South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. XI Issue 7

     SAW, South Asia, South Asia Weekly, Bangladesh, Zia, Awami, EIU, OIC, Khaldea, Myanmar

    Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh

    Analysis 

    Bangladesh: Poll time government, an assessment

    Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

    Ending speculations, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently said that the next round of parliamentary elections would take place under the present, elected government. Sheikh Hasina further added that a much smaller cabinet, with a limited jurisdiction and powers, would be in place, primarily to help the election commission in conducting the polls.  This statement has raised concerns about the future of politics and about the future of elections in the country scheduled for December this year.

    Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been demanding that the 11th parliamentary election be conducted under a non-partisan government to ensure impartiality. The BNP strongly recommended dissolution of the parliament prior to the election and the deployment of the army for maintaining neutrality.  Prime Minister Hasina’s statement has put an existential challenge to the BNP. The party runs the risk of losing its registration as a political party if it refrains from the elections, for a second time in a row, after boycotting the previous, 10th general elections for the same reason.  Complexity has increased further as the BNP chief and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia was arrested this week following a court verdict finding her guilty of corruption and sentenced her to five years jail.

    A day before her arrest, Begum Zia asked her party cadres to stage a protest in a peaceful and democratic way.  However, there are doubts about the impact of the protests. Normally, for political parties in Bangladesh, street protests have been the popular alternative to press for their demand.  Recent trends, however, suggest that this method is no more effective. Earlier attempts by the BNP to organise street protests did not yield the desired outcomes. The people of the country dislike this kind of pressure tactics of the political parties since they are the biggest victims. It will be worth to watch the tactics of the BNP in dealing with the situation.

    Poll-time government

    The nature of poll-time government has been at the centre of the political debates in the country. There have been instances when the government had to resign on this issue. In 1996, the government of Begum Zia had to resign as the rival Awami League launched a country-wide agitation, demanding the constitution of a non-partisan caretaker government for conducting elections. The sole purpose of this government was to conduct the election. Usually, the caretaker government is formed after the dissolution of the parliament. The practice was also to nominate a retired chief justice of the Supreme Court to head the caretaker government.

    Two consecutive elections were held under the supervision of the caretaker government -- 1996 and 2001. And these elections were considered free and fair. The system came under scrutiny after a gross irregularity was discovered concerning the formation of the caretaker government prior to the parliamentary elections in January 2007. This election was cancelled and emergency slapped due to the controversies surrounding neutrality of the caretaker government.  The Awami League government abolished the system by amending the constitution in 2011.

    Interestingly, the BNP demanded the reintroduction of the caretaker government system during the 2014 parliamentary election. In the run-up to the polls, the country witnessed a series of political violence, largely over the issue.  To deter the Awami League, then again in power, from holding the election under its government, the BNP boycotted the election.  This challenged the credibility of the elections.

    Recently, the democracy-ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) placed Bangladesh into the category of a hybrid regime, which refers to countries where elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being free and fair.  Although the legitimacy of the 2014 elections were not questioned since it was held according to the amendment of the constitution that empowered the incumbent elected government to retain office even during the parliamentary election. However, doubts were expressed about the impartiality of the election.

    Credible elections will be important for strengthening the democracy in the country and the participation of all the political parties is important. The future of the democracy lies in the hand of the political parties and they need to chart out the future of politics in the country to help embolden the democracy.

    The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi


    India: ‘De-hyphenated’ strategic move in West Asia

    Ketan Mehta

    Despite being a troubled and divided zone since the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’, the strategic significance of West Asia for India has not declined. In fact, since taking over office in 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis in reaching out to the region differentiates him from his predecessors. In August 2015, Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the United Arab Emirate (UAE) after a gap of 34 years.

    Seen as a departure-move, Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to commence an official state visit to Israel in 2017 and the West Bank in 2018. Recently, Modi embarked on a three-nation tour to West Asia from  9-12 February. While these state visits are subject to various interpretations, not much attention has been paid to the same in the context of what B Bhaskar (Joint Secretary for West Asia) calls the ‘de-hyphenation policy’.

