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

Narendra Modi was officially sworn in as the Prime Minister of India with the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in attendance. Most notable of the guests in attendance was Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who held a rare bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart this week. It was the first time since 2005 that a Pakistani leader made an official visit to India. With sings of a possible thawing in relations, both Prime Ministers announced that their foreign secretaries would meet in the near future in an effort to reinvigorate the stalled peace talks. Speaking to Modi shortly after his inauguration, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called to express the Chinese government’s desire to establish a “robust partnership”. In addition to hosting bilateral meetings with the SAARC leaders, The Prime Minister also announced his Cabinet ministers. BJP President, Rajnath Singh, was appointed Minister of Home Affairs while Sushma Swaraj, the former Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, was appointed as Minister of External Affairs. Arun Jaitley was appointed Finance Minister and has also been entrusted with the Defense Ministry for the time being, effectively making him the most powerful Minister in the Union Cabinet.BJP party patriarch, L.K Advani, was absent from the list of appointed Cabinet ministers. In an attempt to make historic changes in the formation of Ministries, Modi reduced India’s cabinet to the smallest in 16 years in what he called an unprecedented overhaul of the nation’s top-decision-making body. The Prime Minister is said to be implementing his guiding principle of “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”.

Relevant News Stories
Webcast: India’s Watershed Moment: Reflections from the Ground (Atlantic Council)
Modi’s cabinet: meritocracy at work? (The Financial Times)
India and Pakistan in ‘Common Agenda’ (The New York Times)
India’s Narendra Modi asks ministers to set ‘100-day agenda’ (BBC)
India sets up team to unearth ‘black money’ (All Jazeera)

The internal rifts within the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have become more visible as the militant outfit’s Mehsud chapter announced its separation from the terrorist organization. The analysts assess the Mehsud chapter to be pro-peace, and are of the belief that this division will eventually help the government and military to make significant progress in their effort to dismantle the organization. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India to attend the oath taking ceremony of the Indian Prime Minister was the other headline this week. This is first time in the history of the two countries that a head of a state has participated in the swearing in ceremony of the other. The invitation by PM Narendra Modi was perceived to be a good will gesture in Pakistan and a step towards building confidence between the two countries. With Modi having a historic democratic mandate, and Nawaz Sharif having support on this issue across the political spectrum in Pakistan, there is hope that significant and substantial progress can be made on all outstanding issues between the two nuclear powers. There is much to be done.

Relevant News Stories
Pakistan, India agree to resume talks (The News)
India’s Modi accepts invitation to visit Pakistan (Dawn News)
Media Freedom in Pakistan Assailed from all sides (The Economist)
Key Pakistani Taliban faction breaks away (Dawn News)

President Barack Obama visited Afghanistan this week to announce the complete withdrawal of American forces from the country by the end of 2016, thereby enabling him to claim he ended both wars before leaving office. He further defended his foreign policy upon returning home at a speech at West Point.  The Presidents of the United States and Afghanistan, who have had strained relations due to the latter’s refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, did not meet. While Afghanistan has hailed the withdrawal of U.S troops from the country, Republicans have denounced the move arguing that the abrupt withdrawal will endanger the hard-fought gains made over the course of the last decade.

Relevant News Stories
Afghan Leader Ashraf Ghani: Obama Pullout Plan Poses New Challenge (The Atlantic Council)
Obama plans to end U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by 2016 (The Reuters)
Afghan leader praises U.S. move to withdraw all troops by 2016 (Chicago Tribune)
Senior intelligence official killed in Jawzjan province (Khaama Press)

Security researchers this week stated that spies based in Iran created a fake news organization used for espionage since 2011 against US and Israeli military targets. The report released by iSight Partners claims that more than 2,000 people are or have been targeted in the operation dubbed Newscaster, which uses a “front media outlet” called The operation appears to be “carried out by Iranian actors, though there is a dearth of information implicating its ultimate sponsor,” the report said. It is believed to still be ongoing

Relevant News Stories
Report: Iran Cyberspies Created Fake News Website (Radio Free Europe)
Is Iran’s Missing General, Ali Reza Asgari, Living in the United States?  (Daily Beast)
Iran Is Using a Neocon to Hack Its Foes (The Daily Beast)
Iranian general vows to destroy Israel if US attacks (The Times of Israel)


Gunfire erupted Friday between troops along the Myanmar-Bangladeshi border over a soldier Bangladesh alleges was shot by its neighbor’s security forces and dragged over the frontier. The clash broke out after the soldiers body was not delivered back to Bangladesh’s border police as expected, said Devdash Bhattacharya, police chief in the south eastern district of Bandarban.

Relevant News Stories
Bangladesh forces under scrutiny for killings (Al Jazeera)
Bangladeshi moms benefit from improved health communication (Yahoo News)