South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. X Issue 28

     South Asia, SAW, July

    Country Reports

    Afghanistan

    Pacts with Turkmenistan

    Afghanistan and Turkmenistan signed a number of bilateral agreements on July 3 during President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to the country. Agreements signed included a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation in the carpet industry, international road transport, and an international railroad checkpoint in Turkmenistan.   The parties also signed the Regulation on Organization of Railroad Transport between Imamnazar and Akina Border Posts.   In addition, an agreement on cooperation between the Ministry of Energy of Turkmenistan and the Ministry of Energy and Water Management of Afghanistan to supply Turkmen energy to Badghis and Jawzjan province was also signed.

    For more information, see: “Afghanistan, Turkmenistan Sign Bilateral Agreements”, Tolo News

    US senators seek new strategy

    Delegations of US senators have called for a new strategy against the Taliban, during their visit to the country on July 4. Led by the Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain, the bi-partisan delegation’s two day regional visit included Pakistan as well. The Taliban is "not going to negotiate unless they think they are losing," McCain said. "So we need to win and have the advantage on the battlefield and then enter into a serious negotiation to resolve the conflict."

    For more information, see: “U.S. Senators Call For New Strategy To Defeat Taliban In Afghanistan”, RFE/RL

     60 Taliban insurgents killed

    Ongoing counter-terrorism operations in southern Helmand have killed over 60 Taliban insurgents. Clearance operations in the province which began on July 3 have involved air strikes and ground combing operations. Provincial police chief Abdul Ghafar Safi told reporters that the operations are being conducted with the support of the foreign forces based in the country, who are mainly providing air support to the Afghan troops and Special Forces on the ground.

    For more information, see: “Taliban deaths exceeds 60 in ongoing operations in Helmand province”, Khaama Press

    Bangladesh

    Unesco ‘lifts objection’ on Sundarbans power plant

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that the World Heritage Committee of Unesco has withdrawn its objection to the setting up of Rampal power plant at its current site near the Sundarbans. The committee, however, requested Bangladesh to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of its south-west region, including the Sundarbans, before starting the project. The Government has agreed to the Unesco request. A joint venture company Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Ltd (BIFPCL) is constructing a 1320 MW thermal power plant at a place in Rampal close to Sundarban.

    For more information, see:  “Rampal Project: Unesco ‘lifts objection’”, The Daily Star

    Rohingya talks with Myanmar

    Bangladesh and Myanmar are likely to start bilateral discussion on the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees residing in the country. During Myanmar National Security Advisor’s visit to Bangladesh, the two countries agreed on the importance of beginning a bilateral discussion of the issues.

    For more information, see: “Bangladesh, Myanmar understand ‘importance’ of Rohingya repatriation”, Bdnews24.com, 4 July 2017; “Hasina renews call for Myanmar to take back Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh”, Bdnews24.com

    India ties at its ‘best’

    State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohamed Shahriar Alam this week said that Bangladesh-India relations are at their best. However, Minister observed that there are still some challenges to overcome. Sharing of water of common rivers is some of such area and he expects India to travel some extra distance for benefit of two countries.

    For more information, see:  “Water sharing: Bangladesh wants India to travel some distance”, Bdnews24.com

    Bhutan

    Power tariff from India

    In the recently held Chukha tariff revision talks between Bhutan and India in New Delhi on June 22, though both sides agreed that it is time for a revision, there are differences in what could be the final revision.

    For more information, see: “Bhutan hoping for a 12.5% hike in Chukha Tariff”, The Bhutanese

    Tobacco abuse rampant

    Bhutan has the highest number of (24.6 percent) smokers in the region, a report on mental health status of adolescents in South-East Asia states. Despite complete ban on tobacco sales, tobacco use remains high among 13 to 17 year-old which constitutes 9.4 percent of the total population.

    For more information see: “Bhutan tops tobacco and marijuana users in South East Asia”, Kuensel

    Embassy seeks help for duped girls

    On June 27 the Royal Embassy in Kuwait alerted the Ministry of Labour and Human resources on the grievances shared by a girl working in Dubai, alleging that ‘Yarphel Overseas Recruitment Agent’ had lured and cheated 23 girls to work in Dubai by making false promises to them.

