South Asia Weekly | Volume X; Issue 16

     SAW, South Asia, April

    A young Afghan boy in preschool learns his alphabet

    Source: Direct Relief/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Country Reports

    Afghanistan

    US drops largest non-nuclear bomb

    The US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan on April 13. The bomb, known as the ‘Mother of all bombs’ (MOAB) or Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb was dropped on the Achin district which is a strong Islamic State stronghold. MOAB targeted tunnels and hideouts that IS had built in the district which allowed them to cross over into Pakistan. President Trump has called the bombing a great success.

    For more information, see: “US drops largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan”, CNN

    US NSA to visit Kabul

    US National Security Advisor Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster is expected to visit Afghanistan in the coming weeks. McMaster’s trip will reportedly focus on assessing whether more U.S forces are needed in Afghanistan. Earlier in February, the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson told Congress that a "few thousand" more troops were needed in order to break what he called a "stalemate" with the Taliban. McMaster is also expected to stop in Islamabad and New Delhi after his visit to Kabul.

    For more information, see: “Trump sending his national security advisor to Kabul”, Tolo News

    11 Taliban insurgents killed

    At least 11 Taliban insurgents were killed in Uruzgan province on April 12. Afghan air and ground forces conducted the operation in central part of the province where the Taliban has made increasing gains over the last few months. The district police chief of Khas district said that “one policeman was also killed during the operation and two others including a military soldiers were wounded.” The Taliban have not commented about the operation.

    For more information, see: “11 Taliban insurgents killed in Uruzgan operation”, Tolo News

    Bangladesh

    22 pacts with India

    Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina undertook a four-day State visit, from 7-10 April. During her visit, she met top leaders of India, including her counterpart Narendra Modi, President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice-President Hamid Ansari and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. The two nations signed 22 agreements in various areas like civil nuclear cooperation, cyber security, connectivity, energy cooperation, defence and development cooperation. Significant was India providing $ 4.5 billion line of credit and promising around $9 billion worth of investment in Bangladesh.  Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has accused Hasina of undermining nation’s interest. Sheikh Hasina criticised opposition for their comment.

    For more information, see “$10b business deals signed”, The Daily Star, 11 April 2017; “country? ‘The Daily Star, 10 April 2017; “Khaleda: PM’s India visit a failure”, Dhaka Tribune, 11 April 2017; “India Visit: Hasina bins Khaleda's allegations”, The Daily Star

    Huji leader executed

    Authorities have executed Mufti Abdul Hannan, leader of the banned militant organisation Harkatul Jihad al Islami.  Mufti Hanan was responsible for the killing of more than a hundred people in 13 militant attacks between 1999 and 2005.

    For more information, see “Huji kingpin Mufti Hannan hanged”, The Daily Star, 13 April 2017; “Bangladesh militant hanged for attack aimed at British envoy”, Abcnew.com

    Qawmi degree recognised

    The Government has decided to recognise the Dawra degree of Qawmi madrasa as equivalent to master's degree. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made the announcement in a meeting with some 350 representatives of Qawmi madrasas. This move has caused many eyebrows to rise.

    For more information, see:  “Qawmi degree recognised”, The Daily Star, 12 April 2017; “Bangladesh PM backs radicals over statue controversy”, Arab News

    New Year fete

    The nation celebrated Pahela Baishakh, Bengali New Year, with much pomp and fun fare withstanding threat from the radicals. Radicals termed the occasion to be anti-Islamic and opposed all celebrations. Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina claimed that Pahela Baishakh is not in conflict with any region.   However, her party Awami League cancelled Mongal SobhaJatra (cultural rally), an important aspect of the celebration. Pahela baishakh celebration has been integral aspect of Bangladesh’s freedom struggle and symbol of its secular ethos.

