The South Asia Channel

Dozens of Militants Killed in N. Waziristan; Taliban Attacks Kill 13 Across Afghanistan; Modi Prepares to Take Oath

Event Notice: "Pakistan - Do Religious Minorities Have a Future?," TODAY, 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM, Capitol Visitors Center (USCCB - RSVP to Melissa Swearingen, MSwearingen@usccb.org). 

Bonus Reads: "Pakistan's Tyranny of Blasphemy," Ali Sethi (NYT); "India's Political Earthquake," Seema Sirohi (SouthAsia).

Pakistan 

Dozens of militants killed in security operation

Pakistani military officials told several media outlets on Wednesday that "precision military air strikes" launched in North Waziristan killed at least 32 militants, including "important" commanders, and injured 80 others along the border with Afghanistan (AJAM, BBC, Dawn, VOA). Local tribesman told reporters that 10 civilians were also killed in the strikes (ET, NYT). However, names have not yet been provided for those killed, and the casualty numbers could not be independently verified.

According to the reports, the strikes, which were in retaliation for recent terrorist attacks on Pakistan's security forces, occurred early Wednesday morning and targeted towns like Boya, Mir Ali, and Miranshah. As the army operation is ongoing, roadblocks and a curfew have been established, and school exams have been cancelled (RFE/RL). The strikes occurred one day after a Taliban faction admitted it had kidnapped a Chinese tourist who was cycling through the region.

Elsewhere in Karachi, at least eight people were injured and two shops were destroyed on Wednesday when a bomb exploded near the Sachal Rangers' headquarters [pictured above] (Dawn, ET). Officials for the paramilitary group said the explosives were planted in a motorcycle parked outside the building and were used to target a Rangers convoy. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, but an investigation is underway.

Bitter divisions emerge over Geo TV ban

Five members of Pakistan's Electronic Media Regulatory Authority's (Pemra's) apex committee announced on Tuesday that they had agreed to suspend the licenses of three channels belonging to Geo TV, the country's largest and most influential television station. Yet hours later, several other committee members said they "disowned" the decision, exposing bitter divisions within the organization (Dawn, BBC). While the network was given until midnight local time to end the transmissions for Geo Entertainment, Geo News, and Geo Tez, the organization has not said whether or not they will comply with the decision; it is also unclear what Pemra's internal dispute means for channels.

The fight over the station relates to Geo's ongoing defamation row with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate. On April 21, Hamid Mir, a popular Geo presenter, was shot six times in Karachi; he is now recovering in a local hospital. Geo ran an interview with Mir's brother, who alleged that the ISI was behind the attack, on a loop for several hours. The spy agency has denied any involvement in the incident.

While Geo's management has admitted that it may have "overdone" its coverage, the dispute has divided the country's media organizations, as well as increased tensions between Pakistan's civilian government and powerful military. According to Voice of America, a final decision on permanently canceling Geo's licenses will be made at a Pemra meeting on May 28 (VOA). 

Afghanistan 

Taliban attacks kill 13 across Afghanistan 

Taliban militants attacked a number of police outposts across Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 10 officers and three civilians (AP, Pajhwok, RFE/RL). In Badakhshan province, militants attacked several bases, killing six police officers and wounding three others (TOLO News). They also destroyed a mobile phone tower in an effort to cut contact between Yamgan district and the provincial capital. In Laghman province, four officers were killed when fighters wearing burqas attacked their base. And in Zabul province, villagers reportedly found the bodies of eight local police officers that were abducted two weeks ago. 

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber also walked into a district building in Hasarak in Nangarhar province and detonated his explosives vest, killing two civilians and wounding Abdul Khaliq Maroof, the district's administrative chief (Pajhwok). His injuries, however, are not life threatening. 

Pajhwok Afghan News also reported on Wednesday that at least nine Afghan army officers were killed in a number of bomb blasts around the country, but the Ministry of Defence provided no additional information (Pajhwok). There were even reports that four militants were killed and two were injured in a drone strike in Nuristan province (Pajhwok).

The attacks come just about a week after the Taliban launched their spring offensive. 

Abdullah promises to heal rift with West

As Afghanistan prepares for the second round of voting in the country's 2014 presidential election, frontrunner and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah told Reuters that he would "rescue the ailing economy by healing a rift with the West" and pass laws tackling "corruption and money laundering to reassure hesitant foreign donors" (Reuters). Afghanistan's economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid, but those funds are drying up as coalition soldiers withdraw from the country. Abdullah added that, if elected, he would sign agreements with both the United States and NATO allowing troops to stay past the December deadline, noting that: "The little money that Afghans have, Afghan businessmen and women, they are holding it back, because of uncertainty. The government should establish that sort of environment in which the private sector can flourish." 

