South Asia Weekly | Volume IX; Issue 14

    Night view of the Port of Chittagong

    Photo: Moheen Reeyad

    ANALYSIS

    Bangladesh: Coastal shipping with India to enhance connectivity

    By Joyeeta Bhattacharjee  

    The commencement of coastal shipping between India and Bangladesh is a landmark for bilateral relations of these neighbours. It will not only strengthen connectivity between the two countries but will substantially contribute to the growth and prosperity of the South Asia region.

    Improving connectivity has been one of the major focus areas for improving the bilateral relations. And the two nations signed a coastal shipping agreement during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015. Later, the two countries signed various deals like the standard operationalisation agreement to make coastal shipping functional.  Following this, an Indian container vessel left from the Khrishnapatnam port in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh this week.

    The direct coastal shipping link will boost trade between the two countries. It will be helpful in easing up the movement of cargo. Earlier, owing to lack of direct shipping between the two countries, cargo between the two countries used to travel to either Colombo or Singapore, and then reloaded to feeder vessels to destination ports in each other. It was extremely time-consuming, circuitous, hence also entailed avoidable higher costs. Now, it would take about a week or 10 days, from 30-40 days earlier.

    Two benefits

    Two major benefits accrue from coastal shipping between the two neighbours. One, it will help reduce congestion in land ports. Much of the trade between the two countries take place via land ports and they mostly remain clogged because of the heavy traffic. Two, it will contribute to the growth of the shipping industry and ancillary services sector in Bangladesh, and thus to the nation’s economy.

    To improve connectivity, India and Bangladesh have also signed an MOU to access Chittagong and Mongla Port for movement of goods to India’s land-locked north-eastern states, bringing additional benefit for Bangladesh as well. India has been heavily investing in the development infrastructure in Bangladesh, serving the interests of both. India had already provided a $-800 million line of credit and $ 200 million in grants to aid the development of infrastructure in Bangladesh. It has promised an additional $ 2-billion line of credit.

    Inland water transport

    The thrust on connectivity is also helping Bangladesh to improve its inland water transport. The existing inland water connectivity between the two countries is working below its potential. The two governments of are also focusing now on improving inland water communication. India is helping Bangladesh not only to upgrade the protocol routes by helping in dredging rivers and but also with other technical knowhow. Efforts are also on to revive old link-routes. Considering the developments, river and sea are going to be major source of connectivity between India and Bangladesh.

    India’s motivation in all this is to have an alternate gateway for its north-eastern states and to boost trade with Bangladesh, one of the major regional trading partners in the South Asia.  The opening of sea trade-links with India has also created an opportunity for Bangladesh to increase trade with Bhutan and Nepal. The two Himalayan countries can use Bangladesh ports for shipping their goods from India by sea. The benefit will be furthered even more when the BBIN motor vehicle agreement becomes functional.

    It’s time for the countries of the region to think south as a composite whole and work together for its progress and prosperity. Hence opening of maritime seat-trade link between India and Bangladesh is is a welcome first step of sorts.

    Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharya is Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

    Afghanistan: Plan-B for peace missing, still

    By Kriti M. Shah

    On 28 March 2016, three rockets were fired at the Afghan parliament building while the House was in session. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which fortunately left no casualties.  The attack took place a day after a Pakistani Taliban breakaway group, Jamaatul Ahrar, had bombed a crowded park in Lahore, Pakistan killing 73 children and women.

    The attacks in Kabul and Lahore are another example of the determination on part of the Taliban forces to destabilise the Afghan state and resist any attempts at peace between the government and the insurgents. With no progress being made for peace talks following meetings of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US), it is only a matter of time before the government is forced to confront other options for peace in the country.

    At present, not only has the Taliban upped their offensive in the country, capturing many districts from government control in the south, their outright refusal to be part of any reconciliation has also boxed Kabul into a tight corner in the war against extremism. They need to determine what could be their ‘Plan-B’ if and when peace talks with Mullah Mansour and other groups fall through. Any failure to consider the possibilities that regional integration hold in securing Afghanistan’s future will result in an indefinite prolonging of the Taliban war and reversal of the gains made over the last 15 years.

    No short-term solutions

    There are no short-term solutions to stabilise and secure Afghanistan. Currently the country is marred by economic instability, political weakness and security threats from the Taliban and the ‘Islamic State’. President Ashraf Ghani, who has staked significant political capital on an outreach to Pakistan and peace talks with the Taliban, needs to realistically consider the possibilities for success in reconciling with the insurgency.

