While the world remains fixated on anti-government demonstrations in Kiev and Bangkok, perhaps the most intractable political standoff of the past weeks is also the one getting the least attention.
Twenty people were injured in Bangladesh's Kurigram district on Thursday after police reportedly fired 89 rubber bullets and six teargas canisters at anti-government demonstrators. The incident is only the latest in the spat of violent clashes between protesters and Bangladeshi security forces that have left at least 40 people dead and thousands injured in recent weeks. The opposition party alliance led by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) has organized mass protests calling for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who leads the governing Awami League, to step down and establish an impartial caretaker government in the lead-up to the January 5 elections.
Threatening a "tougher movement," BNP spokesperson Saluddin Ahmed set a Thursday deadline for the government to address the opposition's demands. With the deadline having come and gone, and Hasina still firmly in power, Bangladesh's violent political standoff may be only just beginning.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif might be officially calling the shots in Islamabad, but as of Friday, the most powerful man in Pakistan is someone else: Lt. General Raheel Sharif.
Sharif, who despite the shared surname is not related to the current prime minister, assumed control of the Pakistani armed forces with his installation as army chief of staff on Friday. He takes the reins from Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who enters retirement after six years in the position.
The appointment of Sharif was somewhat unexpected. One of four names submitted for consideration by Kayani to the prime minister, Sharif was chosen ahead of Lt. General Haroon Aslam, the second-most senior army official, and Lt. Rashad Mehmood, the candidate thought to be the favorite of Kayani. Sharif has strong credentials, and comes from a distinguished military family, but in a country where the army has ousted the civilian government on three separate occasions, perhaps his most important qualification is that he is considered a safe pick.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
India's space scientists must be tired, by now, of defending their cosmic ambitions. Though the nation has made a valiant effort to recast itself as a pioneer of space exploration in recent years, it can't seem to get around criticisms of how it spends its money.
The concerns, which India's space agency has often addressed but to no one's satisfaction, is newly relevant in the lead-up to its first Mars mission. As the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) prepares to launch a spacecraft bound for the red planet on Tuesday, many are wondering: How does a country with one of the lowest development levels in the world justify spending on a space program? Most assume that India's space program is fueled by competition with China's, and that India's dream of becoming the first Asian nation to the reach the red planet has more to do with establishing regional dominance than with scientific inquiry.
There may be something to that argument, given that the goal of this Mars-bound spacecraft is to orbit the planet in search of methane -- the presence of which would indicate potential for life. It would be a worthwhile scientific endeavor, if NASA's Curiosity rover hadn't already accomplished it.
Given the perceived redundancy of the mission, many have wondered whether the government should divert funding from its space programs to human development efforts.
A Bangladeshi cleaning crew found nearly $2 million in gold bars the other day in an airplane toilet. An unknown culprit, who fled the Dhaka airport, the flydubai plane, and the 65+ pounds in gold before he could be apprehended, tried to smuggle 280 bars out of Dubai to the Bangladeshi capital.
The Daily Mail reported that Bangladeshi customs officials knew about the golden cargo, featuring photos of the proud officials in front of their booty.
But many questions remain. Was the plane toilet still making the universally scary sucking sound when flushed, or was it muffled by its precious content? Was it the smugglers' initial intent to put the gold in the toilet, or was it dumped there when they got scared of being caught? And why do incidents like this keep happening?
In a twin event earlier in October at the Chennai Airport in Delhi, the Indian Directorate of Revenue Intelligence retrieved 32 golden nuggets weighing 2.2 pounds each from an Air India plane's lavatory, where they were left by anxious smugglers who eventually ended up being arrested.
MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
With six months until presidential elections and half the country undecided, it's officially campaign season in Afghanistan. Twenty-seven candidates have registered to be put on the ballot -- though many of these will likely be disqualified as their paperwork is reviewed. The first tracking poll, conducted by the Afghan news network TOLOnews and consulting company ATR, is already out -- and it shows that Afghans have a long way to go to make up their minds about who should succeed President Hamid Karzai.
The leading contender in the race is Abdullah Abdullah, the country's former foreign minister who ran against Karzai in 2009 but ultimately withdrew from the contest rather than force what would have been a divisive runoff election. He has the support of about 22 percent of the country, far more than any other candidate. "Abdullah's lead at this early juncture is not surprising, since he has more name recognition than others and has also spent the last few years organizing for the 2014 elections," Omar Samad, a senior Central Asia fellow at the New America Foundation and former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada, told FP, "whereas many other nominees entered the race at the last minute."
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Asian markets seemed pleased by the news, which broke Tuesday evening (or Wednesday morning, Asia time) that President Obama would nominate Janet Yellen for the position of Fed chair this afternoon. Policymakers in the region, who'd been cheering for her, spoke warmly of the selection -- mostly because the relatively dovish Yellen is seen as someone who'll be slower to roll back the easy money policies of her predecessor, giving Asia more time to prepare for the day the greenback spigot turns off.
But Yellen also has something of a special relationship with the region, which Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Hiroshi Nakaso alluded to when he told the Wall Street Journal that "we already have a relationship of mutual trust with each other." Yellen spent six years, from 2004 to 2010, as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a position that involved traveling to Asia at least once a year on fact-finding missions, and brought her to countries across the region from South Korea to Vietnam to India. The reports she produced after each trip are typically brief -- and sometimes rather dry -- accounts of the state of each country's economy and the challenges it is likely to face. But they do give us an occasional hint about the likely new Fed chair's thoughts on the world's most economically dynamic region.