    A reflection of this policy was evident in the aftermath of India’s vote in favour of the US resolution in the UN that sought to oppose the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  India’s move to not recognize the contested territory of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was lampooned by few in the domestic constituency. A part of the Indian strategic community firmly believes that India’s interests are better served by Israel rather than the Gulf states.

    Independent of constraints

    However, the current BJP-led government contends that India’s foreign policy should function independent of such constraints. It is argued that India has the agency to pursue independent relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Iran and Israel. This implies that Delhi’s remains unaffected by the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli rivalry or the sectarian divisions plaguing the region that has the potential of dividing the Indian electorate. The catch phrase in the de-hyphenation discourse is that of ‘strategic autonomy’ and that India has the right to exercise it.

    The roots of the de-hyphenation policy lie in the second BJP-led NDA government (1999-2004) under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The need to re-examine India’s West Asia engagement emanated from then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh‘s observation that India’s interest had fallen victim to ‘vote-bank’ politics nearer home. It was during this period that India not only strengthened ties with Israel but also with other regional actors like the Syria, towards which Israel has long-standing animosity that continues to date.

    India’s interests in the region are not limited to energy ties, Diaspora remittances and much more. India’s out-reach to the region should in part aim at limiting the influence of its arch rival, Pakistan, which continues to condemn India using the forum of Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC).

    Comprehensive partnership

    India’s relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran have not only evolved but have become eminent as a result. New Delhi established a comprehensive strategic partnership with the UAE in 2015. The UAE has also set aside $75-b worth fund to be invested in India’s infrastructure sector. A one-day air combat exercise, ‘Desert Eagle II’, was held in May-June 2016 between the air forces of the two sides. In a bilateral agreement signed on 18 January 2017, India is also to offer cooperation on maritime training and education as well.

    India and Saudi Arabia are already exploring the possibility of greater defence cooperation. While in Iran, the operationalisation of the Chabahar port has equipped India to augment trade and commerce with the rest of the region, including Afghanistan, its South Asian security partner. At the same time, ties with Israel have reached new heights as India not only eyes advanced weaponry from the former but has invited Israeli expertise in the flagship ‘smart cities’ initiative and the agriculture sector. This implies that India no longer remains an insignificant actor in the West Asian neighbourhood. In fact, India’s policy of de-hyphenation allows it to project both hard and soft power to safeguard its interest in the region.

    That said, it can be argued that India will continue to bolster ties with the Arab states that are intrinsic in its economic growth and development. India continues to depend on the GCC member states for meeting its energy needs and the welfare of the Diaspora that contributes 50 per cent of the total remittances received by India. In 2011-12, the share of remittances was 3.9 per cent in India’s GDP. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain host a large Indian work-force, making it imperative for New Delhi and the said countries to maintain good working relations. Thus in order of priorities, though India is closer to Israel as well as Iran, it will be more inclined to continue strengthening ties with the GCC member-states as well.

    The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi


    Country Reports

    Afghanistan

    India’s investment

    The Cricket Board of Afghanistan, the Afghan government and the Indian embassy in Kabul have signed a tri-lateral agreement to promote cricket in the country. India has promised to invest $ 1.765 million to develop the sport in the three provinces of Balkh, Kandahar and Logar. This comes as the Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Manpreet Vohra, signed a Memorandums of Understandings with different government institutions of Afghanistan, promising $ 31 million to execute 108 projects around the country.

    Sanctions against shelter

    Former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has urged the US to impose sanctions on Pakistan’s military and intelligence, the two institutions he believes are harbouring Talibans. He also pointedly mentioned that the citizens of Pakistan should not be negatively affected because of these sanctions. US has also recently criticized Pakistan for sheltering terrorists, despite receiving billions to support counter-terrorism operations. Pakistan however, has denied any such allegation from US and Afghanistan, of providing safe havens to terrorists in its soil.

    Bangladesh

    Khaleda arrested

    In a major development, opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia was arrested this week after a Dhaka court pronounced five-year-jail in a corruption case. The Anti-Corruption Commission filed the case during the rule of military back caretaker government in 2007-08. Reacting to the verdict, the government observed that it proves rule of law in the country. However, the opposition is alleging the verdict to be politically motivated aiming to keep Begum Zia out of the politics.  Meanwhile, her son Tarique Rahman has been declared to lead the party in her absence.

