TIME

Thousands Heading to Opposition Rally in Pakistan

(ISLAMABAD) — Thousands of Pakistani opposition supporters were on the road for a second day Friday, heading in two separate convoys to the capital, Islamabad, for a massive rally meant to pressure the country’s prime minister to resign over allegations of rigging last year’s parliamentary elections.

The convoys, which started out on Thursday morning from the city of Lahore, were in response to calls by two very different opposition figures: Imran Khan, the famous cricketer-turned-politician, and firebrand cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri who commands a strong following through his network of mosques and religious schools in Pakistan.

Both have challenged the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who came to power in 2013 in the first democratic transfer of power in a country which has seen three coups since gaining independence in 1947.

They demand new elections under the supervision of a neutral government, but Sharif’s aides say the demand is unconstitutional. Khan also wants a new election commission chief appointed before the vote is held, while Qadri says electoral reforms are necessary.

The opposition march comes at a time when Pakistan’s military is fighting militants in the troubled North Waziristan tribal region, which has been a base for militants accused of launching attacks in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. The military has killed over 500 militants there since launching the June 15 operation.

The government has criticized Khan and Qadri, saying the country needs unity — not turmoil and dissent — at a time when the armed forces are fighting militants who have killed thousands of people in recent years. Authorities have also said there have been intelligence reports about possible attacks on the convoys or the opposition rally, which is expected to start Friday evening in Islamabad.

After 20 hours on the road, the slow-moving convoys had covered about half of the distance of 300 kilometers (187 miles) toward the capital.

“Listen, Nawaz Sharif, I am coming to Islamabad to seek your resignation,” a boisterous Khan told followers from atop his truck as it passed through the city of Gujranwala, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) away from Islamabad.

In Gujranwala, dozens of Sharif supporters pelted Khan’s truck with shoes and stones but he was unharmed, his aides said. Pakistani TV showed supporters and Khan and Sharif throwing stones at each other in the city.

Earlier, Khan said he was hoping to lead a march of one million people in the Pakistani capital later in the day. Qadri also said he expected one million people to join him in Islamabad, a city of 1.7 million residents according to a 2012 census.

Ahead of the rally, thousands of riot police and special units were deployed across Islamabad. Authorities also blocked many roads in the capital with shipping containers.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Thursday apologized for the city’s paralysis, insisting the measures were for the residents’ own safety and warning the demonstrators they would be dealt with “an iron hand” if they try to disrupt law and order.

Sharif criticized his opponents for pursuing “negative politics” and promised to safeguard democratic institutions.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 180 million people, has largely been ruled by military dictators since it was carved out of India in 1947.

Sharif has also been the victim of a military coup. His elected government was ousted in 1999 by then army chief Pervez Musharraf.

The army still wields much influence over life in Pakistan, which has seen frequent attacks by militants and insurgents of various backgrounds and agendas.

Late Thursday, attackers tried to storm two air bases in the southwestern city of Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, sparking a gunbattle that killed 10 militants, the police said.

Police chief Muhammad Amlish said seven security personnel were also wounded in the attack. He said the attackers used guns and grenades as they tried to enter the Smungli and Khalid military bases on a sprawling complex next to the city’s airport. Initial police reports had said only two attackers were involved.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack but nationalists groups have for years waged a low-insurgency in Baluchistan to pressure the government for a fairer share of local resources.

___

Associated Press Writer Abdul Sattar from Quetta contributed to this report.

TIME India

6-Year-Old Gang-Raped in Indian School by Staff Members, Say Police

Demonstrators from AIDWA hold placards and shout slogans during protest against recent killings of two teenage girls, in New Delhi
Demonstrators from the All India Democratic Women's Association hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against the rape and murder of two teenage girls, in New Delhi on May 31, 2014 Adnan Abidi—Reuters

India’s National Crime Records Bureau says one rape was reported in India every 21 minutes last year

Furious parents are protesting outside a prominent school in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, where a 6-year-old girl was allegedly raped by two members of staff.

Police say the July 2 assault has only now been reported after the girl complained of stomach pains and was taken by her parents to seek medical attention, reports the BBC.

No arrests have yet been made, but family members of pupils at the school have reacted with considerable anger, tearing down the building’s gates and haranguing staff.

“They have handled [the matter] very shoddily,” Vivek Sharma, the father of a student, told the BBC.

