- South Asia Weekly
- Jan 04 2016
Bhutan: Fencing to check militancy along India border
Bhutan’s porous border with India’s North-eastern state of Assam would be fenced in the coming months. Indian home ministry has decided to fence a small but vital 37-km stretch on the Assam-West Bengal border to stop anti-India militants from taking refuge in Bhutan.
The increase in the number of strikes by militants along the Indo-Bhutan border left New Delhi grappling with security concerns. While, knee-jerk reactions by India along the Myanmar and Bhutan borders are commonplace in the Indian strategy, a policy shift is needed to stress upon cooperative security.
Security concerns have escalated due to the activities of militant outfits like National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Sangbjit), NDFB(S). In December, last year, the NDFB(S) struck in the Sonitpur district of Assam, killing 83 civillians. Indian security agencies have found NDFB(S), NSCN (K) and ULFA taking shelter in jungles along the 350-km odd, Assam-Bhutan border.
The growing of militancy with the nexus of NDFB(S) and NSCN (K) have carried out a number of strikes in 2015 including an attack on an SSB camp in August near Sonitpur in Assam. The Indian Army launched “Operation All Out” in September to flush out militants hiding in dense jungles of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Successes in halting militancy have been fewer and far in between, for instance, the nabbing of Rabi Basumutary, army chief of NDFB(S) in September from Chirang district of Assam. Construction of border roads on the Indo-Bhutan border like those on Indo-Nepal border are still in the pre-feasibility stage and the fence serves as a contingency measure.
The SSB has also been asked to intensify intelligence operations to foil terror operations by militant outfits. Bhutan has time and again reiterated that, no anti-India activities would be allowed from its soil.
However, an incapacitated army and police force of the Himalayan kingdom have often affected militancy combing operations. There seem no end to New Delhi’s worries on the Bhutan border which has upped the ante against militants.
India has been pushed into a security quagmire especially on the eastern frontier with niggling borders with Bhutan, Nepal, China and Myanmar. Tenuous borders with these nations have posed a serious threat to India’s national security.
Nepal and Bhutan have been conduit of illicit arms, narcotics and counterfeit currency. The rampant small arms smuggling from China and the former’s purported links to anti-India militant outfits, has upped New Delhi’s anxiety on her North-eastern frontier.
The militant attack on an Indian army camp in Manipur in June 2015, killing 18 security men, highlighted the porosity of the Indo-Myanmar border and vulnerability to strikes by militants operating on the Indo-Myanmar border.
India responded curtly by launching a combing operation inside Myanmar’s territory to dismantle rebel camps operating from within Myanmar.
Furthermore, Nepal’s grudges against India stands a chance of paving a gateway for Pakistan and China to India. Bhutan’s unsettled border with China at the Chumbi Valley tri-junction remains a concern from India’s security.
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has remained India’s all weather friend. In 2003, Bhutan had launched Operation All Clear to flush out Bodo militants dismantling 30 militant camps in between December 2003 and January 2004 dismantling some 30 Indian rebel camps.
Royal Bhutan Army’s operation to flush out militants was India’s second such joint operation with a foreign country to fight militancy; the other two operations being with Myanmar. If New Delhi has to fight rebels operating from foreign soil it has to increase border cooperation with Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, China and Myanmar.
Security cooperation with India’s Eastern bloc would involve signing repatriation treaties, joint-border monitoring and sharing of intelligence among many other things. Such, cooperation would help establish peace and security in the region.
Fencing borders and military operations to flush out militancy could be a temporary solution, but in the long run militancy in the region bordering with India can be only found in the cooperative security framework involving equal participation of all stakeholder countries.
(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata)
Bangladesh: Municipal elections and politics
The recently-held municipal election in Bangladesh is a positive development as both Awami League and its rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) participated in it. Out of the 234 mayoral posts, Awami League won 179, while BNP got 23 and others 31 municipalities. Although both sides have expressed doubts about the fairness of the election, still it is welcoming. Considering the present development, the concern is whether will this mark a new chapter for Bangladesh’s politics?
