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

A little over 3 months after Devyani Khobragade, India’s Deputy Consul General in New York, was arrested on charges of lying to the United States government to obtain a visa for her housekeeper, a United States District Court in New York dismissed her case this week. Ms. Khobragade was indicted on visa fraud charges on January 9th and swiftly departed the country on the orders of the State Department following the Indian government’s refusal to waive her diplomatic immunity. In India, The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) responded positively to the ruling, which possibly brings to an end what has proved to be a major thorn in US-India bilateral relations. Mr. Narinder Singh, who was head of the legal and treatise division at MEA from 2002 – 2012 expressed his skepticism for a long-term solution “unless the diplomats are paid more or unless the domestic help to diplomats are employed by the Indian government”.
Relevant News Stories 
India welcomes dismissal of visa fraud charges against Devyani Khobragade (The Indian Express)
Section 377: The Politics of Free Love (The 545)
India Expands Its Efforts in Search for Missing Jet (The New York Times)

A publically perceived ‘pro-business’ regime has started to deliver in Pakistan as the country witnesses significant improvement in its economic indicators. This week, the Pakistani rupee appreciated over six percentage points against its US counterpart, concluding a precipitous rise from a 108 rupees to less than 98 rupees to a dollar. The country’s remittances from Pakistanis living abroad also touched a historic high mark of over ten billion dollars in the first eight months of the ongoing fiscal year. The appreciation in Pak rupee is expected to hold and reduce the hitherto high inflation and will invite much awaited foreign investment. It also exhibits greater market confidence  in Pakistan ,which in turn will prompt an easing of monetary  policy and increased local investment. Given that the country continues its struggle to improve its security situation, which has appeared to be one of the biggest hurdles for foreign investors. Due to the leadership’s reluctance to take on insurgents; killings, abductions and bomb blasts continue to occur. Moreover, human rights violations also remain a major concern and exhibit the gaps in local governance. Unless an all-encompassing governance agenda which addresses security and human rights issue is erected and followed religiously, the economic progress will remain short of gaining a sustainable momentum.

Relevant News Stories 
New monetary policy stance may set economic direction (Daily Dawn)
Peaceful neighbours: ‘India, Pakistan need to learn from EU lesson’ (Express Tribune)
Right to information: Youtube ban equated with stopping blasphemy (Express Tribune)

Despite uncertainty on security related issues that may ensue following the US military’s withdrawal from its territory, Afghanistan continues to confidently move towards a democratic transition planned to take place in April 2014. This confidence is depicted by Afghan military’s move to launch military operations against Taliban forces in various provinces that inflicted heavy losses on the insurgents. The operation comes as a move to thwart possible attacks during general election. While a successful election will reflect stability of Afghanistan, United States and International Security Assistance Forces’ withdrawal might be construed as victory by the Taliban. In order to foil the transmission of any such message, it is essential to take pre-emptive measures; the success of such measures will boost the confidence of Afghan soldiers and the masses. Simultaneous to the democratic process, Afghanistan has also started making moves to strengthen its economy. Recently, it has signed deals with Tajikistan to meet its energy requirements, while a comprehensive strategy has been developed to boost investment and economic ties with Germany.

Relevant News Stories 

New Afghanistan country strategy: A reliable partnership in times of change (Wadsan – Afghan business news)

Taliban suffer heavy losses in operations (Afghanistan Times)
Fahim laid to rest as thousands pay last respects (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)
Inevitability of change: America, Taliban, elections (Afghanistan Times)

Iran’s state news agency IRNA announced an agreement reached between Iran and Oman that would involve exporting 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year across the gulf from Iran into the Sultanate. The deal also includes the building of a pipeline across the Arabian Gulf at a cost of $1 billion reported to be footed by the Omani government. According to BP, Iran sits on the world’s largest gas reserves and exporting to energy hungry Oman is slated to benefit both nations. Oman has stated that while it will use some of the imported gas for its domestic consumption, a portion of it may be sold abroad through a joint marketing company to be set up at a later date. Moreover the deal outlines that although Oman will pay for the entire cost of the pipeline and related infrastructure, Muscat will be compensated for its investment through revenues generated from the sale of the gas.

Relevant News Stories
U.N. anti-drugs chief praises Iran fight despite executions (Reuters)
Iran’s Oppressed Christians (The New York Times)
Working With Iran on Syria (The New York Times) 
Iran tells EU’s Ashton nuclear deal possible ‘in months’ (BBC)

Close to a year after a factory building came crumbling to the ground killing more than 1,100 workers, engineering teams sponsored by Western retailers have been inspecting the safety standards of the garment industry which has resulted in two temporary closing because of safety hazards. The inspection reports which were released this week noted that some of the factories lacked adequate fire doors while others did not have required sprinkler systems and had dangerously high weight loads on some floors.

Relevant News Stories
Bangladesh women find liberty in hard labor (LA Times)
Inspections highlight safety risks at Bangladesh factories (Reuters)