The South Asia Channel

Kerry in Kabul for Talks; President Obama Invites Modi; Report: Pakistani Police Superintendant Ordered Shooting at Protesters


Secretary of State Kerry in Kabul for talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kabul on Friday to engage in talks with Afghanistan's presidential candidates over the ongoing electoral crisis (TOLO News).  Prior to his arrival, Kerry had warned that extralegal approaches to resolving the election would result in a decrease of U.S. aid, and Amb. James Dobbins stated that power-sharing would be necessary for resolving the crisis.  Kerry also met with President Karzai (Pajhwok). 

Before seeing Kerry, Karzai met with the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, to discuss means of resolving the crisis and conducting an election audit.  Karzai's meetings came after he expressed support on Thursday for third-party mediation (TOLO News).  Karzai had been criticized for remaining silent on the crisis.  Former Afghanistan Senate Chairman Sebghatullah Mujadadi told TOLO News that he blamed Karzai for the crisis stating: "We talked on the phone today and I blamed him for being silent. He must take an action. He is still the President, but he is saying that he does not want to take a side."

Afghan interpreters in limbo

On Thursday State Department officials stated that thousands of Afghan interpreters who worked for the United States and are seeking resettlement will be left in limbo as government runs out of visas in the resettlement program (Post).  Officials are seeking an extension of the Special Immigrant Visa program, which expires in September.  In an interview with the Washington Post, Heather Higginbottom, the deputy secretary of state for management and resources, said, "We owe these people this opportunity to be out of harm's way."  6,000 applicants remain in the pipeline though Congress capped the number of visas at 3,000.

New photo of Sgt. Bergdahl appears

On Wednesday, a twitter account sympathizing with the Taliban released a new photo of Sgt. Bergdahl in Taliban captivity and smiling (USATODAY).  The Pentagon dismissed the photo saying it was "100% propaganda."  Military spokesman, Col. Steve Warren, staded: "We're glad that he is back."  Bergdahl was held captive by the Taliban for five years.

ISIS leader reportedly spent time in Afghanistan

On Friday, Pajhwok Afghan News reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, now renamed the Islamic State, had spent substantial time in Afghanistan in the 1990s during the Taliban's rule (Pajhwok).  The report cites an anonymous security official as saying that Baghdadi lived with Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Kabul from 1996 to 2000.  The report also cites an anonymous Taliban leader as saying: "I met Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and their friends."  Pajhwok's report follows the declaration by Tehreek-e-Khilafat, a Pakistani terror group, earlier this week swearing allegiance to ISIS.  Tehreek-e-Khilafat is believed to be the first terror group outside of the Middle East to swear allegiance to the group.

--David Sterman


U.S. President officially invites Modi

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday sent an official invitation to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Washington, D.C. in September (Hindustan Times, IBNLive, Business Standard). U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns hand-delivered the invitation to Modi during on a two-day visit to India starting Thursday. In his letter, Obama said he wants to "work closely with Prime Minister to make India-US relations a defining partnership for the 21st century." In response to the invitation, an Indian Press Information Bureau release said: "Prime Minister thanked President Obama for the invitation and looked forward to a result-oriented visit with concrete outcomes that imparts new momentum and energy to India-US strategic partnership."

Burns held meetings on Thursday with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh (Hindustan Times, Business Standard, DNA, Economic Times). Burns' visit takes place ahead of the US-India Strategic Dialogue, a forum that discusses U.S.-India cooperation on regional and bilateral issues. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to arrive in India on July 31, when will chair the dialogue with Swaraj.

The Indian American diaspora has planned a grand public reception for Modi when he arrives to the United States in September (Firstpost). Chandrakant Patel, president of the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said they are "working along with the leaders of all prominent Indian and ethnic organisations locally and at the national level to make this historic event a grand success in which about 1,00,000 people are expected to attend." Modi was denied a visa to the United States since 2005 on the grounds that as the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, he failed to stop the 2002 riots in which hundreds of Muslims were massacred.

Indian Supreme Court burdened with excessive workload

Indian Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice R. M. Lodha admitted on Thursday that an excessive workload has reduced the SC to a mere court of appeals rather than a constitutional court (Business Standard, The Hindu, Times of India). Lodha made his comments during a hearing where the petitioners were seeking a bench of five judges to hear appeals in death sentence cases. "I feel the Supreme Court should have benches of three, five and seven judges to deal with important questions of law. But what to do, there is so much of work that we sit in two-judge benches."

Lodha also addressed the limited budgetary allocation made annually to the judiciary in the federal budget. "Budget allocation is not even one percent. It is 0.4 percent," Lodha observed, adding: "We are not justifying the delay (in deciding cases) but we can't close our eyes to the reality that with population of more than 1.27 billion, there are 19,006 judges with Chief Justice of India at the top to the lowest placed judge (in subordinate judiciary)."

Lodha said further that in his interactions with 12 chief justices of other countries, he learned that: "In some Supreme Courts, only 150 appeals are heard in a year and the CJs were astonished when I told them that on Monday and Friday, we deal with at least 800-900 cases." Lodha remarked further: "In the U.S. Supreme Court, a judge has the freedom to select four law clerks of his/her choice. Here we do not even have the freedom to buy a pencil" (The Hindu).

New Delhi is the second most populous city in the world

New Delhi, India's capital city, has become the world's second most populous city after Tokyo in 2014, according to the U.N.'s 2014 revision of the World Urbanisation Prospects report, launched on Thursday (Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Times of India). The U.N. report states that New Delhi has more than doubled its population since 1990 to 25 million, and will retain the spot of the second most populous city through at least 2030. Mumbai, presently with a population of 21 million, ranks sixth on the list and is projected to become the world's fourth largest city in 2030. Tokyo topped the list with 38 million inhabitants.

The report also states that India, ahead of China, is projected to add the highest number of people to its urban population by 2050. Furthermore, the largest urban growth is projected to take place in India, China, and Nigeria between 2014 and 2050. India's rural population is set to decline by 52 million between 2014 and 2050. India presently has the largest rural population at 857 million, followed by China at 635 million inhabitants.

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan


Police superintendent ordered shooting at protesters' legs, report says

The Joint Investigative Team tasked with investigating the June 17 clashes between police and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party activists in Model Town, Lahore -- which left at least eleven PAT members dead -- issued an initial report on Friday, revealing that the Superintendant of Police, Sulaiman Ali Khan, had ordered police to shoot at the protesters' legs (ET, Dawn).  Elite Force in-charge Abdur Rauf said in a statement that the force members had reservations about carrying out the order, but that Station House Officer Shaikh Amir Saleem had Khan issue the order again.  On Wednesday, Saleem and eight other members of the Elite Police Force were taken into custody for questioning about the incident.

President signs new terror bill

Pakistani president Mamnoon Hussain signed a new anti-terror bill -- the Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014 -- into law on Friday (ET).  The law doubles the maximum sentence for terrorism offenses to 20 years and increases the amount of time that security forces can hold suspects without charging them or disclosing where they are to 60 days.  The law, which will remain in force for two years, received criticism from Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan for being repressive.

Sindh police release sketch of airport attack mastermind

On Friday, the Sindh police released a sketch of the alleged mastermind of the June 8 attack on Karachi's Jinnah International Airport (Dawn).  The sketch was based on statements from witnesses, including the owner of a mobile franchise in Nawabshah town, where the attackers allegedly obtained their SIM cards.  Pakistani military sources had previously named the man as Abu Abdul Rehman al Maani, claiming that he was killed in airstrikes in North Waziristan on June 15.

­--David Sterman

Edited by Peter Bergen

JIM BOURG/AFP/Getty Images