On Monday, Apple (and, in second place, Google) surpassed Coca-Cola as the most valuable brand in the world according to an annual report by the consultancy Interbrand -- a title the beverage behemoth has claimed since the start of the report's run 13 years ago. It's the end of an era in which Coca-Cola's international ubiquity and global recognition seemed untouchable. By dint of its links to American culture, the soda has occupied an often bizarre place in political movements around the world, frequently serving as an expression of solidarity with -- or distaste for -- the West and the capitalist culture it exports. A verb was even coined to reflect the beverage's association with cultural imperialism: to "coca-colonize" means to "bring (a foreign country) under the influence of U.S. trade, popular culture, and attitudes." Here's a look back at some of Coke's most memorable cameos in international relations.
FARJANA K. GODHULY/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee announced that it was nominating the film Zinda Bhaag, a drama/comedy about three young Pakistani men who dream of living abroad, as Pakistan's first Oscar submission in five decades. It's a development some are heralding as a sign of the revival of Pakistani cinema -- and a particularly noteworthy one given the country's fondness for Indian entertainment and the movie's emphatic departure from the copycat Bollywood genre that has defined Pakistan's movies in recent years. So, is Pakistani cinema really poised to take on India's world-famous movie industry?
In the mid-20th century, "Lollywood," as Pakistan's Lahore-based film business is known, thrived under such legendary actors and directors as Waheed Murad and Nazir Ahmed Khan. But in the decades that followed, several factors combined to strangle movie production in the country. In 1979, Pakistan's president, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, launched an Islamization agenda that included banning all films made in the preceding three years and promulgating the Motion Pictures Ordinance of 1979, which subjected films to a rigid censorship code. Zia-ul-Haq also banned Indian movies -- films often infused with nationalist, even anti-Pakistani, themes -- from the country, which simply encouraged a blossoming of VHS smuggling and DVD pirating that essentially rendered meaningless Gen. Pervez Musharraf's lifting of the ban in 2008. According to the U.S. government, Pakistan is now one of the worst violators of intellectual property rights in the world. As the nation's film infrastructure crumbled (the Pakistani Taliban has repeatedly targeted cinema houses), financing for movies dried up.
Now, however, there are indications that the quality and quantity of Pakistani films are improving. Zinda Bhaag, for instance, couldn't debut on time because there was too large a bottleneck of unreleased Pakistani films scheduled before it. Still, it's worth noting that the film had a mostly Indian crew and post-production was done in Mumbai. Lollywood, in other words, hasn't broken free of Bollywood's grip just yet. Here's a trailer of the movie, which comes out on Sept. 20:
RIZWAM TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Fars News Agency, the state-run Iranian news outlet famous for picking up an Onion story and presenting it as news, has apparently decided that plagiarizing satirical articles isn't brazen enough. On Thursday, the news agency's editors reprinted a Foreign Policy article on the debate over chemical weapons in Syria. And by "reprinted" we mean they lopped off entire paragraphs, changed key words, and added others to turn the argument into a case for why the U.S. shouldn't take military action in Syria -- and why the rebels, not Syrian President and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad, have committed unspeakable atrocities (oh, and Iran comes off looking pretty good too). "This article originally appeared on the US Foreign Policy magazine," the Fars article notes at the end of the story. We beg to differ.
The shocking findings of a study on sexual assault in Asia, published Tuesday in the Lancet Global Health journal, have been generating a lot of buzz, particularly the figures on Papua New Guinea, where 59 percent -- yes, more than a majority -- of men admitted to raping sexual partners.
The researchers involved in the study, which is part of a wider United Nations campaign to track and study sexual violence in the Asia-Pacific region, interviewed men aged 18 to 49 in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka. To control for some variation, the investigators used only male interviewers and did not use the word "rape" explicitly, asking instead if the subjects had "forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex."
By any measure, the numbers are unsettling. Across the region, 10 percent of men said they had raped a non-partner, and almost one in four -- 24 percent -- admitted to raping a partner. But one of the most striking parts of the study -- the largest of its kind ever conducted -- is the variation in frequency of sexual assault across countries. Percentages of non-partner rape, for instance, jump from 5.4 percent in rural Bangladesh to 23 percent in Jayapura, Indonesia to a staggering 41 percent in Papua New Guinea. All of which raises a question: What could possibly account for such a huge disparity in cultural propensities toward rape?
NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images
Think fast: Is al Qaeda defeated? Is it stronger than ever? Or is it both?
Not sure? You're in good company. Terrorism analysts can't decide either, and the threat of an attack by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has shuttered U.S. and Western embassies across the Middle East and South Asia in recent days, has re-started a debate about the state of the infamous terrorist network. The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that, "While al Qaeda's central leadership may be weakened, the rest of the group has morphed into smaller entities and dispersed, which has made the threat harder to predict and track," while the Telegraph described al Qaeda as "currently experiencing something of a renaissance" after prison breaks in Iraq and Pakistan. The latest threat that has shuttered embassies "is a wake-up call," Rep. Peter King said on ABC's This Week on Sunday. "Al Qaeda is, in many ways, stronger than it was before 9/11 because it's mutated and spread in different directions."
