MonitorsPublished on Dec 02, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 48

Pakistan: Evaluating Taliban ties

Sohini Bose Since the beginning of the Afghan peace process, Pakistan has been playing an active role in convincing the Taliban to join the negotiating table. It has, however, made no effort to engage with the legitimate Afghan government, led by President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani, and involve them in the peace negotiations. Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani described Pakistan as the “centre of the Taliban” and accused the country of nursing Taliban militants. In such circumstances, although it is appreciable that Pakistan has managed to interest the Taliban to come to a settlement, it must also be analysed what Pakistan stands to gain by such initiatives. According to a recently published US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, Pakistan views the Afghan Taliban as "a relatively friendly and reliably anti-India element in Afghanistan" and Pakistan’s attitude is a reflection of its “fear of encirclement by India.” Consequently, it has been said that a weak and destabilised Afghanistan characterised by a Taliban rule would be much more preferable to Afghanistan than a strong Afghan state, especially one that is dominated by an ethnic Pashtun government.   It has been also been reported that Pakistan's security services maintain ties with Afghan insurgent groups, most notably the Haqqani Network that has become an official component of the Taliban. In return the Taliban too draw support either directly or indirectly from Pakistan.

No time-table

It is thus not surprising that Pakistan has often taken a sympathetic view of the insurgent group. It may be noted in this regard that on 28 September, Pakistan’s military chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, announced that 11 Taliban fighters would be executed for killing almost 70 Pakistanis. In an official statement, Bajwa also described the Taliban as terrorists but refrained from giving a time-table for the executions. It is also noteworthy that some policy makers in Pakistan expressed their concern that withdrawing support from the Taliban would give Ghani the upper hand in dominating Afghan peace process which would not be beneficial for the country. In another incidence, although Pakistan legalised the use of capital punishment against Taliban militants after the 2014 attack on the school in Peshawar, the country allegedly continues to provide material support to Taliban militants. In spite of these widely publicized criticisms, Pakistan appears unlikely to change its policy toward the Taliban. This is because maintaining favourable relations with the Taliban is for Pakistan to continue to exert its influence over Afghanistan. Pakistan’s ongoing support for the Taliban is largely strategic rather than ideological. Therefore Pakistan does not believe that fighting the Taliban in some areas and supporting them in other is a contradictory foreign policy agenda. In a manifestation of this policy Pakistan willingly accepted Kabul’s proposals to create barriers against Taliban migration across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and also supported the claim of Taliban to gain dominance over the province of Farah. Furthermore although Pakistan has been described as the Taliban’s leading ally since the early 1990s, the Pakistani government announced itself as distant from the insurgent activities of the Taliban by emphasising Pakistan’s own bitter experiences with terrorism. Indeed, Pakistani policymakers and statesmen have often blamed Taliban’ military success on other extra-regional actors. In fact, Pakistan has often tried to deflect attention from itself referring to Iran and Russia as the reasons for Taliban progress and stated that these two countries had more influence over the group than Islamabad. This signifies the country’s deflection strategy.

Changing narratives

However, Pakistan is now being appreciated for their ability to influence the Taliban in the backdrop of the peace process. As the international community strives to revive the peace process Pakistan’s role is both crucial and pivotal.  In changed circumstances Pakistani policy-makers, especially those close to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had earlier been criticised for their Taliban sympathies are now trying to project their relationship with the insurgent group in a more positive light. The Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi advocated that Pakistan’s ties to Taliban officials would facilitate the resolution of the war in Afghanistan. However, Islamabad has also made efforts to sustain geniality with the Afghan government. In this regard, the country has highlighted the potential of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity in increasing bilateral trade and cultural exchange visits. In 2018, both the governments also agreed to “establish liaison offices in each other’s military headquarters, ground coordination centres for better military coordination, and intelligence-sharing on cross-border flow of terrorists and drug-traffickers”. As Pakistan’s ties becomes more and more acrimonious with India, it is understood that Pakistan will not hold back in trying to establish a firm foothold in Afghanistan. Indeed Pakistan’s future trade is contingent upon its continued favourable relation with Afghanistan. However in the context of the stalled peace process, Pakistan must nurture ties with the Ghani government with renewed vigour. Even if talks are resumed, it is unlikely that the Taliban will have a full majority support in Afghanistan and hence it would be necessary for Imran Khan to maintain terms of cordiality with the Ghani government. Khan therefore must make efforts to involve the Afghan government in the peace process along with the Taliban as only then will it have realistic chances of securing its interests in Afghanistan. This is also necessary if Pakistan is to enjoy the goodwill of the people of Afghanistan which will in the long run help to sustain better Af-Pak relations.

