The South Asia Channel

Pope Francis to Visit Pakistan This Year; Sedition Student Granted Bail in New Delhi; Austrian Government Buys Billboards to Dissuade Asylum Seekers, Refugees

Pakistan Bonus Read: “Pakistan and blasphemy” (Economist) Pope Francis to visit Pakistan this year Pope Francis accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to visit Pakistan before the end of the year (Dawn, Time). Ports and Shipping Minister Kamran Michael and Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yusuf extended the official invitation. The Vatican confirmed the visit ...

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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 17: Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for the weekly audience on December 17, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. There was a festive atmosphere at the weekly General Audience on Wednesday in St. Peter's Square, as Pope Francis celebrated his 78th birthday. Pope Francis has asked for prayers for the terror victims this week in Sydney, Australia and in Peshawar, Pakistan. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Pakistan

Bonus Read: “Pakistan and blasphemy” (Economist)

Pope Francis to visit Pakistan this year

Pope Francis accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to visit Pakistan before the end of the year (DawnTime). Ports and Shipping Minister Kamran Michael and Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yusuf extended the official invitation. The Vatican confirmed the visit on Wednesday, though no date has been set.

Uber launches in Lahore

On Wednesday, Uber announced its launch in Lahore, making Pakistan its 69th country and Lahore its 386th city of operation (WSJCNBCCNNMoney). Acknowledging the high mobile phone usage but low credit card usage locally, Uber will incorporate UberGo – a taxi-like hailing service that allows passengers to pay in cash, with a base rate of just under $1.00. According to Shaden Abdellatif, Uber spokeswoman for Africa, Middle East, and Pakistan, “Lahore is our first city globally to have launched cash right from the beginning.” To ensure passenger safety, drivers will be required to have social referral certificates from non-blood relatives that are validated by the government and usually come from previous employers who vouch for the individual. All drivers will also undergo anti-sexual harassment training. To promote Uber and introduce the service, users in Lahore will ride for free from Thursday to Sunday.

Aziz: Afghan Taliban members live in Pakistan

Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the Pakistani prime minister on foreign affairs, said in comments at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC on Tuesday that members of the Afghan Taliban and their families are living in Pakistan (RFE/RLET). Aziz believes Islamabad has the power to influence them and bring them to the negotiating table, due in part to the fact that “their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities.” He continued, “Their families are here. We can use those levers to pressurize to say, ‘Come to the table.’ But we can’t negotiate on behalf of the Afghan government because we cannot offer them what the Afghan government can offer them.” Aziz referenced the ongoing peace talks among Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and China to broker a peace deal between the Taliban and Kabul government.

–Albert Ford

India

Sedition student granted bail in New Delhi

A student from Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU), Kanhaiya Kumar, who was arrested on sedition charges last month, was granted bail on Thursday morning by a court in New Delhi (BBC, Time). His arrest had triggered protests in India with many accusing the government of cracking down on free speech. However, many protesters came out in favor of the arrests and numerous government ministers gave statements defending the government’s actions.

Delhi police are investigating a rally held at JNU’s campus for acts of sedition, in particular condemnation of the execution of Kashmiri man Afzal Guru convicted for his involvement in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. Kumar, the president of the student government, was arrested on February 12 for his role in organizing the event and allegedly shouting anti-India slogans.

U.S. announces joint military exercises with India and Japan

The head of the U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris, addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday evening, announced that the United States will hold joint naval exercises in the northern Philippine Sea with India and Japan later this year (Time/Reuters). The announcement is likely to be seen as a threat in China as territorial disputes heat up in the nearby South China Sea. Over the past year, China has unilaterally laid claim to the Spratly Islands and deployed surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets in the Paracel Islands.

China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines all have various claims to the reefs and islands in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion of world trade passes every year.

Uber and Ola launch competing motorcycle hailing service in India

U.S. firms Uber Technologies Inc. and Ola introduced competing motorcycle-hailing services in the southern city of Bengaluru in the state of Karnataka on Thursday (Reuters, NBC).

Two wheelers are the most popular form of transport in many cities of India. Uber, is investing heavily to compete against local ride-hailing services across Asia. Last week it announced its first motorcycle service, in Thailand’s capital Bangkok.

–Shuja Malik

Afghanistan

Bonus Read: “How Turquoise Mountain is helping Afghan artisans preserve and pass on their skills,” by Sadie Dingfelder (Post)

Bonus Read: “Russia’s new role in Afghanistan,” by Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi (DW)

Austrian government buys billboards to dissuade asylum seekers, refugees

The Austrian government has purchased billboards, posters, bus signage, and other publicly visible materials in an effort to convince Afghans to not come to Austria (ReutersRT). According to Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, “The federal government has an upper limit of 37,500 asylum requests this year. In order to get to this number it is necessary to reduce the influx of refugees.” The slogans will include messaging trying to inform Afghans of the limited, if non-existent economic opportunities available to them in Austria and the dangers posed by smugglers. Of the 90,000 asylum requests Austria received last year, roughly one quarter were from Afghans.

–Albert Ford

Edited by Peter Bergen

Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Albert Ford is a research assistant with the International Security Program at New America.

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