The participation of the BNP in the election emerged as one of the major concern in Bangladesh politics. Especially, after the January 2014 parliamentary election in which the party declined to participate in questioning its impartiality. BNP’s withdrawal from the election left the country into an extraordinary situation, where virtually there is no opposition. For any democracy to succeed presence of opposition in parliament is necessary as policies are debated and formulated there.
Interestingly, instead of waiting for next election, BNP hosted three months long country wide blockade in early 2015 to drive the present Awami League out of power. During these three months, the country saw one of the most brutal political violence in its history that caused more than hundred lives. Economy in the country also suffered significantly due to marathon blockade. Such incidents weaken institutions and democracy. Participation of the political parties has established interest of both the political parties to strengthen democracy.
Bangladesh, described as a ‘basket case’ by US statesman Henry Kissinger soon after Independence, has scaled many heights. It considered as model country for human development, its economy is one of the fastest growing. The country has maintained more than 6 percent growth for a decade. The popular sentiment in Bangladesh is the country can gain many more if its political parties shun the path of violence.
In spite of a confrontational nature of Bangladesh and all the jolts the country’s democracy faced people’s faith in democracy is very strong in that country. Bangladesh was under military rule since 1975 to 1990. Democracy was reintroduced in 1991 after ouster of military ruler HM Ershad by a mass movement. In the last 25 years, the journey democracy was not smooth. It faced turbulence in 2006 as emergency was proclaimed in the country and it remained under a military backed caretaker government for two years. People feel the political parties should work together in strengthening democracy in the country.
The role of political parties became more vital as fear is democracy in the country has never faced more danger than now. Rise in the activities of the radicals are worrying the population of the country and they believe it is challenging democracy because of radicals consistently propagating establishment of the Sariah, which contradicts not only democracy but also core principle of the country. Democracy was one of the major values for which people of Bangladesh fought its independence.
The present crisis is existential for Bangladesh. This testing time demands unity and political parties should be the pioneer. The present development calls for optimism for dawn of new era for Bangladesh politics.
(The writer is a Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)
Tehran backs Taliban talks
Iran’s consular general in Herat has said that Tehran strongly supports any move that would help restart peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Mahmoud Afkhami Rashid said that Iran hoped for positive results from the upcoming peace talks in Islamabad, which can bring an end to the decades of conflict in Afghanistan. He said Iran also supports the upcoming meeting between representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China aimed to broker purposeful peace talks with the Taliban. He said Tehran is also willing to play a role in the talks if Tehran receives such a request from the Afghan officials.
For more information, see: “Tehran Backs Afghan Peace Talks: Iranian Diplomat”, TOLO News, 1 January 2016
Tribal elders from the Shinwari district of eastern Nangarhar province have demanded the government to step up air strikes against Islamic State (IS) insurgents in the area. During a meeting with Govenror Salim Khan Kunduzi on January 1, the elders stressed the need over continuity in the airstrikes and provide more assistance to displaced persons.
For more information, see: “Tribal elders back air raids on Daesh, want more”, Pajhwok, 2 January 2016
Insurgents killed in blast
Three Taliban insurgents were killed and two other wounded on January 2 after their truck which was loaded with explosives blew up as they were transferring the explosives from the area of Shindand to other parts of the Herat province.
For more information, see: “3 Taliban insurgents killed in truck blast in Heart”, TOLO News, 2 January 2016
Two to die for killing blogger
In a landmark judgement a Dhaka court ordered death sentences to two people and jail terms to six others, including the chief of banned Islamist outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team, for the killing of a blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider around three years back. Haider was an activist of Shahbagh movement, the movement that demanded death sentences for war criminals of Independence War of 71. Also he was critique of radical groups.
For more information see: “Blogger Rajib Murder: 2 get death; 6 others jailed”, The Daily Star, 1 January 2015
Envoy to Pak recalled
Bangladesh’s High Commissioner in Pakistan Suhrab Hossain was ordered to return home as soon as possible. The decision followed a recent diplomatic spat between the two count5ries over the war crimes trial in Bangladesh and Islamabad’s withdrawal of a ‘terror-linked’ diplomat from Dhaka.
