MonitorsPublished on Nov 19, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 46

Afghanistan: Govt absent in the peace process

Sohini Bose

Last September, when the US-Taliban talks in the Afghan peace process were in an advanced stage of negotiation with an “agreement in principle” made between the two parties, US President Donald Trump called off the peace talks suddenly. Calling it a ‘bad deal’, the US President put an end to the negotiations after an episode of violence between the Afghan Taliban and the US forces in Afghanistan which resulted in the death of one American soldier.

The decision from the American head of state aroused much apprehension in and around Afghanistan as many of the country’s geographical neighbours expressed concern about heightened resurgence of violence in Afghanistan, which would eventually have a destabilising impact on the region. Consequently, many of the regional powers has sought to rekindle negotiations and commence the resumption of the peace process. Pakistan, under the leadership of Imran Khan, had already been playing an active role in persuading the Taliban to enter into negotiations based on the apparent “favour” that Khan enjoys with the insurgent group.

Pakistan at the helm

It was therefore not surprising that after the cancellation of the peace talks, Pakistan has been one of the first countries to begin efforts for the revival of peace talks. Consequently, the Afghan Taliban had been invited at the end of last month for a visit to Pakistan, which apparently coincided with the visit of US Special Envoy for Peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad’s visit to Islamabad for consultations.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met with the 12-member Taliban delegation and reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment and support for resolving the Afghan conflict. He further stated that both sides had agreed that the peace process should be resumed as soon as possible. This was Khalilzad’s first meeting with the Taliban since the talks were stalled. This was followed up with discussions between Trump and Imran Khan on the side lines of the f the UN General Assembly.

However, it is to be noted that although initiatives were undertaken by Pakistan to resume peace talks with the participation of the Afghan Taliban and Ambassador Khalilzad, the Afghan government were not involved in the talks. In fact, in this entire process of the peace process, its cancellation and the talks about its resumption, the marginal or rather insignificant role of the internationally recognised Afghan government is surprising.

So far, most of the attempts at negotiations and efforts to begin renegotiations that have been undertaken by the regional country have stressed on talks between the US and the Taliban. It is noteworthy how the apparently democratically elected government of Afghanistan has been left out of such discussions and talks.  This may be attributed to the fact that the Taliban refuse to recognise the Afghan government and hence consented to only direct negotiations with the US. It is also surprising to note that in the entire peace process none of the parties involved in the negotiations were concerned about the views of the country’s elected government.

It is also noteworthy that while the Taliban are nurturing their regional ties, they continue to refrain from recognising the Afghan government led by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani as the legitimate governing authority of the country. Therefore, even if an intra-Afghan dialogue is on the cards it is unlikely that the Taliban will ever engage with the Afghan government. Although all regional states have maintained that intra-Afghan dialogue is necessary if sustainable peace is to be established it is unlikely that the Taliban will participate with the Afghan government in its negotiations.

Strategic depth

The National Security Adviser (NSA) of Afghanistan has thus stated that while in the past years the Afghan government had been ready to negotiate with the Taliban without any preconditions that would no longer be the case.  For the Afghan government, the only means to have any impact on the peace process is to adopt a strong stance towards it and make it imperative to involve the government in the negotiations. According to the NSA “At least a month of ceasefire is the Afghan government condition for starting any negotiations.”

Moreover, the Afghan government is also not very happy with the involvement of Pakistan in the peace process and in the “Seven Point Peace Plan” that the government presented, Pakistan has been identified as the “root of the problem”.  This may be attributed to Pakistan’s requirement of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. In this regard it has been argued that Pakistan seeks a strategic area to fall back on in operational or tactical terms in case it faces a conflict with India and the need for such a space arises.

Pakistan’s attempts at restarting the peace process and bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table with the promise of the insurgent group’s future participation in the governance of Afghanistan may be understood in this regard. The theory also explains the absence of Afghan government from these initiatives. It is therefore understood that Pakistan’s initiative to resume Afghan peace talks without the involvement of the government is not being welcomed by it.

This is also an indication that any outcome that denies the due recognition to the government in the peace process will not be accepted by the Afghan political elite. However, Pakistan claims that the notion of “strategic depth” is no longer valid and projects itself as an earnest partner for commerce and energy projects.

