South Asia Theater
A former Bangladeshi Islamist party leader, who was imprisoned for war crimes last year, died on Oct. 23 of a heart attack in a prison cell of a government hospital. Ghulam Azam was 91 when his life support was removed at the Bangabandhu Sehikh Mujib Medical University. Azam was sentenced last year to 90 years in prison on 61 charges of war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Azam led the Islamist party until 2000, and was still considered to be its spiritual leader.
Pakistan's Lahore High Court on Oct. 16 upheld the death sentence for Aasiya Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi), who was convicted of blasphemy in 2010. Bibi, a Christian woman, was alleged to have insulted the Prophet Mohammed while working in a field with several Muslim women. Bibi maintains that she never blasphemed against the Prophet, but that she had an argument with the other field-hands over a pot of water. The lower court convicted Bibi for blasphemy, stating that there was no chance Bibi was falsely implicated, and there were "no mitigating circumstances."
Renewed fighting between India and Pakistan across the Line of Control in Kashmir has killed at least 19 civilians over the past week—11 on the Pakistani side; eight on the Indian side. Thousands of villagers have been displaced by the fighting, as each side blames the other for breaking the 2003 ceasefire. (BBC News, Oct. 9; India Today, Oct. 8) At Kishtwar, in India-controlled Kashmir, Muslim protesters defied security forces, marching through the town and hoisting the Pakistani flag Oct. 8. (Kashmir Media Service, Oct. 8) Local anger is deepened by last month's devastating floods, in which large parts of Srinagar, capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, were inundated, leaving a still undetermined number dead. New Delhi has come under harsh criticism for its response to the disaster—prioritizing the rescue of tourists as little was done to assist locals. Local government was paralyzed by the collapse of the telecommunications system. (Saudi Gazette, Oct. 8)
The American Justice Center on Sept. 25 filed a class action lawsuit (PDF) on behalf of anonymous survivors against India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York for human rights abuses stemming from the religious riots in Gujarat in 2002. Modi was chief minister of Gujarat when Hindu mobs rioted through Muslim neighborhoods in the state, killing more than 1,000. The lawsuit seeks damages against Modi under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act (PDF).
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 merely begs the question of towards 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.