The South Asia Channel

India Summons US Diplomat for Snooping; Suicide Attack in Kabul; Pakistan's Express Tribune Bureau Chief Targeted

India

India summons U.S. diplomat for snooping

The Indian government summoned a top U.S. diplomat in New Delhi on Wednesday to raise issue with reports of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spying on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) [Livemint, DNA, The Hindu, Financial Express]. India called for assurances from the United States that the spying would not happen again, and said it was "totally unacceptable" that an Indian organization or Indian individual's privacy was violated. The Indian government also said it had raised the issue with the U.S. administration in Washington D.C. and the embassy in India twice before in July and November of last year when reports emerged that the NSA had spied upon individuals and entities. The government was still "awaiting a response from America on this."

In a new document supplied by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden that was published by The Washington Post on Monday, it was revealed that the BJP -- along with Pakistan People's Party, Lebanon's Hezbollah-allied group Amal, and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood -- is named for being an authorized target for the NSA in 2010. The BJP was the opposition party in 2010, and recently came into power in May of this year.

U.S. Senator John McCain, who arrived in India on Wednesday, cancelled a news conference scheduled outside India's foreign ministry after the Indian government summoned an U.S. envoy over the NSA spying reports (Economic Times). The interim U.S. Ambassador to India is Kathleen Stephens, who came in after Nancy Powell resigned as U.S. ambassador earlier this year.

Indian stocks soar amid pre-budget expectations

Key stock benchmark indices soared on Wednesday over pre-budget optimism, easing of global oil prices, and an uptick in monsoon rains (IBNLive, Economic Times, Reuters, Business Standard). The S&P Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index (S&P BSE Sensex) and the National Stock Exchange of India's benchmark index for Indian equity market, Nifty, both hit record high levels and also closed the day at new highs. The Indian rupee also rose to a nearly three-week high of $59.68 against the dollar, boosting investor confidence.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley sent a strong signal on Tuesday that the upcoming July 10 budget would limit populist schemes, take tough fiscal consolidation measures, focus on infrastructure, and establish a reasonable and stable tax regime (Economic Times, Livemint, Times of India). Speaking at a function organized by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, Jaitley stated that 'tax-terrorism' and 'policy-paralysis' described the business environment and governance in India, and said: "India has to make a choice between mindless populism and fiscal prudence ... Opportunity to grow comes with challenges." Jaitley said further that "If you indulge in mindless populism, you burden the exchequer. You expect the finance minister to impose higher taxes ... It does not work."

Government raises onion export prices to lower local prices

The Indian government increased the minimum export price (MEP) of onions to $500 per ton to improve the domestic supply and curb prices on Wednesday (Economic Times, Business Standard, Livemint). "The Inter-Ministerial Committee, at their meeting on June 30, observed that the wholesale and retail prices of onion are going up... and despite MEP at $300 per tonne, there is no appreciable decline in the exports of onion," the Commerce Ministry said in a press statement.

India is one of the world's largest onion exporters and exports about 1.5 million tons of onions yearly. Fears of domestic shortages are high because of a lack of chilled storage space, the hot summer, a weak monsoon, and threat of strike action by distribution workers.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Afghanistan

Bonus read: "Averting Disaster in Afghanistan," Iaonnis Koskinas (SouthAsia)

Suicide attack in Kabul

A suicide bomber killed at least eight Afghan military officers and wounded 13 others when he blew himself up near a bus carrying military personnel in Kabul on Wednesday morning (Pajhwok, WSJ). At least five civilians were also wounded in the attack, which occurred shortly after the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Hashmat Stanekzai, a spokesman for Kabul's police chief, said the bus was the bomber's target (RFE/RL). The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast on Twitter.

Election results delayed

Preliminary results from the run-off presidential election, which were expected to be released on July 2, will not be announced until the end of the week, according to Sharifa Zurmati Wardak, an IEC official (TOLO News). The results are delayed because votes from around 2,000 polling sites still need to be investigated (RFE/RL). The polling sites themselves are also under investigation. Presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani's campaign team has said that the delay is not in the best interest of the country, saying that the public is tired of the prolonged process. But his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, has severed all ties with the election commission and demanded that the results be withheld until all allegations of fraud are investigated.

U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan leaving post

James F. Dobbins, the diplomat who has served as the United States special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is leaving government this month (RFE/RL). The 72-year-old came out of retirement to serve in the post last year but agreed to do it for only one year. In an interview with the New York Times, Dobbins commented on the current situation in Afghanistan, saying: "I think this election impasse at the moment is serious and could present a real danger of a division in the country" (NYT). Dobbins will be replaced by his current deputy, Daniel F. Feldman.

Pakistan

Express Tribune bureau chief attacked

Jamshed Baghwan, the Express Tribune bureau chief in Peshawar, was attacked on Wednesday for the third time this year (ET). Baghwan was leaving his home in the Murshiedabad neighborhood with his wife when he saw unidentified men place a bomb near his residence. The bomb exploded as soon as the bureau chief and his wife ran back inside their home. No casualties were reported, but the exterior of the home and a vehicle parked near by were damaged in the explosion. Baghwan was targeted earlier this year on Marcy 19 when a bomb was placed near his home but was defused before it went off, and again on April 6 when men hurled a grenade at his home (Dawn).

17-year-old pilot flies around the world

Hairs Suleman, a 17-year-old American-born Pakistani, landed his single-engine plane in Karachi on Wednesday, completing one-third of his world tour (Dawn). Suleman, who is flying with his father, Babar Suleman, started the journey from Plainfield, Indiana in the United States on June 19. He then travelled to Canada, Iceland, England, Greece, Egypt, and the UAE before reaching Pakistan.  The Sulemans are flying around the world to raise funds for The Citizen's Foundation, which educates Pakistani children who cannot otherwise afford to go to school.  The pair has already raised half of their $1 million goal.

-- Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen

PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images