The South Asia Channel

Al Qaeda Leader Pledges Loyalty to New Taliban Chief; Pakistani Military Court Sentences Six to Death; Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Calls on Modi; Dhaka Police Arrest Two Over Atheist Blogger’s Murder

Afghanistan Al Qaeda leader pledges loyalty to new Taliban chief Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, has pledged allegiance to the new Afghan Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in an audio message posted online Thursday (BBC, Reuters, NYT). “We pledge our allegiance … (to the) commander of the faithful, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, ...

-, -:  An image grab taken from a video broadcast on Al--Jazeera television 20 December 2006 shows Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri saying that only jihad, not elections, can bring about the liberation of occupied Palestinian territory. Osama bin Laden's right-hand man slammed Hamas, without naming it, for recognizing Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and taking part in elections on the basis of a secular constitution. The turbaned Egyptian-born Zawahiri frequently speaks for Al-Qaeda in video or audiotapes, some posted on internet sites, like As-Sahab, and others aired by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. AFP PHOTO/AL-JAZEERA/AS-SAHAB  (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
-, -: An image grab taken from a video broadcast on Al--Jazeera television 20 December 2006 shows Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri saying that only jihad, not elections, can bring about the liberation of occupied Palestinian territory. Osama bin Laden's right-hand man slammed Hamas, without naming it, for recognizing Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and taking part in elections on the basis of a secular constitution. The turbaned Egyptian-born Zawahiri frequently speaks for Al-Qaeda in video or audiotapes, some posted on internet sites, like As-Sahab, and others aired by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. AFP PHOTO/AL-JAZEERA/AS-SAHAB (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan

Al Qaeda leader pledges loyalty to new Taliban chief

Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, has pledged allegiance to the new Afghan Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in an audio message posted online Thursday (BBC, Reuters, NYT). “We pledge our allegiance … (to the) commander of the faithful, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, may God protect him,” said Zawahiri, who is believed to be hiding in the mountainous region on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The authenticity of the recording could not be verified. Divisions within the Taliban have emerged since the announcement last month of the death of long-time Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his quick replacement by Mansour. The pledge of loyalty by al Qaeda, which has maintained ties with the Taliban for almost two decades, could shore up Mansour’s position as the new leader.

Taliban rule Baghran district with iron fist

In spite of a public softening of old, hardline stances during international conferences and peace talks, the Taliban have been ruling Baghran district with the strict policies of the ‘90s, according to the New York Times (NYT). The Taliban have barely been out of power in the district and, as a result, have enforced harsh regulations on its population. For instance, men are jailed for shaving beards, spot turban checks to expose fancy haircuts are in place, and women are banned from travelling or learning. In compliance with the Taliban’s wishes, there is no cellphone service in Baghran. “You have to obey the rule of the Taliban, and you have to be a good man and not even think of bad things,” said Omar Khan, a shopkeeper. “You have to live the way Taliban wants you to live: You have to wear the proper clothing, and a turban, and grow your beard, and offer your prayers in a mosque five times a day, avoid listening to music, and avoid unnecessary chats with people. You can’t meet friends at night for card games.”

Pakistan

Military court sentences six to death in school massacre

A secrete military court in Pakistan sentenced six men to death after convicting them of involvement in the Taliban massacre of 134 children at an army-run school in Peshawar, the military said on Thursday (Reuters). The defendants — civilians convicted of aiding the gunmen who attacked the army school — confessed before the court, according to a statement from the military’s press wing. “The convicts were given fair trial by following all the legal formalities and offering/providing them legal aid and defense councils,” the statement said. The sentences are the first known convictions for the December massacre in Peshawar after parliament approved military courts to try accused militants in January.

Pakistan celebrates Independence Day

Pakistan celebrated winning independence from Britain on August 14, 1947 on Friday with rallies and a speech by Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain (NYT, Dawn, ET). People across the country took part in the 69th Independence Day celebrations, with many wearing patriotic-themed clothing and waving Pakistani flags as they took part in rallies or watched firework displays. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wished the people of Pakistan a happy Independence day, tweeting: “Greetings & good wishes to the people of Pakistan on their Independence Day.”

— Emily Schneider

India

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif calls on Prime Minister Modi

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday and held meetings with senior ministers including his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj during which bilateral issues of trade and investments were discussed (PTI, Reuters). Arriving in Delhi last night after a visit to Islamabad, Zarif met shipping minister Nitin Gadkari, who had visited Tehran in May when the two inked an agreement to develop Chabahar port.

Chabahar port is located on Iran’s southeastern coast. The strategically important port would provide India a sea-land access route to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan. The Iranian foreign minister told reporters in New Delhi on Friday that his country is open to Indian private companies investing in the development of Chabahar port.

Wholesale prices fall for a ninth consecutive month in India

Government data released on Friday shows that India’s wholesale prices fell at a faster than expected annual rate of 4.05 percent in July. This is the ninth consecutive month that wholesale prices in the country have been in decline and is at their lowest rate of decline in a decade (Reuters). The wholesale food prices fell 1.16 percent year-on-year, while fuel prices fell 12.81 percent from a year ago. India’s retail inflation has cooled to a record low of 3.78 percent in July, adding pressure on the central bank chief Raghuram Rajan to cut interest rates after China devalued its currency this week. The Reserve Bank of India kept rates unchanged at 7.25 percent this month even though the Modi government and industry have been urging for lower cost of borrowing.

Bangladesh

Dhaka police arrest two suspects over atheist blogger’s murder

Police in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka say they have arrested two suspected members of a banned Islamist group over the killing of atheist blogger Niloy Neel last week (BBC, YahooNews/AP, Guardian). Saad-al-Nahin and Masud Rana were arrested on Thursday evening. Local media reported that Nahin was arrested in 2013 on a charge of attempted murder over an attack on blogger Asif Mohiuddin. Nahin was free on bail but was supposedly under surveillance. Police officials said that the two men are suspected members of Ansarullah Bangla Team, a militant group accused of links to previous attacks on bloggers. Neel was murdered by a gang armed with machetes at his home in the capital Dhaka; it was the fourth such killing of a secular blogger this year. Neel’s attackers had tricked their way into his home by saying they were looking to rent a flat.

— Shuja Malik

 

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. Twitter: @emilydsch

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