Kabul: Insurgents worked to disrupt Afghanistan’s presidential election Saturday, with a series of blasts reported across the country as voters headed to the polls and troops flooded the streets of the capital. The vote marks the culmination of a bloody election campaign that is seen as a two-horse race between President Ashraf Ghani and his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive. The Taliban, who unleashed a string of bombings during the two-month campaign, in recent days issued repeated warnings they intend to attack polling centres. Also Read – Saudi Crown Prince Salman ‘snubbed’ Pak PM Imran, recalled his private jet from US: Report At least 15 people were wounded in the southern city of Kandahar when a bomb went off at a polling station about two hours after voting began, a hospital director told AFP, and officials across the country reported several small explosions at other election sites. “Peace is the first desire of our people,” Ghani said after casting his vote at a high school in Kabul. “Our roadmap (for peace) is ready, I want the people to give us permission and legitimacy so that we pursue peace.” Wary authorities placed an uneasy Kabul under partial lockdown, flooding streets with troops and banning trucks from entering the city in an effort to stop would-be suicide bombers attacking the electoral process. Also Read – Iraq military admits ‘excessive force’ used in deadly protests One voter at a polling station in a Kabul high school said it was important to cast a ballot. “I know there are security threats but bombs and attacks have become part of our everyday lives,” 55-year-old Mohiuddin, who only gave one name, told AFP. “I am not afraid, we have to vote if we want to bring changes to our lives.” The capital’s traffic, often gridlocked, dropped to a trickle as schools and offices closed for the day and as many people chose to stay off the roads. Some 9.6 million Afghans are registered to vote, but many have lost any hope that after 18 years of war any leader can unify the fractious country and improve basic living conditions, boost the stagnating economy or bolster security. Abdullah and Ghani both claimed victory in the 2014 election — a vote so tainted by fraud and violence that it led to a constitutional crisis and forced then-US president Barack Obama to push for a compromise that saw Abdullah awarded the subordinate role. Sunawbar Mirzae, 23, said she chose to brave the polls because she valued her right to vote. “The only request I have from the election commission is that they ensure the transparency of the election because lots of people have lost their trust,” she told AFP. Voting in Afghanistan’s fourth presidential election began at 7:00 am (0230 GMT) at some 5,000 polling centres across the country. Authorities had initially planned to open hundreds more but were unable to owing to the abysmal security situation. Campaigning was hampered by violence from the first day, when Ghani’s running mate was targeted in a bomb-and-gun attack that left at least 20 dead. Bloody attacks have continued to rock Afghanistan, including a Taliban bombing at a Ghani rally last week that killed at least 26 people in the central province of Parwan near Kabul. The interior ministry says 72,000 forces will help to secure polling stations. Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said: “Any acts of violence against the electoral process, including attacks directed at polling centres, polling staff and voters, are unacceptable.” Election officials say this will be the cleanest election yet, with equipment such as biometric fingerprint readers and better training for poll workers to ensure the vote is fair. Still, the US embassy in Kabul has said it is “disturbed by so many complaints about security, lack of an equal playing field and fraud” and many Afghans say they have no intention of voting, citing fraud and security fears. Saturday’s poll was initially slated to take place in April, but was twice delayed because election workers were ill-prepared, and the US was leading a push to forge a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. That deal has been scuppered for now after US President Donald Trump pulled out.
Mumbai: The now-suspended managing director of the crisis-hit Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank (PMC), Joy Thomas, has reportedly admitted to the RBI that the bank’s actual exposure to the bankrupt HDIL is over Rs 6,500 crore — four times the regulatory cap or a whopping 73 per cent of its entire assets of Rs 8,880 crore. The admission came in after a board member leaked the actual balancesheet details to the Reserve Bank, a source in know of the details said. Also Read – Commercial vehicle sales to remain subdued in current fiscal: IcraThe slum redevelopment focused Housing Development and Infrastructure or HDIL is in the bankruptcy court now after being hit by a severe cash crunch following the failure of some of its key projects in the city. While HDIL did not reply to a detailed e-mail sent by PTI on the issue, the bank, its chairman Waryam Singh and Joy Thomas could not be reached for comments immediately. The source said that non-disclosure of the actual HDIL status (NPA since the past two-three years) and the quantum of the exposure to the group was leaked by one of the PMC board members himself to the Reserve Bank, forcing Joy Thomas to confess the misreporting. Also Read – Ashok Leyland stock tanks over 5 pc as co plans to suspend production for up to 15 daysAccording to the source, Thomas wrote a four-and-a-half page detailed letter to the regulator giving details of how he, along with six key people who include a few board members, including chairman Waryam Singh and one or two senior bank officials, were sanctioning loans to the HDIL Group. The source further said Thomas has also confessed that most of the board members were in the dark about these loans. Waryam Singh was on the board of HDIL for nine years between 2006 and 2015 and had held 1.91 per cent stake in the company during this period. He ceased to be a non-executive director of the company in March 2015. Before he exited the HDIL board, Singh had sold his entire stake in the company. “The whistleblower board member approached the regulator and provided information about financial irregularities and the real estate company’s loans not being classified as non-performing loans from last two-three years, despite defaults on repayments,” the source said. “This forced Thomas to go the RBI. In a four-and-a-half page letter, he confessed the wrongdoings and evergreening of some other key accounts,” he added. The loans were sanctioned to the realty developer since 2008, the source said. “Thomas in the letter admitted that the exposure to HDIL Group was over Rs 6,500 crore, which is nearly 73 per cent of its total loan book of Rs 8,880 crore as of September 19, 2019,” the source said. As per regulations, single entity exposure limit for banks is 15 per cent of their capital fund. For group companies, the exposure limit is 20 per cent. Thus, PMC’s exposure to HDIL is almost four-times of what RBI mandates. Thomas, in a press conference last week, had said the bank’s exposure to HDIL and its related entities was to the tune of Rs 2,500 crore and that there was delay in repayments by the group since the last two-three years. In the confession letter, Thomas also put the actual NPA number at 60-70 per cent as against a reported net NPA of 2.19 per cent as of March 31, 2019, the source said. Though the RBI is still inspecting the bank’s balancesheet, if the NPA numbers turn out to be as per Thomas’ confession, it will be the highest in the banking industry so far. On September 19, Thomas met RBI Executive Director Rabi Mishra and sought time to resolve the issue, citing HDIL was in advanced stages of selling some of its real estate assets. The money from the asset sale could have helped HDIL repay at least the interest part and make its account with PMC standard, Thomas had informed the RBI. The regulator sent the inspection team to the bank’s headquarters in suburban Mumbai on the evening of September 19 itself. During the inspection, RBI found major financial irregularities, under-reporting of exposure and failure of internal controls and systems. On September 23 evening, the RBI had put a slew of restrictions on the bank for six months. The restrictions included curbs on fresh lending, accepting fresh deposits and investments, among others. The withdrawal limit for account holders was also kept at Rs 1,000 for six months, which was later raised to Rs 10,000. The regulator also dismissed the board and suspended Thomas. It appointed J B Bhoria as the administrator at the bank.