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

The controversial ‘Telangana Bill’ was passed by both houses of India’s Parliament this week, thereby carving out India’s 29th state, Telangana, from an inland section of the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. As the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha passed the bill into law, celebrations and protests erupted, epitomizing the divisive nature of the bill. While residents of inland Andhra Pradesh have for some time now desperately wanted statehood, the state’s remaining population is vehemently opposed to it. One major point of contention is that Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh and major technology hub, is situated deep within the proposed borders of Telangana. Under the current bill, Hyderabad is set to become the shared capital of both states for an initial period of 10 years. Protesting the bifurcation, Andhra Pradesh’s Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy resigned from his post on Wednesday. India’s current dissection of states along linguistic lines is a product of post-independence thinking, but the nation’s evolving identity-based movements based on region, ethnicity, caste and religion have brought the statehood debate back into the spotlight. Telangana is the first Indian state to be created since the year 2000.

Relevant News Stories
Telangana bill passed in Lok Sabha amid chaotic scenes (Reuters)
Politics Behind Move to Free Gandhi Assassination Plotters, Analysts Say (New York Times)
Why Free Speech Looses in India (The New Yorker)

Pakistan has decided to retaliate against the string of terrorist attacks conducted by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has killed over 175 civilians and armed troops over the last 20 days. The TTP attacks, and consultations between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and senior military and intelligence officials, led to an abrupt cessation of the peace talks initiated by Sharif between the government and the militancy. Senior military and intelligence officials urged Sharif to approve action, particularly after news surfaced that the TTP killed Pakistani soldiers abducted in 2010. Following Sharif’s approval, the Pakistan air force carried out aerial strikes on militants’ hideouts, reportedly killing 40 local and foreign insurgents. Pakistan’s Minister for Information and Broadcast Pervaiz Rasheed stated the aerial bombardment of TTP strongholds in North Waziristan were retaliatory  and should not be construed as an offensive military action. In a concurrent development, Pakistan raised concerns of the killing of Pakistani soldiers on Afghan soil. Pakistan has asked Afghanistan to curb the insurgent elements who maintain their hideouts on the Afghan side of the border.

Relevant News Stories
Air strikes in Mir Ali after PM approval (The News)
Pakistan-India agree to address each other’s concerns in constructive manner (Express Tribune) Pakistan, Central Asia agree in principle to terms for power project (Express Tribune)
Afghan exit could hamper US drone war against Al Qaeda (Dawn)

Iran and six world powers, the P5 + 1, ended a second round of nuclear talks with a framework for future negotiations designed to reach a comprehensive deal. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton cited that both sides identified the issues that need to be resolved, but little progress was made on the main issue of nuclear concessions required of Tehran before stifling sanctions may be lifted. Concurrently the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, confirmed that the Iranian government is abiding by commitments it made during the first round of talks which led to an interim deal and to this week’s negotiations. Representatives of both sides are set to meet again in Vienna in a month’s time on March 17th. In Tehran, indications of a growing divide between the government of reform-minded President Rouhani and conservative factions of the regime surfaced as a pro-government Iranian newspaper was closed by Iran’s Judiciary. Just six days after its first issue, Aseman newspaper was banned for “desecration of Islamic sanctities and publishing material that was against Islamic rulings”.

Relevant News Stories
Iran nuke talks end, next round March 17th (The Washington Post)
Iran nuclear deal framework ‘agreed’ in Vienna (BBC)
Iran’s Judiciary Closes a New Pro-Government Newspaper (New York Times)

As Afghanistan prepares for its third presidential election, security issues for both the presidential candidates as well as the voters, especially women, continue to be a serious and central concern. This week, Abdullah Abdullah, a leading presidential candidate, escaped a fierce attack by the Taliban, while other political gatherings in Kabul were also targeted by suicide attacks. The Taliban has also reportedly aired threats to voters who vow to use their democratic right to choose their political representatives.

Relevant News Stories
Who Will Win the Political Game? (Outlook Afghanistan)
USAID struggles to capture a different picture of Afghanistan (World News)
Moving Afghan Investment Policy from Paper to Practice (Khaama Press)
Pentagon: Insider Threat in Afghanistan ‘as dangerous as it ever was’ (World News)

The United States voiced support for Bangladesh in building the first nationwide strategy to address the large number of refugees and undocumented nationals in the country. Last week, Bangladesh announced its plan to document Rohingya refugees from Myanmar through a state-run survey by the Bureau of Statistics. The Rohingyas, Myanmar nationals, begin fleeing to Bangladesh in the late 1970s during the height of sectarian conflict in Myanmar. Bangladesh estimates that about 30,000 Rohingya refugees and nearly 500,000 undocumented nationals live within its borders, and present a “serious threat to security, environment, and society in the country,” according to Foreign Secretary Shahidul Hamid. Hamid visited Washington, DC this week to discuss this issue—as well as security, economic, and governance issues—during meetings with the Bureau of Populations, Refugee and Migration, the White House National Security Staff, and the US Department of State.

 Relevant News Stories
Bangladesh pledges to document Rohingyas (Gulf Times)
PM: Bangladesh will no more be a place for terrorism (Dhaka Tribune)
Retail group ramps up inspections of Bangladesh textile plants (Washington Post)