The South Asia Channel

Friendly Fire Kills 5 Soldiers in Afghanistan; Militants Attack Karachi Airport Again; BSP Stages Walkout in India’s Upper House

Afghanistan

Bonus read: "The Afghan War Economy Collapses," Lynne O'Donnell (SouthAsia)

Friendly fire kills 5 Special Operations soldiers

Five American Special Operations soldiers and at least one Afghan soldier were killed Monday night when a coalition aircraft fired on their position in southern Afghanistan (NYT, WSJ). The incident occurred when coalition and Afghan troops were conducting security operations in preparation for Saturday's presidential runoff election and were ambushed by Taliban militants. Coalition forces called in air support, but the aircraft accidentally struck the position of the soldiers. It is one of the deadliest instances of friendly fire in over a decade of war in Afghanistan.  U.S. military officials said they have launched an investigation into the incident (Post).

Pakistan denies involvement in Abdullah assassination attempt

In a statement released on Monday, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said: "We firmly reject any insinuation of Pakistan's involvement in the [attack on Abdullah Abdullah]" (RFE/RE). That attack, which occurred when, after speaking at an election rally on June 6, Afghan presidential front-runner Abdullah's motorcade was attacked as he was on his way to a second rally, killed 12 people and wounded 40 others.  She added that Islamabad was "deeply disappointed" by Kabul's "irresponsible allegations" made in connection to the attack. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office said on June 8 that an initial investigation indicates that "an intelligence agency of a foreign country" and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Taiba militant group were involved (Pajhwok).

Pakistan

Bonus read: "Assault on Pakistan Airport Signals Taliban's Reach and Resilience," Declan Walsh (NYT).

Karachi airport attacked again

Insurgents attacked a Karachi airport training facility on Tuesday, two days after the Taliban carried out a raid on the airport that killed at least 38 people, including the attackers, and all flight operations were suspended again (Post, BBC). Two attackers on motorbikes attempted to enter the training facility that houses an academy for airport security, but were held off by the guards manning the boundary wall of the complex. They fled on foot after exchanging gunfire with the guards.

No one was injured in the attack and airport security forces are searching the nearby slum for the attackers, according to Col. Tahir Ali, an airport security official. Omar Khorasani, a Taliban official, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, saying: "We are back to ASF academy. Allah is Great. Allah is Great. Allah is Great" (NYT).

Seven more bodies were recovered near a cold storage facility at the airport on Tuesday morning, sparking questions about whether the extent of damage and number of deaths in the first attack by the Taliban on Sunday night has been accurately reported by the authorities (NYT, CNN). The bodies were those of seven cargo workers who were trapped when a fire broke out.

Pakistani military strikes tribal areas

The Pakistani military carried out air strikes in the Khyber tribal region in the northwest part of the country, killing at least 15 militants on Tuesday (BBC, NYT). "Nine terrorist hideouts were destroyed by early morning military air strikes near the Pakistan-Afghan border," the military said in a statement, although it's not clear which insurgent group was targeted.

-- Emily Schneider

BSP stages walkout in India's upper house, responding to Badaun rapes

India's upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, was disrupted on Tuesday by members of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) when they protested and staged a walkout over the recent rape and murder of two girls in the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh (The Hindu, DNA, IBNLive, NDTV). BSP chief Mayawati said: "The law and order situation is very bad. There is need for the central government to intervene and immediately impose President's Rule in the state and dismiss the state government." Mayawati said the chief minister had failed to act on his promise of recommending the Badaun rape case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

After Mayawati's comments, BSP members started raising slogans demanding dismissal of the Samajwadi Party (SP) government. Three SP members later started raising counter-slogans. Chairman M. Hamid Ansari adjourned the house for 10 minutes as BSP members continued to protest. After the house reassembled, Mayawati and the BSP members staged a walkout.

On May 27, two teenage girls were allegedly gangraped and hanged on a tree in Katra village of Badaun district, Uttar Pradesh, causing national outrage.

