Commentary from the South Asia Center on the most relevant news from the region, and suggested “must-read” analyses from the week.
Afghanistan’s election crisis deepened when representatives of Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani confirmed negotiations over forming a national unity government had collapsed. This setback came as the country’s Independent Election Commission announced that it would release complete results next week, regardless of whether power-sharing agreement is reached. Both candidates agreed to create a national unity government in a deal brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry in July, yet talks have collapsed in determining specific powers for the newly-created chief executive position.
Inconsistent messaging from both campaigns suggests Ghani’s expected victory will further polarize the Afghan political scene. Ghani said in a press conference that talks between him and political rival Abdullah Abdullah would continue, but he noted that the country cannot have a “two-headed government.” Supporters of Abdullah suggested the possibility of forming a parallel government; although the candidate himself has not mentioned this publically. Alarmed, President Obama called both Abdullah and Ghani this week, urging them to complete their negotiations as soon as possible. The call for cooperation was echoed both by outgoing President Hamid Karazi and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament (Wolesi Jirga), also expressed a willingness to mediate a settlement, noting the delay has had a negative impact on the country.
Meanwhile, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj arrived in Kabul this week with an agenda of improving strategic cooperation and working with Afghanistan on stability and security issues. Swaraj’s visit to Afghanistan marks the first formal diplomatic interaction between the two countries after the new Indian government was formed in New Delhi earlier this year.
Relevant News Stories:
It’s Not All Fear and Loathing in Kabul (Foreign Policy)
The Afghan Girls Who Live as Boys (The Atlantic)
Afghan Court Wastes No Time Sentencing 7 to Death in Rape Case (New York Times)
The Only Choice Left for Afghanistan (Foreign Policy)
More than 218 garment factories have shut down in Bangladesh since the country’s worst industrial disaster prompted a massive clean-up of the world’s second-largest textile sector, according to an industry group. Political instability stemming from a disputed general election in January, a 76% wage hike late last year, and structural concerns over many factory buildings also prompted some manufacturers to close plants. The closures have cost tens of thousands of jobs and led to a fall in exports, the key economic mainstay for the impoverished nation of 155 million people.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said the industry was going through a painful transition since the Rana Plaza collapsed in April 2013, killing 1,138 people. “Most of these plants are small and medium-sized, employing between 300 and 800 workers. Twenty-one of them were closed at the recommendations of two groups of Western retailers. Others were shut down on their own,” said a BGMEA spokesman. Nearly 200 European and American brands have launched massive clean-ups of their Bangladeshi supplier factories after they came under heavy criticism from western consumers. BGMEA said the closures mainly hit smaller factories, which were set up in shared buildings, and sub-contracting plants, as western retailers cut orders for them in an effort to prevent further disasters.
Relevant News Stories:
What Really Happened in Bangladesh: Washington, Islamabad, and the Genocide in East Pakistan (Foreign Affairs)
Considered the worst in sixty years, flooding caused by heavy rains in Indian-administered Kashmir and downstream in neighboring Pakistan have killed more than 450 people. The Indian Army and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been actively involved in the rescue operation. The army is concerned about potential breaches along the Indo-Pakistan border after the flooding, with critical counter-insurgency positions in the area reportedly damaged or destroyed. In light of the massive floods, environmentalists have also been quick to direct the cause of the tragedy to increased development efforts compounded by haphazard planning and regulation. Prime Minister Modi described the devastation as a “national-level disaster” after he surveyed the flood-hit areas by helicopter.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met Indian Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Swaraj on Monday, and conveyed Germany’s strong desire to work with the new government and further expand bilateral relations. Modi talked about ongoing cooperation between the countries around clean energy, and developing new relations in the areas of solid waste management, waste water treatment, and cleaning of rivers.
Relevant News Stories:
Let’s Talk About Kashmir: Could Modi, Islamabad, and the U.S. Troop Drawdown in Afghanistan Make the Disputed Territory the World’s Next Terrorist Hotspot? (Foreign Policy)
India Expecting Big Announcements from Xi Jinping’s Visit: Nirmala Sitharaman (The Economic Times)
Nepal Maoists Burn Copies of Power Accord with India (Odisha Sun Times)
Recommitting to a Shared Mission Against Terrorism (Foreign Policy)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has helped inaugurate a power generating unit at a $180 million Iranian-funded hydroelectric plant in Tajikistan. Rouhani and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon took part in a ceremony in which the second generating unit at the Sangtuda-2 hydropower plant was put on line. The first unit at the plant in southern Tajikistan was launched in 2011 by Rahmon and Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani and Rahmon also held talks in the Central Asian nation’s capital, Dushanbe, and presided over the signing of agreements cooperation on security, anti-drug efforts, education and other issues.
