The South Asia Channel

Pakistan Closes Main Afghan Border Crossing; “Freedom of Speech Is A Treasured Value, But Not Absolute”: Supreme Court; New Afghan Force Established in Helmand to Weaken Taliban

Editor’s Note: The South Asia Daily Brief will cease publication on May 13, 2016, as the partnership between Foreign Policy, New America, and Johns Hopkins SAIS comes to a close. Starting almost eight years ago in the summer of 2009 as the AfPak Daily Brief, we have published well over 1,500 Daily Briefs covering a range of South Asian issues including terrorism, politics, religion, business, and development for ...

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Afghan border police stand guard near the Torkham crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan in Nangarhar province on May 12, 2016. Torkham, the main border between Afghanistan and Pakistan was closed by Pakistani authorities on May 9, with hundreds of Afghan civilians attempting to get to Pakistan, notably for health treatment, waiting in the open for several days for the crossing to reopen. / AFP / NOORULLAH SHIRZADA (Photo credit should read NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor’s NoteThe South Asia Daily Brief will cease publication on May 13, 2016, as the partnership between Foreign Policy, New America, and Johns Hopkins SAIS comes to a close. Starting almost eight years ago in the summer of 2009 as the AfPak Daily Brief, we have published well over 1,500 Daily Briefs covering a range of South Asian issues including terrorism, politics, religion, business, and development for our more than 80,000 subscribers. New America wishes to thank our readers and our colleagues at Foreign Policy and Johns Hopkins SAIS for their collaboration on this project. Also, thanks to the editors of the brief over the years: Katherine Tiedemann, Andrew Lebovich, Jennifer Rowland, Bailey Cahall, Emily Schneider, Courtney Schuster, Ana Swanson, Shruti Pandalai, Jameel Khan, and Neeli Shah. Foreign Policy’s South Asia Channel will continue to be the home of thought-provoking content on the key issues facing Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and the larger region.

Peter Bergen, David Sterman, Alyssa Sims, Albert Ford, Udit Banerjea, and Shuja Malik

Pakistan

Bonus Read: “Samya Arif, a Pakistani Artist Aiming to Go Beyond Ornamentation,” by Stephen Heyman (NYT)

Pakistan closes main Afghan border crossing

On Tuesday, Pakistani authorities began fencing off one of the two main Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossings at Torkham, a site in Pakistan that connects Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province with Pakistan’s FATA (VOA). Done to restrict movement of Afghans coming across the border and to “tighten controls,” Afghan officials have voiced their concerns about the negative effect the action has on the transportation of goods and the many women and children seeking to travel to Pakistan for medical treatment who are now stuck in Afghanistan. Roughly 50,000 people, primarily Afghans, access the border crossing daily. Mohammad Nafees Zakaria, a Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman, said, “This is in the interest of all concerned to have a well-managed border, a border that has those fences or the check points so that the crossings could be monitored properly.”

Tensions escalated further on Thursday as both countries deployed tanks and armored personnel to the border sit (Dawn). Negotiators from both countries met on the Pakistan side of the border at midday Thursday but were unable to reach an agreement.

Five al Qaeda militants sentenced to death

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif on Thursday confirmed the death sentences of five suspected al Qaeda militants who perpetrated a May 2015 attack in Karachi that killed roughly 50 members of the Ismaili branch of Shiite Islam (NYT/AP). The military reported that the men were also responsible for the murder of Sabeen Mehmud, a women’s rights activist, in 2015.

India

Bonus Read: “India Is Stuck in the Socialist Seventies,” by Sadanand Dhume (WSJ)

“Freedom of speech is a treasured value, but not absolute”: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of India on Friday, hearing a petition by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Subramanian Swamy against provisions criminalizing defamation, ruled that the criminal provisions of defamation are constitutionally valid (Hindu, LiveMint). The verdict is aimed at clarifying the limits of free speech in India as the court expressed confidence that criminal provisions for defamation do not hinder free speech in the country. “Freedom of speech and expression is a highly treasured value… it’s sacrosanct but not absolute,” the court said. Under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), defamation is a criminal offense.

RBI governor Rajan says inflation higher than desired

Speaking at a university in London, the Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan said on Friday that inflation in India remains higher than policymakers would like to see (Reuters). He said, “Broadly core inflation has been fairly sticky, a bit higher than we would want. It hasn’t moved up and down. We will continue on the task of anchoring expectations.” Highlighting the possibility of a good monsoon season, Rajan said India was in the midst of a slow recovery though there were signs of faster growth. He expressed optimism about the banking sector in India after a bankruptcy law passed by parliament last week helping the country’s banks reduce risk on their lending instruments.

Charges dropped against five accused in Malegaon bombings

Authorities in India have dropped charges against the radical Hindu religious leader Pragya Thakur and four others in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, on grounds of lack of evidence (HT, Hindu). Opposition leaders criticized the government’s decision arguing that “Hindu terror” was not prosecuted under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government because the party has links with Hindu extremist organizations.

On September 29, 2008, two bombs exploded in Malegaon, about 300 kilometers south of Mumbai in Maharashtra, which killed seven people and injured 80. Malegaon has been the scene of numerous terrorist attacks in the past decade with the deadliest occurring in 2006 when a series of bombings in a Muslim cemetery killed 37 and injured 125 people.

Afghanistan

Bonus Read: “Don’t let the U.S. abandon thousands of Afghans who worked for us,” by Ryan Crocker (Post)

New Afghan force established in Helmand to weaken Taliban

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security has created and equipped a new 300-person fighting unit in Helmand to infiltrate and exploit divisions within the Taliban by embedding with local citizens and weakening the group’s stronghold in the province (Reuters). The unit’s existence was confirmed by Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, President Ashraf Ghani’s special envoy for security affairs in Helmand. A provincial official reported that the unit has been active in the districts of Musa Qala, Nawzad, Marjah, and Nad Ali. The Taliban’s main spokesman in southern Afghanistan, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, commented, “It is true that this contingent exists and operates mysteriously in some parts of Helmand. We have very strong intelligence and find those who want to infiltrate our ranks.” Local Helmandis have responded favorably to the newly-formed unit. Attaullah Afghan, a member of the Helmand provincial council, said, “It is a very good achievement by the Afghan government and has created splits within the Taliban.”

–Albert Ford and Shuja Malik

Edited by Peter Bergen

NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/Getty Images

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

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