The South Asia Channel

Taliban Publish Biography of Reclusive Leader; India Launches Air Quality Index; Pakistan Begins Debate Over Joining Yemen Fight

Event Notices: “Abducted Abroad: Returning American Hostages,” TODAY, 12:00 – 1:30 PM (New America); “The Digital Threat of ISIS & the War in Syria,” TUESDAY, 12:00 – 2:00 PM (New America). Afghanistan Taliban publish biography of reclusive leader Multiple media outlets reported on Sunday that the Afghan Taliban have published a biography of Mullah Mohammad ...

TV grabs taken secretly by BBC Newsnight shows Tal
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN: TV grabs taken secretly by BBC Newsnight shows Taliban's one-eyed spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar (C) during a rally of his troops in Kandahar before their victorious assault on Kabul in 1996. AFP PHOTOMANDATORY CREDIT BBC NEWS/NEWSNIGHT (Photo credit should read AFP/Getty Images)

Event Notices: “Abducted Abroad: Returning American Hostages,” TODAY, 12:00 – 1:30 PM (New America); “The Digital Threat of ISIS & the War in Syria,” TUESDAY, 12:00 – 2:00 PM (New America).

Afghanistan

Taliban publish biography of reclusive leader

Multiple media outlets reported on Sunday that the Afghan Taliban have published a biography of Mullah Mohammad Omar, their reclusive leader, just as some fighters are defecting from the group and speculation that Omar may not even be alive is increasing (AFP, RFE/RL). The 5,000-word biography appeared on the Taliban’s main website early on Sunday, and claimed to have been posted to commemorate the cleric’s 19th anniversary as the group’s leader (he has not been seen in 13 years).

In addition to providing some information on Omar’s background, the biography noted that the RPG-7 is his favorite weapon and that he has a “special” sense of humor (BBC). It also says that he studied at a madrassa, contradicting widespread reports that Omar is illiterate.

Senior Afghan leader says ISIS is behind kidnappings

Mohammad Mohaqiq, Afghanistan’s deputy chief executive, told reporters on Saturday that ISIS militants were responsible for kidnapping dozens of Shiite men and boys earlier this year (RFE/RL). It was the first time a senior government official has confirmed ISIS’s involvement in the incident (TOLO News).

According to Mohaqiq, two former Taliban leaders, who switched their allegiance to ISIS, were behind a mass abduction in February, in which masked gunmen seized 31 passengers from two buses traveling from Zabul province to Kabul. Local officials said that the gunmen rounded up male passengers who were members of the minority Hazara community and took them away, while women, children, and non-Hazara passengers were left behind.

Speaking to the Associated Press’s Lynne O’Donnell, Mohaqiq said that Afghan security forces had launched an operation to find the men a week after the kidnappings took place, but that the effort had failed (AP). He added that the men had now been split into group of three or four, and were being held in different parts of Zabul. However, he noted that, as far as he knew, they were still alive.

India

India launches index to measure air pollution

India launched an air quality index to monitor and provide real-time information on air pollution levels, according to news reports on Monday (NDTV, Post). While the index will initially measure 10 cities, the government intends to measure more than 60 cities. In 2014, the World Health Organization declared New Delhi to be the most polluted capital city in the world, and stated that the leading cause of premature deaths in India was due to the air quality. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told state environment ministers on Monday: “The world thinks India doesn’t care about the environment, we must change that… India has always respected the environment,” and further said that India “has to take the lead in guiding the world on thinking of ways to combat climate change” (BBC).

Modi asks judges to introspect, self-regulate

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that judges should have an internal mechanism for self-assessment and introspection while addressing the inaugural session of the joint conference of judges and chief ministers in New Delhi (Indian Express, Economic Times). Modi noted: “The judiciary is not as fearless today as it used to be ten years back. Are five-star activists not driving the judiciary? Are they not attempting to do so? Judges fear what the reaction of five-star activists would be when they render justice as per law and as per Constitution,” and further said: “It is not difficult to dispense justice as per Constitution and law. But while doing so, judges must differentiate between perception (created by social activists) and fact” (Times of India). In response to Modi’s comments, H. L. Dattu, the chief justice of India, said that the judiciary already has an in-house mechanism for review, adding that: “The Chief Justices of the states and the Chief Justice of India are monitoring the functioning of their offices throughout the country” (NDTV).

Monkeys disrupt Internet service in Varanasi

The government in the city of Varanasi, located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, has been struggling to install fiber-optic cables for Internet service along the banks of the Ganges River because macaque monkeys are eating and destroying the cables, according to news reports on Friday (Reuters). As houses are built close to each other in Varanasi, authorities cannot build underground cables. And since monkeys are revered in the city, chasing them away is not an option. A. P. Srivastava, a communications engineer, said: “We cannot move the temples from here. We cannot modify anything here, everything is built up. The monkeys, they destroy all the wires and eat all the wires” (BBC). Varanasi is considered a holy city with millions visiting the temples and Ganges River each year.

Pakistan

Pakistani assembly weighs Saudi request for warplanes, troops

Pakistani lawmakers gathered for a joint session of Parliament on Monday to discuss Pakistan’s role in the ongoing crisis in Yemen, though no decisions have yet been made (Dawn, ET, VOA). Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for the joint session to discuss whether or not the country will participate in the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen. While the Pakistani government has repeatedly said it has not yet committed to sending troops to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has listed it as one of 10 countries participating in the coalition.

According to Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif, who visited Saudi Arabia last week to discuss the Yemen conflict, the Kingdom has asked Pakistan to commit warplanes, warships, and soldiers to the fight, raising the possibility of a ground offensive in the Arabian Peninsula (AP). Though Asif said nothing about whether or not these requests would be answered, he reiterated “Pakistan’s pledge to protect Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity,” adding that: “If there’s a need be, God willing, Pakistan will honor its commitment.”

Pakistan and Sri Lanka sign nuclear agreement

The leaders of Pakistan and Sri Lanka on Monday signed six memorandums of understanding, including one on nuclear energy, as well as an agreement to increase bilateral trade to $1 billion a year (ET). Though the details of the nuclear agreement were not immediately available, it was signed a little over a month after Sri Lanka signed a pact with India to help it build its atomic energy infrastructure and train its personnel.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said the agreements were designed to enhance economic and trade cooperation between the two countries, while Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif noted that ties with Sri Lanka were a “special priority” for Pakistan (Dawn). The other memorandums focus on cooperation against illicit drug trafficking, in shipping, and on disaster management, as well as educational exchanges and sports collaboration.

Pakistani man kills 10 members of extended family

Pakistani authorities told reporters on Sunday that a man in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province killed 10 members of his extended family after his marriage proposal to his cousin was rejected (AP). According to local police officials, the victims included an uncle, an aunt, four male cousins, and four female cousins – including the woman the alleged shooter wanted to marry (NYT). Khan added that the suspect, Gul Ahmed, is still on the run.

The incident came just a few months after the suspect purportedly shot and killed his own parents and two brothers over wanting to marry the woman. The New York Times reported that Ahmed’s father had asked him to wait to marry his cousin until a home could be built for the couple. Ahmed shot his family members instead, and has been on the run ever since.

Edited by Peter Bergen.

AFP/Getty Images

Neeli Shah is a Washington D.C.-based economics, law, and policy professional. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. @neelishah

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