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Speaking on a 16th birthday that she nearly didn't live to see, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education rights advocate targeted by the Taliban, called on an assembly at the United Nations on Friday to invest in educational opportunities for children around the globe and particularly for girls in the developing world.
She described her ordeal matter-of-factly, saying, "On the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed."
And she pushed back against her assailants' worldview. The Taliban thinks "that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school," she observed. "The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits. Pakistan is peace-loving democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. And Islam is a religion of peace, humanity, and brotherhood. Islam says that it is not only each child's right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility."
But while the Taliban may have failed in its efforts to silence critics like Malala, Pakistan has made little headway in increasing access to education and halting violence against children in recent years. The most recent U.N. data, tracked by the Guardian, show that gender parity at all levels of education in Pakistan has plateaued, with 82 girls to every 100 boys in primary school and 73 girls to every 100 boys in secondary school -- and this does not include the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), where the Taliban has exerted the most influence.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
On Wednesday, the Indian Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling banning politicians who have been convicted of serious crimes from sitting in parliament, supplementing an earlier law banning convicts from running for office. But what really caught our eye was a statistic in the Financial Times' write-up of the news. An astounding 162 out of 543 members of the Lok Sabha, India's lower house of parliament, have criminal cases against the, according to data collected after India's last general election in 2009 by National Election Watch and the Association for Democracy Reforms. For those keeping score, that's 30 percent of lawmakers.
In its coverage of the Supreme Court decision, the Press Trust of India, citing the findings of the same two organizations, adds that 1,258 out of 4,032 sitting lawmakers in state legislatures are facing criminal cases -- also roughly 30 percent.
DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images
As the Obama administration considers what the residual U.S. force in Afghanistan will look like after its planned drawdown in 2014, the general consensus has been that some troops -- particularly special forces for counterterrorism missions -- will be staying behind. But amid a new spate of disagreements between U.S. officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai following his withdrawal from tentative peace talks with the Taliban last month, the New York Times reported this morning that the Obama administration is increasingly considering the "zero option" -- a complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Since a particularly contentious meeting with Karzai on June 27, the Times reports, "the idea of a complete military exit similar to the American military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario -- and a useful negotiating tool with Mr. Karzai -- to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul."
Or, then again, it could be a bluff. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that Washington has stared down its nominal ally in Kabul, or the other way around (despite Obama's insistence that he doesn't bluff). Just last year, Karzai told reporters that the United States was playing a "double game" and threatened to find a new weapons supplier, name-dropping India, China, or Russia.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
In his inaugural remarks as prime minister on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif called for an end to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. "The chapter of daily drone attacks should stop," he told the Pakistani parliament. "We respect sovereignty of other countries but others should also respect our sovereignty."
Sound familiar? It's hardly the first time Pakistan has called for an end to U.S. drone strikes:
It's worth noting that these quick snippets from news stories only scratch the surface when it comes to the convoluted politics of U.S.-Pakistani security relations. For example, despite the public outrage, some Pakistani officials were still quietly green-lighting U.S. drone operations in February 2009, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly noted that some of the strikes were being launched from bases in Pakistan.
Pakistani political opposition to U.S. drone strikes grew as the number of strikes increased -- though the first strike took place way back in 2004, there were no more than a few strikes each year until 2008, when there were 37. That number grew to 122 in 2010 but has been declining since. Still, the decreasing number of strikes hasn't extinguished Pakistani opposition, and calls for an end to U.S. drone strikes were a rallying cry for populist candidates in Pakistan's recent election.
It's unclear if the country's new prime minister will make much headway on this front, or if he'll even try. The New York Times suggested that Sharif's comments today may be more political doublespeak, noting that "Mr. Sharif's rhetoric may have been driven by political considerations, with some suggesting that he may be more pragmatic toward the United States once I office." But Sharif has also positioned himself as a counterweight to the Pakistani military establishment -- which forced him from office when he was prime minister in the 1990s -- and might challenge the cadre of generals who have been more permissive of U.S. strikes than elected officials. Today's announcement, though? It's nothing new.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Update: The streak continues. Arvind Mahankali, 13, won the 2013 national spelling bee with the German-Yiddish word "knaidel" on Thursday night, making him the sixth Indian-American winner in as many years.
When, in 2010, Anamika Veeramani correctly sounded out the letters to "stromuhr" (I hadn't heard the word before either) to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, she captured the hearts and minds of the Indian and U.S. media alike. This was partly thanks to her inspiring performance -- and also because she had become the third Indian-American in as many years to win the prestigious competition. "Spelling champ's victory hat-trick for Indian-Americans," gushed, the Hindu, an English-language daily in India.
Indian-Americans have maintained their Scripps dominance ever since, having now won the title of America's best speller for five consecutive years. In fact, 10 of the last 14 winners have been Indian-American.
With the competition's finals coming up Thursday at 8 p.m., the world will soon learn if this domination will continue. Indian-Americans represented around a third of this year's semi-finalists, and two of them were siblings of past winners.
Just what accounts for this astounding success? As it turns out, we're not the first to ask this question. "Is it because of India's colonial history with Britain", wondered the Hindu back in 2010, "or is it something at the level of genetic programming?" The answer is neither as Darwinian as genetics nor as deterministic as colonialism.
