MonitorsPublished on Oct 31, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 43

Pakistan: Kartarpur Corridor, a hope of reconciliation?

Sohini Bose

For almost a year now, tensions have been brewing between the neighbouring countries of India and Pakistan. Never on particularly amicable terms, bilateral relations rapidly took a turn for the worse after the Pulwama attack happened in February this year. Since then, developments such as India’s pre-emptive air strike on the Jaish-e Mohammad terrorist  camp in Balakot in February and then the abrogation of Article 370 by India in August which annulled the special status allotted to Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan’s consequent intolerance of the same have caused both countries to view each other with gathering apprehension.

As a result of such negative developments, both Pakistan and India had imposed sanctions upon one another.  India seeking to implement economic sanctions revoked Pakistan’s Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status and imposed a 200 per cent hike on Pakistan’s imports from India post the Pulwama attack. Subsequently Pakistan recalled its High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood from India for consultations as tensions heightened between the two countries.

A few months later after Kashmir was bestowed with the status of a Union Territory, it was Pakistan’s turn to impose sanctions on India. Viewing India’s repealing of Article 370 as an illegal act and the Indian government imposed curfew on Kashmir as a gross violation of human rights, Pakistan refused to remain as a “mere spectator”. Accordingly the Pakistan government suspended the Samjhauta Express, the bi-weekly train service that runs between Delhi and Attari in India and Lahore in Pakistan.

At the security front, the Pakistani National Security Council established a group to counter against India’s “Hindutva” ideology and government forces began patrolling near the border of “India occupied” Kashmir. Furthermore, the Pakistani Ministry of Information and Broadcasting also launched a national slogan ‘Say No to India’ and banned all Indo-Pak joint ventures in the entertainment industry. The Indian High Commissioner was expelled from Islamabad and bilateral trade was suspended.

However in such a negative atmosphere wherein sanctions were put in place, the joint work on the Kartarpur Corridor remained unaffected. In this regard, the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated that Pakistan remains committed to completing and opening the Kartarpur Corridor as it does not want to impede people to people relations and is tolerant of all religions.

The agreement

The Kartarpur Sahib Dargah located in the Narowal district of Punjab, Pakistan, is one of the holiest shrines for the Sikhs and making a pilgrimage to it is almost a religious duty for the community. However, for the Indian Sikhs, it had been an ordeal to cross the border in order to make the pilgrimage.

Therefore, in an endeavour to realise this decade old demand of the Sikh devotees of constructing a corridor linking Dera Baba Nanak on the Indian side with Kartarpur Sahib on the Pakistani side, the Pakistani government promised the construction of the Kartarpur Corridor. The Corridor was proposed as a road link and a bridge which will allow Sikh pilgrims to visit the holy site and was to become operational in November 2019 to mark the 550th birth anniversary of the Guru Nanak.

Accordingly, Pakistan and India, despite their differences in their bilateral ties, have recently signed the agreement on Kartarpur Corridor paving the way for its inauguration next month.  The agreement was signed by Mohammad Faisal, director general (South Asia and SAARC) at the Foreign Office, and Indian Ministry of Home Affairs Joint Secretary S.C.L. Das at the Pakistan-India border in Narowal.

In this regard, Dr. Faisal stated that "(They) were very very difficult and tough negotiations," referring to the three rounds of dialogues between the two sides over the project. The negotiations got delayed because of deep differences over various provisions of the agreement, the Pulwama standoff, India’s reservations over the composition of the committee and above all the elections in India.

He added that “Under the agreement, the corridor will remain open seven days a week from dawn to dusk," and that the pilgrims would arrive through the corridor during the day and leave by evening. The project is expected to facilitate 5000 pilgrims every day.  However, Pakistan will charge a twenty dollar service fee per pilgrim for a single trip.

The service charge is expected to help Pakistan rake in around 21 crore INR every month. The pilgrimages will commence from 9 November and the pilgrims who come via the corridor will not require visa but will have to carry their passports which will be duly scanned but not stamped. The Indian authorities will shortly provide the first list of pilgrims.

A first step

Citing this development, the Pakistan government sought to portray it as the country’s commitment to human rights and consideration towards its minorities in dire contrast to Pakistan’s present narrative of India. Although the work on the Kartarpur Corridor and the commitment of both countries towards its realization is indeed appreciable, the way Pakistan has sought to portray this may be counted as one the country’s recent attempts to pose as a champion of human rights and minorities.

