South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. X Issue 46

     SAW, South Asia, November, Afghanistan, Maldives, India, Nepal, Bangladesh

    US Army patrol in Afghanistan

    Country Reports

    Afghanistan

    US to increase troops

    Hundreds of more troops are expected to be deployed to Afghanistan early 2018, according to US officials. With this, the troop numbers in the country are expected to go up to 16,000 US soldiers. At least 15,000 US forces are in Afghanistan, after President Donald Trump decided to send about 3,800 troops to the country this fall to strengthen efforts to advise Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism missions. All those extra troops are already in the country, U.S. defence officials said.

    For more information, see: “US could have almost 16,000 troops in Afghanistan next year”, ABC News

    Militants storm TV station

    Militants stormed a private television station in Kabul on November 7, killing at least one security guard. Dressed in police uniforms, militants entered the Shamshad TV station office, after detonating explosive bombs at the entrance gate. While the siege lasted for more than an hour, no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The gunmen barricaded themselves inside while throwing grenades and rockets.

    For more information, see: “Gunmen storm Shamshad TV in Afghanistan’s Kabul”, Al Jazeera

    Bangladesh

    Connectivity with India expanded

    Increasing further the connectivity with India, a new cross border train service, named Bandhan Express,  connecting Khulna with Kolkata, has been flagged off. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi jointly flagged off the train service via video conferencing. They also inaugurated the end-to-end immigration and customs of the Maitree Express, and also launched train communication on the two newly-built railway bridges -- 2nd Bhairab and 2nd Titas.

    For more information see:  “'Bandhan' between Khulna, Kolkata”, The Daily Star

     'No revenge on Hasina'

    Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia has said that she would not indulge in politics of vengeance despite her political rival, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's “abusive remarks” about her husband, former military dictator Zia-ur Rahman's family members. She made the remarks while defending herself in a corruption case. Bangladesh is famous of its battling begums (leaders of dominant Awami League and BNP) and their vengeances against each other.

    For more information see:  “No revenge on Hasina”, The Daily Star

    Bhutan

    India visit a success

    King Jigme Wangchuck’s visit to New Delhi from October 31 to November 3 was a big success by all standards. It demonstrated a new sense of heightened importance and even sensitivity being given to Bhutan, by the top leadership in New Delhi.

    For more information, see: “A very successful Royal Visit to India”, The Bhutanese

    Concern over trade deficit

    A visiting Bangladesh delegation has agreed to resolve issues related to export of limestone from Bhutan. While Bhutan’s exports to Bangladesh have been increasing rapidly over the years, increase in imports from Bangladesh has been meager. This was highlighted by the Bangladeshi delegation during the third meeting of the joint working group of customs, which was held in Thimpu.

    For more information, see: “Bangladesh seeks to reduce trade deficit with Bhutan”, Kuensel, 8 November 2017; “Exporters can get to market limestone in Bangladesh from December”, Bhutan Broadcasting Service

    India

    China reiterates call to shed objections on CPEC

    China on Wednesday counselled India to shed its objections to the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and take advantage of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). “You and your colleagues have asked this question before and it shows that India is quite wavering on the issue of the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, responding to a question on remarks by the Russian ambassador to India backing a dialogue between New Delhi and Beijing on the BRI.

    For more information, see: “China urges India to join Belt and Road Initiative”,   The Hindu

    IOR stability urged

    Speaking at the inaugural session of second IORA Meeting of Experts for Maritime Safety & Security, foreign secretary S Jaishankar has said India encouraged resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognised principles.

    For more information, see: Eye on China, India urges world for stability in Indian Ocean region”, Times of India

    Smog hits Delhi

    Thick toxic smog enveloped New Delhi for a second straight day Wednesday, forcing schools to shut down, halting traffic on highways and sending residents scurrying to buy air purifiers and filtration masks. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called the capital, home to about 20 million people, a "gas chamber" as his government sought meetings with adjoining States to address the issue

    For more information, see: “Delhi Pollution Off The Charts, Top Doctors Say 'Evacuate' “, NDTV

    Maldives  

    Gayoom spikes Nasheed

    Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has said that it was too early to discuss the idea of an interim candidate of the four-party Joint Opposition (JO), as mooted by his successor, Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, for the presidential polls, due in November next. However, they would continue to work on their commitment to political and constitutional reforms, Gayoom said further.

    For more information, see: “‘Too early’ to discuss interim candidate, says Gayoom”, Maldives Independent, 8 November 2017; “We are working for reform and will not step back : Maumoon”, Miadhu

    US, India discuss turmoil

    In a not-so-common development, Atul Keshap, the US Ambassador for Sri Lanka and Maldives, based in Colombo, met with India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar in New Delhi and discussed the continuing political turmoil in the Indian Ocean archipelags. The discussions also focussed on the growing Islamist radicalism and the influence of Chiense investments in Maldives.