Delhi goes powerless during the heat wave

Piyush Goyal, union power minister in Delhi, called an emergency meeting with top government officials on Tuesday to discuss the power crisis (NDTV, Indian Express, IBNLive). The city has been reeling under sweltering heat and six-hour-long power cuts for a week after three major power lines were damaged during a recent dust storm. Delhi is expected to see a maximum temperature of 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday.

Goyal said it will take a few days to restore normal power supply and a month to resolve the technical issues (Economic Times). Goyal blamed Congress, the previous Delhi government for the problems in power sector. "A holistic vision and plan for Delhi has been non-existent for a decade. Lack of decision-making, lack of investment in infrastructure and lack of forward planning in last 12 years is responsible for the problem," Goyal said to the media after the emergency meeting. To stabilize the blackouts, the government said malls will not receive power after 10 p.m. and street lamps will be switched off for a few hours (Economic Times).

As protests erupted in the city, political parties started blaming each other for the crisis. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blames Congress, which governed Delhi for over a decade until it lost elections in December 2013. BJP also blames the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which led the Delhi government for a 49-day period earlier this year. Both Congress and AAP have been targeting BJP for the power cuts, saying it is the central government's responsibility to restore power. AAP Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) staged a protest outside Union Minister Harsh Vardhan's house on Tuesday, demanding that the central government take urgent steps to improve electricity supply in the city.

Maharashtra government seeks ban on social media

After derogatory posts on social networking websites led to violence in Pune last week, the Maharashtra government on Monday suggested a ban on websites like Facebook, and was considering punishing people who "liked" or forwarded derogatory messages (Indian Express, Economic Times, Financial Express). This decision was in response to the brutal killing of IT professional Mohsin Shaikh on June 2 in Pune by activists of the Hindu Rashtra Sena, a radical Hindu group. Shaikh's targeting was random and happened after unknown people uploaded to Facebook derogatory pictures of the warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

Ajit Pawar, Maharashtra deputy chief minister, said in the state assembly on Monday that like China, who had banned certain social media sites for a few years: "We too should think on those lines." After Pawar received a note from his public relations officer asking him to clarify his statements, Pawar corrected himself and demanded restrictions on social networking sites.

R. R. Patil, Maharashtra home minister, said the government would determine whether there was a need for a separate legislation to prevent such misuse of social media. He said: "Those who 'like' and forward objectionable content are in a way siding with the culprits and in the next few days, you will see stringent action taken against them."

Iconic Taj Mahal receives mud-pack treatment

The iconic Taj Mahal will receive a mud-pack treatment over a six-month period to eliminate discolouration caused by pollution (BBC, Hindustan Times). Located in the city of Agra and not far from an oil refinery, the Taj Mahal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts millions of visitors each year. The Taj Mahal has undergone this treatment previously in 1994, 2001, and 2008.

A lime-rich clay will be applied to the entire building and later will be cleaned with distilled water to restore its natural sheen. B. M. Bhatnagar from the Archeological Survey of India said: "In the last treatment, which cost around INR.10.4 lakh ($24,000), a team of two dozen experts had carried out the work in small sections over a period of six months to ensure that the tourist inflow does not suffer."

A white marble monument, the Taj Mahal was built by the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan between 1632 and 1654 in memory of his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

India's first female, professional surfer pushes boundaries

Ishita Malaviya, a journalism student-turned-surfer, becomes India's first and only professional female surfer (NDTV, The Guardian).  A young Malaviya, who struggled to convince her parents to let her pursue a career as a professional surfer, said: "There are so many barriers for them [girls] - especially once they reach puberty and their interaction with boys can become very limited - but when they're in the water it can break down some of those barriers."  Malaviya said further that women in India are typically expected to get an education, find a job, get married and then have kids.

Malaviya, with her partner, Tushar Pathiyan, run the Shaka Surf Club on the west coast of Karnataka. The Shaka Surf Club provides surf lessons, hires boards, and offers a place for visitors to stay.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Edited by Peter Bergen 

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