South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. X Issue 39

     Rohingya, SAW, South Asia, Myanmar, Rakhine, Afghanistan, Bangladesh

    Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

    Country Reports

    Afghanistan

    Ghani meets Trump

    President Ashraf Ghani and US counterpart Donald Trump met for the first time on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 21. Addressing the General Assembly, Ghani said that the new US administration’s policy in Afghanistan would be successful because of the strengthening of the Afghan army, lauding President Trump for sending more troops to the country. In their bilateral meeting, Trump praised the Afghans efforts to combat the Taliban, with Ghani reassuring him that Afghans were not asking for a “blank check”.

    For more information, see: “Afghan president says Trump war plan has better chance than Obamas”, Reuters, 20 September 2017, “In meeting with Ghani, Trump praises partnership, combat efforts in Afghanistan”, RFE/RL

    New US ambassador

    The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has appointed John Bass, a veteran diplomat, as the new ambassador to Afghanistan. During his address to the Senate, Bass said that his top priority would be to improve ties between the Pakistan and Afghanistan governments. He also added that that “we have to make clear to the Taliban that they can’t outlast us on the battlefield and that the only path forward for them is through negotiated political settlement”.

    For more information, see: “US Senate panel approves new ambassador to Kabul”, Tolo News

    Bangladesh

    Call for ‘Rohingya issue’

    Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her address at the 72nd UN General Assembly in New York urged the UN and the international community to take effective steps for the permanent solution of the Rohingya problem. A large section of Rohingyas, a religious and ethnic community of Myanamar, fled to Bangladesh due to outbreak of violence there. Bangladesh claimed to have received 400000 of Rohingyas since August this year.

    For more information see:  “Act right now for permanent solution to Rohingya refugee crisis: Hasina to UN”, The Daily Star, 22 September 2017; “Force Myanmar to take back Rohingyas”, The Daily Star

    India tie-up in Russia n-plant

    India is going to collaborate with Russia on the Rooppur nuclear power plant project in Bangladesh. This will be the first Indo-Russian collaboration to undertake an atomic energy venture in a third country. This will also be India’s first atomic energy venture abroad.

    For more information, see: “India to collaborate with Russia in Bangladesh’s nuclear plant project”, Dhaka Tribune

    Bhutan

    GST hits imports

    The Association of Bhutanese Industries have written to the Prime Minister and the Department of Trade saying that the Jaigaon Customs has informed them it will be unable to upload the manually-filed July GST bills on time to the online GST system in neighbouring India.

    For more information see: “Inability of Jaigaon’s Custom office to upload GST claims on time may hit Bhutanese imports”, The Bhutanese

    Korea ties fete

    To celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and Bhutan, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Dhaka, Bangladesh, will be organising several Korean cultural events from September 21 to October 2.

    For more information, see: “Cultural events to mark 30 years of Bhutan-Korea relations”, Kuensel

    Hotel associations join hands

    To encourage cross-border tourism and to foster the development of hospitality industry, the Hotel and Restaurant Associations of Bhutan (HRAB), Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India and Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at Bengaluru in India on September 15.

    For more information, see: “Hotel associations sign MoU to enhance cooperation”, Kuensel,

    India

    SCO should strengthen coordination on terror: Sushma

    The eight members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) should strengthen coordination against terrorism and build it into its framework, India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has said. Speaking at the ministerial meeting of the SCO on Wednesday, the minister strongly condemned terrorism and said an anti-terrorism structure should be a part of the orrganisation.

    For more information, see: “Build anti-terrorism into Shanghai Cooperation Organisation framework: Sushma”, Indian Express

    Sonia for women’s quota bill

    The highly-debated issue of 33 per cent reservation for women in legaislative bodies received a shot in the arm on Thursday when Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to ensure the expeditious passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha. In a letter addressed to the PM, Sonia requested him to "take advantage" of the BJP's majority in the lower house of Parliament to get the 21-year-old bill passed.

    For more information, see: “Sonia Gandhi writes to PM Modi on getting Women's Reservation Bill passed”, Times of India

    Deport Rohingyas: Rajnath

    Home Minister Rajnath Singh today reiterated that Rohingya Muslims living in India are not refugees but illegal immigrants from Myanmar, and that objections to deport them are baseless since Myanmar has expressed its willingness to take them back. “They have not come here after following proper procedures. No Rohingya has applied for asylum. They are illegal immigrants," said the minister of the nearly 40,000 people who the Centre has said it will remove from India, provoking international criticism.

    For more information, see: “Why not deport Rohingya, Myanmar will Accept them: Home minister Rajnath Singh”, NDTV

    No on ‘disqualification’

    The central government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that lawmakers convicted in any criminal case would not stand automatically disqualified. It said that such lawmakers should get a chance to contest their conviction and get a stay on it. Several lawmakers were forced to vacate their seats after they were convicted by lower courts soon after the top court ruled in 2013 in the Lily Thomas case that conviction would entail automatic disqualification. Before the 2013 ruling, elected lawmakers could continue even after conviction pending a hearing on their appeal. However, some lawmakers have since stubbornly refused to vacate their seats after conviction.