Nonetheless, if the peace talks are to succeed, it is necessary that all sections of the Afghan society are involved in it. Therefore, if Pakistan wishes to contribute towards the resumption of the Afghan peace process, it is important that the country mediates its differences with the Afghan government and involves the latter in the talks that are being undertaken. Otherwise, if the Afghan government continues to view Pakistan with suspicion and adopts a negative stance towards the peace process, it is unlikely that the initiative will be able to make much headway in future.

Bhutan: One year of DNT government

Mihir Bhonsale

On 7 November, the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) government completed a year in office. This is the third democratic government since the general elections were held for the first time in Bhutan in 2008. In the general elections held last year, to the surprise of many, the little-known DNT party,  led by medical surgeon Dr Lotay Tshering, won 30 out of 47 seats in the lower-house of Parliament.

The DNT fought the elections with a promise of “narrowing the gap” and providing affordable healthcare and jobs to the unemployed youth. On the first anniversary of the DNT government, the government claimed that it had laid down the foundation for not just the rest of its term but for generations together.

Foreign relations

Little was known about the foreign policy that the DNT government would pursue, since the DNT’s election manifesto remained silent on Bhutan’s relations with its neighbourhood, particularly its relations with India. This had triggered a speculation that the government-elect would augment its relations with New Delhi, particularly for diversifying Bhutan’s economy that was greatly reliant on hydropower export to India.

Many country watchers saw Bhutan’s imminent rapprochement with China, since this was discussed to be in the interest of Bhutan’s economic diversification. Dr. Tshering’s first overseas visit as the Prime Minister to New Delhi was successful in getting India’s support for Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan. But importantly, New Delhi also conceded to Bhutan’s tariff offer for the 720 MW Mangdecchu hydropower plant.

The successful commissioning of the Mangdecchu plant in September came as a shot in arm for the government, because the largest chunk of Bhutan’s internal revenue in the 12th FYP will be coming from this project. The PM also managed to strengthen its relations with Dhaka, getting duty-free access to 16 export items of Bhutan in lieu of 10 from Bangladesh. These were the highlights of Dr. Lotay Tshering’s visit to Bangladesh in April.

Then came the maiden visit of democratically elected government of Bhutan to the United Nations General Assembly in September where the Bhutanese delegation discussed its initiatives like Universal Health Coverage by 2030 and teachers being made into the highest paid civil servants, much to the awe of UN member nations. The delegation held nearly 23 bilateral and multilateral meetings, discussing cooperation.


Owing to the world economic slowdown and the downturn in the Indian economy, Bhutan finds itself in a spot of bother. The economy of Bhutan was greatly impacted by the implementation of the GST in India in 2016 and had requested India for an exemption from the GST regime.

Also, on coming to power, the DNT had to mitigate the cash flow crunch as there was a gap between the previous 11th and present 12th Five Year plan. Bhutan’s trade deficit stood at Nu 30 billion in 2017-18 fiscal year and is projected to increase by Nu 7 billion in 2019-19. The current account deficit has widened by almost Nu 10B in the same period.

Bhutan slipped in the ranking of ease of doing business by nine places in 2018. The DNT government had pledged in its election manifesto to “cut red tape, promote transparent decision making on procurement, framing consistent policies and deregulate unnecessary bureaucratic procedures…take public service online”.

There is need for the government to push for regulatory changes if there need to be any improvement in ease of business doing rankings. Bhutan was ranked 15th on regulatory changes in the report. The DNT government has also taken up changes in tax regime and this aspect of the economy seems fine.

The opposition targeted the government on the state of the economy and rising external debt. It also critiqued the scaling down the number of flagship programmes from 15 to 9 in the ongoing 12th Five Year Plan. The opposition also criticised the government’s alleged mix-up of initiatives taken and its achievements.

Looking forward

In the debut year, the DNT government took up important decisions like reviewing the pay of civil servants and the doing away of cut-off marks for class 10 in schools. It announced the government’s emphasis on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) for reducing unemployment. Introducing block grants for ‘gewogs’ was another decision in narrowing the gap at the local government level.

