The South Asia Channel

Drone Strike Kills Militants in Afghanistan; Indian Parties Hold Closed-Door Meetings; Indian Journalists Told to Leave Pakistan

Bonus Reads: "Why Narendra Modi Matters," Harsh V. Pant (SouthAsia); "Narendra Modi, man of the masses," William Dalrymple (New Statesman). 


Suspected drone strike kills militants near border

A suspected U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan on Wednesday killed up to 10 suspected militants and wounded some 14 others near the Pakistani border, though the casualty numbers could not be independently verified (Dawn, ET). According to Nasir Khan, an assistant political agent in Pakistan's Khyber agency, "the strike targeted militants in Afghanistan's Nazian district, which has become a sanctuary for fighters" from the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam, another militant organization (RFE/RL). Khan told RFE/RL that 10 militants were killed in the attack, but Ahmad Zai Abdulzai, a provincial spokesman in Nangarhar -- where Nazian is located, said only four militants died in the strike. There has been no comment so far from either the Pakistani or Afghan Taliban about the incident. 

Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Afghan Taliban appointed a new military commander. The Wall Street Journal reported that the militant organization selected Ibrahim Sadar, a fighter who was released from Pakistani custody earlier this year (WSJ). Two senior Taliban officials described Sadar "as particularly close to Pakistani intelligence, adding that they viewed his appointment as a sign [that] Islamabad was reasserting control over the insurgency as U.S.-led forces head home." Tasnim Aslam, a spokesperson for Pakistan's foreign ministry, rejected those comments however, reiterating that: "Pakistan follows a policy of noninterference." 

The Journal noted that Sadar "succeeds Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former U.S. detainee at Guantanamo Bay who was sidelined after the Taliban failed to disrupt the first round of Afghan presidential elections on April 5."

Taliban's spring offensive continues

One Afghan army soldier was killed and several other officials and civilians were injured in Kabul on Wednesday morning when a bomb magnetically attached to an army vehicle exploded (AP, Pajhwok). According to the reports, two Army officials and two civilians were injured in the attack, though they are all in stable condition. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the incident.

The Associated Press also noted that in Ghazni province on Wednesday, a rocket fired into a residential neighborhood in the provincial capital killed one woman and wounded a child, though no one has claimed responsibility for that attack.

While the Afghan security forces and civilian population are bearing the brunt of these recent attacks, according to counts by the wire service and the U.S. Defense Department, 2,180 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, while nearly 20,000 have been injured (AP).

-- Bailey Cahall


BJP, Congress hold closed-door meetings, media speculates outcome 

With one day to go until the results of the Indian election are announced, media speculation abounds with the likely topics of discussion in separate closed-door meetings being held by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party (The Hindu, NDTV). The BJP, according to exit polls, is expected to be the frontrunner in this election and meetings with Narendra Modi, its prime ministerial candidate, are expected to focus on potential roles for BJP party chiefs Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj, as well as senior party leader L.K. Advani. It has been reported that Modi would like to re-assign Advani from his current position as acting head of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a coalition headed by the BJP, so there aren't two power centers within the party. Last year, Advani had opposed the party's decision to showcase Modi as its prime ministerial candidate.

Reports have also been attempting to predict which BJP leaders will be awarded cabinet positions. Some see Singh, Swaraj, and Nitin Gadkari as candidates for Defence Minister, though many others expect to see the number of cabinet posts pared down and ministries consolidated. BJP leaders also reportedly discussed bringing more parties into a possible coalition, including Tamil Nadu's All Indian Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Maharashtra's Nationalist Congress Party, and Odisha's Biju Janata Dal. 

A meeting of senior Congress party leaders with party president Sonia Gandhi on Monday evening reportedly featured discussions on the party's role in the likelihood of a fractured BJP mandate (Indian Express). While exit poll results predict the Congress will win the least seats in its history, some within the party believe the NDA will fall short of a majority, which would give the Congress some room to maneuver. The party has also reportedly been strategizing ways to deflect possible blame for defeat from Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Sonia's son.

