The South Asia Channel

Search Ends for Afghan Landslide Victims; Assam Death Toll Tops 30; NATO Container Trucks Attacked in Pakistan

Bonus Read: "In Spite of the Law, Afghan ‘Honor Killings’ of Women Continue," Rod Nordland (NYT). Afghanistan Search ends for landslide victims Officials in northern Afghanistan called off a search for victims of a landslide in Badakhshan province on Saturday, just one day after hundreds of villagers were buried under tons of debris (NYT, TOLO ...


Bonus Read: "In Spite of the Law, Afghan ‘Honor Killings’ of Women Continue," Rod Nordland (NYT).


Search ends for landslide victims

Officials in northern Afghanistan called off a search for victims of a landslide in Badakhshan province on Saturday, just one day after hundreds of villagers were buried under tons of debris (NYT, TOLO News, VOA). Estimates of those dead and missing vary widely, from 500 to more than 2,700, though it is likely an official total will never be known (Reuters, RFE/RL). Afghan officials are expected to declare the site of the disaster, the remote village of Abi Barak, a mass grave (AP). According to the Guardian, "It was the worst natural disaster there in nearly two decades, killing more people than all the flooding, earthquakes, avalanches and other catastrophes of last year put together" (Guardian). 

With the hope of finding survivors over, rescuers turned to providing shelter, food, and medical aid to the nearly 4,000 people displaced by the disaster (AP, Post). The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the "Afghan Red Crescent Society was offering medical care and had set up some 150 tents," while U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations delivered medical care, food, tents, blankets, and other supplies (WSJ). The NATO military coalition also flew 13 tons of tents, blankets, and carpets to the provincial capital (NYT). Bonus read: "Big budgets, little oversight in war zones," Scott Higham, Jessica Schulberg, and Steven Rich (Post). 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared Sunday a national day of mourning, as condolences came in from around the world (BBC). U.S. President Barack Obama called and affirmed "the support of the American people as the Afghans responded to this tragedy and offered additional U.S. assistance to the ongoing relief efforts" (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Amb. Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union’s special representative in Afghanistan, visited the village with First Vice President Mohammad Younus Qanuni on Sunday, paying respects to the victims and their families, as well as attending a condolence ceremony (Pajhwok).

— Bailey Cahall


Dust settles on ethnic violence in Assam

Indian authorities have relaxed curfews in areas of the northeastern state of Assam, where at least 33 people have been killed since last Thursday (Hindustan Times). Thousands of people fled their homes after rebel fighters opened fire and burned the homes of Muslims in three villages last week, the worst violence seen in the state in two years. The dead included at least eight women and as many children (Guardian).

A government team from the National Investigation Agency arrived in Assam on Monday to investigate the killings (BBC). Authorities say the attackers were part of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a group that advocates a separate homeland for the Bodo, a Tibeto-Burman-language speaking ethnic group that makes up about 10 percent of the state’s 33 million people. Muslims allege that their community came under attack because they did not support Bodo candidates in the ongoing general election. The rebel group denied involvement in the attacks, however, and blamed the killings on the state government.

On Sunday, police claimed to have averted a major attack after shooting dead three suspected rebels who they said were involved in the killings (WSJ). Police arrested 22 other suspects for their alleged involvement, including a forest ranger and five forest guards who are accused of aiding the rebels in entering the villages. In the past, human rights groups have criticized Indian police and security forces for "encounter shootings," which they allege are a euphemism for extrajudicial executions.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a New Delhi-based research group, more than 1,000 people — mostly Muslims — have been killed since 1992 in political violence in Assam, which is home to more than 200 ethnic groups and many Muslim settlers from neighboring Bangladesh. In 2012, violence between the Bodo people and Muslims led to the deaths of as many as 108 people in the same area. In July of last year, at least 75 people died and 200,000 were pushed from their homes. 

Government reverses decision to name "snoopgate" judge

Following criticism from its allies, the Indian government has reportedly decided to reverse its decision to name a judge to investigate whether opposition prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi ordered the Gujarat police to spy on a young female architect (Times of India, NDTV). Sources within the government said the ruling Congress party has decided to leave the decision on appointing a judge to investigate the scandal, dubbed "snoopgate," to the next government.

Controversy broke out last week after two senior government ministers told the media that a judge would be named to look into the scandal before May 16, when the results of the general election will be announced. The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party slammed the sitting government for the decision, saying it was exercising a vendetta out of desperation. Congress partners like Omar Abdullah and Sharad Pawar also attacked the government for making an important political appointment in its "dying days."

— Ana Swanson


NATO container trucks attacked in Khyber agency

Gunmen in northwestern Pakistan attacked three container trucks on Monday that were carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan, killing at least two people and wounding three others; two additional drivers may have also been kidnapped (Dawn, ET, RFE/RL). According to reports, dozens of assailants shot at the trucks in the Wazir Dhand area of Khyber agency and then set them on fire. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, but the Pakistani Taliban has purportedly been behind similar attacks. 

Pro-government tribal elder shot and killed in North Waziristan

Pakistani media outlets reported on Saturday that unidentified gunmen shot and killed Malik Qadir Khan — a pro-government tribal elder — his driver, and his bodyguard in North Waziristan (RFE/RL). According to the reports, the attack occurred in the Chashma Pul area of the volatile tribal agency. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident. 

Militants blow up transmission line

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on Monday that unidentified militants had blown up a 500 kv transmission line on the outskirts of Peshawar, though no casualties had occurred (Dawn). The National Transmission and Dispatch Company Ltd. noted that five towers were destroyed in the attack, and that electricity was being moved to the affected areas through other means.

The incident came as the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd. and Sui Southern Gas Pipelines Ltd. noted that more than Rs. 6 billion (approximately $60 million) worth of gas had been stolen in the first nine months of 2013 (Dawn). Pakistan is plagued by frequent energy outages, and energy theft is common — which only exacerbates the problem.

Soaring profits

Pakistan’s 153-year-old Murree Brewery, the country’s only legal producer of beer and spirits, is thriving in Rawalpindi, according to the Wall Street Journal‘s "India Realtime" blog (WSJ). As the article notes, the brewery’s success is a bit "dumb-founding" as less than three percent of the country’s population can buy alcohol and its products cannot be exported. Yet despite that, the company had a record-breaking year in 2013, and its revenues and profits are up for this quarter. Though consuming alcohol is becoming an increasingly inflammatory issue in Pakistan, the brewery also produces a line of juices, food products, and its own glass, likely ensuring its survival for years to come.

— Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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