The case will be a test for new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who promised during his election campaign to protect the nation’s 614 million women, but raised eyebrows with a first budget that earmarked only $25 million for women’s safety but $33 million for the world’s largest statue in his home state of Gujarat.

Sexual violence in India has become headline news since the 2012 gang rape and murder of a medical student aboard a bus in the capital New Delhi. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, during 2013, one rape was reported every 21 minutes, despite the vast majority of attacks believed to go unreported.

[BBC]

TIME India

India’s Modi (Barely) Passes His First Big Test on Economic Reform

Indian PM Modi walks in front of a picture of former Indian PM Vajpayee after a news conference in New Delhi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks in front of a picture of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee after a news conference in New Delhi on July 9, 2014. Anindito Mukherjee—Reuters

The new Prime Minister indicated change will come in steps, not all at once

Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rode into office in May on a tidal wave of support created by hopes he would revive India’s stumbling economy. India, once one of the world’s best-performing emerging economies, has witnessed growth shrink under 5% — too low to rescue the hundreds of millions of countrymen still trapped in desperate poverty. Business leaders have had high expectations that Modi would push ahead with the long-stalled but painful reforms necessary to restart the country’s economic miracle.

In his first major policy pronouncement, however, Modi indicated change would come — but slowly. On Thursday, Modi’s Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, presented the new government’s budget in Parliament in New Delhi. Indian budgets are considered a bellwether for the direction of economic policy. What emerged was a very gradualist approach, with some encouraging tidbits, but no signs Modi is in a big rush to remake the Indian economy. In his speech, Jaitley said the budget was “only the beginning of a journey” to bring growth back up to 7% to 8% over the next three to four years. “It would not be wise to expect everything that can be done or must be done to be in the first budget,” he said.

Investors got some items on their wish list. The government pledged to open the defense and insurance industries wider to foreign investors, bring down the budget deficit more rapidly, press ahead with much needed tax reform, improve the country’s inadequate infrastructure and support manufacturing to create more jobs. Jaitley also promised an overhaul of costly food and fuel subsidies, which are a huge burden on the strained budget, to make them “more targeted” on the most needy.

Yet for a government that has pledged to control spending and unleash the country’s growth potential, the budget was still puffed up with plenty of populist pork. The budget reiterated Modi’s campaign pledge to provide toilets for all. Jaitley also decided to maintain the previous administration’s expensive and controversial program to guarantee jobs for rural workers, though he suggested its oversight would be strengthened to ensure funds got utilized more wisely. On other issues, Jaitley seemed to fudge a bit. Widely criticized efforts by the previous government to impose retrospective taxes scared foreign investors, and though Jaitley said the Modi administration would limit any such taxes and “provide a stable and predictable taxation regime that would be investor-friendly,” he didn’t emphatically close the door on them, either.

The most disappointing aspect of the Modi budget is that it was no bold statement that a new era of economic policy was coming. Details on many of Jaitley’s proposals were sparse. For example, he did offer many specifics on such key issues as reducing subsidies. Other important reforms weren’t addressed, such as loosening up the country’s restrictive labor laws, which hurt job creation. “Nothing that was announced today marks this government out as being significantly different from the last,” complained Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at research firm Capital Economics. “If market enthusiasm for Mr. Modi’s government is to be sustained, that will have to change.”

Ultimately, though, Modi’s incremental methods may be simply good politics. Even though Modi scored a landslide victory in the last election, many of the reforms most critical to the economy are certain to face stiff opposition. If he charges ahead too quickly, his entire reform effort could get derailed. Modi has already been forced to reverse course on one of his initial reforms. In late June, Modi partially rolled back a hike in train fares aimed at putting the strapped railway system on a stronger financial footing after protests erupted and the BJP’s political allies objected.

At the same time, Modi has to play a delicate political game. If he moves too slowly on reform, growth won’t improve, and his support could suffer. Fixing India’s economy will take a huge amount of political will. We’re still waiting to see if Modi has it.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan’s New Antiterror Law Gives Security Forces Unprecedented Power

Pakistan
Pakistan army troops arrive at Karachi airport following an attack by unknown gunmen, disguised as police, who stormed a terminal used for VIPs and cargo, Sunday night, June 8, 2014. Fareed Khan—ASSOCIATED PRESS

The law permits the arrest of terror suspects without warrants and their detention for 60 days without trial. Officials will also be able to issue shoot-on-sight orders

In an effort to curb the increasing audacity of Islamist militant groups in the country, Pakistan’s parliament passed a comprehensive counterterrorism bill on Wednesday that gives unprecedented powers to domestic security forces.

