The South Asia Channel

Modi Invitations Under Fire; Report: Pakistan Among Most Corrupt Countries; Run-Off Campaign Begins in Afghanistan

Bonus Read: "The Cleaner," Moh. Sayed Madadi and Jeffrey E. Stern (SouthAsia). 

India 

Modi's invitation to Pakistan's Sharif, neighbors under fire 

Narendra Modi's unprecedented move of inviting several South Asian nations' heads of state to his swearing-in ceremony on May 26, including archrival Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has received both applause and backlash (Economic Times). Tasnim Aslam, a spokesperson for Pakistan's Foreign Office, said that Indian high commissioner T.C.A Raghavan delivered the invitation on Wednesday, but that no decision has yet been made (Reuters). Many media outlets noted that if Sharif were to attend, it would be "a first in the history of the two states, which both have nuclear arsenals and have fought four wars since gaining their independence from Britain in 1947" (Guardian, BBC, NYT). According to Aslam, Sharif will announce his decision on Thursday (LiveMint).

As Sharif's decision is awaited, Modi's move is being touted as proactive diplomacy. The Asian Age called it "a strategically-astute move expected to yield major diplomatic dividends" (BBC). Politicians, both separatist and mainstream, and locals in the northern border state of Jammu and Kashmir have also welcomed Modi's invitation (Business Standard). "He has done the right thing by inviting Sharif... This will help undo the impression that Modi will rule India as a hawk," said Shabir Ahmad, a Srinagar local. However, the outgoing Congress party criticized Modi for maintaining "double standards" with Pakistan. 

Modi's invitation to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has also upset Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, with sources in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party saying that the incoming BJP should "understand the feelings" of people of Tamil Nadu (Economic Times). It is reported that Jayalalithaa may skip the event and send a senior leader to the ceremony. Relations between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu have remained sour since 2009, when the Sri Lankan government defeated ethnic Tamil rebels to end the bloody Sri Lankan civil war. 

Coal India shares surge as Modi explores breakup

Shares of Coal India Ltd. surged to their highest level in nearly three years on Thursday after Reuters reported that Modi was exploring breaking up the company and opening the sector to foreign investment (Reuters, BusinessToday). Coal India, the world's biggest coal miner, was trading 5.5 percent higher on the National Stock Exchange CNX Nifty Index. 

Coal is the cheapest form of energy in India and generates more than half of the country's power. According to Reuters, reforms will begin with the inefficient coal sector, as Modi wants to improve electricity supplies across the country. Due to its monopolistic position, Coal India presently enjoys a premium valuation to its peers and a higher return on equity at 36 percent. Domestic coal production has lagged demand due to strikes, excessive bureaucratic regulation, land acquisition protests, and delays in obtaining environmental approvals, even though India has the world's fifth largest coal reserves. 

Extremists incite anti-Modi attacks

An Islamist militant group with suspected links to al Qaeda released a video within 24 hours of India’s election results calling for attacks against “India and Indian interests overseas” (Guardian). Counterterrorism officials believe this group -- which calls itself Ansar-ut-Tawheed fi Bilaad Hind (Brotherhood for Monotheism in the Land of Hind) -- stems from the restive border region of western Pakistan and has grievances dating back to the Gujarat riots, in which scores of Muslims were killed. "In 2002, Muslims were massacred under a planned conspiracy in Gujarat," the video says. Modi served as Chief Minister of Gujarat during that time, and has since faced numerous allegations of complicity in the riots. He has denied the allegations, and India’s Supreme Court also found insufficient evidence to charge him with any wrongdoing.

India has suffered several terrorist attacks in recent years, the most striking of which was the 2008 assault in Mumbai from members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant organization. Counterterrorism officials have projected a rise in threats from extremist groups with a BJP victory. The BJP has promised to take a tougher stance on internal security than the outgoing Congress administration.

India's largest e-commerce deal

Flipkart, India's largest online retailer, acquired 100 percent of Myntra, an online fashion retailer, for approximately INR 1,800 crore ($300 million) on Thursday (NDTV). This deal has come at a time when regional online retailers are set to face tough competition from Amazon, the world's biggest online retailer, which introduced next-day delivery and slashed prices in an attempt to win market share in India's fast-growing e-commerce industry. Flipkart, which is based in Bangalore, was started by two former Amazon employees in 2007.

