As of October 14, a total of 41 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets have returned the awards they received from India's prestigious National Academy of Letters, or Sahitya Akademi, in protest what they call a growing climate of intolerance under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Salman Rushdie condemned the wave of "thuggish violence," while fellow acclaimed novelist Nayantara Sahgal explicitly called out Modi's reigning political ideology. "The prime minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology," she said. "Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva—whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle—are being marginalied, persecuted, or murdered." The government has dismissed the writers' protests, accusing them of being politically motivated. “If they say they are unable to write, let them stop writing,” Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma told reporters. (Pakistan Express-Tribune, NYT, Oct. 16; BBC News, Oct. 7)
Demonstrators in Nepal gathered Sept. 21 to protest the country's new constitution, which was officially promulgated the previous day. The constitution was signed and announced by President Ram Baran Yadav, who was applauded by members of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal in Kathmandu. It was approved by the Constituent Assembly last week, following years of debate. The charter's passage has caused tensions both within Nepal and with India. It was opposed by minority groups in the southern plains, as their home provinces will be divided under its terms. India has called for the charter to be more inclusive of ethnic groups near its borders and expressed concern about continuing violence in those regions. India's Ministry of External Affairs called Ambassador Ranjit Rae to return to Delhi for consultations in light of Nepal's continuing violence.
An Indian anti-terror court on Sept. 11 convicted 12 men of various charges, including murder, in connection with the near-simultaneous bombings of seven trains in Mumbai in 2006. The men, ranging in age from late 20s to early 40s, are thought to have been members of the Students Islamic Movement of India. Prosecutors say the student organization joined with Pakistan-backed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (National Counter-Terrorism Center profile) to carry out the attacks, allegations the Pakistani government denies. The two groups allegedly placed eight homemade bombs on the first-class cars of several trains and in one train station, and detonated the explosives within 15 minutes of one another, resulting in 189 deaths and more than 800 injuries. Although charges were filed against the men only four months after the attack, the case took several years to resolve due to difficulties in collecting evidence. Sentencing is expected this week, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty.
India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Sept. 3 announced a Rs 7 lakh (approx. $10,500) bounty on Naga insurgent leader SS Khaplang in connection with an attack on an army convoy in Manipur three months ago that killed 18 soldiers. The 75-year-old rebel heads the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), that has long waged an armed struggle for an independent Naga homeland uniting parts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam states along with areas of Burma. In early August, India's central government signed a peace agreement with the rival NSCN-IM (Isak-Muivah, named for leaders Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah). But the Khaplang faction is not yet recognizing the accord, and the bounty appears to signal Delhi's impatience—or a strategy to keep the Naga struggle divided.
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment this week issued a report on the Obama administration's planned "modernization" of the US nuclear arsenal, finding it could cost $704 billion between 2015 and 2039. The biggest chunk will likely be borne by the Navy to develop a replacement for the Ohio-class nuclear submarines. Together with maintaining the warheads themselves, this will amount to some 70% of the cost estimate. The Air Force will see costs break $4 billion a year between fiscal 2029 and 2031 to bring online the next-generation Long Range Strategic Bomber. (Air Force Times, Aug. 5)
Over the past two months, the ISIS international franchise has made foreboding gains from West Africa to the Indian subcontinent. In Nigeria, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in March, according to the anti-terrorist monitoring group SITE. The pledge, attributed to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, was made in an audio posted on Twitter (and since removed). "We announce our allegiance to the Caliph... and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity," SITE quoted the statement. (Al Jazeera, March 8)
Last month's US-India nuclear deal obviously signaled a rise in Sino-Indian tensions, seen by Beijing (accurately) as part of an encirclement strategy. The deal called for inclusion of India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which drew immediate criticism from China. The NSG is comprised of 46 nuclear supplier states, including China, Russia and the US, that have agreed to coordinate export controls on civilian nuclear material to non-nuclear-weapon states. The group has up to now been made up of signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—which, as China was quck to note, does not include India (or Pakistan, or the "secret" nuclear nation Israel). More to the point, India is not a "non-nuclear-weapon state." (The Diplomat, Feb. 14; Arms Control Association)
The brutal Boko Haram rebels are gaining ground at a frightening pace in northwest Nigeria, even mounting a bloody attack this week on the region's major city, Maiduguri. Reports are mounting that the extremist movement is funding its insurgency by exploiting Nigeria's strategic place as a crossroads of the global narco-traffick. BBC News on Jan. 25 asked "How have Nigeria's militants become so strong?" It cited the findings of the International Crisis Group that Boko Haram "has forged ties with arms smugglers in the lawless parts of the vast Sahel region." Plenty of its arms (including tanks and armored vehicles) have been plundered from the Nigerian army itself. But plenty more are thought to have come from Libya, where arms depots were looted when Moammar Qaddafi's regime was overthrown in 2011. Trafficking networks have been moving that plundered war material across the Sahel and Sahara, integrating the traffick into routes already established for moving drugs and other contraband between West Africa, Europe and Asia.