Indian Consulate in Afghanistan Attacked; China Halts Dollar Transactions at Afghan Banks; N. Waziristan Operation Continues
Editor's Note: The South Asia Channel will not be publishing a daily brief on Monday, May 26, in honor of Memorial Day, but will resume publication on Tuesday, May 27.
Indian consulate in Afghanistan attacked by militants, diplomats safe
The Indian consulate in Afghanistan's Herat province was attacked on Friday by at least three heavily armed gunmen, though the diplomatic staff escaped unharmed (AP, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, NDTV, Pajhwok, TOLO News). According to reports, militants using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades fired on the consulate from nearby buildings; most of the militants are believed to be dead, though a search for additional fighters is ongoing. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident (BBC).
Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi condemned the attack and spoke to Indian Ambassador Amar Sinha. Modi also spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and thanked him for the efforts of the Afghan forces in thwarting the attack.
The attack comes just days before Modi's swearing-in ceremony, which Karzai has confirmed he will attend. Shaida M. Abdali, the Afghan ambassador to India, said: "There is no doubt that it is a terror attack, an attack on the friendship of India and Afghanistan."
India has been a target by militants in Afghanistan before. In 2013, a bombing against the Indian consulate in Jalalabad killed nine people. And the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked twice by militants in 2008 and 2009, leaving 75 people dead.
Security sets the stage for Modi's swearing-in ceremony
Modi's swearing-in ceremony as India's next prime minister on May 26 will take place under an extraordinary three-tier security plan, with offices near the Rashtrapati Bhavan (presidential palace) to be shut by noon and nearby roads closed four hours before the event (NDTV, Economic Times). Indeed, security is expected to be "tighter than the annual Republic Day parade." The army and air force will also be "discreetly involved," even though the Delhi police will make most of the arrangements. Security has been further tightened after swearing-in invitations were sent to several South Asian heads of state.
After Modi takes his oath, around 1,000 Black Cat commandos will be deployed at his office in South Block, and his official residence at 7, Race Course (FirstPost). His wife and mother will even receive protection from the Special Protection Group (SPG), an elite commando group specially trained in VIP security.
Kejriwal refuses to post bail, apologizes for his mistake
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, who was arrested in a defamation case on Wednesday, was ordered to spent 14 days in jail on Friday after he once again refused to furnish a bail bond (India Today, NDTV). Adamant on not posting bail, Kejriwal argued his own case and said to the judge: "I want to understand what my fault is. I just called a corrupt person corrupt." After the AAP leader was jailed on Wednesday night, AAP supporters protested outside the jail and clashed with policemen, causing traffic chaos in the west Delhi area. Kejriwal was arrested after he refused to post bail in a case filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Nitin Gadkari, who had been named in AAP's list of "India's most corrupt" in January.
After resigning as the New Delhi chief minister three months ago, Kejriwal admitted on Thursday his decision to resign was a "mistake" (Economic Times, Hindustan Times). Since AAP relinquished power on Feb. 14 over the Jan Lokpal, an anti-corruption bill, Delhi has been under the president's rule.
Other political parties did not refrain from commenting on Kejriwal's "drama" (DNA). The BJP said Kejriwal was acting like a "spoilt brat" after his Lok Sabha loss. And the Congress party said Kejriwal had "lost his mental balance" after it decided not to re-extend support to AAP to form a government in New Delhi. In the New Delhi elections late last year, AAP formed a party with conditional support from Congress.
Lucknow teen becomes India's prime minister for 30 minutes
Qaiser Ali, a 19-year-old aspiring engineer from Lucknow, rose to fame on Tuesday when he acquired the Indian prime minister's Twitter handle, @PMOIndia, for about half an hour (Economic Times, BBC). Ali runs his own social network with 15,000 users and hopes to become a billionaire like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. This temporary fame put Ali right in the middle of #Handlegate, a social media spat between the offices of Indian Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi and outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Within half an hour of acquiring the Twitter handle, demands for "an apology to the nation" started pouring in, as did support from the Twitterverse, which told Ali not to apologize (Indian Express). After he was scolded by his parents and fearful "the police might come home and pick me up," Ali apologized several times. Twitter also took away his rights from the handle.
