The South Asia Channel
Obama Visits Afghanistan, Accidentally Outs CIA Chief; Modi Sworn in as Indian PM; U.S. Doctor Killed in Pakistan
Afghanistan Obama visits troops, accidentally outs CIA chief President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield on Sunday — his first in two years — to celebrate the Memorial Day holiday weekend with some of the troops still stationed there (BBC, NYT, Post, RFE/RL, TOLO News). He told the soldiers that the ...
Obama visits troops, accidentally outs CIA chief
President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield on Sunday — his first in two years — to celebrate the Memorial Day holiday weekend with some of the troops still stationed there (BBC, NYT, Post, RFE/RL, TOLO News). He told the soldiers that the 13-year war is at a pivotal moment, with Afghan forces taking over primary responsibility for security operations, and that the war would come to a close by the end of the year. While Obama made it clear that the United States would likely leave a small troop presence in the country after the NATO combat mission ends in December, he noted that: "For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan," a comment that drew an eruption of applause from the troops (AP). Bonus read: "These wounded U.S. vets wanted closure. They found it back in Afghanistan.," Kevin Sieff (Post).
While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not meet with Obama, the two leaders spoke by phone shortly after Obama flew out of the country. Media outlets reported that Obama congratulated Karzai on holding successful presidential and provincial elections in April, and expressed optimism that the second round of voting would be just as peaceful (Pajhwok, WSJ).
Though Obama’s visit seemed to go relatively well, the Washington Post noted that the White House inadvertently revealed the name of the top CIA official in Afghanistan (Post). Identified as "chief of station," the officer’s name was placed by U.S. Embassy staff on a list of officials Obama was due to meet with while at Bagram. That list was then sent by email to reporters traveling with Obama and shared as a "pool report" with some 6,000 other recipients. To protect the official and his family, most major news outlets chose not to reveal his name.
Two killed, nine injured in attack on ministry bus
Two Afghan defense ministry staffers were killed and at least nine others were injured in Kabul on Monday when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle drove into a bus carrying soldiers and civilian employees home from work (AP). According to Dawlat Waziri, the ministry’s deputy spokesman, all of the victims were soldiers in the Afghan National Army (Pajhwok, TOLO News). An eyewitness told the Associated Press that the attack took place shortly after the bus had dropped off four female passengers and was driving away to the next stop. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack.
A day earlier, another Taliban suicide bomber killed Abdul Wadood Sarhadi Jajo, a prominent police commander in Kandahar city (WSJ). According to Zia Durrani, the provincial police spokesman, Jajo was driving in his car alone on Sunday when he was attacked by the bomber, who was wearing a burqa. Jajo, a subordinate to Maj. Gen. Abdul Razik, "the province’s powerful top cop," had been accused of being involved in serious human rights violations by local residents, though no charges were ever brought.
More than a hundred MPs back Abdullah
As Afghanistan’s run-off election campaigns heat up, the public endorsements for former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah spiked on Monday, when 110 parliamentarians and 66 senators from the National Assembly announced their support for his candidacy (Pajhwok). TOLO News also noted that there were two other prominent endorsements that came in favor of Abdullah. One was from Mahmud Karzai, President Karzai’s brother; the other was from former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh (TOLO News, TOLO News).
As the current frontrunner, Abdullah’s team expressed unwavering confidence in his victory after the endorsements, telling reporters at a press conference in Kabul that: "Today, we proved that we represent the entirety of Afghanistan" (TOLO News). Abdullah is running against former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
— Bailey Cahall
Narendra Modi sworn in as India’s next PM
Narendra Modi was sworn in as India’s 15th prime minister in an elaborate ceremony at New Delhi’s Rashtrapati Bhavan (presidential palace) on Monday (Times of India, Hindustan Times, BBC). President Pranab Mukherjee administered the oath of office in Hindi to Modi, in the presence of 4,000 guests, including eight foreign leaders, as well as a number of Indian politicians, corporate and religious leaders, and Bollywood celebrities. A council of 45 ministers also took their oaths during the ceremony.
Foreign leaders in attendance included the heads of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Mauritius prime minister. Afghan President Hamid Karzai,
Bangladesh parliament speaker Shirin Sharmin, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa all attended Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. But all eyes turned to Sharif when he walked onto the busy forecourt to shake hands with Modi (Times of India). It was the "surest signal that there remains strong popular enthusiasm for a peace deal" between the two countries. Modi will hold one-on-one meetings with the leaders on Tuesday.
Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his council of ministers, all 777 members of parliament, governors, chief ministers, ambassadors, and other constitutional authorities, including the chief justice of India, were present at the event (DNA). Millions of Indians watched the inauguration live on television as 63-year-old Modi, the son of a provincial tea-seller, took the oath alongside his cabinet members in the palace forecourt. Modi’s family, including his mother, did not attend the ceremony.
Moments after Modi’s swearing-in, the Prime Minister’s office relaunched its website with a short profile of Modi, which described him as a "dynamic, dedicated and determined" leader who "arrives as a ray of hope in the lives of a billion Indians" (Indian Express).
