South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. X Issue 32

     South Asia, SAW, August, Bhutan, Sri Lanka

    A portrait of Chimi Lhakgang, Punakha, Bhutan

    Country Reports

    Afghanistan

    Taliban targets NATO

    A Taliban assault on a NATO convoy left two American service officers dead in Kandahar. On 2 August, the group carried out a suicide bomb attack on the convoy in Kandahar. While the Pentagon confirmed the deaths, the US military in the country refused to say whether their deaths were caused by the Taliban assault. The Pentagon’s decision to release the figures seemed to contradict orders issued two months ago by Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, barring information about US combat deaths until days after the incident.

    For more information, see: “Pentagon: 2 US service members killed in Afghanistan blast”, The Washington Post

    Helmand war intensifies

    As intense fighting rages on between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in Helmand province, the Afghan forces have repelled numerous attack in the Gereskh district on August 4. In Gereskh, the group has used heavy equipment, bombs and Humvees to launch their attacks, targeting, bridges, money exchange centres and security personnel. According to the provincial governor’s office, more than 40 Taliban fighters were killed in 12 hours.

    For more information, see: “Taliban attacks pushed back in Gereshk”, Tolo News

    US may replace General

    US President Donald Trump has raised the possibility of firing Gen John Nicholson in Afghanistan for ‘delay’ in ending the war in Afghanistan. According to the report, Trump told Defence Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, a Marine general, should consider firing Army General John Nicholson, commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, for not winning the war.

    For more information, see: “Trump suggests firing Nicholson ‘for not winning the war’”, Tolo News

    Bangladesh

    Govt accused of lying to UNESCO

    Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has accused the government of lying about the UNESCO’s position on the Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans. The party’s Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir made the claim in a capital Dhaka this week.  A joint venture company formed by government owned Bangladesh Power Development Board and India’s NTPC is planning to setup a coal-based power in plant in Rampal, a place close to Sundarbans a UNESCO world heritage site. Environmentalist in Bangladesh are expressing concerns and facing resistance as they fear it might impact the fragile ecosystem of Sundarban.  However, after a meeting of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on June 30, the government claimed the UN organization had ‘moved away’ from its objection to the plant.

    For more information, see: “BNP accuses PM’s adviser of lying about UNESCO’s Rampal stance”, Bdnews24.com

    Signs pact with IOM

    In a major step forward, the government this week signed an agreement with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to strengthen and expand the cooperation between Bangladesh and the UN agency.  With the signing of the agreement, Bangladesh becomes the first-member state of IOM under the United Nations (UN) system to sign a full-fledged cooperation agreement granting IOM privileges and immunities similar to those granted to UN specialised agencies.

    For more information, see: “B'desh inks cooperation agreement with IOM”, The Financial Express

    India

    Proxy vote for NRIs?

    The government has approved changes in the electoral laws to permit Non-Resident Indians to cast their vote in assembly and Lok Sabha elections overseas. If the proposal gets passed in the parliament, then NRI’s will be able to exercise their vote through “proxy”. However, overseas electors will have to appoint a nominee afresh for each election — one person can act as proxy for only one overseas voter.

    For more information, see: Government clears proxy vote move for NRIs , The Indian Express

    War no solution: FM

    External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj made a forceful speech in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, asserting that war was not a solution to the military standoff with China along the Sikkim border. Patience and bhasha saiyam are very important to resolve the issue. She further asserted that both Russia and the US are supporting India. This reflects India’s success in foreign policy.

    For more information, see: Doklam standoff to ‘Pak-sponsored terror’, Sushma takes on Congress , Hindustan Times

    World Bank ‘neutral’ on Indus

    The World Bank has assured its neutrality and impartiality in helping India and Pakistan find “amicable way forward” during talks over issues related to two of India’s hydroelectricity projects under the Indus Waters Treaty. World Bank’s Vice President for South Asia region, Annette Dixon “We are pleased both parties have confirmed their participation in the meeting hosted by the World Bank in Washington, DC.”

    For more information, see: Indus Waters Treaty: World Bank assures ‘neutrality’ in Indo-Pak talks , The Hindu Business Line

    Army chief in Central Asia

    Continuing up with its policy of stepping up military and economic ties with energy rich Central Asian Republics, Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat headed for a five-day visit to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. General Rawat will meet defence ministers, top officials as well as visit military establishments in the two countries during his visit to discuss ways to further boost defense ties.

    For more information, see: Army chief General Bipin Rawat to visit Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan , The Times of India

    Bhutan

    Worry on hydro projects

    Some people say that Bhutan is an Indian ‘protectorate,’ which is not only an inaccurate assessment, but shows a lack of understanding of the increasingly complex and diversified nature of the relationship between the two countries. The Doklam standoff on territory claimed by Bhutan has gone on for a full 45 days and is expected to go on longer, and the nation is worried even more about the hydro-power projects.