    The Taliban is split into several groups and it remains likely uncertain which groups are willing to lay down arms and talk. Hence, it is highly unlikely that Ghani and the rest of the QCG will be able to make peace with all the armed factions. This is especially the case since the Taliban considers themselves ‘winning’ and for good reason. They have widened their reach to control most territory, with 30 percent of the districts falling under their control.

    Any inclination towards laying down arms and negotiating with the government, when they are on a definitive upswing, will be seen a sign of defeat among the rank and file of the group(s). It is more so in respect to the ISIS, with whom the Taliban is competing for territory and foreign fighters.

    The US and Afghanistan can no longer put all their eggs in one basket, and hope for a positive outcome from peace talks. Their Plan-B should no longer be to make their Plan-A work. Afghanistan needs to secure international and regional support in order to begin alleviating its domestic problems. A failing economy has implications for political stability. This in turn impacts security dynamic. Further developments in the country is therefore highly dependent on how regional actors, such as China, India, Russia, Iran and Central Asian states, engage with Afghanistan economically, politically and militarily.

    China has stated their desire to be more engaged in Afghanistan. While they are already part of the peace talk process, they must further expand their relationship with the country by helping in reconstruction and infrastructure development. China must also ensure that they design and invest in projects that have real and tangible benefits to local communities. Welcoming Afghanistan in its ‘One Belt One Road strategy’ will further help trade and investment flows in the country.

    India, a long-time friend of Afghanistan, can continue to help the nation by fulfilling equipment, logistics and personnel needs of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Providing training to the ANSF and the country’s fledgling air force, India can help Kabul deal with persistent security threats.

    Russia and Iran can work to help Afghanistan combat cross border terrorism as well as help its counter narcotic operations. Since over 90 percent of the world’s opiates come from Afghanistan and are smuggled into Iran and Pakistan, Teheran can strengthen its border with Afghanistan to prevent the export of opium from the country. This will greatly benefit Kabul, as the Taliban profit greatly from their drug smuggling activities. In addition, all these countries will prefer a regional approach to assisting Afghanistan, instead of solitary assistance.

    Other neighbours such as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan can also benefit from further engagement with Kabul enhancing its energy security, by proposing small gas pipeline projects. This will not only enhance their international presence but will also bring them closer to South Asia and other regional states.

    Little progress

    While calls for greater engagement in the region vis-à-vis Afghanistan are not new, little progress has been recorded in this regard. Efforts to forge a regional approach to strengthen Afghanistan have been further complicated by Pakistan, which views any Indian action in Afghanistan with much suspicion. However, given China’s influence over Pakistan, the former could encourage Pakistan to play a more constructive role and view regional cooperation in and on Afghanistan as beneficial to itself as well.

    While several multilateral forums such as the Heart of Asia, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and organisations such as South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have addressed regional support to Kabul, they have not addressed the manner of the desired support. Coupled with neighbourhood countries’ perceptions of each other, such forums have had a limited impact.

    While there are challenges to greater engagement among regional actors, Afghanistan must demonstrate that it’s internal political, economic and security situation is improving. It must also remember then peace talks and regional cooperation go hand in hand. Regional engagement in Afghanistan’s stability is not only a product of peace talks but also leads to it. Once Kabul is successfully able to develop an international consensus on engagement, the Taliban may agree that to sit down at the table and discuss possible peace.

    Kriti M. Shah is Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

    COUNTRY REPORTS

    Afghanistan

    Taliban targets parliament

    On 28 March, three rockets were fired at the new Afghan Parliament building with one falling inside the building. The lower house was in session during the attack. The rocket strike caused no casualties. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the strike.

    For more information, see: Three rockets fired at Kabul’s new parliament building

    Polls chief quits

    On 26 March, Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), resigned. A spokesman for the IEC stated that Nuristani had resigned in the “national interest.” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accepted the resignation. Nuristani had repeatedly criticized government interference in the election, and his resignation has raised concerns regarding the effort to organize Parliamentary elections scheduled for 15 October 2016.

    For more information, see: Afghanistan’s Top Electoral Official Resigns

    Govt facing defections?

    The Afghan government is facing a wave of defections and calls for new elections from former supporters, according to a report by the Washington Post on 29 March. Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a former supporter of the government and former finance minister under Hamid Karzai, commented: “If it performed well, people were willing to give the (national unity) government the benefit of the doubt. But it hasn’t. It has proved disastrous for this country.”

    For more information, see: A wave of political defections spells new trouble for Afghanistan

    50,000 posts vacant

    On 30 March, Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament announced that 50,000 government positions remain vacant while government officials put the count at 25,000. Ahmad Massod Tokhi, the head of the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission, placed the number of vacancies at 25,584 spots in 47 departments in all 34 provinces.

