The South Asia Channel

Pakistani Politician Arrested in London; Gopinath Munde Killed in Car Crash; Afghanistan Objects to Prisoner Swap

Pakistan

Leading Pakistani politician arrested in London

British police arrested leading Pakistani politician, Altaf Hussain, on Tuesday on suspicion of money-laundering (Post, Reuters). Hussain, who heads the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM, has lived in self-imposed exile in Britain since 1992 but regularly addresses gatherings in Pakistan by telephone and is known for his stirring speeches. The Metropolitan Police said the 60-year-old had been detained at his residence in northwest London on Tuesday morning and officers were searching his home (BBC).

Hussain's arrest sent shockwaves through Karachi, Pakistan's economic hub: Schools postponed exams, shops closed, and residents shuttered their windows in preparation for a violent backlash by his supporters. The Karachi stock market dropped 780 points after news of the arrest (ET).

Blast in Kurram kills seven

At least seven people were killed and three others wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Kurram in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday (BBC, Dawn). The explosion occurred in Kurram agency, which is close to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and is one of the several regions in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The area is known for the heavy presence of Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda militants.

Animated action in Urdu

A Karachi-based production company, SOC Films, is ready to launch Pakistan's first Urdu language animated feature film. The film, titled 3 Bahadur, is a super hero action movie that seeks to energize and motivate Pakistani youth through dynamic 3D animation. Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy said that she had a desire to "create an animated geature in Pakistan that would appeal to both children and adults alike." The film is set to launch in the summer of 2015.

-- Emily Schneider

India

Gopinath Munde, senior BJP leader, killed in car accident

Gopinath Munde, India's newly-appointed Rural Development Minister, died in a car crash on Tuesday while traveling back to his home state of Maharashtra (Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Times Of India). Munde, 64, was on his way to the Delhi airport to catch a flight for a victory rally when his sedan was hit by another vehicle. According to preliminary post-mortem reports, Munde's liver was ruptured in the accident, and he suffered cardiac arrest due to shock. Munde's driver and personal assistant are safe. Munde is survived by his wife and three daughters, and will be cremated on Wednesday at his native village Parli in Maharashtra's Beed district.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a cabinet meeting on Tuesday to mourn the death of Munde. Modi described Munde as a "true mass leader" and stated that his premature death left a "void hard to fill." Modi tweeted: "Extremely saddened and shocked by the demise of my friend and colleague Gopinath Mundeji. His demise is a major loss for the nation and the government. Mundeji was a true mass leader. Hailing from backward sections of society, he rose to great heights and tirelessly served people."

Munde was the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra from 1995 to 1999. He was elected to the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) in 2009 and 2014. Munde had served as the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) deputy leader in the parliament, and was being considered as a potential chief minister of Maharashtra later this year.

RBI Governor keeps rate unchanged

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Tuesday issued its first bi-monthly monetary policy review after the Narendra Modi government assumed office on May 26 (NDTV, Economic Times, Business Standard, DNA). RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan kept the key policy repo rate (the rate at which RBI lends funds to commercial banks) unchanged at 8 percent as expected. To bring more liquidity into the Indian economy, RBI will reduce the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) by 50 basis points to 22.5 percent of deposits beginning June 14. RBI also raised the annual overseas investment ceiling for individuals from $75,000 to $125,000.

"If the economy stays on this course, further policy tightening will not be warranted," Rajan said in the RBI monetary policy statement, referring to the moderating inflation trend. The statement also said: "the decisive election result, together with improved sentiment should create a conducive environment for comprehensive policy actions and a revival in aggregate demand as well as a gradual recovery of growth during the course of the year."

RBI's monetary policy statement indicates that the central bank and the government will work together to restore growth and control inflation. Modi is expected to bring down inflation by improving food distribution, cutting subsidies, and promoting investment in infrastructure. Benchmark share indices ended at record highs on Tuesday in response to the cut in SLR (Business Standard, DNA). The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) benchmark Sensex rose by 173 points, and the 50-share Nifty of the National Stock Exchange also rose by 53.35 points.

