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

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met US Senator John McCain in New Delhi on Thursday as the two sides reiterated their desire to revive the strategic US-India partnership. To continue this dialogue, Modi is expected to visit the US in September. These visits are vital for the two countries especially since their relationship plummeted following the diplomatic row earlier this year. In another development, investors are eagerly looking forward to July 10 2014 when the new government headed by Modi presents its first budget. The budget comes out at a crucial time, as the government is pressed to introduce measures to speed up growth. This concern for the economy is seen in the decision made by the Prime Minister to postpone his visit to Japan until after the budget session of the parliament ends on August 14 2014. Sources indicate that Modi is keen to make Japan his first major bilateral state visit since assuming office.

Relevant News Stories
Modi and McCain talk of desire to “revitalize” India-US ties (Reuters)
Partnership with Japan is high priority: Narendra Modi (Times of India)

As part of the Zarb-e-Azb military operation in North Waziristan, Pakistan’s armed forces initiated ground operations against militant targets in Miranshah. Pakistani officials have spent the past week coping with numerous challenges related to the rising intensity of the operation. A primary concern is the influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to settled districts. Although the outflow of civilians from North Waziristan was an anticipated consequence of the operation, it is widely reported that the IDP’s are struggling to receive sufficient access to food and shelter. In relation to the operation itself, Pakistani military and civilian officials have held numerous meetings with their Afghan counterparts to address the movement of Taliban militants across the border. Top Pakistani military officials have repeatedly demanded the Afghan authorities to act against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) sanctuaries in Afghanistan, particularly in Kunar and Nuristan provinces. In response, Afghan officials have complained of constant cross border shelling on these provinces and continuous attacks by militants based in Pakistan. The joint delegation of military officials is expected to visit the border to assess the concerns of both sides. The Pakistani parliament on Wednesday also approved extensive new powers for the country’s security forces, including permission to shoot suspects on sight, detain suspects without warrants, and to withhold information on detentions. Though the government argues that these steps are needed to effectively combat Taliban and affiliated militants within Pakistan, many rights activists are concerned that the new law could be exploited by police and security forces for illicit or politically charged purposes.

Relevant News Stories
Army launches operation in North Waziristan (Express Tribune)
Pak-Afghan DGMOs hold meeting at GHQ (Dawn)
Pakistan approves sweeping antiterror bill, Prompting warnings from right groups (New York Times)

Preliminary results from Afghanistan’s Presidential elections, which were due to be released this week, have been delayed until July 7 so that the Independent Election Commission (IEC) could audit polling stations where candidates had alleged fraud. The chairman of the commission, Ahmad Yousuf Nourstani, said that of the 23,000 polling sites used in the second round vote, nearly 2,000 are being audited. The delay is largely intended to address allegations by Abdullah Abdullah that his rival colluded with the incumbent government to stage massive vote rigging. Preliminary results are expected to demonstrate a clear lead by Ashraf Ghani, and Abdullah continues to challenge the legitimacy of the IEC. Ashraf Ghani demands that fraud allegations be probed within the framework that all candidates agreed to before the election. There are fears that the standoff between Abdullah and his opponent Ashraf Ghani could reignite ethnic tensions in the country. Though Ashraf Ghani criticized the delay, the two campaigns are engaging in direct dialogue with each other and foreign officials to resolve the crisis. Taking advantage of the political instability in Kabul, Taliban militants carried out a deadly string of attacks during the past week, including an audacious attempt by nearly 1,000 fighters to seize control of multiple northern districts of Helmand Province; a suicide bombing in Kabul that killed eight military officers traveling in a bus; and a rocket attack on Kabul airport.

Relevant News Stories
Afghanistan election result delayed after fraud allegations (Afghanistan Sun)
Dozens killed as Taliban makes major bid for former Afghan stronghold of Helmand (Washington Post)
Rockets hit Kabul Airport (Tolo News)

As Iran continues to provide military support to the Iraqi government against the ISIS, most recently demonstrated by a transfer of attack jets to the Iraqi air force, it is also engaging in the final round of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 group in Vienna. This is a delicate balancing act in Iran’s foreign policy. While it is working towards a similar objective as the United States in Iraq, to halt and reverse ISIS’ military advance, it is contentiously debating the future of the nuclear program with the US and other global powers. Reportedly, Iran has reduced its demands for the size of its future nuclear enrichment program, but this shift in its position has not yet met the reduction demanded by the P5+1. Although it may be difficult for the parties to agree to a solution before the self-imposed July 20 deadline, it is possible that the shift in Iranian position may open the door for continued negotiations in case the current round fails. American officials maintain that policies towards Iran’s nuclear program and ISIS are completely separate and unrelated. Meanwhile, Iran’s deputy foreign minister has warned regional countries, particularly those in the Arab Gulf, not to fuel sectarian conflict in Iraq and Syria as it ultimately harms their security as well. Given the ISIS’ threat to advance on the Saudi border, the warning is not without merit.

Relevant News Stories
‘Iranian attack jets deployed’ to help Iraq fight Isis (BBC)
Iran eases demands for nuclear capacity at Vienna talks: Western diplomats (Reuters)
Iranian Deputy FM: Terrorist Operations in Regional States to Backfire on Supporters (Fars News Agency)

The Bangladeshi garment factory owners may receive funds from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to facilitate installing safety precautions in factory buildings. These funds will be given as loans at low interest rates of around 6-7% to be used solely for remediation works on fire, electrical and building safety. This is a welcome development as the international community steps in to ensure the safety of garment factory workers, following the 2013 deadliest factory accident in the country’s history in which more than 1,000 people lost their lives.

Relevant News Stories
IFC may provide fund for RMG remediation works (Dhaka Tribune)