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


President Hamid Karzai announced on Thursday that Afghanistan should have a new president in the next two weeks. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that the new government should be sworn in before the NATO summit schedule for September 4-5 in Wales so Afghanistan can promptly sign security agreements allowing allied countries to extend their presence and provide security assistance to the country. Karzai’s remarks come as negotiations between the two presidential candidates regarding the formation of a unity government continue to hit roadblocks, even after two consecutive mediation efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Just as the electoral teams of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani formed a joint commission to work out the details of a future power-sharing arrangement, one of Abdullah’s strongest backers, Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Nur, issued a stark threat stating that supporters of Abdullah would wage a civil uprising if Ghani was declared the winner. Ghani, on the other hand, undercut the power-sharing aspect of any future agreement by arguing that “it’s not called a government of dual authority or a coalition, it’s called a government of national unity.” The two candidates must reach a mutual understanding soon in order to ensure a stable political transition and the continuity of international security assistance and aid to Afghanistan.

Relevant News Stories
Afghan Election Rivals Hit New Snags (Wall Street Journal)
In Afghan election dispute, enter the DC lobbyists (Christian Science Monitor)
Drugs, Pakistan Fuel One Bloody Afghan Summer (Vocativ)

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) scorched-earth campaign in Northern Iraq has forced the United States and Iran to pursue common goals of backing the Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurdistan’s main fighting force, and to ensure a political transition in Baghdad. Both the US and Iran are providing varying levels of logistical, military, and intelligence support to Kurdish forces resisting the ISIS, and both countries made it clear in recent weeks that they wanted Prime Minister Maliki to be replaced by a less polarizing figure. American and Iranian officials, however, are denying that they share strategic interests or plans to coordinate military efforts in Iraq. Iran’s contribution to resolving political deadlock in Baghdad and its fresh impetus to get involved in Kurdistan reflects its fears that a disintegration of the Iraqi state, an outcome that the US also opposes, could incite separatist movements within Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei joined the United States in praising the appointment of Haider al-Abadi as Iraq’s new prime minister, stating: “I hope the designation of the new prime minister in Iraq will untie the knot…and teach a good lesson to those who aim for sedition in Iraq.” He also argued that “relations with the US and negotiating with that country, except in specific cases, will have no benefit to the Islamic Republic, but rather will be harmful.” Based on the situation on the ground, Iraq may just be one of those specific cases.

Relevant News Stories
Iraq Crisis: Effort to Aid Kurdish Forces Puts Iran, U.S. on Same Side (Wall Street Journal)
Why Iran Fears Iraq’s Kurds (The Daily Beast)
Iran dismisses direct US talks (Al Jazeera)

Pakistan celebrated its 68th Independence Day on August 14th amid chaos and uncertainty following the Azadi March (March for Freedom). The motor cavalcade of thousands of people was led by Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as they travelled around 180 miles from Lahore to Islamabad. Khan intends to turn the march into a sit-in until his demands are met. Khan has accused the government of rigging in elections last year, and demanded for the Prime Minister’s resignation and fresh elections. The protest was also joined by cleric Tahirul Qadri and his Pakistani Awami Tehrik (PAT) party, in what seems to be a loose alliance. Qadri returned from Canada with promises to bring a “peaceful revolution” to Pakistan. The government, after having used multiple tactics to ­stall the protest since last week, allowed the protests to take place at Zero Point, a central location in Islamabad. This marks the toughest challenge yet to the Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N led government since coming into power in May 2013. What is unknown is the army’s attitude towards or role in this recent upheaval. Analysts are ambivalent. “If the military is not behind these protests, then what will Imran get out of it? This is a big gamble on his part,” said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.

Relevant News Stories
Azadi march advances towards overcast capital (Dawn)
Protest March Bears Down on the Leader of Pakistan (New York Times)
Pakistan: Fuse lit for Independence Day fireworks (Aljazeera)

India celebrated its 68th Independence Day on August 15th as Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation in an impassioned extempore speech to government officials and ten thousand Indians present at Red Fort in Delhi. Stating that “a national festival is an occasion to refine and rebuild the national character,” Modi proceeded to highlight societal problems and share social messages. Referring to the rise in sexual violence and rape incidents, he urged societal and family responsibility, especially for parents to educate their sons. “Young girls are always asked so many questions by their parents, like ‘where are you going?’. But do parents dare to ask their sons where they are going?” he asked. Modi also raised the issues of female infanticide, skewed sex ratio, and the need to build more public toilets, model villages, and bank accounts for all. Unlike previous leaders Modi avoided making grand statements in the Independence Day speech. Many Indians described this unconventional speech as refreshing, inspiring and, impressive.

Relevant News Stories
India Independence Day: PM Modi says nation shamed by rape (BBC)
Full text of Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech

The Central Bank in Bangladesh, in its monetary policy statement for July-December, set the borrowing ceiling for private sector at 16.5%, out of which 2.5% comes from foreign borrowing. However, economists were ambivalent about allowing local companies to borrow from foreign firms, with very high bank-lending rates in Bangladesh. Salehuddin Ahmed, a former central bank governor, said “foreign borrowing for the private sector should not be encouraged this much, as there is excess liquidity in the market.” While the Bangladesh Bank Governor, Atiur Rahman, maintained that this decision has allowed foreign private borrowing to turn local firms more competitive, since their competitors abroad enjoy lost cost loans. In a separate development, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) entered into two agreements with the Bangladeshi government for a $111 million loan. This loan will be exclusively used to support efforts to develop farmland irrigation systems and solve river erosion.

Relevant News Stories
Foreign borrowing by private firms draws mixed responses (The Daily Star)
ADB gives $111m to upgrade irrigation, tackle river erosion (The Daily Star)