The South Asia Channel

Rassoul Backs Abdullah in Election; Voting Concludes in Indian Elections; Afridi Lawyer Quits Over Threats

Bonus Reads: "Afghanistan's Fragile Gains," Kathleen Campbell (SouthAsia); "What Karzai Got Right," Abuzar Royesh (SouthAsia); "Beware the Coalition," Anish Goel (SouthAsia).


Rassoul backs Abdullah in Afghan election

At a press conference in Kabul on Sunday, Zalmai Rassoul, a one-time presidential candidate, announced that he was throwing his support behind former foreign minister and current front-runner Abdullah Abdullah (BBC, RFE/RL, WSJ). Describing Abdullah as a "good colleague," Rassoul added that he supported Abdullah's campaign "to further strengthen national unity" (NYT, TOLO News). While Abdullah told Afghanistan's TOLO News that it was too early to say what Rassoul's role would be within his campaign, he said that they will work on policy platforms together and that: "There is no more 'my team' and 'their team'."

Rassoul, a close ally of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai, finished a distant third in the first round of voting held on April 5, getting just 11.5 percent of the vote. Abdullah, on the other hand, garnered 44.9 percent, while former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai received 31.5 percent. Since neither candidate was able to get more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election will be held in June.

Afghan Taliban launch spring offensive

The Afghan Taliban began their annual spring offensive on Monday with a series of deadly attacks across the country, following through on a statement the group issued last week (BBC, RFE/RL). A group of militants stormed a Justice Department office in Nangarhar province, killing two guards and two government workers before entering the building; government forces are currently fighting to regain control of the facility (Pajhwok, Reuters, TOLO News). In Ghazni province, at least three people were killed when Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpoint, and nine others were killed in an attack on a checkpoint in Helmand province (AP). There were also two separate rocket attacks, on Kabul's international airport and Bagram Airfield, though no casualties were reported (Pajhwok).

Elsewhere in Kandahar province, at least five people were killed and nearly 40 others were wounded in a suicide bombing that targeted an Afghan army vehicle (TOLO News, VOA). According to reports, while the soldiers were the targets, most of the victims were civilians. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the incident (RFE/RL). 

The attacks come as the International Crisis Group (ICG), a nongovernmental organization, prepares to release a report showing that the violence in Afghanistan is increasing as coalition troops withdraw from the country (WSJ). According to the Wall Street Journal, in the report -- which will be released Monday - the ICG estimates that the number of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan in 2013 increased by 15 to 20 percent over 2012. Most of those incidents, and the resulting casualties, have been blamed on the Taliban.

British military investigating RAF photo

At least one U.K. serviceman is under investigation for posing with a dead Taliban fighter in photographs that emerged last month, reports said on Friday, though another member of the Royal Air Force (RAF) could also be involved (BBC, NYT). According to the reports, the graphic images were taken in September 2012 after an attack on Camp Bastion, the main British base in Afghanistan. Two of the images, which show some damage from the attack, also feature at least one RAF soldier kneeling next to a deceased fighter giving a thumbs-up sign; it is unclear if it is the same soldier in both photos. An RAF spokesman told the BBC that the service has a "zero-tolerance policy on the mistreatment of deceased enemy personnel" and that the case was being treated "extremely seriously."

-- Bailey Cahall 


Voting ends in Indian elections

India concluded its ninth and final phase of voting on Monday, as 41 constituencies across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal went to vote (BBC).

The focus of the final round has been the city of Varanasi, where the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is contesting against 41 other candidates, including anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal and local Congress politician Ajay Rai. The election will also be a personal test for Modi's brand of pro-business and Hindu nationalism, and poses an election opportunity for the BJP, which has ceded ground in Uttar Pradesh to the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (Reuters). Last minute roadshows by Aam Admi Party candidate Arvind Kejriwal saw massive crowd support, reportedly causing concern among some within the BJP who expected a blanket Modi win. Voting in Varanasi has been brisk, with 35 percent of eligible voters reportedly having turned out as of 1 p.m. local time (Indian Express).

Throughout the six-week run of the election, touted as the largest democratic exercise in human history, coverage has largely focused on the high voter turnout recorded in nearly every state. The 66 percent voter turnout in 502 seats thus far has beaten the previous election record of 64 percent recorded in the elections of 1984-1985 (Indian Express). The results of the elections will be announced on May 16, with a new parliament to be formed by June 2. 

Reliance, BP file dispute against Indian government

India's Reliance Industries, Britain's BP, and Canada's Niko filed an arbitration notice against the Indian government on Saturday over delays to promised increases in the gas prices the companies are allowed to charge (Financial Times, BBC). 

Reliance and BP won the government's permission to nearly double the regulated price at which they can sell gas from their KG-D6 field, India's largest offshore gas field, only to see the price hike delayed until after the end of India's election on May 16. Over the weekend, the companies warned that as much as $4 billion in capital investment due to be made in the field this year was now at risk. BP purchased a 30 percent stake in the field for $7.2 billion in 2011.

BP is the second major international investor to file a legal challenge against India in less than a week: On May 7, Vodafone, a British telecommunications group, filed an arbitration notice in relation to a $2.6 billion tax dispute. Media reports said the challenges from Vodafone and BP, by some measures India's two largest foreign investors, could further dent the country's reputation as a destination for foreign investment.

-- Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson


Afridi lawyer quits over death threats

Samiullah Afridi, the lawyer for Shakil Afridi (no relation) -- a Pakistani doctor who was recruited by the CIA to launch a vaccination drive in Abbottabad that many incorrectly believe led to information about Osama bin Laden and is currently in a Pakistani jail - announced on Saturday that he has quit the case after receiving frequent death threats (AP, BBC, Reuters, VOA). Samiullah, who fled the country briefly in December due to the threats, added that U.S. pressure on Pakistan to release the jailed doctor was another reason for his decision.

Samiullah was one of four lawyers representing Shakil, who was convicted in 2012 of alleged ties to militant groups and sentenced to 33 years in jail. While that sentence was reduced by 10 years earlier this year, he still faces a separate trial in which he is accused of colluding with the U.S. spy agency.

Five wounded in stadium suicide attack

At least five people were killed and seven were wounded in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a soccer stadium in Peshawar (RFE/RL, VOA). According to police, the bomber was apparently trying to target refugees who had gone to a government-run camp in the stadium, detonating his explosives near a small mosque that had been set up within the facility. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident.

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.