Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

Welcome to the latest edition of South Asia Brief from Foreign Policy. This week’s top stories include free and fair elections in Bhutan, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina securing a fourth consecutive term, and an unusual diplomatic dispute between India and the Maldives. Sign up to receive South Asia Brief in your inbox every Wednesday. Bhutan’s runoff election on Tuesday saw former premier Tshering Tobgay of the People’s Democratic Party win, with the country continuing its smooth transition to democracy. Unlike the elections in Bangladesh and Pakistan, Bhutan’s vote was free from concerns of rigging and unfair play. Bhutan’s monarchy, although popular, wields little political power, making it an interesting outlier in the region. Despite its imperfections, Bhutan has made significant progress towards democracy since the 1990s. The country is facing economic challenges, with a high youth unemployment rate, and an exodus of young people. Both India and China have a stake in Bhutan’s economic development, as well as its strategic significance due to their regional power rivalry. In Bangladesh, Prime Minister Hasina won her fourth term amid criticism of the election process from Western observers, contrasting with congratulations from non-Western powers like China, India, and Russia. India’s close ties with Hasina may cause concern for countries like Pakistan, potentially affecting diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, the Maldives is embroiled in a diplomatic spat with India after Maldivian officials insulted the Indian Prime Minister, causing a crisis that threatens tourism revenue and development assistance from India. The Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) based in Afghanistan is implicated in recent attacks in Iran, indicating the group’s projection of threat beyond Afghanistan. Nepal is dealing with a problem of citizens fighting alongside the Russian army in Ukraine, highlighting the economic stress that drives Nepalis to take risks for better livelihoods. This trend is also reflected in the high number of migrant worker deaths in the Persian Gulf region in recent years.

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