MonitorsPublished on Jul 03, 2018
South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. XI Issue 27


Bangladesh: Elections will strengthen democracy

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee With six months left for the parliamentary election in Bangladesh, the country is drawing lots of attention in South Asia and outside. There are speculations about possible scenarios, including those pertaining to the impartiality of the polls and also violence affecting the polls, scheduled for December this year. Such speculation is not unusual as elections in the country are often turbulent. For a country like Bangladesh, elections are a major indicator of democracy. Peaceful transition of power through hassle-free election is desirable for strengthening democracy in the country, but it is not always achieved. The upcoming elections are getting lots of attention largely because the ‘Opposition’ Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP), one of the dominant political players, boycotted the 2014 parliamentary polls, protesting against the abolition of the ‘care-taker government system’, a special poll-time arrangement for overseeing the election, which was institutionalised in 1996. This system was abolished in 2011 with a constitutional amendment by the current government led by Sheik Hasina. The last election was held under the democratically-elected Awami League Government of Prime Minister Hasina. The BNP was not convinced about the impartiality of the elections under the elected government and boycotted the same. There is no sign that the system of caretaker government will be restored now. The incumbent Awami League Government has declared that it will continue in office during the elections although its powers will be reduced. The Election Commission (EC) will continue to be the main authority responsible for the conduct of the polls. However, the BNP is voicing apprehensions about neutrality of the upcoming polls, whenever held.

Further complicated

To make the situation further complicated, BNP chief and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia has been serving a five-year jail sentence, in a corruption case, since February this year. The BNP has termed the conviction ‘politically-motivated’ to keep Khaleda Zia out of the electoral race. The BNP is also facing another problem. Khaleida’s heir and party vice-chairperson Tarique Rahman too has been convicted in the same case, and hence he too cannot fight the upcoming elections. Considering the circumstances, some ambiguity exists about the party’s actual participation in the election. The BNP, however, has not clarified its stand yet. However, some reports in the popular media suggest that the party has been preparing for the election. Since officially Bangladesh follows a multi-party electoral system, the absence of any small party in the polls hardly makes much difference. But the Awami League and the BNP are two main parties that dominate politics in the country. Hence the presence of both is considered crucial. It is noteworthy that after the democracy was re-established in 1991, the Awami League and the BNP not only command large shares of support among the people but also had the distinction of alternating in power. The only exception was the 2014 election, in which the Awami League returned to power for a second consecutive term, when the BNP boycotted the polls.

Inclusive election

In spite of the controversies, the legitimacy of the 2014 elections cannot be doubted because of the participation of other political parties. The Jatiya Party, founded by former military dictator H M Ershad, is at present the main Opposition in the Parliament. An inclusive participatory election is at the centre of the current political discourse in the country. However, elections in the country have been problematic.  The elections are not only been violent with clashes between political rivals but also the impartiality of the system and the process has also been an issue. The system of caretaker government was instituted to ensure free and fair polls. But this system also came under scrutiny after 2006 because the ruling BNP at that time allegedly nominated party sympathisers in the caretaker government, by violating the norms, and defeating its purpose.. The BNP was in power from 2001-06.  The Awami League, which was in the Opposition then, took to the streets protesting against the formation of the caretaker government. The government promulgated Emergency, and an army-backed caretaker government was instituted to restore normalcy in the country. The incumbent Awami League government now has earned many accolades by achieving various milestones, like combating militancy, elevating the country into the middle-income bracket and opening the gates to Rohingya refugees who have been subject to persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.  In spite of a record of development, the present political dispensation is regularly being criticised by the Opposition for its alleged failure to create an atmosphere for inclusive politics, where all the political parties could have a level-playing field for conducting their activities and contesting elections. The Opposition has been accusing the government of harassing their cadres, as part of ‘political vendetta’. Increasing radicalism in the country is against the idea of a democratic Bangladesh. It is being feared that any turbulence on democracy will give the radicals a chance. For the people of Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country with a liberal society, elections are a re-assurance to its liberal order.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