    For more information, see: “US discusses Maldives turmoil with India”, The Hindu, 4 November 2017;  “Sri Lanka aiding opposition coup plots, alleges lawmaker”, Maldives Independent

    Myanmar

    UNSC move ‘dampener’

    The UN Security Council statement on the Rohingya refugee crisis could “seriously harm” its talks with Bangladesh over repatriating more than 600,000 people who have fled there to escape a Burmese military crackdown, Myanmar said.

    For more information, see: “Burma says UN move could harm talks with Bangladesh”, DVB,

    Army clashes with militia

    At least 11 Myanmar Army troops were killed and 14 wounded during a clash with the Arakan Army (AA) in the western township of Paletwa in Chin State, according to military sources in Parliament. Retired Myanmar Army Lt-Gen Thaung Aye, a Lower House lawmaker, confirmed the causalities and injured. Two army officers and nine troops from other ranks died, he said.

    For more information, see: “Tatmadaw Troops Killed and Wounded in Arakan Army Ambush”, The Irrawaddy

    China to talk Myitsone

    China said on November 8 it will continue to talk to Myanmar about a controversial stalled dam project, after  new energy minister cast doubt over the scheme. Valued at $3.6 billion, the Myitsone dam project in northern Myanmar’s Kachin State has been a sticking point between the two countries since the previous military-backed government suspended work in 2011.

    For more information, see: “China says it will keep talking to Burma over stalled Myitsone dam”, DVB

    Nepal

    EU poll panel arrives

    The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) finally begins its orderly process of surveillance of the elections to the House of Representatives and Provincial Assembly. Zeljana Zovko has been delegated as the Chief Observer who pointed out the importance of the entire action as an important stepping stone in the country’s further democratic development. 63 Districts have been included.

    For more information, see: “EU Election Observation Mission launched; 3.5m Euro to be incurred”, Republica

    Law for better hospitals

    The ramification of the Medical Education Ordinance, promulgated by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, brought about a 10-year moratorium on the endowment of new medical colleges within the Kathmandu Valley. Affiliation would be provided to a maximum of five colleges. The idea is to work towards the advancement of better hospital facilities and medical education prospects that will finally achieve the goal of economic prosperity and holistic societal development in the long run.

    For more information, see: “President Bhandari issues Medical Education Ordinance”, Republica, 10 November 2017; “President Bhandari authenticates HPE ordinance”, The Kathmandu Post

    Rail liaison with China

    The Deputy Director of National Railway Administration of the People’s Republic of China visited Kathmandu to deliberate upon the railway network that is under consideration. The underpinning of railway development was observed along with interacting with the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport (MoPIT). Kathmandu-Kerung and Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini route is under consideration.

    For more information, see: “Chinese team to hold railway studies”, The Kathmandu Post

    Pakistan

    Firing along Afghan border

    The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistani army, has said that a sepoy was killed after terrorists opened fire in the country’s north east. The press release said that, the terrorists exploited the absence of Afghan border security in tribal areas, firing on newly constructed Pakistani army posts in Khyber Agency. Five terrorists were reportedly killed in the encounter.

    For more information, see: “Sepoy martyred, 5 terrorists killed in exchange of fire on Pak-Afghan border: ISPR”, Dawn

    Help for Sikh tourists

    Pakistan has declared that it will provide full support to Indian citizens travelling to Pakistan on the occasion of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in 2019. During a meeting with a delegation led by Bharatiya Janata Party National Secretary R.P. Singh, High Commissioner of Pakistan Sohail Mahmood said Pakistan was committed to ensuring smooth pilgrimage for citizens from India.

    For more information, see: “US shares names of 20 terror groups with Pakistan: report”, The Hindu

    Sri Lanka

    President targets bond-scams culprits

    All those involved in the twin bond-scams of February 2015 and March 2016 should be punished, President Maithiripala Sirisena has said, possibly targeting the leadership of the UNP coalition partner of the SLFP that he heads. Declaring that the Government was committed to maximum transparency, the President said that some cronies were attacking him for appointing an inquiry commission to probe the Central Bank bonds scam.

    For more information, see: “Prez reiterates need for punishing bond racketeers”, The Island, 9 November 2017; “President takes on corrupt cronies within”, The Island

    US for ‘enduring reforms’

    Sri Lanka should work towards enduring and sustainable political and constitutional reforms, visiting US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas A Shannon, has said. Nearer home, opinion on war crimes probe and allied issues continue to harden on the Sinhala side even as the Government continued with some positive steps to assuage minority Tamil sentiments on the ground.

    For more information, see: “Reforms should be enduring and sustainable: US Under Sec”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 November 2017; “SLFP for devolving more power to PCs: But executive presidency should remain”, The Island

    India offers petrol

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked to President Maithiripala Sirisena and offered all possible assistance for Sri Lanka tidying up an unexpected nation-wide petrol-supply crisis, caused by the import of sub-standard material, which critics nearer home alleged was caused by Lanka-IOC, a joint venture of the public sector petroleum companies of the two Governments. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe promptly told Parliament that LIOC could not be blamed for the crisis after Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga blamed it for the crisis.

