The South Asia Channel

India Prepares for Vote Count; Afghans to Vote in Run-Off Election; Quranic Teacher Charged with Rape in Pakistan

Bonus Read: "'Modi's Plan A will be economy. If that does not work, Hindutva'," a conversation between Christophe Jaffrelot and Shivam Vij (Scroll.in); "Pakistan in the Middle," Marvin G. Weinbaum (SouthAsia). 

India 

India readies for vote count

India's Election Commission is preparing to conduct a massive count of roughly 550 million votes at 989 centers around the country on Friday, May 16, to determine the outcome of the nine-phased election for the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament (NDTV, Hindustan Times). The commission said the counting would begin at 8 a.m. and be completed by 5 p.m., and that trends would be available by 11 a.m; all times are local.

Roughly a million people are expected to help with the counting, with the central paramilitary forces and an additional 500,000 security personnel on hand to ensure their safety. India's Special Protection Group said it was also preparing to assign a security detail to Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial candidate, as well as his estranged wife and mother (Hindustan Times). 

Indian politicians continued jockeying for positions and alliances ahead of the announcement (Economic Times, Hindustan Times). Top leaders in the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an associated Hindu nationalist organization, continued to hold closed-door meetings about political appointments (NDTV). In anticipation of its victory, the BJP also reportedly placed an order for 4,000 kilograms (approximately 8,818 pounds) of laddoos, a ball-shaped sweet, to distribute among its workers (India Today). 

Congress party Vice President Rahul Gandhi caught more flak in the press for his conspicuous absence from a farewell dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, hosted on Wednesday night by party chief Sonia Gandhi, his mother (Indian Express). Congress party leaders said Rahul was out of town. A leader for the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist group, took a dig at Gandhi by saying he mostly lives abroad and comes to India for holidays (Times of India).

Justice recuses himself from Sahara case

India's Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it was constituting a new bench to hear a group of cases against the Sahara Group, following the retirement of presiding judge Justice K. S. Radhakrishnan and the recusal last week of Justice J. S. Khehar (Business Standard, Mint).

Khehar reportedly said last week that he and his family members were under "unimaginable pressure and tension" while hearing the case, which led to the imprisonment of Sahara group chief Subrata Roy and two directors since March 4. Khehar had complained in a previous judgment about manipulation of the judiciary by powerful litigants such as Roy and their counsel.

The judges of the new bench will be announced in July, when the court reopens after vacation, meaning Roy and the two directors will remain in jail until this summer. The case centers around the failure of two firms associated with the group to refund two bonds worth Rs. 2 million ($33,687) to the public, despite an Indian court order to do so.

Tweeting to victory

According to media reports, 56 million tweets related to the Indian election were posted on Twitter in 2014 (Hindustan TimesBBC). Narendra Modi attracted the most attention, with close to 11.1 million mentions (about 20 percent of all election-related tweets) and a record high of 65,000 replies, re-tweets, or mentions on a single day. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) grabbed the second spot, with 8.2 million mentions or 15 percent of all election-related tweets. Yet not all of the attention was positive: Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP's leader, saw his figures spike after an auto-rickshaw driver slapped him in public on April 8. And whole call centers were allegedly hired to wage Twitter warfare on the behalf of candidates (New Statesman). The vitriol sometimes reached dangerous heights: On Wednesday, Indian police arrested a man who had threatened on Twitter to shoot Modi (Hindustan Times). 

-- Ana Swanson

Afghanistan

Run-off election will occur in June

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) released the official results of the country's 2014 presidential election on Thursday, confirming what many observers already expected: a run-off election will occur between former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (AFP, Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Abdullah ended up securing 45 percent of the vote, while Ghani received 31.6 percent, yet no candidate received an absolute majority, prompting the second-round vote (TOLO News). That vote will be held on June 14, with the final results announced on July 22.

The news of the run-off comes just days after former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, who finished a distant third with 11.4 percent of the vote, threw his support behind Abdullah (Reuters, VOA).