BJP leader jailed for assaulting JSEB official

Yashwant Sinha, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, and 54 others were remanded in judicial custody by a local court on Tuesday after they refused to seek bail in an alleged assault case against Dhanesh Jha, an official with the Jharkhand State Electricity Board [JSEB] (Economic Times, DNA, IBNLive).

During a demonstration on India's electricity crisis, Sinha was with around 300 BJP activists including 50 women when he locked the Hazaribagh unit of the JSEB, and refused to let employees enter the office. Sinha admitted to the media of "instructing" the party's women activists to tie-up Jha using a rope "... as women are the worst sufferers for not getting power. Their children's education is also suffering." Jha said the incident was "humiliating and insulting."

Indian aid worker kidnapped in Herat, Afghanistan

Jesuit Father Alexis Prem Kumar Antonysamy, an Indian national, has been kidnapped outside the city of Herat, Afghanistan by unidentified armed men on Monday (NDTV, DNA, Times Of India). Father Kumar was visiting a school for Afghan refugee children from Iran and Pakistan when he was taken. He serves as the country head of Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), an international NGO in Afghanistan.

Syed Akbaruddin, India's foreign ministry spokesperson, said the consulate in Herat was trying to get more information, and tweeted: "... our mission is pursuing the matter with local authorities." This incident comes just 10 days after the Indian consulate in Herat was attacked by four armed gunmen. Indians have been targeted in the past in Afghanistan. In 2005, an Indian national working with the Border Road Organisation was taken hostage and then beheaded. In 2003, two engineers working on a highway project were also kidnapped but later released.

-- Jameel Khan and Neeli Shah

Afghanistan

Afghanistan objects to prisoner swap

Afghanistan raised objections over the swap of five high-profile Taliban detainees being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for a U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, saying the Afghan prisoners should have been freed without conditions (WSJ). According to the Afghan foreign ministry, the transfer of Afghan citizens from Cuba to Qatar contravened a previous agreement between governments -- but the ministry didn't make clear which agreement was in question. Neither contender for the Afghan presidential runoff election, Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani, have commented on the prisoner swap.

3 Turkish engineers killed in Behsud

Three Turkish engineers were killed and a fourth wounded when a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle loaded with explosives into their vehicle in the Behsud district of eastern Nangarhar province on Monday (Post, Pajhwok). The engineers worked for a construction firm and were building a base for the Afghan police. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Majahid, said he could not assert or deny responsibility for the attack, which coincided with renewed violence with the launch of the Taliban's spring offensive last month.

Two Afghan police officers died when insurgents stormed a district headquarters in southern Helmand province (Post). A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said the assailants included suicide bombers and that "dozens" of police officers were killed during the fighting, though there is no evidence to support those claims.

In a separate incident, a foreign solder, a member of the U.S.-led international coalition, was killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan (POST). The Coalition did not identify the service member or provide any more details of the attack.

The Taliban spokesman, Ahmadi, vowed on Monday that the insurgent group would sabotage the runoff to the April 5 presidential election and warned people from voting in it. The Taliban staged similar, small-scale attacks during the first round of voting on April 5 but many parts of the country were not deterred from voting.

Afghanistan seeks U.S. support against Pakistan

The Afghan government on Monday sought support from the United States against the alleged cross-border "rocket attacks" by Pakistan (ET). The Afghan foreign ministry formally submitted a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul informing it of the recent Pakistani airstrikes, calling them a violation of Afghanistan's sovereignty, and seeking U.S. aid in countering what the letter termed "a clear aggression on its soil" (ET). Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi is also expected to broach the subject at a meeting with NATO defense ministers in Brussels early this week (Pajhwok). Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, stressed the importance of diplomatic channels in resolving the issue between the two countries as he spoke to reporters in Kabul on Tuesday, saying that the United States preferred to stay neutral (Pajhwok).

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen 

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