Elections set pace for South Asian politics in 2014
South Asia's political landscape has changed significantly in the last year, with historic and controversial elections having a strong impact on its political trends and the course of regional relations.

When Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai took office in September, it marked the completion of his country's first democratic transition of power, after a long, contentious presidential election, which began in April.

Negotiations brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry settled a dispute over vote fraud between Ghani and his rival in the second round run-off, Abdullah Abdullah. A final recount confirmed Ghani the winner and the former World Bank economist has since put the revival of Afghanistan's economy high on his agenda, at a time when U.S. and NATO-led foreign forces are withdrawing from the country after more than a decade.

The new Afghan President has looked to strike deals for trade and investment with others in the region, including Pakistan and India. At a summit of South Asian leaders in November, he said he wants Afghanistan to become "the Asian roundabout, where goods, ideas and people will flow in all directions.”

Bigger and more flashy was the Indian election. The six-week long extravaganza ended in May with Narendra Modi entering the prime minister's office after winning the election on a platform of economic recovery.

Modi portrayed himself as the pro-business candidate to stimulate a sluggish Indian economy but concerns were raised about his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party's approach to minority rights. Modi himself still faces allegations of responsibility for inter-communal riots that killed 2,000 people, most of them Muslim, in the state of Gujarat in 2002, while he was the state's chief minister.

Modi soon set to work revitalizing India's foreign relations by meeting with the leaders of the U.S., China, Russia and Japan over the coming months. He initially seemed to be willing to improve relations with neighbor and rival Pakistan, by inviting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration ceremony.

Sharif himself was elected in May 2013, but the whole matter was re-opened by his rival, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. In August, Khan and his supporters staged a long march from the northeastern city of Lahore to the capital, Islamabad, where they staged an unsuccessful four-month sit-in demanding Sharif's resignation and an investigation into electoral fraud.

Bangladesh's general election in January saw the ruling Awami League maintain its position, but the process was tense and at times violent amid a boycott by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party over disputes over how the procedure should have been handled.

A presidential election was announced for Jan. 8 in Sri Lanka and current President Mahinda Rajapaksa will face his own former minister Maithripala Sirisena, who caused mass defections from Rajapaksa's cabinet when he announced his candidacy in November. The election will be only the second since Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war ended in 2009.

Nepal's election came just before the year began, in November 2013, but it was 2014 that saw the Constituent Assembly try to draft the country's constitution as part of its recovery from the 10-year civil war that ended in 2006. Disputes, including objections from the opposition Maoist parties, mean that most observers believe it is unlikely the constitution will be delivered by its January deadline.

-- Pakistan Taliban kill 134 school students in Peshawar

The first half of the year was spent with Pakistan's government engaging the Taliban in peace talks but they broke down in June, leading to renewed violence and a large-scale military operation against militants in the northwest.

The most shocking violence came in December, when the Taliban attacked an army-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 134 children in a nine-hour siege.

The attack shocked Pakistan and opened the way for a more aggressive political and military approach to the Taliban. Several convicted Taliban members were hanged, ending a moratorium on executions that had stood since 2008, there were mass arrests of alleged Taliban affiliates, and army courts were given jurisdiction over high-profile terror cases.

-- Afghanistan's most violent year since 2001

As foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan, the country witnessed its most violent year since their arrival in 2001. The UN reported in December that more 3,000 civilians had been killed in 2014, saying that the Taliban caused three-quarters of the deaths.

The Taliban had escalated its activities surrounding the presidential election and withdrawal of foreign forces, attacking police and army bases regularly but also targeting civilians. In November, an attack on a volleyball match killed 40 civilians.

-- India launched Mars satellite at first attempt

India became the first country to successfully put a satellite into orbit around Mars on its first attempt, in September.

"History has been created today, we have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible," said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi held the mission up as an example of the potential of domestic scientific research and also praised the mission's low cost, which was $600 million less than NASA's Mars Maven project.

-- Inter-communal riots hit Muslim area in Sri Lanka

Building inter-communal tensions were highlighted when three people killed and thousands displaced by riots in a Muslim-majority town in southern Sri Lanka in June.

The attacks followed a rally by the hardline Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena, who have been accused of inciting hate against Sri Lanka's Muslim population and other minority groups.

-- Nepal snowstorm killed 43

A sudden snowstorm in Nepal's mountains in October caused the country's worst hiking disaster, killing at least 43 people.

The snowstorm came at the peak of Nepal's tourist season, which attracts trekkers to the Himalayan mountains, and was reportedly caused by Cyclone Hudhud, which had passed through Bangladesh and India.

The disaster sparked government pledges for a reform of adventure tourism and improved weather warning systems.

-- Oil spill in Bangladesh's Sunberbans forest

An oil tanker sank in Bangladesh's Sunderbans nature reserve, the world's largest mangrove forest, spilling 350,000 liters of oil in December.

A slow government response allowed the oil to spread quickly, threatening the area's wildlife including endangered Bengal tigers and dolphins that swim through its waterways.

AA
Last Modified: 2014-12-31 10:08:56
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