    For more information, see “Nation celebrates Pahela Baishakh amid calls to fight communalism”, Bdnews24.com, 17 April 2017;   “Pahela Baishakh today”, The Daily Star, 14 April 2017; “Pahela Baishakh not in conflict with religion: PM”, The Daily Star, 14 April 2017 ; “Awami League cancels Pahela Baishakh procession, citing public sufferings”, Bdnews24.com2017

    Bhutan

    MoU with RBI

    Projects encouraging and stimulating financial integration and inclusion with Bhutan will receive priority, says Indian Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar. Whenever the Bhutanese economy is mired in bottlenecks pertaining to availability of the Indian rupee, negative sentiments are generated towards bilateral friendship, he said during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Royal Monetary Authority and Reserve Bank of India on cross-border supervision.

    For more information, see: “Demonitisation issue almost resolved”, Kuensel

    Japanese princess coming

    Japanese Princess Mako of Akishino will arrive in the country on a state visit in the first week of June this year. Princess Mako of Akishino, 26, is the eldest grandchild of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, and the oldest daughter of Fumihito, Prince Akishino and Kiko, Princess Akishino.

    For more information, see: “Japanese princess to visit Bhutan in June”, Kuensel

    Indian tourists killed

    Three Indian tourists and a Bhutanese man have died in a car accident in Wangdue Phodrang. The accident took place on April 13 at Khelekha near Nobding. The four, all in their 30’s, were on their way to Gangtey from Thimphu.

    For more information, see: “3 Indian tourists, 1 Bhutanese die in accident”, BBS

    India

    ‘Human shield’ in J&K?

    The Army is investigating a video that depicts a man tied to the front of a military vehicle in J&K. Aside from a voice on it that can be heard saying “this will be the fate of stone pelters”, there is little clarity on the circumstances of the clip.

    For more information, see: “Kashmir ‘human shield’ video: The facts remain unclear – but the practice is banned even in IsraelScroll

    Reviewing personal laws  

    Finance Minister Jaitley stated that the vintage judicial view that personal laws need not conform to constitutional rights would be reviewed soon. “When all laws must confine to the constitutional rights themselves, personal laws need not have to do so. Because they were not laws for that purpose, so they were excluded,” he said.

    For more information, see: “Judicial opinion on personal laws needs review: Jaitley”, The Hindu

    Taxman keeps close watch

    After receiving a lukewarm response to the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), the income tax (I-T) department has zeroed in on 60,000 persons who deposited “excessive” cash after the note ban. These include those dealing in high-value property and petrol pump owners.

    For more information, see: “Note ban effect: I-T lens on 60,000 depositorsBusiness Standard

    UK offers defence knowhow

    The UK has expressed interest in furthering cooperation with India in the fight against terrorism and extremism, and has also offered cutting-edge military technology for co-production of weapon systems to jointly become "world beaters" in arms exports.

    For more information, see: “UK offers defence technology to India for making weaponsTimes of India

    Maldives 

    Indian Foreign Secretary meets President

    India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar visited Male and met with President Abdulla Yameen and Foreign Minister Mohammed Asim,   among other leaders. According to a Maldivian Press release, the two sides discussed increasing bilateral cooperation in trade and economy. The visit comes in the midst of recent developments in Maldives, including the arrest of JP leader Gasim Ibrahim, and the earlier Government invitation for the newly formed four-party alliance to revive the forgotten political negotiations.

    For more information, see: “Indian foreign secretary concludes visit”, Maldives Independent, 15 April 2017”; “Foreign Secretary of India pays courtesy call on the President”, Miadhu,  13 April 2017; “Indian Foreign Secretary concludes his visit to Maldives”, Miadhu, 13 April 2017;  “Indian Foreign Secretary Dr. Jaishankar departs after concluding his official visit”, Miadhu, 13 April 2017; “Indian Foreign Secretary arrives in Maldives”, SunOnline

    HC frees Gasim

    In a politically significant development, the Maldives High Court freed Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, citing technical infirmities, after he was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe MPs ahead of the recent no-trust vote against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh. The criminal court that had originally denied bail for Gasim refused to detain him when the trial was now under way.