    For more information, see: “Fuel crisis: Modi pledges all possible assistance”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 November 2017; “Cannot blame LIOC for the shortage: PM”, Daily Mirror Online

    ‘Blue-Green’ budget

    Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera presented the Budget for fiscal 2017, beginning January 1, in what he described as a Blue-Green budget using oceanic resources and also removing legal hurdles to further liberalisation. As may be recalled, Blue and Green are the colours of President Maithiripala Sirisena-led SLFP and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP partners in the Government.

    For more information, see: “Mangala presents Blue-Green Budget”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 November 2017; “Tax on several essential items reduced by midnight”, Daily Mirror Online, 8 November 2017; “Mangala: Beer better than sweetened drinks”, The Island 

    Chinese naval ship arrives

    A week after US aircraft-carrier group, led by nuclear-powered USS Nimitz, made a port of call at Colombo, training ship Qi Jiguang of the People Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) of China, which was on a multi-national mission, berthed on way back home. While the US has since gifted a Coast Guard cutter for the Sri Lanka Navy, the Government is negotiating the purchase of a Russian warship, which some say will have dire economic consequences.

    For more information, see: “Chinese naval ship Qi Jiguang arrives in SL”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 November 2017; “Hambantota port joint venture to start on Dec. 08”, Daily Mirror

    Primary Documentation

    Bhutan

    Sixth Bhutan-India Development Cooperation Talks, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 8 November 2017

    Myanmar

    Press statement by the Ministry of the Office of the State Counsellor on UN Security Council Presidential Statement, Ministry of the Office of the State Counsellor, 7 November 2017

    Nepal

    Press Release regarding 5th Meeting of Nepal-India Oversight Mechanism”, Ministry of foreign Affairs Nepal, 8 November 2017

    Press Release issued by Permanent Mission of Nepal, Vienna regarding Seventh Conference of the States Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC)”, Ministry Of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 8 November 2017

    Bibliography

    Afghanistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Kunal Singh, “Decoding India’s policy choices in Afghanistan”, Live Mint, 9 November 2017

    Iftekhar A Khan, “Elusive peace: Fleeting moments”, Geo TV, 8 November 2017

    Bangladesh

    Opinion Pieces

    Joep Janssen, “How Bangladesh is solving its water crisis”, 9 November 2017

    Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, “We have the law, but where is the order?”, 9 November 2017

    Bhutan

    Editorials

    The myth of decentralization”, Kuensel, 4 November 2017

    India

    Ashraf Haidari, Closure of Pak terror sanctuaries key to maritime security in IOR , ORF, 8 November 2017

    Abhijit Singh, Asia’s maritime-quad might prove elusive , Livemint, 9 November 2017

    Myanmar

    Editorials

    Should Trump speak on Rakhine?”, The Irrawaddy, 7 November 2017

    Nepal

    Opinion Pieces

    Vikash Raj Satyal, “Cost of election: Economizing means”, The Himalayan Times, 10 N0ovember 2017

    Biswas Baral, “Climate of uncertainty”, Republica, 9 November 2017

    Editorials

    Republica, “Chokehold”, 9 November 2017

    The Kathmandu Post, “Money for nothing”, 8 November 2017

    Pakistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Owen Bennett-Jones, “Democracy’s path”, Dawn, 9 November 2017

    Khurram Husain, “Keeping out of ME quagmire”, Dawn, 9 November 2017

    Sri Lanka

    Opinion Pieces

    Rajan Philips, “Government juggling from Constitution to budeget to SAITM, people getting furioser and furioser”, The Island, 12 November 2017

    Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, “The Ranil-Mangal budget and why SLFP must reject it”, The Island, 11 November 2017

    Kusal Perera, “Before and after the designer budget”, Daily Mirror Online, 10 November 2017

    M S M Ayub, “What is the significance in LG elections?”, Daily Mirror Online, 10 November 2017

    Prof Rajiv Wijesinha, “Good (de) Grieff: Maithri, Mangala and the two Mahindas”, The Island, 10 November 2017

     Malinda Seveviratne, “Yahapalanaya-muddling rises above shortage – distractions”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 November 2017

    V K Nanayakara, “Inviting failure: Nature of the spatial unit of devolution”, The Island, 9 November 2017

    Biran N Halagode (retd), “Letter from a soldier to the President”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 November 2017

    Interviews

    Kelum Bandara, “President must be elected by Parliament”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 November 2017

    Kelum Bandara, “Sri Lanka is too small to have a federal State”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 November 2017


    Contributors

    Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kriti M Shah

    Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

    Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihiir Bhonsale

    India: Ketan Mehta

    Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

    Nepal: Sohini Nayak

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