The South Asia Channel

US Announces Hostage Policy Overhaul; Drug-Resistant Bacteria Found in Afghan Hospitals; Monsoon Floods in Gujarat Kill 34

Pakistan US announces hostage policy overhaul President Obama said Wednesday that his administration had too often failed the families of American hostages taken overseas and announced a policy overhaul (NYT). The policy will publicly state for the first time that the United States government can communicate and negotiate with hostage takers, although Obama said the ...

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24:  U.S. President Barack Obama announces changes to the government's hostage policy in the Roosevelt Room at the White House June 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Families of hostages taken and killed by ISIS and other terrorism groups have described the government's interaction with them as unresponsive and uncaring. Obama said that would change but added that the policy of refusing to pay ransom would remain.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: U.S. President Barack Obama announces changes to the government's hostage policy in the Roosevelt Room at the White House June 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Families of hostages taken and killed by ISIS and other terrorism groups have described the government's interaction with them as unresponsive and uncaring. Obama said that would change but added that the policy of refusing to pay ransom would remain. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Pakistan

US announces hostage policy overhaul

President Obama said Wednesday that his administration had too often failed the families of American hostages taken overseas and announced a policy overhaul (NYT). The policy will publicly state for the first time that the United States government can communicate and negotiate with hostage takers, although Obama said the longstanding policy against paying ransoms to groups will not change. Peter Bergen outlined the ways in which the hostage policy will change, including the use of a Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell that will coordinate the government’s response and a “family engagement coordinator that will be the single point of contact for the families” (CNN). Bergen says the effectiveness of the new policy can be measured by whether or not negotiators can secure the release of American Caitlin Coleman and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, who are reportedly being held by the Haqqani network in Pakistan.

Heat wave death toll tops 800, temperatures drop

Health and rescue officials said the number of deaths from a severe heat wave in Pakistan surpassed 800 on Wednesday, the fourth day of high temperatures (NYT, Dawn). But officials also said that temperatures were dropping and the number of deaths on Wednesday was lower than the previous three days. All government offices and educational institutions remained closed on Wednesday to encourage people to stay home and avoid the outdoors. Further, Mufti Muhammad Naeem, an Islamic religious leader in Karachi, issued a rare fatwa or edict allowing ailing Muslims to forgo fasting during the annual observance of Ramadan, which requires most Muslims to abstain from eating or drinking water during the daylight hours. Meteorologists said Karachi’s weather should improve in the days ahead with a chance of light rain.

Afghanistan

Drug-resistant bacteria lurk in Afghan clinic

Highly contagious strains of drug-resistant bacteria that are making treating patients harder have been found at a war clinic on the frontline in Afghanistan (Reuters). Early evidence from tracking by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the last two years suggests that drug resistant strains of bacteria may be acute in Afghanistan, especially at the trauma center in the northern city of Kunduz, where Afghan forces are battling Taliban militants. Staff there have identified nearly 100 cases of multi-drug resistant bacteria since last year. Another hospital, in southern Helmand, found that patients treated at the hospital from 2013-2014 had high levels of resistance to widely used antibiotics. Doctors say that resistance to medication can be caused by over-prescription and patients not finishing courses of treatment, but in Afghanistan, it may be made worse by medicines of suspect quality being imported illegally. Nearly 60 percent of medicine in Afghanistan enters through illegal channels, according to Abdul Khalil Khakzad, head of Avincina Pharmaceutical Institute in Kabul.

Pakistan officer involved in parliament attack

Afghanistan’s intelligence service on Wednesday said that a Pakistani intelligence officer helped the Taliban carry out an attack on the Afghan parliament building in Kabul earlier this week (AP, Pajhwok, TOLO). Afghan intelligence services spokesman Hassib Sediqqi said the officer in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, identified as Bilal with no last name given, helped the Haqqani network carry out the attack that killed two people and wounded more than 30 others. Sediqqi also said the suicide car bomb used in the attack was manufactured in Peshawar, Pakistan, just across Afghanistan’s border. Pakistan has not commented on the allegations.

India

34 killed in western state of Gujarat after monsoon flash floods

At least 34 people have been killed and thousand others remain stranded after heavy rainfall in the western state of Gujarat on Wednesday (BBC, IBT). State authorities have asked people to move to higher grounds as incessant monsoon rains have triggered floods and house collapses. Heavy rains have been battering the worst-affected Saurashtra region, where more than 30 people have died in flood-related incidents. Nearly 1,000 people have been moved to higher ground and an equal number airlifted to safety. Indian air force helicopters have airlifted people stranded in a bus on a highway and low lying villages in the flood-hit districts.

India pledges $1 billion for Nepal earthquake aid

India on Thursday pledged $1 billion in assistance to earthquake affected Nepal for its massive reconstruction program at a donor conference in Kathmandu (BBC, WSJ, TOI, Hindu). Announcing the pledge, Indian Foreign Minister Shushma Swaraj said: “This pledge is over and above our existing bilateral developmental assistance of another one billion US dollars over the next five years, forty per cent of which would be a grant.” Additional pledges of $260 million from Japan, $130 million from the United States, and $100 million from the European Union, as well as an earlier announcement of up to $500 million from the World Bank, take the total assistance offered to around $3 billion. Nepal says it needs $7 billion after the devastating quakes, in which nearly 9,000 people were killed. Nepal was hit by an earthquake on April 25 followed by a strong aftershock on May 12. Nearly 500,000 houses were destroyed, and thousands of people were left in need of food, clean water, and shelter.

40th anniversary of the 1975 emergency today

Thursday is the 40th anniversary of the state of emergency imposed in India by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi (Hindu, BBC). The period which lasted from June 1975 till March 1977 (21 months) was marked by massive media censorship, restrictions on civil rights, and a forced mass sterilization campaign. On the occasion, in a series of tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for upholding “democratic ideals” in the country. Different editorials in local media such as Hindustan Times and Times of India have expressed that they feel a repeat of the emergency is unlikely due to a “stronger” press and a lively social media environment.

— Emily Schneider and Shuja Malik

Edited by Peter Bergen

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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