    For more information, see: 25,000 government posts lying vacant, Wolesi Jirga told

    Bangladesh

     Islam remains state religion

    In a major decision the High Court this week rejected the writ petition that challenged the legality of a constitutional provision giving Islam the status of state religion.  The petition was filed by fifteen distinguished citizens under the banner of Sairachar O Samprodaikota Protirodh Committee (Dictatorship and Communalism Resistance Committee) in 1988 after military dictator Ershad declared Islam as the state religion.

    For more information, seeHC rejects writ over Islam as state religion and Islam remains Bangladesh’s state religion as High Court scraps petition

    No shift in foreign policy

    Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali  in an interview with UK based Financial Times this week  observed that the  recent visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Beijing and Moscow should not be interpreted as a shift in the foreign policy. He further added that Bangladesh maintains an independent and non-aligned position in its foreign relations with the objective of achieving global peace.

    For more information, see: FM: PM’s visit to China, Russia not a shift in foreign policy

    Arrest warrant against Khaleda

    A court in Dhaka this week issued arrest warrants against opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) chief Begum Khaleda Zia in a arson case that killed 2 persons in 2015.  Begum Zia and 27 other officials of her party have been accused of instigating violence during the country wide anti government protests last year.

    For more information, see: Arrest warrant issued against Khaleda and Cases to keep BNP under pressure

    Bhutan

    End for BOiC?

    The curtain may finally be falling on the controversial government initiative, the Business Opportunity and Information Centre (BOiC). The head office at Chubachu once teeming with employees from one end to the other and clients visiting one after another has become a quiet place.

    For more information, see: The end for BOiC?

    Rules for treaties

    With the adoption of the Rules of Procedure (RoP) for Treaty Making 2016 by the Cabinet last month, the process of making a treaty and ratification by Parliament have been streamlined. The RoP was adopted by the 96th cabinet session held on February 13.

    For more information, see: Treaty making process and ratification streamlined

    PM meets truckers

    Following a meeting with the Prime Minister and foreign minister, local truckers and taxi drivers expect their concerns to be considered when the government negotiates the details of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) in Bangladesh, next week.

    For more information, see: PM discusses BBIN MVA with truckers, cabbies

    India

    Mehbooba to be CM

    Mehbooba Mufti will be sworn in as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir on April 4 according to a statement by PDP leader Amitabh Mattoo. Mr. Mattoo expressed the hope Ms. Mehbooba would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in the region.

    For more information, see: Mehbooba to be sworn in as J&K’s first woman CM on April 4

    Flyover collapse claims 24           

    About 60-metre-long portion of the unfinished Vivekananda Road flyover collapsed on Thursday afternoon. The death toll in the flyover collapse here has climbed to 24 after three more bodies were recovered from underneath the piles of debris of concrete and iron girdles of the broken portion of the under-construction bridge.

    For more information, see: Kolkata flyover collapse death toll rises to 24

    LPG price down

    Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF), or jet fuel, price was hiked by 8.7% but that of non-subsidised cooking gas LPG was cut by Rs 4 per cylinder on global trends. ATF price in Delhi was raised by Rs 3,371.55 per kilolitre (kl), or 8.69%, to Rs 42,157.01 per kl.

    For more information see: Cooking gas LPG down Rs 4 per bottle, jet fuel price up 8.7%

    China blocks India’s ban bid

    China has again blocked India’s bid at the UN to ban JeM chief Masood Azhar, the mastermind of the Pathankot terror attack. Just hours before the deadline, China requested the UN committee, which is considering a ban on the chief of the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), to keep on hold the designation. India in February wrote to the UN calling for immediate action to list Azhar under the Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee.

    For more information see: At UN, China blocks India bid to ban JeM chief Masood Azhar

    Pak summons envoy

    Pakistan had accused India of stoking violence in Balochistan and Karachi in the past but it is for the first time that it has claimed arresting a RAW officer. India has rejected Pakistan’s claims that it had arrested a serving naval officer in Balochistan for what it called “subversive activities”. In a statement, the Ministry of External affairs however, admitted that the man believed to be arrested was a former officer of the navy.

