Abdullah Releases Tapes of Alleged Conspiracy; Qadri Returns to Pakistan; Indian Workers Stranded in Iraq
Adbullah says phone call proves election was rigged
Abdullah Abdullah, one of the candidates in Afghanistan's disputed presidential election, released on Sunday what his campaign said were recordings of phone calls in which a top election official, other election officials, and aids of rival candidate Ashraf Ghani speak about stuffing ballot boxes and rigging the vote (NYT). The recordings are allegedly of Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, the top election official, conspiring with various staff members and aides; in one recording he tells an official in Faryab province that he should fire staff members who support "the other people" and replece them with Pahstuns and Uzbeks, the ethnic groups of Ghani and his running mate. In another, the same voice says to someone alleged to be a Ghani aide: "I have spoken with the police chief yesterday to find out if he is on our side or their side." The election commission said it has no knowledge of the conversations, and Amarkhil denied being involved in any fraudulent activities. The authenticity of the tapes could not be confirmed.
But whether the recordings are authentic or not, the tapes intensify the Abdullah campaign's accusations that the run-off was rigged, causing many to worry that the country is on the verge of a political crisis. On Saturday, protestors demonstrated across Kabul to demand that the government address Abdullah's accusations (Post). Although the goal of the protestors was to shut down the city with a peaceful show of force, the protests fell short -- none of the groups in pockets across the city exceeded 1,500 people. On Sunday, dozens of Abdullah supporters in Herat province burned their voter cards in support of Abdullah's boycott of the vote count (Pajhwok). The Electoral Complaints Commission said that votes from 17 polling sites in southern Kandahar province and 13 polling sites in Helmand province were separated out of counting for further review because of suspicions of fraud brought by Abdullah's campaign (TOLO News).
Cleric returns to Pakistan
Tahirul Qadri, a Muslim cleric who lives in Canada and says he plans to lead a nonviolent "people's revolution" against what he calls an unjust political system in Pakistan, caused a stir on Monday when he returned to Pakistan (WSJ). Pakistan diverted the Emirates aircraft he was on from its intended destination of Islamabad to Lahore for security reasons, sparking outrage among the crowd of 2,000 people who surrounded the Islamabad airport to greet him (AFP). Supporters had been gathering there since Sunday night, intermittently clashing with police (Reuters). Television footage showed his followers, who were armed with sticks and bricks, being pushed back by police with teargas.
After Qadri's flight landed in Lahore, the government offered to take him to his home in the city by helicopter, but he refused to leave the plane he was on, saying that he didn't trust the civilian government and demanding an army escort. Five and a half hours after his plane landed in Lahore, Qadri left the airport to go to the city's Jinnah hospital to visit party workers who were injured in violent clashes with police last week. Qadri, the founding leader of Minhaj-ul-Qur'an International and the founder of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek political party, moved to Canada in 2006 after receiving death threats for his opposition to militant organizations.
WFP begins distributing aid in Bannu
The World Food Programme (WFP) began distributing aid on Monday to thousands of people who fled the Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan (AFP). Many of the displaced persons have fled to the town of Bannu, which is right outside of the tribal zone. Refugees clashed with authorities after the distribution was delayed by several hours, but the scuffle was quickly broken up when authorities fired guns into the air to disperse the protestors. Noor Bat Kahn, a 60-year-old resident who fled from the military operation, said authorities did not act fast enough in providing aid and did not set up enough distribution points. Safiullah Khan, an official with a local non-government organization that has partnered with the WFP, said the single food distribution point in Bannu began providing rations that included wheat flour, cooking oil, lentils, and high-energy biscuits.
-- Emily Schneider
Illegal Indian workers stuck in Iraq
Hundreds of Indians working illegally in Iraq are struggling to return to India as their employer has declined to return their passports, according to Amnesty International, a global human rights organization, on Saturday (Times of India, Economic Times, NDTV, DNA). Many of these workers, who illegally entered Iraq for jobs with work visas for the United Arab Emirates, work for a construction company in the province of Najaf. Amnesty quoted a worker as saying: "The employer holds all our passports and refuses to return them. We have been restricting ourselves to the company premises since the conflict began because we are scared. Without our passports we can't leave this country, and every passing day makes us feel more and more unsafe. We just want to go home." The Punjab Welfare Society of Kuwait, a humanitarian group, has claimed the company is detaining workers forcibly to avoid paying a fine of $500 per person should the government find out they are employing migrant labor illegally.
Ahmad Tahseen Ahmed Berwari, the Iraqi Ambassador to India, said on Saturday the Iraqi authorities are working closely with the Indian government to evacuate Indians with valid visas in the affected Iraqi cities due to the ongoing crisis in the country (DNA). The Indian government is working with Red Crescent, a humanitarian agency, for the safe release of Indian construction workers that were abducted in the Iraqi city of Mosul last week. Iraq is facing an escalating conflict after the jihadist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Syria), referred to as ISIL or ISIS, seized many cities in a recent series of violent attacks across the country.
Swiss government prepares "black money list" for India
The Swiss government has prepared a list of Indians suspected to have untaxed wealth in Swiss banks, according to media reports on Sunday (Financial Express, The Hindu, BBC). "These individuals and entities are suspected to have held unaccounted money in Swiss banks through structures like trusts, domiciliary companies and other legal entities based out of countries other than India," said a senior Swiss official to the Press Trust of India. The official also said Swiss authorities would provide all necessary support to the newly established Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money. India recently set up the SIT, a special task force to probe "black money" deposited in foreign tax havens. In response to these reports, Justice M. B. Shah, who heads the SIT, said that action would be taken against Indians found to have kept unaccountable money.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government had not yet received any communication from Switzerland about "black money" suspected to be hidden in Swiss banks on Monday (Times of India, NDTV, Economic Times). Jaitley said further that the government intends to expedite information sharing with Switzerland and will write to the Swiss government seeking details of Indians having untaxed money in Swiss banks. Switzerland's central bank, the Swiss National Bank, claims in a recent report that Indian money in various Swiss banks rose by 43 percent during 2013 to close to INR 14,000 crore (approximately $2.3 billion).
India raises import duty on sugar, promotes exports
India will raise its import duty on sugar from 15 to 40 percent in an effort to revive business at sugar mills that owe farmers around $1.84 billion, Ram Vilas Paswan, minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution, said on Monday (Hindustan Times, Business Standard). After meeting senior government officials, Paswan said the government has also decided to extend the subsidy on raw sugar exports until September.
Also on the table is the decision to extend interest-free loans made to mills against excise duty from three years to five years. India, the world's largest sugar consumer, is likely to export more than two million tonnes of sugar in 2014-15. Paswan also said the mandatory level for blending ethanol in gasoline will increase from five to ten percent. The government is trying to promote ethanol blending to reduce its current account deficit and also to boost sugar mills' earnings.
Shares of sugar refineries rose over 10 percent in response to Paswan's announcement on Monday (Economic Times, NDTV). According to industry experts, the government's decision to pay arrears to sugarcane farmers, increase import duty, and provide interest-free loans will be favorable for the sector. Experts also anticipate forex savings of $1.6 billion to $1.7 billion on ethanol blending.
-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan
Edited by Peter Bergen
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