Part of the explanation does have to do with education. In India, education tends to be more rote, with an emphasis on memorization. The Wall Street Journal quotes Sharmila Sen, a former English professor at Harvard, as saying:
The first generation immigrant parent brings with her/him a set of memories about how education works and what is to be valued. For Indians that is a memory of endless class tests doled out on a regular basis to evaluate our ability to retrieve information - spellings of words, names of world capitals, cash crops of states, length of rivers, height of mountains, and a plethora of minutiae charmingly labeled as General Knowledge.
In addition to bringing this educational emphasis to the United States, highly skilled immigrants tend to enroll their children in more academically oriented extracurricular pursuits, as Forbes notes. (As a first-generation American, I can attest to this, having parents who pushed piano and quiz bowl over organized sports).
But the phenomenon may have as much to do with where immigrants are going as it does with where they're coming from. As Sen went on to tell the Journal, the spelling bee represents a way for Indians to assimilate. George Thampy (winner in 2000 for the comparably easy word "demarche") echoed this sentiment, calling spelling "an American tradition that stresses diligence and studying."
Immigrants also tend to concentrate in specific fields, benefiting from existing networks and internal assistance. And Indian-Americans aspiring to the national spelling bee have definitely benefitted from one such network. As Slate puts it, Indian-Americans "have their own minor-league spelling bee circuit" -- the North South Foundation (NSF):
The NSF circuit consists of 75 chapters run by close to 1,000 volunteers. The competitions, which began in 1993, function as a nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans-there are separate divisions for math, science, vocab, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking-and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India.
Originally conceived as a way for young people to gain access to Indian-American communities and educational resources, "in the last decade North South Foundation has transformed from an SAT prep course into a training ground for Scripps," according to Slate.
Spelling bees are an historically American-British sport (Slate, which deserves a nod for its stellar spelling bee coverage generally, has an amazing list of alternative contests that includes a Chinese speed-dictionary competition). But bees have slowly gained international traction. It's no surprise that India is among the countries that now boast regional spelling bees.
So will an Indian-American claim the crown again this time around? If past years are any indication, not even a fainting fit can stop a determined winner:
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Glee, the hit U.S. TV show, has won fans the world over for its ability to tackle the hard issues of adolescence -- homosexuality, bullying, teen pregnancy -- through the ever-accessible music of Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. And it seems Pakistani television producers have taken note. As AFP reports today, the country will release its own version of the show, Taan, this fall. The news agency has more on the 26-episode series, which will include music from artists like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (the photo above shows a rehearsal for the program):
'Taan' follows the lives and loves of a group of young people who regularly burst into song. But this time they attend a music academy in Lahore, instead of an American high school.
Taan - which is a musical note in Urdu - tackles subjects considered off limits in Pakistan's deeply conservative Muslim society.
For example, a love affair "between a Taliban extremist and a beautiful Christian girl" promises to give Rachel and Finn's tortured romance a run for its money. And even more controversial is a planned storyline depicting a gay relationship.
The show's creators have come up with creative ways to avoid angering authorities. Take the aforementioned plotline of two male lovers. "Let's say in a certain scene, there are two boys talking to each other, they are not allowed to show their physical attachment to each other," explains director Samar Raza, particularly since homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan. "So I bring a third character who says: 'God designed Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.'" This third conservative character will theoretically enable Raza to discuss homosexuality while evading censorship.
Concern about censors isn't the only factor distinguishing Pakistan's version of Glee from its U.S. inspiration. As the Telegraph points out, Taan will include a dark side that isn't exactly applicable to the lives of U.S. tweens:
One of the characters, Annie Masih is described as losing all her family in the 2009 attack on a Christian enclave in the town on Gojra, a real episode in which seven people were burned alive.
Another storyline involves Fariduddin, a member of the Pakistan Taliban intent on blowing up the academy before he is eventually seduced by music.
Then again, Glee hasn't shied away from the dark side of life either.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
With Pakistan's election just around the corner on Saturday -- and amid a month-long campaign of violence that local papers have dubbed the "reign of terror" -- the New York Times reported Friday that Pakistan's Interior Ministry has demanded that the paper's Islamabad bureau chief, noted journalist Declan Walsh, leave the country. From the Times's report:
The ministry gave no explanation for the expulsion order, which was delivered via a two-sentence letter by police officers to the bureau chief, Declan Walsh, at 12:30 a.m. Thursday local time at his home.
"It is informed that your visa is hereby canceled in view of your undesirable activities," the order stated. "You are therefore advised to leave the country within 72 hours." The timing of the order means Mr. Walsh must exit Pakistan on the night of the elections.
Walsh has reported from Pakistan for the past nine years for the New York Times and the Guardian, and his journalism is characterized by an eye for detail and a knack for making a frequently perplexing country comprehensible. For the past month, his reports have focused on the run-up to Pakistan's May 11 election: political maneuvering and rivalries, patronage networks, and the string of attacks that have punctuated the campaign. We've collected some of his greatest hits from recent weeks below.
From his May 8 article on Pakistan's feudalistic patronage networks:
As a result, Multan has been transformed, residents say. The city is ribboned with new roads and expressways, while a modern airport, capable of accommodating wide-body jets, is near completion. The railway station has been overhauled, some neighborhoods have new sewerage and young students have been awarded generous scholarships.
A giant billboard outside Mr. Gilani's house lists his achievements: 34 major development projects, costing more than $280 million, all financed by Pakistani taxpayers. "Multan has become like Paris for us," said Muhammad Bilal, a 28-year-old laborer and enthusiastic Gilani supporter, at a rally last week....