Sri Lanka: Hambantota back in news

N Sathiya Moorthy Sri Lanka’s controversial Hambantota port project, involving massive Chinese investments, real estate holding and large human presence, and well into the future, is back in the news. First, there was local news reports about the China Merchant Port Holdings Ltd (CM Port) holding back the last tranche of the 99-year equity-swap deal before paying up. Recently, The New York Times has put out an analytical report, possibly to kick up fresh dust without actually bringing up anything that the average Sri Lankan newspaper reader has not known over the past decade. According to local media reports, China holding back the last tranche of $ 585 m over the equity-deal owed to Colombo's objection to plans for using a reclaimed island forming a part of the project-site for entertainment purposes. The reports, quoting local officials, said that the Chinese could use the leased land only for marine and port-related activities. However, China has since paid up the last and final tranche, making Hambantota ‘investments’ (?) the single largest FDI project in the country – as incumbent UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been pointing out ever since the ’equity-swap deal’ was signed last year. With the current instalment, China’s C M Port has paid up all of the $ 976-m investment ‘Value 1’ of the port concession. Under the Concession Agreement, CM Port has also agreed to invest another $ 146 m on ‘Value 2’, to be utilised for port and marine related activities. “CM Port is one of the most successful global companies in the ports sector, and their investment in the Port of Hambantota can be described as a credible vote of confidence in its potential as well as in the economy of Sri Lanka,” Dr Parakrama Dissanayake, chairman, Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA), said while accepting the last tranche of China funding. However, both sides were silent on the Chinese use of the artificial island for entertainment purposes.

‘Increased profitability’

Between them, the two companies set up to run the Hambantota affairs plan a further investment of $ 400-600 m on Phase-I and Phase-II of the port project.  According to Sri Lankan promotional efforts (possibly to offset local and international criticism), “these investments will attract many other foreign investors to the country, making Sri Lanka a pivotal maritime and logistics centre”, the Sunday Times reported. As the Colombo-based Sunday Times issue of 24 June 2018 recalled, in 2017, Port of Colombo, which has been in existence for long, was ranked as the 23rd largest Container Port and 13th best-connected port in the world. With the Sri Lankan fiscal year corresponding to the calendar year, the SLPA, the public sector owners of the Colombo port recorded a net profit of SL-Rs 13.2 billion in 2017, as SL-R 1 b in the previous year. According to the report, the transhipment volume at Colombo during the first five months of the current year has gone up by 19.2 percent against the corresponding figure for 2017. Likewise, the Jaya Container Terminal managed by SLPA too recorded a transhipment growth of 21 percent during the same period. The argument was clear. “The Hambantota Port would further enhance profitability,” the Sunday Times said quoting the SLPA statement. However, there has been no explanation why then has the Hambantota port not seen higher, or even nominal business that was expected in the first place before the then government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa signed up with China. If the idea is that China (alone) would be able to bring in that kind of business, and only after it had taken possession of Sri Lankan real estate in the name of the 99-year ‘equity-swap’ deal as now, even the Sri Lankan Government has not explained to its people how it was going to be achieved.

Old wine in old bottle

Against the Sunday Times report, which was episode-specific, the longish New York Times analysis has not said anything much new. Given the timing of the NYT publication, when Sri Lanka is already on the longish run-up for the presidential polls, due only by early January 2020, some specifics may be able to still entangle the Rajapaksas in new criminal investigations and court cases, with both national and international ramifications. In a way, the New York Times report remains the proverbial old wine in old bottle. If there was/is anything exciting, it owed to the NYT claims that the Chinese firms operating in Hambantota had made specific payments through their accounts in an international bank in the country to the Rajapaksa campaign ahead of the 2015 presidential polls. Rajapaksa lost the poll and the presidency. The New York Times analysts claimed to have had access to Sri Lankan Government’s investigation documents regarding the bank transactions. This is possibly the first time that any media outlet has made such a specific claim. Otherwise, reports about such payments and such investigations were doing the rounds, the former during the 2015 poll run-up and the latter post-poll, when the current Government came into place. However, there has not been any great Sri Lankan follow-up on such investigations and reports, since first reported after the present leadership took over in January 2015. While the Government has hauled up the Rajapaksas repeatedly before the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) formed near-specifically for the purpose, the ‘Hambantota poll payments’ have not found any serious mention. However, now after The New York Times mentioning the claim, otherwise buried in a larger analysis on the Hambantota project and equity-swap, someone in the Government seemed wanting to act. In what could be dubbed an unusual move, Deputy Minister for Social Empowerment, Ranjan Ramanayake, has moved the FCID, citing the New York Times report. It is not clear what had happened to the early reports of the Chinese funding, or if the FCID was already seized of the matter and if any progress had at all been made through the past years. It is another matter no senior government leader has not reacted to the New York Times report thus far, or if it is appropriate for an incumbent minister to move the FCID in such a way lest charges of bias and partisanship should be laid against the investigation on a later day.

