The South Asia Channel

Indian Exit Polls Predict Modi Win; Pakistani Lawyers Charged with Blasphemy; Report: Afghan Insurgency Increasing

Bonus Read: "What Would Modi Do?," Ana Swanson and Peter Bergen (SouthAsia).

India

Exit polls predict Modi win

The results of exit polls undertaken by several Indian television channels were revealed on Monday and predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would win anywhere between 249 and 290 seats in India's lower house; 272 is needed for a majority (Indian Express, BBC, Reuters, Mint, NYT). The India Today-Cicero poll predicts the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will win between 261 and 283 seats, Times Now-ORG predicts 249 seats, CNN-IBN-CSDS sees between 270 and 282 seats, and India TV-C gives the NDA 290 seats over the incumbent United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Stock markets reportedly reacted positively to the prospect of a win for BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi with the Bombay Stock Exchange's benchmark Sensex crossing the 24,000 mark for the first time (The Hindu). 

However, India's exit polls have not always been on the mark; polls in 2004 predicted a BJP win but saw the Congress party come to power by a wide margin.

U.S. President Barack Obama also sent a shout-out to the Indian election, calling it "a vibrant demonstration of our shared values of diversity and freedom" before saying he looked forward to working closely with the new administration (BBC, Times of India).

Indian court rules marital rape legal 

A court in New Delhi passed a verdict on Tuesday stating that forced sex between a man and his wife would not be considered rape (NYT, NDTV, Indian Express). The verdict was given by a fast-track court specifically set up to tackle crimes against women. Quoting Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which specifies the exceptions to cases considered rape, the court acquitted a man accused of abducting, forcibly marrying, and raping a woman. While the facts of the case vary wildly -- the defendant claims the two have been married since 2011-- the verdict brings to light calls from many for the recognition of marital rape as a crime equally punishable by law. In 2013, the Indian parliament passed a law with greater penalties for crimes against women, but stopped just short of including marital rape in its ambit.

New army chief appointed amid BJP objections 

A day after the conclusion of the 2014 elections, India's Election Commission permitted the government to announce its appointment of a new army chief on Tuesday (Indian Express, Times of India). Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag, the current Vice Chief of Army Staff, has been recommended to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet to take charge of the armed forces when Gen. Bikram Singh retires on July 31. The BJP had objected to an early announcement of the army chief's nomination, saying there was no need to do so a full three months ahead of the incumbent chief's retirement. The UPA contended that Singh had also been appointed three months ahead and that the government was only following that timetable. Incidentally, former army chief and current BJP candidate from Ghaziabad, Gen. V.K. Singh, had put a "discipline and vigilance ban" on Suhag for failure to control an intelligence unit.

Mar's orbiter expected to reach planet's orbit by September

India's first mission to Mars, the Mangalyaan, is expected to arrive in the red planet's orbit later this year, on Sept. 24 (Times of India). Chief of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) K. Radhakrishnan dismissed skepticism by some on the success of the mission and hailed Mangalyaan as a milestone for the organization. The mission took off on Nov. 5, 2013 from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh and was one of ten successful launches undertaken by the organization last year. ISRO has now reportedly catapulted into sixth place in a global ranking of countries with space missions, according to a U.S.-based agency cited in the article.

-- Shruti Jagirdar

Pakistan

Dozens of lawyers charged with blasphemy

Pakistani police charged 68 lawyers with blasphemy on Monday, "the latest in a tidal wave of such accusations flooding the country" (Reuters). The Reuters wire service reported that the charges came after a public protest in which the lawyers accused Umar Daraz, a senior police officer, of illegally detaining one of their colleagues. According to another police officer, Zeeshan Asghar, the lawyers used "foul language and the name of the inspector," prompting a member of a far-right sectarian party to complain that his religious feelings were offended (Dawn). Reuters notes that one of the Prophet Muhammad's companions was called Hazrat Umar, and that the party member objected to the use of "Umar" during the protest. 

Police said the offended party belonged to Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat, a banned Sunni sectarian organization led by Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi. Meher Afzal Khan, the president of the Jhang Bar Association, told the wire service that they hoped Ludhianvi would ask his supporter to withdraw the case, noting that: "The issue has been settled now. We have assured Mr. Ludhianvi that there was no mischief on our part. It was all a misunderstanding."