However, it is to be seen how the government mitigates the challenge of improving the economy and the implementation of the 12th Five Year Plan.

Country Reports


NATO training still

Speaking at the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in Washington, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently stressed on the necessity of training Afghan forces. He congratulated the US Special Forces for the successful elimination of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and held it as a milestone in joint efforts that are being taken against international terrorism. However Stoltenberg maintained that the fight against ISIS was far from over and hence the need to train the Afghan forces.

UN mission criticised

The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan is facing severe criticism on social media for blocking its critics after the leakage of a controversial letter that it had earlier sent to the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan about the alleged inappropriate actions of an election commissioner. Social media activists have accused the UN mission of adopting an approach to ‘silent freedom of speech’ by blocking critics and removing their comments from two substantially used social media platforms; Facebook and Twitter.


Top in bribery-risk

The Global Bribery Risk Index ranked Bangladesh as the “country with the highest risk” in regards to bribery threats in South Asia. According to the report, Bangladesh scored 72 out of 100 this year, which is two points higher than last year. The global average score is 51.

New Jamaat chief

Shafiqur Rahman has been elected Ameer (chief) of Jamaat-e-Islami, the religious political party infamous for aligning with the Pakistan occupational forces during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. The members of the party elected Rahman, a graduate of Sylhet Medical College. The party is a prominent religious political party in the country. However, Jamaat is facing a ban from fighting elections due to non-conformity of the party’s constitution with the constitution of the country. Jamaat’s constitution suggests the establishment of Sariah (Islamic law) in the country.

16 dead in train collision

At least 16 people died and many injured in a brutal incident of a train collision in eastern Bangladesh.   Authorities are investigating the accident; however, officials suspect the incident took place as the driver of one of the trains ignored a signal. Train accidents are frequent in the country prominent causes for an accident include- unsupervised railway crossings, poor signalling and bad track conditions.

Indian condemnation

Indian External Affairs Ministry condemned circulation of a fake letter in Bangladesh's local media claiming that Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi after the Ayodhya judgment. Officials of External affairs ministry term the incident as malicious, deliberately circulated to divide communities, create disharmony and undermine the friendship between the people of India and Bangladesh. A section of media in Bangladesh published a report claiming Prime Minister Modi congratulated the Chief Justice of India over the Ayodhya verdict.


EIF to help in graduation 

The 29th Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) board meeting that is presently underway in Thimphu aims to support the world’s poorest countries in realising global economic empowerment and social resilience through trade, which contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable development. The EIF partnership comprises of 51 countries, 24 donors, and eight partner agencies. Bhutan became the member of EIF earlier this year after joining the EIF beneficiary in 2009.

Trilateral cooperation

Beginning next year, a large-scale trans-border conservation of biodiversity will be strengthened through community involvement in the Manas and Kangchenjunga landscapes within Bhutan, India, and Nepal. The trans-boundary landscapes in these countries contain rich biodiversity of global significance, which requires cross-country conservation.

BoB seeks Indian branch

For convenience of Bhutanese travellers, students and business people, Bank of Bhutan (BoB) has applied to the Reserve Bank of India to open a branch office in India, thereby becoming the first Bhutanese bank to have its own branch in India. The advantage is not just in having a physical branch in India but also enabling online payments and transfers between the two countries. The BoB, if it makes profits in India, will be allowed to transfer its dividends back to Bhutan.


President’s Rule in Maharashtra

President Ramnath Kovind has declared President’s Rule in Maharashtra on 12 November upon the recommendation of Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari after the first, second and third largest legislative parties in the State -- BJP, Shiv Sena and NCP -- were unable to express their ability to form the government. Shiv Sena, which remained firm on its demand for rotational Chief Ministership to continue its alliance with BJP, severed its ties with the BJP and Sena’s lone minister in Union Government resigned. Now, talks are on to form a three-party coalition government, a new experiment in Maharashtra, involving outfits with diverse ideologies that will be led by the Sena. The draft of the common minimum programme is reported to be made, on the basis of which the probable alliance government is expected to work.