The legislation, called the Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014, has drawn the ire of human-rights groups for its rigor and breadth. Under the new law, the national government can not only arrest suspected terrorists without warrants but also detain them for 60 days without any discussion of trial.

More controversially, it permits police and other security officials to issue shoot-on-sight orders.

“This is perhaps the strongest of the laws that Pakistan has come up with to deal with militancy and terrorism,” Irfan Shahzad, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad, tells TIME. “I would not say that outright it is a violation [of human rights], but it certainly raises questions over what rights we Pakistanis have as citizens of this country.”

Thousands have died since the Pakistan Taliban began its present insurgency in 2007, and Islamabad has frequently struggled to contain the bloodshed. It is currently taking the fight to the insurgents in the mountainous region of North Waziristan, but the offensive has sparked a humanitarian crisis, displacing nearly half a million people.

Shahzad says the new legislation has been born out of increasing frustration. “If a government fails to deliver,” he says, “they resort to certain actions that they believe will increase their command over certain groups.”

Among the provisions of the new law are the granting to security forces the power to search premises without warrants, the allowing of tapped phone calls as court evidence and a steep increase in prison sentences for terrorist offenses. While the bill has vocal critics, Shahzad believes that it will be accepted by a population exhausted by years of conflict.

“We’re talking about a country where the literacy rate is just over 50%,” he says. “Even among those who are literate and who read the news, they are very much hard-pressed by the matter of their own survival. [This law] may not necessarily be a major issue to them.”

TIME India

Are Indians As Nonchalant About Rape as This Video Suggests?

A social experiment in New Delhi shows people walking away from a staged rape. A film of a parked van in New Delhi, from which harrowing female screams were emanating, shows many people walking past nonchalantly, ignoring cries for help.

+ READ ARTICLE

Two weeks ago, India woke up to the gruesome image of two teenage girls who had been raped and left hanging from a mango tree in rural Uttar Pradesh. This shocking act was just the latest in a series of outrages, since the Dec. 16, 2012, murder and gang rape of a student in New Delhi, that have sparked nationwide angst and given India worldwide notoriety for sexual violence.

But with rape and assault taking center stage once again, how many Indians would actually try to help a woman being attacked? A group called YesNoMaybe staged a social experiment to find out, filming a van in the Indian capital from which harrowing female screams were emanating.

The video, which has already garnered more than 850,000 hits on YouTube, showed many people walking past nonchalantly, ignoring desperate pleas for help. One or two, it must be noted, were determined to intervene — including a 78-year-old security guard who tried to bash the vehicle’s doors with his stick. There is hope.

TIME India

Narendra Modi Sworn In as India’s New Prime Minister

INDIA-POLITICS
India Prime Minister Designate Narendra Modi gestures as he pays tributes at Rajghat, memorial of Mahatama Gandhi in New Delhi on May 26, 2014. Prakash Singh—AFP/Getty Images

India looks to its 15th Prime Minister to deliver on campaign promises to boost jobs and overhaul government

Update: May 26, 9:52 a.m. ET

Narendra Modi was sworn in on Monday as India’s 15th Prime Minister, ringing in a new era of governance for the world’s largest democracy. Chief among the guests at the swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi was Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, among other South Asian leaders.

Modi led his Bharatiya Janata Party to a decisive victory in India’s national elections this month, winning 282 of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. Fueled by a strong anti-incumbency sentiment across the country, it was the biggest victory for a single party in decades, and has given Modi and his administration a clear mandate to move forward with the reforms he promised voters throughout the five weeks of polling.

Speculation has been rife over whom Modi will appoint to his Cabinet to enact those changes, particularly to the crucial post of Finance Minister. One of Modi’s chief campaign pledges was to create jobs and get the floundering Indian economy back on a high-growth path, along with improving governance inside and outside the capital. Governance and job creation were both strong facets of Modi’s long-time tenure as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.

Modi has already announced plans to streamline the national ministries, minimizing the number of Cabinet ministers and expanding government at the grassroots level outside the capital. In recent years, the implementation of expensive government welfare schemes, like India’s massive direct food aid program and a national employment-guarantee act, has been spotty because of poor implementation on the ground.