Meanwhile, Iran has called on the U.N. atomic agency to condemn an “act of aggression” by Israel for sending a drone last month to spy on a site which is at the center of its decade-old nuclear dispute with the West. In late August, Iran said it had shot down an Israeli drone that was heading for its main uranium enrichment site near the central town of Natanz. The Iranian move comes ahead of a meeting next week of the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where Tehran likely faces criticism for failing to provide requested information for a long-running IAEA investigation by an agreed August 25 deadline. An IAEA report last week showed Iran had implemented just three of five transparency steps by the target date and that little headway had been made in the UN agency’s inquiry on the nature of the Iranian nuclear program.
Relevant News Stories:
Coalition Against Islamic State Must Include Iran (VOA)
Paris Wants Iran to Help Crush Islamic Radicals (The New Zealand Herald)
Iran Talks: How Close is a Final Nuclear Deal? (BBC News)
More than 264 people have died in Pakistan and thousands of homes have collapsed after heavy monsoon rains triggered landslides and flash floods across the country. After nearly a week of rain, a Pakistani official declared the situation a “national emergency.” Civilian and military rescuers in both Pakistan and India, which has also been hit hard by the rain, “were using helicopters and boats to try to reach tens of thousands of people stranded in their homes as floodwaters rose and submerged many villages.” Over the weekend, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered to help each other’s emergency relief efforts in the disputed region of Kashmir, lowering tensions after weeks of cross-border firings and heated rhetoric. Pakistani PM Sharif thanked India for its offer of financial assistance in addressing the damage caused by the flooding, but said Pakistan would not approach any country for aid. According to the chairman of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, 43,000 homes have been destroyed and 1,100,000 people have been affected by the heavy rains and resulting floods. However, Pakistan is continuing an assault on Pakistani Taliban militants in North Waziristan despite the flooding disaster in the northeast of the country. Members of Pakistan’s paramilitary forces are also reportedly digging a nearly 300-mile-long trench along the border between the two countries in an effort to stop cross-border incursions.
Relevant News Stories:
Still Standing in Pakistan: The Protests, the Military, and What Comes Next (Foreign Affairs)
Imran Khan’s Misstep (3 Quarks Daily)
China is expected to shore up its maritime strength by securing port development deals in Sri Lanka when President Xi Jinping tours South Asia. While Beijing is keen to make goodwill gestures to countries in the region, the port deals could stoke fears China will use the facilities for strategic purposes, such as encircling India. Port development will be a major topic of discussion with Colombo, with the two sides hoping to sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation over the Hambantota port on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, which is already heavily financed by Chinese loans and is in the second phase of development. China has also pumped $500 million into a container terminal at Colombo Port, on Sri Lanka’s west coast. The push is part of Beijing’s efforts to create a “Maritime Silk Road”, an initiative to expand sea trade routes but which could also serve strategic purposes. Sri Lanka is also looking to China to counterbalance Western criticisms over human rights abuses during the final stages of its civil war, with a UN panel recently finding 40,000 minority Tamils were killed in the last years of the conflict, which ended in 2009. In March, the UN Human Rights Council approved an inquiry into the violence, with 23 votes in support and 12 against. China was among the members opposing the investigation.
Bhutan and India are holding the third round of development cooperation talks for Bhutan’s 11th Five-Year Plan. Both countries will discuss India’s aid of 45 billion rupees ($738.25 million USD) and 50 proposed projects. The Bhutanese delegation will be led by Foreign Secretary Yeshey Dorji and the Indian delegation by Secretary of Development Partnership Administration and Economic Relations in the External Affairs Ministry, Sujata Mehta. The $738 million fund will finance a program grant, small development projects, and the Project Tied Assistance (PTA). The 50 projects were proposed to be implemented under the PTA. A total of 86 development projects are expected to be launched in the Five-Year Plan. Both sides will also review the status of fund disbursements for the plan and discuss other related issues. The second round of development cooperation talks were held in New Delhi, India last November.