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

Last Friday, a complex attack on a Kabul restaurant left 21 dead, including 13 foreigners, and prompted heightened concerns about the country’s uncertain future amongst the international community and Afghans alike. The attack dismantled the remaining fragments of security felt amongst Kabul’s civilian population, not typically the target of such attacks. In response, international organizations are reexamining their safety policies, particularly after a leading US military commander predicted more attacks aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity during the withdrawal. Further, Karzai’s statement’s after the attack fueled brewing pessimism regarding his willingness to ease US-Afghanistan tensions, or sign the bilateral security agreement. Later in the week, the Pentagon proposed a 10,000 American troop minimum after 2014, but the White House refused to comment, suggesting a signed Bilateral security Agreement is necessary before entertaining such proposals.

Relevant News Stories:
Taliban attack on restaurant in Afghan capital kills at least 21, including two Americans (Post)
Deadly Attack at Kabul Restaurant Hints at Changing Climate for Foreigners (NYT)
West Explores Plan B for Forces in Afghanistan (WSJ)
NATO Personnel Making it Matter in Afghanistan (DoD)

The landmark interim nuclear agreement, a six-month deal between Iran and world powers, was activated on January 20, allowing an easing of sanctions as negotiations continue. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, President Rouhani overly optimistic by stressing constructive engagement and removal of political and economic impediments to growth. More notably, Rouhani and representatives throughout Iran are attempting to attract international investment, in light of the loosened sanctions, through a series of sideline meetings with businessmen at Davos, media tours of gas sites, and pointed rhetoric stressing a new cooperative Iran. The P5+1 and Iran are slated to meet again in February to begin permanent negotiations.

Relevant News Stories:
West, Iran activate landmark nuclear deal (Reuters)
Iranian official on nuke deal: ‘We did not agree to dismantle anything’ (CNN)
Davos 2014: Iran ‘ready to engage with neighbours’ (BBC)
Hassan Rouhani outlines plan for Iran’s growth for next decade (Financial Times)
Eyeing investment, Iran shows off its gas sites (Post)

Protests paralyzed Delhi early in the week as Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supporters clashed with police over “failure to act against drugs, prostitution, and rape crimes.” Political parties criticized AAP and Arvind Kejriwal,an AAP and protest leader, for “anarchy” and disruption to thousands of Delhi’s citizens. Meanwhile, Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi called upon Indian Prime Minister Manmohan singh to declare minority status for the Jain community after meeting a Jain delegation. The Congress Party’s 2014 elections manifesto, yet to be released, reportedly stresses an ambitious affirmative action agenda. In response, opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi outlined his “idea of India” as an inclusive and non-discriminatory state while criticizing the Congress Party’s reliance on such exclusive measures. Various polls released this week projected a sweeping win for the BJP, and record losses for the ruling Congress Party.

Relevant News Stories:
Delhi’s ‘anarchist’ chief minister leads protest against police (Guardian)
Indian media criticise AAP’s ‘anarchic protest’ in Delhi (BBC)
India’s main opposition party set to be biggest in election: polls (Reuters)
A New India Dawning (Huffington Post)

On Tuesday, Shia pilgrims were targeted in a suicide attack that left 22 dead and over 30 injured, including many women and children. The attack targeted a bus en route to Quetta after visiting Iran. Security has increased on the roadway often travelled by Shia pilgrims returning from Iran, including special escort caravans that failed to hinder Tuesday’s attack. Sectarian violence is adding a layer of instability in Pakistan’s unraveling security situation. Over 400 shias were killed in 2013 alone, including targeted killings of leading Shia doctors and educators. Balochistan’s Hazara community has especially suffered as the main target of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi religious purification campaign. Following Tuesday’s attack, solidarity protests surfaced in major cities in support of Quetta, where relatives peacefully protested by refusing to bury their dead until the government launched an operation targeting perpetrators. Similar protests erupted last year after nearly 200 Hazaras died in various attacks in January and February 2013.

Relevant News Stories:
Mastung tragedy: 22 pilgrims die in bus blast (Express Tribune)
Mastung tragedy: Protests end after Nisar assures of govt action (Express Tribune)
Polio security team attacked in Charsadda; seven dead (DAWN)
Deadly blast hits Pakistan market after Taliban attack targeting soldiers (Al Jazeera)

Nearly 40 percent of garment factories in Dhaka are failing to pay the new minimum wage instituted late last year by the government of Bangladesh. The minimum wage was raised last November to $68 dollars, a 77 percent increase, for all factories supplying Western retailers.  The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association surveyed the industry and found that just 40 percent in Dhaka are failing to pay this amount, and the percentage is more dismal in other cities. Only five percent of factories in Chittagong could afford the new minimum wage, due in part to the political unrest earlier this year that impacted exports. Those who have seen changes are stating that the increase has improved life and provided a living wage, though safety and workers’ rights issues remain. 

Relevant News Stories:
Bangladesh garment factories failing to pay minimum wage (Express Tribune)
Will New Wages Better Life? (Dhaka Tribune)
A preferred future for Bangladesh (Dhaka Tribune)