Mr. Gilani, for example, was in jail from 2001 to 2006 during the rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf on a charge of arranging 600 government jobs for his constituents during a previous administration in the 1990s. "If giving jobs is a crime, then I am a criminal," he told voters at one rally, to loud cheers.
In fact, the practice is institutionalized: The government gives each Parliament member, no matter the party, about $200,000 a year to spend on "development" -- effectively, a patronage slush fund.
He writes a riveting lede, like this one from his May 5 article about Pakistan's hardline Islamist candidates:
Dust swirled as the jeep, heralded by a convoy of motorcycle riders and guarded by gunmen in paramilitary-style uniforms, pulled up outside the towering tomb of an ancient Muslim saint.
Out stepped Maulana Abdul Khaliq Rehmani, a burly cleric with a notorious, banned Sunni Muslim group. Thanks to a deft name change by his group, he was now a candidate in Pakistan's general election, scheduled for Saturday.
Or this intro from his April 21 article on the Pakistani Taliban's intimidation tactics:
When Shahid Khan started talking, his gunmen clambered onto a school's rooftop, scanning the surrounding hills with flashlights, anticipating a possible attack.
In the past 10 days, militants have carried out five attacks against Mr. Khan's party.
Below them, Mr. Khan, a candidate for his region's provincial assembly, addressed potential voters - poor farmers and village traders, gathered on a cluster of rope beds outside the school, listening raptly to his promises. Then, after wolfing down snacks offered by his hosts, he abruptly left.
"They say it's not safe around here," said Mr. Khan, as he leapt into a waiting car, trailed by a bodyguard. "We'd better get going."
No stranger to Pakistan's extremist groups, Walsh profiled Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, in February:
...Mr. Saeed lives an open, and apparently fearless, life in a middle-class neighborhood here.
"I move about like an ordinary person -- that's my style," said Mr. Saeed, a burly 64-year-old, reclining on a bolster as he ate a chicken supper. "My fate is in the hands of God, not America."
New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson has written to the Pakistani interior minister protesting the decision, and journalists and analysts have voiced their support on Twitter.
100+ already dead in Pakistan election violence; 600k security to be deployed this wknd. Hence Pak expulsion of NYT reporter @declanwalsh.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) May 10, 2013
Walsh, for his part, has so far only tweeted out the Times article about his enforced departure:
On eve of Pakistani elections, been asked to leave:nytimes.com/2013/05/11/wor…— Declan Walsh(@declanwalsh) May 10, 2013
With Pakistani elections looming on May 11, it seems like every day brings a new report about destabilizing attacks in the country. The unrelenting violence, which Pakistan's Express Tribune has dubbed the "Reign of Terror," includes assassinations that have delayed elections in several districts and left a staggering number of casualties. Bloomberg has compiled the most thorough timeline of the attacks and estimates that, in the past month, "at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured."
Terrorists -- mostly from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but also Baluchi separatists -- have pursued politicians in particular, and candidates have been gunned down in the streets. On May 3, Saddiq Zaman Khattak, a parliamentary candidate for the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was shot and killed along with his three-year-old son while returning from Friday prayers in Karachi. Gunmen ambushed ANP candidate Muhammad Islam on April 27, killing his brother in the attack. And Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party in Hyderabad, was assassinated by the TTP on April 11.
Bombings, some of which have targeted candidates, have also indiscriminately killed their supporters. The deadliest blast killed at least 20 individuals at an ANP rally on April 16. The attacks have targeted election events, but also included car bombings and bomb and grenade attacks on campaign offices and potential polling places. Just today, gunmen abducted Ali Haider Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after killing his bodyguards. It is the first time a candidate has been kidnapped in the rash of attacks.
"It is pretty clear that this is the most violent election I have witnessed in 23 years" of election monitoring in Pakistan, Peter Manikas of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told the Washington Post. "It's a different type of violence in trying to disrupt the election as a whole. It makes everything unsafe."
Early in April, the TTP singled out three political parties -- ANP, MQM, and PPP -- as the targets of their attacks, but in the past week, not even the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema (JeU) party has been spared. On May 6, a JeU rally was bombed in Kurram, killing 25, though a TTP spokesman was quick to assert that the Taliban didn't oppose the party so much as the candidate, "who they said had betrayed Arab fighters to U.S. agents," according to Reuters. The next day, a suicide bombing in Hangu targeting another JeU rally killed 10. In a new statement quoted by Reuters, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud expressed opposition to the political process as a whole, writing, "We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy."
The worst violence may in fact be yet to come, as Pakistanis head to the polls this weekend. TTP pamphlets posted in Karachi are warning potential voters to stay home, the Telegraph reports. "If you stay away you will protect yourself," one reads. "If not you are responsible for your fate.... If you go there you will be responsible for the loss of your life and your loved ones." In anticipation of attacks, more than 600,000 security personnel will be on duty for the elections, with five to ten guards at each polling place, according to the Associated Press.
It's a far cry from the atmosphere you'd hope for to mark the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically elected civilian government has finished its term.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Last time we checked in with Pakistan's falcon population, we reported on the surprising, feel-good story of how the Taliban have saved the fearsome birds in the tribal areas by fueling violence that has scared off poachers. Now there's a new wrinkle when it comes to the status of falcons in this troubled region.