Bangladesh: The ‘café attack’ verdict a deterrent to militancy

Joyeeta Bhattacharya A special court recently sentenced seven militants to death for their involvement in the attack on a café in Dhaka in July 2016, which had killed nearly 20 people. The verdict is a reflection of the Bangladesh government’s policy of zero tolerance to terrorism. Nevertheless, Bangladesh’s fight against terrorism and militancy is not over. Instead, the verdict is a reminder for the necessity to remain vigilant of the activities of the militant groups. On 1 July 2016, a group of armed militants seized a café in Gushan, an upscale neighbourhood in the capital Dhaka. The militants then killed the hostages, mainly the foreigners -- from countries like Italy, Japan, India.  Only one from Bangladesh was killed in the attack. The attack was the most dreaded incident of militancy the country had witnessed after the countrywide bomb blasts in August 2005. In August 2005, 500 bombs were detonated by a militant organization called Jamaatul Mujaheddin Bangladesh (JMB). Initially, international terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) was suspected to be behind this attack. In its website, the IS had also claimed its hand behind the attack. The authorities in Bangladesh, however, rejected the group’s involvement and accused the JMB of masterminding this attack. Investigations later revealed the involvement of 20 people behind the conspiracy of the attack. The security forces had killed the executors of the attack during the siege. The seven militants who were sentenced were involved in supplying arms for the attack.

Doubts on counter-terrorism

The attack on the café shocked the people of the country, raising doubts about the effectiveness of the counter-terrorism efforts of the government. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, after taking charge of her office in 2009, declared that countering terrorism would be her  major focus. And her government pursued active counter-terrorism activities and gained accolades globally for curbing terrorism in the country. Despite harsh counter-terrorism measures, the incident revealed the ability of the militant organization to carry out the attack, and create fear and panic among the people. Post-attack, the government enhanced its counter-terror efforts and arrested around 300 militants. The security forces also killed a large number of militants in various counter-terror operations. These actions reduced the militants’ capability to launch any massive attack. In the past few years, there has been hardly any major incident of violence. The rising radicalism in the country, manifested by the emergence of organizations like Hafazat-e-Islami which professes conservative religious views opposite to the spirit of liberal religious values practised in the country, however, raises concerns. Recently, some reports had expressed concerns over rising interest in organisations like the IS in Bangladesh, though the authenticity of such claims is debated. Bangladesh, in spite of a Muslim majority nation, practices secularism, a feature not seen favourably by the militants. In early 2000, the JMB in a rally echoed the slogan that “Aamra Sabai Taliban Bangla Hobe Afghanistan”. This slogan displayed the group's desire to transform Bangladesh into a Sharia state as Afghanistan was during the Taliban era. Scuttling such tendencies is important for peace and prosperity of Bangladesh and the region. Bangladesh has witnessed phenomenal socio-economic growth in the past few years. The country is going to become a middle-income country by 2021 and aspires to be a developed country by 2040. Given its ambitions, the country cannot afford any deviation. Hence, sustaining the focus on countering militancy is a necessity. Also, deepening routes of liberal values in the society will be crucial for the country.

Country Reports


Trump visits US airbase

American President Donald Trump visited Afghanistan for the first time, as part of his surprise visit to a US airbase near Kabul. During the visit, he  announced the reopening of talks with the Taliban, aimed at achieving a deal with the militant group that would facilitate peace in Afghanistan. At the same time, President Trump emphasised the fact that the US would continue the gradual process of troop drawdown on Afghan soil. Trump also met with President Ashraf Ghani at the base, where the Afghan head of state thanked him for the Americans who had made the “ultimate sacrifice” in the war against terror in Afghanistan.

UN commits to democracy

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution on Afghanistan on 27 November, reiterating the commitment of member- countries to supporting and strengthening institutions of democracy and governance in Afghanistan. It emphasised that stability in Afghanistan was contingent on coordinated cooperation and greater coherence in the approaches of the other countries and stakeholders present in the region. The resolution was adopted with a vote count of 137 – 0, with Russia and Palau abstaining to partake in the process.