    For more information, see: “High Court orders Qasim’s release”, SunOnline, 12 April 2017; “High court frees Gasim as Prosecutor General files bribery charges”, Maldives Independent, 12 April 2017; “Worried that Qasim might be detained again tomorrow: Qasim’s legal team”, Miadhu, 12 April 2017; “Three charges brought forth against Qasim”, SunOnline, 12 April 2017; “Qasim’s trial to begin tomorrow”, Miadhu, 12 April 2017; “Court refuses to detain Gasim for bribery trial”, Maldives Independent, 13 April 2017; “Abdullah Riyaz and Ameen Faisal’s trials scheduled for tomorrow”, Miadhu, 12 April 2017; “MP Riyaz pleads not guilty to obstruction charge”, Maldives Independent, 13 April 2017; “High Court orders release of Thayyib”, SunOnline, 16 April 2017; “Qasim forgives those who detained him unlawfully !”, Miadhu, 12 April 2017; “Qasim Ibrahim does not wish to talk about the difficulties he is facing in prison : Shameem”, Miadhu, 11 April 2017; “Qasim Ibrahim requests the speaker to act in accordance with the constitution!”, Miadhu, 12 April 2017;  “The announcement I made was a decision made by the 4 leaders – No matter how many charges are brought up against me, there is nothing that can be done : Qasim”, Miadhu, 16 April 2017; “We have got the numbers – Do not have any worries and we only want affairs of the country to be in order ! : Qasim”, Miadhu

    ‘Balanced’ statements urged from international partners  

    The Government has urged ‘international partners’ to ensure that their statements on Maldives are “balanced and reflect the actual situation”. The Foreign Ministry observation followed a joint statement by the embassies of the US, EU, Norway, Canada and Switzerland, based in Colombo, criticising the crackdown on the political Opposition, coinciding with the recent arrest of JP leader Gasim Ibrahim.

    For more information, see: “Government calls for ‘balanced’ statements from international partners”, Maldives Independent, 11 April 2017; “US, EU and Canada condemn fresh crackdown on Maldives opposition”, Maldives Independent, 9 April 2017; “Opposition coalition meets with the UN resident coordinator in Maldives”, Miadhu, 12 April 2017; Rules changed to save speaker from impeachment”, Maldives Independent, 10 April 2017; “Nihan: Opposition can only manage 35 signatures at the most”, SunOnline

    Myanmar

    1,883 prisoners freed

    The government has released 1,883 inmates from prisons across the country, according to the Ministry of State Counsellor Office. The move aims to ensure the prisoners can start their new life in the Myanmar New Year. Before last year’s water festival, 2,283 disciplined prisoners got sentence reduced.

    For more information, see: “1883 prisoners gets sentence reducedEleven Myanmar, 12 April 2017; “1,883 prisoners released in Myanmar to greet new year Thingyan festival”, Mizzima

    Pipeline pact with China

    China and Myanmar have reached an agreement on an oil pipeline between the neighbouring countries after almost a decade of talks, with the project due to start “very quickly,” Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said on April 10.

    For more information, see: “China says accord reached at last with Burma on oil pipeline”, DVB

    Growth plan for Arakan

    Myanmar’s National Security Adviser U Thaung Tun emphasized the government’s plans for development in Arakan State and downplayed international reports of crimes against the Muslim minority in the region, when speaking to the press on Tuesday in Rangoon.

    For more information, see: “National Security Adviser Highlights Development Plans for Arakan Conflict Zone”, The Irrawaddy

    Call for equal status at talks

    A meeting of all armed ethnic groups, including the signatories and non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), has resulted in a statement calling for all armed ethnic organisations to have equal and dignified status in the second 21st Century Panglong Conference.

    For more information, see: “Armed groups call for equality at peace summit”, Myanmar Times, 11 April 2017; “Fourth Ethnic Armed Group’s Meeting in Panshang”, Mizzima

    Nepal

    Polls to end anarchy: President

    President Bidya Devi Bhandari urged political parties and the government to create an environment to hold local-level elections on May 14 in a fearless situation. She also expressed the hope that the local levels after the elections could give momentum to local development since the constitution has guaranteed significant rights to the local units. "The election could end anarchy at local units and guide the country towards peace, stability and prosperity," said President Bhandari.