However, in circumstances where India is under heavy criticism from Pakistani media about its treatment of the Muslim minorities and the people of Kashmir, it must also be remembered that the development of the Kartarpur Corridor has been a joint endeavour and India is to be equally appreciated for its consideration of the Sikh minority at a time when the ties with Pakistan are strained. In such a situation, it may be hoped that the Kartarpur Corridor is the first step by both countries towards trying to revive a working relation before efforts are made to normalise ties. Indeed, the Kartarpur Corridor is a small development but it is a significant portrayal of consideration for minorities. Presently in an atmosphere of bilateral unease, the Kartarpur Corridor has therefore not only brought hope for the Sikh community but may also be seen as a step towards  reconciliation by both countries.

Nepal: Xi visit, the moment of military embrace with China

Sohini Nayak

Nepal and China are slowly treading towards an ‘all-weather friendship’ as is being witnessed time and again with several strategic manoeuvres concerning South Asian diplomacy. Ranging from active engagement in the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) to the access of Chinese ports for the small landlocked country of Nepal and the provision of basic amenities like internet broadband -- just to mention three -- the two countries have been bonding along quite well. This situation is so amicable that it has also been holding within itself the potential of transitioning the geopolitics of the region as a whole, especially with the presence of India, which has been taking note of the circumstance and has been trying hard to maintain a posture of non-botheration.

The recent two-day state visit of President Xi Jinping from Communist China to Nepal was first of its kind in 23 years. He was received with fanfare and a ceremonial guard of honour by the Nepali Army (NA) along with President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli. This entire meeting is all the more relevant because the Chinese leader landed from India, after an informal address with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and it would be very interesting to note any changing term in the bilateral relationship between India and Nepal, after this event.

This transition is all the more likely as Nepal is becoming more self-reliant with the help of China. In other words, the Himalayan country is somewhat bent towards becoming less dependent on India, of course maintaining the good neighbourly attitude that it already has had, despite rooted anguish of the general Nepali people after the blockade of 2015, often regarded as an economic and societal crisis with India at the blaming end.

Drawing up negotiations

One of the most noteworthy developments that took place between the two countries was purely strategic with the involvement of the Army. China has reportedly offered to assist the Nepali Army with a grant of 150 million RMB (Rs 2.4 billion). A formal agreement on this was also signed between the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Nepal, IshwarPokharel and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe. Also, the purposes of humanitarian and disaster relief work and not anything lethal were cited as the primary domains of utilising this resource, made very clear by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It must be mentioned here that China has also previously provided a specific disaster relief package for Nepal for the post earthquake reconstruction during the visit of then Chinese Defence Minister and State Councillor, General Chang Wanquan in 2017. In this regard, it must be mentioned here that the People’s Liberation Army of China is also very keen to help the Nepal Army in Capacity building.

It is at this very juncture that we are reminded of the visit of Nepal Army Chief Purna Chandra Thapa to China in June this year to bring about an upgradation in the military ties between the two countries. There was also an agreement where the PLA would provide heavy mechanical bridge, explosive ordinance disposal equipment and rescue kits, worth 150 million Yuan to Nepal under humanitarian assistance. We can now be sure that the two meetings are linked and this cooperation from the perspective of the Army has been progressing in a well calculated manner since the last two years.

Token  defence

Best known as an apolitical and non-partisan institution, the Nepalese Army has been dedicated to the preservation of national sovereignty and vital national interests through the maintenance of peace and stability.  From anti-smuggling operations to the protection of the environment, the Army has also undertaken many development projects in the country as well along with its management of natural disasters like the 2015 earth-quake.

Wedged between India and China, however, Nepal was clearly unable to mount anything more than a ‘token, conventional defence’ in the face of overwhelming odds. As necessity entailed, governments in Kathmandu had to build and bank upon the diplomacy and restraint of the neighbours, rather than its own military strength, to safeguard its national survival.

Moreover, geography and hilly terrain have also contained the nation’s conventional capacity, with only possible token defence before intervention by way of international mediation. In such a scenario, Nepal had no other choice but to tread accordingly, “in keeping with the times”, as elaborated by Prime Minister Oli.

