The South Asia Channel

Pakistan Expands Military Operation; Modi Wants Governors to Resign; Afghan Police Kill Taliban Who Cut Off Voters' Fingers

Event notice: "From Conflict to Security: A Regional Overview of Community Conversations with Women in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India," Wednesday, 10:30 a.m., U.S. Institute of Peace.


Military operation expands

Pakistan's government rallied support for a sustained assault on militants in the tribal areas on Tuesday as the military expanded its current operations into the biggest campaign against the Pakistani Taliban in at least five years (Post, NYT).  Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who authorized the operation amid growing concerns that militants pose an existential threat to the country, addressed the National Assembly on Monday night to gain the support, saying: "The army is fighting to protect the sovereignty of the motherland."

The military operation -- code-named Zarb-e-Azb, after a sword used by the prophet Muhammad in an ancient battle -- began Sunday with airstrikes that killed the alleged mastermind of the Karachi airport attack, officials said (ET). Fighter jets continued to bomb terrorist havens in North Waziristan on Monday and the army has shifted manpower into major cities to try to guard against retaliatory attacks (Dawn). The army said at least 170 militants have been killed in the offensive so far and at least six soldiers have died, but since there is no independent media access to the area, the casualty counts have not been verified. Six terrorist hideouts, including a training camp and an bomb-making factory, were destroyed by the airstrikes early Tuesday morning.

Pakistan and Afghanistan discuss security

Sharif and Afghan President Hamid Karzai discussed regional security over the phone on Monday (BBC).  Pakistan has asked Afghanistan to help seal the border between the two countries to prevent militants from escaping into Afghanistan amid the air strikes. The porous border between the two countries has long served as a safe-haven for militants from both countries.

-- Emily Schneider


Modi government wants UPA governors to resign

Uttar Pradesh Governor B. L. Joshi and Karnataka's H. R. Bhardwaj have tendered their resignations on Tuesday amid reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government wants to replace governors appointed during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) tenure (Indian Express, Business Standard, NDTV). It has been reported that the Modi government is considering replacing at least six other governors before their terms are over. The government has decided that governors with more than two years left in office should quit, while governors who have a few months left can retire when their term expires. "These [UPA] governors should have themselves quit. All of these people are appointed because they sat in Sonia Gandhi's durbar [court] and propositioned her. There is no question of any of them coming in on merit," Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy said on Tuesday.

The Modi government is expected to ask President Pranab Mukherjee to tell the governors from Kerala, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Punjab, among others, to put in their papers. Congress reacted to the resignations as an abuse of power. "Why are they worried about changing governors?" said the party's P.C. Chacko. In 2004, the UPA government had asked BJP governors to resign before their term was over. The Supreme Court at that time had ruled that governors cannot be removed in an arbitrary manner.

PMO puts private secretary appointments on hold

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has struck down the proposals made by some of its ministers for the appointment of their private secretaries (Indian Express, IBNLive, DNA). According to news reports, the PMO has yet to decide whether to retain personal secretaries and officers on special duty who worked for ministers in the previous Congress-led government. This decision is likely to impact at least eight ministers including Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani.

A circular dated May 26, issued by the Department of Personnel and Training, was sent to all secretaries and clearly stated that appointments in the minister's personal staff, including private secretaries and officers on special duty, should be cleared by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Tuesday questioned the decision to place secretary appointments on hold and tweeted: "A strong PMO is one thing but if a minister can't be trusted to choose a private secretary how can he/she be trusted to run a ministry?" (Economic Times).

Indian government in touch with 46 nurses trapped in Iraq hospital

The central government is in contact with 46 Indian nurses who are stranded in a hospital in Tikrit, an Iraqi city under militant control, Syed Akbaruddin, external affairs spokesperson said on Tuesday (BBC, Hindustan Times, The Hindu). The Indian government requested an International Red Crescent team to contact the nurses stranded in the Tikrit hospital and report on their condition. Akbaruddin said: "At least 46 Indian nurses are in a hospital in Tikrit. Of these, the overwhelming majority would prefer to stay back as they have indicated this to our mission there." The Indian embassy is also in contact with the Iraqi government and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) to ensure the safety of all Indians stranded in the violence-affected areas in Iraq.

Most of the stranded nurses are from the southern state of Kerala (IBNLive). The Kerala Nurses Association has appealed to the central and state governments to intervene and ensure emergency evacuation of the stranded nurses. According to CNN-IBN, one nurse in the hospital said: "Shelling and bombing is going on outside the hospital, we are thankful to the Indian Embassy. We got Internet and phone call recharges today. We are in constant touch with the ambassador Ajay Kumar." ISIS, a heavily armed jihadist group, has seized Tikrit among other cities and towns in violent attacks that have occurred in Iraq since last week.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan


Police kill Taliban insurgents who cut off voters' fingers

On Tuesday, Afghan police found the Taliban insurgents who cut off the fingers of 11 elderly men who voted in the presidential run-off over the weekend (AFP). The police killed two of the insurgents in the operation and captured one other, but two insurgents were able to escape. The two men who were killed in the operation were accused of cutting off the ink-dyed fingers of the 11 voters - an act that Jan Kubis, head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, described as "abhorrent." All voters in Afghanistan had their fingers marked with ink after voting to prevent them from casting more than one ballot, but the Taliban also used the ink to identify those who participated in the election in defiance of their threats.

Abdullah Alleges Voting Fraud by Karzai

Abdullah Abdullah's campaign team claimed on Monday that there had been widespread ballot stuffing, orchestrated by President Hamid Karzai, in the run-off election (NYT). A senior campaign official for the former foreign minister told the New York Times that the candidate believes Karzai and his advisers stuffed ballots to either install the other candidate, Ashraf Ghani, or to create a postelection crisis that would allow Karzai to extend his own term in office.

Abdullah has suggested widespread fraud occurred in his public statements as well, although he has not directly accused Karzai or other officials (Reuters). Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Abdullah questioned initial reports that more than seven million Afghans had voted -- his campaign believes five million is a more accurate figure (WSJ).  He also said that his campaign staff witnessed ballot stuffing in Kabul and elsewhere in favor of Ghani. The allegations by the Abdullah campaign add to concerns that Afghanistan is headed towards a political showdown at a crucial moment of transition for the country.

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen