The South Asia Channel

Afghans Remember Bergdahl Stumbling into Village; Modi to Meet Obama in DC; Key TTP Commander Killed

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Afghanistan

Bonus read: "Ashraf Ghani's Afghanistan," Javid Ahmad (SouthAsia).

Afghans remember Bergdahl stumbling into village

In an exclusive report by the Washington Post's Kevin Sieff, Afghan villagers who spotted Bergdahl shortly after he left the U.S. military base in 2009 recall their thoughts upon seeing the American stumble into their village (Post). "It was very confusing to us. Why would he leave the base?" said Jamal, an elder in the village of Yusef Khel, about a half-mile from the American military installation. (Like many Afghans, he goes by only one name). "The people thought it was a covert agenda - maybe he was sent to the village by the U.S." Villagers warned the American that he was heading into a dangerous area, but to them, he seemed to be deliberately heading for Taliban strongholds. "They tried to tell him not to go there, that it is dangerous. But he kept going over the mountain. The villagers tried to give him water and bread, but he didn't take it," said Ibrahim Manikhel, the district's intelligence chief.

"We think he probably was high after smoking hashish," Manikhel said. "Why would an American want to find the Taliban?" 

Taliban's spring offensive intensifies

The Taliban's offensive has intensified this week in a bid to undermine the runoff election and ahead of the withdrawal of foreign combat troops at the end of the year. A police chief and two other officers were killed on Thursday when a roadside bomb exploded while they were attempting to demine another bomb (Post, Pajhwok).  Mohamad Qasim, police chief for the Waghaz district in Gazni province, was with other officers trying to remove a bomb planted by insurgents but when they removed the bomb, another mine concealed underneath it exploded.

In a separate incident, gunman on motorcycles opened fire on a car carrying Afghan army personnel in the city of Herat, killing two officers and wounding three others (Post). The latest attacks came a day after a bomb placed in a thermos bottle exploded at a market in the capital of Faryab province, killing three and injuring at least 12 others (Pajhwok).

India

Modi to meet Obama in Washington D.C.; Chinese foreign minister to visit India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was denied a visa to the United States since 2005, is likely to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. in September, according to media reports on Thursday (BBC, Livemint). Modi has accepted Obama's invitation and will travel to Washington, D.C. for bilateral talks when he attends the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this year. Modi and Obama are expected to discuss issues ranging from security issues in the region to bilateral trade (Times Of India).

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will make his first trip to India to meet the new government on June 8 (Times Of India, Beijing Review, Deccan Herald). Wang will meet both Modi and his External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Hong Lei, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said Wang would discuss plans for the further development of China-India relations during his meeting with Swaraj. In a statement, the Indian foreign ministry said the objective of the meeting is to: "provide further momentum to the India-China strategic and cooperative partnership."

China's Premier Li Keqiang was the first foreign leader to congratulate Modi after his swearing-in ceremony on May 26 (The Hindu). Despite anticipated and increasing cooperation between the two countries, China protested the invitation of the political head of the Tibetan government in exile at Modi's swearing-in ceremony (Times Of India). The Chinese government sent a demarche to India protesting the presence of Lobsang Sangay, who was a special guest at Modi's swearing-in.

Modi, Advani, Sonia Gandhi take oath as MPs; Rahul Gandhi takes a back seat

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first of 539 MPs to be sworn in as a member of the 16th Lok Sabha (India's lower house of parliament) on Thursday (Hindustan Times, NDTV, Indian Express). Next in line were senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani and Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Modi and several ministers took their oath in Hindi in the name of God. While a few ministers took the oath in Sanskrit, most ministers preferred the oath in their mother tongue. Although the total strength of the Lok Sabha is 543, only 539 MPs were sworn in. Modi resigned from one of two seats he had contested, Telangana Rashtra Samithi Chief Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao resigned from his seat after becoming the chief minister of India's 29th state, and Samajwadi Party President Mulayam Singh Yadav quit from one of the two seats he had contested. The fourth seat was left vacant due to the untimely death of Gopinath Munde, the rural development minister who died in a car crash on Tuesday. Of the newly elected MPs, 315 are first-time members of Lok Sabha.

After his unwillingness to lead the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi was seen sitting in the back rows of the Lok Sabha benches on Wednesday (IBNLive, NDTV, Hindustan Times). Former Union Minister Mallikarjun Kharge was nominated as the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha after both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi refused the position.

According to a Times of India article, it is not yet clear whether Congress will claim the positions of deputy speaker and leader of opposition (Times Of India). According to government sources, the deputy speaker's position will be decided after the speaker of the Lok Sabha is sworn in on Friday. The Modi government is noncommittal on whether Congress can claim the leader of opposition position because Congress won less than the mandatory 10 percent of the total Lok Sabha seats required to qualify for the post automatically.

In Pune, Muslim IT professional beaten to death by ‘Hindu zealots' 

Mohsin Shaikh, a 24-year-old Muslim technology professional, was bludgeoned to death on Monday in Pune by members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena, a radical right-wing group (The Hindu, DNA, Times Of India). After derogatory pictures of warrior king Shivaji, and the late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, were uploaded on Facebook last weekend, the city had been tense, and right-wing organizations vandalized more than 200 buses. Shaikh, unconnected to the Facebook posting, was randomly selected by the radical Hindu group as he was walking home after his evening prayer.

The police have arrested 13 members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena. After Shaikh was beaten to death, a text message was circulated by members of the group, that said: "Pahili wicket padli (the first wicket has fallen)" (Hindustan Times). "It was bound to have some repercussions," Anil Shirole, the newly-elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Pune said. He later qualified his remarks by stating the attack on Shaikh " was not right" (NDTV).

According to Riyaz, Shaikh's friend who was with him when the crime occurred, Shaikh was a target for the killers because he was sporting a beard and wearing a skull cap and pathani suit. Shaikh was the sole breadwinner of his family, and his father was shocked by his death, saying: "My impression of Pune was that of a peaceful city where people -- Hindus or Muslims -- had no time to indulge in things like communal riots" (Indian Express).

-- Jameel Khan and Neeli Shah

Pakistan

Key TTP commander killed

Ashiqullah Mehsud, a key Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) commander was killed on Wednesday in recent clashes between rival factions of the militant group in North Waziristan (ET, Dawn). Mehsud was considered the master trainer of suicide bombers and took command after the death of Qari Hussain Mehsud, the former commander of the Shaheryar Mehsud group, a faction that has fought bloody battles with rival faction Waliur Rehman group since April. Last week, the Sajna faction broke away from the TTP.

Si-ins continue in Sindh

Supporters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain continue to stage sit-ins in various cities across Sindh, including Karachi and Hyderabad, to protest his arrest in London on suspicion of money-laundering charges on June 3 (ET, Dawn).  Exams in schools in Karachi were postponed for a third day in a row, although public transportation began again and most businesses resumed normal activity. Even though Hussain, 60, hasn't set been in Pakistan in decades, he's been leading the MQM party from his luxury home in London. He hasn't been charged with any crime and is currently in a London hospital because of ill health, according to the MQM party.

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen 

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