Growing friendship

The ever-growing friendship between China and Nepal is undeniable, which is somewhere responsible for the latter’s increasing of distance from India. The first joint military drill between these two countries, namely, the Sagarmatha Friendship 2017, conducted in Kathmandu, is proof of this. Similar to the Indian engagement, this is also a counter-terrorism and disaster management platform that has been envisioned to improve the Nepalese Army’s capabilities.

Under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Programme, China has tried to deepen its military cooperation with the NA. The first cooperation dates back to 2008 with an assistance of USD 2.6 million. There is also a deep-seated Chinese constituency within the Nepalese Army. It gained ground during India’s silence over the border blockade by the Madhesi agitators. Thus, the pro-active nature of China in providing a holistic development of the Nepalese Army is more than a welcome step.

As of now, the pro-Chinese government of PM Oli inadvertently portrays the proximity with the Dragon country, leaving India wary of the situation. This definitely gives Nepal an upper-hand in India-centric negotiations. This is because keeping Nepal within the strategic umbrella of India’s friendly ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy is a necessity, helping the small country in playing the role of the balancer therein. It is also benefitting Nepal in creating its own identity, reaping benefits from both the ends, for its own development. It seems to be fair, “in keeping with the times”.

Country Reports


Rabbani resigns

The acting minister for foreign affairs in Afghanistan, Salahuddin Rabbani, has resigned from his post after making a post on social media criticising the Afghan government of National Unity ‘unpleasant’ since the beginning. He criticised the government for establishing parallel institutions and marginalising the key institutions with their selective approach. Rabbani stated that he had tolerated the situation for so long as respect to the commitment that he has made to the people and to the Afghan community.

Talks on the cards

In the Europe-US Communique on the Afghan peace process, the government of Afghanistan has been urged by the representative of United States, European Union and the United Nations to focus on the preparations for official intra-Afghan dialogue with the Taliban. The government has also been requested to name an inclusive national negotiating team. Furthermore all sides have been urged to observe ceasefire throughout the duration of Intra-Afghan Negotiations to help participants reach a political agreement over Afghanistan’s future.


Four dead in riot over FB post 

Four people were killed in police firing after a riot erupted over a Facebook post that angered the majority of Muslims in the town of Burhanuddin, in Bangladesh's southern Bhola district. Thousands of people took to the street to protest against the post that claimed to have allegedly criticised Prophet Muhammad. The post was published in an account of a member of a minority community and the account was hacked. Bangladesh has a history of spreading of communal tension over Facebook posts. In 2012, large scale violence had taken place in Remu in the southern district of Cox’s Bazaar where minorities were attacked for a Facebook post.

Bouquets and brickbats 

Alice G Wells, US acting assistant secretary at the Bureau of South and Central Asia, has applauded Bangladesh for the country’s socio-economic development. She also lauded the country for sheltering the Rohingya refugees. Nevertheless, she expressed her concern about the country’s state of political freedoms and the trajectory of democracy. She made these observations at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific this week.


Royalty in Japan

His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen attended the enthronement ceremony of the Emperor of Japan, and later attended a court banquet hosted by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan. His Majesty The King granted an audiences to the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, and the former Prime Minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah on 23 October. Later in the evening on the same day their Majesties graced a banquet hosted by the Prime Minister of Japan.

Joint panel clears 214 projects

The Bhutan-India Small Development Project (SDP) Committee approved 214 new projects worth Nu 3,888.514 million during the second batch of SDP committee meeting in Thimphu on 22 October. Some of the major projects approved in the second batch include construction of education, health and urban infrastructures, bridges, irrigation channels, farm roads and drinking water facilities, among others across the country. A total of 359 projects worth Nu 5,737.114M have been approved under the first two batches of SDP. The Government of India (GoI) has so far released Nu 572.28M of the total Nu 1,907.6M for 145 projects for the first phase of the SDP.

Aussie support for fire-fighting

Australia’s state government agency, New South Wales Fire and Rescue, donated full structural uniforms and some bush fire-fighting uniforms to the Fire Service Division of the Royal Bhutan Police on 24 October. The uniform includes jackets, pants, boots, helmets and gloves. Tarayana Dragons Club initiated the procurement of the uniforms and was helped by Australian firefighter Thomas Wilson and Julia Booth.