Faith issues’ for larger Bench

As Sabarimala Temple in Kerala is being opened for the three-month-long annual pilgrimage on 16 November, the State government of Kerala said that it will not provide police support to women in the menstruating age group to visit the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple. The government, which had faced backlash when it facilitated  women to visit the temple after the Supreme Court verdict, has now decided to wait till a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court takes a final call on a batch of review petitions referred to it for final scrutiny. The Supreme Court earlier in February this year decided to reserve major components of its 28 September 2018 verdict granting unrestricted entry for women of child-bearing age to the temple for another review. But while hearing the review petitions in October 2018, the Supreme Court also explicitly stated that the verdict stands and has not been stayed.


Ruling party MP suspended

Parliament Speaker Mohammed Nasheed ordered the suspension of parliamentarian Rozaina Adam from the ruling MDP, of which he himself is the president, after she refused to abide by the former’s ruling on a point-of-order she sought to raise. The incident occurred when Opposition MP Ahmed Shiyam was speaking on the budget. The Speaker pointed out that he had already granted the facility to three other ruling party members. When Rozaina, one of the powerful voices when the MDP was in the Opposition under predecessor President Abdulla Yameen, refused to heed the Speaker and protested loudly, he ordered her suspension. Later, the suspended MP tweeted that because of the Speaker’s ruling she could not vote on the budget.


Suu Kyi sued

One-timer democracy icon and at present State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is among several top Myanmar officials named on 13 November in a case filed in Argentina for crimes against Rohingya Muslims. This is the first time the Nobel Laureate has been legally targeted over the crisis. Rohingya and Latin American human rights groups submitted the lawsuit in Argentina under the principle of "universal jurisdiction," a legal concept enshrined in many countries' laws. The premise is that some acts including war crimes and crimes against humanity are so horrific they are not specific to one nation and can be tried anywhere.

ADB improves roads

The Asia Development Bank (ADB) will provide US$51.2 million to upgrade rural roads in Myanmar to become all-weather and climate-resilient. The funding consists of a US$45.4 million loan and a US$5.8 million grant. That project will enable the people in project area and its surroundings to use all-weather roads that will cut down travelling time by car at least 18 minutes along the route. To increase disaster resilience, the project will raise road surfaces to avoid frequent flooding, and the surfacing will be constructed with durable materials such as concrete.


China on India dispute

The recent India-Nepal border dispute over the ‘Kalapani’ area has been fuming up. In this circumstance, China has remarked that both the neighbours should address the issue amicably with mutual understanding. In fact of matter, the northern neighbour also negated any occupation of Nepali territory by them. It was very clearly stated that China respects the territorial integrity of Nepal.

Growth rate target down

The government of Nepal had previously aimed a whopping 8.5 per cent increment in its fiscal growth rate target. However, at the moment, they have brought about revision by bringing it down by 1.49 per cent. This is for the fiscal year 2019/20. This picture also portrays Nepal’s challenging situation as far as the trade is concerned. It is also reflective of the country’s economic insecurity. It is high time Nepal makes full use of its potential.

Indo-Japan farm sector coop

Nepal and Japan are all set to collaborate in the sector of plant breeding, seed production and gerplasm. In this regard, Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC) and Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) would be working together. Given the present geopolitical circumstance of South Asia, this very beginning of Nepal-Japan liaison seems to be opening up new dimensions in external neighbourhood diplomacy.


Trade deficit down, 34 pc

In the first four months of the current fiscal year Pakistan’s trade deficit fell by 34 percent led by a meagre growth in exports and decline in the imports of non-essential products. The trade deficit in the first four month dipped to $ 7.77 billion from $ 11.69 billion over the corresponding period last year. This testifies a decline of $ 4.19 billion or 3.52 percent. This data has been released by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

PM reviews privatisation

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan recently reviewed the pace of privatization in the country and stated that increasing non-tax revenue was one of his high priorities. Furthermore he stated the objective of privatisation is not only to cut down on losses to the national exchequer but also to hand-over these nation owned entities to more capable hands so that there potential can be better utilised. It is not the government’s aim to lose loss-bearing entities just by privatising them.