For more information see: “Bangladesh orders its high commissioner to Pakistan to come home”, www.bdnews24.com, 30 December 2015
Alcohol policy cleared
Taxation and pricing polices is among the 10 strategies that would be implemented as per the National Policy and Strategic Framework To Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol (2015-2020), which the Cabinet endorsed on December 2. The cabinet decision came after a wait of 4 years.
For more information see: “Cabinet endorses strong alcohol policy”, Kuensel, 1 January 2016
JICA pledges support
Japan will treat Bhutan as a top priority in its list of countries requiring support. The promise was made by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), whose president is touring Bhutan.
For more information see: “Bhutan remains a priority: JICA”, Kuensel, 26 December 2015
Media circulation audit
Information and communications minister, DN Dhunghel said circulation auditing of media houses for Advertisement Policy Guidelines 2015 will be completed by the end of January. According to the policy, the government will give advertisements to media houses with highest circulation and maximum reach.
For more information see: “Circulation auditing of media houses to be done soon”, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, 1 January 2016
Terrorists target air-base
Suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists from Pakistan on Saturday attacked an Air Force base here, killing two air personnel while four terrorists were killed in an operation that lasted more than five hours, an attack that comes just a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to Lahore.
For more information see: Gunbattle at Pathankot IAF base ends: 4 terrorists, 2 airmen killed, NDTV, 2 January 2016
Navy test-fires Barak-8
In a boost to India’s maritime prowess, the Navy today successfully test-fired the nearly 70-km range Surface to Air Missile Barak 8 from INS Kolkata, paving the way for installation of the system, developed jointly by India and Israel, on board country’s frontline warships. The Navy described the maiden firing of its newly developed Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR SAM) as a significant milestone in enhancing its anti-air warfare capability.
For more information see: Indian Navy successfully test fires Barak-8 long range missile from INS Kolkata, The Indian Express, 30 December 2015
Tejas for Bahrain air show
In a first, the government has decided to field indigenously developed combat aircraft Tejas for the fourth edition of Bahrain International Air Show (BIAS). To be held from January 21-23, BIAS will also see participation of Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter produced with Chinese help. India will also send IAF Sarang helicopter display team that flies indigenous Dhruv helicopters and DRDO’s airborne early warning and control platform.
For more information see: India to send indigenous Tejas to Bahrain air show, The Indian Express, 2 January 2015
Sushma for Israel, Palestine
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will embark on an official visit to Palestine and Israel from January 15, months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-awaited trip to West Asia in the latter half of 2016. Swaraj’s trip to Israel will kick-start a busy diplomatic schedule between the two countries that are keen on expanding their areas of cooperation to counter-terrorism and defence sectors. The visit comes amid rising influence of the Islamic State terror group beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria.
For more information see: Sushma Swaraj to visit Israel and Palestine from January 15, The Hindustan Times, 29 December 2015
DDCA files defamation suit
The DDCA has decided to file a defamation case against Arvind Kejriwal and Kirti Azad and other top AAP functionaries for making “wild and baseless” allegations of corruption. Chetan Chauhan said that a lot of “false” charges have been levelled against the cricket body and it was forced such action.
For more information see: “DDCA to file defamation case against Kejriwal, Kirti Azad” The Hindu, 30 December, 2015
Storm over ‘leaked tapes’
The alleged leaked tapes of conversations between Ajit Jogi, his son Amit Jogi, his “associates” and Puneet Gupta (son-in-law of Chief Minister Raman Singh) to “fix” a by-election last year kicked up a political storm in Chhattisgarh.
For more information see: “Political storm in Chhattisgarh over “leaked tapes” to fix by-election” The Hindu, 30 December 2015
Smart tolling for smooth traffic
In a bid to remove bottlenecks at toll plazas and ensure hassle-free collection of toll, Indian Highways Management Company Limited (IHMCL) is in talks with National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to bring out a model for nationwide rolling of e-toll (electronic toll).
