Commentary from the South Asia Center on the most relevant news from the region, and suggested “must-read” analyses from the week.
This week newly sworn-in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed the long-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) agreement with the United States, along with the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). By choosing to sign these two critical documents on his first day in office, Ghani is setting a new tone for Kabul’s relationships with the international partners bankrolling his fledgling democracy. The BSA allows for 10,000 American military personnel to operate in Afghanistan in coming years in a training and advisory role, while the SOFA allows for an additional presence of 5,000 military trainers from NATO member countries. The two documents provide the legal basis for the post-2014 NATO Resolute Support Mission to train Afghan National Security Forces in their fight against Taliban militants. David Cameron visited Kabul on Friday for meetings with the new unity government. As the first Western leader to visit since the Afghan election stalemate was resolved, Cameron offered continued financial support to the new Afghan administration.
Relevant News Stories
As International Troops Dwindle, Fight in Afghanistan Continues – (VOA)
A Strategic Scorecard for Afghanistan – (Foreign Policy)
New Afghan Leader, Putting Focus on Graft, Revives Bank Fraud Inquiry – (NYT)
Afghan Army Death Rate Spikes 30 Per Cent – (Dawn)
A British national was arrested last week with links to ISIS, after confessing to recruiting for the extremist organization. Samiun Rahman, age 24, recently travelled to Syria before coming to Bangladesh. Police officials said they arrested five people who had communications with Rahman, and there are another three or four that authorities are trying to identify. The suspects arrested were in possession of materials required to make explosives and were reportedly planning to attack high-profile officials in the country. Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies have been stalwart in combating extremism and militancy in the country, and have been largely successful in countering Western backlash the country has been receiving for the election earlier this year.
In domestic news, telecommunication minister Abdul Latif Siddique was sacked by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after making derogatory comments about the annual Muslim pilgrimage, the ‘Hajj’. He said that “Hajj is a waste of manpower. Those who perform Hajj do not have any productivity. They deduct from the economy, spend a lot of money abroad.” Given the country’s demographics, a 90% Muslim population, it is clear why this kind of rhetoric would be deemed intolerable. Sheikh Hasina’s government has no choice but to have zero tolerance to such opinions if it wants to retain the support of a majority Muslim population.
Relevant News Stories
Remittance Inflow Up by 22% – (BDNews24)
As Narendra Modi ended his US tour, followers of the Indian Prime Minister (PM) were asking the question, “what did he achieve in the US?” It seems Modi’s primary goal for this trip was to establish his credibility as India’s new PM, and as a foreign dignitary Americans can work with. Both Modi and Obama spoke about issues of mutual concern, including economics, climate change, and regional security. Overall, the trip can be considered a success given Modi’s goal of communicating that India was ready to engage in a multi-tiered bilateral relationship with the US.
Narendra Modi also launched the “Clean India” campaign on social media. Modi is asking Indians to “devote at least one hundred hours every year, two hours every week, towards” cleaning up the environment, city streets, and public resources of the developing nation. The Prime Minister declared, “If we can make it to Mars, surely we can clean up the country… India can do it.” To rally support for the cause he also uploaded pictures of himself cleaning up a street corner in Delhi. Modi’s ‘personality of cult’ strategy has taken a new turn and is being used to improve the aesthetics and hygiene of the country, something no politician has ever done. It is clear that Modi’s clout continues to grow.
Relevant News Stories
FDI in Telecom Sector Jumps Manifold to $2.33bn in April-July – (Times of India)
Assam Flood Toll Rises to 44, Nearly 4 Lakh Still Affected – (Deccan Herald)
It was announced that a high-level UN nuclear watchdog team will travel to Tehran in the coming days. IAEA officials are expected to make advances in their protracted investigation of Iran’s nuclear program. While Iran claims that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, the IAEA has been investigating allegations that the Iranian nuclear program was designing a nuclear warhead. This visit is essential to the progress of the dialogue, especially given the regress last month when Iran failed to answer questions regarding alleged research activities that could be used to construct nuclear arsenal. Iranian authorities continue to reject the accusations as baseless and push the rhetoric that their new president, Hassan Rouhani, is a pragmatic leader striving to end the nation’s international isolation and find means to quickly end the distrust emanating out of the prolonged, and quite ineffective, nuclear discussion. The world patiently waits and watches whenever there is activity in Iran by the IAEA, too often disappointed due to the lack of any sort of progress or advances. However, given the new president’s aspiration for better relations with the West, the world can be slightly more optimistic this time around.
Pakistan reportedly violated the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, allegedly peppering Indian military positions with mortars and gunfire along the disputed border. India retaliated in what was the first exchange of fire in over a month along the LoC. The incident comes within twenty-four hours after Indian Prime Minister Modi and US President Obama committed to bilateral efforts in dismantling terrorist and criminal networks and denying the groups safe-havens inside Pakistan. Modi and Obama also committed to disrupting financial and tactical support for terrorist groups: Lashkar-E-Taiba; Jaish-e-Mohammed; D-Company; and the Haqqani Network. The move by the Pakistani military highlights internal divisions among military leadership — pitting those who regard the internal threat of Islamic militants operating within Pakistan as the primary national security concern, against those who continue to view arch-nemesis India as the biggest threat to Pakistan. The attack on Indian troops also indicates the institution’s paranoia of deepening US-India relations, and will reinforce conspiracy-theories within Pakistan.
Relevant News Stories
Religious Scholars Must Play Role in Countering Terrorism: PM Nawaz – (Dawn)
Security Concern: Lawmakers Urge Army to Secure Minorities – (The Express Tribune)
In al Qaeda Attack, Lines Between Pakistan Military, Militants Blur – (Reuters)
Pakistan Set to Record Highest Number of Polio Cases: Officials – (Dawn)
Pakistan Army Chief Seen Keeping Premier Sharif on Edge – (Bloomberg)