While the first round of voting passed relatively peacefully, the Associated Press noted that the run-off election will occur during the Taliban's spring offensive -- which began on Monday -- raising concerns once again about how safe it will be for voters to cast their ballots (AP). At a press conference announcing the results, IEC Chairman Mohammed Yousuf Nuristani said: "My request again of the brave and patriotic people of Afghanistan is to do as they did before, millions of them casting their votes, to go again and cast their votes" (NYT). More than 7 million Afghans voted on April 5, a 50 percent increase over the 2009 election.

A day before the IEC announced the results of the 2014 presidential election, Abdullah asked the country's Independent Electoral Complaints Commission to address complaints his team had lodged about 1,433 polling sites (BBC, Pajhwok, TOLO News). At a press conference on Wednesday, he said the ballot boxes at those sites had been stuffed in favor of a particular candidate and could have a "significant impact" on the election's final results. But since the IEC as already announced its results, it is unclear if any further investigation into these complaints will occur. 

Border guards exchange fire, kill 1 

Guards patrolling the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan exchanged fire in Kandahar province early Thursday morning, and at least one Afghan guard was killed (Pajhwok, TOLO News). According to Zia Durrani, a provincial police spokesman, the skirmish occurred in Marouf when the Afghan guards caught their Pakistani counterparts trying to "set up a checkpoint on Afghan territory in an area where the border is poorly marked" (RFE/RL). He added that the two sides shot at each other with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Asif Yusufzai, a Pakistani police official, told RFE/RL that the Pakistani forces only opened fire after the Afghan guards attacked them, and maintained that they were building the checkpoint on Pakistani land. 

Pakistan

Quranic teacher, friends arrested and charged with gang rape

Qari Naseer, a 27-year-old teacher at a Quranic school in the city of Mansehra, and two of his friends were arrested on Wednesday and charged with gang-raping a college student (AP). According to Pakistani authorities, Naseer allegedly filmed the attack, which occurred on Monday, and may have blackmailed other victims. Naseer admitted to the rape, telling an AP journalist, "I am feeling shame for doing this act." His lawyer, and attorneys for the other two men, could not be reached for comment.

The Associated Press noted that this is a rare rape case in the country, "where prosecutions are few and victims are often stigmatized," especially when the case involves religious leaders or teachers. However, a crowd outside the Mansehra courthouse pelted the men with bottles of black ink, stones, and tomatoes. They also demanded that the men be hung in public for the crime. According to Pakistan's Express Tribune, the 17-year-old victim of the alleged attack has threatened to commit suicide if the men aren't brought to justice (ET).

Report: Musharraf's emergency rule was illegal 

Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) released a new 237-page report on Wednesday that says the agency has "irrefutable proof" that former president Pervez Musharraf illegally declared a state of emergency in 2007 (AP). According to the report, Musharraf never consulted other government officials, such as then-Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, before making his decision - which by law he should have done. The FIA "also quotes former Cabinet Secretary Masoom Alam Rizvi as saying Aziz never gave any advice to Musharraf about declaring a state of emergency. The position of Cabinet secretary is considered one of the most important in Pakistan as the official issues all government notifications."

The report comes as Musharraf faces a number of criminal charges related to his time in office, including one for high treason over his 2007 decision. This was the first time the government had submitted its investigative findings to the court. 

Assembly passes resolution for holy site protection 

Lawmakers in Pakistan's National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution on Thursday requesting that the government take greater measures to protect the holy sites of the country's religious minorities (ET). While the resolution is not binding, "it has significance in the parliamentary practice." Condemning previous attacks on such holy places, the resolution stated that: "This House resolves that necessary steps be taken on priority basis by the government to safeguard the holy places of minorities. This House urges the government that all holy places must be registered forthwith and special security personnel are deployed there to prevent any such incidents in the future."

Malala portrait sells for $102,500

A portrait of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban in October 2012 for speaking out in favor of girls' education, sold at an auction in New York on Wednesday for $102,500 (RFE/RL, VOA). The portrait was completed in 2013 by British artist Jonathon Yeo, who painted Yousafzai after she and her family relocated from Pakistan's Swat Valley to Birmingham, England. While it is unclear who bought the painting, all reports indicate that the money from the sale will go toward funding female education in Nigeria.

-- Bailey Cahall 

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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