    For more information, see: “Help sought from Embassy on behalf of 23 girls sent by Pvt agency”, The Bhutanese

    India

    Modi, Xi talk in Hamburg

    Amid the harsh rhetoric from India and China over the border standoff, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday informally met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Germany and "had a conversation on a range of issues", said external affairs ministry spokesman. Gopal Baglay. He no details about what issues were discussed when the two leaders met in Hamburg at an informal gathering of BRICS leaders.

    For more information, see: Amid India-China border standoff, Modi and Xi meet in Hamburg, have 'conversation on a range of issues', Times of India

    China plays down ‘Malabar’

    China on July 7 played down concerns over next week's Malabar naval exercises between India, the United States and Japan in the Indian Ocean, saying it had "no objection" to "normal cooperation" but hoped it was not "directed at any third party". This year's exercises are the widest in scope till date, involving the US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, India's carrier INS Vikramaditya and Japan's helicopter carrier Izumo.

    For more information see: China plays down concern over largest ever Malabar naval exercise, Times of India

    $4.3-bn deals with Israel

    Indian and Israeli companies signed strategic pacts worth $4.3 billion (excluding defence) on the sidelines of the first CEOs Forum held in Tel Aviv on July 6. With Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu presiding, almost 30 CEOs from both sides promised to power the economic and investment relationship. The strategic MOUs signed on Thursday include those between Texmaco and Leshman-Lesico; Alpha Design and Elbit Land Systems; Elcomm Innovations and Eccopia Scientific; Wipro and Israel Aerospace; Dynamatics Technologies and Israel Aerospace and Elcom Systems; Cadila Healthcare and Phibro Animal Health Corporation; Sun and Water-Gen; tGELF and LEAD; Telerad Tech and Zebra Medical Vision; Kalyani Strategic Systems and Israel Aerospace; and Mahindra and Shachaf.

    For more information, see:  PM Narendra Modi, Benjamin Netanyahu preside over $4.3 billion business deals, Times of India

    Basirhat calm

    West Bengal police arrested a clutch of prominent politicians on Friday morning to prevent them from visiting violence-hit Basirhat that has been rocked by communal violence over a controversial Facebook post. Police arrested BJP leaders Roopa Ganguly and Locket Chatterjee near the Kolkata airport when they insisted on proceeding to Basirhat, 12 km from the Bangladesh border that has seen violence by Muslim mobs and retaliatory attacks over four days.

    For more information, see: West Bengal violence over FB post: BJP’s Roopa Ganguly arrested, Basirhat calm, Hindustan Times

    Farm stir back in Madhya Pradesh

    Farm activists in Madhya Pradesh resumed their protest in Mandsaur district on Thursday to demand a loan waiver and better support prices for farm produce. A host of organizations and activists joined the Madhya Pradesh-based Aam Kisan Union to launch a Kisan Mukti Yatra from Budha village in Mandsaur district, which was the hotbed of violent farmers’ protests in June.

    For more information, see: Fresh farm stir in Madhya Pradesh over farm loan waiver, better MSP, Live Mint

    Maldives 

    Yameen MPs revolt

    For the first time since the Opposition MDP demanded the exit of President Abdulla Yameen in December 2014, as many as 10 MPs belonging to the ruling PPM leadership under his leadership have rebelled to join the four-party combine, and moved a no-trust motion against Parliament Speaker Abdulla Maseeh. The Opposition now claim the backing of the mandated 45 MPs in the 85-member People’s Majlis, but the Parliament session, due to commence on Tuesday, was postponed indefinitely.

    For more information, see: “No-confidence motion filed against Maseeh filed with 45 signatures”, Maldives Independent, 3 July 2017; “No-confidence motion re-submitted against Maseeh”, SunOnline, 3 July 2017; “MPs on the government’s side have started switching to the people’s side : Faisal Naseem”, Miadhu, 3 July 2017; “Signatures of some MPs were forged: Nihaan”.  

    Withdraws candidacy

    In what is seen as a setback to the Yameen leadership in the international arena, Maldives withdrew its candidacy in the UN Human Rights Council election, after the ‘western bloc’ ticked off the government on democracy issues. The government said the withdrawal was a responsible decision as a founding-member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), but Oppositio MDP’s ex-Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed, now UN Special Rapproteur on freedom of religion and belief, said that the government feared defeat.