Singh started the @PMOIndia handle during his tenure as prime minister, but as he left office, his team decided to rename and archive the Twitter handle instead of handing it over. The BJP, which has just won the elections, criticized the move saying the Twitter account was a "national asset."
-- Neeli Shah, Jameel Khan, and Ana Swanson
China halts dollar transactions with Afghan banks
Noorullah Delawari, the head of Afghanistan's central bank, told Reuters on Thursday that Chinese banks have halted U.S. dollar transactions with most commercial Afghan banks, making it difficult for local businesses to pay for imports from one of the country's largest trading partners (Reuters). According to Reuters, the move is part of a general trend, with a number of countries halting trade with Afghan banks as the country has failed to pass laws meeting global standards against money laundering and terrorist financing. It is unclear if or when the transactions will resume, and Delawari said the impact on Afghan businesses has been felt immediately.
Security forces attempting to take back Yamgan
Afghan security forces launched an operation in Badakhshan province on Friday in an attempt to retake the Yamgan district, which has been under Taliban control since Monday (Pajhwok). According to provincial police chief Lt. Gen. Fazluddin Ayar, army, police, and special forces personnel have entered the district. Six policemen have been wounded in clashes with the militant group, but no further information on their condition was provided.
The move comes one day after 27 district police officers and government officials were captured by the Taliban (NYT). Asadullah, the police chief of neighboring Jurm district, told the Washington Post's Kevin Sieff and Sayed Salahuddin that there were about 250 to 300 insurgent fighters in the area (Post).
Meanwhile, local officials told Pajhwok Afghan News on Thursday that Zabul province's Nawbahar district could also fall into Taliban hands if no emergency actions were taken (Pajhwok). Deputy Governor Mohammad Jan Rassoulyar said that militants have been laying siege to the district for months, attacking local forces. He added that the authorities in Kabul had been notified of the situation, but that no additional support has been provided thus far.
Run-off campaign should be "civilized"
As the three-week campaign season began for Afghanistan's run-off presidential election on Thursday, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and the current frontrunner, told a crowd in Kabul that the race should be civilized and legal (TOLO News). Speaking at a press conference, Abdullah said: "Election campaigns must be healthy and in the framework of the law," adding that his team "will not resort to demagoguery and will not make false promises. We will act upon what we say." Abdullah is running against Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister.
The country's Independent Election Commission echoed Abdullah's comments a day later, urging the two candidates to "eschew raking up tribal, ethnic, sectarian and other divisive issue during their campaigns" (Pajhwok).
The two men are allowed to campaign until June 11, with voters then heading to the polls on June 14.
Waziristan offensive continues for third day
Pakistani air strikes pounded suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan for a third day on Friday, and ground forces fired mortars into the area around Kharwani, the Matchis Camp, and Sukhail Wazir (RFE/RL). Pakistani officials said some 80 militants have been killed so far during the operation, though that figure is impossible to independently verify (Dawn, ET). Ten Pakistani troops have also been reportedly killed during the operation.
While multiple news agencies have reported the ongoing strikes and ground operations, the Pakistani military told Voice of America on Thursday that no new air strikes have been carried out and that the soldiers are merely conducting "clean-up" operations in the area (VOA).
Twitter to block "blasphemous" tweets
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Twitter has blocked tweets a Pakistani bureaucrat found "blasphemous" and "unethical" at least five times this month, marking the first time the micro-blogging site has agreed to withhold content in the country (NYT). According to the report, "the content that so disturbed the bureaucrat, Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority," included crude drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, photographs of burning Qurans, and messages from a number of anti-Islam bloggers.
While Twitter unveiled a country-specific censorship policy in 2012, it had not previously blocked content in Pakistan. It has, however, withheld tweets in other countries, arguing that it is better to block messages that might violate local laws than the entire site.
Pakistani newspapers also noted that the site was briefly blocked in 2012, during a Facebook competition to draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but that a public uproar ended the ban after several hours (Dawn, ET).
-- Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images