-- Neeli Shah, Jameel Khan, and Ana Swanson 

Pakistan 

Pakistan among most corrupt countries, report says

Transparency International, a global civil society organization, released a new report on Wednesday that called South Asia the most corrupt region of the world and declared that regional governments must strengthen their anti-corruption policies to prevent political interference and protect whistleblowers (Dawn, NDTV). The report, titled "Fighting Corruption in South Asia: Building Accountability," is based on "the findings of in-depth research on anti-corruption efforts in Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka." Analyzing nearly 70 institutions in the six countries, the international watchdog found that while all of them have public agencies charged with stopping corruption, "their hands are tied by political control over the staff appointments and budget." It added that: "The lack of political will on the part of the governments to make laws work means that government action to fight corruption is largely ineffective."

N. Waziristan strikes continue for second day

Air strikes targeting suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan continued for a second day on Thursday, while ground troops made their way toward Miranshah (Dawn, ET). According to reports, at least 73 suspected local and foreign militants have been killed in the strikes, though it is unclear who the specific targets were. Pakistan's Dawn newspaper said the strikes have primarily targeted strongholds belonging to the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement -- a group of primarily Turkic-speaking militants from Uzbekistan and Uighurs from China's autonomous Xinjiang region -- while Pakistan's Express Tribune said the army was focusing on the Matchis Camp, an area set up to house Afghan refugees.

Media outlets also reported that four soldiers were killed on Wednesday during a shootout with militants near Mir Ali (AP).

Afghanistan 

Campaign season begins again

The three-week campaign season for Afghanistan's run-off election began on Thursday with presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai gaining a number of high-profile endorsements. Abdullah, a former foreign minister and the current frontrunner, picked up the support of Jamil Karzai, current President Hamid Karzai's cousin and an influential businessman (TOLO News). Announcing his support for a man who would "bring solidarity to the country," Karzai promised to do everything possible to get Abdullah elected.

Meanwhile, former vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud formally announced his support for Ghani, a former finance minister, on Thursday (Pajhwok, WSJ). Massoud, the brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud -- a legendary guerilla commander who was assassinated by al Qaeda on the eve of 9/11, was President Karzai's first vice president from 2004 to 2009. A prominent Tajik leader, Massoud ran alongside Zalmai Rassoul during the first round of voting; Rassoul has already endorsed Abdullah.

The campaign will go on until June 11 and will be followed by two days of "silence" before voters head to the polls again on June 14 (VOA). 

27 officers taken hostage in Badakshan

Media outlets reported on Thursday that 27 Afghan police officers have been taken hostage by the Taliban in the northeastern province of Badakshan, a day after the militants ambushed several police checkpoints in the area (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Gen. Fazluddin Ayar, the provincial police chief, said the officers were fighting the militants from inside a cave in the Yamgan district on Wednesday. District elders then mediated a ceasefire, with the officers agreeing to put down their weapons and be taken captive. A search for the missing officers is currently underway. 

With the district currently under Taliban control, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) warned on Wednesday that if security could not be reestablished in Badakshan, it would be impossible to conduct run-off voting in the area (TOLO News). The IEC's statement came as top security officials met in Kabul to discuss security preparations for the June 14 vote. 

Iran denies recruiting Afghan refugees

Marzieh Afkham, a spokesperson for Iran's Foreign Ministry, released a statement on Wednesday denying a recent Wall Street Journal report that said the country's Revolutionary Guard Corps is recruiting Afghan refugees living in Iran to fight in Syria (WSJ). The Journal reported on May 15 that the country's elite forces were paying Afghan refugees $500 a month and offering them Iranian residency for fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria.

Afkham called the report "completely unfounded" and said that it "is aimed at damaging Iran's reputation in Afghanistan" (RFE/RL). She added that the report was also insulting to the people of Afghanistan and that the U.S. newspaper should apologize to them. 

On May 18, Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said its embassy in Tehran was investigating the Journal's claims. 

*** 

First in the world 

While women have been a part of the Pakistani armed forces since their inception, their roles have been primarily restricted to technical or operational positions. But a tweet shared by IBN-Live on Tuesday reminded the world that there are also two female generals in Pakistan, the first in the Muslim world (IBN-Live). In 2002, Shahida Malik became the first female major general, as well as the first general officer commanding the Pakistan Army Medical Corps. A year later, Shahida Badshah was promoted to the two-star rank and became the first female commandant of the Army Medical College. The tweet, by Sonia Faleiro, an award-winning writer, shows the two women together in uniform, though it is unclear where the photo was taken.

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen

SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images