The attendance today of Sharif and other leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries signals an early effort by Modi to strengthen political and economic ties in the region. Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, were quick to reach out to congratulate Modi after his party’s historic win. But while the U.S. in particular will continue to be an important ally to India, many observers expect that a government under Modi may take on a more Asia-centric approach to foreign policy.

TIME India

An Indian Election Candidate Will Pay for 2,100 Weddings to Win Votes

Voters in the constituency of Tonk-Sawai Madhopur in India's Rajasthan state can get a free wedding by voting for a local independent candidate Getty Images

Makhan Lal Meena, an independent parliamentary candidate in northwestern India’s Rajasthan state, has agreed to fund 2,100 weddings as a way of persuading people to vote for him

Makhan Lal Meena, an independent candidate in northwestern India’s Rajasthan state, has employed a novel tactic in his bid to become MP for the constituency of Tonk-Sawai Madhopur.

Realizing that his Congress Party and BJP rivals — a former India cricket captain and billionaire respectively — were way ahead in the polls, and that the parties shared 93.7% of votes last time round, Meena has agreed to fund 2,100 weddings to help curry favor with his prospective constituents. To avoid allegations of vote-buying, the ceremonies will be take place a long time after polling has closed.

“I am a son of the soil, born and brought up here and have been engaged in such activities for many years,” he recently told the Times of India by phone.

India’s ongoing general elections are being conducted in nine stages over six weeks during which more than 814 million people are eligible to cast ballots.

TIME South Asia

India’s Capital Goes to the Polls

Indian polling officials check the details of voters at a polling station in New Delhi on April 10, 2014. Raveendran—AFP/Getty Images

The race in New Delhi s seen as a triangular contest between the ruling Congress Party, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the upstart Aam Aadmi Party

It’s late morning on election day, and the twisted lanes of Balli Maran, normally packed, are empty. Fresh pots of simmering chai send steam into the dusty shafts sunlight that bisect the quiet streets. Fatima Begum, an 80-year-old woman from the neighborhood, has just cast her vote. She voted for Kapil Sibal, the Congress parliamentarian and minister defending his seat here. “I started voting for Congress, and I’ll die voting for Congress,” she says.

As New Delhi goes to the polls today, over 12.7 million voters like Fatima Begum had the chance to put their allegiance, their dissatisfaction and their yearning for change on the ballot. It’s a massive exercise that takes place from morning until evening at thousands of polling booths around the capital. At stake are seven parliamentary seats in Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament. It’s not a huge number in the 543-seat body — the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has 85 seats — but the race in the capital will be closely watched, as it is seen as a triangular contest between the ruling Congress Party, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the upstart Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Turnout in the last national elections in 2009 was relatively low, but after 66% of Delhi-ites showed up to vote for the local legislature in December, it is expected to be higher this round as the three big parties go in for a rematch.

The Delhi vote is seen as a major test for AAP in particular, whose debut in December’s elections put their leader Arvind Kejriwal in the chief minister’s seat for a short stint. Kejriwal stepped down after failing to pass his party’s signature anti-corruption bill, and the party took its campaign to the national stage. Whether the capital’s voters will again support AAP, or have drifted away after its short-lived governance, could signal what kind of lasting power and influence the new party has been able to muster. Rahul Popli, a 27-year-old in the southern neighborhood of Malviya Nagar, said he might have considered voting for AAP, but after Kejriwal stepped down in New Delhi, he decided against it. “When they were given the chance, they just ran away,” Popli says. Instead, he’s banking on the BJP and Modi, the long-time chief minister of Gujarat, to get India’s economy in particular back on track. “Modi’s done good work in Gujarat, so we’re rooting for him,” says Popli.

Four days into the Indian election cycle, the race is also on between the main opposition BJP and the incumbent Congress Party, which has been leading the nation’s ruling coalition since 2004. Congress won all of Delhi’s seven seats in 2009, but such a strong performance is not expected this time around. The party’s ouster from the state government in December was seen as a strong indication of a mutinous mood in the city and beyond. The BJP is hoping that voters’ yearn for something new — and their disenchantment with AAP — will translate into a big win for them.

In Balli Maran, it is basic issues, like whether residents feel they are getting clean water and enough electricity, that will help determine whether Congress holds the local seat. But the neighborhood also has a large Muslim population. That fact is not lost on main contenders Kapil Sibal of Congress, AAP’s journalist-turned politician Ashutosh and the BJP’s Harsh Vardhan. How Muslim voters perceive the BJP and Modi in particular, who was chief minister when anti-Muslim riots took place in Gujarat in 2002, is a big question in the national vote.

