The South Asia Channel

Afghanistan Contributes Highest Number of Refugees; Exodus From Pakistan's Tribal Region; Kidnapped Indians in Iraq Located

Event notice: "Crisis in Iraq: What Role Should the U.S. Play?" Today, 12:15 p.m., New America Foundation


Afghanistan major source of refugees, says U.N.

An annual report released by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, released on Friday (World Refugee Day) showed a jump of 6 million refugees from 2012 to 2013, with Afghanistan being the largest contributor to that total (Post). Afghanistan contributed a total of 2.6 million refugees in 2013 while Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon hosted more refugees than other countries. The total number of refugees in 2013 exceeded 50 million people -- a staggering number that hasn't been seen since the post-World War II era when half the globe was dislocated. "We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said in the report.

Taliban attack home, kill child

A mortar shell fired by the Taliban struck a home in Nangarhar province on Friday, killing one child and wounding five other children (AP). All were members of the same family. Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, the spokesman for the provincial governor, said the motive for the attack was unclear, but that the Taliban often fire rockets and mortar shells toward villages for no apparent reason (Pajhwok).

In a separate incident, at least 10 civilians were injured in a missile attack on a home in southern Zabul province Thursday night. No group has claimed responsibility for that attack (Tolo).


Exodus in tribal region

Nearly 100,000 people have fled the tribal region in northwest Pakistan this week as the Pakistani military continues its offensive against militants in the region (AP). Arshad Khan, an official who runs the region's disaster management authority, said 63,000 people left before the operation was announced last Sunday. On June 18, authorities eased a "shoot on sight" curfew to give civilians a chance to flee the area before the troops began a ground operation (AFP).

Meanwhile, the Zarb-i-Azb operation continued on Friday: A senior security official told AFP that gunship helicopters targeted militant hideouts in the Kutabkhel area of Miramshah, killing up to 20 militants (AFP). 

Islamabad asks Kabul to extradite Fazlullah

Islamabad has sought the extradition of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief, Mullah Fazlullah, from Afghanistan, according to an anonymous government official (ET). Mehmood Khan Achakzai, the chief of Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, made the request on behalf of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a meeting with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Wednesday. Achakzai visited Afghanistan as a special envoy to seek Kabul's cooperation in eliminating terrorism.

Following Achakzai's trip, Karzai telephoned Sharif and they "discussed the results of talks held with the Pakistani delegation." Achakzai has refused to comment on his visit and it is not clear whether the Karzai administration is willing to extradite Fazlullah, Pakistan's most wanted man.

-- Emily Schneider


Bonus read: "New Delhi's New Foreign Policy?" Jayita Sarkar (SouthAsia)

Kidnapped Indians in Iraq located; one worker escapes

New Delhi has identified the location of 40 Indian nationals kidnapped by suspected Islamist militants in Iraq, the foreign ministry said on Thursday (Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Indian Express). Syed Akbaruddin, external affairs spokesperson, said the Indian hostages were being held with other foreigners, but declined to reveal their location. The ministry of external affairs received official information about the abducted Indians from the Iraqi government. "Every avenue will be pursued. Every channel will be examined. We will utilize every opportunity to ensure safety and security of our nationals," Akbaruddin said in a media briefing. Akbaruddin added that India had not received any ransom demands yet.

Families of the kidnapped Indians met with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday. "All efforts are under way (to rescue them). I am personally supervising the efforts. We are leaving no stone unturned to ensure their return," Swaraj said.

The Hindustan Times reported that one kidnapped Indian managed to escape the abductors and has contacted the Indian embassy in Baghdad on Thursday (Hindustan Times). Dr. Yaseen Abbass, president of Red Crescent, a humanitarian agency, confirmed to the Hindustan Times that one Indian construction worker abducted was taken to safety. "He is safe and is currently in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil," Abbass said.

The Indian government was also able to contact 46 Indian nurses on Tuesday who are stranded in a hospital in Tikrit. The kidnapped Indians worked for the Baghdad-based construction company, Tariq Noor Al Huda, and were abducted in Iraq's second largest city of Mosul after the jihadist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Syria), referred to as ISIL or ISIS, seized the city in a recent series of violent attacks in the country.

Central government to encourage villagers to settle along Chinese border

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government intends to propose an additional allocation of INR 5,000 crore (over $830 million) in the annual budget to encourage a population from about 100 villages to resettle and rehabilitate along the borders with China in the northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh, according to media reports on Thursday (Indian Express, Times of India). Arunachal Pradesh governor Lt. Gen. (retd) Nirbhay Sharma had sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention to examine the government's existing rehabilitation policy along the Sino-Indian border. In his communication to Modi last week, Sharma warned the government of a "thinning out of population along the Line of Actual Control" (Times of India). The governor said that if this issue is further ignored, a "gradual assimilation of our area by China is along the cards, on the lines already witnessed in north Myanmar."

The lack of infrastructure along the border has pushed civilians at least 50 kilometers away from the Indo-Sino border, which enables the possibility of Chinese ingress. The Indian government is expected to invest INR 24,000 crore (over $3.8 billion) to develop border roads and border outposts for the security forces. The additional INR 5,000 crore (over $830 million) will be used to encourage villagers to settle along the border.

Power minister aims for 24/7 supply of electricity

Piyush Goyal, the minister of union, power, coal and new and renewable energy, is keen to increase the production of Coal India Ltd (CIL), a state-controlled coal mining company headquartered in West Bengal, India (Economic Times, The Hindu, Indian Express). Goyal visited CIL on Thursday and said he wants to "create a synergy between the coal and environment ministry" to ensure environmental clearances do not obstruct exploring and digging of mines. Goyal also met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday.

Goyal held a meeting with leading energy companies like Reliance Power Ltd., Adani Power Ltd., Suzlon Group, and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. on Friday to understand the electricity supply scenario and availability of fuel for projects in the sector. "Heard problems faced by industry in a free and frank environment ... had discussion on ease of doing business as well," Goyal said. Goyal intends to meet bankers to resolve "conflicts" between power sector borrowers and banks on Monday.

Strikes, red tape, delays in obtaining environmental approvals, and protests against land acquisition have forced coal output far below demand, making India the world's third largest importer even though the country has the fifth largest coal reserves. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged uninterrupted power supply in India after his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the national elections last month.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Edited by Peter Bergen