The South Asia Channel

Pakistan Hit with Travel Restrictions Over Polio; Modi Campaigns in Gandhi Stronghold; Afghan Aid Efforts Lack Coordination

Bonus Reads: "Exclusive: CIA Falls Back in Afghanistan," Kimberly Dozier (Daily Beast); "Pakistan’s Tactical Nukes Threaten Stability in South Asia," Monika Chansoria (SouthAsia).  Pakistan Pakistan hit with travel restrictions over polio spread The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday that the spread of polio is now a global public health emergency, describing outbreaks in ...


Bonus Reads: "Exclusive: CIA Falls Back in Afghanistan," Kimberly Dozier (Daily Beast); "Pakistan’s Tactical Nukes Threaten Stability in South Asia," Monika Chansoria (SouthAsia). 


Pakistan hit with travel restrictions over polio spread

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday that the spread of polio is now a global public health emergency, describing outbreaks in at least 10 different countries across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as an "extraordinary event" that requires an international response (RFE/RL). The U.N. agency identified Pakistan, Syria, and Cameroon as three countries that have allowed the virus to spread beyond their borders, and recommended that their governments require citizens to obtain a certificate proving they’ve been vaccinated for polio before traveling abroad (AP, ET). Pakistan has the world’s highest incidence of polio outbreaks, with 93 reported cases in 2013; polio also remains endemic in Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Saira Afzal Tarar, Pakistan’s national minister of health, told Voice of America that the country is moving quickly to make the polio vaccine mandatory; on Tuesday, a ministry spokesman announced that Pakistan will be setting up mandatory polio immunization points at all airports, border crossings, and seaports to comply with some of the WHO’s recommendations (VOA, AFP). Pakistan has tried to eradicate the disease for years, but the Pakistani Taliban’s ban on vaccinations and deadly attacks on vaccination teams have hindered those efforts, particularly in the country’s northwestern tribal region.

Geo TV under siege

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that a recent clash between Geo TV and Pakistan’s military establishment might result in the closing of the channel (WSJ). According to the report, the tension began last month after the shooting of Hamid Mir, a prominent journalist for the channel. Geo reporters alleged in broadcasts following the attack that the country’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate was behind the incident, a claim the military, speaking for the spy agency, has denied.

While some, like Absar Alam, an anchor at Aaj News — a competing channel — argue that the military is alarmed by the rise of Pakistan’s press in shaping public opinion, others, like Moeed Pirzasa, an anchor at Express News — another competitor — echo the military’s criticism of Geo TV, saying that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the media mogul who owns the channel as well as several other news outlets, is "running a monopoly." Hearings on whether or not the channel will be closed begin on Tuesday. Bonus reads: "Muzzling Pakistan’s Media," Hasan Zaidi (NYT); "Report: Pakistani Journalists Face Threats from All Sides," Kokab Farshori (VOA).

— Bailey Cahall


Modi brings election battle to Amethi

Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), held a large rally on Monday to drum up support for his party’s candidate, former TV actress Smriti Irani, in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, a traditional stronghold for the Gandhi family (BBC). Indian newspapers described Modi’s aggressive campaigning in Amethi, the "home constituency" of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty where Rahul Gandhi holds the parliamentary seat, as breaking an "unwritten code," taking the "battle to the Gandhi den," and going "behind enemy lines" (Hindustan TimesIndian ExpressTimes of India). Gandhi won over 70 percent of the vote in Amethi in 2009, and his parents Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi both previously represented the constituency.

From the campaign trail, Modi criticized the Congress party’s record as well as their attitude of condescension, including a barb directed at Gandhi’s father. Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul’s sister, criticized Modi for insulting "my martyred father on the soil of Amethi," and the BJP for "indulging in low level politics" (Hindustan Times). Their spat evolved into a discussion of caste politics, a primary criterion for voters in the rural north (Economic Times, Mint). "I belong to a lower caste of society that’s why they think my politics is low-level politics," Modi tweeted in response (BBC).

Monday was the last day on which campaigning was allowed for the penultimate phase of the Lok Sabha elections, which will take place in 64 constituencies, including Amethi (Times of India). A total of 15 seats will go to the polls in Utter Pradesh, which is often described as India’s battleground state. 

Supreme Court: No permission needed in high-level graft probes

India’s Supreme Court struck down
a provision on Tuesday requiring the Delhi police to obtain prior permission from the government to investigate allegations of graft by officers above a certain rank (Mint). The provision had applied to officers at the level of joint secretary and above. The judges said the provision hampered corruption prevention and that the distinction between senior and junior officials was arbitrary. In December, the court ruled that the government’s permission was not required to carry out court-monitored investigations. 

— Ana Swanson


Landslide recovery hampered by disorderly aid efforts

International aid has poured into Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province after a landslide on Friday claimed the lives of thousands of villagers in Abi Barak and left thousands more homeless. But on Monday, the New York Times reported that getting those donations and contributions to those most affected by the disaster is "being hampered by a host of problems: competing interests among local leaders and politicians, a lack of infrastructure and effective management at the site, and an onslaught of villagers coming from nearby areas who were unaffected by the landslide but were needy nonetheless" (NYT).

Reporting from a makeshift camp on a plateau overlooking the village, Habib Zahori and Azam Ahmed noted that thousands of villagers were arguing over the aid, while tribal elders tried to confirm who needed the most help. Abdullah Faiz, the head of the Afghan Red Crescent in the province, told the two that: "The biggest problem that we have here is that we do not have a clear and genuine list of the actual affected people. We do not know the villagers."

To help ensure that those impacted by the landslide receive the aid they need, Afghan President Hamid Karzai underlined the need for coordination between the international community and his administration (Pajhwok). Meanwhile, Afghan civil society groups called for the formation of a specialized commission to ensure that relief funds are managed properly (TOLO News).

Supplies arrive from Pakistan

In an effort to increase Afghanistan’s security and stability, Pakistan’s Defense Ministry announced on Monday that it is opening up its airspace for the shipment of military equipment to Kabul (Pajhwok, VOA). According to the ministry, the first "commercial" flight transporting 15 military vehicles to Bagram Airfield left Karachi earlier that morning. It went on to say that the vehicles are of "vital importance and urgently required" by the Afghan security forces. The operation, which will continue for the next few weeks, is part of a 2012 Memorandum of Understanding between Pakistan and the United States, which deals with the use of Pakistani "lines of communication" to and from Pakistan. 

Photo oops?

An Afghan delegation visiting Badakhshan province on Saturday, just one day after the area was devastated by a landslide, sparked national outrage when it posed for a group photo just feet away from grieving survivors (TOLO News). RFE/RL notes that: "The photo spread quickly on social networks, attracting angry comments directed at the smiling entourage, which included Agriculture Minister Asef Rahimi and Niamatullah Shahrani, who is a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai, and was headed by second Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili" (RFE/RL).

The controversy over the photo comes as criticism mounts over the government’s handling of the crisis. While none of the men in the photo have commented on the picture, Gul Muhammad Baider, the deputy provincial governor in Badakhshan, said that the rescue effort would resume on Monday and continue for the next five or six days. While the search had previously been halted on Saturday, Baidar said the new operation would be an effort "to psychologically comfort the people" who lost family members in the landslide.

— Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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