Mohammed Yasin, a 72-year-old Muslim resident who wears a long white beard and a crumpled skull cap, says he, too, will always vote for Congress. “I voted for BJP once and gave them the opportunity to run the country,” Yasin says. When the Gujarat riots unfolded under a BJP-led government, he changed his mind and went back to Congress. When asked about the scandals that have faced the Congress government in recent years, he is more forgiving. “Who isn’t corrupt?” he asks. “Everyone makes mistakes.”

TIME India

So It Turns Out That India’s ‘Bachelor’ Politician Is Technically Married

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi gestures to supporters as he rides in an open jeep on his way to file nomination papers on April 9, 2014 in Vadodra, India.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi gestures to supporters as he rides in an open jeep on his way to file nomination papers on April 9, 2014 in Vadodra, India. Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

The man tipped to be India's next prime minister, BJP leader Narendra Modi, finally confirms long-running rumors in an affidavit that he's not single—but estranged from his wife. He previously claimed to be unattached and without family ties

Controversial politician Narendra Modi, the favorite to be the next Indian prime minister, has acknowledged for the first time that he is married, confirming long-running rumors.

Many thought that BJP leader had remained alone his adult life, having come through the ranks of a grassroots Hindu nationalist organization that requires a vow of celibacy.

Previous media reports suggested he walked away from an arranged marriage when just a child, but this has never been confirmed by the ascetic 63-year-old, who would frequently extoll the merits of his single status during stump speeches.

“I have no family ties, I am single. Who will I be corrupt for?” he said during campaigning in February.

But as he filed papers Wednesday, to stand as a MP for western Gujarat state’s Vadadora constituency, he finally acknowledged, in an affidavit, that he had a wife.

Rumors had been circulating for years that a 62-year-old retired school teacher in Gujurat, Jashodaben, had been married to Modi. A magazine tracked her down in 2009 but she refused to give speak to them. However, she finally gave an interview in February and confirmed that the couple separated three years into their marriage — at the ages of 17 and 18 respectively — and since then “we have never been in touch.”

The revelation was quickly seized upon by senior opposition figures, including Congress Party general secretary Digvijaya Singh.

Singh’s reference to “stalking” pertains to a 2009 controversy in which a female architect was put under surveillance — allegedly on the orders of Modi.

Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress Party, launched a scathing attack on Modi Wednesday, accusing him of presenting a false image of Gujarat, India’s most developed state, where he is chief minister.

“Some people are talking of themselves in a big way. It is an old habit. They are projecting an image as if Gujarat is the only state that has developed,” Sonia said at a rally in this south Karnataka town bordering Andhra Pradesh, according to Indian Express. “It is another matter that the poor have made sacrifices for this development.”

More than 814 million Indians will vote over the coming five weeks, with parts of 14 states and the capital New Delhi currently casting ballots. Analysts say these may be the most important polls in four decades.

TIME Asia

Two Soldiers Killed as Maoists Attack Before Polls Open in East India

Another three troops were injured as armed insurgents, who have called for an election boycott, attacked a military jeep with explosives in India’s insurgency-hit Bihar state

Maoist rebels blew up a military jeep in India’s eastern Bihar state late on Wednesday, killing two members of the paramilitary forces and wounding three others, just hours before voting began in the third phase of India’s six-week-long national elections.

The troops were patrolling forest near a rebel stronghold in Munger district, some 145 miles (233 km) southeast of the state capital Patna, when an improvised land mine detonated at around 5:30 a.m. as they tried to cross a bridge, reports the Associated Press.

Six parliamentary constituencies of Bihar, including Jamui, where the attack took place, are heading to polls in the state’s first ballot phase on Thursday, reports PTI.

Maoists had earlier called for a poll boycott. Nevertheless, voting in the restive province commenced as planned, said police officer Jitendra Rana.

According to police in Jharkhand state’s Latehar district, six land mines also exploded in the early hours, and a gun battle erupted between Maoists and security forces, although no casualties were reported.

Many millions of people are currently heading to the ballot box in parts of 11 of India’s 28 states. Voting for the 543-seat lower house of parliament is expected to close on May 12, with results announced four days later.

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