Indian Satellite Enters Mars’ Orbit; U.S. Drone Strike Kills Five; OBL Son-in-Law Sentenced to Life in Prison
Event Notice: "Iraq After America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance," TODAY, 12:15 – 1:45 PM (New America). India Indian satellite enters Mars’ orbit successfully on first attempt The Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO’s) Mars Orbiter Mission, commonly known as MOM, successfully entered the red planet’s orbit on Wednesday, after a 300-day space voyage, making India the first ...
Event Notice: "Iraq After America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance," TODAY, 12:15 – 1:45 PM (New America).
Indian satellite enters Mars’ orbit successfully on first attempt
The Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO’s) Mars Orbiter Mission, commonly known as MOM, successfully entered the red planet’s orbit on Wednesday, after a 300-day space voyage, making India the first nation to successfully send a mission to Mars on its first attempt (BBC, NDTV). India became the first Asian nation, and the fourth space agency in the world — after the United States, Russia, and Europe — to claim a successful Mars mission. Hours after reaching the orbit, MOM (whose official name is "Mangalyaan") transmitted its first picture from Mars. MOM, which aims to observe the physical features of Mars and conduct a limited study of the Martian atmosphere, is a $74-million project launched on Nov. 5, 2013.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present at ISRO’s Telemetry Tracking and Command Network — located in the southern city of Bangalore — to witness the event, said: "History has been achieved today. Despite all our limitations, we have gone beyond the boundaries of human enterprise. The odds were stacked against us, but we achieved success in our maiden attempt with an indigenous spacecraft developed in a pan-Indian effort" (Livemint). Modi said further: "Of the 51 missions attempted across the world so far, a mere 21 had succeeded. But we have prevailed." Modi also told the excited scientists: "Mars has found MOM today. When this mission’s short name became MOM, I was convinced that Mom never disappoints" (Post).
After successfully entering Mars’ orbit, ISRO launched MOM’s official Twitter handle, @MarsOrbiter, and tweeted: "What is red, is a planet and is the focus of my orbit?" (Economic Times). As congratulations poured in, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s mission to explore the surface of Mars, the Curiosity Rover — @MarsCuriosity — tweeted: "Namaste, @MarsOrbiter! Congratulations to @ISRO and India’s first interplanetary mission upon achieving Mars orbit." In response, @MarsOrbiter tweeted: "Howdy @MarsCuriosity. Keep in touch. I’ll be around."
Indian Supreme Court cancels 214 illegal coal blocks
The Indian Supreme Court cancelled 214 out of 218 coal block allocations on Wednesday, which were declared illegal and arbitrary by the court in its Aug. 25, 2014 verdict (NDTV, BBC). The four blocks that were allowed to continue mining belong to major state power projects. The companies, whose shares fell significantly after the court’s decision, have been given six months to shut down their operations, and the government has been given "breathing space to manage the emerging situation" (The Hindu). In response to the court order, India’s Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said: "Government will be free to auction coal blocks post Mar. 31, 2015… Coal India Limited has been asked to take over operational blocks for six months" (Economic Times). Coal India Limited is an Indian state-controlled coal mining company. Although India is one of the largest coal producers in the world, the country has not been able to meet consumer demands for electricity.
Modi’s packed agenda
Modi, during his visit to the United States from Sep. 26-30, has a packed schedule of 35 engagements, including a summit meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and an address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, according to news reports on Tuesday (Economic Times, Reuters). On the sidelines of the assembly meeting, Modi will hold bilateral meetings with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. When asked if Modi will meet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, said: "There are no plans for the meeting" (NDTV).
During his first visit to the United States as prime minister, Modi is expected to hold meetings with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After his stay in New York City, Modi will head to Washington, D.C. for two days before returning to India. While in Washington, Modi will stay at the 190-year-old Blair House, the U.S. president’s guesthouse, and will meet Obama for a private dinner on Sep. 29 (Economic Times). He will also meet top political leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner. Modi will be meeting the CEOs of several Fortune 500 companies as well.
