The South Asia Channel

BJP Falls Short in Delhi Elections; China Appoints Special Envoy to Afghanistan; Eight Pakistani Frontier Constables Killed

India

Delhi Elections: BJP falls short of seats to form government

India's Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) is five seats short of forming a government in Delhi's local elections, BJP's Delhi unit chief Satish Upadhyay said on Thursday (Economic Times, Indian Express, Hindustan Times). Upadhyay denied reports that his party was trying to sway Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) from other parties like Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Earlier this week, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal accused the BJP of "buying" its MLAs and "horse trading." Home Minister Rajnath Singh said: "We have never indulged in horse-trading. I can confidently say the BJP won't indulge in such practices."

The Times of India reports that the BJP is waiting for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to decide whether the BJP should form a government in Delhi with potential Congress defectors (Times of India). There were rumors that a few Congress leaders were considering joining the BJP. A Congress spokesperson said Congress MLAs assured him that they were "dedicated and loyal party soldiers" and "conveyed their unflinching loyalty to party Congress President Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi."

To form a government in Delhi, the BJP requires five more seats. Delhi has been under the President's rule after AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal quit as chief minister on February 14, when he alleged the BJP and Congress were blocking the introduction and passage of the Jan Lokpal, an anti-corruption bill.

Health Minister: Government's duty to protect LGBT rights

Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said it is the responsibility of the government to protect the rights of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community at an event on Thursday in Delhi (Times of India, Hindustan Times, Business Standard). Vardhan said: "Everybody, including gays, have human rights. It is the job of the government to protect their rights." Vardhan's comment created a stir because his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had supported the Supreme Court's judgment last year which criminalized sexual activities among homosexuals. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes sexual activities "against the order of nature," including homosexual acts. The Supreme Court is presently hearing a curative petition on this matter.

Senior BJP leaders have expressed different opinions over the issue. Rajnath Singh, the party president and now home minister, had termed gay sex as "unnatural." Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had taken a more liberal position, stating he supported decriminalizing gay sex. Ram Madhav, spokesman for the right-wing group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), said while he did not support certain kinds of behaviour covered by Section 377, it was debatable whether they should be considered a crime. The RSS is a Hindu nationalist organization from which the BJP draws its ideological roots. Vardhan was recently in the news for saying that sex education in schools should be banned, and fidelity in marriages would be more effective than condoms to prevent AIDS (Times of India).  

Indian club favors western attire; causes uproar

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa on Wednesday said she would enact a law to stop private clubs from enforcing strict dress codes after the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association Club (TNCA), a posh English-style cricket club, denied entry to a high court judge because he was wearing a dhoti, a traditional Indian wraparound garment (NYT, Hindustan Times, Economic Times). Justice D. Hariparanthaman and two lawyers, all guests at a book release function held at the club, were barred from entering TNCA for wearing a dhoti on July 11. Jayalalithaa condemned the "sartorial despotism" and said at the state legislative assembly: "What is this club for us, when we have intimidated the English government?"

The Madras High Court on Wednesday said that a public interest litigation on the dhoti issue could not be entertained as no constitutional provision had been violated. Acting Chief Justice Satish K. Agnihotri said: "It is a private club and we cannot force them to change rules." The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress supported Jayalalithaa's decision to enact such a law (NDTV). "It is a welcome decision. It is an irony that a law has to be made to allow dhoti clad people in clubs. It is an outdated law made during British time," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu told reporters outside the Parliament. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said clubs "do not have the right to restrict people as it is disrespectful of social traditions."

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Afghanistan

Bonus Read: "Terror Group Back on the Offensive in Afghanistan," Carlotta Gall (NYT)

China appoints special envoy for Afghanistan

China's foreign ministry announced the appointment of a special envoy to Afghanistan on Friday (Reuters). The new position will be filled by Sun Yuxi, a former ambassador to both Afghanistan and India. A foreign ministry statement said: "China and Afghanistan are traditional friendly neighbors. China pays great attention to developments in Afghanistan and is committed to deepening both countries' strategic partnership, and so decided to appoint a special envoy."  Reportedly the appointment is partly motivated by fears of a Taliban revival after the withdrawal of American forces.

TAPI pipeline agreement signed

Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Turkmenistan signed an operational agreement on Friday regarding the 700 kilometer Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline (Pajhwok, Dawn). According to a preliminary division, Pakistan and India would each get 42 percent of the gas imported from Turkmenistan and Afghanistan would receive the remaining 16 percent.  The United States has strongly supported the TAPI pipeline as an alternative to a Iran-Pakistan pipeline that would complicate diplomatic efforts on Iran's nuclear program by providing Iran with a level of relief from sanctions.

Mixed responses to war in Gaza

As Israel prepares for a ground war in Gaza, Afghans have expressed a mixed response to the war there. On Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office announced the provision of $500,000 for humanitarian assistance to Gaza, and on Friday, dozens of people rallied in Kabul against Israel's actions in Gaza (Pajhwok). However, some residents in the Parwan and Kapisa provinces who were interviewed by Pajhwok Afghan News expressed opposition to the provision of funds to Gaza saying they were needed in Afghanistan itself (Pajhwok). Faiq Wahidi, the deputy presidential spokesman, rejected that the aid was motivated by anything other than humanitarian objectives and denied that the policy ignored Afghans.

Pakistan

Eight Frontier Constabulary personnel killed in Jamrud

An attack in Jamrud in the Khyber Agency killed eight members of Pakistan's Frontier Constabulary and injured two others on Friday morning (ET, Dawn). According to security officials, four attackers were killed and three were arrested while about a dozen were able to escape.

U.S. citizen briefly detained for carrying weapon

William Jones, a U.S. citizen and security trainer for the American embassy in Islamabad, was detained at the city's airport late Thursday for carrying a pistol and bullets (ET, Dawn). Jones was released, on Friday, after a senior embassy official paid his bail. In a similar incident on May 5, Joel Cox, an FBI agent, was arrested at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, but the case against him was later dismissed.

Pakistan heightens security for Yaum-i-Ali

Pakistan is heightening security measures surrounding the religious processions expected during Yaum-i-Ali, the death anniversary of Hazrat Ali -- the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law -- on Sunday (Dawn). Residents are expecting cell phone service to be suspended in Peshawar, a security measure that Karachi is also considering. In Lahore, the paramilitary Sindh Rangers are expected to be deployed throughout the city to provide security. The heightened measures are in response to the fact that processions during Yaum-i-Ali have been a target of violence in the past.

--David Sterman

Edited by Peter Bergen

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