The South Asia Channel

CIA No Longer Using Vaccine Programs as Covers; Modi Elected BJP’s New Leader; Afghanistan Investigating Iranian Recruitment

Bonus Read: "Five Years After: Illiberal Democracy and Potemkin Peace in Sri Lanka," Malik Neal (SouthAsia).

Pakistan 

CIA to no longer use vaccination programs in spy operations

Multiple media outlets reported on Tuesday that the White House has pledged that the CIA will no longer use vaccination programs as covers for spy operations. According to the reports, Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism advisor, wrote a letter to the deans of 12 prominent health schools last week, noting that John Brennan, the agency's director, had banned the operational use of such programs in August 2013 (Post, Reuters, RFE/RL). Monaco added that the CIA "will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs."

In January 2013, the deans had criticized the intelligence agency's use of such immunization efforts, protesting the CIA's recruitment of Shakil Afridi -- a Pakistani doctor who launched a vaccination drive in Abbottabad that many incorrectly believe led to information about Osama bin Laden. Afridi was arrested in 2011 and convicted in 2012 of alleged ties to militant groups. While he has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for that charge, he faces a separate trial in which he is accused of colluding with the CIA. 

Since the agency's role in vaccination campaigns became public, dozens of public health workers have been killed in Pakistan and several international aid organizations have been forced to pull their staff members out of the country, hampering immunization efforts (NYT). Pakistan is one of three countries where the poliovirus remains endemic -- Afghanistan and Nigeria are the other two. 

Chinese tourist abducted by Taliban splinter group 

A Pakistani Taliban splinter group told media outlets on Tuesday that they are holding a Chinese tourist that went missing on Monday near Dera Ismail Khan (RFE/RL). The tourist, who has been identified as Hong Xu Dong, was on a cycling trip through the country's northwest when he was abducted. Abdullah Bahar, a purported commander of Sheryar Mehsud's Taliban faction, said Hong was in their custody and had been kidnapped in an effort to get Pakistani authorities to release imprisoned Taliban fighters (AP, Dawn, ET). Local police said a search operation to find Hong is currently underway. 

-- Bailey Cahall 

India

An emotional Modi vows to live for the country 

Narendra Modi, the incoming prime minister of India, broke down on Tuesday as he was unanimously elected as the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP's 282 newly elected members of parliament, together with their allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), met to formally appoint Modi as their leader (BBC). His name was proposed by senior BJP leader L.K. Advani and seconded by several other senior leaders, including Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, and Arun Jaitley. In his acceptance speech, Modi promised to work for all sections of society, particularly the youth, poor, and women. Describing himself as "an optimistic man" and "as the son of a poor man," Modi vowed to work hard and said he would present his progress in his report card in 2019 (Times of India, IBNLive).

As the party patriarch, Advani thanked Modi for his "kripa" (meaning "favor") to the party. An emotional Modi responded: "Can serving the mother be a favor? A son is only dedicated to serve the mother" (IBNLive). After being elected as the leader of the BJP, Modi will be sworn in as the next Indian prime minister on May 26 (Firstpost). A group of senior cabinet ministers is also expected to be sworn in during the ceremony. 

50 tonnes of gold smuggled into India in Q1

Approximately 50 tonnes of gold were smuggled into India during the first quarter OF 2014 due to continued import restrictions, according to the World Gold Council, an industry group (Business Standard). To curb the current account deficit, the Indian government has restricted banks from importing gold coins and medallions. While the unofficial gold market is growing, official gold demand dropped 26 percent in the first three months of this year. India has a high import tax and an "80-20 rule," which requires India to export 20 percent of the volume of gold that has been imported before additional gold imports are made. These import restrictions have reduced gold consumption (Economic Times).

As the continued smuggling has led to a parallel economy and adversely affects the gold market and genuine consumers, it is expected that the new government will take measures to control the smuggling. The World Gold Council estimates that India's demand for gold will double by the end of the year. The newly elected BJP government has committed to reviewing existing gold policies. Modi has said gold policies should consider the interests of the public and traders. The gold industry hopes the new government will address industry concerns as it keeps the trade deficit in check (Business Standard).

Congress looks for answers, rejects Gandhi resignations

After suffering a crushing defeat in the recent elections, the Congress Working Committee, the party's highest decision-making body, rejected resignation letters from both Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her deputy, and son, Rahul (Live Mint). Though the Congress party is preparing to lead the opposition, it has failed to get at least 10 percent (55 seats) of the 543-member house, meaning it can be "demoted from a ‘recognized party' to a ‘recognized group'" (Times of India). It is speculated that regional parties, such as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Trinamool Congress, may unite to claim the parliament's "Leader of the Opposition" position (ZeeNews).

Congress is also looking for answers and a "thorough revamp" of the party. Congress General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi briefed the media on Monday, saying that: "Accountability has been talked about. Wait for the reorganization" (Economic Times). So far, senior Congress leaders are blaming Dentsu, a Japanese communication agency for their defeat. A senior Congress member has alleged that: "Dentsu cannot be absolved of the blame for the debacle." Congress hired Dentsu to manage the party's advertising during elections and its primary goal was to market Rahul Gandhi as a young and dynamic leader (Economic Times).

-- Neeli Shah, Jameel Khan, and Ana Swanson

Afghanistan 

Afghan government investigating reports of Iranian recruitment

Afghan officials are investigating reports that Iran has been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, less than a week after the story first appeared in the Wall Street Journal (RFE/RL). The Journal reported that Iran has been offering the refugees $500 a month and Iranian residency to fight alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that Kabul had tasked its embassy in Tehran with investigating the claims, and added that sending Afghan refugees to Syria is a violation of their rights and exploits their vulnerable situation. The upper house of Afghanistan's parliament has also asked the central government to request a clarification on the situation from Iranian authorities (TOLO News).

Trilateral talks focus on Afghan security

Afghan, Pakistani, and NATO officials met in Kabul on Monday to discuss the country's security as international forces withdraw, as well as ways to increase cross-border coordination in combating terrorism (VOA). The meeting was attended by Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, the Afghan Minister of Defense; Gen. Sher Muhammad Karimi, Afghanistan's Chief of Army Staff; Gen. Raheel Sharif, Karimi's Pakistani counterpart; and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the U.S. commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Sharif, who made his first visit to Afghanistan since being named Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff in November, said that Pakistan was "committed to implementing the decisions taken at the trilateral meeting" and that "no effort would be spared to improve security along the border" (ET, Pajhwok). Some Afghan parliamentarians were skeptical, however, noting that this was the 37th trilateral meeting to occur, yet several border issues remain unresolved (TOLO News).

On Tuesday, Pajhwok Afghan News reported that Pakistani forces had withdrawn from the Maroof district in Kandahar province, de-escalating border tensions that emerged last week when a skirmish broke out between soldiers from the two countries (Pajhwok). 

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The mighty mango

Several media outlets noted on Monday that tough new European regulations may help Pakistani mango growers "take a slice out of India's export market" (AFP). While both countries say the fruit is a national treasure and fight over whose mangoes are superior, economically, Pakistan appears to have an edge (The Nation). On May 1, the European Union banned India's prized Alphonso mangoes after many shipments were found containing fruit flies. Agence France Presse reported that Pakistani officials are visiting local farms to make sure the country's mango growers learn from India's mistakes and meet the E.U.'s standards. According to official figures, Pakistan exported some 100,000 tons of mangos last year, a total nearly twice that of India.

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen

HASHAM AHMED/AFP/Getty Images