    For more information, see: “President Bhandari calls for elections friendly environment”, Republica

    ‘Reconstruction, the key’

    President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has said the reconstruction in the post-quake scenario should be the primary priority in order to enhance tourism in the country. Highlighting the importance of trekking routes which have been serving as a perfect escape away from urbanisation, industrialisation and pollution, the President said agriculture, tourism and energy have rich potentiality of development in the country and therefore it is important to develop trails and trek routes.

    For more information, see: “Reconstruction foremost priority to boost tourism: Prez Bhandari”, The Kathmandu Post

    Budget crunch

    The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) has said the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) lacks capacity to implement its projects to expedite post-earthquake reconstruction and rehabilitation works. The OAG audit report, prepared after analyzing the NRA's budget and plan for fiscal year 2015-16, stated: “The government had estimated the need for Rs 249 billion for the post-earthquake reconstruction works for that year, but it allocated just Rs 38.38 billion.”

    For more information, see: “NRA lacks capacity to execute projects, says OAG”, Republica

    Pakistan

    Death sentence for Indian

    Pakistan sentenced alleged Indian ‘spy’ Kulbushan Jadhav to death on 10 April nearly a year after he was arrested. Jadhav who was arrested in Balochistan last year has allegedly ‘confessed’ to his involvement in carrying out espionage and destabilizing activities in Balochistan and Karachi, while being a serving officer in the Indian Navy. India has said that Jadhav is a former naval officer who carries cargo to and fro from Iran, and that he has no ties with the government. New Delhi has said that should Pakistan carry out the death sentence that was awarded by a military court, it would amount to ‘pre-meditated murder’.

    For more information, see: “Secret Pak court gives death penalty to ex-Indian navy official Kulbushan Jadhav”, The Times of India

    US urged to join Russia-led talks

    Pakistan has voiced its support for US being involved in the Moscow-sponsored international talks on Afghanistan. While Russia holds a new expanded round of multi-nation “consultations” on Afghanistan in the coming week, the US has refused to take part in the conference, questioning Russian intentions and motives. Pakistan has said that the conference must involve the US as it is the “biggest stakeholder” in Afghanistan.

    For more information, see: “Pakistan: US participation a must in Russia-initiated Afghan talks”, VOA

    Payment pact with Iran

    Pakistan’s State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has signed a Banking and Payment Arrangement with Iran’s central bank, Bank Markazi Jomhouri Islami Iran (BMJII), on April 14. The objective of the payment agreement is to facilitate trade between the two countries. It will be used for payment of trade conducted via letter of credit in accordance with international law and regulations.

    For more information, see: “Pakistan, Iran central banks sign agreement to facilitate trade”, Dawn

    Sri Lanka 

    21 die in garbage-collapse

    At least 21 persons lost their lives and 100 houses destroyed when a part of the garbage dump at Meethotamulla suburbs in capital Colombo collapsed on them.  Japanese experts have arrived to assist in rescue work even as the Government has banned further dumping of garbage in the area.

    For more information, see: “Section of Meethotamulla garbage dump collapses”, Daily Mirror Online, 14 April 2017; “Meethotamulla tragedy: Death toll climbs to 21”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 April 2017; “No more garbage will be dumped at Meethotamulla: Govt”, Daily Mirror Online, 15 April 2017; “Japan sends expert team for Meetotamulla disaster”, Daily Mirror Online  

    ‘Most religious’: Survey

    As high as 99 percent of Sri Lankans surveyed for British newspaper ‘The Telegraph’ for three years in a row have said that they were religious. Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger and Yemen are four other countries with a similar figure in the survey.

    For more information, see: “Sri Lanka, one of world’s most religious countries: Survey”, Daily Mirror Online, 15 April 2017; “‘If fails, people will feel fed up with this Govt. too’”, Daily Mirror Online

    No foreign troops: PM

    Addressing a gathering in Tokyo during an official visit, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that no foreign military would be allowed to use Sri Lankan ports in a way inimical to the interests of other countries. In an obvious reference to massive Chinese investments in Hambantota and also the upcoming Colombo Port City project, he said that Sri Lanka Navy alone would be responsible for the security of all the nation’s ports.