Sri Lanka

80 pc cast vote

In a relatively peaceful polling for the nation’s presidency, over 80 per cent of registered electors across the country cast their vote on Saturday, 16 November. The main contest is between ruling UNP candidate and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa and war-time Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, with 33 more in the field, in what is said to be the highest number of candidates in the fray. The nation’s Election Commission on local poll observer NGOs said that this was the most peaceful poll campaign, and poll day, with a few stray incidents being reported from across the country.



Opinion Pieces

Moh Saalim Naji, “The Role of Afghan Political Culture in New Democracy of the Country”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 13 November 2019

David Zucchino, “Captives or Defectors? Taliban Fighters Tell Conflicting Tales”, The New York Times, 7 November 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Religious Intolerance the Root Cause of Conflicts”, 16 November 2019

Afghanistan Times, “Air pollution deadlier than war”, 14 November 2019


Opinion Pieces

Corinne Redfern, “Bangladesh’s Child Marriage Problem Is the World’s Human Trafficking Crisis”, Foreign Policy, 8 November 2019


The Daily Star, “Bangladesh Railway still in deep sleep”, 15 November 2019



Kuensel, “Building a skilful nation”, 11 November 2019


Opinion Pieces

Amitabh Mattoo, “Treating education as a public good”, The Hindu, 16 November 2019

Sanjaya baru, “Recent events are beginning to challenge the narrative of a Rising India”, The Indian Express, 15 November 2019

V. Bhaskar, “It is unclear how Finance Commission can now make an award treating the UT of J&K as a state”, The Indian Express, 15 November 2019

Rajiv Tuli, “Ayodhya ruling frames a question: What is the true idea of Bharat?”, The Indian Express, 15 November 2019

Suhrith Parthasarathy & Gautam Bhatia, “Peace brought by an unequal compromise”, The Hindu, 15 November 2019


The Hindu, “Review and reference: On Sabarimala review pleas”, 15 November 2019

The Hindu, “Open, all the same: On CJI office and RTI Act”, 15 November 2019

The Indian Express, “RBI’s choice”, 15 November 2019

The Hindu, “Disqualified yet qualified: On Karnataka rebel MLAs”, 14 November 2019

The Indian Express, “Nehru’s Chanakya”, 14 November 2019

The Indian Express, “Failure to launch”, 14 November 2019

The Hindu, “Betrayal of the mandate: On Maharashtra politics”, 13 November 2019


Opinion Pieces

Kavi Chongkittavorn, “After Bangkok Debacle, Can Trump Salvage ASEAN-US Ties?”, The Irrawaddy, 13 November 2019

Aye Kyithar Swe and Matthieu Salomon, “Knowing who owns extractive companies will help Myanmar thrive”, The Myanmar Times, 12 November 2019


Opinion Pieces

Amish Raj Mulmi, “What privilege looks like in Nepal”, Republica, 15 November 2019

Devendra Gautam, “Stand united for Nepal”, Republica, 14 November 2019

Bishal Thapa, “Death of Nepali Hydro”, Republica, 12 November 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “The government has undermined education”, 11 November 2019


Opinion Pieces

Rashid Amjad, “Need for course correction”, Dawn, 16 November 2019

Moonis Ahmar, “How India finally grabbed Jammu and Kashmir”, The Express Tribune, 15 November 2019


Dawn, “Online censorship”, 16 November 2019

The Express Tribune, “End of ‘Azadi March’”, 15 November 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Sanjeewa Jayaweera, “Maithripala Sirisena’s failed presidency”, The Island, 17 November 2019

Kumar David, “The grip of autocracy creeps insidiously”, The Island, 17 November 2019

Ameen Izzadeen, “Let no one distort the will of the sovereign people”, Daily Mirror Online, 15 November 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Why is the world talking less about the Sri Lankan presidential polls this time?”,, 14 November 2019

Harim Peiris, “Is Sajith slowly pulling ahead as Gota fails to gain traction?”, The Island, 13 November 2019

Ravindra Jayananda, “Gota leads from all evidence”, The Island, 13 November 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “The vote and the voter”, Ceylon Today, 12 November 2019

Jehan Perera, “Presidential elections require broad-based campaigning”, The Island, 12 November 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Ranil factor in presidential polls”, Colombo Gazette, 11 November 2019


Daily Mirror Online, “Together, we can make tomorrow better than today”, 14 November 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

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.