The South Asia Channel

Anti-Sharif Protests Continue in Islamabad; Sup. Ct: Coal Block Allocations Illegal in India; Karzai Firm on Inauguration Date

Bonus Read: "Fishermen Cross an Imperceptible Line Into Enemy Waters," Saba Imtiaz (NYT).


Anti-Sharif protests continue

Pakistani politician Imran Khan addressed supporters late on Sunday in Islamabad, as anti-government protests continued in the capital city (RFE/RL). Khan said he would announce the Pakistan tehreek-e-Insaaf party's next move if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not resign within 24 hours. Khan gave Sharif a 48-hour deadline to resign last week, but backtracked after negotiations with the government began. But the latest round of talks between the government and Khan's party, which ended on Saturday, failed to produce any results. Khan and populist cleric Tahir al-Qadri have led thousands of supporters in demonstrations in Islamabad since August 15, calling for Sharif to step down and claiming that the 2013 elections were rigged.

New polio drive launched

Pakistan launched a new polio drive on Monday in an effort to vaccinate more than 700,000 children in the tribal belt against polio (Dawn). The drive will take place over four days and focus on children in tribal regions, but Ikhtiar Ali, a senior polio campaign official, told AFP that around 280,000 children would miss out on the vaccine due to security problems. North Waziristan, South Waziristan, and some areas of the Khyber tribal district are all too dangerous for polio workers to enter because of threats from militants. A total of 117 cases of polio have been recorded so far in Pakistan this year, 85 of them were in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Setting up shop amid protests

Pakistani barbers, Mohammad Akram and Gulam Shabbir, joined protestors in Islamabad for the anti-government rallies, but soon noticed their fellow protestors were looking a little disheveled (Dawn).  As a result, the two barbers set up shop on Constitution Avenue a few days ago, and have had a booming business ever since. Akram, whose shop at home in Sargodha remains closed since he left to join the protest fifteen days ago, has served over 150 customers so far. "I'm not offering my services for money. I'm charging only Rs. 20 (20 cents) for a shave and Rs. 30 (30 cents) for a haircut. For those who cannot afford, the service was free," he said.

-- Emily Schneider


Supreme Court: Coal block allocations illegal 

India's Supreme Court stated on Monday that the government had illegally assigned coal mining rights to private companies from 1993 to 2010 (NDTV, Livemint, Indian Express). A three-judge special bench comprising Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Madan B. Lokur, and Kurian Joseph said the government's allocation process suffered from "vice of arbitrariness," and lacked transparency in the absence of a competitive bidding system. The court has been monitoring a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry since 2012, which has probed into alleged irregular allocations of 194 coal blocks over the 17 years. The court is set to decide how mining rights will be reassigned starting September 1, 2014. Although India is the world's third-largest coal producer -- after China and the United States -- the country has not been able to meet consumer demands for electricity.

Pakistani troops shell Indian posts; civilians and militants killed

Pakistani troops targeted at least 25 Border Security Force (BSF) posts in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on Saturday, forcing the Indian side to retaliate (Livemint, NDTV, The Telegraph). The day before, two civilians were killed as Pakistani troops targeted 22 BSF posts and several villages along the international border. After Indian and Pakistani forces fired on each other along the Line of Control (LoC), four civilians were killed on the Indian side of the border on Sunday. Due to the numerous ceasefire violations, over 8,000 people in the Jammu area have been evacuated from villages near the border. Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley condemned the Friday incident and said: "Our army is prepared to respond to each violation. The country has full faith that they (army) are effectively protecting both the territory and the national interest." 

The Pakistani media reported that three people were killed and 11 injured in "unprovoked firing" by Indian troops on Sunday, while the BSF claims that Pakistani troops were firing to give cover to the militants trying to infiltrate into India. Four militants and one soldier were killed by the Indian army in a gunfight near the LoC in the Kupwara district in north Kashmir on Sunday (NDTV, Livemint). According to news reports, a group of six militants had recently infiltrated the Kashmir Valley from across the LoC -- a military boundary between the Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir. The BSF guards the international border in J&K, while the Indian army guards the LoC.

India's Mars Orbiter Mission thirty days away

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), in preparation for its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) -- set to enter the planet's orbit within a month's time -- activated Delta DOR, an interplanetary navigation technique, on Sunday to check the spacecraft's position on a daily basis (Livemint, Times of India, Hindustan Times). ISRO's first Mars mission will enter the planet's orbit to observe the physical features of MARS and conduct a limited study of the atmosphere. ISRO's Facebook page on Saturday said: "33 days to Mars. MOM is just 9 million km away from Mars and 189 million kms away from the Earth." Launched on November 5, 2013 aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV C25), the Mars Orbiter will complete its 300-day journey on September 24, 2014. 

India's wettest state plans to go dry

India's southern state of Kerala, which has the country's highest alcohol consumption per capita, is moving to totally ban alcohol within 10 years, according to news reports on Friday (BBC, NDTV, Deccan Chronicle). The Congress party-led United Democratic Front government in Kerala proposed to make the state alcohol-free in 10 years after a long meeting at the chief minister's official residence on Thursday. The government is also considering a proposal to turn Sundays into dry days, and permit only luxury hotels to serve alcohol starting next year.

Around 400 stand-alone bars that lost their licenses in the last year cannot petition for renewal -- as they did not meet basic standards -- and another 300 bars whose licenses expire next year will not get extensions. Tourism revenue totaled about $3.8 billion in Kerala last year, and tourism officials are concerned that the alcohol prohibition might impact the most successful industry in a state that markets itself as "God's Own Country." In response to the new policy, the secretary of the Association Of Tourism Trade Organizations India, V. Sreekumara Menon, said: "How are we going to compete with Sri Lanka and Thailand?"

-- Jameel Khan and Neeli Shah


Afghanistan concerned about U.S. releasing Pakistani prisoners

On Saturday, the Karzai administration asked the United States for an explanation regarding the release of nine Pakistanis from the Bagram prison in central Parwan province last week (Pajhwok). The nine detainees were released as part of the effort to repatriate detainees ahead of the U.S. and international force withdrawal at the end of the year (AFP). Presidential spokesman Aimal faizi said he didn't know how the United States would guarantee that the released men would not return to the battlefield or fight against Afghanistan in the future. However, Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that the detainees, who met the criteria for internment under the Law of Armed Conflict, were transferred to Pakistani custody with appropriate security assurances. Although Afghan authorities took over the detention facility for militants in 2013, the United States has remained in charge of the foreigners detained there. There are believed to be around fifteen Pakistanis still in custody.

Karzai confirms inauguration date

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his successor would take office on September 2 (RFE/RL). In a statement released on Saturday, Karzai said that the Afghan government is "totally ready for the inauguration ceremony of the new president" on September 2 and that the date would not change, despite the ongoing vote audit process following the June 14 election. The election commission says that more than 60 percent of the votes have now been audited.

--Emily Schneider

Edited by Peter Bergen