The South Asia Channel

CIA to Close Afghan Bases; India Launches Indigenous Card Payment System; Earthquakes Hit Pakistan

Bonus Reads: "Going Global: The Economic Challenge for India's New Leaders," Evan L. Feigenbaum (SouthAsia); "Let Afghan Voters Finish the Job," Shahmahmod Miakhel and Scott Smith (SouthAsia).

Afghanistan

U.S. military concerned about CIA base closures

The Los Angeles Times' David S. Cloud reported on Thursday that the CIA is planning to close its satellite bases in Afghanistan and pull all of its personnel back to Kabul, a move that is raising concerns among U.S. military officials that they will be deprived as vital intelligence as a result (LAT). Cloud notes that CIA Director John Brennan informed military commanders in March that the agency would shutter its bases outside of Kabul, removing CIA case officers and analysts, as well as National Security Agency specialists. The withdrawal, which is coming just as the Taliban prepares for its spring offensive, has strained relations between the agency and U.S. military commanders on the ground. 

While intelligence officials confirmed the planned drawdown, they said the pace was uncertain. However, they linked the CIA move to the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the country. 

According to U.S. and Afghan military commanders who spoke to the Daily Beast's Kimberly Dozier about the CIA withdrawal, the Afghan security forces are stretched too thin to replace the departing forces (Daily Beast). Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told Dozier that they have tried to recruit the CIA-trained Afghan militias so they don't sell their skills to the Taliban or another group, but "only a 100 or so [have] said yes." 

Militants reportedly stage large attack on outpost

Afghan officials told international media outlets on Friday that Taliban militants have staged a large-scale attack on a remote police checkpoint in Farah province, injuring at least 11 officers (RFE/RL). According to the officials, more than 100 insurgents were involved in the attack on the Bala Boluk outpost, at least five of who were killed. Nearly 20 attackers were reportedly injured, but the numbers cannot be independently verified.

Military officials also said that more than 100 militants were killed and nearly 90 others were injured this week during a major army offensive in Ghazni province (RFE/RL). Nazeef Sultani, a spokesman for the Afghan security forces, said there were no reported casualties among Afghan troops, though these numbers could not be independently confirmed either. The Taliban rejected the casualty figures released by the Afghan officials and accused Afghan forces of firing at civilians.

Jet slides off Kabul runway

An Ariana Afghan Airlines plane headed to New Delhi slid off a runway at the Kabul International Airport on Thursday, causing injuries to five passengers. Brig. Gen. Haq Nawaz Haqyar, a border police commander at the airport, told Pajhwok Afghan News that the cause of the malfunction was technical in nature, but did not provide additional information (Pajhwok). The state-owned airline is Afghanistan's largest carrier, operating a fleet of nine planes and servicing a number of domestic and international routes (AP). 

A helping hand

The Oso Fire Department in Washington state released a statement on Tuesday asking the local community to consider donating money to Save the Children International to help those devastated by last Friday's mudslide in Abi Barak, Afghanistan (AP). According to a report by the Associated Press, the fire department said it has received incredible support after 40 people were killed in a mudslide in Oso in March, and now offers its condolences and support for the victims in Afghanistan.

-- Bailey Cahall 

India 

India launches indigenous card payment system

India launched its own card payment network, named RuPay, on Thursday (The Hindu, Economic Times). The system has been set up by the National Payments Corporation of India and is designed to rival MasterCard and Visa in facilitating ATM withdrawals and store payments, at a cost roughly 40 percent lower than those systems. The service has already been widely deployed by Indian public sector banks that currently have over 25,331 RuPay-enabled ATMS.

The benefits of using RuPay include lower transaction costs for banks, an assurance that customer data will not travel outside India, and the possibility of expanding the service to areas that have thus far been economically unfeasible for banks to operate in. Talks to take RuPay overseas are also underway with entities in the United States and Japan. On inaugurating the service in New Delhi, President Pranab Mukherjee dedicated RuPay "to the nation" and expressed pride in being one of the few nations to have developed an indigenous payment gateway (Economic Times). 

Government distances itself from report praising Gujarat 

A new study commissioned by India's Department of Industry Policy and Promotion (DIPP) -- a part of the Ministry of Commerce -- on improving India's business competitiveness gives the state of Gujarat a glowing review (WSJ India Realtime, Economic Times). The study, carried out by Accenture, claims that Gujarat leads other states in its land acquisition practices and system of granting environmental clearances.

While the study praises other states, including Maharashtra for providing single window clearances, and Karnataka for its managing of indirect taxes, the mention of the Gujarat model has led some within the government to spin the findings as a private study. Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial candidate, is currently the Congress party's biggest rival in the national elections and has been campaigning on a platform of economic change. Commenting on the study's findings, DIPP's Amitabh Kant said that he believes emulating some of these practices could see India gain 89 places in the worldwide "Ease of Doing Business" rankings. The country is currently in 134th place.

Senior leaders, family asked to leave Varanasi before polling begins 

As Varanasi gears up to vote on Monday, May 12, the Additional District Magistrate of the city has asked that family members of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Arvind Kejriwal, as well as senior BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah, leave the city on Saturday (The Hindu). The move is allegedly in compliance with orders stating that those involved in campaign activities but not a part of the constituency must leave before voting begins. The AAP's Kumar Vishwas had protested the same directive in his constituency of Amethi, claiming that it showed bias in favor of his rival, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. District administrators have also been under attack by the BJP for revoking Modi's permission to hold rallies in the city, while allowing Gandhi to gather his supporters in the area.

-- Shruti Jagirdar 

Pakistan

Two dead, dozens wounded in earthquake

At least two people were killed and nearly 50 were injured in the town of Nawabshah in Sindh province on Friday when a series of earthquakes rocked the region (AP, BBC, Dawn, VOA). Data from the U.S. Geological Survey service shows that the area was hit by 4.5-, 4.6-, and 4.3-magnitude quakes (ET). According to reports, the roofs of several buildings collapsed and a state of emergency has been declared. 

Pakistani army preparing response to bomb blast 

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Raheel Sharif (no relation), the Chief of Army Staff, met in Islamabad on Thursday to discuss the security situation in North Waziristan, just hours after nine Pakistani soldiers were killed near the Afghan border by a roadside bomb (ET). Senior military officials told the country's Express Tribune that there would be some sort of response as "terrorism and peace talks cannot go hand in hand." The Tribune also reported that the military would likely launch "massive air strikes" against militant strongholds in the region, but no further information was provided.

The Pakistani military also released a statement on Thursday saying that it had "successfully test-fired a short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead" (AP). The Hatf III Ghaznavi missile, which has a range of 180 miles, was launched from an undisclosed location at the end of a training exercise. The statement also quoted Gen. Sharif, who said that: "Pakistan was fully capable of safeguarding the nation's security against any aggression." Bonus read: "Pakistan's Tactical Nukes Threaten Stability in South Asia," Monika Chansoria (SouthAsia). 

Groundbreaking occurs for first solar power plant

In Bahawalpur in Punjab province on Friday, Prime Minister Sharif laid the foundation stone for the Quaid-i-Azam Solar Park, the country's first solar power project (Dawn, ET). The project, which is a joint venture between Pakistan and China, will begin working in December and provide about 1,000 megawatts of power in the next two years. 

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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