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

With the world’s largest democracy set to head to the polls for national elections early next week, its relationship with the world’s oldest democracy took yet another unexpected turn as Nancy Powell, U.S. Ambassador to India resigned this week. Seen as the biggest political casualty yet (in terms of personnel), Powell’s resignation is seen as an effort by the Obama administration to wipe the slate clean with India as a new government is likely to be formed. While the resignation is undoubtedly a result of the Devyani Khorbagade row that saw the two strategic partners enter a diplomatic standoff, analysts claim that Powell’s reluctance on establishing ties with the Bharatiya Janta Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi was also a factor in light of the former ambassador being perceived as “too close” to the current Indian government’s foreign policy establishment. Four years after Barrack Obama declared the warming relations between the two countries as the “defining strategic partnership of the 21st century”, the two nations now look far from coordinating on major global issues best epitomized by India’s support for the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, amidst the Crimean crisis.

Relevant News Stories
U.S. Envoy Resigns, but Grievances Linger in New Delhi (New York Times)
India ranks 102 on 132 in social progress index  (The Hindustan Times)
Indians Reflect On Their Country and the World (Pew Research Center)
AAP Manifesto: Jan Lokpal, justice system party’s top priority (The Indian Express)

Despite serious security threats from the Taliban, the civilian populace in Afghanistan appear determined to exercise their democratic right to vote at polls starting tomorrow, the 5th April. The event is widely being termed as a turning point in the history of the country. With the withdrawal of Qayyun Karzai, Farooq Wardak, and Sardar Nadir Naeem, there are eight candidates left running in the presidential race.  Out of these eight candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani, and Zalmai Rasoul are leading contenders in a likely close race. Abdullah, however, has a marginal lead over the rest of the competitors. The Taliban, frustrated by the continued commitment of voters despite their threats, has offered all voters $5 each for not casting their vote.

Relevant News Stories
Three Leading Presidential Candidates (Outlook Afghanistan)
Afghanistan Before and After the Taliban (World News)
Associated Press Photographer Killed, reporter wounded in Afghanistan (Afghanistan Sun)

Experts from Iran and six world powers commenced their dialogue on Tehran’s nuclear program ahead of the next round of high level talks set to take place on April 8th and 9th. Meanwhile, the United States has vocalized its profound opposition to the nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi, a veteran Iranian Diplomat, as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. Aboutalebi, criticized for his involvement in the 1979 hostage crisis where 52 Americans were held for 444 days, is a reminder that thawing relations between the United States and Iran aren’t inevitable nor irreversible. While the Obama administration views the appointment as “extremely troubling”, Senator Ted Cruz vocalized his opposition on the Senate floor expressing that “it is unconscionable that in the name of international diplomatic protocol, the United States would be forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard of the status of diplomats when they were stationed in his country.” On the domestic front, disputed reports suggest that one of the five border guards, kidnapped by Sunni Muslim militants in February, has been killed. Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), an Iranian Sunni Muslim rebel group in Sistan-Baluchistan province, has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

Relevant News Stories
Austrian president poised for rare Western visit to Iran (Reuters)
‘Iran does not seek indefinite power for Al Assad’ (Gulf News)
Iran’s Choice for U.N. Post Fuels Tension With U.S. (New York Times)

Though economic indicators in Pakistan have started to project relative stability and growth, the country received mixed reviews on its ongoing loan program from the World Bank in a meeting held in Dubai. Major concerns aired by the World Bank review team included the deterioration of law and order, the energy deficit, and the inability to widen the tax base in Pakistan. The review also criticized the artificial appreciation of the Pakistani rupee against the US Dollar. Internally, the government is under criticism for its stubbornness on engaging in talks with the militants rather than eradicating them through state’s might. This week too, the government released sixteen of the terrorists arrested by the military in past few months. If the Pakistani government continues to concede into the militants’ demands, it will put the writ of the state at stake.

Relevant News Stories
Two-thirds get electricity: Less than half of Pakistanis have access to sanitation, says WB (Express Tribune)
ADB expects economy to turn around in 2016 (Daily Dawn)

Dhaka and New Delhi have agreed in principle to the development of an interconnection for electricity transmission involving Bangladesh and India’s northeastern and northwestern sides. The deal, still at its nascent stages, involves Dhaka allowing New Delhi to transmit power through Bangladeshi soil in exchange for providing 500-1000MW of power to Bangladesh every day. Additionally, Bangladesh turns its attention to its next door neighbor, as India prepares for the Lok Sabha elections. The Sheikh Hasina government is interested in the outcome of the elections as a stable government in India is seen as a prerequisite for the overall development of the region. Within Bangladesh’s epistemic community, experts are exploring how India has succeed in reducing the number of pre-poll violence incidents as it looks to avoid the repetition of the violence which resulted in several deaths marring its own elections earlier this year.

Relevant News Stories
Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land (The New York Times)
India Allowed Power Corridor (Dhaka Tribune)