On Monday, Indian security forces recovered a dead falcon that had been outfitted with a camera and an antenna (see photo above) near the fort city of Jaisalmer. According to Agence France-Presse, the wired bird has spooked Indian military officials, who say that while it may just be the work of hunters, "the possibility of it being an espionage attempt from Pakistan cannot be ruled out at this stage."
So, is Pakistan turning its great falcon glut into a low-tech drone fleet as part of its ongoing confrontation with India? Fueling suspicions in this case is the fact that the bird was recovered in an area used by the Indian military for war games. As recently as April 2012, India massed 50,000 troops in the area for joint exercises between its army and air force. A falcon would seem like the perfect countermeasure, no?
As it happens, this isn't the first time Indian authorities have insinuated that Pakistan is enlisting avian henchmen to spy on its nemesis to the south. In 2010, Indian authorities placed under armed guard a pigeon suspected of delivering messages across the border. The pigeon, police said, may have been on a "special mission of spying."
Could this also be part of a regional trend of using feathered friends to outwit high-tech aerial defenses? In 2011, Saudi authorities detained a vulture on charges that it was spying on behalf of Israel after learning that it bore a tag reading, "Tel Aviv University." And while officials eventually cleared the bird -- named R65, for its identification code -- on charges of espionage, is it too much to hope that, somewhere in the Pakistani hinterlands, an army of falcons-turned-surveillance drones is gathering strength?
Stay safe out there, feathered friends.
Two nuclear-armed countries conducted missile tests this past week -- and neither of them was North Korea. Instead, the missile launches came from nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.
Last Sunday, India fired a medium-range, nuclear-capable Agni-II missile. The missile, which has a range of over 1,200 miles, was launched successfully from Wheeler Island in the Bay of Bengal. Then, on Wednesday, Pakistan tested its own Hatf-IV/Shaheen-I missile. Pakistani officials said the missile successfully hit its target at sea, and demonstrates the country's ability to deliver a nuclear payload with a range of more than 500 miles.
The dueling missile tests aren't cause for alarm, though, says Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "These tests are frequent with Islamabad and New Delhi keeping each other informed," he told FP. "Both governments have lowered the rhetoric recently. Pakistan is pausing for elections. So expect no officially sponsored crises."
"Missile tests by India and Pakistan are relatively routine and frequent," added Gary Samore, a former Obama administration WMD czar and now executive director for research at Harvard's Belfer Center. "We don't pay much attention to them." So we can all breathe easy -- for today at least.
In India, elephants are revered as the living incarnation of the Hindu god Ganesh -- but that doesn't mean Indians want the huge animals showing up at voting booths. State elections are slated to take place across the country this year, and the Hindu reports today that 68 polling stations are thought to be "vulnerable for elephant attacks."
To address the proble, the country's election commission has enlisted the help of the Forest Department, whose buses will cart election staff to "areas where man-elephant conflict is rampant" -- mainly polling stations in Alur, Arkalgud, and Sakleshpur. The department will also teach officials and police officers the "dos and don'ts" of avoiding an elephant encounter in the region.
The Forest Department has been protecting poll-goers in this manner ever since the big mammals began disrupting elections in the 1990s. In April 2009, for instance, the department sent guards to the northeastern region of Meghalaya to protect voters after a rampaging elephant killed four people there the month before, according to the Times of India. The guards were armed with "self defense weapons" -- drums, cymbals and even some elephants of their own.
In one of the odder reasons we've come across for stonewalling a politician's bid for office, a voter has formally objected to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Shahbaz Sharif's candidacy in Pakistan's May 11 elections, citing the absence of his beard. Pakistan's Geo TV reports:
[The voter] claimed that the former chief minister didn't follow Sunnah [teachings of the prophet] and teachings of Islam. The applicant said Mr Shahbaz didn't grew a beard as per Sunnah so his nomination papers be rejected and be disqualified from contesting election.
While beards are prevalent among Muslim politicians, they are certainly not a requirement -- particularly in Pakistan, whose former and current presidents, Asif Ali Zardari and Pervez Musharraf, both boast clean-shaven jaws. As Sharif tweeted on Thursday, "Never thought beard would be relevant to contesting elections."
The politician, a former chief minister of Punjab, isn't just facing opposition over his facial hair, however. As the Pakistani paper Dawn reported on Thursday, the country's National Accountability Bureau has also objected to the candidacy of Shahbaz and his brother Nawaz (a former prime minister), who "have been accused of accumulating money and assets beyond their declared means of income by misusing authority." Perhaps, then, the main issue is not Shahbaz's lack of a beard, but rather the man behind it.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Ahead of Pakistan's May 11 general election -- the first time in the country's history that an elected government is expected to (peacefully) hand over power to another elected government -- the British Council has conducted a survey of Pakistani youth between the ages of 18 and 29 -- a demographic that makes up 30 percent of the electorate and will play an important role in the upcoming election.
The May election is expected to test Pakistan's democracy, but the survey results do not bode well for the country's democratic future: Only 29 percent of those surveyed think that democracy is the right political system for Pakistan, while 38 percent favor Islamic sharia law and 32 percent prefer military rule.
A whopping 94 percent of those surveyed think that Pakistan is heading in the wrong direction.
This is a dramatic change from 2007, when 50 percent of young people in the country were similarly bearish. For some context, in the United States last week, 57 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen think that the country is heading in the wrong direction.
