The South Asia Channel

Modi Delivers Victory Speech; Sharif Congratulates Modi on Win; IEC to Open Up to 4,000 New Polling Centers

Bonus Reads: "Modi Sweeps India with Historic Mandate," Shruti Pandalai (SouthAsia); "Afghan Lovers' Plight Shaking Up the Lives of Those Left in Their Wake," Rod Nordland (NYT).

India

Modi delivers victory speech, Singh says farewell 

Narendra Modi, the incoming Indian prime minister, addressed the country on Friday following a landslide victory for his Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] (NDTV, Economic Times). Thousands of people dressed in saffron orange packed into the main square of Vadodara, Modi's constituency in Gujarat, to hear his victory speech. Modi promised to work tirelessly for the country as "mazdoor" (meaning "worker") "no. 1" (Economic Times). "Every second of mine is now dedicated to the country. I will serve the country," he said. Modi also noted this was the first time since India's independence in 1947 that the voters had given such a clear mandate to a non-Congress party, noting that even the 1977 BJP government was a coalition of several parties.

Modi emphasized that he would work for the good of all Indians, seemingly an attempt to counter criticism that his government would be biased against Muslims. He also adopted a conciliatory tone toward political rivals, saying he would work with opposition parties to govern. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wished the Modi government "every success" in a departing speech, before meeting with his cabinet one last time and handing his resignation to President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday (Economic Times). Singh also expressed confidence about India's future as a "major powerhouse of the evolving global economy" and said the elections had deepened the country's foundations of democracy. He reiterated that he had tried to work hard to serve India, saying, "As I have said on many occasions, my life and tenure in public office are an open book. I have always tried to do my best in serving this great nation of ours."

Modi win impacts the markets 

As India voiced a clear mandate for economic reforms, financial analysts predicted a bull market. Moody's, a credit ratings agency, stated in a report released on Monday that the election outcome will be credit positive for India's sovereign debt and corporate sector (Economic Times). The report predicts that the central government will focus on an economic agenda to improve India's macroeconomic challenges, and that the new government's strong mandate will have a positive near-term effect on investment.

Reacting to the election results, many brokerages revised their targets for the Bombay Stock Exchange's Nifty and Sensex indices. They predicted that, by the end of the year, the Sensex will touch 28,000 and the rupee will stabilize at 57-58 against the U.S. dollar (Economic Times).

BJP moves to form cabinet

The BJP's parliamentary party will formally meet with its allies on Tuesday, May 20, to elect Modi as prime minister. The BJP's parliamentary board, the party's highest decision-making body, adopted a resolution on Saturday to formally elect Modi as its leader and recognized his "tireless efforts" and "inspirational leadership" (Indian Express). Following the election victory on Friday, Modi held numerous meetings with key aides and senior party leaders ahead of his cabinet formation, including BJP General Secretary Amit Shah, senior party leader Arun Jaitley, and Sushma Swaraj, an opposition leader in the outgoing Lok Sabha. Modi also met with party patriarch, L. K. Advani, who had initially opposed him as a prime ministerial candidate. As speculations run high on cabinet formation, newly elected parliamentarians, BJP allies, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh party leaders are set to meet Modi on Tuesday (Indian Express).

-- Neeli Shah, Jameel Khan, and Ana Swanson

Pakistan

Pakistan looks for "new beginning" with India 

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office said on Friday that he called Narendra Modi to congratulate him on the BJP's "impressive victory" in India's recent election and to offer him "good wishes" (AFP, VOA). While Abdul Qadir Baloch, Pakistan's federal minister, told Voice of America that political leaders would wait for Modi to take office before offering any analysis of his policy towards Islamabad, he noted that: "Pakistan believes in a peaceful relationship with its neighbors, including India. And we are for peace. We are not for war. We want to settle every dispute with India through peaceful means." 

Other government figures expressed cautious optimism about Modi's rise to power, noting that economic development is at the top of his agenda, which will likely require better relations with Pakistan (ET).

