The South Asia Channel

India Launches First Indigenously-Built Sub; Report Says Afghan Gov’t Abandoned Women’s Rights Activists; Pakistan Still Weighing Yemen Help

India India launches its first indigenously-built submarine India lowered its first indigenously-built Scorpene submarine into the water for sea trials off the coast of Mumbai, located in the western state of Maharashtra, according to news reports on Monday (BBC, NDTV, Economic Times). Mazagon Dock Ltd., an Indian shipbuilding company, collaborated with DCNS, a French defense ...

Indian employees of the Mazgaon ship building yard gather around the first Scorpene submarine before it is floated for sea trials in Mumbai on April 6, 2015. The submarine is due for induction into the Indian naval fleet in September 2016. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)


India launches its first indigenously-built submarine


India launches its first indigenously-built submarine

India lowered its first indigenously-built Scorpene submarine into the water for sea trials off the coast of Mumbai, located in the western state of Maharashtra, according to news reports on Monday (BBC, NDTV, Economic Times). Mazagon Dock Ltd., an Indian shipbuilding company, collaborated with DCNS, a French defense company, to build the submarine. There are five more French-designed, diesel-powered submarines being built, which will be inducted in the Indian Navy by 2018. Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said: “We want to build a ‘Blue Water Navy,’ which can survive despite operating across the deep ocean waters without any problems. We will ensure that we become one such navy” (The Hindu). The Indian Navy presently has 13 aging submarines, of which only half are operational due to maintenance.

RBI Governor keeps rates unchanged

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan kept the interest rate unchanged at 7.5 percent in its first bi-monthly monetary policy for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to news reports on Tuesday (Bloomberg, WSJ, Livemint). Rajan said: “At this point… We feel we are adequately buffered. That is not going to be the key factor in determining our monetary policy stance going forward” (Reuters). Earlier this year, the RBI made two surprise interest rate cuts — both were made outside the scheduled policy review — by a total of 50 basis points. Despite these cuts, many banks did not lower their banking rates, and Rajan further said: “There is competition building up from the markets… Banks will over time be forced to match the market, and will have to bring down rates” (Reuters).

Indian aviation minister carries matchboxes on flights

India’s Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said that he carried banned items, including matchboxes and cigarette lighters, on to flights after becoming a minister, while addressing a seminar organized by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security on Tuesday (NDTV, Times of India). Raju said: “Once I became a minister, people stopped frisking me. I am a heavy smoker and my matchbox came along with me, which earlier used to get confiscated… I have not come across an incident worldwide where matchbox has become a threat,” adding that: “We need to make security less obstructive and more meaningful so that the economic activities do not get affected” (Livemint). Raju is a senior leader of the Telugu Desam Party, a regional party in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which is a member of the existing National Democratic Alliance coalition government.


Amnesty International: Afghan government abandoned women’s rights activists

A new report released by Amnesty International on Tuesday said that women’s rights defenders in Afghanistan are being abandoned by their own government, despite the significant gains that have been made since the U.S. invasion in 2001 (AFP, BBC, CNN, VOA). In a statement about the report, the international watchdog said that these champions for women’s rights have been targeted not only by the Taliban, but by warlords and government officials as well.

According to the report, those working for women’s rights have suffered car bombings, grenade attacks at their homes, the killing of family members, and targeted assassinations (Pajhwok). And many of these victims continue their work, knowing that no action will be taken against the perpetrators. Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s Secretary General, told reporters in Kabul: “Women human rights defenders from all walks of life have fought bravely for some significant gains over the past 14 years – many have even paid with their lives. It’s outrageous that Afghan authorities are leaving them to fend for themselves, with their situation more dangerous than ever” (TOLO News).

Based on interviews with more than 50 women’s rights activists and their families, Amnesty found “a consistent pattern of authorities ignoring or refusing to take seriously threats against women.” The report noted that few investigations have been carried out, with prosecutions and convictions being even more rare.

Two-thirds of cabinet positions remain empty, one year after election

The BBC’s David Loyn reported on Tuesday that a little more than one year after Afghans went to the polls to vote in the 2014 presidential election, more than two-thirds of the government cabinet posts are still empty (BBC). He added that President Ashraf Ghani’s decision to suspend all provincial governors and police chiefs has led to further government stagnation across the country. In fact, some “acting” officials, such as the governor of Nangarhar province, have stepped down, as they don’t have the authority needed to do their jobs.

Helai Ershad, an Afghan parliamentarian, told Loyn that the problems started when the international community persuaded Ghani to share power with his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Since both men have two deputies, there are six separate powerbases to satisfy with the appointments, according to Ershad (BBC).

Video shows beheading of Afghan hostage

Militants who kidnapped 31 men from two buses in Afghanistan in February have released a video showing one of the hostages being beheaded, the BBC reported on Tuesday (BBC). According to the report, two masked gunmen identifying themselves as members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) ask a man kneeling in front of them what his job is. He says he is a soldier and is then beheaded.

After killing him, the gunmen say they will kill other captives if the government does not agree to their demands, though nothing is specified in the video. However, local news agencies have said “that the kidnappers want their comrades [to be] released from Afghan jails.” The BBC’s David Loyn said that this is the first time the IMU has issued a video showing a beheading.

The hostages, who are mostly members of the minority Hazara ethnic group, were previously thought to have been held by ISIS.


No decision made on Pakistani involvement in Saudi-led coalition

A joint session of Pakistan’s Parliament – convened to discuss the country’s potential participation in the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen – continued for a second day on Tuesday, after Monday’s session “was marred by continued heckling between parliamentarians, who spent the day settling scores with the Pakistan [Tehreek-e-Insaaf] (PTI), whose members had returned to the assembly after a seven-month absence” (Dawn). After the government informed lawmakers about Saudi Arabia’s request for fighter jets, warships, and ground troops, they demanded more details. In an address to Parliament, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told those present that his government was seeking their genuine opinions, noting: “Take your time, we are not in a hurry, we will take all your good points and I want the parliament also to say something about demands of our friends.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department approved Pakistan’s request to purchase nearly $1 billion-worth of U.S.-made attack helicopters, missiles, and other equipment on Monday (ET). According to the report, the military hardware is to help Pakistan in its ongoing fight against domestic militants.

Islamabad High Court issues order against former CIA station chief

Pakistani media outlets reported on Tuesday that the Islamabad High Court has issued an order to register a First Information Report (FIR) against Jonathan Banks, a former CIA station chief, over the death of two tribesmen in a 2009 U.S. drone strike (Dawn, ET). The court issued the order after hearing a petition filed by Haji Abdul Karim Khan, a resident in North Waziristan, who said the attack killed his son and brother.

It was the third time the court ordered Islamabad Inspector General Tahir Alam Khan to file the FIR against Banks; Khan has previously refused, arguing that doing so could cause U.S.-Pakistan relations to suffer. However, the court ordered Khan to register the FIR with the city’s Secretariat Police Station and submit a report within two days.

Iranian guards reportedly killed near Pakistan border 

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported on Tuesday that gunmen killed eight border guards on Monday in the restive Sistan-Balochistan province (AFP). Ali Asghar Mirshekari, the deputy provincial governor, told the official IRNA media outlet that the “armed terrorists” responsible for the attack fled into Pakistan after the killings. He then called on Pakistan to arrest the attackers and hand them over to Iranian authorities (BBC). Pakistan has not yet commented on the allegations.

This clash was reportedly the deadliest since October 2013, when 14 border guards were killed in an attack claimed by Jaish-ul Adl, an al Qaeda affiliate (RFE/RL).

Edited by Peter Bergen.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

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