    For more information, see: “More than the Doklam issue, Bhutan worried about hydropower projects and more”, The Bhutanese

    Debt-risk ‘moderate’

    In what could allay the concerns over mounting public debt, the World Bank has said Bhutan has a moderate risk of debt distress. The World Bank’s finding is based on debt sustainability analysis (DSA), which is another measure to assess a country’s indebtedness. DSA refers to the ability to pay its debt obligation in the long term without a liquidity problem.

    For more information, see: “Bhutan at moderate risk of debt distress: WB”, Kuensel

    Maldives 

    Anti-Yameen protests

    Four-party Opposition cadres protested in Addu City and other southern atolls on Friday afternoon, calling for President Abdulla Yameen’s resignation and freedom for four MPs detained after ‘defecting’ from the ruling combine. In Male, however, the security forces thwarted Opposition attempts to take out rallies later in the evening.

    For more information, see: “Opposition holds protest marches in southern atolls”, Maldives Independent, 5 August 2017; “In leaked audio, defence minister vows to seek charges against lawmakers”, Maldives Independent

    Myanmar 

    Govt to hold talks with UNFC

    The government will hold talks with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in an effort to persuade the ethnic bloc to attend the next session of the Union Peace Conference. The government’s Peace Commission and the UNFC’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) are set to hold informal talks in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand on August 4.

    For more information, see: “Govt, UNFC set for Peace Talks”, The Irrawaddy

    Rail upgrade soon

    The upgrading of the circular railway is going to start in October 2017 said Myanmar Railway deputy general manager U Zaw Lwin, as part of the governent’s efforts to improve public transportation. It will be financed partly by a 24 billion yen (US$ 206 million/K280.77 billion) Japanese official development assistance (ODA), he added.

    For more information see: “Circular railway upgrade project to start in October”, Myanmar Times

    H1N1 claims 13 lives

    “A woman died of the H1N1 virus this morning. That raises the death toll from this strain of influenza to 13,” Burma’s Ministry of Health and Sports announced yesterday. “As of midday on 2 August, 284 people have been hospitalised with respiratory tract infections. Ninety-nine of those were diagnosed with H1N1 and 13 have died of the virus. The fatality rate is 4.5 percent.”

    For more information, see: “HINI death toll rises to 13 in Burma”, DVB

    Nepal

    Hassle-free investments

    Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, while inaugurating the Second Responsible Business Summit organised by National Business Initiative (NBI), pointed out to the creation of better investment opportunities in the country. The sustainable development of investment (domestic and foreign) along with the proper implementation of the Constitution with fare elections would lead to a smooth and conducive balance. The investment schemes would also be made hassle-free.

    For more information, see: “Increasing investment is govt’s priority: PM Deuba”, The Kathmandu Post, 3 August, 2017; “Increasing investment govt's priority: PM Deuba”, Republica

    PM to visit India this month

    Prime Minister Deuba is all set to embark upon his five-day visit to India on August 23 and meet with his counterpart Narendra Modi and other leaders. The strategic implication of the visit can be deciphered through the types and arenas of discussions to be held. The ongoing projects between the two countries along with the past instability and future prospects would all in due consideration by the two Prime Ministers.

    For more information, see: “PM Deuba set to visit India from Aug 23”, The Kathmandu Post

    Pakistan

    Shahid Abbasi, new PM

    Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi swore in his new cabinet on 3 August after the ouster of Nawaz Sharif. The cabinet reshuffle is an attempt to bolster support ahead of general election which are to take place in 2018. The cabinet has almost doubled in size, to 47 members. Ishaq Dar, the finance minister, returns in the same role, despite a criminal investigation ordered against him by the Supreme Court. Another staunch Sharif ally, Khawaja Asif, is to be Foreign Minister after having simultaneously run the ministries of defence and power.

    For more information, see: “Pakistan’s new PM Shahid Khawan Abbasi forms cabinet with an eye to 2018 polls”, The Indian Express

    China helping on Indus dams

    India’s Minister of State for External Affairs declared on  August 3 that Pakistan was building six dams on the Indus river in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) with Chinese assistance. The government has issued demarches to both Islamabad and Beijing over the constructions stating that it is in violation of India's sovereignty and territorial integrity. V.K Singh, the minister also stated that, “India has a clear and consistent position that these territories are illegally occupied by Pakistan and that any collaborative activity there is in violation of India's sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

    For more information, see: “Pakistan constructing 6 dams in PoK with China’s assistance: Government”, The Times of India

    Imran faces probe?

    A political scandal erupted in Pakistan’s opposition party, when Ayesha Gulalai, a National Assembly member announced her intention to quit Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party alleging that he had sent her obscene text messages and had no respect for women. Pakistan PM Abbasi backed moves to form a parliamentary committee to investigate the matter after a group of legislators raised the allegations in the house.

