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

Varanasi, the holiest of the seven sacred Hindu cities located on the banks of the Ganges, came into the election spotlight this week as Narendra Modi announced that he would contest the national elections from the holy city. While the Congress party is yet to announce its candidate from the Varanasi constituency, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, announced that his party would field him as their Varanasi candidate against Mr. Modi. According to Mr. Kejriwal, the decision to field himself from Varanasi depends on the will of the people of the holy city. While Mr. Modi can opt to also field himself as a candidate from his home state of Gujarat, analysts suggest that doing well in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is essential for Modi and the BJP to secure a mandate that reduces their dependence on other parties to form a government,. Winning anything less than 50% of the 120 seats between the two states would mean a weaker mandate and would force the formation of a coalition government, a scenario Modi is looking to avoid.

Relevant News Stories
Should Pakistan Fear A Victory By BJP Chief Narendra Modi? (International Business Times)
Outlook for India-Pakistan Trade  (Dawn)
Fighting corruption in India (The Economist)
India’s New Breed of Politician (New York Times)

As the latest rounds of nuclear talks ended with Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif affirming the possibility of a comprehensive nuclear deal,US-Russian tensions spilt over into nuclear talks with Iran this week. Moscow’s chief envoy at the negotiations, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, warned that his country may take “retaliatory measures” that could upset the prospects of a comprehensive deal. The statement has thus far appeared to be the most serious threat of reprisal by Moscow for Western sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. The six world powers and Iran are due to meet again in Vienna between the 7th and 9th of April 2014.

Relevant News Stories
President Obama’s Nowruz Message to the Iranian People (YouTube)
Iran’s Zarif ‘sees signs of comprehensive nuclear deal’ (BBC)
Russia: Iran nuke talks may suffer over Ukraine (Associated Press)

This week saw a twist in the saga between the ‘bickering begams’ as former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and her associates were indicted of misappropriating funds of up to $430,000 intended for the Zia Orphanage Trust. While the original charges were filed by Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commissions in two spate cases dating back to 2008, they have collectively been delayed about 50 times. This week’s ruling, which set the trial date for the 21st of April, breaks from the stagnation of the past six years and is likely to inflame tensions in Bangladesh lingering after Khaleda Zia’s BNP party boycotted elections in January, calling into question the very survival of democracy in Bangladesh. Additionally Bangladesh has expressed concern over the ‘drastic fall’ in water flow of the Teesta River, which originates in the Himalayas and flows through the Indian States of Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh. Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque initiated his three day visit to India this week to ensure adequate water flow on the Bangladesh side.

Relevant News Stories
Bangladesh opposition’s Khaleda Zia faces corruption trial (BBC)
Dhaka voices concern over drastic fall in Teesta water flow (UNBconnect)
Former Prime Minister Indicted During Raucous Hearing in Bangladesh (New York Times)

This week’s developments in Pakistan suggest that the country gradually continues to build on high trajectories of economic growth and bilateral relations with neighboring countries. The country’s foreign exchange reserves continue to build while decreasing dollar-rupee parity signals decline in inflationary trends. The economic confidence of internal investors is visible from the precipitous increase in import of heavy machinery. The much awaited economic reforms are being implemented alongside the agenda of improved ties with neighbors. Pakistan has come close to granting Non Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) to India, while it has also initiated work on importing over 1000 megawatt electricity from its eastern neighbor. Strengthened economic ties between the two countries are expected to lead towards resolution of longstanding territorial and water issues. Pakistan is also giving special importance to its security and economic ties with the gulf countries, however, it has declined the news about sending its troops to any other country, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait. It has also cleared that the country’s non-interventionist foreign policy is not changed and it will never prefer to maneuver the agenda of regional organizations like Gulf Cooperation Council.

Relevant News Stories
Pakistan will not send military troops to other countries: Nawaz Sharif (The Express Tribune)
Pakistan may grant India MFN status on Friday (Daily Dawn)
China speaks up for Pakistan (The Express Tribune)

As general elections in Afghanistan near, the Taliban is attempting to spread hostility and insecurity in the air through conducting attacks in eastern, northern, and western parts of the country. This week alone, they killed about 45 Afghan troops and civilians including women and children. The aliban has vowed to disrupt the election process through conducting more of such strikes, leading US security officials to warn for a surge in violence. While the insurgents are bent upon destabilizing the nascent democracy that is taking roots in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has appointed another Tajik representative, former Minster of Interior Yunus Qanooni, as his vice president and successor to the late Muhammad Qasim Fahim. This move is believed to help birdge the ethnic divide in the country.

Relevant News Stories
Election Success to Reinforce Afghanistan’s political Stability: Kubis (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)
Afghanistan: Top US official says corruption may ruin a fragile ‘Reconstruction’ (Atlantic Council)
Can Afghan forces curb insecurity? (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)