The South Asia Channel

Ghani Leads Preliminary Afghan Election Results; India Reveals New Railway Budget; Airstrikes Kill 13 in N. Waziristan Operation

Event Notice: The Interpreters, a documentary on the dangers facing Afghan interpreters supporting the United States is showing on Wednesday, July 9, at 6:30 PM in Congressional Meeting Room South, Congressional Visitors Center, Washington DC.  You can RSVP here.


Ghani Leads in Preliminary Election Results, Tensions Persist

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) released preliminary electoral results on Monday that showed Ashraf Ghani ahead with 56.44 percent of the vote and Abdullah Abdullah with 43.56 percent (RFE/RL, BBC).  Tensions surrounded the announcement as Abdullah claimed victory stating, "We are proud. We respect the votes of the people. We were the winner," and citing fraud.  Seven thousand polling stations are being rechecked based on claims of fraud by both candidates.  In a speech on Tuesday Abdullah urged his supporters to wait a few days for him to decide what to do, but they called for him to announce a separate government immediately (TOLO). 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed the IEC's announcement of the preliminary results, but cautioned the need to wait for final results, saying: "The people of Afghanistan have shown great patience and waited long for the announcement of the preliminary results. However, the next president will be inaugurated after declaration of the final results" (Pajhwok).  In the run up to the release of the results, several western officials, including U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D - MI) and American Amb. James B. Cunningham, called for an audit of any results (NYT).

Only hours after the IEC announced its preliminary results, the governor of Balkh province and Abdullah supporter, Atta Mohammad Noor, said the results paved the way for a parallel government and called for "widespread civil unrest" (WSJ, Pajhwok).  Munir Farhad, the governor's spokesman, however told Pajhwok Afghan News that the statement was a personal view.  The suggestion of a parallel government received criticism from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who, in a speech Tuesday, said: "I have noted reports of protests in Afghanistan and of suggestions of a parallel government with the gravest concern" (Pajhwok).  Kerry also warned of the dangers of the use of extra-legal action during the electoral dispute, saying "Any action to take power by extra-legal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States and the international community."

At Least Four NATO Soldiers Dead in Attack

A suicide bomber killed at least four NATO soldiers in the Bagram district of Afghanistan's Parwan province on Tuesday, though NATO has only confirmed the deaths of four soldiers (Reuters, Pajhwok, TOLO). A Czech spokesperson confirmed that the four were Czech soldiers.  Ziaul Rahman Sayedkhili, a senior police officer, placed the death toll even higher saying six NATO soldiers, two Afghan police, and ten civilians were killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

--David Sterman


India reveals new railway budget: foreign investment and bullet trains

Railway Minister Sadanand Gowda presented the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government's new railway budget on Tuesday (BBC, NDTV, Livemint). Gowda announced a network of high-speed bullet trains and proposed increased foreign and private investment to modernize the over-stretched, loss-making railways network in India. Gowda also said his "course correction" could involve a "bitter pill that will be like nectar in the end."

There were no additional passenger fare increases in the budget. The government had recently increased passenger fares by 14.2 percent, which were partially rolled back after protests. Gowda proposed 58 new trains and promised improved food, Wi-Fi on board, discounts on return tickets, and cleaner, safer trains and stations. The Railway Budget also proposed easier ticket booking with a goal of  7,200 e-bookings per minute. Gowda accused previous governments of running the Indian Railways for political benefit. In his speech, Gowda said that more than half the projects announced in the last 30 years had not been completed as new announcements were made every year.

Modi complimented his government's first Railway Budget, and said the budget is a forward-looking "growth engine" which will promote transparency and integrity (IBNLive). Modi also tweeted: "Rail Budget aspires for better service, speed & safety. It is an effort to create a modern Railways contributing towards a developed India."  Shares of most of the railway-related companies slipped 3-13 percent in trade on Tuesday in response to the Railway Budget (Economic Times).The Indian Railways is one of the world's largest utility employers, with over 1.3 million workers. To see the official railway budget press release, click here.

Gandhi statue to stand in front of the British Parliament

A statue of the Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi will be erected in the U.K.'s Parliament Square alongside those of Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela, opposite the Houses of Parliament, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague  and Chancellor George Osborne announced on Tuesday in New Delhi (BBC, IBNLive, The Guardian). The announcement was made at Gandhi Smriti, a memorial on the site of Gandhi's assassination. Osborne said: "As the father of the largest democracy in the world, it's time for Gandhi to take his place in front of the mother of parliaments. He is a figure of inspiration, not just in Britain and India, but around the world."

During this two-day visit to India, Osborne announced a $428 million deal with India's military, where a London-based multinational group, MBDA, will supply weapons to the Indian Air Force, creating hundreds of jobs in Britain (IBNLive, Livemint, Times of India). Hague and Osborne are expected to meet  Prime Minister Narendra  Modi on Tuesday. In 2013, Britain exported goods and services worth $13.10 billion to India and imported goods and services from India worth $14.97 billion.

Snake found in mid-day meal; 54 children fall sick

After eating a mid-day meal in which a snake was found, 54 students of a government middle school in the central Indian state of Bihar fell unconscious on Saturday (NDTV, Hindustan Times, Business Standard). Vinod Kumar, Sursand town block development officer, said the children of Meghpur Middle School developed symptoms of nausea and fell unconsciousness after eating the meal. The students were rushed to a nearby public health center, given medicine, and kept under observation. Kumar said further: "We have seized the khichdi [rice and lentils preparation]  that was given to the students. A long, black object was found in it and we suspect that it could be a snake that got cooked with the meal. We will send the samples for tests."

Last year, 23 children of a primary school at Dharmasati Gandaman village in Bihar died after eating a mid-day meal laced with pesticides. The mid-day meal scheme is a government program, which provides free meals to students attending government schools. In Bihar, the mid-meal runs in 72,000 schools, feeding 16 million students.


-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan



Airstrikes Kill 13 Militants in North Waziristan Operation

Airstrikes carried out by Pakistani jet fighters destroyed seven militant hideouts and killed thirteen militants on Tuesday in the Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan, according to Pakistani military sources (Dawn).  The strikes followed a visit to the area by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif on Monday.  During his visit, Sharif praised the operation's progress and lauded the troops' courage (ET).  The operation has so far killed more than 400 militants according to the Pakistani military.

Number of Internally Displace Persons Nears 800,000

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas Disaster Management Authority announced on Tuesday that 787,888 internally displaced persons had registered with the Pakistani government (Dawn).  On Monday, registration ceased in Peshawar due to mismanagement, though by Tuesday it had resumed.  The displacement crisis has been intensified by the ongoing operation in North Waziristan. 

Sindh Police Chief Leaves Office

Sindh police chief Iqbal Mehmood has been removed from his office, according to a report from the Express Tribune on Tuesday (ET).  The paper said that Mehmood, who had served in the position for three months, had not attended the office in five days and left of his own decision.  His departure reportedly resulted from a dispute over the procurement of armored personnel carriers for the Sindh police; Mehmood allegedly resisted pressure to sign procurement papers more quickly.

Meanwhile a policeman was killed by armed men in Karachi on Tuesday (Dawn).  Assistant Sub-Inspector Tahir Ghazi was attacked and killed by unknown attackers on motorcycles as he travelled to Khudadad Chowrangi.  The attack was filmed by CCTV cameras.  Karachi has undergone a wave of violence recently and has been the focus of targeted operations by Pakistan's Sindh Rangers, a paramilitary organization.

--David Sterman

Edited by Peter Bergen