BJP combine wins, but with reduced seats

The results of the recently concluded Vidhan Sabha elections in the States of Haryana and Maharastra were declared on 24 October. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with its alliance partner Shiv Sena (SS) secured 161 seats which is a comfortable majority in the Maharastra Assembly which has a total strength of 288 seats. The Congress-NCP alliance secured 98 seats which forms the opposition in the state. In Haryana, BJP emerged as the single largest party by winning 40 seats in the 90 member assembly. The Congress party emerged as the second largest party in the state with 31 seats. However, parties like debutant Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) who secured 10 seats, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Haryana Lokhit Party (HLP) who secured one seat each and seven other independents hold the key to government formation in Haryana.

26 of 57 in by-polls

In the recently held by polls in the 57 assembly seats across 17 States in the country, the BJP and its allies have won 26 seats while Congress won in 12 constituencies. Apart from that, regional parties like AIADMK (2), RJD (2), AIMIM (1), JDU (1), Samajwadi Party (3), BJD (1), TRS (1), CPIM (2), RLP (1), SAD (1), SKM (1) have also secured victory in the bypolls. Along with the Vidhan Sabha bypolls, by election in two Lok Sabha seats of Satara in Western Maharastra saw the victory of NCP candidate over BJP and Samastipur seat in North Bihar voted LJP candidate to victory.


Multilateralism, still: President

Maldives would continue to promote multilateralism, international cooperation and understanding to further peace and prosperity, President Ibrahim Solih has said. Speaking at the 74th United Nations Day at a Male function, he said that the nation strongly believes in the UN, the principles and spirit of its Charter as well as the belief that every UN member possessed the ability to unlock the true potential for peace, progress and prosperity. "Despite the challenges we face, we are committed to solving the complex problems of our time through understanding, shared knowledge and multilateralism", he declared.


Statute-change not soon

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has stated that amending the Constitution is needed for Myanmar to transition to a "complete democracy" ,but is unlikely to happen before next year's election. The military still holds significant power, partly due to a clause in the constitution that guarantees 25% of seats in parliament which are allotted to the military. The clause gives the military a virtual veto on amending the constitution, raising doubts over the chance of it being carried out. While the parliament formed a joint committee to discuss the constitutional amendments, Suu Kyi said the "military are not overly enthusiastic," and indicated that the issue will be addressed during her next term if she wins the 2020 election.

Japan urges repatriation

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to create an environment that will allow refugees to return from Bangladesh. "With regard to the alleged human rights violations in Rakhine State, it is indispensable that the Myanmar government and military take appropriate measures promptly," Abe was quoted by the Japanese Foreign Ministry as telling Suu Kyi in their meeting in Tokyo. Suu Kyi expressed her intention to address the Rakhine issue "correctly" and take necessary steps, the ministry said.


PM at NAM Summit

The 18th Summit of the Non –Aligned Movement (NAM) has begun in Baku, Azerbaijan, where Nepal is being represented by Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli. The Summit began with the report of the Preparatory Ministerial Meeting held between 23-24 October. The idea is to reaffirm the NAM in world dynamics and also reiterate the role of Nepal in South Asia and the global scenario at large.

National grid okayed

The government has been very pro-active with regard to the Upper Arun Project with the issuance of the survey license for 1,061 MW. This project is of utmost importance to Nepal and the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) as it is fully owned by the country. It will generate 4.47 billion units of energy. Thus it was important to get the license cleared so that Nepal could move forward. With connection to the national grid, Nepal is looking forward to its completion.


Business index up

In the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index 2020, released recently by the World Bank, Pakistan has climbed 28 places and rose to the rank of 108 in what appears to be the highest ever upward shift in a year. The new rank has included Pakistan in the club of the world’s top ten business climate improvers. According to the World Bank, enactment of six regulatory reforms and concerted improvement in business regulations has improved Pakistan’s ranking.

Biometric simplified

The State Bank of Pakistan has recently issued detailed instructions to facilitate overseas Pakistanis to access their bank accounts. Pakistanis can now approach their respective banks through emails or surface mails and can provide identity documents as an alternative arrangement for biometric verification to operate their bank accounts. This comes as Pakistan has been on a grey list of countries with anti-money laundering deficiencies and is being thoroughly scrutinized by international watchdogs for terror financing and money laundering.