‘Third-party interference’

The New York Times report has once again flagged larger questions that have remained mostly unanswered for long. For one thing, no answers have been found for the medium and long-term financial feasibility of the Hambantota Port, which has lost out in the short-term, already. If China has had plans and successive governments in Sri Lanka from either side of the nation’s majority Sinhala-Buddhist political spectrum have all known, the nation does not know it, as yet. It is the opaque nature of the deal that has triggered ‘sovereignty discomfort’ in many Sri Lankans as it has also flagged security concerns in all nations using the busy Indian Ocean sea-lanes of communications (IO-SLOC), which is also the busiest SLOC in the world. Hambantota is also posited across the US military base in Diego Garcia on the other side, and this has been an added concern for Washington. Even otherwise, the US (navy) is already the ‘elephant in the Indian Ocean’, as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been flagging from time to time. If anything, unlike as may have been expected, the New York Times report did not stir up, at least thus far, any fresh Sri Lankan discourse on these aspects of the Hambantota deals, signed over the past decade and more. Whatever reaction has come and belatedly was from the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, which called the report as “full of political prejudice and completely inconsistent with the fact”. An embassy statement said that “China has always been pursuing a friendly policy toward Sri Lanka, firmly supporting the latter's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposing any country's interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. It is encouraging that all sectors of the Sri Lankan society highly appreciate China's tremendous support and selfless assistance for ending the civil war and post-war reconstruction in the Island nation.” Without naming, the statement said, “Despite any interference from a third party, China would like to work together with Sri Lanka to actively implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, and concentrate unwaveringly on our fixed goals, continuously promote the pragmatic cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiatives following the ‘golden rule’ of ‘extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits’, to better benefit the two countries and the two peoples.”

No debt-trap: Myanmar

Interestingly, China may have received a shot-in-the-arm on the Hambantota deal from a not-so-directly connected source. The Sunday Leader, based in Colombo, citing a report in the South China Morning Post, quoted Myanmar’s Union Minister and Security Adviser Thaung Tun that his nation has “dismissed fears linked to the Chinese-funded Hambantota port and said it will go ahead with a Chinese-backed deep-water port project in Kyaukpyu. Minister Tun said that his Government was eager to begin work on the Chinese-backed deep-water port project in Kyaukpyu, and a decision is expected soon. Tun dismissed the fear of a “debt-trap”, saying he was confident it would be a “win-win” deal. “We would like to see this project get off the ground,” Thuang Tun, who is also chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), said. “I would say we (China and Myanmar) are negotiating, the process is moving ahead and a decision is imminent,” The Sunday Leader said, quoting further from the South China Morning Post.

Security concerns

The security concerns for and in neighbouring India is far more real and greater. Apart from the traditional adversity flowing from the 1962 war that India and China fought along the land-border, New Delhi should also be concerned about the increasing Chinese prowess to become a ‘Blue Water navy’ as fast as it can. Apart from the real threat to the nation, India should be even more concerned about the real possibilities of a US-China naval competition in the IOR neighbourhood, possibly triggering a ‘neo cold war’. Even otherwise, in times of heightened bilateral tensions with China if and when it came to that, India should be concerned about the East-West-East maritime transportation between the nation’s two shorelines, even if it does not actually turn out to be a naval engagement of any kind. Given the high cost of road and rail transport and related issues, industries, trades and also State Government institutions across the shore-lines have been using the sea-route for ‘internal transportation’ of bulk goods like coal and other volume-based consumables and other goods. Underscoring the unmentioned Indian concern of the time was the Vajpayee Government’s decision to go launch the ‘Sethusamudram Project’. Though suspect in techno-fiscal terms, the project was still expected to provide a sure and possible alternative ‘inland waterway’ route linking the two wins of the Indian shore-lines. After the exit of the Vajpayee Government, however, his BJP has been in the frontline of court battles, which have stalled the project. The delays do not relate to techno-fiscal feasibility or corruption charges, but derive from faith-related issues, that Lord Rama had laid a now-submerged stone-bridge between the India and Sri Lanka, using an ‘army of monkeys’ and that it should not be tampered with.