For more information see: “Soon, smart tolling to iron out traffic wrinkles” Business Standard, 30 December 2015
Launching work on the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, connecting capital Male and reclaimed island Hulhumale, President Abdulla Yameen said that the China-funded project would help in the government’s centralisation drive, from the post-democratisation de-centralised political administration. On the human rights front, flowing from former President Mohammed Nasheed’s imprisonment, Yameen reiterated that the international community that they should not think in ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions.
For more information, see: “Maldives pres hopes landmark bridge will be catalyst for centralisation push”, Haveeru Online, 31 December 2015; “Bridge pillars’ foundation work will begin in March, says Maldives minister”, Haveeru Online, 31 December 2015; “Vice Governor of Yunnan Province calls on the President”, Miadhu, 28 December 2015; “China to loan USD 373 mln for Maldives airport’s new runway”, Haveeru Online, 27 December 2015; “’One size won’t fit all’, Maldives pres tells world”, Haveeru Online, 31 December 2015; “Maldives minister says foreign resolutions tool to ‘invade’ sovereignty”, Haveeru Online, 27 December 2015; “Maldives pres to undertake first visit abroad after blast”, Haveeru Online, 31 December 2015
‘India first’ thanked
In his farewell call on President Abdulla Yameen, India’s High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare, thanked Maldives for its ‘India first’ policy. Shahare, who would be taking over as Indian Ambassador for Denmark, said he was happy with the work he could do while in Male.
For more information, see: “India thanks Maldives for ‘India First’ policy”, Haveeru Online, 28 December 2015; “Shahare: Happy with the work I have done here”, SunOnline, 30 December 2015; “India has been our closest partner in terms of diplomatic and political relations – President Yameen”, Miadhu, 28 December 2015
Military clashes with ‘Arakan army’
Rebel ethnic outfit ‘Arakan army’ has claimed that it has clashed at least 20 times with the government forces since 27 December since clashes broke out in Kyauktaw Township in Arakan in which atleast one civilian is reported to have been injured.
For more information see: “Clashes Continue Between Arakan Army and Govt Troops in Kyauktaw Township”, The Irrawaddy, 31 December 2015
Questions over Koh Tao verdict
Voices have grown stronger pointing at the flawed investigation in the Koh Tao murder case that convicted two Burmese nationals and awarded them death penalty. Thai journalists, forensic experts, activists had highlighted numerous flaws in the investigation.
For more information see: “Koh Tao Verdict: Lingering Questions as Protests Continue”, The Irrawaddy, 30 December 2015
Illegal trade in pangolin
Myanmar is an important source and transit-hub for the trade of world’s most endangered species, Pangolin according to a report by Traffic.org published in the Global Ecology and Conservation Journal. The illegal trade in live Pangolin’s includes their meat and scales in markets in Mong La, on China border.
For more information see: “Illegal pangolin trade in Myanmar booming: report”, Mizzima, 2 January 2016
No clear road-map
Minister for General Administration Rekha Sharma on January 1 unveiled a long list of plans to be carried out during her tenure. However, majority of her plans are old and vague and they fail to address some of the major challenges such as corruption and inefficiency that plague her ministry. Organizing a press meet on January 1 at her ministry, Minister Sharma laid out a 39-point plan “for making the civil administration more efficient and accountable to the public,” but she has neither presented a clear roadmap nor set a timeline for accomplishing the goals outlined in her plan.
Electricity from India
The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the state-owned power utility, is gearing up to import additional 90 megawatt (MW) of electricity from India by January end in view of easing off the power outage in the country. The installation of Dhalkebar-Mujjafarpur inter-country transmission line is due in a month and technical test necessary for the same is in progress to bring in power to the country by the end of this month, according to Kanaiyalal Manandhar, Chief of NEA transmission line.