Taliban infighting hampers peace talks

Multiple media outlets reported over the weekend that the Pakistani government's efforts for a peaceful settlement with the Taliban have reached a deadlock after splits within the militant organization (ET). While the government had been looking for a comprehensive agreement with the Taliban, officials noted that "the talks could succeed in breaking off one major faction of the group" instead (WSJ). According to the reports, Khan Said Mehsud, who is also known as Sajna, looks poised to agree to the government's terms, which would take his followers out of the fight. However, Sajna was recently removed as the organization's chief in South Waziristan -- a demotion he has not accepted -- making it unclear how binding any agreement with him would be. 

In Peshawar on Monday, the bodies of four men believed to be members of a peace committee were found in the Mohmand agency (ET). While an investigation is currently underway, no further information was provided.

Boy kills man accused of blasphemy

A Pakistani teenager was arrested in Sharaqpur, a town 15 miles west of Lahore, on Friday after walking into a police station and shooting a 65-year-old man accused of blasphemy (NYT). According to local police, the boy entered the station wearing a fake police uniform and carrying a gun. He demanded to see Khalil Ahmad, a member of the minority Ahmadi community who had been arrested on Monday after local clerics accused him of blasphemy during a dispute with a Muslim shopkeeper. When the boy was taken to Ahmad's cell, he shot him, killing him instantly. 

While Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, they "are not recognized as such by the government or much of the general population" (AP). They "are prevented by law in Pakistan from ‘posing as Muslims,' declaring their faith publicly, calling their places of worship mosques or performing the Muslim call to prayer." In speaking about the case, Salim Uddin, a spokesman for an organization representing Ahmadis, said Pakistan's strict blasphemy law was being used to "settle personal scores under the guise of religion."

Court dismisses case against FBI agent

A Karachi court on Monday formally dismissed the case against Joel Cox, an FBI agent who was arrested at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport earlier this month for carrying ammunition and several knives onto an airplane (Dawn, ET). Cox, who did not have diplomatic immunity, was given a written authority letter by the U.S. consulate, which allowed him to carry a weapon and ammunition for his personal protection and prompted the court to drop the charges. Cox was in Pakistan as part of a multi-agency effort to help Pakistani authorities fight corruption, and had forgotten about the contraband in his bag.

Afghanistan

Up to 4,000 new polling centers to open for run-off election

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Sunday that up to 4,000 new polling sites will be used during June's run-off election, drawing a mixed response from the two contenders (TOLO News). While both candidates welcomed the news, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah's team expressed concerns about opening new sites in insecure areas and not in places that were included the first time around. Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai's campaign stressed the importance of opening sites based on an area's population size and expressed hope that there would be no ballot shortages during the second round of voting. While the names of the new sites have not been publicly released, a spokesman for the IEC said they would be revealed soon so security measures could be put into place.

The IEC also sent a note to more than 3,000 employees on Sunday, dismissing them for manipulating votes during the election on April 5 (TOLO News).

Karzai relieved his term is ending

The Los Angeles Times' Shashank Bengali reported on Sunday that current Afghan President Hamid Karzai is relieved his time in office is coming to an end, telling those close to him that: "I am really counting down the days. I am too tired. Every day that passes, my shoulders get lighter" (LAT). After 13 years in office, Bengali notes that "the elegant man who once charmed the world and embodied the hope of his nation is leaving behind a government ravaged by corruption, an economy dependent on international donors, a badly frayed alliance with the United States and a population still vulnerable to a stubborn Taliban insurgency." 

While Karzai has reportedly met with both Abdullah and Ghani, in the hopes of retaining some sort of influence in the next administration, it is unclear what kind of role, if any, he will play. Bonus reads: "A Time Bomb in Afghanistan's Ballot Box," Kimberly Dozier (Daily Beast); "Abdullah, once called ‘messenger of death,' seeks Afghan presidency as a healer," Tim Craig (Post).

-- Bailey Cahall

Edited by Peter Bergen.

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