The South Asia Channel

Bergdahl Charged with Desertion; India Raises $17.6 Billion in Telecom Airwaves Auction; Pakistan Considering Joining Fight in Yemen

Bergdahl Charged with Desertion; India Raises $17.6 Billion in Telecom Airwaves Auction; Pakistan Considering Joining Fight in Yemen


Bergdahl charged with desertion

U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier who slipped off a patrol base in Afghanistan in 2009 and was held captive by the Taliban for five years, was charged with desertion and misbehaving before the enemy, the Army said Wednesday (Post). The announcement was made by the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, N.C. just hours after Bergdahl was made aware of the charges. He will face a preliminary Article 32 hearing, which is somewhat similar to a grand jury proceeding in a civilian court. The charges carry the possibility of life in prison, although some, his attorneys included, believe that the five years of harsh captivity Bergdahl suffered should negate the possibility of additional consequences (CNN). 

Ghani stresses Afghanistan’s self-reliance

In an address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stressed the importance of Afghan self-reliance and thanked the United States for its sacrifice in his country (NYT). His address touched on the same themes he’s repeated throughout his visit, as he said Afghanistan must tackle corruption in order to become independent of foreign aid and raised the prospect of ISIS making inroads into the country. He also highlighted his familiarity with the United States, reminding the audience that the attack on 9/11 was personal for him too, as both he and his wife have degrees from Columbia University and their two children were born in New York.


India raises $17.6 billion in telecom airwaves auction

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister of communications and information technology, said that the government received bids worth $17.6 billion from the sale of mobile phone airwaves in its latest telecommunications spectrum auction, according to news reports on Wednesday (Bloomberg, Economic Times, Reuters, Livemint). While the names of the winning bidders and the amounts that they bid haven’t been disclosed, it was reported that India’s top carriers, Bharti Airtel Ltd., Vodafone Group Plc.’s India unit, and Idea Cellular Ltd. have bid on the 20-year licenses. On Thursday, the Indian Supreme Court said that the government can announce the names of the winning bidders and collect initial payments from operators. Further, the government can show the revenue earned from the auction during this financial year, which will help the government plug its fiscal deficit. Winning bidders have to pay a quarter to a third of the price of their bids within 10 days (NDTV).

India, Qatar hold bilateral talks

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, and Indian ​Prime Minister Narendra Modi held bilateral talks in New Delhi on Wednesday, and discussed key issues in the areas of defense, security, and trade (The Hindu, Indian Express, Economic Times). Both leaders signed cooperative agreements focused on information and communication technology, atmospheric and ocean sciences, and media. India and Qatar also signed an agreement on prisoner transfers, enabling sentenced Indian or Qatari nationals to complete the rest of their sentences in their home countries. According to news reports, 96 Indians are currently being held in various jails in Qatar, which is home to approximately 600,000 Indians.

Modi launches platform to redress grievances

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday launched PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation), a multi-purpose and multi-modal platform that monitors governmental programs, implements​ new projects, and addresses public grievances (DNA, Zee News, Economic Times, Indian Express). This new technology will allow bureaucrats in both the federal and state governments to interact with each other on one platform to address grievances and assess the status of governmental programs. The PRAGATI platform bundles digital data management, video-conferencing, and geospatial technologies together. During the first video session of PRAGATI, which lasted for two hours, Modi discussed issues, including the impact of the recent unseasonal rains and the statuses of key infrastructure and industrial projects.


Pakistan considering joining fight in Yemen

Pakistan said on Thursday that it was considering a request from Saudi Arabia to participate in the Saudi-led military operation against Houthi rebels in Yemen (WSJ, Dawn). According to a report from the official Saudi news agency, SPA, Pakistan was among five Muslim countries that “declared their willingness to participate” in the offensive. While the Pakistani Foreign Ministry confirmed that they had received a request from Saudi Arabia, they did not provide details about what, if any, support Pakistan would provide. “The matter is being examined. That’s all I have to say at the moment,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said on Thursday.

Officials: Pakistan’s drone turned tide in Tirah Valley

The Pakistani military claims to have achieved significant successes in the Tirah Valley, the scene of intense fighting with militants over the past two weeks, according to news reports on Thursday. Officials have pointed to Burraq, an indigenously-developed armed drone, as the reason for the success (ET). The remotely-piloted aircraft armed with laser-guided missiles were tested on March 14, but senior security officials told Express Tribune that before Burraq was showcased publicly, it had been tested in live combat in the Tirah Valley. Although officials would not say how many strikes had been carried out, they did claim that senior militant commanders were killed in Pakistani drone strikes. According to data collected by New America, only three other countries have used drones in combat: the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom (NewAmerica).

— Emily Schneider and Neeli Shah

Edited by Peter Bergen

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