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

Following Japan’s Prime Minter Shinzo Abe’s visit to India last weekend, India and Japan have signed agreements on cooperation in areas including energy, telecommunications, and tourism. The two countries also agreed to hold regular consultations between their National Security Councils’ and ook to increase defense cooperation ties. Prime Minister Abe was the guest of honor for festivities on India’s Republic Day (January 26th) which commemorates the day its constitution came into force in 1950.  It was a significant show of unanimity and cooperation in a deepening strategic relationship between Asia’s largest democracy and it’s richest as the two nations contend with an increasingly assertive and authoritarian China.

Relevant News Stories
Rahul Gandhi: Better Off as a Silent Enigma? (NYT)
Kejriwal releases ‘India’s most corrupt list,’ names Rahul, Chidambaram (The Indian Express)
Japan and India Sign Energy and Telecommunications Agreements (NYT)
Opposition to Telangana State Hood Puts Congress in Tough Position  (WSJ, India) 

Maitur Rahman Nizami, the head of Bangladesh’s main Islamist opposition party, Jamaat-e-Islami, was among 14 sentenced to death, including former industries ministers from the Cabinet cabinet of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Nizami, who was under arrest at the time of sentencing, also faces separate charges for crimes against humanity dating back to the country’s war of independence in 1971.  The prosecution stated the ruling proves that those found guilty utilized the Bangladesh territory to smuggle military equipment into neighboring India, intended for insurgents in the northeast who were fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic groups in Assam. While the insurgents signed a ceasefire with the Indian government in 2011, Nizami’s defense lawyer declared that he would appeal the ruling, citing that the sentencing was politically motivated.

Relevant News Stories
14 sentenced to death in Bangladesh arms smuggling (AP)

More disappointments are emerging regarding the ability for Afghan development agencies to effectively plan and spend funds. US Agency for International Development (USAID) contractors assessed 16 Afghan ministers, and found that none of them was able to manage and account for funds. It was also found that 0.6 billion dollars, given as direct aid to the Kabul government for funding 18 of its projects across 10 ministries, were siphoned off through corruption and poor administration. This information has posed questions on the effective usage of post-withdrawal US aid for Afghanistan. Last Friday evening, the US Congress quietly voted to slash aid to Afghanistan, cutting development aid by half and prohibiting major new infrastructure projects.  

Relevant News Stories
Congress cuts U.S. military and development aid for Afghanistan (Post)
Taliban urge Afghan president Hamid Karzai to reject US security deal (Guardian)
Relationship between Hamid Karzai and US grows ever more poisonous (Guardian)

Succumbing to pressure mounted by right-wing parties in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has formed a four-member committee to initiate ‘peace dialogue’ with the local Taliban. According to Irfan Siddiqui, veteran columnist and coordinator for the committee, the Committee has an open mandate to engage in negotiation with the Taliban forces. The Taliban, though, have welcomed the move, but they have not formed their representative committee with a similar mandate. The Taliban has called for a Shura (meeting of elders), and will respond to the government’s offer after the Shura meeting concludes. Pakistan’s government has negotiated and signed peace deals with Taliban forces in the past, but they have ended in disappointment. 

Relevant News Stories
India still interested in Pak-Iran gas project (The News International)
US vows continued support for Pakistan (The News International)
A History of Misunderstandings, Lies and Violence (NYT)

A day after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vocalized a policy of “constructive engagement” with the world; Secretary of State John Kerry said last Friday that an “era of American diplomatic engagement” is following a decade defined by force. Secretary Kerry further addressed the World Economic Forum at Davos stating that, “Starting now, Iran has the opportunity to prove these words beyond all doubt to the world.” Following the interim international agreement aimed at resolving the longstanding dispute over the Iranian Nuclear Program, the United Nations nuclear inspectors initiated a visit on Wednesday to a uranium mine in southern Iran. Iranian state media described Tehran’s readiness for scrutiny as a good-will gesture thereby demonstrating peaceful intent. 

Relevant News Stories
Iran’s Message At Davos Has Eerie Echo (NYT)
Netanyahu: interim deal set Iran’s nuclear drive back by six weeks (Reuters)
Iran Sanctions Bill ‘On Ice’ As Momentum Fades In Senate (Huffington Post)