Iran talks to Taliban

On 27 November, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif hosted a delegation of the Taliban, led by the political deputy chief of the insurgent outfit, Mullah Ghani Baradar, for talks aimed at finding a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war. Reports suggest that in the meeting, Zarif underscored the need to launch an intra-Afghan dialogue for the formation of an “all-inclusive government” in the country, and iterated the readiness of Tehran to contribute to such a process. The meeting was the second one between the two parties since the collapse of negotiations between the US and the Taliban.


BNP back on the road

An organisation affiliated to Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party organised an agitation demanding the release of party chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia. During their agitation, the BNP activists clashed with the personnel of law enforcement as they blocked the roads in the capital Dhaka. The activists were accused of damaging various vehicles also. The BNP activists did not take any permission for the agitation. The agitation was  organised just two days after BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir announced that the party  would no longer seek any permission for holding any programmes. Begum Khaleda is serving a five-year prison term following her conviction in a corruption case.

Death for terrorists

A court this week sentenced to death seven militants of the banned Jamaatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh for their involvement in the attack on a cafe in Dhaka in 2016. The attack was a major act of militancy in the country that killed 22 people, mostly foreigners.


Development talks with Delhi

The second annual development cooperation talks with India were held in New Delhi on 29 November 2019. With Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan (2018-2023) entering its second year, the two sides reviewed and expressed satisfaction at the overall progress of the ongoing Project Tied Assistance (PTA) projects, as well as the SDPs/HICDPs. The talks are an important bilateral mechanism to review the entire gamut of India’s development partnership with Bhutan. India has committed assistance of Rs. 4500 Crore for implementation of development projects and Rs. 400 Crore for transitional Trade Support Facility during Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan (2018 - 2023). 51 large and intermediate projects and 359 Small Development Projects (SDPs)/High Impact Community Development Projects (HICPDs) are at various stages of implementation under the 12th Five Year Plan.

FM concludes India visit

Foreign minister Tandi Dorji undertook a week-long visit to India at the invitation of India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.  The two ministers discussed the entire range of Bhutan-India relations and reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen the special friendship that exists between the two countries. Dorji briefed the Indian Foreign Minister about Bhutan’s plans to implement a revised tourism policy, particularly in regard to regional tourism, and sought the government of India’s understanding and support in its implementation. Dorji also met Home Minister Amit Shah, and Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale. Dorji also visited Bodh Gaya, Rajgir and Kolkata.


Uddhav is new M’rashtra CM

After weeks of political parleys and consultations, Shiv Sena has formed the government with support from its erstwhile political adversaries Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress party in Maharashtra. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was agreed upon to be made the Chief Minister of the coalition government and he took oath of office on 28 November 2019 at the historic Shivaji Park in Mumbai. Earlier in the week, the alliance government formation suffered an initial setback after NCP leader Ajit Pawar went against his party’s stand and supported BJP to form the government, which paved the way for Devendra Fadnavis to take oath as Chief Minister and Ajit Pawar as his deputy. But subsequently, as the Supreme Court ordered immediate floor test that required Fadnavis to prove his majority within 24 hours of his oath taking, Fadnavis resigned from the post of Chief Ministrship as he along with Ajit Pawar didn’t have the requisite numbers to sail through the floor test. This finally gave the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance the opportunity to form their government on the mutually-agreed Common Minimum Programme and the BJP, which is the largest party in the Vidhan Sabha, would now sit as the opposition in the state.

Jharkhand polls on

The Assembly elections in Jharkhand, which is to be held in five phases, started with its first phase on 30 November 2019.  The second phase of voting will be held on December 6, third phase on December 12, fourth phase on December 16 and the last phase on December 20. The results will be declared on December 23. The election is going to be a test for the ruling BJP whose Chief Minister Raghubar Das faces anti-incumbency, rural distress, resentment over lack of jobs. The opposition alliance in the state that comprises of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RSD) is seeking to challenging the ruling BJP in this election.


