TIME Afghanistan

ISIS Claims Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan That Killed 35

Afghanistan
AP Afghan security forces members inspect the site of a suicide attack near a new Kabul Bank in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, April, 18, 2015.

This is the first major ISIS attack in Afghanistan

At least 35 people died in a suicide bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday morning, with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) claiming responsibility for what, if confirmed, would be the terrorist group’s first major attack in the country.

More than 100 people were wounded in the bombing outside a bank branch in Jalalabad in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.

“Who claimed responsibility for horrific attack in Nangarhar today? The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the attack, Daesh [as ISIS is also known] claimed responsibility for the attack,” Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said during a visit to northeastern province of Badakhshan. He did not identify the source for the claim.

Separately, a militant group linked to ISIS reportedly released a picture of the alleged suicide bomber who struck the bank branch in Jalalabad as people queued up outside to collected their paychecks. The New York Times identified the branch as same one that was attacked in 2011. Responsibility for that bombing, which killed 38 people, was claimed by the Taliban.

A Taliban spokesman denied responsibly for the suicide attack on Saturday, telling Reuters: “It was an evil act. We strongly condemn it.”

If confirmed as an ISIS attack, Saturday’s suicide bombing would mark a significant expansion of the terrorist group’s activities from its base in the Middle East. The attack comes against the backdrop of a significantly reduced presence of foreign troops in the conflict-ridden nation as international forces exit Afghanistan. In March, President Obama announced a slowdown in the pace of withdrawal of U.S. troops in the country, saying America would maintain a nearly 10,000-strong force in Afghanistan through 2015.

The announcement was made during a visit to the U.S. by President Ghani, who, in a speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, warned of the “terrible threat” posed by ISIS to the “states of western and central Asia.”

“Terrorist movements whose goal is to destabilize every state in the region are looking for new bases of operation,” he said. “We’re the front line. But terrorists neither recognize boundaries [nor] require passports to spread their message of hate and discord. From the west, the Daesh is already sending advanced guards to southwestern Afghanistan.”

The suicide bombing was one of three explosions that shook Jalalabad on Saturday morning, including what was reported to be a controlled detonation after authorities discovered motorcycle rigged with explosives.

TIME Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s New Leader to Dissolve Parliament and Launch War Crimes Probe

Maithripala Sirisena Beats Opposition To Become Sri Lanka's New President
Buddhika Weerasinghe—Getty Images Sri Lanka's newly elected president Maithripala Sirisena (C) prepares to take oath as he is sworn in at Independence Square in Colombo on January 9, 2015 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Maithripala Sirisena talks to TIME in a rare interview

Sri Lanka’s new leader plans to dissolve the country’s Parliament in May, setting the island nation on course for general elections in late June or early July — around the same time that he plans to announce details of a probe into allegations of human rights abuses during Sri Lanka’s long civil war, he told TIME in a rare interview.

Maithripala Sirisena had earlier indicated that he would set up the probe within a month of a visit to the U.K. in March. But, speaking to TIME in his first interview with an English-language news organization since taking office in January, he said details of the planned investigation would be announced by the end of June, just as the country heads into early general elections.

“We have informed the U.N. that we’ll have a very strong internal mechanism to look into this and we’ve asked for advice and consultancy through the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights,” he says.

Sirisena replaced the autocratic Mahinda Rajapaksa in January, after defecting from the then President’s side in November to become a surprise but unifying opposition candidate. He has pledged to weaken Sri Lanka’s powerful executive presidency, telling TIME: “It’s a major problem for the country that power has been centralized. Power must be distributed.”

Separately, the country’s new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, told TIME that Sri Lanka had revived efforts to set up a South Africa-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an idea first mooted under Rajapaksa. He faced international pressure for failing, in the words of a report by a former U.N. human rights chief, to ensure an “independent and credible” investigation into allegations of human rights abuses at the end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil conflict with separatists from its Tamil minority in 2009.

“We’ve reopened the talks with South Africa and this time they’ve been positive,” says Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in after Sirisena’s election victory on Jan. 8. He said the government hopes to share proposals for a Sri Lankan truth commission with the U.N. Human Rights Council in September. Proposals are also in the works for a domestic judicial process to deal with the allegations.

Earlier, speaking to the BBC Sinhala service in London during a visit to the U.K. in March, Sirisena, who like Rajapaksa belongs to Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority, had indicated that the domestic probe into the allegations would be set up within a month.

Amid speculation that his ascent to the Presidency might spark a shift in the country’s foreign policy, with a move away from China as he revives ties with India and the West, Sirisena insisted that Sri Lanka had an “absolutely non-aligned [foreign] policy.”