SLN Command HQ

Today, when Hambantota is on its way to become a full-fledged port in its own right, albeit Chinese funding, participation and strong presence, India especially may have to ask itself if China were interested wholly on using it for military purposes. It is more so, now the amended agreement draft, signed last year, clearly states that Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) would be in exclusive control of port and adjoining sea security and China would have no role or claims to it. Sri Lankan media reports at the time had claimed that the amendment more than India, SLN and other arms of the nation’s armed forces had expressed strong reservations to handing over Hambantota port security to the Chinese or any other foreign power. Before the incumbent Government’s assertions in this regard, both the Rajapaksa Government and that of President Chandrika Bandaranayake-Kumaratunga dispensation before it, had said as much – both to domestic queries and to international interlocutors. In this regard, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s office has made a further clarification now, declaring that the SLN’s Southern Command Headquarters was being moved to Hambantota. The statement claimed PM Wickremesinghe’s claims to negotiating the Hambantota deal with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping of China and “came up with a proposal which was beneficial for both parties”. The statement recalled that “Sri Lanka also informed the Chinese that Hambantota cannot be used for military purposes. The Sri Lanka Navy is moving its Southern Command to Hambantota. There is no need to be frightened as security of the port will be under the control of Sri Lanka Navy.” The statement said further: “Once an American has asked him, “what would you do if the Chinese troops land in Hambantota”. The Prime Minister has responded saying that there is a full army division stationed at Hambantota. The Prime Minister never mentioned that we will not be resisting any invasion. Further, no Navy in the region has the capacity to land an army division in Sri Lanka,” the statement said, clarifying media misquotes in this regard.

‘Sensitive to Indian interests’

Nearly a week after the New York Times report, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a lengthy statement, has denied accepting any campaign funding from China. Stating that the London-headquartered news agency Reuters had reported as far back as July 2015 that China gave his campaign $ 7.6-m, the statement recalled how the present Government had suspended the Hambantota deal, only to revive it not long after, with PM Wickremesinghe describing it as the ‘premier project on which his Government has placed its hopes”. Early on after the New York Times report, Mahinda’s parliamentarian-son Namal Rajapaksa had, in response to New York Times article titled ‘How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port’, MP Namal Rajapaksa had tweeted to say that it “has many inaccuracies’. He added that the “country’s assets shouldn’t be used as geopolitical pawns in this power struggle” (between China and the West). Against this, Mahinda’s belated response was not perfunctory, but contained great many details, starting with how two western consultancies chosen by the CBK Government twice and that of PM Wickremesinghe’s earlier dispensation in the first half of last decade had certified the project as an economically feasible proposition. Claiming that the higher project cost owed to the swift hike in the standard LIBOR (London Inter-Bank Offered Rate) to which Chinese funding was linked, Mahinda also argued that the number of ships calling at Hambantota Pohad gone up from 32 ships in 2012, the port’s first year of operation, to 3,667 ships at the Colombo port, but the New York Times cited only the former figure and not the latter. According to him, the “port made an operating profit of SL-Rs. 900 m in 2014 and Rs. 1,200 million in 2015... and a “new harbour that opened in 2011 cannot be expected to produce profits by 2012”. In this context, the statement also denies the New York Times report that there was a debt-trap, forcing the “present government was compelled to lease the port to China”. Possibly for the first-time ever by any Sri Lankan or Chinese stake-holder with personal knowledge of the Hambantota project costs and time-line, Mahinda said that the “total cost of financing the (capital plus interest) will be $ 1,761 m by the time the loan expires in 2036. By the end of 2016, nearly $ 500 m of this total amount had already been repaid. There was never any problem ... because it was paid out of the profits of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).” Mahinda’s statement said further: “The Auditor-General’s report for 2014 states that the profit of the SLPA in 2014 after paying all loans and taxes was SL-Rs. 8.8 b... the government did not use the $ 1,120 m received from the port-lease to repay the loan taken to build it. Instead it went to the treasury to meet the day to day expenditure of the Government and the loan still remains on our books.” Mahinda concluded his statement, declaring that his Government was ‘sensitive to India’s interests’, and said that the leasing of Hambantota port to China “would never have arisen if my government had continued in power”. In this context, he quoted from former Indian National Security Advisor (NSA) and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon’s 2016 book “Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy” and said that “my Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a clear view of Sri Lanka’s interests which was completely compatible with India’s interests and that India had been given assurances about the nature of Sri Lanka’s relationship with China”. Mahinda went on to quote Menon to say that “Gotabaya was sensitive to India’s concerns and that the assurances given to India by my government were respected throughout the duration of the Congress Party government which was voted out in May 2014”.  As coincidence would have it, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an interview to the Colombo-based Daily Mirror, said that in the Sri Lankan presidential polls, due by January 2020, the West “can make an impact. Actually, India is the country that can make the biggest political impact... India influences to a certain extent. We have to reach a position to overcome such influences. I hope India would not meddle with Sri Lanka’s internal political affairs.”