Reforms to banks, taxation suggested

A Reserve Bank of India panel headed by the current chairman of Morgan Stanley India, P.J. Nayak, has recommended sweeping changes to the governance of state-run banks (Mint). The panel's suggestions include encouraging public sector banks to privatize and restructure their boards, as well as creating a special class of Authorized Bank Investors (ABI) who would be allowed to hold a 20 percent stake in banks without regulatory approval. ABIs could potentially include pension, hedge, and private equity funds, with the latter being eligible to buy a 40 percent stake in distressed banks.

The panel also recommends creating a Banking Investment Company (BIC) to manage the government's equity in various state-run banks. While the panel's recommendations come at a time when public sector banks have been taking flak for piling on distressed assets and struggling to meet capital requirements for the same, experts cited in the article said the government was unlikely to reduce its stake to below 50 percent in these units.

Another panel headed by Indian economist Parthasarthy Shome for the Ministry of Finance has reportedly clarified 76 issues related to direct and indirect tax policy (Economic Times). While some recommendations have been released in circulars from the Central Board of Direct Taxes, those that require legislation will be mentioned in the forthcoming Union Budget once a new government takes over.

The panel, set up in July 2013 to receive inputs from industry groupings on tax issues, has been reportedly focused on creating a stable tax regime, simplifying tax issues and discovering a fair mechanism for dispute resolution. Recent years have seen disputes between the government and corporations drag on for several years, raising issues of credibility about its tax regime (Economic Times). 

-- Shruti Jagirdar


Pakistan gives Indian journalists a week to leave

Snehesh Alex Philip and Meena Menon, two Indian journalists based in Islamabad, told Reuters on Wednesday that they had received letters from the Pakistani government on Tuesday night informing them that their visas would not be renewed and that they must leave the country within a week (Reuters). Philip works for the Press Trust of India, while Menon writes for the Hindu.

According to the reporters, both of whom have been in Pakistan for less than a year, no reason for the move was given. But Reuters notes that: "The move came amid simmering tensions between Pakistan's powerful military and a civilian government that appears dovish towards archrival India, where Hindu nationalist opposition leader Narendra Modi appears set to win [the country's] general election." 

People must be vaccinated by June 1

Pakistan's Health Ministry announced on Tuesday that all travelers leaving the country, including pregnant women, will be required to receive a polio vaccination by June 1 (ET, NYT, RFE/RL). The move is to comply with a recent recommendation from the World Health Organization, which criticized Pakistan for being one of three countries that allowed the crippling virus to spread beyond its borders; Syria and Cameroon are the other two. Responding to statements by the health agency that the spread of polio was worsening, Pakistan added mandatory immunization centers to all airports, border crossings, and seaports last week. 

Pakistan cracks down on Afghan immigrants 

The Washington Post's Tim Craig reported on Monday that: "After three decades of hosting the world's largest refugee population, Pakistani authorities have started to crack down on the flow of Afghans, as fears mount that the U.S. pullout from their war-torn neighbor could trigger chaos on the border" (Post). Craig notes that Pakistan and Iran absorbed more than 7 million Afghan refugees in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded the country, but both are now pushing refugees to return home.

While there are no official totals for the numbers of new arrivals, Pakistani officials told Craig that they have been receiving frantic phone calls from local authorities in recent weeks about new illegal settlements. To discourage the immigrants, Pakistan is "implementing policies that could make it harder for Afghans to rent apartments or erect new squatter camps;" in some cases, authorities have destroyed the buildings where people are living. Police squads have also been charged with hunting down illegal immigrants, while new screening procedures are being created for the border. 


Beam me up!

On Saturday, May 10, Afghanistan started using its first ever satellite in a "historic move" designed to boost the country's national broadcasting and telecommunications infrastructure (RFE/RL). Known as AFGHANSAT 1, the satellite will support a wide range of services, including radio and television broadcasting, as well as international connectivity. It is also expected to provide Afghan users with better quality service and lower prices (TOLO News). The capsule, which Kabul is renting for $4 million a year, was deployed by Eutelsat, a European satellite operator. 

-- Bailey Cahall 

Edited by Peter Bergen