Suspected Mumbai Attack Mastermind is Released; Modi Arrives in France; Attacks Increase as Afghan Fighting Season Nears
Bonus Read: “The Fierce Pressures Facing Pakistan,” Ahmed Rashid (NY Review of Books).
Pakistan releases suspected mastermind in Mumbai attacks
Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, was released on bail from a Pakistani jail in Rawalpindi on Friday, according to multiple news reports (BBC, Reuters). Though Lakhvi, who is accused of heading the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group responsible for the attacks, had been granted bail in December, he was kept in detention under a temporary government order (ET, WSJ). He is one of seven men charged in the attacks, which left 166 people dead, and news outlets said the case against him would continue. Lakhvi had been held since Dec. 7, 2008, after he was named as a suspect by Indian officials and arrested by Pakistani police forces.
Pakistani parliament votes to stay out of Yemen fight
Pakistani lawmakers on Friday unanimously decided not to join the Saudi-led coalition targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen, and adopted a resolution calling for the warring parties to resolve the conflict on the Arabian Peninsula through peaceful dialogue – “a major blow to Saudi Arabia as it seeks to build support for its offensive” (Post, BBC, ET). The vote occurred five days after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called a joint assembly meeting to discuss Saudi Arabia’s request for Pakistani fighter jets, war ships, and ground troops, and one day after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Islamabad to discuss the conflict with Sharif and other Pakistani officials (RFE/RL).
According to the resolution, Pakistan is maintaining its “neutrality in the Yemen conflict so [it can] play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis” (AP). It also urged other Muslim countries and the international community to intensify their efforts to promote peace and bring about a ceasefire in Yemen. However, the parliamentarians also expressed their “unequivocal support” for Saudi Arabia and vowed that Pakistan would “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Saudi Arabia and its people” if its territorial integrity was threatened (Dawn).
The vote occurred just a few hours after Pakistan’s Foreign Office announced that the country’s mission to rescue Pakistani citizens from Yemen had ended (Dawn, ET). Tasneem Aslam, a Foreign Office spokesperson, told reporters on Friday that 1,019 Pakistanis had been evacuated from the war-torn country over the last 10 days via three special flights, three naval evacuations, and one land evacuation through Oman. Aslam noted that there may still be an estimated 100-150 Pakistanis in Yemen, but said they had chosen to stay.
Women-only rickshaw comes to Lahore
The Reuters wire service reported on Friday that a Pakistani environmentalist fed up with being groped and harassed by male rickshaw drivers has launched her own service, exclusively for female passengers, in Lahore (Reuters). Zar Aslam, the president of the non-profit Environment Protection Fund, said that she once narrowly escaped being kidnapped by a rickshaw driver, which gave her the idea to start her own “Pink Rickshaw” service. While Aslam currently has only one rickshaw in operation, she is hoping to have at least 25 running by the end of the year. In addition to providing women with safe transportation, Aslam is looking at the service as a source of female financial and professional empowerment – hiring only female drivers, teaching them to drive, and helping them get drivers’ licenses.
Modi arrives in Paris, promotes “Make In India” campaign
On Thursday evening, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in France, where he will spend the next four days meeting with French President Francois Hollande and business leaders to focus on strengthening bilateral economic ties and negotiating possible defense deals (Hindustan Times, The Hindu). Underlying this tour is Modi’s continued promotion of his signature “Make In India” initiative, which he hopes will encourage economic investment from French and foreign companies. One such opportunity is a long-standing civil nuclear deal that would see six French reactors set up in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, where the investment could yield 10,000 megawatts of electricity (Hindustan Times). Another big-ticket item on the table is a multi-billion dollar defense deal for the purchase of several Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation.
One highlight of Modi’s trip will be a ‘naav pe charcha’ (chat on a boat) on the Seine River with Hollande on Friday, similar to U.S. President Barack Obama’s ‘chai pe charcha’ (chat over tea) in January. Modi will also attend two roundtable discussions with French business leaders (WSJ). Other stops on his calendar include a tour of a World War I memorial, the UNESCO headquarters, an Airbus facility, and the French government’s space agency. Modi’s trip to France marks his first to Europe since assuming office last year, and is part of a three-nation tour that also includes Germany and Canada.
Eight Satyam Computers executives convicted in India’s “Enron Scandal”
A special Indian court on Thursday sentenced Ramalinga Raju, the former head of software giant Satyam Computers, and seven other former executives to seven years in prison for a $1.6 billion corporate fraud scandal, one of the largest in the country’s history (BBC, NYT, The Hindu). Often dubbed “India’s Enron,” Satyam’s collapse was the result of intentionally inflated profits by the convicted former executives, whose decisions cost investors more than $2 billion and shocked India’s booming IT industry. While the Enron scandal resulted in that company’s complete collapse – 20,000 jobs and $70 billion to shareholders – the Indian government intervened to minimize Satyam’s fallout by facilitating a takeover by the Mahindra Group. At one time, Satyam – which is a Sanskrit word meaning “truth” – was operating in more than 60 countries, employing 50,000 people, and serving over 700 companies (CNN).
Uber launches cash-only rickshaw taxi service in New Delhi
Uber, a U.S.-based taxi-hailing service driven by GPS technology, announced a new offering in New Delhi on Thursday called UberAUTO, an app that allows customers to order a three-wheeled rickshaw and pay with cash (WSJ, NPR). Such a decision marks a departure from Uber’s cashless system, in which customers usually pay with a credit card or a local payment application called Paytm. “[Rickshaws] are an iconic and ubiquitous part of the Delhi landscape and we are excited to have them as another option on the Uber platform,” the company said in a statement on Thursday. India is Uber’s second-largest market after the United States, and despite its growing popularity, it faces tight competition from other local companies like Ola (Reuters).
Suicide attack on foreign troops leaves four Afghans dead
Officials in eastern Afghanistan told reporters on Friday that at least four people were killed and 14 others were wounded when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a passing U.S. troop convoy (AFP, Pajhwok, TOLO News). While the coalition vehicle was destroyed in the attack, a provincial police spokesman said that all of the victims were Afghans and that no U.S. soldiers were hurt. NATO forces have not yet commented on the incident.
According to reports, the attack occurred near the airport in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province and the site of an insider attack on Wednesday that left one American soldier dead. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came one day after several militants stormed a court complex in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killed 10 and wounding dozens (RFE/RL).
Elsewhere on Friday, at least 12 people – including six women and one child – were killed in Ghazni province when the vehicle they were traveling in struck a buried roadside bomb (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Reports indicate that all of the victims were members of the same family. No one, including the Taliban, has taken credit for the incident.
Voice of America noted that the “escalation of militant violence comes as the traditional ‘spring fighting’ season is about to begin in Afghanistan” (VOA).
Pakistan summons Afghan chargé d’affaires over Nangarhar deaths
Barakatullah Rahmati, Afghanistan’s deputy head of mission in Islamabad was summoned to Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday and handed a demarche conveying the country’s “serious concern” over the brutal murders of six Pakistani nationals in Nangarhar province (ET, Pajhwok). According to a ministry statement, it has requested that Afghanistan conduct an investigation into the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. On Wednesday, the bodies of six Pakistanis who had been kidnapped in Afghanistan two months ago were handed over to Pakistani officials; a total of nine Pakistani men were kidnapped: one elderly man has been released, while two others are still missing (Dawn). It is still unclear when and were the men died, or who took them.
Edited by Peter Bergen.
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