Meanwhile, Daoud Sultanzoy, a former parliamentarian from Ghazni province and former presidential candidate, announced on Wednesday that he was supporting former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Abdullah's rival, in the upcoming run-off election (TOLO News). Sultanzoy, who finished second to last in the first round of voting, said he was supporting Ghani as their "platforms and interests are similar."

-- Bailey Cahall 

India

Modi prepares to take oath 

Indian Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi on Tuesday invited the heads of state of neighboring countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to his swearing-in ceremony, in a move meant to send a strong signal of a neighbor-friendly new government (NDTV). SAARC nations include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Modi will be sworn in as India's 15th prime minister on May 26 in the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace in New Delhi. The ceremony will be attended by approximately 3,000 people.

After serving as the Gujarat chief minister for 12 years, Modi submitted his resignation to state governor, Kamla Beniwal, on Wednesday (FirstPost, Hindustan Times). In his farewell speech to the state assembly, Modi said: "It was an honour to be the CM [chief minister] of Gujarat four times," and expressed his confidence that Gujarat will continue to develop. Modi is scheduled to meet with other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders at the BJP legislature meeting on Wednesday to announce the next chief minister of Gujarat. Anandiben Patel, Gujarat's revenue minister, is expected to replace him.

U.S. Ambassador to India to step down

Nancy Powell, the current U.S. ambassador to India, will leave New Delhi on May 22, four days before Modi takes office. Powell, a veteran diplomat who announced her intention to retire in March, will be replaced temporarily by Kathleen Stephens, the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea (IBNLive, NDTV). Stephens is expected to arrive in New Delhi in early June and will serve until a new permanent ambassador is nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.

Powell is concluding a distinguished 37-year career that has included postings as U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, and Nepal, as well as service in Canada, Togo, Bangladesh, and Washington, where she was most recently director general of the Foreign Service. Analysts have linked Powell's abrupt retirement after a short two-year tenure in India to her failure in containing the "Khobragade" affair (Economic Times). The arrest and strip search of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian diplomat, in New York sparked a tense diplomatic row between India and the United States in December 2013. Powell was also blamed for not reaching out to Modi earlier following his emergence as potential prime minister.

AAP leader arrested

Arvind Kejriwal, the head of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was taken into judicial custody by the Delhi Police on Wednesday for refusing to submit a personal bond of INR 10,000 [$170.00] (IBNLive, NDTV). A defamation suit against Kejriwal was filed by BJP leader Nitin Gadkari, who alleges that the AAP leader called him a "chor (thief)." Kejriwal will remain in judicial custody until May 23, when the court hears the case.

Modi takes Facebook by storm, PMO Twitter row

According to Andy Stone, an official from Facebook, Modi has the fastest-growing Facebook page for any elected official in the world, and is second only to U.S. President Barack Obama in popularity (NDTV, IBNLive). During the first phase of the Indian general elections, Modi had 12.46 million Facebook fans. But after he was appointed by President Pranab Mukherjee as the next prime minister of the country on Tuesday, his fan following increased to 15.245 million.

From the day elections were announced until the day polling ended, 29 million people in India made 227 million interactions (posts, comments, shares, and likes) on Facebook regarding the Indian elections. There were also 13 million people who made 75 million interactions about Modi, according to Stone. According to the Times of India, the elections and Modi's victory have unleashed a bitter war on social media, as friends with different political views have attacked and "unfriended" each other (Times Of India).

While Modi is popular on Facebook, a new battle is brewing on Twitter. Just days before Modi becomes prime minister, the Prime Minister Office (PMO) Twitter handle was changed from @PMOIndia to @PMOIndiaArchive, automatically transferring its content and 1.24 million followers to the new account (Times Of India, Economic Times). Subsequently, an unknown person tweeting under the name Qaiser Ali acquired the original handle. "I took the name of respected @PMOIndiaArchive (@pmoindia)," Ali said. The BJP termed this change as "unethical, ungraceful" and an "uncalled-for parting gift by the PMO." Furious with the move, BJP officials stated that the PMO Twitter handle was a "national digital asset," not a personal handle.

-- Neeli Shah, Jameel Khan, and Ana Swanson 

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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