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The South Asia Channel

Pak Media Mogul Sentenced for Purported Blasphemy; Modi, Sharif Maintain Distance at SAARC; Kabul Bank Defendants Request Review

Editor’s Note: The South Asia Channel will not be publishing a daily brief on Thursday, November 27, and Friday, November 28, but will resume publication on Monday, December 1. Pakistan Pakistani media mogul sentenced for purported blasphemy On Tuesday Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, the owner of Geo News, Pakistan’s largest media group, was sentenced to 26 years ...


Editor’s Note: The South Asia Channel will not be publishing a daily brief on Thursday, November 27, and Friday, November 28, but will resume publication on Monday, December 1.


Pakistani media mogul sentenced for purported blasphemy

On Tuesday Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, the owner of Geo News, Pakistan’s largest media group, was sentenced to 26 years in jail for airing a program that showed people dancing to a song about the wedding of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter (Reuters). The charges were brought against ur-Rehman after the station publicly accused Inter-Services Intelligence of shooting one of Geo News’s top journalists. Ur-Rehman, along with the host of a morning show and two guests, were also ordered to pay fines of $16,600, surrender their passports, and sell their properties. The sentence, which was handed down by an anti-terror court in Gilgit, is unlikely to be enforced as court verdicts in that region do not apply to the rest of Pakistan. The News, a newspaper owned by ur-Rehman, published on Wednesday that it would appeal to the Supreme Court against both the verdict and sentence.

U.S. drone strike killed eight in North Waziristan

A U.S. drone strike in Datta Khel in North Waziristan killed at least eight militants, according to a security official in the area who spoke to Agence France-Presse via phone on the condition of anonymity (ET, RFE/RL). The identities of the dead are still unknown but militants working for warlord Gul Bahadur and the Haqqani Network, as well as Uzbek foreign fighters, operate in the area where the drone strike occurred.

Four polio workers killed in Quetta

In Quetta, four polio workers were killed and another three were injured on Tuesday when gunmen on a motorcycle ambushed the workers in their truck, using handguns to kill the driver of the truck and three female workers sitting in the back of the vehicle (VOA). According to police official Asad Raza, the team was on its way to meet their police escort, but a senior police official at the New Saryab Police Station said the team left to begin work without a police escort (Reuters, ET). The Lady Health Workers association in Balochistan, the province where the attack occurred, announced that it is now boycotting the polio campaign until adequate security can be provided (Dawn). The assailants escaped and no group has claimed responsibility yet. Police have conducted raids in the area and detained several suspects who are now being interrogated.

— Courtney Schuster


Modi, Sharif maintain distance at SAARC

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif maintained distance on the first day of the SAARC summit in Nepal on Wednesday (Livemint, ET, IBT, Reuters). SAARC is an economic and geopolitical cooperation between South Asian nations, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Even though Modi and Sharif were scheduled to hold bilateral talks with other SAARC members, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that “no structured meeting” was planned between the two leaders.

While Pakistan said that “cancellation of talks was New Delhi’s unilateral decision,” and the “ball is now in India’s court for talks between both the countries,” India’s claims that Pakistan needs to commit to a “meaningful dialogue.” Earlier this year, the Indian government cancelled foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan, after Abdul Basit, Pakistani High Commissioner to India, met with Kashmiri separatists.

No agreements were signed on the first day of the SAARC summit, even though three were finalized prior to the summit, as Pakistan objected to proposals to establish a regional power grid and boost rail and road connectivity. Modi said: “As SAARC, we have failed to move with the speed that our people expect and want from us… Is it because we are stuck behind the walls of our differences and hesitant to move out of the shadows of the past?” (WSJ).

U.S. and India hold trade dialogue

Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman discussed bilateral trade and investment ties at the Indo-U.S. Trade Policy Forum, which met after a gap of four years in New Delhi on Tuesday (Economic Times, Indian Express, Livemint). The India-U.S. Trade Policy Forum is a platform to discuss trade and investment issues and was established in July 2005. While India raised immigration issues for Indians employed in the United States, Froman spoke about improving the business environment in India to encourage foreign investors. Sitharaman and Froman also discussed intellectual property rights issues and food labeling standards.

Bird flu outbreaks reported in India

India ordered the culling of more than 150,000 ducks and chickens in the southern state of Kerala after laboratory tests found bird flu strains in dead poultry, according to the World Organization for Animal Health on Tuesday (NDTV, The Hindu). Kerala’s Animal Husbandry Minister K. P. Mohanan said: “It is estimated that around 150,000 domestic ducks and a few chickens are to be culled and burnt in the affected areas. The sale of duck meat and eggs has also been banned” (BBC). Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced $2.4 as compensation for each bird killed. While the first outbreak of bird flu in India was reported in 2006, so far no cases of human infection have been reported. — Neeli Shah


Kabul Bank defendants request review

Three defendants in the Kabul Bank case have asked for a superior court to review the appellate court’s ruling that increased their prison terms and the restitution amounts against them on Tuesday (TOLO News). So far, only three individuals have paid their debts to the bank, according to Attorney General Basir Azizi: Hussain Fahim, Mahmoud Karzai, and Ghafar Dawi.

No new ministers for Afghan unity government

On Wednesday, Mujiburrahman Rahimi, spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, denied recent claims that seven ministers will be introduced to the House of Representatives as part of the unity government (TOLO News). Rahimi said: “Such an agreement [between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah] has not been made. The introduction of names and ministries are all baseless reports.” According to “sources close to the president and chief executive,” Ghani and Abdullah are disagreeing on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, and the National Directorate of Security, and Abdullah has demanded to keep the ministers of defense and foreign affairs, which Ghani has not accepted.

Heroin labs destroyed in Nangarhar raid

An Afghan-NATO night raid led to the discovery and destruction of nine heroin-producing labs in the Sherzad district of Nangarhar province on Tuesday (Pajhwok). Nangarhar police spokesman, Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal, told Pajhwok that the team destroyed a huge quantity of drugs, including 100 jerry cans of morphine, 1000 kg of ammonium chlorite, and 800 gallons of acid — all products used in heroin production.

— Courtney Schuster

Edited by Peter Bergen

Courtney Schuster is a research associate with the International Security Program at New America and an assistant editor with the South Asia Channel.
Neeli Shah is a Washington D.C.-based economics, law, and policy professional. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Twitter: @neelishah

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