Pakistan Launches Military Operation in North Waziristan; High Turnout in Second Round of Afghan Election; Modi Visits Bhutan
Military launches operation in North Waziristan
Pakistan's military announced on Sunday that it was launching a "comprehensive operation" against the Pakistani Taliban and their allies in the tribal belt along the Afghan border (NYT, BBC). The official statement followed a day of air strikes, during which the military said that 105 militants, mostly from Uzbekistan, were killed. The Pakistani government has been considering an operation in North Waziristan for years but has hesitated because of the political and strategic risks, such as the Taliban's reprisal. But the Taliban are "disrupting [Pakistan's] national life in all its dimensions" and the "armed forces have been tasked to eliminate these terrorists regardless of hue and color, along with their sanctuaries," according to Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, the military's chief spokesman (Post). The statement about the operation did not give specific details about how many troops would be involved or how long it would last.
The decision to wage the campaign came a week after a deadly assault on the Karachi airport where 36 people, including the attackers, were killed. Military officials said Abu Abdur Rehman al-Maani, the alleged mastermind of the Karachi attack, was killed in Sunday's assault, but this has not been confirmed (Dawn).
Government appeals lift on travel ban for Musharraf
On Saturday, the government of Pakistan appealed a court ruling that would allow former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to leave the country, likely fueling tensions between civilian authorities and the army (WSJ). The High Court of Sindh province granted Musharraf's request to travel abroad last Thursday and gave the government 15 days to challenge the ruling (BBC). Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan between 1999 and 2008, is facing treason charges but wanted to travel to Dubai to visit his ailing mother. "[Musharraf] has all the reasons not to come back to Pakistan once he leaves Pakistan and his trial, which is at an advanced stage, would simply be brought to a standstill," said the Pakistani government's court filing.
High voter turnout in second round
Voter turnout for the second round of voting in the Afghan presidential election on Saturday appeared to be as high as in the first round in April, although the election commission's initial estimates do not take into account fraud (NYT). During the first round of voting, about 375,000 votes were disqualified because they were deemed fraudulent. Camps for both candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have said that fraud would be the only reason for their candidate's defeat, so getting the campaigns, and their followers, to accept the final results may prove challenging.
While the voter turnout was high, scattered violence was reported throughout the country: the country's Interior Ministry reported that 10 Afghan soldiers and at least 20 civilians died in gun battles and bombings; After the polls closed, authorities in Herat Province reported that the Taliban had cut off the fingers of 13 people who had voted (CNN, AP). But, as the polls closed, it appeared that the Taliban had failed to carry out any major attack in an urban area.
Violence after the vote
After Afghans went to the polls on Saturday to cast their vote in the run-off for president, incidents of violence continued throughout the country. A minibus hit an improvised explosive device in northern Samangan Province, killing six women, one child, and four men in Aybak on Saturday afternoon (AP). On Monday, sixteen people were wounded when a bomb exploded near the Hazrat Ali mausoleum in Balkh province (Pajhwok). Three members of the same family were killed in a blast in southern Kandahar when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb on Monday as well (Pajhwok).
-- Emily Schneider
Modi woos Bhutan
Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Bhutan for a two-day visit on Sunday where he met Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay (BBC, Times of India, Indian Express). In one statement to Bhutan, Modi described the country as a natural choice for his first visit abroad as the two countries shared a "special relationship." Modi was joined by Sushma Swaraj, external affairs minister, Ajit Doval, national security advisor, and Sujatha Singh, foreign secretary.
In his speech to the Himalayan kingdom's parliament on Monday, Modi spoke of traditional ties with Bhutan, and said: "India is committed to good relations with its neighbours." Modi identified peace, security, tourism, and conservation as focus areas for strengthening ties between the two neighbors, saying that "terrorism divides, tourism unites." Modi also announced trade concessions on certain food exports to Bhutan, stating that India would not ban wheat, pulses, edible oil, milk powder, and non-basmati rice. India and Bhutan reiterated their commitment to achieving the 10,000 megawatt target in hydropower cooperation. A joint statement issued at the end of Modi's two-day visit noted that the two countries "agreed not to allow each other's territory to be used for interests inimical to the other."
Modi's trip to Bhutan comes just ahead of another round of dialogue between Bhutan and China, and according to experts, this next visit is an attempt to control China's growing interest in the region. Bhutan has been among India's closest neighbors, and analysts say Bhutan is strategically important to India because of its geographical proximity to China. Bhutan and India had strained relations in 2013, when India suspended the supply of subsidized liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene, which hit Bhutan's poorest the most.
Rising food prices push inflation to 5-month high
India's wholesale price index (WPI)-based inflation rose to a five-month high of 6.01 percent in May, according to data released by the Commerce and Industry Ministry on Monday (Economic Times, Hindustan Times, The Hindu) WPI stood at 5.20 percent in April this year, and 4.58 percent in May last year. Food items which led to high inflation in May include coffee (23 percent), poultry chicken (seven percent), fish (six percent), and vegetables, fruits, and tea (four percent each). This data comes days after the release of data indicating consumer price inflation had eased into a three-month low of 8.28 percent in May.
The rise in wholesale prices was higher than analysts' expectations and resulted in the rupee falling sharply on Monday (Livemint). The below average rainfall predicted from June to September this year could affect summer crops such as rice, corn, soybean, and cotton, possibly leading to higher food prices and impacting economic growth.
Modi sails on INS Vikramaditya, India's powerful warship
Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the INS Vikramaditya, India's large and powerful aircraft carrier inducted into the Indian Navy, to the country, calling it an "important day for our nation" in Goa on Saturday (Economic Times, IBNLive, Indian Express). On his first visit to any defense facility as prime minister, Modi spent a few hours aboard the 44,500-tonne warship acquired from Russia and witnessed an "air power demonstration" by various naval aircrafts.
The prime minister was given the ceremonial guard of honor by the Navy upon his arrival to the warship in a Sea King chopper, and was briefed about the warship. Modi promised to set up a war memorial for those who sacrificed their lives for the country, and stressed the need for self-reliance in defense equipment manufacturing.
World Cup fever in India: Goa sends MLAs to study football
Goa's decision to send six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) on a "study tour" to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in Brazil has sparked a storm (BBC, NDTV, Hindustan Times). India is poorly ranked at 154 in FIFA and the Indian team has not qualified to play since 1950. Even though India is not participating in the World Cup, the Goan sports department has sanctioned $150,000 for the trip.
Congress called the trip a "wasteful expenditure" and alleged that Goan Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, is misusing public funds. Congress organization secretary Durgadas Kamat wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged him to cancel the trip. In response to the criticism, a defensive Parrikar explained: "The decision has been taken in the interest of Goa, football is our state sport. Some MLAs on the team are ex-footballers." Goa, a small state in western India, is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which recently won the elections in May.
Modi has been invited by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to watch the FIFA finals in Rio de Janeiro on July 13 (Economic Times). Modi is expected to attend the BRICS (an association of five emerging economies that include Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) Summit in Brazil between July 15 and 17.
-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan
Edited by Peter Bergen
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