    India’s praise

    Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh was all in praise for Bangladesh during his visit to the border state of Tripura. The Indian minister said that that the insurgency in Tripura was checked due to help from Bangladesh.  He informed that many insurgents from North-East India, including Tripura, had their hideouts in Bangladesh and the government of Bangladesh has wiped them out. Tripura, bordering Bangladesh, was suffering from the insurgency. Due to its close proximity to the country, insurgent groups from Tripura often established camps in Bangladesh. Following cooperation from Bangladesh, the state is experiencing relative peace.

    Bhutan

    Bar on campaign

    Beginning 15 February,  political parties will be restricted from familiarisation tours and constituency visits in view of the upcoming National Council elections. The elections period for the National Council will be held from February to May and from August to October for the National Assembly elections.

    No job-creation, say Opposition

    The opposition party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), said on 7 February  that the People’s Democratic Party led government during its tenure did not start any income and employment oriented projects in the country. The projects, the DPT leaders alleged were high on expenses and low on revenue.

    PM lauds foreign ministry

    Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay has lauded the foreign ministry for performing beyond its annual performance agreement (APA). The establishment of the consulate office in India’s North-Eastern city of Guwahati was a major achievement beyond the APA, Togbay remarked.

    India

    PM visits Palestine

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Palestine, when he landed in Ramallah in the West Bank, and was received by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Narendra Modi began his three-nation West Asia tour on 9 February, with a stop-over in Jordan, Amman, where he met King Abdullah II. In Ramallah, Modi and Abbas will bilateral issues and the Israeli-Palestine peace process.

    Congress alleges scam in Rafale deal

    Leader of the Congress Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, has alleged that there was a big scam in the Rafale fighter deal with France. Speaking in Parliament, Sharma said the price at which the planes were negotiated were four times higher and benefitted private firms. He added that without the confidence of the Defence Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), Prime Minister Narendra Modi had clinched the deal during his visit to France in 2015.

    LS by-polls on March 11

    Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh will go for by-elections on 11 March. The upcoming by-polls are considered as litmus test for the BJP. Gorakhpur MP, UP chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Keshav Prasad Maurya, deputy CM continued to retain their Lok Sabha seats till September 21 last year. However, taking oath for their current positions they are obliged to be a part of the state legislatures.

    IAF officer ‘honey-trapped

    Grp Capt. Arun Marwaha of the India Air Force has been booked by the Delhi Police for leaking sensitive information to Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI. It was found IAF Grp Capt Marwaha was honey trapped using two Facebook profiles.

    Maldives  

    Yameen thanks ‘friends’

    At his PPM party rally in capital Male, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen thanked ‘friends’ in China, Saudi Arabia and Russia, for making sure that his nation did not come on the ‘agenda’ of the UN Security Council, at the instance of the US, rest of the West and reportedly India, too. Without naming self-exiled former President, Mohammed Nasheed, Yameen also demanded a ‘public apology’ for demanding foreign military presence in the country.

    Envoys to neighbourhood

    After the arrest of two of the five Judges, including the Chief Justice, on charges of corruption and coup-conspiracy, with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and the subsequent truncated Supreme Court’s cancellation the earlier omnibus freedom order for all nine ‘political prisoners’, including former President Mohammed Nasheed, President Yameen despatched special envoys to friendly nations like Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia. His Government also claimed that Foreign Minister Mohamad Asim was to go to New Delhi first, but owing to ‘scheduling problems’ caused by overseas travel of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, India had ‘cancelled’ the same.

    Myanmar

    UN takes up Rakhine crisis

    The UN Security Council has been urged to consider and discuss Rohingyas issue by Britain, France, the United States and five other countries. The council will hold a meeting on February 13 to hear UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi report on the crisis sparked by an army crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state in August.