    For more information, see: “No automatic disqualification for convicted lawmakers: Government tells Supreme Court”, Times of India

    Maldives 

    Right to Protect: Flak over UN abstention

    The Opposition in the country has criticised the Yameen Government for supporting the cause of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and at the same time abstaining from a UN vote to extent the 2005 UN Convention on ‘Right to Protect’ to this specific case, allegedly at the instance of China. However, the Government sought to explain away the criticism saying the vote was over a procedural matter per se and not relating to the Rohingya Muslims.

    For more information, see: “Maldives absence from UN vote on mass atrocities draws fierce criticism”, Maldives Independent, 18 September 2017; “President appeals to put in extra effort to revive Religious Spirit in the hearts of Maldivians”, Miadhu

    Nasheed, a ‘fugitive’

    Reiterating the previous week’s assertion that he would have former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed returned home (to serve out the pending prison-term and face fresh charges for ‘jumping jail’) if asked by his Government, Maldives Ambassador-designate to Sri Lanka, Hussain Shareef ‘Mundhu’ has pooh-poohed foreign media criticism in the matter, stating that Nasheed was a ‘fugitive from the nation’s laws’.

    For more information, see: “Ambassador to Sri Lanka stands by threat to detain Nasheed”, Maldives Independent, 18 September 2017; “AP leader Imran changed to house arrest!”, Miadhu

    Myanmar 

    India considering arm supplies

    India is considering supplying arms to Myanmar’s government in a sign of strong support for a neighbour that faces criticism for its crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. The arms were discussed during a visit by the chief of Burma’s navy, Indian officials said on September 21.

    For more information see: “India presses on with defence supplies for Burma in show of support”, DVB

    Ending ‘collateral-damage’

    Vice president, Henry Von Thio, told the UN General Assembly on September 20, that security forces in his country’s Rakhine State, from which hundreds of thousands of people have recently fled, have been instructed to take “full measures” to avoid collateral damage and harming innocent civilians.

    For more information, see: “Myanmar Says Security Forces Told to Avoid Collateral Damage in Rakhine”, The Irrawaddy, 21 September 2017

    Blasts in Rakhine

    Three explosive devices went off beside a road connecting the towns of Minbya and Mrauk U in Arakan State on September 19, damaging an express bus and a truck but leaving no casualties.

    For more information see: “Bomb blasts damage vehicles along Minbya-Mrauk U road”, DVB, 20 September 2017; “Explosion at madrasa in Rakhine”, Eleven

    Nepal

    Strengthening SAARC

    Prime Minister Sher Bhadur Deuba has portrayed a very up-and-doing image by engaging in collegial meetings with his SAARC counterparts in New York. The primary idea was to bring about a sense of connectivity and cooperation among the countries that would suit their mutual interests. Bilateral and multilateral engagements have become a primary part of each country’s foreign policy and Nepal is also not lagging behind with its new Constitution and further policy formulation.

    For more information, see: “PM Deuba holds meeting with various heads of state, govts”, The Kathmandu Post, 22 September 2017; “Nepal’s constitution harbinger of new era of peace, stability, development: PM Deuba”, The Himalayan Times

    Nuclear arms pact signed

    Nepal has formally inducted itself as a state party to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The formal ceremony was held at the UN Headquarters in New York and was signed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Krishna Bahadur Mahara. The underscore of the event was to promote regional and world peace and stability along with further cooperative measurements. Technology transfer and scope of investment in International trade also deserve special mention here.

    For more information, see: “Nepal agrees to prohibit nuclear weapons”, Republica

    Highway talks

    There has been a lot of discussion and deliberation on the Kathmandu – Tarai Expressway project with the Parliamentary Development Committee asking the government to decide at the earliest whether it would buy Detailed Project Report (DPR) prepared by an Indian consortium led by Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS). The 76 Kilometers long expressway also involves the Nepal Army as the chief executer.

    For more information, see: “Take decision on DPR purchase at the earliest, house panel tells govt”, Republica

    Pakistan

    Sharif’s party wins bypoll

    In what was a major test for Nawaz Sharif and his family, polling in Sharif’s parliament seat, NA-120, concluded on 17 September with Sharif’s PML-N winning the by election. Kulsoom Sharif, the former prime minister’s wife, secured majority of the votes, ahead of the PTI candidate. The NA-120 by-election was widely seen as a litmus test for both PML-N and PTI in the run-up to the 2018 general elections.

    For more information, see: “Pakistan’s Sharif faces key by-poll after dismissal”, Al Jazeera

    Short-range n-weapons

    Pakistan has announced that it has developed short-range nuclear weapons to counter India’s Cold Start doctrine. Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi speaking at in the US said that, “we have a very robust and secure command-and-control system over our strategic nuclear assets. Time has proved that it's a process that is very secure. It's a process that has complete civilian oversight through the Nuclear Command Authority.” Abbasi added that while Pakistan have no tactical nuclear weapons, the short range weapons are to counter India.