For more information, see: “NEA prepares to procure 90 MW electricity from India”, The Kathmandu Post, 01 January 2016
Fuel crisis continues
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has called for support and cooperation from each side to materalise the government’s commitment to address the fuel crisis facing the country within the next few years. Inaugurating the ‘Renewable Energy Exhibition 2072’ on January 1, the prime minister said the promotion of solar, wind and bio energy to cope with the severe fuel crisis was the top priority of the government.
For more information, see: “PM Oli seeks all-side support to address fuel crisis”, The Kathmandu Post, 01 January 2016; “Bijukchhe vents ire at government for failing to end fuel crisis” Republica, 01 January 2016
Oath of Office
Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli on January 1 administered oath of office and secrecy to six new state ministers in the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. The six new State Ministers from the CPN (UML) include Dinesh Chandra Yadav, Damodar Bhandari, Bal Bahadur Mahat, Nardevi Pun Magar, Manju Kumari Chaudhary and Dip Narayan Sah.
For more information, see: ”Six State Ministers administered oath of office”, Republica, 01 January 2016; “PM Oli allocates responsibilities to six state ministers”, The Kathmandu Post, 01 January 2016
Joining hands with Saudis
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will join hands to confront global challenges, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said in Islamabad on January 1. Talking to Saudi Ambassador Abdullah Marzouk Al Zahrani who called on him, the speaker said that the new year had come with new regional and global problems for the Ummah that needed to be addressed through mutual cooperation by Muslim countries. He underlined the need to rectify the distorted image of Islam projected by the extremists and propagated by the western media as an intolerant and violent religion.
For more information, see: “Pakistan, S. Arabia to jointly tackle challenges, says NA speaker”, Dawn, 2 January 2016
Singer Adnan Sami, Indian now
Pakistani singer Adnan Sami was granted Indian citizenship on January 1. Sami requested citizenship after he made a representation to the home ministry on 26 May 2015 requesting it on humanitarian grounds. Born in Britain and hitherto a Canadian citizen, Sami has been living in India on visa since March 2001. He was last given a visa extension in October 2015.
For more information, see: “Pakistani singer Adnan Sami gets Indian citizenship”, The Indian Express, 31 December 2015
Deals with China, Pak?
Pakistan would reportedly be pushing for Sri Lanka to purchase the nation’s JF-17 Thunder aircraft, during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Colombo visit in the first week of January. The Government is also expected to take a final decision on various pending China-funded schemes, including the controversial ‘Colombo Port City’ project and many others, put on the hold after the change of political leadership early last year.
For more information, see: “Pakistan pushes for JF-17 aircraft sale to SL”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 December 2015; “Port City final decision on Jan.6”, Daily Mirror Online, 31 December 2015; “India’s bridge: SL kept in the dark…It would never be a reality – Kiriella”, The Island, 31 December 2015; “No troubled water over bridge”, Daily Mirror Online, 31 December 2015
US lauds democratic gains
Despite turbulence and tragedy, the year 2015 witnessed significant democratic gains in countries such as Sri Lanka and a few others, US Secretary of State John Kerry has said. Nearer home, however, the ‘joint opposition’, including individual MPs and parties once under President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP-UPFA, was speaking about a ‘constitutional coup’ by the powers-that-be.
For more information, see: “2015 marked significant democratic gains in SL: Kerry”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 December 2015; “Joint Opp. alleges govt. will disregard mandatory steps laid down to make new Constitution”, The Island, 30 December 2015; “Joint opp. warns of Constitutional coup”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 December 2015; “Action soon against saboteurs: Rajitha”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 December 2015; “Govt. hiding report on ISIS threat: BBS”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 December 2015; “701 acres of Jaffna lands released for resettlement of war displaced”, The Island, 31 December 2015
2016 New Year Messages, President Office, 1 January 2016
“Press Release issued by Embassy of Nepal, Beijing on Hon . DPM-FM’s China Visit”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 27 December 2015
Anand Arni and Pranay Kotasthane, “The Truth Behind the ‘IS’ in Afghanistan”, The Wire, 31 December 2015
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Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale
India: Shubh Soni & Pushan Das
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy
Nepal: Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury & Sreeparna Banerjee