The South Asia Channel
Pakistan Issues Warrants Over Polio Vaccination Refusals; India’s Budget Intended to Boost Growth; Avalanches Continue in Afghanistan
The South Asia Daily Brief for Monday, March 2, 2015.
Event notice: “Asia’s Unsung Female Leaders,” Today, 12:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. (New America)
Pakistani officials issue warrants over polio vaccination refusals
In an effort to end Pakistan’s polio crisis, police officials in the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa said Friday that they had issued hundreds of arrest warrants for parents who had refused to vaccinate their children (NYT). Riaz Khan Mahsud, the deputy police commissioner for Peshawar, the provincial capital, told the New York Times that they had 13,000 to 16,000 refusal cases and that issuing warrants was the result of “total determination on our part” to end the crisis. Mashud added that: “We shall convince parents of the good of vaccinating their children, but if they refuse, we shall detain them. There is no leniency.” In 2014, 306 new polio cases were reported in Pakistan, breaking the country’s previous record high of 199 new cases in 2000. So far in 2015, there have been 13 new cases of polio in Pakistan — 11 of them in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or the tribal regions.
Helpline to be reopened
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is reopening a public helpline so that he can directly listen to the complaints of the people, Parliamentary Secretary of Interior Maryam Aurangzeb told Radio Pakistan on Monday (RadioPakistan). Aurangzeb answered a number of questions during a radio address on Monday, during which she stated that the implementation of the National Action Plan to counter terrorism is the first priority of the government and that Sharif is overseeing the progress of that directly (Dawn). She also said that the registration of Afghan refuges is being streamlined.
YouTube accessible for some due to glitch
YouTube, the largest video-sharing site in the world, has been available to some online users in Pakistan since Saturday due to a technical glitch in the coutnry’s blocking mechanism (AsiaOne, NewsTribe). The website has been blocked for all internet users in Pakistan since 2012, after the website refused the Pakistani government’s request to block certain content it deemed blasphemous. Although the glitch only affects certain internet service providers, Anusha Rehman, the minister of state for information technology, said that the technical fault will be fixed soon.
India’s budget intended to boost growth
The Indian government presented the country’s annual budget, which aims to boost growth, infrastructure, and investment in the Indian economy, to Parliament on Saturday (NYT, Livemint). Finance Minister Arun Jaitley introduced a universal social security scheme in the budget and proposed significant benefits for the poor. The $288 billion budget also includes a corporate tax cut reduction from 30 percent to 25 percent for the next four years. Other major announcements included replacing the wealth tax with an additional surcharge on taxpayers earning higher income, building five “ultra mega” power projects of 4,000 megawatts, and increasing infrastructure spending by $11.3 billion.
During his speech in New Delhi, Jaitley said: “We have turned around the economy, dramatically restoring macroeconomic stability and creating the conditions for sustainable poverty elimination, job creation, durable double digit economic growth” (BBC). Talking about infrastructure, Jaitley said: “It is no secret that the major slippage in the last decade has been on the infrastructure front. Our infrastructure does not match our growth ambitions. There is a pressing need to increase public investment” (Indian Express).
In response to the budget, P. Chidambaram, India’s former finance minister and a current leader in the opposition Congress party, said: “One cannot avoid the feeling that the budget leans heavily in favour of the corporate sector and the class that pays income tax… What is the government’s leaning. Does it lean towards the poor? The answer appears to be no. It says when growth happens you will get the benefit, but until then fend for yourself” (The Hindu). To read the full text of the budget, click here.
BJP forms coalition in Jammu and Kashmir
India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), formed a coalition government in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) with the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over the weekend, and PDP leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was sworn in as J&K chief minister on Sunday (Times of India, WSJ). Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the ceremony, where the BJP’s Nirmal Singh was sworn in as the deputy chief minister. Modi tweeted: “PDP-BJP govt is a historic opportunity to fulfil the aspirations of the people of J&K and take the State to new heights of progress.”
The move marks the first time the BJP has formed a government in J&K, which is India’s only majority Muslim state. However, both the BJP and PDP share different ideologies and have opposing views on important issues, including the state’s special autonomous status and the presence of Indian armed forces in J&K. Talking about the coalition, Congress party leader Shashi Tharoor said on Monday: “[The BJP-PDP alliance] clearly seems to be an unnatural marriage because most of those who have voted for the PDP voted to stop the BJP” (DNA).
Ola acquires competitor TaxiForSure for $200 million
Ola, India’s taxi booking service, which operates in 67 cities with around 100,000 vehicles, bought TaxiForSure, a rival company that works in 47 cities with over 15,000 cars, for $200 million, according to news reports on Monday (WSJ, Livemint, Economic Times, Reuters). Both companies are among India’s largest web-based taxi booking services, and this acquisition makes Ola a strong contender against rivals like U.S.-based-Uber Technologies Inc. and Meru Cabs. The company will retain all of TaxiForSure’s employees, and they will continue to operate as separate entities. This deal is one of the biggest in India’s startup industry after Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce company, acquired Myntra, an online fashion retailer, for approximately $300 million in 2014.
Panjshir Valley hit with more avalanches
More avalanches hit Afghanistan’s Panjshir valley over the weekend, completely closing off areas that were already hard to access. President Ashraf Ghani said on Saturday that at least 286 people died throughout the country in recent days due to snow or flooding (BBC). The majority of those deaths have occurred in the Panjshir valley, where it is feared that people remain trapped in the snow, and officials say the worst-hit place, the district of Paryan, remains totally unreachable (Pahjwok). Relief efforts are ongoing; with bulldozers opening a long stretch of the valley and the air force is dropping food parcels to those who are still marooned. Ghani cancelled a trip to Iran because of the situation, calling it a national tragedy. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered to extend relief and rescue operations on Sunday (Pajhwok, EconomicTimes).
Mafia boss hanged in Kabul
Raees Khudaidad, a notorious mafia boss in Afghanistan, was hanged on Saturday at Kabul’s Pol-e Charkhi prison (TOLO News, RFE/RL). Khudaidad was arrested in September 2014 and convicted of a number of crimes, including multiple counts of murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery. He was one of the country’smost-wanted criminals for ten years, according to the Afghan National Directorate of Security. This was the first execution to be carried out under the National Unity Government.
— Emily Schneider and Neeli Shah
Edited by Peter Bergen
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Emily Schneider is a program associate in the International Security Program at New America. She is also an assistant editor of the South Asia channel. @emilydsch