Buying up liner firms

Independent of the politics and allegations of bribes pertaining to the  Hambantota projects, which continues to centre on the Rajapaksa clan, there was national consensus of a kind on the need for the same, its feasibility and involving China, long before Mahinda R became President. The project was often been mentioned over the previous three or four decades. It was also Mahinda Rajapaksa’s predecessor President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, who actually signed the Hambantota MoU with China after India had declined the offer. Rajapaksa offered it again, and India declined it again – for valid fiscal and technical reasons, all of which may not have been put out in the public domain. In this context, critics of China in Sri Lanka, who see the Hambantota deal only through the prism of political possibilities nearer home and security concerns elsewhere may have to look beyond them both, to get a fuller picture of Chinese intentions. There have been reports that China has been increasing its equity stakes in major ocean-liner firms in the world, and may become a major player in that sector before other nations and stake-holders realised it in full measure. If so, China could then dictate terms to those ocean-liners, with the result, not only Hambantota but also other port-points in the nation’s ambitious BRI project could also become economically feasible. This could mean that China would end up calling shots on the global maritime trade, insurance, and even manipulate both, especially if the rest are going to raise the ‘China bogey’ in security matters constantly. This is apart from the real security concerns, if not outright threat, that China’s Hambantota presence and all along the BRI route could pose for the rest of the world.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter

Country Reports


Crime against humanity

The province of Maidan Wardak in Afghanistan recently witnessed violence as a deadly blast ripped through a youth gathering supporting the peace process. According to the 203rd Thunder Corps of the Afghan Military in the Southeast, the explosion took place in the village of Ismail Khel in the vicinity of the Charkh district. It killed eight people including women and children and four others were left wounded. The insurgent groups have yet refrained from commenting on the matter.

Women flying high

Courtesy the Afghan Ministry of Defence, more women nationals have been encouraged to pursue a career in the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. Further facilitated in their efforts by the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, two women have graduated from the Czech Republic as Afghan Air Force fixed-wing pilots amongst others. The women have undergone the same training as their male counterparts and are to receive additional training in their home country before entering the battlefield.

Deadly strike thwarted

Recently the anti-government insurgent forces in Afghanistan are attempting to carry on deadly attacks in the key provinces of the country. In that regard the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces recently foiled a plot of a rocket attack on Kabul by the armed militants. The Criminal Investigation Department reported that four rockets were confiscated and defused from the Deh Sabz district which was prepared for the attack. The insurgent groups have not yet commented on the matter.