Jail for Yameen

A five-judge Criminal Court Bench in capital Male has unanimously sentenced former President Abdulla Yameen to a five-year prison-term after finding him guilty of diverting State funds and money-laundering when in office. He is expected to go on in appeal to the High Court, and to the nation’s Supreme Court, if it came to that. The trial was caught in multiple controversies, the more serious of them involving the anti-corruption watch-dog suspending one-man trial bench hours before he was to have pronounced the verdict in the case after the latter complaint that highly-placed officials had sought to influence him, but did not name anyone.


Experts assess Bashan char

A UN envoy on 28 November offered technical expertise to Bangladesh to assess arrangements on an island where the South Asian country plans to shift about 100,000 Rohingya refugee. Bangladesh has constructed facilities for some 100,000 people on Bhashan Char, an island in the cyclone-prone coastal belt, and is ready to shift the refugees from the crowded settlements. Bangladesh has recently been erecting barbed-wire fences around the Cox's Bazaar camps, a move that the Human Rights Watch (HRW) compared with building an "open air prison". Many have raised their opinion that fencing "is not always the best answer in terms of security."

Re-imagining BIMSTEC

Observer Research Foundation organised a two day international conference on 28-29 November at Kolkata titled ‘Reimagining BIMSTEC’. The Kolkata colloquium saw the participation of scholars, media personalities and policy makers of the entire BIMSTEC region. A host of important issues were raised. Secretary General of BIMSTEC M Shahidul Islam stated that the Bay of Bengal regional grouping should focus on disaster management on a priority basis.  Mizzima chief editor Soe Myint stated BIMSTEC should focus on issues like physical connectivity and on developing people-to-people contacts.


70-pc turnout in by-polls

Around 70 percent turnout was witnessed for the by-elections, conducted to fill 52 vacant posts in the country. As on 1 December, 39 seats were declared in the results. Out of this, the Nepal Communist Party has received 22 seats, while the Nepali Congress secured 11. Apart from the Rastriya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Part got elected in 3 seats each. The total counting is still underway.

India exports up

Nepal’s export to India has increased by 35.8 per cent, tentatively during the last three months, according to the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB). The trade deficit with India has also decreased. This appears to be a good sign of bonding given the current strategic scenario of South Asia and the presence of China. To be more specific, export with China has also remarkably decreased. Only time can best explain the balance of trade negotiations.


ECP directives ignored

The scrutiny committee of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is apparently not paying heed to the commission’s directives for hearing the foreign funding case filed against the ruling party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), on a day to day basis. The ECP had instructed the scrutiny committee to complete the fact finding aspect of the case as soon as possible but the committee first adjourned the hearing to 28th of November and now again to 2nd of December.

Bureaucracy reshuffle         

Recently, after Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan expressed his dissatisfaction with the administrative structure of Punjab, he ordered the provincial government to have no hesitation in removing civil servants from their office who are stymying the performance of the government. The decision of reshuffling was eagerly anticipated. Thereafter in a significant reshuffle at the federal level, the government has presently issued orders for appointment, promotion and transfer of 44 officers in Islamabad and 90 officers in Punjab.

Sri Lanka

Gota meets Modi

Seeking to reset bilateral relations with the larger Indian neighbour after strains appeared during the regime of older brother Mahinda R in the latter’s second term (2010-15) and laxity and drag during the next five years under political opponents, Sri Lanka’s new President, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, has given positive indications during a maiden overseas visit after coming to power. In a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two discussed all aspects of bilateral relations, including the ethnic issue, terror-fight, China factor, fishers’ dispute and economic cooperation. Modi announced a $ 50-m aid for Sri Lanka’s anti-terrorism initiatives and a higher $ 400 m for infrastructure development.

UNP’ dilemma still

With Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya naming former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Leader of the Opposition, a majority faction within their UNP parliamentary party has reportedly raised in favour of naming the defeated presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa to the post. Like with the presidential ticket, the Wickremesinghe camp has since conceded the point, but has said that the party needed to consult allies before making changes to the party constitution, which permits the UNP Leader to be the Leader of the parliamentary group.