    MoU with S Korea

    South Korea is eyeing expansion opportunities in manufacturing and infrastructure in Myanmar. Its recent addition has been the signing of MoU to build a logistics hub of international standard in Yangon. The hub will help reduce the supply chain cost for export and imports. After this current trade promotion project is completed, market conditions for the export of agricultural produce and other fishery products are expected to improve, which will boost the export sector, maintain quality standards and reduce costs

    Indian investment in health

    Improvement in healthcare facilities for citizens of Myanmar and providing affordable world class medical care to all the people of Myanmar is one priority of the Government of Myanmar. In this regard, Indian Exim Bank plans to invest in Myanmar’s healthcare sector. It brought a delegation comprising of leading Indian private sector hospitals, pathology labs, medical equipment and devices manufacturers, and hospital management companies to Myanmar on February 5 under its Market Outreach Programme Initiative (EMOP).

    Nepal

    Deuba to step down ‘soon’

    In the last few months, Nepal has been witnessing remarkable transitions in its political front, paving the way for articulating the new government. In this scenario, the present Prime Minister of the country, Sher Bahadur Deuba will step down in the next few days as speculations of the Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli government commencing from 19 February is high. Criticisms have also been levelled against Deuba for clinging to power even after widespread defeat in the Parliamentary and Provincial Assembly elections.

    ‘Neighbourhood first’

    The role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the country has been specifically stressed by a team of High Level Task Force experts highlighting national security and foreign policy. With emphasis on the ‘Neighbourhood first’ policy and the promotion of diplomatic missions, primarily to India and China, inter-country negotiation is now being viewed from a different perspective altogether. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has also expressed his compliance with the report, holding himself the Portfolio of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The entire idea aims at raising a tide of mobilization on part of the government and the Private sector along with the neighbours and stakeholders.

    Mammoth fire in Gulmi

    The Siddeshwar Community Forest in the Gulmi district of Nepal has been endangered with raging fire that could not be brought under control even with the engagement of the Army and Security Force. Surrounded with a difficult terrain, the village settlement has been threatened and requires better disaster management facilities.

    Pakistan

    Will not compromise on ‘national interest’, says army chief

    Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa declared after meeting with top commanders of the country that Pakistan will not compromise on its national interest. The Army Chief clarified that Pakistan will co-operate with other international and regional stakeholders for maintaining international peace and security.  In the meeting Afghanistan and India were held as primary security threats to the country and the military has vowed to consolidate the gains of years of counter-terrorism measures. These statements come after the commanders reviewed the regional geostrategic environment in context of United States and related policies.

    Confusion over disqualification

    A five-member Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar had issued a notice of disqualification under Article 62 of Pakistani constitution to the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over his involvement in Panama Papers. In his reply to the court notice the former PM Nawaz Sharif has contended that disqualification under Article 62 was confined only to the election in question and was not perpetual. The statement further argued Sharif cannot be disqualified from later elections based on current interpretation of the article. The apex court being unconvinced has stated that the Elections Reforms Act of 2017 which paved way for Sharif to become the head of PML shall be scrutinized to decide its legality under the constitution.

    Kashmir ‘solidarity day’  

    On February 5, Pakistan observed Kashmir solidarity day in support of ‘Kashmir struggle for self-determination’. Officials stated that the day is observed to demonstrate that Pakistani and Kashmiri hearts throb in unison. People from ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ also observed the day and a joint session of AJK Legislative Assembly and Kashmir Council was held. PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif were also present at the event to show their solidarity. Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan, Muhammad Barjees Tahir declared that Pakistan will continue its diplomatic, morale and economic support to Kashmiri freedom struggle.

    Sri Lanka

    Rajapaksa’s party sweeps LG polls

    The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), identified with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa swept the much-delayed, nation-wide local government polls in the Sinhala South while the entrenched TNA retained its hold over the Tamil areas in the North and the East. This could lead to greater strain on the ‘national unity government’ of President Maithiripala Sirisena’s SLFP and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP, which had contested the polls separately, what with their public display of dissension coming on in public display for close to a year now. Rajapaksa has since expressed ‘willingness’ to head the SLFP, of which he is still an MP, while pressure might now resurface for Wickremesinghe to make way for another leader to head the UNP.