Renouncing violence

The declarations of the Muslim clerics claiming violence to be against the tenets of Islam seems to be having an impact on the insurgent groups. This was evinced as eighteen Taliban insurgents laid down their arms and joined the peace process in response to the latest speech by the Saudi Imams and seeing the peoples’ love for the environment during the ceasefire period. They seek to join the police or any such institution and return to mainstream life.


Joint patrol with India

Navies of India and Bangladesh conducted its maiden joint patrols in the Bay of Bengal this week.  Chief of India Navy visited Bangladesh on the inauguration. The joint patrol a goodwill gesture between the two nations is a major step forward in enhancing operation interaction between the navies of the two countries. India and Bangladesh have agreed to institute a Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) as an annual feature between the two Navies.

AL wins Gazipur Corpn

The ruling Awami League supported candidate won the Gazipur City Corporation election. In spite of speculations about violence, the election was peaceful.  The election commission declared to the corporation polls to be free and fair. The opposition, however, alleged of the misappropriation of the process. With parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year, the Gazipur city cooperation is d important because of its considered curtain raiser of the upcoming national poll because of its proximity to the capital Dhaka.


Japan to back 12th Plan  

Japan will continue its development support to Bhutan even after Bhutan’s graduation from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) category. Japanese foreign minister, Taro Kono expressed development support to Bhutan and identified agriculture, health research, tourism and higher education as the key areas of cooperation. Kono, became the first foreign minister of Japan to visit the Himalayan nation.

Power generation drops

Power generation from Tala, Chukha, Kurichhu and Basochhu projects decreased by about four percent last year compared to 2016. The plants’ total electricity generation was 7.25 b units compared with 7.57 b units of in 2016. This was mainly due to poor hydrology in the Wangchhu.


Tariff-war with US

In response to the tariffs levied by the US Administration of President Donald Trump on aluminium and steel, deriving from his poll-time promise of ‘protectionism in favour of domestic industry’, India has retaliated by increasing tariffs for US imports. President Trump has since cited India specifically for alleged high tariff rates. The future of the thriving bilateral relationship has become somewhat foggy due to recent developments.

Dornier-gift for Seychelles

After bilateral talks with visiting Seychelles President, Danny Faure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared that the two nations would go ahead with the earlier agreement for Indian installations at Assumption Island when the other nation was ready. Earlier, the Seychelles government had stalled the project following indications that the nation’s Opposition would not support the legislation required for the purpose. After extensive bilateral talks during President Faure’s visit, India has gifted a Dornier aircraft and promised a $ 100-m Line of Credit (LoC) to Seychelles.


Ibu Solih, JO nominee

In a dramatic finish to identifying their joint nominee for the 23 September presidential polls, the four-party Joint Opposition has named MDP’s parliamentary group leader, Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih, with the Jumhooree Party (JO) being formally asked to name the running-mate. This was preceded by a week of revived hiccups, leading up to MDP’s self-exiled former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed withdring his candidacy conceding the legal bar, as unilaterally as the party had elected him unanimously in the ‘primaries’ earlier. Earlier, the JP congress meeting last week-end had threatened to field a separate presidential candidate.


More food for Rakhine

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will speed up the process of providing humanitarian aid in Rakhine State, state media reported on 28 June. The ICRC has been providing humanitarian aid in Rakhine State since the conflict started in August 2017. It is now planning to distribute double the quantity of food that has been provided in the areas, as it is difficult to procure food during the rainy season, according to ICRC.

China reiterates ties

Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the China’s National People's Congress (NPC), held talks with Myanmar's Union Parliament Speaker U Mahn Win Khaing Than in Beijing on 26 June. He called upon the two sides to adhere to the "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence" and consolidate the "paukphaw" friendship between the two countries. China supports Myanmar to explore a development path suited to its national conditions, Li said, noting that China also supports Myanmar people's efforts for peace, stability, development and prosperity.


The US on 28 June placed Myanmar on its list of worst offenders of human trafficking and accused it of using child soldiers amid global criticism over human rights abuses by the country’s military against the minority Rohingya Muslims. The report evaluates 187 countries and territories and ranks them into four tiers, with Tier 1 being the best and Tier 3 the worst. A Tier 3 ranking can trigger American sanctions limiting access to US and international foreign assistance.