    For more information, see: Pak. summons envoy on ‘spy’ arrest, India rejects claims

    Maldives

    ‘Negative trajectory’

    In an obvious reference to the arrest, trial and detention of former President Mohammed Nasheed, now in the US on ‘medical leave’, US Assistant Secretary of State for South And Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Biswal, has said that “Maldives in ‘largely on a negative trajectory’ as for as democracy issues were concerned. This was even as Nasheed and his MDP condemned a court order, suspending the publication of the daily print edition of Haveeru newspaper, over ownership issues and long drawn-out legal battles.

    For more information, see: Maldives democracy on ‘negative trajectory,’ warns top US diplomat

    Saudis talk business

    Inaugurating a seminar on ‘Maldives Trade Mission’, visiting Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade Ahmed Al-Gabbani has welcomed the strengthening ties with Maldives following Saudi monarch Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s official visit to the island nation in 2014. He promised business and developmental aid and cooperation, including the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), Male, among others, and the commencement of Riyadh-Male direct flight from this week.

    For more information, see: “Saudi opens business doors to Maldives”, Haveeru Online, 31 March 2016; “Business discussions start between Maldives, Saudi Arabia”, SunOnline, 31 March 2016; “Sri Lanka opens stock exchange doors for Maldives”, Haveeru Online, 29 March 2016

    Myanmar

    President sworn in

    Myanmar’s first elected civilian president in five decades was sworn in on Wednesday together with his 18-member cabinet, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who will control four ministries. In a bicameral session of parliament in Naypyitaw, President Htin Kyaw and two vice-presidents, Myint Swe and Henry Van Thio, took an oath of office before members of parliament.

    For more information, see: Myanmar’s first elected civilian president sworn in and Myanmar set to swear in first elected civilian president in decades

    Suu Kyi on security council

    Myanmar’s new government formed a new 11-member National Defence and Security Council yesterday with President U Htin Kyaw as its chairman, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported on 31 March.

    For more information, see: Suu Kyi takes place on National Defence and Security Council

    Newly unemployed ex-president Thein Sein is set to make his next move – to the monastery. Thein Sein will be ordained as a monk on 1 April, now that the formal transfer of power to new head of state Htin Kyaw was completed on March 30, according to Pyi Myanmar, a Rangoon-based weekly news journal.

    For more information, see: Ex-president Thein Sein to ordain as monk: report

    Nepal

    Breach of international law

    Nepal has taken serious exception to a EU-India joint statement issued in Brussels on March 29, which had a reference to Nepal’s newly-promulgated constitution. “The EU-India joint statement not only hurts the sentiments of the people of Nepal but also defies the fundamental principle of non-interference in internal affairs of a country in breach of UN Charter and norms of international law,” said the MoFA statement.

    For more information, see: EU-India statement on charter irks govt and Nepal strongly objects to EU-India statement on constitution

    New airport

    The foundation stone of the country’s second regional international airport in Pokhara will be laid on April 14, marking the launch of a project that has been on the drawing board for decades. The meeting chaired by lawmaker Rabindra Adhikari has also decided to request the government to name the project as Pokhara International Airport. The proposed airport site at Chinnedanda lies 3 km to the east of Pokhara’s domestic airport.

    For more information, see: Pokhara airport’s foundation laying slated for April 14

    Fast-tracking China deals

    Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has said that the government will create a special mechanism to follow up on and expedite implementation of recent agreements signed with China during his visit. Speaking at a discussion on Nepal-China relations organized by the International Concern Center in the capital on March 30, Oli said Nepal will reap benefits by implementing important agreements made with China.

    For more information, see: Govt to form special mechanism to follow up on Nepal-China deals

    Pakistan

    Suicide-bomber kills 70

    On 26 March, a suicide bomber killed more than 70 people at the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore, where many Christians were celebrating Easter. At least 29 children were among those killed. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a Taliban faction, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

    For more information, see: Nation in mourning after suicide blast in Lahore kills 72, including 29 children

    Crackdown in Punjab

    Pakistan has detained more than 5,000 people in the wake of the bombing that killed 72 people in Lahore. Rana Sanaullah, a state minister for Punjab province, stated: “5,221 people have initially been detained. 5,005 have been released after verifying their identities, and 216 people have been referred for further investigation.”

    For more information, see: Pakistan detained more than 5,000 after Easter bombing killed 72

    Iranian criticism

    On 30 March, the Iranian embassy in Islamabad criticised Pakistan for its comments regarding the purported Indian spy it arrested. A spokesman for the embassy stated: Pakistan announced the arrest of the purported Indian spy on 25 March, during the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Pakistan.