    For more information, see: “Foreign forces won’t be allowed to exploit Sri Lankan ports”, The Island, 12 April 2017; “Foreign forces won’t be allowed to exploit Sri Lankan ports”, Daily Mirror Online, 13 April 2017; “Japan to appoint special rep. to coordinate development activities in SL”, Daily Mirror Online

    Primary Documentation

    Bangladesh

    Joint Statement during the visit of Prime Minister of Bangladesh to India”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 8 April 2017

    Press Release, “Documents signed during Hon’ble Prime Minister’s visit to New Delhi 7-10 April 2017”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 11 April 2017

    Statement, “India-Bangladesh partnership is mature, broad and strong: Foreign Minister A H Mahmud Ali”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 9 April 2017

    Bhutan

    Ambassador Pema Choden presented her Letter of Credence to Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 11 April 2017

    Myanmar

    President U Htin Kyaw meets Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, NPCSC Chairman Mr. Zhang Dejiang, President’s office, 11 April 2017

    Nepal

    Press Release on terrorist attack in Stockholm, Sweden”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 10 April 2017

    Press Release regarding Rt. Hon’ble President’s State Visit to India”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 12 April 2017

    Press Release on the conclusion of 3rd Meeting of the Nepal-India Oversight Mechanism”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 12 April 2017

    Bibliography

    Afghanistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Simon Jenkins, “The bombing of Afghanistan shows the US is led by a one-man wild card”, The Guardian, 14 April 2017

    Florian Weigard, “A calculated step toward the apocalypse”, DW, 14 April 2017

    Bangladesh

    Opinion Pieces

    Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, “India-Bangladesh ties have moved beyond Teesta”, Hindustan Times, 12 April 2017

    C R Abrar, “Nababarsha in a different tenor”, The Daily Star, 14 April 2017

    Anand Kumar, “India and Bangladesh: Towards a fraternal relationship”, Bdnews24.com, 12 April2017

    Nur E Emroz Alam Tonoy, “Look beyond economics”, Dhaka Tribune, 14 April 2017

    Bhutan

    Opinion Pieces

    Dorji Penjor, “Taxes and duties: The only way to decrease vehicle imports”, Kuensel, 8 April 2017

    Editorials

    Strengthening the immigration system”, Kuensel, 17 April 2017

    India

    Opinion Pieces

    Jayshree Sengupta, “Open up multi-brand retailing too to help farmers and consumers, www.orfonline.org, 12 April 2017

    Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “Sinking Valley”, Indian Express, 15 April 2017

    Sanjaya Baru, “Developmental Hindutva”, Indian Express, 14 April,2017

    Myanmar

    Opinion Pieces

    Saw Yan Naing, “Behind the KNU election results”, The Irrawaddy, 11 April 2017

    Nepal

    Opinion Pieces

    Hisila Yami, “Local elections: whose roadmap?”, The Kathmandu Post, 14 April 2017

    Sukhdev Shah “More things change”, Republica, 13 April 2017

    Editorials

    The Kathmandu Post, “The pariah problem”, The Kathmandu Post, 14 April 2017

    Republica, “Dangerous path”, Republica, 13 April 2017

    Pakistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Faisal Bari, “In service of power”, Dawn, 7 April 2017

    Yasir Masood, “Pakistan-India impasse”, The Express Tribune, 5 April 2017

    Raacikh Asghar, “Its about time Pakistan gave India a taste of her own medicine”, The Express Tribune, 6 April 2017

    Sri Lanka

    Opinion Pieces

    Malinda Seneviratne, “Whatever happened to R2P cheerleaders?”, Daily Mirror Online, 13 April 2017

    Chris Edirisinghe, “Sri Lanka still at square one”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 April 2017

    Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, “Trincomalee as an Indian enclave: What is to be done?”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 April 2017

    Jehan Perera, “Collateral damage of delaying transitional justice”, The Island, 11 April 2017

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Reforms without referendum, or referendum without reforms”, The Sunday Leader, 9 April 2017

    Contributors:

    Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah

    Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

    Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale

    India: Shubh Soni & Pushan Das

    Maldives & Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy

    Nepal: Sreeparna Banerjee

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