Many firsts for India, Pakistan: ceremony, handshake, and talks
Modi held landmark talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday, seeking to bolster strained ties between the nuclear-armed neighbors (NDTV, LiveMint, IBNLive). The two leaders shook hands as they met at Hyderabad House, a former palace close to the ceremonial avenue in New Delhi. On his first day in office, Modi raised issues of cross-border terrorism and the slow pace of the trial from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which is being held in Pakistan. In 2008, a group of Pakistani militants attacked Mumbai, where 166 individuals were killed and hundreds were left injured.
Modi and Sharif also discussed the importance of boosting trade and investments to reduce hostility, particularly in the field of energy (Hindustan Times, India Today). India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told a press conference that the meeting was held in a "friendly and constructive atmosphere." On the Kashmir issue, Singh said that the "foreign secretaries [of India and Pakistan] will be in touch to find the best way forward."
In an unprecedented move, Sharif attended Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on Monday in his first visit to India in 23 years. Sharif, who leads the conservative pro-business Pakistan Muslim League, fought off stiff resistance at home to make the trip to India (Guardian). On arriving in New Delhi, Sharif said the two sides had an opportunity to turn a page in their history of troubled relations, and said: "we should remove fears, mistrust and misgivings about each other." On Sunday, Sharif ordered the release of 151 Indian prisoners ahead of his historic visit to New Delhi as a goodwill gesture (BBC).
In a departure from the usual rhetoric of politics, war, and mistrust, the two leaders publicly shared their common ground of family. Modi shared an excerpt of one conversation he had with Sharif on Twitter on Monday: "in my conversation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he shared some very emotional things… [He] told me that he stays in Islamabad, but goes to meet his mother once in a week. This time, when he was eating with his mother, he saw visuals on TV of my mother offering me sweets" (NDTV).
Modi’s ministers named, ministries restructured
Modi also made "unprecedented" changes in his ministry formation on Tuesday with "the top layers [of the ministries] downsized" (NDTV, LiveMint, Indian Express, LiveMint). Modi will be in charge of all important policy issues and any unallocated portfolios. Arun Jaitley has been named to the powerful finance, defence, and corporate affairs minister position, while Sushma Swaraj has been appointed as foreign minister, and Rajnath Singh as home minister.
The new cabinet reflects a combination of youth with experience. Key economic portfolios, such as petroleum, power and coal, commerce and finance — which are crucial to reviving the economy — are being headed by ministers considered close to Modi. Women make up 25 percent of the cabinet, with six women sworn in, more than any previous Indian government. Both the oldest and youngest ministers are women: Najma Heptulla is the eldest at 74, while Smriti Irani is almost half her age at 38. Modi has given cabinet positions to one leader from each of his pre-poll alliance partners.
Modi has also reduced the new cabinet to the smallest in 16 years. Unlike his predecessor, Singh, who had 34 ministers, Modi has only 23. An Indian Express report notes that the focus will be on "convergence in the activities of various ministries where one Cabinet minister will be heading a cluster of ministries working in complementary sectors" (Indian Express). Modi is looking for "smart governance where the top layers of government will be downsized and there would be expansion at the grass-root level," the report says. During his campaign, Modi promoted a message of minimum government and maximum governance.
Find a complete listing of the new 23 ministers here.
— Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan
U.S. doctor killed in Punjab province
Mehdi Ali Qamar, an American cardiologist from Ohio who was visiting Pakistan, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Punjab province on Monday as he and his family left a cemetery in Chanab Nagar; his wife and son were not injured in the incident (AP, RFE/RL, VOA). According to Pakistani police, the family arrived in the country on Saturday for a weeklong visit, and Qamar had planned on seeing a number of patients at a local hospital.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the shooting, Qamar was a member of the minority Ahmadi sect, making his death the latest attack against Ahmadis and other religious minorities in the country (NYT, Post). Though Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, they are forbidden from presenting themselves as such by Pakistani law, and have long been targeted by Islamist extremists.
Jang group apologizes for ISI allegations
The Jang media group, which owns Geo News, Pakistan’s largest television news channel, apologized on Monday for broadcasting allegations against the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, in an attempt to ease ongoing tensions between the civilian government and armed forces (BBC, Bloomberg, WSJ). After Hamid Mir, a prominent Geo news anchor, was shot and injured by unknown assailants on April 19, the channel aired accusations from Mir’s family that the attack had been ordered and carried out by the ISI. In response, the military demanded that the channel be closed. Pemra, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, is expected to decide this week if the channel should be banned temporarily or permanently, or if Geo management will be required to pay a fine. Bonus read: "Press Battle in Pakistan Feeds Into Larger Conflict: Government vs. Military," Declan Walsh (NYT).
U.K. police appeal to public for information in Farooq murder
British police officials investigating the 2010 murder of Pakistani politician Imran Farooq named two men they would like to speak to in connection with the case on Tuesday, appealing to the public for help contacting them (AFP, BBC, ET). According to the Metropolitan Police, they would like to speak to Moshin Ali Syed and Muhammad Kashif Khan Kamran, two Pakistani nationals who were in England at the time and left the night of the attack. Farooq, a senior member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, was stabbed and beaten outside of his home in London on Sept. 16, 2010.
— Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.