The South Asia Channel

Afghan Election Official Resigns; 550 Arrested After Clashes in Lahore and Islamabad; Modi Government to Present Budget in July


Bonus read: "Will Afghanistan be the Next Iraq?" Lynne O'Donnell (SouthAsia)

Election official steps down

Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, one of Afghanistan's top election officials, resigned on Monday after repeated accusations by Abdullah Abduallh that he was involved in a conspiracy to rig the presidential run-off (NYT, TOLO News). In an emotional news conference, Amarkhil maintained his innocence but said that he was stepping down "for the sake of the country and for national unity." He also criticized Abdullah for releasing audio recordings that the candidate used as evidence of widespread ballot-stuffing, saying that the tapes had been faked.

Meanwhile, the United States called for an impartial review of all fraud claims on Monday (Pajhwok). "The United States urges both sides to remain engaged with the electoral institutions and avoid violence. We would regret any moves to the contrary," said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. He added that the United States encouraged supporters to pursue a disposition of their concerns through the established order as laid out in the constitution.

U.S. Army veteran to receive Medal of Honor

President Obama will award Ryan Pitts, a former Army Staff Sergeant, the highest military honor for his actions during the Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan in 2008 (Post, WSJ). Sgt. Pitts and his platoon with the 173rd Airborne Brigade came under attack on July 13, 2008 and the ensuing battle killed nine U.S. soldiers and wounded 27 more. Pitts, despite being wounded by shrapnel in both legs and his left arm, continued to throw hand grenades and fire his weapon at enemy positions but after less than an hour, discovered that all his fellow paratroopers at his post were either dead or gone. "In that moment, [Sgt.] Pitts resigned himself to certain death, but remained determined to do as much damage as possible to the enemy before they overwhelmed the" post, according to a Defense Department account of the sergeant's actions. The Battle of Wanat became one of the most controversial incidents of the entire war, and investigation reports by The Washington PostArmy TimesForeign Policy and other publications followed.  Pitts will receive the medal on July 21, 2014, four years after the battle.


Bonus read: "Karachi's Killers," Ivan Sigal (SouthAsia)

550 arrested after Qadri's homecoming

The Islamabad and Rawalpindi police registered cases against 1,600 Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers, including the head of the party, Tahirul Qadri, following clashes on Monday (ET).  The cases were registered on charges of vandalism and violence outside Benazir International airport where at least 120 people, including 45 policemen, were injured. The police have arrested 550 PAT workers in relation to the protests.

Pakistan warns Afghanistan against action

Tasneem Aslam, a Foreign Office spokesperson, warned the Afghan government on Tuesday to refrain from taking any action that may be detrimental to peace along the border (Dawn). She rejected allegations by senior Afghan officials that Pakistani troops had conducted attacks in Afghanistan's Kunar province while wearing civilian clothing.

Aslam's statement was made in response to Afghanistan, saying it was mulling a response to an alleged cross-border attack by Pakistani forces in which three soldiers and eight civilians were killed (ET). Ahmad Shakib Mustaghni, an Afghan foreign ministry spokesperson, said that: "Afghanistan is pondering a response to Pakistani incursions" and that "Afghanistan Security forces are capable of defending the country and could avenge Pakistani attacks." He added that: "We will not remain silent spectators to Pakistani attacks and will give a befitting response to Pakistani attacks at appropriate time."

-- Emily Schneider


Modi government to present its first budget in July

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new government will present its first federal budget on July 10, the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs (CCPA) decided on Monday (Indian Express, Economic Times, BBC). Also in line are the railway budget on July 8 and the Economic Survey on July 9. The budget session of the parliament will convene from July 7 until August 14. The CCPA has decided that at least four ordinances, which have to be converted into bills by the third week of July, will be considered on a priority basis.

Ahead of the general budget presentation, Modi is meeting with all the department secretaries independently to take note of specific issues and determine viable alternatives for better implementation (Economic Times). Modi has asked top officials from the finance ministry and planning commission to attend all such meetings with department secretaries. "Though the Budget making is a parallel exercise, some of his [Modi's] directions at these meetings should find their way into the Budget and the policy framework eventually," said an official.

Opposition parties are likely to raise the issue of increasing rail passenger fares and freight rates ahead of the railway budget. Last week, the Modi-led government also had announced its first dose of "bitter medicine" to revive the economy with an increase in passenger fares by 14.2 percent and freight rates by 6.5 percent. Such a move was a clear effort to assist the state-owned railway raise money.

Sri Lankan Navy apprehends Tamil Nadu fishermen

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and secure the release of 64 Indian fishermen along with their 38 boats in Sri Lankan custody on Tuesday (IBNLive, Times of India). On Monday, 11 fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy when they ventured out to sea off the coast of Tamil Nadu, one of India's southern states. Last Thursday, seven fishermen from Nagapattinam fishing base were also arrested off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, while 46 other fishermen were arrested the previous day.

Jayalalithaa acknowledged past action taken by the government to release Indian fishermen from Sri Lanka, and urged the Indian government to find a permanent solution through concerted and sustained diplomatic efforts. "The Union government must impress upon the Sri Lankan government to abstain from attacks on and abduction of our innocent fishermen on the high seas in the Palk Bay. Further, the joint mechanisms which are designed to ensure the speedy release of apprehended fishermen should be effectively activated," she said.

Delhi University: teachers strike, Vice Chancellor resigns

Thousands of students seeking admission to Delhi University (DU) are stranded after DU and its affiliated colleges put the admission process on hold on Monday, according to press reports (BBC, Hindustan Times, Indian Express. Times of India). After DU decided to stretch its three-year undergraduate courses to a four-year undergraduate program (FYUP) in 2013, the University Grants Commission (UGC), India's university watchdog, ordered DU to revert to a three-year program. UGC, which controls the university's finances, further informed DU on Monday that any deviation from the directive shall be "deemed to be in contravention of the UGC Act, with its consequences."

DU Vice Chancellor Dinesh Singh resigned on Tuesday and teachers went on a 24-hour long hunger strike to protest the UGC order. The Supreme Court has refused to intervene in this issue and dismissed a plea moved by the Delhi University Teachers' Association (DUTA) seeking cancellation of the UGC order.

Students continued to protest on Tuesday and expressed their disapproval and worry over the ongoing face-off between the UGC and DU. "At present, there are 60,000 students under the FYUP. This controversy has cast a shadow on this year's admission process, which was due to begin on Tuesday, putting the future of more than 200,000 students in jeopardy," the Hindustan Times reports (Hindustan Times). The UGC order is also set to affect students enrolled in the FYUP from its inaugural year in 2013.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Edited by Peter Bergen