    For more information, see: “Maldives withdraws candidacy for UN Human Rights Council”, Maldives Independent, 6 July 2016; “Majlis sittings suspended indefinitely”, SunOnline, 3 July 2017; “EU parliament discusses Maldives human rights situation”, Maldives Independent

    Myanmar 

    Focus on growth, govt told

    Myanmarese tycoon Serge Pun, one of the wealthiest men in Asia, said on July 6 that the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has neglected the nation’s much-needed economic reform. Pun, the head of property-to-banking conglomerate First Myanmar Investment, urged authorities to give more attention to growth in one of the region’s poorest countries. He said Burma’s economy “has not performed well enough” more than one year after its de facto civilian leader Suu Kyi swept to power in a historic vote.

    For more information see: “Tycoon Serge Pun says economy neglected by NLD government”, DVB

    Deportation from Malaysia

    More than 2,000 illegal migrant workers in Malaysia are facing deportation amid one of the largest crackdowns in recent years, with campaigners concerned this has forced immigrants into hiding and increased the risk of human trafficking.

    For more information, see: “Migrants face deportation from Malaysia”, DVB

    Army chief in India

    Commander-in-chief of Myanmar armed forces, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, is slated to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, defence minister Arun Jaitley and national security advisor Ajit Doval on July 14, during an extensive tour of India that began at Gaya on Friday.

    For more information, see: “India rolls out the red carpet for Myanmar military chief, with an eye firmly on China”, The Times of India

    Nepal

    Dissensions delay expansion

    Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s ongoing efforts to bring the Madhes-based parties in the coalition government and intra-party feud within Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) are likely to cause further delay in the cabinet expansion.  He has not been able to provide full shape to his Cabinet with proper appointments even after a month. This remains a serious concern.

    For more information, see: “Deuba still struggling to give full shape to cabinet”, Republica

    PM praises media

    Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba clearly pointed out the importance of democracy in the country by focusing on the freedom of Press. He underscored the need for crucial contribution of the media to institutionalise the obtained achievements by strengthening the democracy. The media should perform positive role to further strengthen Nepal's national unity and culture of all communities and the journalists should disseminate the news based on truth and fact.

    For more information, see: “Democracy without press freedom cannot be imagined: PM”, Republica, 6 July 2017; “Press freedom necessary for Democracy to survive: PM”, The Himalayan Times

    Budget session sluggish

    The fiscal year’s budget deliberations have turned out to be a dull affair with most of the law makers not in the capital. The reason has been cited as the local polls. The attendance has not exceeded 355, where the total number is 592. Finance Minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki was the sole Minister to be present in the hall.

    For more information, see: “Budget discussions in parliament turn dull”, Republica, 7 July 2017; “Lawmakers vent ire over unequal distribution of budget”, The Kathmandu Post, 6 July 2017; “Unequal budget distribution' riles lawmakers”, Republica, 

    Pakistan

    No talks sans Kashmir

    Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs, stated that dialogue with India would not be possible if Kashmir is not discussed. Aziz said that Pakistan wanted to settle all contentious issues with India through “result-oriented” talks. Accusing India of diverting global attention by “heating up” the Line of Control, Aziz added that "Indian belligerent posturing and their desire to conduct dialogue on their own terms i.e. without Kashmir will never be acceptable.”

    For more information, see: “Pakistan Will Not Accept Any Talks With India That Exclude Kashmir: Sartaj Aziz”, NDTV

    Joint opertion along Durand Line

    Afghanistan and Pakistan will conduct joint operations against terrorists along the Durand Line. According to the Afghan authorities, the development came after US senators paid a visit to Pakistani military officials and assured Afghanistan that Islamabad, in coordination with Kabul, will conduct the joint operations. President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesperson, deputy Najibullah Azad, said the operation would be conducted under the US supervision.

    For more information, see: “Pakistan, Afghanistan to conduct joint border ops under US supervision: Kabul”, The Express Tribune

    NASR missile tested

    Pakistan has further developed its tactical nuclear weapons by undertaking a series of flight tests of its NASR missile. The nuclear-capable NASR missile’s flight manoeuvrability was enhanced and its range was extended from 60 kms to 70. The Pakistan’s army’s media wing said that, the “weapon system will augment credible deterrence against prevailing threat spectrum more effectively, including anti-missile defenses. NASR is a high precision weapon system with the ability of quick deployments.” Pakistan army Chief General Qamar Bajwa, referred to the Indian doctrine saying, "NASR has put cold water on Cold Start. War must be avoided at all costs and our strategic capability is a guarantee of peace against a highly militarized and increasingly belligerent neighbour.

