The South Asia Channel

U.S. Resumes Drone Strikes in Pakistan; Ghani Leads Afghan Election in New Poll; Modi Makes Maiden Speech in Parliament


U.S. resumes drone strikes in Pakistan

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) resumed its drone campaign in Pakistan after a five-month lull with two strikes on Wednesday and Thursday that killed at least 14 people in the tribal district of North Waziristan (NYT, AFP). The first strike targeted a compound that belonged to the militant Haqqani network and the second strike targeted a truck carrying explosives that was parked outside that same compound. The compound was located four miles north of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. A majority of casaulties were Uzbek fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a Taliban-allied group that took part in Sunday's assault on the Karachi airport, which led to at least 36 deaths, including the 10 attackers. Before Wednesday, the last U.S. drone strike in Pakistan was on December 25, 2013, according to data collected by the New America Foundation.

Pakistan condemns U.S. airstrikes

Pakistan condemned the two latest U.S. air strikes in North Waziristan on Thursday, issuing a tersely worded statement from the Foreign Office that called the strikes a "violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity" (ET, Dawn). The statement added: "these strikes have a negative impact on the government's efforts to bring peace and stability in Pakistan and the region." Tasnim Aslam, a spokesperson for the Foreign Office, told AFP that rumors that Pakistan requested the attack were "speculation" and that the government was investigating the strikes. The U.S. drone program is unpopular in Pakistan because it is perceived as killing innocent civilians, although the United States denies these claims.


Ghani takes lead in new poll

Ashraf Ghani, one of Afghanistan's presidential candidates, could take the surprise lead in Saturday's run-off election according to a new poll published on Wednesday (Telegraph, Pajhwok).  That poll, published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, showed that support for Ghani stood at 49 percent compared to 42 percent of those surveyed showing support for Abdullah Abdullah, the other contender. In the first round of voting in April, Ghani polled at 31.5 percent to Abdullah's 44.5 percent.

Many believe that Ghani's partnership with Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former warlord and the leader of the Uzbek community, has given Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, an important boost in support from ethnic Uzbeks (NYT). Dostum became Ghani's running mate after Hamid Karzai arranged for the two to partner together, according to Afghan officials. Ghani once described Dostum as  "known killer" during the 2009 campaign, but more recently called him a "charismatic leader."

Hagel said Bergdahl swap part of waging war

In the first public testimony before Congress by a senior member of the Obama administration since Sgt. Bergdahl's release from his Taliban captors, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended the prisoner exchange by saying it was part of the "dirty business" of war (NYT).  He explained that the deal had been kept secret from Congress because leaks could have increased risks to the soldier or spoiled the deal, although he admitted that the Obama administration "could have done a better job" of keeping lawmakers informed. But Hagel held firm on the necessity of the swap, saying that: "We had to stay focused on what the objective was, and that was getting an American POW back with the reassurances that we needed to be able to say it would substantially mitigate the risk and it was in the interest of our country." He added: "I know there are differences, and I know there are questions. I get it. But we did get him back, and we don't have any more POWs."

-- Emily Schneider


Modi gives maiden speech in Parliament

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave his first speech in the newly constituted Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) on Wednesday (Times of India, The Guardian, Indian Express). In his response to President Pranab Mukherjee's speech on Monday, Modi spoke on empowering India's youth with job-acquiring skills, cleaning the political system, and engaging states in "cooperative federalism." Modi warned lawmakers from "politicizing rape," and ensured inclusive and equitable development.

Modi thrashed politicians for offering outrageous explanations for the recent rapes in the country, and asked politicians to stop "psychoanalyzing" the reasons behind sex crimes. He said: "We are playing with the dignity of women. Respect for women, their security - it should be the priority for all 1.2 billion people." Modi also highlighted the importance of including all groups in India's progress. He highlighted the Muslim "backwardness" and said: "Even the third generation of Muslim brothers, whom I have seen since my young days, are continuing with their cycle repairing job." He said further that the government will introduce programs "to bring about a change in their lives."

Modi said the government will convert the country's image from "scam India" to "skills India" through "transparency" and "commitment in our action." Modi also said he would like to proceed with the opposition's support. Speaking in a conciliatory tone, Modi said to the members of the Lok Sabha: "I don't want to proceed on the basis of numbers ... I want to move ahead on the basis of consensus."

Congress unlikely to get Leader of Opposition post

The 16th Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) may not have a leader of opposition, according to news sources on Wednesday (IBNLive, Zee News). To be eligible for this post, per parliament rules, the biggest opposition party in the Lok Sabha should have at least 10 percent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha, or 55 seats. Congress, the second largest party, managed to get only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. According to sources, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, who has the authority to make the final decision, had decided not to have a leader of opposition after consulting with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government (NDTV). In the past, there was no leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha during the prime ministerships of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Rajiv Gandhi. On both occasions, Congress had a majority in the Lok Sabha.

It was reported that Congress is likely to write to Mahajan to seek the leader of opposition position (IBNLive, Times of India). Congress has argued that it should be seen as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which has the required numbers. "There is no need to speculate on the issue. A decision will be taken. The decision has to be taken in writing by the Speaker," party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said on Tuesday. Singhvi's remarks came in response to BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy's comment on Congress. Rudy said: "We never imagined that we will have to welcome a national party as a regional party in this House."

India's Infosys gets Vishal Sikka; co-founder Narayana Murthy to step down

Infosys Ltd., India's second-largest IT services exporter, is set to have its first non-founder chief executive officer (CEO), Executive Chairman N. R. Narayana Murthy said at a press conference on Thursday (Livemint, Economic Times, Financial Express). Vishal Sikka, a former executive board member of SAP AG, a German business software company, will take over the company beginning August 1. "Vishal Sikka means lots of money," Murthy said as he welcomed Sikka as the "newest Infoscion." According to analysts and experts, Sikka will bring new clients and an innovation focus to the company.  

Murthy and his son, Executive Vice Chairman S. Gopalakrishnan, will step down on June 14 during the annual shareholders meeting in Bangalore. Last year, after Murthy was brought back from retirement to try to regain some lost market share to rivals, including Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro, at least eleven senior executives left Infosys. The chairman's office will be dissolved and Murthy will be designated as chairman emeritus beginning October 11.  

UP's shame: Another girl found hanging from a tree

The body of another young girl was found hanging from a tree on Thursday morning in Rajupur Milak village in Moradabad district, Uttar Pradesh (BBC, Hindustan Times, Livemint). It was reported that the girl had been missing since Wednesday evening. The girl's body has been sent for post-mortem, and her family has alleged rape. This shocking incident comes weeks after the Badaun incident in Uttar Pradesh, where two cousins were gang-raped and then hanged from a tree, causing shock and outrage in the nation.

In recent times, there has been a significant increase in the reporting of crimes against women in Uttar Pradesh.  According to Rediff, in addition to the Moradabad incident, four more rapes were reported in the past 36 hours in Uttar Pradesh (Rediff). In Hamirpur, the local police sub-inspector and his three constables raped a girl in custody. In Kushinagar, an 18-year-old girl was allegedly raped, stabbed with a knife, and then dumped in a village pond. A 45-year-old woman was gang-raped, murdered, and hanged from a tree in a village in Bahraich district. And in Sitapur district, a 20-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped when an auto-rickshaw driver joined by two others, took her to a secluded spot and raped her. These incidents are part of the recent trend of increasing rapes, which Modi himself addressed in his first speech to the lower house of parliament on Wednesday.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Edited by Peter Bergen 

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