The South Asia Channel

Humanitarian Crisis in Pakistan; Thousands Protest in Kabul; Indian Posts Targeted as Pakistani Troops Violate LoC

Wonk watch: "Recommendations and Report of the Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy," Stimson Center (Stimson)


Humanitarian crisis in Bannu

In what has become Pakistan's biggest conflict-driven humanitarian crisis since 2009, the Pakistani military said that 456,000 displaced people have registered for aid during the military's June offensive against the Taliban, but in Bannu, a town on the edge of Waziristan hosting a majority of the refugees, officials said the figure had surpassed 500,000 by Thursday morning (NYT, CNN). Refugees have also fled into Afghanistan: The United Nations refugee agency in Kabul said that 65,000 people crossed into Khost province. To help address the needs of these refugees, the United States has donated $8 million to a relief program run by the United Nations World Food Program.

Many of the civilians fled their homes before Thursday's ground offensive in Miramshah, which Pakistani military officials described as a prelude to a major ground operation.  But Muhammad Rafique, a tribal elder from the city, described how Taliban fighters had fled before most civilians, saying: "The Taliban seemed to know about this operation before we did." The military operation has only involved air strikes against militant compounds in North Waziristan so far, but officials say the next step in a ground assault in Miramshah and Mir Ali: "Both towns would be cleared in one go, simultaneously," a senior military official told the New York Times.

A different worldview, brought to you by Google maps

In a hackathon sponsored by the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project this past weekend, information about Google's geographic capitulation revealed that maps for disputed territories look different depending on what country you're in when you search for them (Quartz).  For example, the borders of the Kashmir region very depending on whether you search from India, Pakistan, or the United States, according to a web page documenting the hackathon's findings. A spokeswoman for Google told Quartz that: "Google Maps makes every effort to depict disputed regions and features objectively," but noted that certain jurisdictions have local laws regarding mapping that Google must follow.


Thousands protest in Kabul

Several roads in Kabul were blocked on Friday as thousands of protesters advanced toward the Presidential Palace to call on the government to invalidate what they believe are fraudulent votes (TOLO News, Pajhwok). Protestors gathered in Pashtunistan Square near the palace and changed: "Death to cheats, we have won and we don't want sheep to participate " (sheep was the code word allegedly used by election officials when discussing stuffing ballots). Abdullah Abdullah, one of the presidential candidates, and his three running mates, High Peace Council Chair, Salhuddin Rabbani, President Hamid Karzai's borther, Mahmoud Karzai, and Amirullah Saleh, former Afghan intelligence chief, joined in the protests.

The protests followed the release of audio and video tapes by Abdullah's campaign team -- most recently on Thursday -- that allegedly show fraudulent acts by government officials and election officials.  The video footage shows men in a room in Paktika province supposedly stuffing ballot boxes for Abdullah's rival, Ashraf Ghani, while the new audiotape captures a conversation in which Attaullah Khogyani, the provincial governor of Maidan Wardak, persuades an unknown "army officer" to not prevent ballot stuffing in the June 14 runoff (TOLO News).

As a result of the irregularities, the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) announced on Friday that they were invalidating ballots from 19 polling stations in Paktika province due to irregularities (Pajhwok).  IECC Director Abdul Hamid Malang also announced at the same gathering a fine of 75,000 Afghanis ($1,320) would be imposed on Abdullah's campaign team member, Attiqullah for committing fraud. Members of the Change and Continuity team, led by Ghani, also attended the gathering. The invalidated ballots totaled 11,400 votes, 10,000 of which had been polled in favor of Abdullah.

-- Emily Schneider


Pakistan violates ceasefire along LoC

Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire on Friday and targeted Indian posts in an "unprovoked firing" with automatic and small weapons along the Line of Control (LoC), a military boundary between the Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir (Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express). The Indian forces retaliated with firing. No casualties or damages were reported on the Indian side of the border.

On June 13, Pakistani troops had targeted Indian posts with heavy firing and mortar shelling along the LoC in the Mendhar-Bhimber Gali-Keri forward areas of Poonch district, prompting retaliation by Indian forces. There have been 19 incidents of ceasefire violation along the LoC in April-May this year.

Indian External Affairs Minister returns after an "extremely satisfying" visit to Bangladesh

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj completed her two-day visit to Bangladesh on Friday (Financial Express, IBNLive, The Hindu). Swaraj discussed with her Bangladeshi counterpart Foreign minister A. H. Mahmood Ali and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina key issues on visa simplification for certain categories, the Land Boundary Agreement, and cooperation on supply of electricity from a Tripura-based power plant. Swaraj said India will pursue economic integration and interconnectedness between the two countries through investment, trade, capacity building, transportation, and environment-friendly practices.

"Our assessment of the visit is... It was extremely fruitful and satisfying," a Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson told reporters after the visit. Swaraj also handed over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's letter to Hasina, in which he accepted Hasina's invitation to visit Bangladesh and extended an invitation to Hasina to visit India. In his letter to Hasina, Modi stressed: "My government will apply itself to further accelerating our engagement and strengthening the framework of our relationships."

Gas pipeline blast kills at least 14

At least 14 people were burned to death and several injured after a gas pipeline belonging to the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) exploded in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) on Friday morning (BBC, Indian Express, The Hindu, DNA). The explosion occurred in an 18-inch (46 cm) pipeline of GAIL near a refinery run by the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) in Nagaram village. The blast killed people in nearby homes, and the resulting fire spread to coconut farms and additional homes, trapping people inside. After the incident, the gas supply through the pipeline was suspended, ONGC shut two gas fields in AP, and the fire was doused. Local villagers also staged protests after the fire killed villagers including three women and three children.

According to the Indian Express, the AP police in its initial report stated a tea vendor lighting a stove might have triggered the fire after leaked gas from the pipeline surrounded the area (Indian Express). The impact of the blast created a crater on the ground. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee expressed his sorrow over the deaths. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences and announced relief of approximately $3,300 from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund for the families of the victims. "This is in addition to the relief assistance given by the Petroleum Ministry and GAIL. An ex-gratia relief of Rs 50,000 [approximately $830] has also been sanctioned for those who were seriously injured in the incident," a Prime Minister Office statement said.

GAIL is the largest state-owned natural gas processing and distribution company in India and operates a 11,000 kilometer (6,840 mile) natural gas pipeline network and seven gas processing units across India. The underground pipeline carries gas and crude oil extracted from offshore units to refineries. In early June, at least six people died from a poisonous gas leak after an explosion at a steel plant in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

Ranbaxy gets FDA approval to sell generic Diovan in U.S.

Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, an Indian multinational pharmaceutical company, received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to launch a generic version of Novartis AG's blood pressure pill Diovan, according to media reports on Friday (Indian Express, Livemint, Economic Times). Ranbaxy will be the first rival drugmaker to launch Diovan in the United States and will be entitled to six months of exclusivity to sell it. Although Novartis lost its patent rights to Diovan in the United States in 2012, it had avoided generic competition from Ranbaxy because the FDA had banned Ranbaxy due to multiple production quality control problems.

?Ranbaxy was acquired by a rival firm, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. in April for approximately $4 billion. The combined entity is set to emerge as the largest pharmaceutical company in India and the fifth largest generic drug company globally. Ranbaxy's shares rose to 5.4 percent and Sun Pharma was trading 4.2 percent higher on Friday.

-- Neeli Shan and Jameel Khan

Edited by Peter Bergen