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

The sixth phase of elections in India consolidated an increasingly apparent trend in the prior five phases which illustrated a distinct improvement in voter turnout as compared to the 2009 Lok-Sabha elections. Only two states – Rajasthan (59.2 % for 5 seats) and Maharashtra (55.33 % for 19 seats) – registered a voter turnout below the 60% threshold. The highest turnout on the other hand was recorded by the Union Territory of Puducherry which registered an 83% turnout for its lone seat, followed by West Bengal (82% for 6 seats) and Tamil Nadu (73% for 39 seats). In comparison, the 2012 Presidential elections in the United States saw a voter-turnout of 57.5%. High voter turnouts however, continue to be marred by isolated attacks by Maoist insurgents who this week were responsible for the deaths of 8 polling officials, including 5 policemen, who were killed when a bus carrying them was blown up after hitting a landmine in the state of Jharkhand. This is the second such attack after the commencement of the nine-phased elections. On a side note, Amit Shah, Narendra Modi’s controversial close-aide declared that, “after today, the Modi wave has become a tsunami”.

Relevant News Stories
Is India About to Elect its Reagan (The Hindu)
Could Modi Be India’s Nixon to China? (Foreign Policy)
BJP “Needs To Allow FDI in Retail, Q&A with Jagdish Bhagwati (The 545)
How Suicide and Politics Mix in India (The New York Times) 

In the latest string of attacks against western civilians, three Americans were killed at a private hospital in Kabul when an Afghan police officer turned his gun on them. Meanwhile the initial release of data from the Independent Election Commission (IEC) indicates that former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has a clear lead with 43.8 % of votes. On the other hand, Mr. Abdullah’s closest challenger, Ashraf Ghani, the former World Bank official trails with 32.9 per cent of total votes counted. Moreover, the IEC is currently investigating a range of complaints by the voters and as a result has delayed the announcement of the final results by two days. The results will now be announced on Saturday, April 26th and Abdullah Abdullah will need to secure at least 50 per cent of the total votes in order to avoid a run-off with Ghani.

Relevant News Stories
COIN’s Funeral (Foreign Policy Magazine)
Afghan Election Results show Abdullah in Lead (Afghanistan Sun)
Times Minute: News, Idea & Culture in 60 Seconds: 3 American Killed By Guard at Afghan Hospital (New York Times)

Hamid Mir, the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Laden after 9/11 was shot and wounded in a drive by shooting in the Pakistani city of Karachi this week. Mir, a prominent journalist and a critic of the nation’s most powerful institution, the Army, is the latest in a string of journalists to either be shot or killed in Pakistan. While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to do more to protect journalists in the country, Mir’s brother has accused the government itself, directly blaming elements of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the nation’s omnipresent intelligence agency. The pro-business Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif’s government is being praised for taking proactive steps to revive the Pakistani economy despite failure to bring about stability on the security front. This week a $400 million loans to support Pakistan’s energy sector was approved by the Asian Development Bank. Additionally Pakistan’s telecommunications sector raised $ 1.1 billion via the sales of 3G/4G licenses. As the country sees a steep increase in domestic and international investment following an impressive performance of the Karachi Stock exchange, the World Bank has revised its economic growth projection for this fiscal year from 4% to 4.4%.

Relevant News Stories
Critic of Pakistani Military Wounded in Karachi Attack (New York Times)
Dastgir urges accepting new challenges (Express Tribune)
Civilian, military leadership on same page for development: PM (The News)
Peaceful Afghanistan key to regional peace: Nisar (The News)
Why Pakistan is so dangerous for journalists (Foreign Policy Magazine)

Bangladesh marked the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse which killed more than a thousand garment workers as the nine-story building collapsed in Dhaka’s Sarvar district on April 24th 2013. Many of the victims have yet to be compensated and Bangladesh the garment industry’s safety standards remain dismal with many of the victims of the Rana Plaza incident back at work in the same poor conditions. Away from the capital and toward the border, tension flared along the India- Bangladesh border as Bangladeshi nationals kidnapped two Indians who were then later returned unharmed.

Relevant News Stories
Bangladesh’s sweatshops: A boycott is not the answer (Los Angeles Times) 
A year after Rana Plaza: What hasn’t changed since the Bangladesh factory collapse (Washington Post)
Kidnapped Indians return unharmed from Bangladesh (Times of India)
Bangladesh’s Chance to Get It Right (New York Times)

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a senior member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, and the former head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, claimed that the Gulf states should look to seriously balance Iran’s nuclear capabilities by acquiring nuclear know-how of their own. Speaking at a security conference in the Bahrain, Manama, the Prince stated that “the lack of trust in the Iranian leadership which arises from its double-talk and the duality of its policies prevent us from believing what it says”. Although prefacing his calls to seek nuclear capabilities by stating that “We do not hold any hostility to Iran and do not wish any harm to it or to its people, who are Muslim neighbors”, he emphasized the need to preserve regional security which he claims requires the Gulf states, “to work to create a real balance of forces with Iran including in nuclear know-how, and to be ready for any possibility in relation to the Iranian nuclear file. Any violation of this balance will allow the Iranian leadership to exploit all holes to do harm to us.”

Relevant News Stories
Lunch with the FT: Prince Turki al-Faisal (Financial Times) 
Saudi prince says Gulf states must balance threat from Iran (Reuters) 
India to make May-July oil payments to Iran – sources (Reuters)
Iran to increase gasoline prices, testing patience of public awaiting economic recovery (Washington Post)