Sri Lanka

PSC report indicts all

The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probe into the 21 April ‘Easter Sunday serial-blasts’, which claimed over 250 lives, including those of nearly 40 foreigners, has found President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and top officials of the time responsible for what could be commonly described as ‘dereliction of duty’ and compromising national security, for not acting on intelligence tip-offs from overseas. Coming as it did at the height of the presidential poll campaign, the probe, in which the political Opposition did not participate, is likely to trigger fresh controversies and charges and counter-charges within the present government leadership, laying at the same time, greater stress on national security over other matters, in turn helping the case of Opposition presidential candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the war-time Defence Secretary. That however is not the only election issue, though others are equally old, tried, tested – and hence, tiring the voter, as much.



Opinion Pieces

Wali Muhammad Alizai, “Do Taliban Really Want Peace?”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 24 October 2019

Thomas Gibbons Neff, “Rocket Attack Wounds at Least 5 Marines in Afghanistan”, The New York Times, 23 October 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Positive Signals for Resumption of Peace Talks”, 24 October 2019

Afghanistan Times, “Genuine synergy is key”, 23 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Nazbul H Khan, “The new challenges for our NGOs”, The Daily Star, 21 October 2019.

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, “BSF-BGB Tension: India-Bangladesh Border Management Need a Rethink”, The Quint, 19 October 2019.


The Daily Star, “Democracy and development must coexist”, 25 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Sonam Tshering, “The Constitution and the LG Act 2009 makes it clear that, LG the master and not local bureaucrats”, Kuensel, 19 October 2019


Kuensel, “Rethinking tourism”, 19 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Sanjay Kumar, “The poll wind direction may have changed”, The Hindu, 25 October 2019

G Pramod Kumar, “Sharad Pawar and Bhupinder Hooda should inspire Congress, also lead it beyond the dynasty”, The Indian Express, 25 October 2019

Vinoy Biswam, “Whose Mahatma”, The Indian Express, 25 October 2019

Valerian Rodrigues, “Two elections and a dent to a jingoistic edifice”, The Hindu, 25 October 2019

MP Nathanael, “Treading cautiously on the final Naga peace agreement”, The Hindu, 24 October 2019

Vanshaj Ravi Jain, “A case against judicial recusal”, The Hindu, 24 October 2019

Dr Taradatt, “Ayodhya dispute: Matters must end decisively with graceful acceptance of court’s verdict”, The Indian Express, 24 October 2019

Atul Jain, “Restraining consumption will help achieve harmonious growth”, The Indian Express, 24 October 2019


The Hindu, “Tamed victors: On Assembly poll results”, 25 October 2019

The Hindu, “Good report card: On ease of doing business”, 25 October 2019

The Indian Express, “Dented at the Top”, 25 October 2019

The Indian Express, “Shadow in the mirror”, 24 October 2019

The Indian Express, “Put away the stick”, 24 October 2019

The Indian Express, “The NREGA signal”, 23 October 2019

The Hindu, “Recording Crimes: On NCRB report”, 23 October 2019

The Hindu, “An impending turn: On BJP’s Savarkar campaign”, 19 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Mariam Malsa, “A sustainable stride towards a renewable future”, The Edition, 22 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Phyo Tha, “Yangon Region Govt Hides From Scrutiny at ‘Friendly’ Press Conference”, The Irrawaddy, 24 October 2019

Nan Lwin, “Tracking the Myanmar Govt’s Income Sources and Spending”, The Irrawaddy, 22 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Jivesh Jha, “In defense of the constitution”, Republica, 24 October 2019

Gopal Thapa, “History in Nepal-China ties”, Republica, 23 October 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “Nepal needs development, but not by coercion”, 22 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Sakib Sherani, “Pathways to growth”, Dawn, 25 October 2019

Pervez Tahir, “So there was no Western route”, The Express Tribune, 25 October 2019


Dawn, “Gun culture”, 25 October 2019

The Express Tribune, “The CSS enigma”, 25 October 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Harim Peiris, “Sajith resets the agenda on Sinhala nationalism”, The Island, 25 October 2019

C A Chaneraprema, “Why the case against Gota in US failed”, The Island, 25 October 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sri Lanka: Will ‘minority voters’ decide the ‘majority’ ruler?”,, 25 October 2019

Neville Laduwahetty, “Addressing accountabililty properly”, The Island, 23 October 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sri Lanka: What does presidential polls mean for India?”,, 22 October 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Pitting UN against UNHRC”, Ceylon Today, 22 October 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Tamil electoral dilemma, still”, Colombo Gazette, 21 October 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

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