The South Asia Channel

RBI Lowers Interest Rate; HRW Report Says Afghan Officials Enjoyed Impunity; Jilani: Haqqani Ban May Be Coming

RBI Lowers Interest Rate; HRW Report Says Afghan Officials Enjoyed Impunity; Jilani: Haqqani Ban May Be Coming

India

Bonus Read: “Scientists have figured out what makes Indian food so delicious,” Roberto A. Ferdman (Post).

India cuts interest rate again

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) unexpectedly cut the key policy repo rate (the rate at which the RBI lends funds to commercial banks) by 25 basis points to 7.5 percent for the second time this year on Wednesday (BBC, Reuters). In response to the interest rate cut, which came ahead of the central bank’s scheduled monetary policy meeting in April, the benchmark BSE Sensex index rose to a record high of 30,010.91 and the rupee rose as much as 61.88 against the U.S. dollar, marking the rupee’s strongest gain since the beginning of February. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan said of the cut: “The still-weak state of certain sectors of the economy as well as the global trend towards easing suggest that any policy action should be anticipatory” (WSJ).

India comes in fourth on Forbes’ billionaire list

India is home to the fourth-largest number of billionaires in the world after the United States, China, and Germany, according to the 2015 Forbes Billionaires List (Economic Times, NDTV, The Hindu). Even though the number of Indian billionaires increased from 56, with a collective net worth of $191.5 billion, in 2014 to 90, with a total wealth of $294 billion, only five Indians made it onto the magazine’s list of the 100 wealthiest people in the world. A total of five Indian women also made it onto Forbes’ billionaire list this year.

Beef considered contraband in Maharashtra

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to Maharashtra’s Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995, which bans the slaughter of cows and the sale and consumption of beef in the western state, according to news reports on Tuesday (NDTV, Livemint, BBC). It took the bill 19 years to become law, and the state now considers beef products as contraband and prohibits the killing of bulls and bullocks. The new bill, however, does allow the slaughter of water buffaloes, animals considered to have inferior quality meat and that make up 25 percent of the total beef market in Maharashtra. India’s majority Hindu population reveres cows and many states ban or restrict the sale and consumption of beef.

After the bill’s passage, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted: “Thanks a lot honourable President sir for the assent on Maharashtra Animal Preservation Bill. Our dream of ban on cow-slaughter becomes reality now.” However, everyone is not happy about the beef ban. Mohammed Qureshi, the president of the Mumbai Suburban Beef Dealer Association, noted: “Apart from rendering people jobless, the immediate effect will be the spiralling price of other meats as people will be forced to gravitate to them” (Indian Express). The beef ban also resulted in outrage on Twitter, with one user tweeting: “In a one stroke @Dev_Fadnavis has opened up a black market economy… Also, who are you to tell me what I can or cannot eat? #Beef,” and yet another user tweeting: “This isn’t fair. What about chickens, goats and pigs? What happened to equal animal rights? #Beef.”

— Neeli Shah 

Afghanistan 

The Rack: “The Hardest Job in Afghanistan,” Azam Ahmed (NYT).

Report says Afghan officials enjoyed impunity

Top Afghan officials presided over murders, abductions, rapes, and robberies — all with the tacit consent of the Afghan government and its allies — according to a new report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday. The report, titled “Today We Shall All Die,” focuses on eight “‘strongmen’ linked to police, intelligence, and militia forces” and officials across Afghanistan, some of whom are very powerful, and accuses some of personally inflicting violence and others of being responsible for the actions of Afghan government forces that committed the crimes (Guardian). The HRW report alleges that a culture of impunity grew within the government after the fall of the Taliban in an effort to achieve a lasting peace; former Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned as early as 2002 that “justice [is] a luxury for now; we must not lose peace for that.” The report says that: “short-term concerns for maintaining a bulwark against the Taliban have undermined aspirations for long-term good governance and respect for human rights in Afghanistan.” Current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thanked HRW for the report and said that his administration would not tolerate torture, but did not respond to individual allegations.

Afghan pilot selected among “Women of Courage”

Captain Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Afghan Air Force pilot of fixed-wing aircraft, has been selected to receive the U.S. Secretary of State’s prestigious International Women of Courage Award for 2015 (Pahjwok). Captain Rahmani enlisted when she was only 18 years old, and graduated from flight school just two years later. She then completed advanced flight training to qualify to fly military cargo aircraft. After her story was publicized in news outlets, she and her family received threats from the Taliban and have had to relocate several times. Captain Rahmani will receive the award at the U.S. State Department later this week, along with nine other women from around the world.

Pakistan

Haqqani ban still being considered 

Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said on Tuesday that a formal announcement from the Pakistani government outlawing the Haqqani network, which operates from Pakistan’s border areas and has conducted numerous attacks on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, is still under consideration (Reuters). In January 2015, Pakistani officials said that the government had decided to outlaw the group and that a formal announcement would come “within weeks.” Ambassador Jilani told a media roundtable in Washington that it was still “in the works.” He also said that Pakistan’s military operation in North Waziristan had succeed in clearing almost 90 percent of the area of militants.

ISIS threatens Lahore University

The University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore was on high alert Wednesday after it received a threatening letter from the Islamic State [ISIS](ET). The university’s public relations office confirmed to the Express Tribune that the letter, which threatened to attack the university with a suicide bombing or another series of bombings, had been received from an unidentified source. A police official said that the letter could be a hoax, but noted that precautions were being taken until the investigation, which included sweeping the premises and increasing security at entry points, had been completed.

— Emily Schneider

SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images