Under Rajapaksa, China built closer ties with Sri Lanka, providing billions of dollars in loans. Last year, the Sri Lankan government under Rajapaksa allowed a Chinese submarine to dock twice in Colombo.

“We do not have any enmity toward anybody; we extend the hand of friendship to all countries,” says Sirisena.

Sirisena’s point was reiterated by the country’s new Prime Minister, who said efforts by Sri Lanka’s new leaders to cultivate friendlier ties with India and the West didn’t constitute a “tilt away from China.” “The fact is we moved away from everyone else, leaving only China. We antagonized the West, we antagonized India. You can’t carry on like this. Sri Lanka needs the West, it needs India, it needs China,” says Wickremesinghe.

See the full story in this week’s TIME International.

— With reporting by Amantha Perera/Colombo

TIME Pakistan

Twin Bombings Outside Pakistan Churches Kill 14

Pakistan
K.M. Chaudary—AP Pakistani Christian women mourn as they gather at a church damaged from a suicide bombing attack in Lahore, Pakistan, March 15, 2015.

Pope Francis pained by attacks in Lahore, which were claimed by a Pakistani Taliban splinter group

At least 14 people died and nearly 80 were wounded in deadly bomb blasts outside two churches in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday morning, marking one of the country’s worst-ever attacks on its Christian minority.

A Pakistani Taliban splinter group called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the twin explosions, which occurred just minutes apart during Sunday services at the churches in Lahore’s Youhanabad neighborhood, Reuters reports.

A policeman and a private security guard were reported to be among those killed in the blasts. Al Jazeera quoted a police spokesman as saying that suicide bombers were behind the attacks, which came just weeks after a suicide bombing outside a Lahore police compound killed several people.

The bombings on Sunday were followed by protests by Lahore’s Christian community about the lack of security. Local media reported that, shortly after the attacks, an angry crowd lynched two men suspected of involvement in the bombings.

Pastor David, a local cleric in Youhanabad, told AFP that the two churches were only 500 meters (1,640 feet) apart. “One blast took place at the entrance of one church where a congregation was going on,” he told the news agency. “Another blast took place in the second church.”

Speaking to Reuters, an eyewitness described the moment one of the suicide bombers blew himself up. “I was sitting at a shop near the church when a blast jolted the area. I rushed towards the spot and saw the security guard scuffle with a man who was trying to enter the church, after failing, he blew himself up,” said Amir Masih. “I saw his body parts flying through the air.”

The attack in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, is one of worst ever on the country’s Christian minority; the deadliest occurred in September 2013, when at least 80 worshippers were killed at a historic church in the restive north-western city of Peshawar.

After the bombings, Pope Francis went off-script during his usual address at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, telling the crowd he was pained by the attack. “These are Christian churches,” he said. “Christians are persecuted, our brothers spill their blood simply because they are Christians.”

TIME India

India’s Modi Aims to Put Economy into Higher Gear With First Full Budget

India's PM Modi, President Mukherjee, Lok Sabha speaker Mahajanand Vice President Ansari walk inside the parliament premises as they arrive to attend the first day of the budget session in New Delhi
Reuters India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center left, and members of his government walk inside the parliament premises as they arrive to attend the first day of the budget session in New Delhi, Feb. 23, 2015.

Attempts to both satisfy the business community and help the poor

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government unveiled its first full-year budget on Saturday, ramping up infrastructure spending, cutting corporate taxes and unveiling plans for a new universal social security system.

Modi’s finance minister, Arun Jaitley, said the proposals laid out “a roadmap for accelerating growth,” as he delayed deficit-reduction plans to make room for new spending. But Jaitley steered clear of any measures to dramatically alter to the country’s economic architecture, sticking with, for example, food and fuel subsidies worth billions of dollars annually.

Instead, Modi’s government sought to balance the demands of business executives who were showing signs of impatience with the pace of economic reforms with measures to provide pensions and life insurance for the country’s poorest citizens. Here are five highlights from Saturday’s budget.

New infrastructure funding

Jaitley announced plans to pump an additional $11.4 billion in road, rail and other such projects across the country next year. He also said the government would set up a new fund to spur investment in infrastructure, long seen as a drag on growth as businesses both big and small struggle to move goods around the vast South Asian nation. The World Economic Forum’s annual global competitiveness report, for example, places India 87 out of 144 economies in terms of infrastructure. “Our infrastructure does not match our growth ambitions,” said Jaitley, as he also announced plans to set up five major power plants with a capacity of 4,000 megawatts each.