‘Implementation’ dilemma

Dispute has surfaced over the implementation of the ongoing developmental projects in the country, with regard to their executing authority. This issue came to the forefront after Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Khagraj Adhikari defended a motion in favour of the federal government carrying out such projects, rather than the local governments doing the same. Issues like drinking water, road and sewerage would be handed over to the latter only after completion to avoid delay. However, Nepali Congress (NC), being the opposition criticized such a step as a movement away from the principles of federalism.

Flexible aid for ‘migrant workers’

A new directed has been expedited to aid the Nepali migrant workers, facing legal issues or hailed as criminals in foreign lands. In this regard, the government would bear the finances for defending the workers. Labour Minister, Gokarna Bista, has shared a data of around 335 Nepalis stuck in foreign prisons. However, to avail of such facilities, the working contract has to be valid and not expired. The Foreign Employment Promotion Board’s (FEPB) relief fund would be the primary source of funding.

Welcome step: PM

Inaugurating the Gaddi Baithak Building, funded by the US in capital Kathmandu, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli  spoke about the economic prosperity and developmental paradigms that the country has been witnessing in the recent past, mainly though the Constitution and the Constituent Assembly. The post-quake reconstruction and construction-spree in the nation may be viewed as a welcome step of improvement after the devastating earthquake of 2015.


Status quo

The Pakistan Foreign Office in a press statement released on 28 June 2018 has ruled all possibility of FATF placing Pakistan on the ‘black list’. It however, affirmed that Pakistan will continue to remain on the ‘grey list’. The Foreign Office spokesperson Dr. Muhammad Faisal clarified in a press briefing that the decision to place Pakistan on the ‘grey list’ was taken in February after the country submitted its plan to manage issues of money laundering, corruption, terror funding. The Foreign Office also said that the international body will make its formal announcement on 29 June, after the week long deliberation in Paris.

Search for missing persons

The Pakistan Supreme Court has ordered authorities concerned to set up a special cell for missing persons. The order comes after Supreme Court Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar received complaints from the relatives of the missing individuals during his visit to district courts in Lakarna. The court proceeding held on 24 June, saw the heads of intelligence agencies including Inter-Services-Intelligence, Military Intelligence, and Intelligence Bureau along with other intelligence agencies appear for the hearing. In the hearing the Chief Justice ordered the security agencies to keep the SC human rights cell in loop during investigation.

Border Trade with China resumes

The border trade with China through Khunjerab Pass resumed after the three months strike by the traders against Web-Based One Custom System at Sust Dry Port. The traders had blocked the strategic Karakoram Highway which is a part of the multi-billion dollar project CPEC. In a meeting supervised by the army, the traders decided to end the strike during a meeting in Gilgit where the new system was decided to be put on hold till court decision.

Sri Lanka

Shifting HQ

Coinciding with a report in the New York Times on the nation’s ‘Hambantota swap-deal’ with China, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the Navy’s southern headquarters would be shifted to the port-town. Skirting the NYT’s claims that Chinese firms involved in the Hambantota project had spent huge funds on incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s failed re-election bid in 2015, the Chinese Embassy in Colombo has declared all criticism of the Hambantota deal as ‘biased’.  



Opinion Pieces

Ashraf Ghani, “I Will Negotiate With the Taliban Anywhere”, The New York Times, 27 June 2018 Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “The Depreciating Effect of Afghan Currency Value on People’s Lives”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 27 June 2018 Zia Nezam, “Confronting Afghanistan’s environmental challenges”, Afghanistan Times, 23 June 2018 Hujjatullah Zia, “Afghans’ Three-day Sigh of Relief Ends”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 23 June 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Voting Along Ethnic Lines: A Democratic Practice Guided by Ethnic Patterns”, 27 June 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan,”Major Barriers of Peace Talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan”, 26 June 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Listen First for Prevention of Drug Abuse”, 25 June 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Democracy in Jeopardy”, 24 June 2018 Afghanistan Times, “Imperatives to Improve Afghanistan, India Business linkages: A policy perspective”, 23 June 2018


