Afghan Election Audit Will Take Two More Weeks; Sharif Asks Army For Help In Islamabad; Modi Combats 'Financial Untouchability'
Editors Note: The South Asia Channel will not be publishing a daily brief on Monday, September 1, 2014 in honor of Labor Day. We will resume the normal publishing schedule on Tuesday, September 2, 2014.
Bonus Read: "The death list that names 5,000 victims," David Loyn (BBC).
Bonus Read: "Afghanistan's Troubled Economy," Shehzad H. Qazi and Erika Schaefer (SouthAsia).
Afghan election audit will take two more weeks
The United Nations said Thursday that the recount of ballots in Afghanistan's disputed presidential election will take two more weeks (Post). Jan Kubis, the U.N. special representative to Afghanistan, told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that it will take international observers at least until September 10 to review the more than 8 million ballots that were cast in the June run-off election. Karzai has insisted that he would be leaving office Tuesday, September 2, but the dispute between candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah over the run-off remains unresolved and the audit, which is part of the U.S.-brokered agreement to address allegations of fraud by Abdullah, is taking longer than hoped. The delay also means that Afghanistan's next president will not be able to attend the NATO summit in Wales during the first week of September, where the country's future will be discussed.
Minaret in danger of collapse
One of Afghanistan's architectural marvels, the minaret of Jam in Ghor province, is in danger of collapse (BBC). The 213-foot monument is thought to be the world's second-tallest brick minaret and is on the U.N. list of world heritage sites that are in danger. Officials say that the biggest threat to the minaret is its position in a river valley among high mountains, where frequent flooding causes damage to its base. No extensive renovation work has taken place since the minaret was built in 1194, and officials say there is not enough money to protect it now. The site used to be a favorite destination among international tourists, but it is now rarely visited due to security threats in the region.
Sharif asks Army for help in ending political crisis
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif requested on Thursday that the country's army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif (no relation), help defuse the country's two-week-old political standoff that has crippled the government and the capital for the past two weeks (NYT). The two met at the minister's house in Islamabad, their second meeting in three days, and "agreed to take necessary for resumption of the stalled process of negotiations," according to the prime minister's spokesman. Imran Khan, a politician leading one of the two protests, told his supporters he was delaying his next plan of action for 24 hours to allow Gen. Sharif time to mediate the situation; he then left the protest site to meet with the army chief. Khan and his followers are calling for the prime minister to resign over allegations of fraud in last year's election.
Sharif named as suspect in murder case
The prime minister was also named as a suspect in a murder case on Thursday, which might have prompted him to call on the army for help in ending the crisis (BBC). Opposition cleric Tahir al-Qadri demanded that Sharif face murder charges in relation to the killing of 14 demonstrators near Lahore in June. He also asked that a terrorism probe into the incident be opened. The complaint was filed with police, but it's unlikely that Sharif will be arrested or appear in court; the officers will need to find incriminating evidence before pursuing the case any further.
PM launches scheme to combat "financial untouchability"
In a landmark initiative to give India's poor "renewed strength to fight poverty," Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Jan Dhan Yojana program on Thursday to provide a bank account for every household in India (BBC, Livemint). After launching the program, Modi said: "If crores [millions] of Indians are outside the ambit of organised financial services because they do not have a bank account even after 68 years of independence, I call it financial untouchability. [Mahatma] Gandhiji ended social untouchability, it is our mission to eradicate this kind of untouchability now to fight poverty" (Indian Express).
Account holders under this plan will receive a "RuPay" debit card, $1,654 in accidental insurance, and $496 in medical insurance. Modi announced the initiative during his first Independence Day speech on August 15, and the government hopes to cover more than 75 million households by January 26, 2015, when India celebrates Republic Day, the day the Indian constitution came into force. Approximately 40 percent of the Indian population has limited access to financial services.
Minority Affairs minister denies endorsing Indians as Hindus
Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla -- the only Muslim minister in Modi's cabinet -- created a controversy on Friday by reportedly calling all Indians "Hindus" (Indian Express). After a newspaper quoted Heptulla as saying: "If some people called Muslims Hindi or Hindu they should not be so sensitive because it doesn't affect their faith," Heptulla issued a clarification, and said: "I didn't say Hindu, I used the word Hindi. Hindi is an Arabic word. When people go from India to Gulf or Arab countries, they're known as Hindi. If they go to Iran, they are known as Hindustani. This is a national identity" (NDTV).
In response to Heptulla's comment, Congress party leader Manish Tewari said: "We respect Najmaji a lot but it would be better if she reads the Constitution. The Constitution mentions 'Bharat' and going by that every citizen of the country is a 'Bharatiya', and not Hindu" (Economic Times). Recently, Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh -- a Hindu nationalist organization from which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party draws its ideological roots -- had also stirred up controversy by stating that all Indians are Hindus.
Central government: difficult to block pornographic sites
India's central government informed the Supreme Court on Friday that it was struggling to block pornographic websites because the government has limited control over servers located overseas (IBNLive). At the hearing, R. M. Lodha, the chief justice of India, said: "Law, technology and governance have to be synthesised to control pornographic materials on the Internet" (NDTV). Earlier this year, Internet service providers had informed the Supreme Court that they cannot be held liable for objectionable content on such websites, because it is not possible for them to block pornographic sites without orders from the court and the government.
Last year, a public interest lawsuit was filed to block adult pornographic sites and ban child pornography in India. The suit stated that crimes against women were fueled by pornography, and referred to the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old Delhi student in 2012, alleging that the six men accused of raping and torturing her had watched pornography before the horrific assault.
--- Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan
Edited by Peter Bergen
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images