    For more information, see: “Pakistan Enhances Range of Controversial ‘Tactical’ Nuclear Weapon”, Voice of America

    Sri Lanka 

    Deliver or depart: MS

    With the two-year long SLFP-UNP coalition agreement coming up for review in September, President Maithiripala Sirisena handed down a three-month deadline for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP, to ‘deliver’ on their collective pre-poll promises of 2015, or exit office. Sirisena’s threat came after 18 MPs belonging to the official SLFP faction headed by him threatened to quit the government group if the coalition agreement was not rescinded when became due, but in effect he has purchased time for their collective leadership – and PM Ranil went back on his earlier position, and said that they would present a brand new Constitution and not just amendments to the existing one.

    For more information, see: “President asks UNP to deliver or depart”, The Island, 9 July 2017; “Samarasinghe contradicts Ekanayake”, The Island, 8 July 2017; “SLFP shuts the door on nominations for MR”, The Island

    Primary Documentation

    Bangladesh

    Keynote Address by HSM at the Inaugural Session, Guwahati, India”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2 July 2017

    Nepal

    “Press Release on bilateral meeting between Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Government of Nepal”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 7 July 2017

    “Press Release on the 4th Meeting of Nepal-India Oversight Mechanism”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 6 July 2017

    “Press Release issued by Embassy of Nepal, New Delhi: Hon DPM/FM Interacts with Nonresident Ambassadors to Nepal”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 2 July 2017

    Bibliography

    Afghanistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Husain Haqqani, “To win Afghanistan, get tough on Pakistan”, The New York Times, 6 July 2017

    Candice Malcolm, “Khadr decision slap in the face of the US”, Toronto Sun, 5 July 2017

    Bangladesh

    Opinion Pieces

    Rubana Huq, “A platform of trust”, The Daily Star, 5 July 2017

    Moazzem Hossain, “Voting in action”, Dhaka Tribune, 5 July 2017

    Siddharthya Roy, “A Year of Bangladesh's War on Terror”, The Diplomat, 6 July 2017

    Bhutan

    Editorials

    Water scarcity in water rich Bhutan”, Kuensel, 3 July 2017

    India

    Opinion Pieces

    Samir Saran, In Armed Conflict With India, Why China Would Be Bigger Loser, NDTV, O6 July 2017

    Ashok Malik, Nitish Kumar playing a bluff game with Lalu Yadav for greater autonomy in Bihar, The Economic Times, 04 July 2017

    Myanmar

    Opinion Pieces

    Joe Kumbun, “The KIO Dilemma”, Mizzima, 3 July 2017

    Santisuda Ekachai, “Do Not Punish Migrant Workers, Fix a Broken System”, The Irrawaddy, 6 July 2017

    Nepal

    Opinion Pieces

    Mahabir Paudyal, “Politics of hubris”, Republica, 5 July 2017

    Khimlal Devkota, “Stingy budget”, The Kathmandu Post, 7 July 2017

    Editorials

    “The long road”, The Kathmandu post, 6 July 2017

     “Better late”, Republica, 6 July 2017

    Pakistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Christine Fair, “Pakistan can't afford China’s ‘friendship’”, Business Insider, 3 July 2017

    Zahid Hussain, “Story of a spy”, Dawn, 5 July 2017

    Zamir Akram, “Trump and South Asia”, The Express Tribune, 4 July 2017

    Sri Lanka

    Opinion Pieces

    Kumar David, “UDF can ride on social, democratic resurgence”, The Island, 9 July 2017

    M S M Ayub, “War within: Ceasefire breached”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 July 2017

    Malinda Seneviratne, “No government in the country, no country in the government?”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 July 2017

    Gomin Dayasiri, “Presidency: All the Mahinda’s men”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 July 2017

    Dayan Jayatilleka, “Will the demons reawaken in paradise?”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 July 2017

    Jehan Perera, “Government of national unity must accomplish its main task”, The Island, 4 Julyl 2017

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Of missing kin and the missing of kin”, The Sunday Leader, 2 July 2017

    Interviews

    Sunil Jayasiri, “Showing truth as truth would have ironed out concerns: Lt-Gen Mahesh Senanayake”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 July 2017

    Kelum Bandara, “Government has no mandate to enact new Constitution: Kalyana Thiranagama”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 July 2017

    Contributors:

    Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah

    Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

    Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale

    India: Pushan Das

    Maldives & Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy

    Nepal: Sreeparna Banerjee & Sohini Nayak

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