South Asia Theater
Bloomberg'a unsubtle headline is "India Beats China to Mars Orbit at 11% Cost of US Probe." The Indian Space Research Organization's Mangalyaan, or "Mars craft," made orbit around the red planet at a cut-rate $74 million, and reached Mars two days after NASA's $671 million MAVEN craft. Bloomberg quotes a statement from Beijing's Foreign Ministry congratulating India on "landmark progress" that is the "pride of Asia." But your can feel the grudging nature of the obligatory compliment. The account aslo states: "The South Asian nation is trying to keep up with China, which plans to complete a manned space station by 2022." As for MAVEN, NPR informs us it stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, and is "about understanding the history of the climate on Mars." Posing it in such neutral and apolitical terms is patently dishonest and begs the question of toward what aim? Accounts don't note that Halliburton is drawing up plans for mining operations on Mars. (Yes, really.)
An Islamabad court on Sept. 15 ordered police to register a first information report (FIR) against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet members for killings of protesters on Aug. 31 in Islamabad's Red Zone. The FIR comes as a response to the political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) filing an application to the court requesting a case against the prime minister and other top government officials for the August killings. (Jurist, Sept. 15) The protests were coordinated by PAT and Tehreek-i-Insaf. (PTI, Sept. 11)
In a new video release, al-Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahri announced a new wing of the militant network to "raise the flag of jihad" across the "Indian subcontinent." Zawahri pledged that "al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent" (AQIS) will "break all borders created by Britain in India," and called on "our brothers" to "unite under the credo of the one god...in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir." The statement made two references to Gujarat, the home state of India's new Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gujarat was the scene of communal riots on his watch as chief minister of the state in 2002. More than 1,000 people, overwhelmingly Muslims, died in the wave of attacks. In the 55-minute video, delivered in a mixture of Arabic and Urdu, Zawahiri also pledged renewed loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. India has thus far had no recorded al-Qaeda presence, although it has suffered numerous attacks from groups including Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Indian Mujahedeen. (Long War Journal, Sept. 5; Today's Zaman, Turkey, BBC News, Indian Express, Sept. 4)
The Supreme Court of India ruled (PDF) Aug. 25 that all coal mining licenses awarded between 1993 and 2010 are illegal. The court found that the licenses failed to comply with the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act of 1957 (PDF); Section 3(3)(a)(iii) of the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act of 1973 (PDF); and the principle of trusteeship of natural resources. The ruling cited arbitrariness, lack of transparency, lack of objectivity, allotment tainted with mala fides and corruption, and made in favor of ineligible companies tainted with mala fides and corruption. The court will now decide if 218 such licenses should be canceled.
Faqir Jamshed Ahmad Gesu Daraz, leader of the Pakistan Seraiki Party (PSP), and two guards were killed in a bomb blast while driving to a Sufi shrine at in Kulachi Tehsil village of Dera Ismail Khan municipality in Pakistan's Pakhtunkhwa province on Aug. 4. Thousands had gathered at the shrine for a celebration, where Faqir Jamshed was to preside in his capacity as a spiritual leader of the Seraiki people. No group has claimed responsibility for the blast, but Kulachi Tehsil is regarded as stronghold of the Waziristan Taliban. Faqir Jamshed earlier belonged to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf political party, but had recently been expelled. The Tehreek-i-Insaf has recently come under criticism for its increasing sympathy with the Taliban. (RFE/RL, Aug. 6; Pak Tribune, Aug. 5; Dawn, Reuters, Aug. 4)
Pakistan's parliament on July 2 passed a new anti-terrorism bill that detractors are claiming grants excessive power to police. The proposed legislation, known as the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, allows police to use lethal force, to search buildings without a warrant and to detain suspects at secret facilities for up to 60 days without charge "on reasonable apprehension of commission of a scheduled offense." Opponents of the bill are calling it draconian and question the precedent that it sets for human rights in the country. The bill will become law if signed by President Mamnoon Hussain.
Police declared a curfew in Sri Lanka's southern coastal town of Aluthgama June 16 after simmering tensions between Buddhist militants and local Muslims escalated into clashes. The riots reportedly began after Muslim youth were accused of manhandling a Buddhist monk. Police arrested three suspects in the incident, but the Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena held a rally and advanced on the Muslim-majority district of Dharga Town in a vehicle convoy. The convoy was pelted with stones, sparking a melee that led to three days of fighting in Aluthgama and neighboring Beruwala, in which eight were killed, over 100 wounded, and several Muslim-owned shops burned. "There is a real risk of violence spreading elsewhere unless the government acts immediately," David Griffiths, Asia-Pacific deputy director at Amnesty International, told IRIN. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added: "I am very concerned this violence could spread to Muslim communities in other parts of the country." (IRIN, June 23; Nidahasa, June 16; Colombo Page, BBC News, June 15)
Three independent UN human rights experts on June 2 urged Pakistan to adopt urgent legislation to put an end to faith-based killings and protect the country's Ahmadiyya Muslim (BBC profile) community, whose faith is currently outlawed. The call follows a resurgence of violent attacks in Pakistan targeting Ahmadiyya Muslims, which have resulted in the deaths of two members of the community and are believed to be related to the practice of their religious faith. The country has also recently seen many arrests for blasphemy. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt said that the violence was "fueled by existing blasphemy legislation in Pakistan particularly targeting minorities." He went on to urge the country to guarantee the right to freedom of religion or belief for members of minority religious communities. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns also spoke, stressing the importance of ensuring accountability to the government's efforts to reduce attacks. Pakistan, according to Heyns, must take urgent and firm steps to bring justice to those guilty of such killings.