Commentary from the South Asia Center on the most relevant news from the region, and suggested “must-read” analyses from the week.


The Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies issued a report citing 687 sectarian killings in the country last year, a 22% increase from 2012, and expressed concerns for regional spillover. These statistics are particularly concerning as the US looks to Pakistan to support regional stability during the anticipated Afghanistan transition. Just in the past week, an explosion at a packed Peshawar mosque on Thursday left at least seven dead, including an eight-year-old child. Later, a bomb blast derailed a train travelling from Peshawar to Karachi, killing three people and injuring fifteen.  The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) did not claim involvement in either attack, strongly denying “such inhumane activities.”  The TTP’s new leader Mullah Fazlullah called for an end to attacks on civilians last year, vowing to attack “only government and security officials.”

Relevant News Stories:
Sectarian killings soar in Pakistan, raising fears of regional spillover (Post)
Restoring peace: APC on Balochistan turmoil by end-January (Express Tribune)
Optimism Ahead of India-Pakistan Trade Talks (VOA)
Infanticide is on the rise in Pakistan (Al Jazeera)

India’s ruling Congress party announced Thursday that Rahul Gandhi will not be declared the party’s candidate for prime minister. The move is seen as a tactic to insulate the party’s rising star from an anticipated election challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A slowing economy and corruption scandals, among other concerns, have sparked nationwide calls for change with the BJP and Aam Aadmi parties building broad bases of support. With elections expected later this year, the Congress Party will likely campaign as a party without announcing a candidate, while the BJP will back candidate Narendra Modi. Aam Aadmi is yet to announce a candidate.

Relevant News Stories:
Rahul Gandhi Won’t Be Candidate for India’s Top Job (NYT)
What They Said: Rahul Gandhi’s Speech at Congress Executive Meeting (NYT)
How India managed to defeat polio (BBC)
‘British help’ for Operation Blue Star stirs Punjab parties (Times of India)

US senators this week are considering a bipartisan proposal that would impose new sanctions on Iran and establish minimum criteria for a final nuclear deal. If passed, sanctions would be implemented only if Iran withdraws or violates the current deal, so as to allow time for negotiations to continue. Despite this condition, President Obama and analysts are aggressively arguing that a vote will derail current negotiations, dismantle international unity on Iran, and stifle progressive and pro-democracy voices inside Iran. Currently 59 senators support the bill, including 16 democrats, with remaining democrats particularly silent on their leanings.

Relevant News Stories:
The Iran Vote: This Really Matters, and You Should Let Your Senators Know (The Atlantic)
Mr Obama’s Iran problem (Economist)
Youth in Iran: Inside and Out (NYT)

Sheikh Hasina was sworn in Sunday for her second straight term as Bangladesh’s prime minister Bangladesh’s largest opposition party rejected the newly formed cabinet, suggesting more instability and unrest in the country. The opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, boycotted the elections earlier this year and called the new cabinet “illegal.” Tens of thousands of troops deployed throughout the country failed to stop the worst violence witnessed surrounding an election in Bangladesh. More than 150 people have died nationwide in recent political violence, most of them in the past two months. International observers refused to send monitors for the election.

Relevant News Stories:
Bangladesh: A long road ahead (Al Jazeera)
The Hindus of Bangladesh Fear for Their Future (TIME)
Matriarchs’ Duel for Power Threatens to Tilt Bangladesh Off Balance  (NYT)

Tensions between the US and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are again rising after a US airstrike caused civilian casualties on Wednesday. The US continues to push the President to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would allow a small contingency of US troops to remain in the country after formal withdrawal of foreign forces at the end of 2014. Karzai has conditioned his signature on increasing demands, including the cessation of airstrikes, approval from a loya jirga (which occurred last November), and US support for a Taliban peace process. Meanwhile, India expressed support of the Bilateral Security Agreement at an international conference attended by 53 countries, painting a dismal picture of the current security situation and stating the need to uphold 12 years of international effort.

Relevant News Stories:
In Afghanistan, an alternate approach to a security pact (Post)
US Official: Afghanistan Could Become ‘Narco-Criminal State’ (NPR)
India rejects ‘exit’ strategy for Afghanistan (Times of India)