The South Asia Channel

Afghan Envoy Met Taliban Officials in China; Pakistan Seeks FBI Help in Axact Probe; High Temperatures in India Kill 500

Afghanistan Afghan envoy met Taliban officials in China A peace envoy from Afghanistan met with former Taliban officials in western China last week in an effort to keep formal peace negotiations alive (NYT, WSJ). The meeting, which took place on Wednesday and Thursday, was held in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, and was partly organized ...

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a press conference at the Presidential palace in Kabul on May 11, 2015. Nineteen of 31 Shiite Muslims abducted in Afghanistan were released May 11, in exchange for scores of Uzbek militants in government prisons, provincial officials said, ending a two-month ordeal which marked a rare attack on ethnic minorities.But President Ashraf Ghani denied any prisoners were exchanged to secure the release of the ethnic Hazaras who were seized in late February by masked gunmen from a bus in southern Zabul province. AFP PHOTO / SHAH Marai        (Photo credit should read SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a press conference at the Presidential palace in Kabul on May 11, 2015. Nineteen of 31 Shiite Muslims abducted in Afghanistan were released May 11, in exchange for scores of Uzbek militants in government prisons, provincial officials said, ending a two-month ordeal which marked a rare attack on ethnic minorities.But President Ashraf Ghani denied any prisoners were exchanged to secure the release of the ethnic Hazaras who were seized in late February by masked gunmen from a bus in southern Zabul province. AFP PHOTO / SHAH Marai (Photo credit should read SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan

Afghan envoy met Taliban officials in China

A peace envoy from Afghanistan met with former Taliban officials in western China last week in an effort to keep formal peace negotiations alive (NYT, WSJ). The meeting, which took place on Wednesday and Thursday, was held in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, and was partly organized by Pakistani officials. The main representative of the Afghan government was Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, who has been nominated by President Ashraf Ghani as defense minister. The other party consisted of three figures from the former Taliban government in Afghanistan, according to officials with knowledge of the meeting. Mr. Ghani’s spokesman, Ajmal Obaid Abidy, said on Monday that “the Afghan government has not conducted any negotiations yet.” The Taliban issued a statement on Sunday saying that they did not take part in a meeting with the Afghan government; however, the three main Taliban attendees were not official representatives of the Afghan Taliban. “These were talks about talks,” one diplomat told the Wall Street Journal.

Fighting in Helmand province

Dozens of militants attacked several Afghan security checkpoints in Helmand province on Monday, killing 19 police officers and seven soldiers in day-long battles (AP, RFE/RL, TOLO, AJE). Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul on Tuesday, said fighting was ongoing in three areas of Helmand province: the districts of Sangin, Musa Qala and Nawzad. Nawazad District Police Chief Nafas Khan reportedly requested reinforcements. 

Pakistan

Pakistan seeks FBI’s help in Axact probe

The Interior Ministry of Pakistan and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) wrote a letter to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation seeking assistance in investigating a Pakistani software company that was selling fake degrees online, officials said Monday (Dawn, RFE/RL). The letter included a report of FIA’s investigation into the scam and asked for assistance in the case that any US-based universities were involved. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on Saturday that Pakistan was asking both the FBI and Interpol for legal assistance.

Meanwhile, a division bench of the Sindh High court dismissed a petition by Axact CEO Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh on Monday. Shaikh requested that the court grant him protective bail against a “potential arrest” in the probe into his company, but the court said that the request could not be granted because a first information report against him had not been registered with the authorities. The Axact scandal began when Declan Walsh reported in the New York Times that the company was earning millions of dollars each year by selling fake degrees from non-existent online universities and manipulating customers.

Seven convicts hanged

Seven convicts were hanged across Pakistan early Tuesday (Dawn). One convict was sentenced to death in 1998, another just as late as last week. Pakistan lifted its moratorium on the death penalty in all capital cases on March 10, 2015. Initially, executions were resumed in terrorism-related offenses only, but it seems now that executions are spreading to capital cases for other crimes.

India

500 killed as extremely high temperatures sweep India

At least 500 people are reported to have died in a severe heatwave across India, with temperatures reaching 48C (118F) in some areas (BBC, Guardian). According to reports, the worst affected areas are the southern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, where more than 140 people have died since Saturday. In the capital Delhi temperatures are reported to be four degrees higher than the seasonal average. In the eastern city of Kolkata taxi drivers are refusing to work between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Meanwhile increased demand for electricity has led to power cuts in numerous cities, while officials from the meteorological department have said that the conditions are likely to continue for a few more days. The monsoon rains are expected to reach Indian shores by the May 31 but it will be a few weeks before they reach the northern parts of the country.

Modi: We have restored trust in the government

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an open letter published through social media on the occasion of the completion of the first year of the  National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government which he leads, said that his government ‘rejuvenated’ the economy and turned the world opinion about India more optimistic (TOI, HT). Modi completed his first year as the Indian premier on May 26, with positive reviews about his performance from domestic and international sources. At least 63 percent of Wall Street Journal’s readers gave the prime minister a rating of ‘a respectable start’ (WSJ). On Tuesday morning Modi tweeted: ‘Production is up, inflation is down, power generation has risen, poor are getting bank accounts…lot [sic] changed in 1 year,’ linking to a specially created website that showcases the government’s achievements from the past year. Earlier on Monday, speaking at Mathura, a town about 90 miles southeast of the capital Delhi, Modi focused his speech on small to medium businesses and farming communities, a move away from his traditional focus on industrialization and urban development. This shift, which the New York Times called ‘telling’ comes after Modi was criticized last week by domestic media and political opponents, including the leading opposition party leader Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, for extensive foreign trips to pursue interests of ‘big business while ignoring the poorest’ communities in India (NYT).

— Emily Schneider and Shuja Malik

Edited by Peter Bergen

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Schneider is a program associate in the International Security Program at New America. She is also an assistant editor of the South Asia channel. @emilydsch

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