The South Asia Channel

Taliban Assault in Helmand Province; India's Foreign Minister Visits Bangladesh; Attack at Peshawar Airport


The Rack: "After Karzai," Mujib Marshal (TheAtlantic)

Massive Taliban assault in Helmand province

At least 100 Taliban militants have been killed in fighting around four military checkpoints in southern Afghanistan during five days of clashes that also killed 35 civilians and 21 Afghan troops (BBC). The clashes began when more than 800 Taliban insurgents stormed police outposts in the Sangin district, according to Omar Zwak, the spokesperson for Helmand province's governor (Pajhwok). The fighting has now spread to three other districts,  Kajaki, Musa Qala, and Nawzad. More than 2,500 people have been displaced by the fighting (TOLO News).

Abdullah cooperates with election officials

Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah resumed cooperation with Afghan election officials, according to an official who spoke to Pajhwok News on Wednesday (Pajhwok).  After the resignation of top election official Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, Abdullah entered negotiations with the Independent Election Commission (IEC) that were mediated by the United Nations (TOLO News). The resignation of Amarkhil was one of the conditions Abdullah and his team had set for rejoining the process after they announced a boycott of the election commission on June 15 for alleged large-scale fraud by President Hamid Karzai on behalf of Abdullah's opponent, Ashraf Ghani.

Syed Fazel Aq Sancharaki, a member of Abdullah's team, said that negotiations with nine IEC commissioners and Yan Kubis, the U.N.'s special representative to Afghanistan, began Monday night. Although nothing has been settled, all parties want to resolve the issues facing the election process peacefully. According to Sancharaki, Abdullah is most concerned with cases of fraud being fully investigated and the numbers of voter turnout of voters being clarified.

-- Emily Schneider


India's foreign minister off to Bangladesh

Sushma Swaraj, India's foreign minister, will start a three-day "goodwill" visit to Bangladesh on Wednesday, in her first visit abroad as foreign minister (Livemint, BBC, Hindustan Times). During the trip, Swaraj is expected to meet her Bangladeshi counterpart Abdul Hassan Mahmood Ali on Thursday, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid before her return on Friday. Swaraj is also set to meet leaders of Bangladesh's opposition parties as well as the chambers of commerce. Swaraj will hold talks on key bilateral issues including the ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA), the proposed pact on sharing Teesta river water, market access, the anti-Indian militant presence on Bangladeshi soil, and illegal Bangladeshi immigration in India.

Ratification of the LBA will control illegal migration and resolve the issue of enclaves, a hub of cross-border criminal networks. India shares its longest land border with Bangladesh at 4,096 kilometers (2545 miles). The previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-led government was unable to gather support from opposition parties, most notably the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), when it tried to bring the LBA agreement to Parliament in February of this year. The UPA had limited political capital with allies and lacked the numbers in Parliament. Experts expect that the Narendra Modi-led government's control of the majority in Parliament will push for a ratification of the LBA agreement.

Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh was $6.6 billion in 2013-2014 with India exporting $6.1 billion and importing $462 million from Bangladesh. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), an industry body, stated that to double trade between India and Bangladesh to $10 billion by 2018, issues like non-tariff barriers and infrastructure-related issues need to be resolved.

Prime Minister Hasina was the only South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leader who did not attend Modi's searing-in ceremony last month as she was on a bilateral visit to Japan at the time.

India to open civil nuclear program to greater scrutiny

India is ratifying an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a global watchdog of nuclear activities, to expand oversight of its civilian nuclear program, the foreign ministry said on Monday (Financial Express, Economic Times, Livemint). "I can confirm that we are ratifying the Additional Protocol to the IAEA Safeguards Agreement," said Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for the ministry of external affairs. The additional protocol was ratified last week in a move that signals India's commitment "to the responsible use of nuclear power."

The United States welcomed this decision, which is set to unblock a major nuclear partnership between the two countries. "This action marks another important step in bringing India into the international nonproliferation mainstream," a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said. The ratification came ahead of the annual meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a body that controls global nuclear exports, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the United States in September. The Economic Times reported on Tuesday that the NSG will address the issue of closer ties with India (Economic Times). The United States, Britain and other countries have argued that India should become a member of the NSG.

India, which first tested a nuclear weapon in 1974, is not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which means its military nuclear program is not subject to IAEA inspections. India had signed a civilian nuclear deal with the United States in 2008 and a safeguards agreement with the IAEA in 2009.

Ex-Solicitor General withdraws candidature for SC judge appointment

Gopal Subramanium, India's ex-solicitor general in the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, withdrew his candidature to become Supreme Court judge on Wednesday, alleging a "dirt-digging exercise" by the new government (NDTV, Economic Times, IBNLive, Indian Express). According to media reports, the Narendra Modi-led government reportedly asked the Supreme Court collegium to reconsider Subramanium's nomination because of "negative reports" from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB).

Subramanium communicated his withdrawal in a nine-page letter to the Chief Justice of India, R. M. Lodha. In his letter, Subramanium said that India's law minister had initiated an inquiry "with a clear mandate to describe me as unsuitable." Subramanium said the alleged "negative" reports by the CBI and IB were only "half-truths" and further wrote: "I'm fully conscious that my independence as a lawyer is causing apprehensions that I will not toe the government line. This factor has been decisive in refusing to appoint me."   

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan


Bonus read: "Pakistan's Taliban Offensive Will Fall Short," Shuja Nawaz (SouthAsia)

Attack at Peshawar airport

On Tuesday night, unidentified gunmen attacked a Pakistan International Airlines Boeing PK-756 as it landed at Peshawar's Bacha Khan airport, killing one woman and injuring two flight attendants (Reuters, BBC, Dawn). Gunmen reportedly shot five bullets at the plane, which was carrying about 178 passengers from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Security forces cordoned off the airport and launched a search for the gunmen. After arresting over 100 suspects, police reopened the airport for flight traffic Wednesday morning.  The incident is the third attack at a Pakistani airport in a month.

Qadri schedules a meeting

Tahirul Qadri, chief of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party, called for a meeting of all like-minded groups on Thursday, June 26 (Dawn). Pakistan's Express Tribune reports that the Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid (PML-Q), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), and Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) will be attending the meeting (ET). Qadri, whorecently returned from exile in Canada, said he will lead a "democratic revolution" in which "this government will be toppled" (Post).

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen

Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images