Opinion Pieces

Shakhawa tLiton, “Some insights into Gazipur Elections”, The Daily Star, 28 June 2018 Hongmei HeJiao Nieand Yao Wang, “China's assistance for Chittagong port development, not a military conspiracy”, The Daily Star, 26 June 2018


The Daily Star, “Bangladeshi workers in Syndicate vice”, 25 June 2018



Kuensel, “Changes”, 28 June 2018 Kuensel, “Unemployment: Wishing it away won’t help”, 25 June 2018


Opinion Pieces

Sandip Sen, “India needs a new strategy to survive Trump’s trade war”, Observer Research Foundation, 21 June 2018 Harsh V. Pant, “India-Seychelles ties: A time-tested bilateral relationship”, Observer Research Foundation, 27 June 2018 Homi Kharas, Kristofer Hamel and Martin Hofer, “The start of a new poverty narrative”, Brookings, 19 June 2018


Opinion Pieces

Lawi Weng, “Army Maintains ‘Divide and Conquer’ Approach to Ethnic Alliances”, The Irrawaddy, 27 June 2018 Lawi Weng, “International Pressure Over Rohingya Crisis Tests NLD, Army Relations”, The Irrawaddy, 25 June 2018 Kyaw Lat, “Buddha’s Teaching and the Problems in Rakhine State”, The Irrawaddy, 25 June 2018


Opinion Pieces

Dinesh Bhattarai, “Why parliamentary system?”, Republica, 28 June 2018 Siddhant Raj Pandey, “Investing for change”, The Kathmandu Post, 29 June 2018 Rohit Karki, “China’s strategic convergence”, Republica, 27 June 2018 Amish Raj Mulmi, “Strong leaders, weak democracies”, The Kathmandu Post, 29 June 2018


The Himalayan Times, “Flying high”, 29 June 2018 The Kathmandu Post, “Linger no further”, 29 June 2018 Republica, “Coherent strategy”, 21 June 2018


Opinion Pieces

Maryam Nazir, “The long shot for peace”, The Express Tribune, 24 June 2018 Kamran Yousuf, “#ThankyouModi for helping the Kashmir cause”, The Express Tribune,  25 June 2018 Khurram Husain, “Lessons of Hambantota”, Dawn, 28 June 2018


The Express Tribune,Gone but not forgotten”, 26 June 2018 Dawn, “FATF’s unwelcome action”, 29 June 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Kumar David, “Gota and the threat of a religio-fascist state”, The Island, 1 July 2018 Rajan Philip, “NY Times expose: Mahinda and Ranil’s harbour cough-ups”, The Island, 1 July 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “The ‘Hitler comparison’ can cut in many ways”, The Sunday Leader, 1 July 2018 D B S Jeyaraj, “Seizure of Tiger arsenal in North renews fears of an LTTE revival attempt”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 June 2018 M S M Ayub, “Dictators, others’ and ours”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 June 2018 Malinda Seneviratne, “So who wants Provincial Councils now?”, Daily Mirror Online, Daily Mirror Online, 28 June 2018 Jehan Perera, “The need to implement UNHRC resolution remains”, The Island, 26 June 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Machang, Whither 30/1 now?”, Ceylon Today, 26 June 2018 P K Balachandran, “TNA set to split as elections approach”, Daily Mirror Online, 26 June 2018 Ranga Jayasuriya, “If Gota heeds to the sermon and becomes a Hitler”, Daily Mirror Online, 26 June 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Insensitivity or worse?”, The Island, 25 June 2018 Tamara Kunanayakam, “Sri Lankan sovereignty, non-negotiable”, The Island, 25 June 2018 C A Chandraprema, “The need to rethink free trade agreements”, The Island, 25 June 2018


Kelum Bandara, “President sought my support for no-faith motion against PM”, Daily Mirror Online, 28 June 2018 Kelum Bandara, “We have brought a sense of freedom into the country”, Daily Mirror Online, 26 June 2018


Afghanistan: Sohini Bose Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ketan Mehta & Rishabh Tiwari Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak Pakistan: Mayuri Banerjee
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