New Political Coalition Forms in India; Airstrikes Continue in Waziristan; Afghan Soldiers Warned of Kunar Attack
Eleven parties to jointly fight national polls
Eleven political parties (four left-wing, seven regional) officially joined hands on Tuesday to contest national elections in May, pitching themselves as alternatives to the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Dal parties (Mint, Times of India, NDTV). The announcement was made by Prakash Karat, secretary general of the Communist Party (Marxist), who was accompanied by prominent regional leaders, such as the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, Janata Dal United’s Nitish Kumar, Janata Dal Secular’s H.D. Deve Gowda. The group blamed the current Congress-led coalition for massive corruption and price increases, and warned that the BJP represented communal politics and was a threat to other secular parties. The group, which currently holds 17 percent of the seats in India’s lower house, is expected to pursue a secular agenda and largely left-wing economic policies.
However, third-front parties have previously been unable to secure full terms in the Indian parliament, in large part due to a struggle for leadership between regional heavyweights. While there has been speculation that All Indian Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalitha, may vie for the top spot, Karat announced that the issue of prime ministership would be settled after elections.
The Congress and the BJP seemed unfazed by the announcement, with Narendra Modi, the BJP front-runner, reportedly describing them as "third rate" and Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari calling the idea of third, fourth and fifth fronts "the most enduring mirage of Indian politics (FT).
Riots in Kashmir after seven killed
Hundreds of angry villagers clashed with police in Indian-held Kashmir on Tuesday following suspicions that seven people shot dead by security forces on Monday were civilians rather than militants (Guardian, BBC, Times of India). A day earlier, the army said it had killed seven suspected rebels in Dardpora, a village 87 miles from the main city of Srinagar, during a joint operation with police.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, who were demanding they hand over the bodies for identification and burial. The crowd torched a police station in the Kupwara region, close to the de facto border with Pakistan. Thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir since an anti-India uprising began in 1989.
India prepares for fight with U.S. at WTO
India has ordered its officials not to entertain requests from the United States International Trade Commission to examine its trade practices, as it prepares for a fight with the United States at the World Trade Organization (WTO), Reuters reported on Tuesday (Reuters). India’s trade ministry also "advised" U.S. Deputy Trade Representative Wendy Cutler to delay a planned visit to India in late March due to India’s approaching parliamentary election, a senior official told Reuters.
The U.S. trade commission has threatened trade sanctions over India’s intellectual property violations, preference for domestic producers, and non-trade barriers. On Wednesday, the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents about 50 U.S. business groups, asked the commission to designate India as a priority foreign country in its 2014 report — a move that would rank India among the worst violators of intellectual property rights and begin a process of adjudication. However, U.S. officials said putting India on the priority foreign countries list would further strain bilateral relations.
Earlier this month, the United States filed its second case at the WTO over domestic content requirements in India’s solar program.
Supreme Court mulls legalizing euthanasia
The Indian Supreme Court referred the matter of legalizing euthanasia for terminally ill persons on Tuesday to a five judge constitutional bench, the maximum number of judges allowed to deliberate on a case (NDTV, Times of India). Chief Justice P. Sathasivam said, "This is an important question involving legal and medical issues. For the benefit of humanity, we refer this to a Constitution bench." The move was in response to a petition from Common Cause, a nongovernmental organization, which pushed the court to equate the right to die with dignity with the right of liberty, a fundamental right in the Indian constitution. The central government, however, has previously expressed opposition to this view saying that a "doctor’s duty was to preserve life, not take it," and that any decisions on the case should rest with the executive branch, not the judiciary.
— Shruti Jagirdar and Ana Swanson
Airstrikes continue in Waziristan
Pakistan’s military launched another wave of airstrikes against suspected militant hideouts in North and South Waziristan on Tuesday, killing at least 30 Taliban fighters (AP, BBC, Dawn, ET). It is unclear how many civilians have died in the assaults. It is also impossible to verify these claims independently as the area is off limits to reporters.
According to multiple media outlets, the latest strikes occurred in the Shawal Valley and Datta Khel areas, reportedly home to the militant group’s training facilities. They were the fourth in a series of air assaults that have occurred since Feb. 20, after peace talks stalled between the government and Taliban peace committees (AFP, VOA). Fearing a full-scale military operation, thousands of local residents have fled the region for less volatile areas, such Bannu and Kohat (NYT, RFE/RL).
The strikes will likely continue as the government decided on Tuesday to carry out "surgical strikes…in response to all terrorist attacks, not just those targeting security forces" (ET). At a meeting to discuss the country’s Internal Security Policy, the federal cabinet also called for an unconditional ceasefire from the Taliban.
Ten wounded in suicide attack on Iranian consulate
At least 10 people were wounded in Peshawar on Monday when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside the Iranian Consulate, in a section of the city that houses foreign diplomatic missions and offices for nongovernmental organizations (ET, RFE/RL). According to a local police official, the attacker blew himself up when he was stopped at a checkpoint, killing two security guards. A Pakistani Taliban affiliate led by jihadist Mast Gul, claimed responsibility for the incident (Reuters). Iran condemned the bombing and its foreign ministry urged regional countries to combat the "spread of terror acts and extremism" (BBC).
Afghan soldiers had warning of attack in Kunar
As the Afghan soldiers who were killed in a Taliban attack on their base in Kunar province on Sunday were laid to rest, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security reported on Monday that they had actually received warnings from the Taliban about the attack and that they had been ignored. In a statement, the country’s spy service said it had warned provincial security forces and the governor’s office that 200 armed rebels were planning to attack military outposts in the area (Pajhwok). The BBC also reported that phone conversations between army soldiers and the militant fighters were intercepted about 20 days ago, lending some credibility to the speculation that the fighters had inside help (BBC).
Ahmad Sheikb, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, also said on Monday that the government is investigating the possibility of Pakistani involvement in the Kunar attack (TOLO News). However, he added that it was "too early to blame Pakistan for the attack yet." Pakistan’s Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, who is in Kabul on business, responded by condemning the attack and saying that Pakistan "was not involved in the incident."
Hundreds of Afghan soldiers were deployed to the region on Monday to reinforce the troops that are still in the province (Reuters). The Afghan army, police, and intelligence service have also conducted joint counterterrorism operations in nine different provinces since the Kunar attack, killing at least 76 insurgents and arresting nine others (TOLO News).
China increasingly focused on Afghanistan
As NATO combat forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, internal and external security concerns have prompted China to intensify its own efforts to stabilize the country; China has also increased its engagement with Pakistan. (VOA). According to regional analysts, Beijing is concerned that a prolonged conflict in Afghanistan could fuel unrest in its own western Xinjiang region, where a majority of the residents are Muslim.
Last Saturday, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi made a rare trip to Kabul and told reporters that: "Afghanistan has special and important influence. The peace and stability of this country has an impact on the security of Western China and more importantly it affects tranquility and development of the entire region." However, he added: "Afghanistan will have no future unless it overcomes political and ethnic divisions," and suggested that China could play a role in the reconciliation process with the Taliban.
Wickets for peace?
Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan provoked the ire of the Twitterverse on Monday when "he suggested the Taliban could swap their guns for cricket bats and offered to host a match with the militants to revive stalled peace talks" (NDTV). Speaking to reporters in Islamabad about the government’s peace efforts, Khan said: "I have information that the Taliban keep an interest in cricket. So if this message can go through to them, we can have a cricket match with them, which can have a better result." The reaction on Twitter was overwhelmingly negative, with users asking if the militants would "bowl with our soldiers heads?," and if Khan would invite the families of those who have been killed by the militants to attend.
— Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.