The South Asia Channel

Pakistani Military Begins Ground Offensive; Indian Court Summons Sonia Gandhi; Afghan Poppy Fields Grow 36%

Pakistan

Ground offensive kicks off in Miramshah

The Pakistani military began its ground offensive against militants in North Waziristan on Thursday morning by moving ground troops into the Miramshah Bazaar and using tanks and artillery to pound militant hideouts in and around the bazaar (Dawn, ET). The military initiated an operation against militants in the region earlier this month, but focused on using air strikes to bomb militant compounds and hideouts. Now that the air assaults have weakened the targets, the military is moving ground forces in to clear the hideouts. No official count of casualties has been released.

Airlines suspend flights to Pakistan

Two major airlines suspended their service to Peshawar on Wednesday, after the gun attack on a commercial flight killed a passenger and raised fears of a targeted campaign by militants against the country's airports (NYT).  One airline, Emirates, said in a statement that the attack caused it to suspend it's service to Peshawar "until further notice." Another airline, Etihad Airways, canceled flights on Wednesday and said it would make further decisions after an assessment of the security situation.

The attack on Tuesday seemed to cause some confusion over who is responsible for security at the airport. The airport authorities believe that it is the police who are responsible for securing the areas around the airport, but after a report detailing the airport's vulnerabilities was given to chief minister of Punjab, nothing has been done to increase the security of the area (ET).

-- Emily Schneider

India

Court summons Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi for misappropriating newspaper's funds

A New Delhi court issued a summons to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, and other Congress leaders on Thursday for charges of criminal conspiracy and cheating (NDTV, Times of India, The Hindu). "I have found prima facie evidence against all the accused. The court has directed them to appear before it on August 7," said Gomati Manocha, metropolitan magistrate of New Delhi.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy, who filed a private complaint, claims the Gandhis misappropriated funds to grab valuable properties in New Delhi, including the office of the National Herald, a newspaper that was set up in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister. The newspaper was closed down in 2008. When Swamy had first levelled these charges in 2012, Rahul Gandhi had threatened to sue Swamy for defamation by stating that the accusations were "scandalous abuse" and "utterly false, baseless and defamatory."

@NarendraModi surpasses @WhiteHouse on Twitter

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the fourth most "followed" world leader on Twitter, has overtaken the White House in terms of number of followers on Wednesday, according to Twiplomacy, an annual global study of world leaders on Twitter (Times of India, BBC). Modi now has 4.99 million followers on Twitter ahead of the White House which has 4.98 million followers. "Mr Modi's seen a stratospheric rise" said Matthias Luefkens, who heads the global study conducted by public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller. The other most followed world leaders were U.S. President Barack Obama with 43 million followers, Pope Francis with 14 million followers, and Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with 5.07 million followers.

Modi's government completed its first 30 days in office on Thursday (Livemint, Indian Express, Hindustan Times). In the past month, Modi's government has been noted for its firm and decisive style of governance and for making clear foreign policy decisions. The government has also been commended for setting up the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to unearth black money and keeping a firm check on ministers and government expenditure. However, Modi's government has received criticism for raising railway fares and encouraging government employees to use the Hindi language on their official social networking sites. The government has also been caught in a controversy over the selection of former Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium as a Supreme Court judge. Challenges for Modi have also included facing tough decisions on the Iraq crisis, inflation, and a weak monsoon.

Indian prime minister pushes contingency plan to meet weak monsoon

Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed for close coordination between the central and state governments to implement contingency plans on Thursday in a meeting called to review steps taken to contain inflation and discuss the progress of monsoon this year (Livemint, The Hindu, Business Standard). To control inflation, Modi has asked states to set up special courts to deal with hoarders and black marketeers. Modi also reviewed the position of water reservoirs and fodder stock, and directed that adequate water, power, and seed supply should be available for farmers.

Modi "stressed on the need for both the centre and states to proactively mount a coordinated effort in implementing the advance action plan for the monsoon, with districts, rather than states, being the unit of planning," said a Prime Minister Office statement issued after the meeting. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) officials present at the meeting said that despite a late start, rainfall is likely to improve in July and August. The IMD has forecasted the monsoon to be below normal at 93 percent of the long period average this year.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Afghanistan

Bonus read: "How to Save the Afghan Election," Ashley Jackson (SouthAsia)

Afghan poppy fields expand by 36%, says report

The United Nations released its annual World Drug Report on Thursday, concluding that illegal opium cultivation occupies more land worldwide than ever before -- largely due to a surge in Afghanistan over the past year (NYT). Nearly 741,000 acres worldwide are occupied by poppy fields. Afghanistan's poppy fields expanded by 36 percent between 2012 and 2013, now taking up 516,000 acres across the country. Myanmar also increased its opium production with nearly 143,000 acres being devoted to cultivating poppy there. Afghan opium has begun reaching European markets through Pakistan and other countries in the Middle East, according to the report.

Karzai's top security advisor visits Islamabad

Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Afghanistan's National Security Advisor, arrived in Islamabad on Thursday to discuss anti-terror cooperation with Pakistani leaders (Dawn, Pajhwok).  President Hamid Karzai told Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over the phone last week that Spanta and his delegation will carry a letter that outlines a road map for future cooperation between the two countries.  The foreign ministry in Islamabad said the delegation-level talks between the two countries "will focus on ensuring deeper bilateral security cooperation. The two sides will discuss ways of strengthening regular contact between the security authorities of the two countries" (ET). 

NATO service member killed

A NATO service member was killed in an attack in southern Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition said on Thursday (AP). The statement said the soldier died as a result of an attack by enemy forces on Wednesday, but gave no further details. The death brings the total number of NATO service members killed in Afghanistan this month to 11, with eight of the fatalities being American.  The Taliban's spring offensive has resulted in clashes in southern Helmand province that has led to the death of 70 Taliban insurgents and injured hundreds of others (TOLO News).

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen

ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images