports (Post). She added that officials are also working to determine how much of the vaccine will be required to vaccinate all of Pakistan's travelers, as well how to protect health workers in dangerous areas.

In Punjab province, officials took matters into their own hands, with the chief minister's health advisor, Khawaja Salman Rafique, announcing that vaccination booths would be set up at the province's airports and at all roads leading into the region (NYT). Rafique also noted that all children entering the province from either Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Sindh would be required to present a proof of immunization or receive vaccination drops on the spot (Dawn). Bonus read: "Explainer: Why Pakistan Is A Polio Breeding Ground," Frud Bezhan (RFE/RL).

FBI agent detained in Karachi 

Joel Cox Eugene, an FBI agent who was in Pakistan as part of a multi-agency effort to help Pakistani security forces fight corruption, was detained at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on Monday after ammunition was found in his bag (Dawn, ET). According to Pakistani and U.S. officials, Eugene is being held on anti-terrorism charges for having 15 bullets and a magazine for a 9mm pistol in his possession. A U.S. official with knowledge of the case told the Washington Post that Eugene was not armed and had apparently forgotten about the loaded magazine (Post). On Tuesday, a Pakistani judge ordered that Eugene be detained until at least Saturday while authorities conduct an investigation.


Clash breaks out over Badakhshan aid

Afghan officials told international news outlets on Tuesday that police officers had clashed with people collecting aid at the site of a massive landslide in Badakhshan province, firing into the air to disperse the crowd that had gathered (VOA). According to Faziluddin Hayar, the provincial chief of police, no one was wounded in the incident, which occurred when a crowd of people rushed towards a truck carrying relief aid for the victims of Friday's disaster (AP). The International Organization of Migration's Matt Graydon, who was at the scene, said the incident "escalated quite quickly," with army soldiers and more police officers arriving to bring the situation under control.

The incident occurred as search operations for the bodies of villagers buried under the mud resumed in the village of Abi Barak (RFE/RL). Afghan officials first ended their recovery efforts on Saturday, but restarted their search after relatives of the missing complained. 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with those affected by the landslide on Wednesday, expressing his condolences and assuring victims that they would receive a sufficient amount of foreign and local aid (AP, Pajhwok). He added that new houses would be built for the 700 families left homeless by the disaster. Bonus read: "Badakhshan Tragedy Unites Nation," Yama Ahmadi (TOLO News).

Maternal mortality rates drop

Speaking at a celebration on Monday, the International Day of Midwives, Suraya Dalil, Afghanistan's Minister of Public Health, announced that the country's maternal and infant mortality rates have decreased (TOLO News). According to Dalil, in the past, 1,600 of 100,000 pregnancies were fatal, but that rate has now dropped to 327 in 100,000. She added, however, that the number of midwives in the country needs to double if the rate is to drop further; there are currently 3,500 midwives providing health care services across the country. 

Run-off election to occur on June 14

Pajhwok Afghan News reported on Wednesday that Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) wants to hold the run-off presidential election on Saturday, June 14 (Pajhwok). While a second round of voting has not been formally announced, it is expected as none of the candidates secured more than 50 percent of the vote, according to the IEC's preliminary results. Based on the initial count, it looks like the two contenders will be Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister. The Independent Election Complaints Commission is currently reviewing complaints related to the April 5 vote; the final results will be announced on Saturday. 


Let there be YouTube!

Pakistan's National Assembly voted unanimously on Tuesday to lift a ban on YouTube, the video-sharing site that had been blocked in the country since September 2012 (ET, RFE/RL). The resolution was welcomed by free speech campaigners as a positive step, but is not legally binding; it must be approved by the country's Supreme Court, which initially ordered the ban after the video "Innocence of Muslims" sparked angry protests. While it is not clear when the ban will be officially lifted, Saira Afzal Tarar, the country's state minister for Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination, said that it would be removed soon (Dawn). 

-- Bailey Cahall


Penultimate phase of polling begins 

Voters in 64 constituencies over Seemandhra, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, and Jammu and Kashmir cast their ballot on Wednesday in the eighth phase of the Indian election (Indian Express, Mint). Over 180 million people are expected to decide the fate of 1,737 candidates, including Congress party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. 

Voting was brisk in several areas; it was estimated that 63 percent of the population had voted in Seemandhar by 3:00 pm, while the figure for Bihar stood at 40 percent (Times of India). While Baramullah in Jammu and Kashmir recorded a 30 percent turnout by the end of the day, the region of Ladakh saw 50 percent. Election-related violence was sporadic with one person reportedly dying in Bihar's Sitamarhi, while Maoists reportedly set an electronic voting machine on fire in Seemandhra. 

A decision by India's Election Commission to grant voting rights to Tibetans living in exile has reportedly divided the community, many of whom live in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh (Guardian). Tenzin Tsundue, an activist speaking to the Guardian, said the move would leave the community a step closer to settling in exile, leaving them "culturally diluted," or worse, "complacent," about the Tibetan political cause. Some have welcomed the move and see it as a win for getting limited recognition from India's courts, which require Tibetans in exile to renew residence permits annually and bar them from owning land.

Gold smuggling rises six-fold in one year

India's Central Board of Excise and Customs has seized nearly six times more gold from its anti-smuggling operations in 2013-2014 compared to the previous fiscal year -- nearly Rs. 564 crore ($93 million) worth of gold was picked up in 1,757 raids compared to gold worth Rs. 99 crore ($16 million) the year before (Mint). The increase in smuggling can be attributed to a fourfold rise in import duties in the last two years, which has seen domestic prices shoot up and a 63 percent decline in imports. While the amount seized pales in significance to official gold imports, a staggering $39 billion, an official at the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence estimates that 90 percent of smuggling cases go undetected. According to a report by Macquarie Research, Nepal, Myanmar, and Bangladesh are popular land routes for gold smuggling, while Dubai, Singapore, and Bangkok are frequently used air routes.

-- Shruti Jagirdar

Edited by Peter Bergen.