This Week in South Asia: December 14-20

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

Fighting between the Pakistani military and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) surged this past week, with the Pakistani military killing nearly forty suspected militants in North Waziristan over a two day campaign. The operation, which began on Thursday, December 19, and continued into Friday, was a response to the suicide bombing of a security post that killed five Pakistani soldiers. The Ansar-ul Mujahedeen, a militant faction associated with the TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack on the soldiers, stating that it was carried out in response to the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, the former head of the TTP who was killed by a US drone strike in November. The battle between the TTP and the Pakistani military is reported to have lasted several hours, and caused some civilian deaths, though accounts vary widely as to the exact number.

Relevant News Stories:
Death Toll Increases in North Waziristan (Al Jazeera)
IMF approves $550 mln second tranche for Pakistan (Dawn)
Don’t Disturb the Consensus (FP)
Pakistani Army Kills 23 Suspected of being militants (NYT)

The Indian Parliament passed an anti-corruption bill this past week, which will create an independent anti-corruption agency. In a rare show of unity, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) both supported the passage of the bill. The bill had been passed in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament, two years ago but had been stalled in the upper house, the Raja Sabha. The sudden passage of this bill is likely a reaction to the surprising strength last week of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi Assembly elections. The AAP has run primarily on an anti-corruption platform and is planning to run in the general Parliamentary elections this spring.

Relevant News Stories:
India’s Upper House Approves Anti-corruption Agency (NYT)
Lokpal bill: Indian lower house passes anti-corruption bill (BBC)
Centre to give AAP a few more days to form a government (The Hindu)
India Government asks court to review gay sex ban (BBC)
Pakistan, beyond the Indian media prism (Yahoo News, India)
Who, What, Why: Does Devyani Khobragade have diplomatic immunity? (BBC)

The political crisis in Bangladesh continues, with the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) calling for a four-day national blockade, starting on Saturday, December 21. The blockade is another attempt to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down and install a caretaker government before the elections in early January. If she does not oblige, the BNP, and the Islamic Jamaat-i Islami Party, will both boycott the elections. Mohammad Hossein Ershad, leader of Jatiyo, the third largest party in Bangladesh, has been arrested after threatening to boycott the elections as well. Hasina seems poised for a victory, which Bangladesh and the world will see as illegitimate. At least 100 people have died due to political violence in the past month alone.  

Relevant News Stories:
Bangladesh Violence risks spinning out of control as polls near (Reuters)
Bangladesh: the campaign trail (The Economist)
In Pictures: Bangladesh Victory Day (Al Jazeera)

UK Prime Minister David Cameron visited British troops stationed in Afghanistan this past week. While in Afghanistan, Cameron expressed his belief that the country has achieved a “basic level of security” and so the British troops can return home with “their head held high.” Cameron also expressed his belief that the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the US and Afghanistan will be signed, which would allow Britain to continue its training mission in Afghanistan. Despite this optimistic tone, senior British military figures expect increased insurgency activity in 2014 aimed at disrupting the elections. The UK currently has approximately 5,200 troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Relevant News Stories:
Britain’s Cameron Visits Afghan Troops (RFE/RL)
Afghanistan mission accomplished, says David Cameron (BBC)
Majority of Americans say Afghan war has not been worth fighting, Post-ABC News poll finds (WP)

Iran and the P5+1 resumed talks in Vienna on Thursday, December 19, to determine how to implement the November 24 nuclear agreement. These talks are meant to translate that accord into practice. While both sides are currently invested in implementing the agreement, hardliners in both Iran and the United States are pushing back against it. The US Congress in particular is threatening additional sanctions on Iran, despite the fact that would be in violation of the agreement and likely derail any chance at a long-term agreement. 

Relevant News Stories:
Iran, six powers to resume nuclear talks after snag (Reuters)
Rouhani Takes on Revolutionary Guards in Iran Power Test (Bloomberg)
Iran Guards ‘killed in Sistan Balochistan blast’ (BBC)