This doesn't mean, however, that Pakistani 18- to 29-year-olds are going to throw up their hands in resignation. According to the report, "A substantial majority of the youth still believe that they will have a role in changing the country for the better." The question is, will democracy have a place in that "better future"?
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
The Soviet Union's 10-year occupation of Afghanistan cost the country more than 15,000 lives, and an additional 50,000 were wounded. Before the USSR withdrew its forces in 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev described the Soviet efforts to fight the insurgency there as "a bleeding wound." And yet -- just over two decades after leaving what came to be considered the Soviet version of the Vietnam War -- Russia is now eager to return to Afghanistan.
Russian defense officials are exploring the possibility of establishing military bases on Afghan soil after the U.S. drawdown in 2014, according to Russian press reports. Sergey Koshelev, of the Russian Defense Ministry's Department of Cooperation, told Russia Today that the military "will look into various options of creating repair bases" to maintain the Afghan National Security Forces's Russian-made equipment. Further cooperation is also being considered, according to Russia's NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko.
Russia certainly has an economic stake in post-war Afghanistan. In addition to maintaining Russian gear -- from small arms to armored personnel carriers and helicopters -- Russia is also considering expanding its supply routes into Afghanistan through Central Asian countries. These supply routes, often called the Northern Distribution Network, have been a troublesome logistical lifeline for ISAF troops in Afghanistan, and will likely remain important after the drawdown.
An article in the government-sponsored paper Pravda last November touted Russia's cultural projects in Afghanistan as a prelude to new projects like those being discussed now. "It's obvious that Moscow's interest after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan ...will increase dramatically," Lyuba Lulko wrote then. "The country has always been in the zone of Soviet and Russian interests." The article went on to recast the Soviet occupation: "After what the Americans leave in Afghanistan, the Soviet presence seems to be a blessing. Soviet soldiers are remembered with respect," Lulko added. An Afghan student studying Russian was quoted saying, "Russia is our neighbor, we love its culture. All was well, when the Russians were here."
Nonetheless, as RT's report stressed, "Russian officials have repeatedly denied that Moscow is considering resuming its military presence in Afghanistan."
For the first time in Pakistan's history, a democratically elected civilian government has successfully finished its five-year term -- despite a flurry of anti-government protests. But what does that success look like?
Foreign direct investment collapsed after President Asif Ali Zardari's government came to power in 2008, and has continued declining since, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, foreign aid from the United States spiked, more than doubling under the new government to over $4 billion a year before tapering off again in 2011.
The country's relative political stability has paid off in some respects. Child mortality is down. School enrollment has continued to improve as well, rising three percentage points between 2008 and 2011 (admittedly not as impressive as the 14-percent increase over the course of the previous five years). On the other hand, since 2009 the ratio of girls to boys receiving a primary or secondary education has declined, indicating that enrollment is increasingly skewing toward boys. Pakistan may have fallen from ninth to 13th place in the Fund for Peace's annual ranking of failed states between 2008 and 2012, but the slightly better finish was still pretty dismal (as Robert Kaplan's "What's Wrong with Pakistan?" article for FP's Failed States package last year attests).
Domestic security under Zardari's government got off to a rough start, but has started to improve more recently. Domestic suicide bombings surged in the last year of Pervez Musharraf's government -- from the single digits through the first half of the decade to 57 in 2007. Terror attacks hit their peak with 90 suicide bombings in 2009, but the number fell to 32 attacks in 2012.
For what it's worth, in the last five years there have also been 353 U.S. CIA airstrikes against terrorist targets that killed at least 2,376 individuals, compared to 12 strikes with a minimum death toll of 159 people from the start of the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan in 2004 through 2007.
That figure does not include the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in May 2011 -- for which President Obama famously did not give advance notice to the Pakistani government because of concerns about al Qaeda sympathizers in the Pakistani military and intelligence service. At an event at the Brooking Institution last month, retired CIA analyst and South Asia expert Bruce Riedel speculated that bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is also being sheltered by the Pakistani military. If the civilian government is slowly finding its sea legs, it has a long way to go.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
In light of the recent brutal gang rape on Dec. 16, which led to the death of a 23-year-old medical student in India, there have been substantial criticisms of the government for not doing enough to protect women. Protestors say they will continue till they are satisfied that real action is being taken.
But in demanding action, the protesters should keep in mind the people who they're appealing to. According to a recent report, a shockingly high number of members of India's national parliament (MPs) and members of state-level legislative assemblies (MLAs) have actually been accused themselves of crimes against women, including rape.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (an affiliate of the Indian Institute of Management) compiled the report, using the affidavits filed by candidates as part of their nomination papers that are submitted to India's Electoral Commission. In other words, this was all public information at the time these members were elected.
According to the report, in the past five years:
These were hardly the only crimes listed in the report. Other included: assault, murder (one man had 8 charges of attempted murder), defiling a place of worship, promoting enmity between different groups, rioting and dacoity (banditry). Many of these crimes also included violence against women.
The Association for Democratic Reforms has advocated that "cases against MPs and MLAs should be fast tracked and decided upon in a time based manner." This presumably would be similar to the recently inaugurated fast track rape courts created to deter tragic incidents like Dec. 16. Though, in typical fashion, police were late to submit evidence on time (something about difficulty in using a thumb drive).
But with so many accused rapists in government, it's little wonder that it has taken so long for rape to be taken seriously as a problem.
Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP/GettyImages
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Monday morning on Fares-Maathodaa island after failing to show up for two trials within a week. Nasheed defied a court order to remain on the capital island of Male and left on Oct. 1 to campaign for the upcoming 2013 elections. In light of these events, the court awarded police the power of arrest to produce Nasheed for his trial on October 9.
Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP,) is particularly concerned given the controversy surrounding his resignation as president. In February, Nasheed stepped down -- he says he was ousted -- following a violent protest by supporters of the former authoritarian leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, following his order to arrest a High Court judge for corruption. Nasheed is currently being tried for abuse of power for this arrest order.
There is some dispute about the level of force used in arresting Nasheed. According to a MDP statement "at 9:45 a.m., 50 heavily armed masked police in full riot gear and wearing gas masks smashed down the door of a house where President Nasheed and his campaign team were staying and took him into custody." They also claimed that the masked police stormed the house, spewing obscenities and that former ministers also in the residence were pepper-sprayed and violently dragged out. The party has been tweeting and posting photos of the damage done to the house during the arrest.
President Mohammed Waheed Hassan's spokesman agrees on the count that police were dressed in riot gear for protection, but claims that they did not use force, expletives, or pepper spray. He asserted that Nasheed was not dragged out and was not even handcuffed.
The U.S. Embassy in Colombo is urging all sides to remain calm but also denies that it has had a hand in the arrest of Nasheed following allegations on Twitter that U.S. trained troops were responsible for the crackdown on opposition activists. If found guilty in Tuesday's trial, the former president could be jailed for up to three years, banished to one of the remote islands and fined to an amount not exceeding MVR2,000. This would disqualify him from running for president.
Photo by Haveeru
The recently deposed president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed was scheduled to be tried Monday, Oct. 1, under charges of abuse of power. Instead of making an appearance, he skipped his trial and left in a fishing boat to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Nasheed was previously put under "island arrest," on Sept. 25, which restricts his travel to Malé, the 2 square mile capital of the 1,192 island archipelago. The current government cites this as standard procedure following charges where Nasheed has been accused of misusing his office to order the arrest of a senior judge, Abdullah Mohamed in January.
Nasheed, a former democracy activist who was arrested over 20 times as an opposition leader, became president in 2008. His presidency marked the end to 30 years of rule by autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed claims that his resignation and Feb. 7 transfer of power was a politically motivated coup d'état orchestrated by Gayoom supporters. In a March article for Foreign Policy, Nasheed detailed the violent situation prompting his resignation and how his warrant for judge Mohamed's arrest was made on charges of corruption in an effort to overhaul the governance of Maldives. He was replaced by former Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who was involved in the "coup" but will hold elections in 2013. Nasheed's recounting of his coerced resignation directly contrasts with a Commonwealth supported government inquiry which has accepted the resignation as legal though does acknowledge the occurrence of a police mutiny. The United States also accepts the transfer of power as legal.
Prior to the abuse of power charges filed in July, the "Mandela of the Maldives" took a trip to the United States where he made a case for efforts to combat climate change, while also trying to bring attention to the political situation in Maldives. In a particularly frank exchange on The Daily Show in April, Nasheed joked that with coverage by Jon Stewart, "hopefully they won't murder me." With the travel ban in place, it will very difficult for Nasheed to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Members of Nasheed's legal team have also claimed that the three judges presiding over the trial have been picked in violation of legal norms. A conviction would also bar him from being a presidential candidate.
In addition to criminal charges he also faces two defamation lawsuits to be tried in the future. Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has taken the stance that it will not adhere to court rulings till there is a reform of the judiciary system in accordance with international recommendations.
Photo by AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
After trouble in the South and East China Seas, Chinese fisherman have caused new waves in the Indian Ocean. On Aug. 5, Sri Lanka's Navy captured two Chinese fishing trawlers off the eastern coast of Arugambay in the Indian Ocean on charges of illegally entering sovereign waters. The 37 crew members, including two Sri Lankan nationals, were escorted by the Eastern Naval Command to Trincomalee Harbor where they were turned over to local police "for legal action."
China Daily's initial coverage of the arrests has been noticeably less dramatic than its typical response to maritime disputes. Early reports cited the Chinese embassy's urging of "Sri Lankan authorities to handle the issue in accordance with the law, sort out the truth and release the Chinese fisherman as soon as possible."
In a bizarre twist, Chinese state news service Xinhua later announced the fisherman's release, blaming the disturbance on a miscommunication and claiming locals had confused "Sri Lankan vessels as Chinese ones, due to the old Chinese logo on the body of the ship." Sri Lankan Navy officials initially denied that report, telling Reuters, that the fishermen would "appear in court tomorrow," but Xinhua seems to have predicted the inevitable and the crew was released to Chinese Embassy early this morning.
The incident comes as China looks to improve relations with the island nation. Strategically located in the northern Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has been courted by the United States, India and China as a commercial and military foothold since the government defeated rebel group Tamil Tigers in 2009, ending a 25-year civil war and restoring the island as a viable trade partner. The Chinese government has funneled hundreds of millions into infrastructure projects in recent years, financing a variety of projects including a new airport and a heavily flawed power station. Though China watchers have speculated that Beijing intends to transform Sri Lanka's Hambantota port into a naval base, President Mahinda Rajapaksa laughed off the rumors and insists he remains committed to the nation's historical non-alignment.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.