    For more information, see: Iran slams Pak media for undignified rumors on Indian spy arrest

    Sri Lanka

    LTTE explosives seized

    A political blame-game is on over the recovery of identifiable LTTE explosives (12 kg TNT), claymore mines and a suicide-jacket from a house in Chavakachcheri in Tamil-majority Northern Province where the ‘ethnic war’ had ended as far back as 1996. The police have also arrested the fleeing inmate, an ex-LTTE cadre, at a check-point, following an alert from his third wife, who had suspected drug-peddling, instead.

    For more information, see: “Detection of LTTE suicide jacket, mines jolts govt.”, The Island, 30 March 2016; “Suicide jacket and Tiger cadre in custody: Some startling findings”, The Island, 31 March 2016; “NP Governor: Chava explosives meant to cause destruction”, The Island, 31 March 2016; “Terrorist activity being closely monitored–Defence Secretary”, The Island, 31 March 2016; “No threat to national security- Def.Sec”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 March 2016; “Defence Secy denies military in turmoil, promises to boost reconciliation”, The Island, 30 March 2016; “JOP: Govt. not telling the whole truth”, The Island, 30 March 2016; “Threat to national security- Joint Opp.”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 March 2016; “Explosive detection; GL must be quizzed over his statement-Govt”, Daily Mirror Online, 31 March 2016; “Defence Secretary unsuitable for post: Wimal”, Daily Mirror Online, 31 March 2016; “MR should make a statement in Parliament: Ranil”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 March 2016

    PRIMARY DOCUMENTATION

    Bhutan

    Press Releases

    Ambassador of Bhutan to Bangladesh Aum Perna Choden, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 31, 2016

    Myanmar

    Press Releases

    Appointment of Region/State Ethnic Affairs Ministers, President Office, March 31, 2016

    Nepal

    Press Releases

    Press Release on the Government of Nepal strongly condemns the terrorist bomb attacks at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore yesterday. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, mARCH 28, 2016

    BIBLIOGRAPHY

    Afghanistan

    Opinion pieces

    Arif Sahar, The Sparring Strongmen of Northern Afghanistan

    Whitney Dudley and Robert Stewart, Women in special forces: What the US can learn from the Afghans

    Greg Jaffe, Sorting out a new life back home

    Bangladesh

     Ahmede Hussain, Revolution Made in Facebook

    Md. Jubair Ahmed, Bangladesh: The case for renewable energy

    Sarah Kaiser-Cross, ISIS in Bangladesh: There’s still time to stop it, but only if action is taken

    Bhutan

    Editorial

    True state of our fourth estate

    India

    Opinion Pieces

    Manoj Joshi, Beyond Pakistan’s Claims to Have Caught a ‘RAW Agent’ Lies a Wilderness of Mirrors

    Rathin Roy, Delivering effective fiscal responsibility

    Harish Damodaran, Is agriculture a business?

    Maldives

    Opinion Pieces

    Nikhil Narayan, “Maldives Government abuses anti-terror law to silence public officials”, Maldives Independent, 28 March 2016

    Myanmar

    Opinion Pieces

    Mihir Bhonsale, “Suu Kyi and the India-China Predicament”, www.foreindia.com, 31 March 2016

    Thin Lei, Delight and disquiet — mixed emotions on Burma’s historic day

    Nepal

    Opinion Pieces

    Amita P Sen In praise of misfits

    Giri Bahadur Sunar Coming true

    Editorials

    The Kathmandu Post. Holding hostage

    Republica Perverse incentives

    Pakistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Michael Kugelman, “Terror in Lahore: Pakistan’s Toughest Test”, Foreign Policy, 29 March 2016

    Rozina Ali, “A crisis for minorities in Pakistan”, The New Yorker, 29 March 2016

    Rafia Zakaria, “The Playgrounds of Pakistan”, The New York Times, 29 March 2016

    Sri Lanka

    Opinion Pieces

    M S M Ayub, “RTI licence to fight”, Daily Mirror Online, 1 April 2016

    Malinda Senaviratne, “The real Chava bomb is in Colombo”, Daily Mirror Online, 1 April 2016

    Kelum Bandara, “President hit by power-cut again”, Daily Mirror Online, 31 March 2016

    Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, “SLFP between Hyde Park and May Day”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 March 2016

    Jehan Perera, “Obtaining popular support calls for stronger communication strategy”, The Island, 29 March 2016

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “No accountability yet on accountability”, The Sunday Leader, 27 March 2016

    CONTRIBUTORS:

    Afghanistan and Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah and

    Bangladesh: Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee.

    Bhutan and Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale

    India: Shubh Soni & Pushan Das

    Maldives and Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy

    Nepal: Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury and Sreeparna Banerjee

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