Taxes cut for business

Indian stock markets, which stayed open as Jaitley rose to speak in Parliament on Saturday, moved higher as the government unveiled a cut in corporate taxes from 30% to 25% over the next four years. “This will lead to higher levels of investment, higher growth and more jobs,” said Jaitley. A planned goods and services tax, meant to replace a series of federal and state-level taxes with a single levy, will be implemented from April next year. There was also a new tax on the country’s super-rich, or those earning more than Rs. 1 crore (around $162,000), who will now face a 2% surcharge on their incomes.

Social security reforms

While lower corporate taxes cheered business executives, Jaitley also unveiled plans for a new, wide-ranging social security scheme, including a measure that he said would provide government-subsidized accidental death insurance to the poor for an annual premium of Rs. 12 — or around 20 U.S. cents. There were also plans to provide pensions for the poor, and subsidize physical aids for senior citizens living below the poverty line.

Steps to bring tourists to India

The government said it would increase the number of countries covered by India’s visa-on-arrival initiative to 150 (albeit “in stages”) from the 43 announced last November, in order to boost tourism to the country. There were also measures to spruce up the country’s historic monuments, many of which are in need of restoration work.

A tax break for yoga

Prime Minister Modi approvingly thumped his desk in Parliament as Jaitley announced a move to class yoga as a charitable activity, making its promotion eligible for tax exemptions, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. A longstanding advocate of the discipline, Modi last year appointed a separate minister in his government responsible for the promotion of alternative therapies such as yoga and traditional medicine.

TIME India

Upstart Party Delivers a Blow to India’s Modi

Indian Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal speaks to supporters as he celebrates victory in the state assembly elections outside the party's headquarters in New Delhi on Feb. 10, 2015.
Manish Swarup—AP Indian Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal speaks to supporters as he celebrates victory in the state assembly elections outside the party's headquarters in New Delhi on Feb. 10, 2015.

The anti-corruption Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party has defeated Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party in local elections in Delhi, interrupting the so-called "Modi wave" that swept through India last year

Narendra Modi wasn’t a candidate in the recently concluded city-wide elections in Delhi, the early results of which, on Tuesday morning, pointed to an overwhelming victory for an upstart ant-corruption political party. But as the ballots were counted and the scale of the Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party’s (AAP) triumph became clear, there was little doubt that the Indian Prime Minister had nonetheless suffered a crushing loss—his first since he led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in national elections last year.

Modi’s lieutenants had hoped that his personal popularity—which helped the BJP secure the biggest single-party majority in thirty years in the national contest last May—would carry them over the finish line in Delhi. Although the BJP nominated a chief ministerial candidate for the city’s top job, its campaign billboards and posters centered on images of a smiling Modi and the party’s radio advertisements encouraged voters to elect a “Modi government.” Images of Kiran Bedi, an ex-senior police officer whom the BJP recruited late in the contest to be its chief ministerial nominee, were less common in the party’s hoardings—and when they appeared, were often smaller and clearly secondary to Modi’s.

But right from the start, the BJP struggled to replicate the kind of momentum that had propelled it to victory on the national stage last year. In May, Modi had deftly harnessed a growing feeling of disillusionment with the then Congress Party-led national government to gallop to victory, promising better governance and an emphasis on economic development following a series of high-profile corruption scandals and a period of lackluster economic growth. BJP strategists dusted off the same playbook for the Delhi contest. Alongside shots of Modi, the party’s saffron-colored billboards promised “all-round development” for the city if its citizens backed the party with an absolute majority in Delhi’s 70-seat legislature.

The gambit failed—and spectacularly so. By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the AAP had won at least 31 seats and was leading in a further 36 seats, suggesting almost complete control of the Delhi legislature. The BJP, in contrast, had won 2 seats, and was a leading in a third, while the Congress had been wiped off the Delhi map, failing to win even one seat. With the trends so clearly in favor of the AAP, Modi rang up the party’s chief ministerial candidate Arvind Kejriwal earlier in the day to offer his congratulations. (Final results late on Tuesday confirmed that the AAP had won 67 seats, leaving only three for the BJP.)

Only months ago, Tuesday’s outcome in Delhi would have seemed unthinkable, as the BJP’s star rose and the AAP appeared a spent force after an abortive stint running the Indian capital.