In New York City, Modi is set to give a rock-star-like address at Madison Square Garden, and make an appearance at a Central Park festival featuring rap star Jay-Z. With more than 18,000 people expected to attend his address at Madison Square Garden, NDTV reports that Modi may be the first foreign leader on U.S. soil to draw such a large crowd (NDTV). Modi’s address will be broadcasted live on big screens in Times Square, where thousands are expected to gather and watch the event. It has been reported that Modi will be observing the navratri fast — an abstinence period that precedes the Hindu autumn festival — throughout his visit to the United States (WSJ).
— Neeli Shah and Jameel Khan
U.S. drone strike kills five in North Waziristan
Pakistani intelligence officials told reporters on Wednesday that a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed at least five suspected militants in North Waziristan, and wounded several others; some news sources said the death toll was as high as 10 (AP, Reuters, RFE/RL). The officials said the strike targeted a compound and a vehicle at a small market in the town of Datta Khel, near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. While it is unclear which insurgent group the strike was targeting, several media outlets noted that at least two Uzbeks were among the dead (ET). However, they also recognized that "the area is off-limits to journalists, making it impossible to verify the exact number and identity the dead independently" (Dawn).
It was the first U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in more than a month, according to data collected by New America, and comes as Pakistan’s military continues its offensive against militants hiding out in the country’s tribal regions (New America). The strike also occurred just two days after the U.N. Human Rights Council condemned arbitrary killings by drone strikes in Pakistan, the first time the council "has formally discussed the issue of armed drones in violation of international human rights law, as well as the U.N. Charter" (ET).
Pakistani gov’t to sell portion of Oil & Gas Development Co.
In an effort to meet the targets set by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan program, the Pakistani government will sell 10 percent of its shares in the country’s Oil & Gas Development Co., the largest such sale in eight years (Bloomberg, Dawn). According to a regulatory filing submitted on Tuesday, the sale will take place "on or around Oct. 2," and will include 322.5 million shares, or a 7.5 percent stake in the company. The sale is valued at Rs. 85 million (about $827 million). Media outlets noted that Pakistan is seeking to raise funds to meet the conditions attached to a $6.6 billion IMF loan, and comes about four months after shares were also sold in Pakistan Petroleum Ltd. and United Bank Ltd. Those sales raised $155 million and $387 million, respectively (WSJ).
Bin Laden’s son-in-law sentenced to life in prison
Suleiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole in New York on Tuesday, "becoming the highest-ranking advisor to the terrorist group to be convicted and now punished in a civilian court in the United States" (AFP, BBC, CNN, LAT). In March, a federal jury in Manhattan found Abu Ghaith guilty of conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to provide material support for terrorists, and providing such support (Reuters). U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan imposed the sentence just minutes "after Abu Ghaith delivered a statement in Arabic, quoting the Quran and declaring that he would not ask for mercy from anyone but God" (AJE).
Bonus Read: "Fraud and Folly in Afghanistan," Chris Mason (SouthAsia).
Ghani warned against signing BSA too quickly
As reports emerged that Afghanistan’s president-elect, Ashraf Ghani, is expected to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) — which would determine the size and scope of any troop presence that remains in the country after the NATO combat mission ends in December — almost immediately after being sworn in on Sep. 29, Afghan parliamentarians warned Ghani against signing the agreements too quickly (Pajhwok). Members of the country’s Meshrano Jirga, the upper house of parliament, said that the BSA should be in Afghanistan’s interest and noted that several demands, such as equipment for Afghan security forces and the elimination of terrorist sanctuaries, should be linked to the document’s signing.
Five wounded in Balkh explosion
At least five people, including four civilians and one police commander, were injured in Afghanistan’s Balkh province on Wednesday, when a bomb exploded near the Hazrat Ali mausoleum in Mazar-e-Sharif (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Provincial officials said the explosives had been placed in plastic ewers, though some eyewitnesses said a roadside bomb had caused the injuries. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, which occurred less than a month after a similar explosion rocked the provincial capital.
Elsewhere in Baghlan province, a parliamentarian came under attack on the Baghlan-Kabul highway, but escaped unhurt (Pajhwok). Ashiqullah Wafa, a member of Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament, was returning home on Tuesday night when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his vehicle, wounding one of his guards. The attackers fled the scene before police could arrive, and no one has claimed responsibility for the incident.
— Bailey Cahall
Edited by Peter Bergen.
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