This Week in South Asia:  September 20-26

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

After extensive campaigning, two rounds of voting, and an internationally-supervised recount, Afghanistan’s protracted presidential election finally ended on Saturday in an anticlimactic fifteen-minute ceremony.  Both candidates, Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, met late into the night on Friday with UN representatives to finalize a power-sharing deal in a national unity government ahead of the release of final election results.  Exact figures of the election results have remained secret at the request of the runner-up, Dr. Abdullah, who will take on a newly created role as chief executive officer, which resembles the job of a prime minister.

Relevant News Stories:
Afghanistan Creates its Own Best Chance – (South Asia Center)
A Ten-Year Framework for Afghanistan:  Executing the Obama Plan… And Beyond – (Ashraf Ghani at the South Asia Center)
Rebuild Afghanistan’s Giant Buddha’s? Foot-Shaped Pillars Give Legs to Debate – (WSJ)

Lt. General Rizwan Akhtar was named the new Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) this week.  The new appointee is considered a counter-insurgency expert, with command experience in border region of South Waziristan and the bustling city of Karachi.  Akhtar is also a close ally of Army Chief General Raheel Sharif who was appointed last year.  Akhtar argued in his 2008 dissertation for rapprochement with India while limiting the military’s role in the country “to ensuring the nation’s security from external threats and in waging war against terrorists.”  The new military and intelligence leadership is likely to provide a sense of relief for the government, as the ISI is suspected by parliamentarians of supporting street protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Lt General Zaheerul Islam, the current ISI chief, is set to retire in early October

Relevant News Stories:
US-Pakistan Trust Deficit and the War on Terror – (Rizwan Akhtar, new ISI Director General)
Why Pakistan’s Militants Can Strike At Will – (BBC News)
Pakistan’s Energy Crisis – (The Diplomat)
Drone Wars Pakistan:  Analysis – (New America Foundation)
Pakistan Plans Biggest State Asset Sale in 8 Years – (Bloomberg)
PIA to Be Split into Two, Gulf Airlines May Buy Core Business – (Dawn)

India celebrated it’s achievement of getting a domestically-produced scientific satellite into a stable orbit around Mars this week.  The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has been hailed internationally for its relatively low budget of $74 million as well as the speed in which the program was developed and implemented.  MOM will study the Martian atmosphere and map the surface of the planet from a high elliptical orbit above the red planet.

Concurrently, Prime Minister Modi began his US visit this week. The mission is hopeful that the PM will reiterate India’s commitment towards multilateralism.  The PM will meet with key government and business personnel.  He is set to address the UN General Assembly on the 27th followed by bilateral talks with President Obama.  He will also meet leaders of India’s neighboring countries including Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh along the sidelines of the UNGA.  However, there is no plan for him to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.  PM Modi is poised to meet the heads of top US corporations such as Google, Boeing and General Electric.  It is widely believed that one of his top priorities for this trip is to bring more American investment into India. He has already been quite successful in gathering investment commitments from China and Japan.  It will be interesting to see whether or not US investment commitments will outweigh China’s as the US vies to establish dominance in South Asia.

Relevant News Stories:
This is the Step of a Lion: PM Modi on his Make-in-India Campaign – (NDTV)
Rs 51,000 Crore to Stop Sewage Flow into Ganga: Centre – (Times of India)
Narendra Modi Reshuffles Bureaucrats ahead of US Visit – (LiveMint)

Addressing United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Iranian President Rouhani said, “Today’s anti-Westernism is a reaction to yesterday’s racism,” he said, adding that “certain intelligence agencies have put blades in the hands of madmen, who now spare no one.”  Rouhani warned that major world powers are not immune from rhetorical narratives from ISIS and other militant jihadist narratives.  Rouhani criticized viewing Western values as universally applicable in international relations, implying the status-quo in multilateral institutions resembles a lecture rather than a dialogue between the established powers and the global South.  He also warned Western powers about meddling in Iran’s sphere of influence, saying “efforts to deprive regional players from their natural domain of action, containment policies, regime change from outside, and the efforts towards redrawing of political borders and frontiers is extremely dangerous and provocative.”

On the sidelines of UNGA, Rouhani met with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the first such high-level bilateral dialogue since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  The meeting is expected to be watched closely by Iranian conservatives at home, who are always suspicious of British interference in Iranian domestic affairs.  The British embassy in Tehran has been closed since 2011, when staff were evacuated following a mob attack on the compound.  Rouhani also met with French President Francois Hollande, and Austrian President Heinz Fischer.  The Iranian outreach will be interpreted in Washington as Rouhani testing the tolerance threshold of Iranian conservatives towards the prospect for a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in the future.

Relevant News Stories:
US Negotiator Cites Progress in Iran Nuclear Talks – (VOA)
The Fight Against the Islamic State Must Include Iran – (The Washington Post)
Rouhani:  Western Powers Have Helped Globalize Terrorism – (NPR)

At a meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission, the Indian and Bangladeshi foreign ministers agreed to cooperate bilaterally in two technology areas, nuclear technology and space.  Both foreign ministers agreed that bilateral relations have elevated to a multi-faceted working relationship, having signed memorandums of understanding on 50+ bilateral issues.  Bangladesh is expected to launch its first communications satellite in 2017, and Delhi has extended an open-ended invitation for partnership to Dhaka’s fledgling extraterrestrial ambitions.  Currently, Bangladesh and Nepal rely on foreign satellites for communication and broadcasting technology, and India is seeking to maintain a leadership role as neighboring countries develop their space policy.

Relevant News Stories:
Maternal Mortality in Bangladesh: A Countdown to 2015 Country Case Study – (The Lancet)
Belarus Offers $15mn for Bangladesh’s Apparel Industry Development – (BDNews24)
Innovation for Universal Health Coverage in Bangladesh:  A Call to Action – (Society Alliance for Scaling Up Nutrition, Bangladesh)