    Bibliography

    Afghanistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Rod Norland and Fahim Abed, “Most Afghans Can’t Read, but Their Book Trade Is Booming”, The New York Times, 3 February 2018

    Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, “Saudi Who Attended Qaeda Camp Is Arrested in Oklahoma”, The New York Times, 6 February 2018

    Editorials

    Afghanistan Times, “Mineral Resources”, 8 February 2018

    Afghanistan Times, “Once again US B-52”, 7 February 2018

    Bangladesh

    Opinion Pieces

    Mostafiz Uddin, “Branding Bangladesh: How to deliver a promise”, The Daily Star, 7 February 2018

    James Jay Carafano Jeff Smith, “How Bangladesh Can Improve Indian Ocean Security”, The National Interest, 3 February 2018

    Bhutan

    Opinion Pieces

    Sonam Dorji, “National Income & Wealth – What is the right model of distribution?”, Kuensel, 3 February 2018

    Editorials

    The Bhutanese, “Mindset Change towards the Private Sector”, 3 February 2018

    India

    Opinion Pieces

    Satish Kumar, “India-ASEAN’s new Asian orderThe Pioneer, 10 February 2018

    Zorawar Daulet Singh,“Call to democracy”, The Hindu,  8 February 2018

    Mani Shankar Aiyar, “Modi Will Look To Distance Himself From Rajasthan Rout”, NDTV, 3 February 2018

    Maldives 

    Opinion Pieces

    Rajesh Rajagopalan, “A realist Indian strategy for Maldives and South Asia”, www.orfonline.org, 9 February 2018

    Priya Pillai, “International law does not allow India to intervene in the Maldives”, The Wire, 9 February 2018

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives crisis: What is wrong with India?”, www.outloookindia.com, 9 February 2018

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Nasheed’s military request, bad diplomacy for India?”, www.orfonline.org, 9 February 2018

    Harsh V Pant, “Trouble in the Paradise: How India can respond to crisis in Maldives”, The Diplomat, 7 February 2018

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Emergency in Maldives: Options before President Yameen and India”, www.orfonline.org, 6 February 2018

    Ravi Joshi, “Is Maldives heading for emergency?”, www.orfonline.org, 5 February 2018

    Myanmar

    Opinion Pieces

    Matthew Pennington, “Myanmar’s place at Cobra Gold draws ire”, The Myanmar Times, 9 February 2018

    Editorials

    The Myanmar Times, “Editorial: Surakiart panel has tough task in Myanmar”, 7 February 2018

    The Irrawaddy, “Wary of China’s Foothold, Japan Urges India to Help Myanmar”, 5 February 2018

    Nepal

    Opinion Pieces

    Anil Giri, “Oli’s foreign policy dilemma”, The Kathmandu Post, 9 February 2018

    Bhairab Raj Kaini, “What ails our projects?,Republica, 8 February 2018

    Pratigya Adhikari, “Digital economy”, The Himalayan Times, 8 February 2018

    Editorials

    Republica, “Looking ahead”, 8 February 2018

    The Kathmandu Post, “Mending fences”, 1 February 2018

    Pakistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Khaleeq Kiani, “Chinese bidders fight over Quetta safe city project”, Dawn, 5 February 2018

    Touqir Hussain, “Not just Trump”, Dawn, 6 February 2018

    Editorials

    Dawn,Indian budget”, 5 February 2018

    The Express Tribune,Getting the numbers right”, 7 February 2018

    Sri Lanka

    Opinion Pieces

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “To bell the cat, or toll the bell?”, The Sunday Leader, 11 February 2018

    Kusal Perera, “Voting tomorrow: SL will remain SL...”,Daily Mirror Online, 9 February 2018

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sri Lanka’s cup of woes overflows as national politicians slug it out in local elections”, The Print, 9 February 2018

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “New law puts Indian fishers in deeper trouble”, www.orfonline.org, 6 February 2018

    Jehan Perera, “How to celebrate 71st year of our independence with national unity”, The Island, 6 February 2018

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “From sovereignty to subordinate legislation”, The Island, 4 February 2018 


    Contributors

    Afghanistan: Sohini Bose

    Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

    Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

    India: Ketan Mehta

    Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

    Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

    Nepal: Sohini Nayak

    Pakistan: Mayuri Banerjee

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