The South Asia Channel

U.S. Secretary of State Visits Afghanistan; Kerala Government Orders Inquiry Into Fireworks Blast at Temple; Earthquake Kills Six in Northern Pakistan

Afghanistan U.S. Secretary of State visits Afghanistan U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kabul on Saturday, marking his first visit to the Afghan capital since 2014 when he helped broker Afghanistan’s coalition government (NYT). Kerry met with President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and led a meeting of ...

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani (R) and Abdullah Abdullah (C) arrive for a joint press conference in Kabul on July 12, 2014.  US Secretary of State John Kerry on July 12 held a second day of talks with Afghanistan's feuding presidential hopefuls, seeking a deal to "clean up the tally" after disputed elections. AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM BOURG        (Photo credit should read JIM BOURG/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani (R) and Abdullah Abdullah (C) arrive for a joint press conference in Kabul on July 12, 2014. US Secretary of State John Kerry on July 12 held a second day of talks with Afghanistan's feuding presidential hopefuls, seeking a deal to "clean up the tally" after disputed elections. AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM BOURG (Photo credit should read JIM BOURG/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of State visits Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kabul on Saturday, marking his first visit to the Afghan capital since 2014 when he helped broker Afghanistan’s coalition government (NYT). Kerry met with President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and led a meeting of senior officials from both governments. The agreement brokered in 2014 called for holding parliamentary elections within two years — delayed a year already — and a loya jirga, a grand assembly of elders from across the country, to amend the Constitution and change Abdullah’s role of chief executive to the position of prime minister.

The agreement’s deadline is in October, but Kerry asserted at a news conference, “Let me make this very, very clear, because I brokered the agreement, President Ghani signed it and Chief Executive Abdullah signed it.” He continued, “There is no end to this agreement at the end of two years or six months from now. This is an agreement for unity government, the duration of which is five years.” Ghani and Abdullah still disagree on many basic issues in the agreement, and their disagreements have slowed the government’s response to the worsening security and economic situations in Afghanistan.

Rockets struck Kabul’s diplomatic district within an hour of Kerry’s departure from Kabul on Saturday. The Taliban confirmed that Secretary Kerry was the target of the attacks in a statement the militant group released confirming responsibility for launching the rockets (CNN). No casualties resulted from the attacks, according to Afghan government spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

Bomb kills two education ministry workers in Kabul

A roadside bomb hit a minibus on Monday carrying Afghan Education Ministry workers to their offices in Kabul, according to the ministry (Reuters). Two people were killed and seven injured in the blast. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Government workers and members of the security forces are often targeted by insurgent groups seeking to dismantle the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

India

Kerala government orders inquiry into fireworks blast at temple

Government officials in the southern Indian state of Kerala ordered a judicial inquiry into an explosion and fire during a fireworks display at a local temple on Sunday that killed more than 100 people and injured more than 380 others (BBC, Reuters, NYT, WSJ, Post). Thousands of people were gathered at the Puttingal temple in the town of Paravur in Kollam district to watch the fireworks display as part of a local Hindu new year festival when the incident took place. Eyewitnesses reported that the incident occurred when a misfired firework fell onto a large stockpile of fireworks, causing an explosion so large it collapsed a building at the temple. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the site on Sunday and said the incident was “heart-rending and shocking beyond words.” Kerala’s Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the Kollam district administration had denied the temple authorities permission for the display. Sources say police are planning to take action against the temple administration and the contractors who put on the display.

State assembly elections in final phase in Assam and West Bengal

The final phase of state assembly elections in the states of Assam and West Bengal are being held on Monday (HT, LiveMint). 61 seats in Assam and 31 seats in West Bengal are being contested, while 17 million voters are eligible to vote in the two states. In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress is attempting to forge an alliance with the Congress party to compete with Prime Minister Modi’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), while in Assam, the Congress-led All India United Democratic Front is pitted against the BJP in alliance with the Bodoland People’s Front and Asom Gana Parishad.

BJP has seen a drop in its favorability since the general election in 2014 and faces a tough challenge on economic reforms in the national parliament. State elections are vital for BJP as members of the upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, are indirectly elected by state legislatures.

Prince William and Kate Middleton start a seven day tour of India

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Princess Catherine Middleton, started their seven-day tour of India and Bhutan on Sunday (BBC). The couple spent their first day in Mumbai, where they spoke to a few of the survivors from the 2008 Mumbai attacks and spoke at a local charity event. This is the couple’s first official trip to India.

Pakistan

Earthquake kills six in northern Pakistan

A 6.6-magnitude earthquake rattled parts of Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan on Sunday, killing six Pakistanis, according to authorities in Pakistan (Reuters, NYT). Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said five people were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and another was killed in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region. Pakistani officials say they continue to assess the damage, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed provincial and federal authorities to remain alert and provide assistance to those affected by the earthquake. The Hindu Kush area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is seismically active, with quakes often felt across the region.

Pakistani troops kill 34 suspected Baluch rebels

The Pakistani government announced on Saturday that paramilitary troops killed at least 34 suspected rebels in Baluchistan province during a three-day operation (Reuters). “The operation concluded today in which a huge quantity of arms and ammunition was also recovered from their camps, which were destroyed by the security forces,” said Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti, the provincial minister, at a press conference. Baluchistan has seen increasing violence since the latest iteration of an ethnic Baluch separatist insurgency began nearly a decade ago.

China, Pakistan launch joint military exercise

China’s air force launched joint training exercises on Saturday with the Pakistani Air Force, according to China’s defense ministry (Reuters). “China’s Air Force hopes to widen the scope of cooperation and dialogue with all countries and regions,” the Chinese defense ministry said in a statement online, adding that the exercise, called “Shaheen V,” would run until the end of the month.

–Alyssa Sims and Shuja Malik

Edited by Peter Bergen

JIM BOURG/AFP/Getty Images

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