    For more information, see: “Pakistan’s short-range nuclear weapons to counter India’s ‘Cold Start doctrine” Abbasi”, The Times of India

    Brick-bats & bouquets 

    Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi addressed the UNGA on  September 21, discussing the “legitimate struggle for self-determination” of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Abbasi who addressed the international community for the first time demanded an international investigation into India’s crimes in Kashmir accusing New Delhi of “state-sponsored terrorism”. The prime minister also spoke warmly of China, stating that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor would be a big boost to Pakistan’s economy.

    For more information, see: “Pakistan keeps it predictable at the UN: hostility for India, love for China”, Quartz

    Sri Lanka 

    New Govt structure

    The Steering Committee on a new Constitution has proposed a new, three-tier Government structure, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, presenting the panel’s interim report to the Constitutional Assembly Parliament. He said the nation’s future depended on the ability of the majority of the UNP-SLFP partners in the incumbent GNU work together in the matter.

    For more information, see: “New Constitution; Steering Committee interim report presented”, Daily Mirror Online, 21 September 2017; “Interim report on new Constitution submitted by PM”, The Island

    UN ready to help: SG

    At their meeting at UN headquarters, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Sri Lankan President Maithiripala Sirisena that his office was ready to help the nation in every possible way in strengthening reconciliation and building prosperity. However, in a separate meeting, UNHRC boss, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussain, while commending the current progress on human rights and reconciliation in the country, asked the Government to speed up the processes.

    For more information, see: “UN ready to provide every possible assistance to SL-UN Chief”, Daily Mirror Online, 23 September 2017; “Speed up the current progress – UNHR Chief to President”, Daily Mirror Online

    Primary Documentation

    Nepal

    Press Release issued by Permanent Mission of Nepal to the United Nations, New York regarding 72nd UNGA (22 Sept. 2017)”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 22 September, 2017

    Press Release issued by Permanent Mission of Nepal, Geneva regarding International Cooperation Agreement between Nepal and CERN”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 19 September, 2017

    State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Government’s efforts with regard to National Reconciliation and Peace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 September 2017

    Sri Lanka

    The Interim Report of the Steering Committee”, The Constitutional Assembly of Sri Lanka, 21 September 2017

    Bibliography

    Afghanistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Ann Jones, “What the US military still doesn’t understand about Afghanistan”, The Nation, 20 September 2017

    Ezzatullah Mehrdad, “Afghanistan mourns honorary grandmother Nancy Hatch Dupree”, Global Voices, 21 September 2017

    Bangladesh

    Opinion Pieces

    Brig-Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, “We never lose friends, we simply learn who the real ones are”, The Daily Star, 21 September 2017

    Sharif Hasan, “The greatest iniquity”, Dhaka Tribune, 22 September 2017

    Bhutan

    Editorials

    GST issues”, The Bhutanese, 16 September 2017

    We are what we watch”, Kuensel, 22 September 2017

    India

    Opinion Pieces

    Julian Lasius, Is Asia-Africa growth corridor the answer to China’s BRI? | ORF, ORF, 20 September 217

    Priyanka Shah, The UHC Trajectory: Ensuring quality health services and financial protection to all, Health News, ET HealthWorld , Healthworld , 21 September 2017

    Myanmar

    Joe Cumbun, “Rakhine State Crisis Hinders Myanmar’s Peace Process”, Irrawaddy, 22 September 2017

    Nepal

    Opinion Pieces

    Biswas Baral, Washington consensus”, Republica, 21 September, 2017

    Jhabindra Bhandari, “Going somewhere”, The Kathmandu Post, 21 September, 2017

    Mahabir Paudyal, “Yes, they can”, Republica, 20 September, 2017

    Editorials

    Republica, “People power”, 19 September, 2017

    The Kathmandu Post, “Falling short”, 22 September, 2017

    Pakistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Bharat Karnad, “Afghanistan, Pakistan and F 16: Mattis has to hardsell these issues on his visit to India”, The Hindustan Times, 21 September 2017

    I.A. Rehman, “Lessons from the by-election”, Dawn, 21 September 2017

    Sri Lanka

    Opinion Pieces

    Anura Gunasekara, “Rajapaksa, Weeratunge, Palpita and the "Sil Redi" Shroud”, The Island, 24 September 2017

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “A Tamil President, now or never?”, The Sunday Leader, 24 September 2017

    Lucien Rajakarunanayake, “The delimitation mockery of democracy”, The Island, 23 September 2017

    Kusal Perera, “Chaos, corruption covered by Sinhala nationalism”, Daily Mirror Online, 22 September 2017

    M S M Ayub, “Hunting for controversies Why oppose PC Elections Bill, 20A?”, Daily Mirror Online, 22 September 2017

    Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, “Constitutional Choices and Tamil politics”, Parts I & II, The Island, 20-21 September 2017

    Neville Ladduwahetty, “Impact of constitutional reforms on territorial integrity”, The Island, 19 September 2017

    Jehan Perera, “The best option for reconciliation is moderation and dialogue”, The Island, 19 September 2017

    Contributors

    Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kriti M Shah

    Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

    Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihiir Bhonsale

    India: Pushan Das

    Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

    Nepal: Sohini Nayak

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