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

As India approaches its final phase of voting, two isolated incidents of violence erupted in the north east and southern regions of the country.  Separatist rebels opened fire on a Muslim village this week killing between 10 and 22 people over the course of two days. In the worst outbreak of violence in northeastern India in two years, the gunmen, who are members of the Bodo tribe and belong to a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, set the villagers homes ablaze. The gunmen and Bodo tribesman more generally accuse Muslims of illegally entering India from Bangladesh and therefore encroaching on their ancestral land in the state of Assam. In a separate event, twin blasts killed one woman and injured nine others aboard a train at a station in the southern Indian city of Chennai. While there have been a relatively few number of violent incidents during the staggered phases of the elections, the recent episodes are bound to cause alarm as the nation heads into the last two rounds of voting.

Relevant News Stories
India test-fires anti-ballistic missile (Reuters)
Time 100: Narendra Modi by Fareed Zakaria (Time)
Blasts in train at India’s Chennai kill passenger, alert issued (Reuters)
Fresh Assam violence kills 12, toll in sectarian clashes now 23 (Hindustan Times)
Is Modi Too Ambitious? Arvind Panagariya on Infrastructure, Reforms & Joining the Government  (The 545)

The Afghan presidential elections are set for a second round run-off after neither candidate secured the mandatory 50 per cent of the total vote in the first round. The run-off will see the top two contestants – Dr. Abdullah Abdullah who leads with 41.9 percent and Dr. Ashraf Ghani who trails with 31.5 percent square off for the presidential position. According to Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, the run-off date is set for June 7. Following the end of Taliban rule in 2001, this is the third election and first democratic change of power in the country. Both Abdullah and Ghani, who come from technocratic backgrounds, are contesting with a promise of ‘change’ for the war torn country and both candidates have agreed to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement and have vowed to re-set relations with Washington after several years of deterioration under the leadership of Hamid Karzai .

Relevant News Stories
Afghan election set for Abdullah-Ghani run-off  (News Asia)
SIGAR warns of graft draining Afghan government revenue (Wadsam)
Taliban bombing in peaceful Panjshir in Afghanistan kills 13 (Afghanistan Sun)
2,000 feared missing after landslide buries northeast Afghan village (The Hindu)

Commemorating International Labor Day, Hassan Rouhani called for increased workers’ rights in a May Day speech. More specifically he called for gender equality, equal labor rights for women, as well as the formation of labor NGOs. On the international front, Moscow and Tehran are negotiating an $8-10 billion energy deal. Both Iran and Russia are internationally ‘ostracized’ by US-led economic sanctions, which have profoundly impacted both economies. Washington often depends on Moscow for its sanctions to be effective. The Russia-Iran energy deal would undercut the efficacy of the sanctions that has largely been credited for brining the Iranians to the negotiating table with regard to their nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency will visit two uranium sites in Iran next week, part of the body’s efforts to gain greater insight into Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.

Relevant News Stories
Russia and Iran Reported in Talks on Energy Deal worth Billions (New York Times) 
Time 100: Hassan Rouhani by Mohamed ElBaradei (Time)
Iranian President Rouhani supports more workers rights in speech (LA Times)
Three decades of ‘strategic resistance’ between Iran and Syria (Al Arabiya News)
The Persian Version: A 30 minute film that follows a crew of professional skaters zigzag across Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey (Vimeo)

Last weeks terrorist attack on Hamid Mir, a senior Pakistani journalist, was followed by the emergence of a blame game in Pakistan this week signaling the existence of fundamental rifts between the government, media, and the omnipresent military. While the military has outrightly denied allegations of being involved in Mir’s attack, the veteran journalist is adamant that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had a hand behind the murder attempt on him. As verbal skirmishes between Geo, the media group for which Mir works, and right wing journalists who are largely seen as defenders of the military continued, the Nawaz Sharif government appeared to be unconcerned and preferred not to intervene. The tensions between the military and media, however, were defused by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif who, in his address on Martyrs’ Day, acknowledged the importance of free media and insisted that all institutions and sectors work within the parameters of the constitution.

Relevant News Stories
WB approved $12 billion loan for Pakistan (Dawn News)
PM Cameron pledges to ‘stand together’ with Pakistan on terrorism (BBC News)
Govt, media, army must work together for country: Nawaz (The News)

Narendra Modi’s recent comments on Bangladeshi migrants in West Bengal are a cause of concern to Dhaka. Accusing Mamta Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, of using Bangladeshi migrants as a “vote bank”, Mr. Modi told an election rally in West Bengal that “You can write it down. After May 16 [the day India’s election results are announced], these Bangladeshis had better be prepared with their bags packed.” Modi’s statement have angered Bangladeshis,  aroused anti-Indian sentiment, and given rise to the Bangladesh National Party, which violently boycotted the national elections earlier this year. Modi’s sharp words were directed at Mamata Banerjee as he accused her of spreading the red carpet for vote bank politics. He said, “If people come from Bihar, they are outsiders to you. If people come from Odisha, they are outsiders to you. But if some Bangladeshi comes, your face seems to shine. This country cannot run like this. We won’t allow you to destroy the country for the sake of your vote bank politics.” In other news, operating off a tip received from an Australian company claiming to have found traces of an underwater airplane wreck in the Bay of Bengal area, two Bangladeshi navy ships begun searching the Bay for traces of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 but are yet to find anything according to a Bangladeshi commander. The Australian agency leading the search for the missing Malaysian jet have dismissed the claim made by the Australian company.

Relevant News Stories
Bangladesh: Elections Scarred by Violence (Human Rights Watch Video)
Bangladesh politicians reject election violence blame (The World Bulletin)