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

A large segment of the Afghan populace turned out to elect the country’s next President as 7 of the 12 million voters exercised their franchise this week. Unexpectedly, the overall turnout reported was close to sixty percent despite repeated threats posed by the Taliban who had vowed to disrupt elections, even offering $5 to citizens in exchange for them not casting their vote. Viewed as a positive for both societal development and Afghan democracy, women came out in large numbers to express their political lineage. The level of violence on election day was far less than anticipated, mainly owing to vigilant security forces and cooperative constituents. The success of this election has not only marked a clear defeat for the Taliban, but it has also raised the bar of expectation for the incoming candidate who will have to deal with a ubiquitous insurgency, a deeply ingrained culture of corruption, and a faltering and fragile economy. With Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah leading the fray, the results of the election will be announced next week deciding which candidate assumes the role of Head of State. If no clear winner is announced, the two leading candidates will proceed to a run-off. Preliminary results are expected April 24 and final numbers will be announced on May 14.

Relevant News Stories
High turnout, little violence for Afghan presidential elections (The Denver Post)
Outgoing President’s Legacy Renders Challenges for Incoming (Outlook Afghanistan)
Afghan army female trainers shape up (Khaama Press)

The world’s largest democratic exercise is underway as the first wave of India’s approximate 814 million voters exercised their franchise this week. On Thursday alone, phase 3 of the 9 phase election, a total of 110 million voters in 91 constituencies across 11 states and three Union Territories cast their vote. Every constituency in Delhi, Haryana and Kerala cast their vote along with the Union Territories of Andaman & Nicobar, Lakshadweep, and Chandigarh. With only 7 constituencies casting their vote this Saturday, next week will see a total of 238 constituencies exercise their franchise thereby kick starting the latter five phases of this election cycle due to end on May 12th. London based magazine, The Economist aptly marvels at the unfolding democratic exercise eloquently stating that “illiterate villagers and destitute slum-dwellers will have an equal say alongside Mumbai’s millionaires in picking their government”.

Relevant News Stories
How Narendra Modi is Targeting 23 Million First-Time Voters (The 545)
How the Aam Aadmi Party Lost Its Way (The New York Times) 
Muslim leader endorses ruling party as religion rises in India election (Thomson Reuters)
The Indian Elections: What the BJP Has To Say About Foreign Policy (Forbes)

Denying a visa to a United Nations ambassadorial nominee seeking to attend UN events in the United States is considered unusual if not unprecedented. Yet this week, both the Senate and the House approved legislation to bar Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s ambassadorial nominee to the UN, from stepping on US soil due to his role in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. Jay Carney, the White House spokesman stated Friday that “We’ve communicated with the Iranians at a number of levels and made clear our position on this — and that includes our position that the selection was not viable”, before concluding, “our position is that we will no be issuing him a visa”. U.S. immigration law allows for a broad rejection of visas to foreigners where in many cases officials are not compelled to give an explicit reason other than to label the applicant a threat to national security or American policy. Interestingly, the United States also has a long-standing visa ban dating back to 2005 on Narendra Modi, likely to be India’s next Prime Minister. According to the Congressional Research Service, should he become Prime Minister next month, Mr. Modi would automatically qualify for a diplomatic A-1 visa as Head of State thereby rendering his current ban meaningless. Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Iran would never give up its nuclear program and that Iran had agreed to talks to “break the hostile atmosphere” with the international community.

Relevant News Stories
White House to Iran: No Visa for U.N. Envoy pick (Politico)
Nuclear Talks With Iran Need ‘Intensive Work,’ Envoys Say (New York Times)
Khamenei: Iran will never give up its nuclear program (BBC)

The World Bank released its ‘Bangladesh Development Update April 2014’ this week. The report noted that despite economic activity recovering in the second half of Fiscal Year 2014, largely driven by resilient exports and strong domestic demand, economic indicators experienced a setback in the second half of the fiscal year due to political uncertainty and turmoil. The report further expressed that while increases in public expenditure and growth in the export sector are likely to contribute to the nations predicted GDP of 5.4% for FY14, Bangladesh’s GDP will remain below last year’s 6% growth mark despite fairing slightly better than the average for developing countries. Most notably, the World Bank reports that the political turmoil which marred Bangladesh in the last quarter of 2013 has caused a value-added loss of about $1.4 billion of which 86% of the losses were in services, 11% in industry and 3% in agriculture. 

Relevant News Stories 
Bangladesh Development Update April 2014 (World Bank)
Bangladesh Compensation Fund Far Short of Goal (The Wall Street Journal)

As the economy leads the newly installed governments priority list, Pakistan crossed important benchmarks towards its financial and economic stability. This month alone, the country’s foreign remittances noted a precipitous increase of 11.58 percent, while significant foreign investment pushed the Karachi Stock Exchange index up by 309 points. If the trend in foreign remittances continues, by the end of this financial year, payments from Pakistanis abroad are expected to cross $15 billion – the highest ever in the history of the country. This week also witnessed Pakistan successfully re-entering the international borrowing market where its bonds worth $2 billion received an impressive response from the buyers. While Pakistan’s economic indicators are promising, its performance on the national security front remains inadequate. With terrorists killing at will in hostile regions across the country, over 50 people lost their lives in bomb blasts and firing incidents this week. Despite the latest increase in terror incidents, the government and its respective departments have failed to come up with a clear strategy to deal with such incidents and to guarantee the security of its citizens. Moreover, tension is brewing between the elected government and the country’s ever powerful military, which do not seem to be on the same page with regard to the ongoing peace negotiations with the Taliban. If this tension remains unsettled, the nascent democratic setup might once again face threats for ouster at the hands of its generals.

Relevant News Stories
Foreign investors start investing in Pakistan (The News)
Army chief sees multidimensional security threats to Pakistan (Dawn News)
Pakistan will work with whoever people of India elect: FO (Express Tribune)