The South Asia Channel

Court: Musharraf Can Leave Pakistan; Modi Replies to Sharif's Letter; Afghan Security Forces Prepare for Election


Pakistani court lifts Musharraf's travel ban

A court in Karachi has ordered that Pervez Musharraf's name be removed from the country's Exit Control List, effectively lifting the ban against the former military ruler's travel abroad (Post). The court gave the government 15 days to appeal the decision to Pakistan's Supreme Court, but there was no immediate reaction from the government. Farogh Naseem, Musharraf's lawyer, said: "The court's ruling has proved that the cases registered against General Musharraf were politically motivated." Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, was indicted in March on treason charges; prosecutors accused him of illegally imposing emergency rule in 2007 and removing the country's chief justice. If convicted, Musharraf faces a possible death penalty or life imprisonment. Musharraf has said he wants to visit his ill mother, who is hospitalized in Dubai.  Bonus read: "Pakistan's Long March to Democracy," Sheila Fruman (SouthAsia).

Exodus from North Waziristan

Hundreds of families have fled from a surge of fighting between Pakistani government forces and militants in North Waziristan into neighboring Afghanistan (ET, Dawn). The Pakistani government has been launching air strikes against Taliban fighters in the area near the Afghan border in the days following the militants' attack on the Karachi airport this past Sunday. U.S. drone strikes resumed on Wednesday after an almost six-month hiatus, targeting Haqqani militants in the same region. Militants in the area are also fleeing, ahead of a long-rumored military operation that would intensify the air strikes against them (ET). "Most of them have gone deep into the mountains towards the Afghan border," a senior Pakistani security official said.

-- Emily Schneider


Modi replies to Sharif; Pakistan violates ceasefire on LoC

Prime Minister Narendra Modi replied to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on June 11, saying he looked forward to charting a "new course" in the bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries (NDTV, Economic Times, Livemint). Sharif had written to Modi on June 2, expressing satisfaction over his meeting with Modi in late May, and a desire to work with India. In his letter, Modi said he was eager to work with Sharif and Pakistan in an atmosphere "free from confrontation and violence." Modi also condemned "in strongest terms" the terror attacks at the Karachi airport on Sunday night in which 23 people were killed, including 10 terrorists.

While promising diplomatic efforts continued between the two heads of states, Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire on the line of control (LoC), a military boundary between the Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir on Friday (Business Standard, Livemint, DNA). Pakistani troops targeted Indian posts with heavy firing and mortar shelling along the LoC in the Mendhar-Bhimber Gali-Keri forward areas of Poonch district, prompting retaliation by Indian forces. No casualties were reported during this firing. Omar Abdullah, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chief minister, questioned the timing of the ceasefire violation. Defense Minister Arun Jaitley is scheduled to arrive in J&K tomorrow for his first state visit since assuming office in late May.

Gas leak in steel plant kills six in Chhattisgarh

A poisonous gas leak killed at least six employees and injured over 40 people on Thursday at the Bhilai Steel plant, a government-run plant in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh (Indian Express, Times of India, IBNLive, BBC). In a statement, the plant said the main water pump, which supplies water to the blast furnace, ruptured and caused a sudden loss in water pressure. As workers were repairing the rupture, poisonous gas from the furnace entered the pipes and affected the people working nearby. Workers at the plant said the accident could have been prevented with safety measures.

In the past, the plant had witnessed eight minor accidents in 2011, six in 2012, and 12 in 2013. Until this incident, there was only one prior accident in 2014. Established in 1955, the Bhilai Steel plant is India's first and main producer of steel rails, a major producer of wide steel plates, and various other steel products. This plant has been awarded the Prime Minister's Trophy eleven times for the best integrated steel plant in the country.

Weak monsoon may wash away Modi's growth agenda

Monsoon rains have been 48 percent below average levels so far this year, giving rise to the possibility of drought, according to meteorologists on Thursday (Business Standard, Economic Times, NDTV, Bloomberg). India is expected to receive below-average rainfall this year, potentially damaging summer crops, raising food prices, and impacting economic growth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called a meeting on Friday to review the impact of poor rainfall from this monsoon. Ahead of the meeting, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said: "We have prepared a Cabinet note to help farmers with compensations such as subsidized diesel and cheaper loans." As a contingency plan, the government has stored more than twice the recommended buffer stock by assembling approximately 42 million tons of wheat, and 21 million tons of rice, according to Singh.

In addition to the late and weak start of the monsoon this year, meteorologists are concerned about the impact of El Nino, a weather condition caused by periodic warming over the surface of the Pacific Ocean. "There could be a weak to moderate El Nino during the last week of July to early August, through it is still in a neutral condition," said L S Rathore, the head of the India Meteorological Department. In the past, the disruptive El Nino has contributed to droughts in 2002, 2004, and 2009.

India's agriculture sector accounts for roughly 14 percent of economy. Agriculture in India is highly dependent on the monsoon rains as most farmers lack access to proper irrigation.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan


Afghan security forces prepare for run-off election

Afghans will head to the polls for the second round of voting in the presidential election on Saturday to choose between the two remaining candidates: Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani (AFP, Post, Reuters).  The first round of voting in April was hailed by Afghanistan and the international community as a success because of the high voter turnout and lack of high-profile attacks by militants on polling day. General Afzal Aman, head of Afghan Army operations, said that: "There is concern that the enemy who failed in the first round will seek revenge, but we can assure you they will fail again" (Pajhwok). He added that security forces have been conducting missions all over the country for election security. The Taliban issued a warning to voters, saying that polling booths would be targeted by "non-stop" assaults. Another concern is the risk of tension between the candidates' supporters after the result is announced, especially if there are allegations of serious fraud. Bonus read: "Afghans Still Enthusiastic About Vote," Shahmahmood Miakhel (SouthAsia).

Bergdahl returns to the United States

Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who spent five years as a Taliban captive, returned to the United States early Friday to continue his medical treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas (Post). Immediately after his release from the Taliban on May 31, he was taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to receive treatment. Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said Bergdahl "will continue the next phase of the reintegration process," and that there was no timeline for completion (NYT).

Officials have been tight-lipped about Bergdahl's condition in order to keep him out of the spotlight amid the public uproar over the circumstances of his capture and the Obama administration's handling of his release.

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen