The South Asia Channel

Pakistan Bans Assemblies; U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel in India; Kerry, Karzai Call for Speedy Afghan Election Result

Pakistan

Pakistan bans assemblies

The Pakistani government imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in Islamabad, on Friday effectively banning political gatherings of more than four people as well as the carrying of weapons (ET, Dawn). The deputy commissioner for the city announced the imposition and stated that it would last for two months. The use of Section 144 follows escalating tensions surrounding the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party's planned march on August 14 to call for the government's resignation

The Express Tribune also reported on Friday that the government is deploying its paramilitary force, the rangers, to Lahore ahead of the PTI's march under Article 245 of the Pakistani constitution (ET). Five companies of rangers will be deployed to guard government buildings. The deployment follows a clash on Thursday between members of the Pakistan Amawi Tehreek and police that injured three police officers.

As Pakistan continues to call up military and paramilitary forces ahead of the August 14 march, Human Rights Watch issued a critical statement regarding the policy (HRW). Brad Adams, the organization's Asia Director stated: "Opposition leaders need to take steps to ensure that their protests are peaceful." He added that: "At the same time, the government and army need to ensure that article 245 is not used to suppress peaceful protests and other basic rights. Those arrested who have not been charged with a credible offense should be released."

First polio case in Punjab reported

On Thursday, Pakistan's National Institute of Health confirmed that Punjab province had reported its first polio case in 2014 (ET). A 35-month-old girl named Noorul Huda was diagnosed with the virus. So far this year, 108 polio cases have been reported across Pakistan. Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, the national manager for the World Health Organization's Expanded Programme on Immunization called the appearance of polio in Punjab, a relatively low risk area worrisome, telling the Express Tribune: "Now the government should include the relatively low-risk areas in its priority list along with high-risk zones as there is no idea where a child gets infected with the disease."

--David Sterman

India

U.S. Defense Secretary in India to boost India-U.S. strategic ties

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in India on Thursday for an official three-day visit and will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defense Minister Arun Jaitley, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday (NDTV, Economic Times, Hindustan Times, WSJ). Hagel's visit follows recent trips by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a briefing last week: "Secretary Hagel's meetings will focus on the United States' and India's converging interests in the Asia Pacific, our common interests in Afghanistan and initiatives to strengthen our defense cooperation, including military exercises, defense, trade, co-production and co-development and research."

On his way to India, Hagel said: "Our interests are varied and common - stability, security, economics, possibilities, freedom... I'll be there, working, yes, our specific issues, but it's larger ... than that" (Business Standard). At the top of Hagel's agenda are defense deals regarding Chinook heavy-lift choppers and Apache attack helicopters. According to IHS Jane's, a defense publisher, India is presently the largest defense export market for the United States after importing $1.9 billion worth of U.S. military hardware in 2013.

BSF Jawan treated well by Pakistan, happy to return home

An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) jawan (soldier), who was captured by Pakistani troops on Wednesday when he was swept across the border by a strong current ?in the Chenab river, said on Friday that he had been treated well in Pakistan, and was happy to go home (Indian Express, NDTV, Times of India). The jawan, Satyasheel Yadav, was patrolling the Chenab river along the border when his boat started drifting towards Pakistan. Though everyone on the boat swam to safety, Yadav, who does not know how to swim, stayed on board and was captured. The arrest followed a series of clashes along the Indian-Pakistan border, including a July 21 exchange of fire that killed one person, and a July 16 firing that injured two Pakistani soldiers. Hours before his release on Friday, the 30-year-old Yadav said: "They took my introduction. They helped me to the extent they could. They kept me better than what I had thought. I have no complaints. I am happy." The BSF guards India's international borders.

Celebrity parliamentarians criticized for poor attendance

India's cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and film actor Rekha created an uproar in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament) on Friday because of their poor attendance (BBC, NDTV, Hindustan Times). When other members of parliament (MPs) raised the issue, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P. J. Kurien said that only after MPs have remained absent for at least 60 days, can action can be taken. Kurien said further: "Both Sachin and Rekha are yet to cross that threshold. No violation of the Constitution has occurred."

According to a study by PRS Legislative Research -- a nonpartisan research institute -- Tendulkar has not attended any parliament session this year, and attended only three sessions last year. Tendulkar has a mere three percent attendance rate among the MPs, compared to an average of 77 percent. The Congress Party, which nominated Tendulkar and Rekha to the Rajya Sabha, said they had spoken to both members. According to Congress leader Rajeev Shukla: "They should attend Parliament more frequently, but Sachin and Rekha have not taken a single MP privilege. Next week, Rekha is coming."

Javed Akhtar, a poet-lyricist and Rajya Sabha member said: "This is a privilege, a responsibility. It is not a good practice, they should attend the House proceedings. Membership of Parliament is not a trophy, Sachin should come to Parliament." Bharatiya Janata Party leader and MP Tarun Vijay said: "The Parliament is an apex body where laws are passed, where discussions are held on issues related to the country's development. But we have not got to know his (Sachin's) views on these matters. We have lot of respect for him and expect that the benefit of his ideas should reach people through Parliament."

-- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan

Afghanistan

Bonus Read: "The Deadliest ‘Inside Attack' is Political," Ioannis Koskinas (South Asia)

Kerry and Karzai call for speedy election result

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday as part of his visit to Kabul and both men called for a speedy election result (Pajhwok, Pajhwok). Karzai warned in a statement that a delay would have economic and security consequences, while a source close to the talks said Kerry emphasized the need for a quick resolution. Kerry's meeting with Karzai followed his unannounced arrival in the country, and a meeting with Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah -- the two presidential candidates.

Taliban infighting kills Taliban commander

On Friday, a Taliban commander and two other militants were killed in Ghazni province, the result of infighting among the group's various factions (Pajhwok). According to Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the deputy provincial governor, the fighting began in the morning and left Taliban commander Mullah Izzatullah dead. It is not known what led to the violence, but an area resident told Pajhwok Afghan News that a verbal dispute preceded the fighting.

239 Taliban militants killed in past week

According to a report published by TOLO News on Friday, Afghan military operations in Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces have killed 239 militants in the past week (TOLO News). Gen. Abdul Razaq, the Kandahar police chief, stated: "This operation will not stop in Zharai, Maiwand and Panjwaye districts, it will be continued and they will be killed everywhere." Raziq also noted that: "I have ordered all my officers to not let Taliban live anymore, kill them by any means." Attaullah Luddin, the governor of Nangarhar province called the operation a success so far, stating: "Security forces in this province have enough artillery and air support and will not require additional support from the capital of the province."

--David Sterman

Edited by Peter Bergen

AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images