WHO rejects claims of fake vaccination campaign 

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday rejected claims by Pakistan that U.N. agencies were involved in a fake vaccination campaign led by the CIA in 2011 to find Osama bin Laden (ET). According to reports, Pakistan's foreign ministry alleged last week that the agencies were involved in the campaign, claiming that it has led the public to doubt genuine vaccination drives and is responsible for the spike in polio cases in the country. 

In a statement, the WHO said the Pakistani ministry "wrongly and erroneously alleged the involvement of United Nations agencies in events conducted by Dr. Shakeel Afridi" -- a Pakistani doctor who was recruited by the CIA to launch a vaccination drive in Abbottabad that many incorrectly believe led to information about bin Laden and is currently in a Pakistani jail -- but added that it has received assurances from the foreign office that the accusations were "categorically incorrect" (BBC).

The accusations came shortly after the WHO warned that polio has re-emerged as a public health crisis. Pakistan is one of three countries where the virus is endemic -- Afghanistan and Nigeria are the other two -- and was recently criticized by the WHO for allowing the crippling virus to spread outside of its borders. 

On Monday, two children in Karachi and North Waziristan tested positive for the poliovirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Pakistan in 2014 to 61 (ET). 

Khalid Sheikh Haqqani appointed interim Taliban chief in S. Waziristan

Pakistani media outlets reported on Tuesday that Khalid Sheikh Haqqani had been appointed by the Pakistani Taliban on Monday as the new interim chief in South Waziristan in an attempt to reconcile two of the group's warring factions (Dawn). According to a source speaking to the Express Tribune, Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah sent Haqqani to South Waziristan to stem the ongoing fighting between Shehryar Mehsud, a Hakimullah Mehsud loyalist, and Khan Syed (alias Sajna), a follower of Wailur Rehman (ET). Mehsud and Rehman were both killed in U.S. drone strikes last year, prompting the internal power struggle. More than 50 fighters have been killed in the latest bout of fighting, which began in April. Bonus read: "Rivals Fight for Pakistani Taliban's Soul," Daud Khattak (SouthAsia).

Afghanistan

Report shows insurgency in transition 

A new report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a nongovernmental organization, on Monday noted that the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan has allowed the Taliban to "muster larger forces, and that in some areas the insurgents and the Afghan security forces were inflicting nearly equal casualties on each other, in another suggestion of increased insurgent strength" (NYT, AFP). The report, which estimates that the number of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan in 2013 increased by 15 to 20 percent over 2012, was released just hours after the Taliban began their spring offensive, killing at least 18 people in attacks across the country (AP, WSJ).

The ICG also urged Afghanistan to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington -- which will determine the size and scope of any U.S. troop presence that remains in the country once the NATO combat mission ends in December -- and a similar Status of Force Agreement with NATO, arguing that signing the pacts would help Afghan security forces reduce their casualty numbers and fight the militants more effectively (Pajhwok, TOLO News).

The regular uniformed Afghan police have also come under fire lately for their actions in Kandahar province, with local citizens accusing officers of kidnapping and torturing innocent people. According to a U.N. report cited by the New York Times, an estimated  81 people disappeared from the province between September 2011 and October 2012 (NYT). While accusations of torture also include the country's intelligence forces, the Times notes that successive provincial police chiefs have taken brutal stances against the insurgency -- Kandahar is its heartland -- with innocent people sometimes being caught in the crossfire.

And then there were none

Pajhwok Afghan News reported on Tuesday that Afghanistan's Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) invalidated all of the ballots of Shaista Jan Ahadi, a provincial council candidate in Paktia province (Pajhwok). According to Bashir Bahram, who heads the commission's Paktia office, an IECC employee stuffed other candidates' ballots into Ahadi's box, prompting them to scrap all of Ahadi's votes. Ahadi, who is the incumbent provincial council chief, rejected the IECC's decision, calling the ballot invalidation insulting to voters and urged his supporters to take notice of the issue. 

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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