    For more information, see: “Ayesha Gulalai v Imran Khan: Pakistan weighs probe”, Al Jazeera

    Sri Lanka 

    Polls when due: President

    President Maithiripala Sirisena has reiterated that no one can form a Government ‘without my blessing’. He has also said that attempt to de-stabilise the present Government for National Unity (GNU) will not succeed and general elections will not happen anytime before it’s due in 2020.

    For more information, see: “Nobody can form a new govt. without my blessing: President”, Daily Mirror Online, 31 July 2017; “General elections only in 2020: President”, Daily Mirror Online

     FM told to quit by President?

    President Maithiripala Sirisena has reportedly asked External Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake to resign pending the ongoing investigations into the ‘Central Bank bond scam’ relating to his earlier stint as Finance Minister. However, Minister Karunanyakae denied such reports, claiming that neither President Sirisena, nor Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has advised him likewise.

    For more information, see: “Resign, President tells Ravi”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 August 2017; “Ravi denies pressure from President, PM to resign”, The Island

    Debt-free soon: PM

    In an obvious reference to the revised Hambantota port deals with China, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the nation will soon become a ‘debt-free’ State. However, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that the huge funds made available from China will go to meet the Government’s regular expenses, and not to repay loans or development funding.

    For more information, see: “Stage set for SL to be a debt free State: PM”, Daily Mirror Online

    Bibliography

    Primary Documentation

    Nepal

    Press Release issued by Permanent Mission of Nepal, New York regarding Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Nepal and Cabo Verde”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 4 August 2017

    Afghanistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Krishnadev Calamur, “Is Trump right about Afghanistan”, The Atlantic,

    Sune Engel Rasmussen, “The war America cant win: how the Taliban are regaining control in Afghanistan”, The Guardian, 3 August 2017

    Bangladesh

    Opinion Pieces

    Mahfuz Anam, “Take the SC's comments to heart”, The Daily Star, 3 August 2017

    Meraz Mostafa, “An alternative energy future for Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 1 August 2017

    Bhutan

    Editorials

    The GST Challenge”, The Bhutanese, 29 July 2017

    India

    Harsh V. Pant, The Manilla envelope , The Hindu, 1 August 2017

    C Raja Mohan, Mind the power gap, The Indian Express, 2 August 2017

    Maldives

    Opinion Pieces

    Azra Naseem, “An examined life: Yameen Rasheed”, Maldives Independent, 2 August 2017

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Has western democracy failed Maldives?”, www.orfonline.org, 29 July 2017

    Myanmar

    Joe Kumbun, “Will the Myanmar Army wipe out ethnic armed groups?”, The Irrawaddy, 4 August 2017

    Nepal

    Opinion Pieces

    Achyut Wagle, “Clash of giants”, The Kathmandu Post, 2 August, 2017

    Anil Giri, “Top Indian and Chinese officials arriving”, The Kathmandu Post, 1 August, 2017

    Narayan Silwal, “GST and Nepal”, Republica, 3 August, 2017

    Meena Bhatta, “Making it work”, Republica, 1 August, 2017

    Editorials

    Defending digital frontier”, The Kathmandu Post, 28 July 2017

     “Time and space”, Republica, 23 July 2017

    Pakistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Asha’ar Rehman, “Accomplices, again”, Dawn, 4 August 2017

    Aqil Shah, “Pakistan’s court sets a dangerous precedent”, The New York Times, 28 July 2017

    Jyoti Malhotra, “In Pakistan, pure misogyny or pure politics?”, The Indian Express, 3 August 2017

    Sri Lanka

    Opinion Pieces

    Ranjan Philips, “Hoisted in a Penthouse: Forty years of Open Sesame”, The Island, 5 August 2017

    Ameen Izzadeen, “Hambantota can become Shanghai if security concerns are handled diligently”, Daily Mirror Online, 4 August 2017

    M S M Ayub, “An indefinite strike definitely doomed to fail”, Daily Mirror Online, 4 August 2017

    Kusal Perera, “Do we have to celebrate these 40 years?”, Daily Mirror Online, 4 August 2017

    Malinda Seneviratne, “The fault is in the constellations, not the stars”, Daily Mirror Online, 3 August 2017

    Neville Laduwahetty, “A Special Rapporteur’s visit”, The Island, 2 August 2017

    Jehan Perera, “Overcome danger of open ended postponement of elections”, The Island, 2 August 2017

    Gomin Dayasiri, “MR-RW confrontation in 2020 will do neither any good”, Daily Mirror Online, 2 August 2017

    Ranga Jayasuriya, “Ravi K and the Penthouse: The acid test for Yahapalana integrity”, Daily Mirror Online, 1 August 2017

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “For peaceful fishing in Palk Bay”, The Sunday Leader, 30 August 2017

    Interviews

    Ariyananda Dombagahawatte, “‘Majority SLFP MPs would remain with Government’”, Daily Mirror Online, 3 August 2017

    Kelum Bandara, “President should form new Govt: Dayasiri”, Daily Mirror Online, 1 August 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: Sohini Nayak

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