In Dec. 2013, the AAP, then less than a year old, confounded expectations by winning 28 seats in the city’s 70-seat legislature. Though short of a clear majority, the young party, which sprung from a popular anti-corruption movement, did well enough to form a minority administration and Kejriwal became Delhi’s chief minister. But the government fell after just 49 days, when Kejriwal, a former tax department official, resigned, blaming opposition parties for frustrating his plans to introduce an anti-corruption law. Critics, however, said his decision to step down in Feb. 2013 showed that the AAP was better at campaigning than governing. Undaunted, Kejriwal returned to electioneering by standing against Modi in the Varanasi parliamentary constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in the national polls in May. But he was crushed as Modi and the BJP swept to victory.

In recent weeks, Kejriwal campaigned in Delhi for a second time by first apologizing for quitting when he had a chance to govern in 2014. “People felt hurt that they invested so much of themselves in a party and movement that was seen to have walked away,” he wrote recently.

Along with the contrition, there were promises to, among other things, stamp out corruption from the city administration and drive down electricity tariffs. It worked. Appearing before a jubilant crowd of party workers in Delhi on Tuesday, Kejriwal said the support for the AAP was “scary” and warned his party colleagues against becoming too confident in the aftermath of their stunning achievement. Both the Congress, which ran the city government for a decade-and-a-half until 2013, and the BJP had been undone by their arrogance, he added.

The outstanding question, after the BJP’s failure in Delhi, is whether the AAP’s success will have consequences beyond the capital.

While last year’s general elections gave the BJP a clear majority in the lower house of the Indian parliament, the party remains in the minority in the indirectly-elected upper chamber, which has stood in the way of Modi’s proposals to reform the Indian economy. As a result, the Indian leader has resorted to a series of temporary executive orders to, for example, speed-up the acquisition of land for industrial projects. To make it easier for Modi to legislate, the BJP needs to win state elections and increase its tally of state-level legislators, who elect members of the upper chamber of the national parliament. Until its defeat in Delhi, the BJP had notched up a number of state-level wins that were widely-attributed to Modi’s continuing appeal. The local media lauded a “Modi-wave” as the party recorded gains around the nation.

But the Delhi result, and Kejriwal’s triumph, punctures that narrative ahead of other state elections in the coming months and years. Losses in those contests could ultimately puncture Modi’s agenda.

TIME India

5 Things You Need to Know About Obama’s Visit to India

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a meeting with India's PM Narendra Modi at the White House in Washington
Larry Downing—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he hosts a meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington September 30, 2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to touch down in New Delhi on Sunday morning, kicking off a highly anticipated three-day visit that will see him attend India’s Republic Day parade on Jan. 26.

Here are the five things you need to know as the President arrives in the Indian capital.

1. This is a highly symbolic visit with many firsts
Obama will be the first U.S. President to attend the Jan. 26 parade, a Soviet-style jamboree to mark the day in 1950 India’s constitution came into force. Past invitees to the annual celebration include Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Nicholas Sarkozy. But that’s not all: when he lands in New Delhi, Obama will also become the first sitting U.S. leader to visit India twice, following an earlier trip in 2010.

2. This is not the first (nor even second) meeting between Obama and the new Indian leader
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power following Indian national elections in 2014, traveled to the U.S. in September, visiting New York City and calling in at the White House in Washington D.C. “It is rare for leaders, especially American presidents, to have successive summits so quickly,” Tanvi Madan, director of The India Project at the Brookings Institution, told TIME. Modi and Obama also met at the G20 Summit in Australia and the East Asia Summit in Burma last year.

3. Relations between the two countries haven’t always been smooth
Another reason this visit is significant is that it symbolizes a rapid improvement in U.S.-India ties, which were nearly undone at the end of 2013 over a row involving Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York. Accused of visa fraud and underpaying her house-keeper, she was arrested and strip-searched by U.S. law enforcement, sparking angry protests and diplomatic retaliations from India.

4. The symbolism may be backed up by some substance
Modi and Obama will discuss a whole host of issues when they sit down for talks. Among those topping the agenda will be bilateral trade, climate change, increased defense cooperation and investment in India’s civilian nuclear sector, where a deal is being sought to break a long-standing impasse over a local law that is blamed for keeping foreign nuclear companies from getting involved in the Indian market. (It’s not yet clear if the two sides will come to an agreement in time for the President’s arrival.) Obama and Modi are also expected to discuss the regional geopolitical situation.

5. And finally, there’s a bilateral radio show
Obama will join Modi on a special edition of the Indian leader’s regular radio program that will air on state broadcaster All India Radio on Jan. 27. The Indian Prime Minister broke the news of the show himself using his Twitter feed:

And the state broadcaster prepared a special poster:

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