The South Asia Channel

Afghan Police Chiefs Defend U.S. Drones; U.N. Climate Change Head Quits After Sexual Harassment Allegation; Afghan Refugees Pour Out of Pakistan

Afghan Police Chiefs Defend U.S. Drones; U.N. Climate Change Head Quits After Sexual Harassment Allegation; Afghan Refugees Pour Out of Pakistan

Afghanistan

Afghan police chiefs defend U.S. drones

Several Afghan police chiefs have defended the use of U.S. drones in Afghanistan (TOLO News). On Monday, Fazel Ahmad Sherzad, the police chief of Nangarhar province, told TOLO News that more than 17 drone strikes were conducted in parts of the province over the past two months, killing 69 militants and wounding 11 others, while not leaving a single civilian casualty. He added: “Drone attacks have been effective in curbing the militants.” In Kunar province, over the last year, over 50 drone strikes have killed 150 militants and wounded an additional 58, according to the provincial police chief, Habib Saidkhaili, who added: “The attacks conducted by drones have been effective in the province.”

Passengers on bus in Zabul taken hostage

On Monday, a bus with 30 passengers onboard was traveling on the Kabul-Kandahar highway in Shah Joy district of Zabul province when it was stopped by masked gunmen (TOLO News, Pajhwok). The passengers — believed to be Afghan refugees returning from Iran — were separated and the men were taken to another district, leaving the women and children behind. District Governor Abdul Khaliq Ayoubi blamed the Taliban, however, the Taliban have yet to comment on the incident.

— Courtney Schuster

India

Bonus Read: “Old India’s Village of Warriors Becomes Birthplace of Bouncers,” by Ellen Barry (NYT).

U.N. climate change head quits after sexual harassment allegation

Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has stepped down amid sexual harassment allegations, according to news reports on Tuesday (WSJ, NDTV, BBC, Indian Express). Pachauri, 74, is also the chief of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a New Delhi-based research institute focused in the areas of energy and the environment. A 29-year-old woman working with Pachauri at TERI, accused him of sexual harassment and submitted numerous text messages and emails as evidence. While Pachauri has denied the charges, the Indian police are investigating the matter. The IPCC released a statement announcing that vice-president Ismail El Gizouli will take over as acting director.

Hindu leader claims Mother Teresa’s motive was conversion

Mohan Bhagwat, the head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — a Hindu nationalist organization from which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) draws its ideological roots  — stated that Mother Teresa’s objective behind her service to the poor was to convert them to Christianity, at the inauguration of an orphanage in Bharatpur, a town located in the western state of Rajasthan, on Monday (BBC, WSJ). Speaking at the orphanage, Bhagwat said: “Here we will not provide service like that rendered by Mother Teresa. It is possible that her kind of work was good but there was a motive behind that service. It was to convert those she served to Christianity” (Indian Express).

Bhagwat’s comments caused an uproar in India, with opposition parties demanding an apology from the BJP in the parliament session on Tuesday. New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that Mother Teresa “was a noble soul,” and further asked people to “spare her” (NDTV). Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her service in the slums of Kolkata city, located in eastern India, where she ran homes for people suffering from leprosy and tuberculosis among other diseases.

Martin Scorsese’s foundation to preserve old Indian cinema

The Film Foundation — Hollywood director Martin Scorsese’s nonprofit organization — and a film restoration laboratory based in Italy have teamed with the Mumbai-based Film Heritage Foundation to launch India’s first film restoration school, according to news reports on Monday (Economic Times). Leading international experts will give lectures, presentations, and practical classes on film preservation and restoration at the school, which opened on Sunday. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, founder of the Film Heritage Foundation, said: “We have lost a colossal amount of our film heritage and we continue to lose some everyday” (WSJ). Although India makes around 2,000 films in 32 languages every year, the film industry doesn’t have a culture of preservation.

— Neeli Shah

Pakistan

Afghan refugees pour out of Pakistan

Pakistan — home to nearly 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees and hundreds of thousands more who are unregistered — is seeing a mass exodus of Afghan refugees (NYT). At the Torkham border crossing in northwest Pakistan, border officials report that more than 33,000 undocumented Afghans returned to Pakistan within the first six weeks of 2015 — a number greater than 2014 totals. Following the December school attack in Peshawar, Afghan families have said that hostility towards them has risen with many reporting police raids on their homes and relatives taken to jail only to be released after paying bribes. Afghans fleeing to Afghanistan — many of whom who have never even lived in the country — have said they either felt forced into leaving or they left out of concern for their safety.

Pakistan has denied that a government-sponsored roundup exists, and it is not clear if these recent acts are the result of a greater government policy or merely the actions of local officials. However, a spokeswoman for Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Tasnim Aslam Khan, said at a recent news briefing that the registered refugees are scheduled to leave Pakistan by the end of this year, and: “[Pakistan] would like to see them return to their country in dignity and on voluntary basis.”

Pakistan creates cellphone user fingerprint program

Pakistan is now requiring cellphone users to verify their identities through fingerprints for a new national database or else their service will be shut off (Post). The program — one of the world’s largest efforts to collect fingerprint data — is Pakistan’s latest and most visible step in response to the Peshawar school attack where six militants coordinated the attack using cellphones all registered to one woman unconnected to the attackers. Officials have said that within the past six weeks, 53 million SIM cards belonging to 38 million people have been verified through fingerprints and an estimated 50 million more SIM cards remain.

The program has been a burden on many residents who must wait in line at retail stores for hours in order to register. Abid Ali Shah, a taxi driver said: “I spend all day working and sometimes have to work till late in the night. I cannot afford to stand in line for hours to have my SIM verified but if I don’t do it, my phone is my only source of communication that I have to remain in touch with my family.”

A commander in the Peshawar attack arrested

The Pakistani military has arrested Taj Muhammed, allegedly one of the commanders behind the Taliban’s December attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, at a camp for internally displaced people in Peshawar on Monday (BBC, ET, Dawn). Pakistan believes that 27 militants were involved in the attack — nine were killed at the school and 12 others have been arrested.

–Courtney Schuster

Edited by Peter Bergen

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