Opinion Pieces

The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Vulnerability of Peace Process”, 27 November 2019 The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Narratives and Counter Narratives about Women’s Liberalization,” 28 November 2019 The Kabul Times, Further efforts needed to eliminate violence against Afghan women,” 27 November 2019


Opinion Pieces

Tariq A Karim, “Many in Bangladesh now see India validating two-nation theory and abjuring secularism”, The Daily Star,  26 November 2019


The Daily Star, “Stop overlooking female migrant workers’ safety”, , 29 November 2019



Kuensel, “More needs to be done”, 27 November 2019


Opinion Pieces

Akhilesh Mishra, “First six months of Modi 2.0 showcase the PM’s vision for his second term”, The Indian Express, 30 November 2019 Jashmine Shah, “Report on Delhi’s water quality employs faulty methodology, appears politically motivated”, The Indian Express, 30 November 2019 Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “There was another India, reveals a new database of periodicals published between 1857-1947”, The Indian Express, 30 November 2019 Harish Damodaran, “This is India’s first ever slowdown at a time of political as well as macroeconomic stabilityThe Indian Express, 30 November 2019
  1. Thomson Jacob & N. Anil Kumar, “ India’s food basket must be enlarged”, The Hindu, 29 November 2019
Suhasini Haider, “Not as you say, but as you do”, The Hindu, 29 November 2019 Suhrith Parthasarathy, “A revival of Battle already fought and lost”, The Hindu, 28 November 2019


The Hindu, “Changing the stripes: On  Sena-NCP-Congress CMP”, 30 November 2019 The Indian Express, “A new low”, 30 November 2019 The Indian Express, “A new cast”, 29 November 2019 The Indian Express, “Quality of lending”, 29 November 2019 The Hindu, “Caught in the act: On Transgender Persons Act”, 28 November 2019 The Hindu, “Constitution day: On Fadnavis’s exit”, 27 November 2019 The Hindu, “Not so swachh: On sanitation goals”, 27 November 2019 The Indian Express, “A saving grace”, 27 November 2018


Opinion Pieces

Aung Zaw, “Myanmar’s Generals Make a Show of Displeasure at China’s Arming of Rebels”, The Irrawaddy, 26 November 2019 Ye Min Zaw, “The Rakhine War: A Failure of Democracy?”, The Irrawaddy, 25 November 2019 Aung Zaw, “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Mission to The Hague: Defending the Indefensible?”, The Irrawaddy, 22 November 2019


Opinion Pieces

Rishi Dhamala, “Tread with caution”, Republica, 30 November 2019 Bhairab Raj Kaini, “Knowledge for agriculture”, Republica, 28 November 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “There is a blatant disregard for the Election Code of Conduct”, 27 November 2019 The Himalayan Times, “Worrying scenario”, 28 November 2019


Opinion Pieces

A.G.Noorani, “Democracy in dark”, Dawn, 30 November 2019 Farrukh Khan Pitafi, “Power of attorney”, The Express Tribune, 30 November 2019


Dawn, “Power tariff increase”, 30 November 2019 The Express Tribune, “Renewed US interest”, 30 November 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Kumar David, “Two versions of Rajapaksa authoritarianism”, The Island, 1 December 2019 D B S Jeyaraj, “New Rajapaksa regime under President Gotabhaya”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 November 2019 Lasanda Kurukulasuriya, “President Gotabaya and the fears of the West”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 November 2019 Dr Palitha Kohona, “Did Sri Lanka’s presidential election bring back a polarising war-time figure?”, The Island, 29 November 2019 Kusal Perera, “Tamil politics in crisis, need alternate programme”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 November 2019 Kelum Bandara, “Will India bail out Sri Lanka in Geneva?”, Daily Mirror Online, 28 November 2019 Prof Athula Sumathipala, “Gain through loss: Engaging expatriates in nation-building”, The Island, 28 November 2019 Lynn Ockersez, “Managing ties with India a major challenge for SL”, The Island, 28 November 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Rajapaksas’ return and Tamil Nadu factor in Sri Lanka relations”,, 26 November 2019 Janaka Ratnasiri, “President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s Delhi visit: Some questions he may have to face”, The Island, 26 November 2019 Jehan Perera, “Building a modern state to take Sri Lanka to the next level”, The Island, 26 November 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Where from here the UNP?”, Ceylon Today, 26 November 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Stability, security – and more”, Colombo Gazette, 25 November 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sri Lanka: Return of the Rajas”, Asian Age, 24 November 2019


Susitha Fernando, “We’re like the emperor without clothes, blind to our nudity: Prof Hoole”, Daily Mirror Online, 26 November 2019


Afghanistan: Shubhangi Pandey Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak Pakistan: Sohini Bose
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