MonitorsPublished on Dec 23, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 51

Afghanistan: New insight into US military failures

Shubhangi Pandey

A trove of government documents was uncovered and subsequently published by The Washington Post on 16th this month, providing extensive analysis of the US war in Afghanistan. The documents were generated by a federal project authorised to examine the profound failure of the longest armed conflict the US has been engaged in.

The papers highlighted how the three successive US Presidents, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, not only failed to push the development agenda in the war-torn country, but in fact, put up a façade in front of the public claiming they were making progress on all fronts, while being aware of the unlikelihood of the same.

The 2,000-page document brought to the fore that the objectives of the war were never defined, and that US forces stationed in Afghanistan “did not know what they were doing, and sometimes even who they were fighting”, as stated by a US army general who served under the Bush and Obama administrations.

One of the most significant errors in judgment, as explicated in the investigative report titled ‘Lessons Learnt’, was that of considering Pakistan an ally in the 18-year long war effort in Afghanistan, costing the US trillions of dollars in totality. Unsurprisingly, the documents revealed that Pakistan had begun to play their double game as early as 2002, as it overtly committed itself to the war on terror but continued to provide material and ideological patronage to the Taliban as well as the al-Qaeda.

In the long history of the war effort, over 775,000 US troops were deployed in Afghanistan, out of which 2,300 were killed and over 25,000 left wounded. Even so, successive US administrations continued to think of Pakistan as a supporter in their effort against terrorism in the region, as Pakistan kept its airspace open to US use for most part of the conflict.

It is absurd, however, to know how Pakistan’s proximity to and influence over the Taliban was never explicitly questioned by the US or others involved in the great Afghan game. Pakistan was always looked upon, and in many ways continued to be viewed as an indispensable entity in any attempt to bring the Taliban to drop their arms and partake in a permanent ceasefire — although no substantial gains have ever been made in that regard, putting Pakistan’s role as the all‒important mediator under much needed scrutiny.

Gradual exit to securing a deal?

The uncovering of the papers also coincided with news reports of the Trump administration wanting to pull out as many as 4,000 troops from the 13,000-14,000 strong presence in Afghanistan, and continue the gradual process of drawdown. As the news of the impending official announcement about troop reduction has been doing the rounds just as the US has resumed talks with the Taliban, there are many who are viewing the reduction in physical military presence in Afghanistan as a concession to the terrorist outfit.

The American willingness to pull out of Afghanistan, or at the very least, initiate a troop drawdown, stems from a muted realisation that the present- day scenario is one of an ‘imbalanced stalemate’. In other words, whereas on the one hand neither party is being able to secure an outright military victory, the balance of power is undoubtedly tilted in favor of the Taliban.

Moreover, maintenance of troops in Afghanistan is not only expensive for the US but also the numbers are neither small enough so as to not be perceived as a looming threat by the Taliban, nor large enough to change the course of events. A gradual US withdrawal from Afghanistan then serves America’s limited objective of securing an exit without humiliation, and would be a move aligned with the demands of the Taliban, who wish to decide the future for Afghanistan on their own terms, in the absence of foreign actors, such as the US.

Having said that, the takeaway from the recent developments should not be that the US would do well to leave a war-weary Afghanistan in entirety, but that the process of drawdown must be used to facilitate the signing of a comprehensive peace deal between the insurgent group and the elected government in Kabul.

If the US were to retreat without having secured a breakthrough in negotiations with the Taliban, the already grim situation in Afghanistan would further spiral into absolute chaos and anarchy. Moreover, in order to secure a deal with the Taliban, or play an instrumental role in the peace process, the US would require the kind of leverage that will only be provided by having boots on the ground, and the financial aid that accompanies it.

In the end, it must be noted that any deal that may decide the future of Afghanistan must accomplish two fundamental objectives: witness extensive dialogue between the Afghan government and the insurgents, and more importantly, reflect the collective will of the people of Afghanistan.

India: Citizenship Amendment Act, a contentious legislation?

Ambar Kumar Ghosh

In the last week, many parts of India have been engulfed in protests against the recently-passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) by the Parliament. The Act mandates granting of Indian citizenship to the illegal immigrants belonging to the minority communities -- Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and Christians -- from Muslim-dominated neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have lived in India without documentations.

Under the new law, they will be granted fast track Indian citizenship in six years. So far, 12 years of residence has been the standard eligibility requirement for naturalization in India. As the nation rages against this controversial piece of legislation, which is detested by the protesters as a harbinger to the gradual demise of the secular spirit of India, it is an imperative to understand what are the various aspects of the law that has the propensity to upset the Indian socio-political order.

Inclusive, over-inclusive?

This contentious piece of legislation has triggered widespread resentment not only from the opposition parties, but also from the university student fraternity and sections of civil society in India. The United Nations Human Rights Commission has called the law “fundamentally discriminatory”. It is majorly due to the discriminatory nature of the law which conspicuously excludes the people from one religious community, which is the Muslims, from the jurisdiction of the law.

In the words of Indian political theorist Madhav Khosla, the bill is both ‘under-inclusive’ as well as ‘over inclusive.’ It is ‘under-inclusive’ because it excludes the persecuted Muslims from the enlisted countries. The Ahmadiyya Muslim sect and even Shias face discrimination in Pakistan, who won’t be able to take refuge of this law to escape persecution. Second, the law also arbitrarily excludes other neighbouring countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka where Rohingya Muslims and Hindus, Christians and Tamils face state violence.

The law is ‘over-inclusive’ because it is premised on the assumptions that all minority communities in the three enlisted countries are persecuted in those countries and hence eligible for Indian citizenship. So, the law fails to differentiate between persecuted illegal immigrants and non-persecuted illegal immigrants from the minority communities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Hence, the law clearly enfeebles article 14 of the Indian constitution which guarantees right to equality not only to the Indian residents but also to the non-Indian residents on the Indian soil.

Deceptive or what?

Apart from the opposition to the bill due to its exclusionary nature, the north-eastern State of Assam has violently protested against the bill due to a different threat that the Act posits to the indigenous residents of the State. Assam has a long history of facing the problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh which is perceived as a threat to the political, economic and cultural interests of the indigenous population in Assam. Since the late 1970s’, the presence of illegal immigrants catapulted a vehement and violent anti-foreigner’s movement in the State which culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.

The Accord mandated a cutoff date i.e. 25 March 1971 to determine the eligibility of an immigrant to claim for citizenship in Assam. The Accord formed the basis of the drafting of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which recently resulted in the exclusion of around 20 Lakh people from the final NRC list. But now, the CAA would threaten to derail the very project of deportation of all illegal immigrants from Assam, as the new law would legitimise the presence of the non-Muslim immigrants, which are reported to be overwhelming in number, by granting them citizenship.

Hence, the CAA has the propensity to render the entire anti-foreigners’ movement and the NRC in Assam futile as the Assamese fear of the presence of outsiders in their State would perpetually loom large due to this new law. So, for a considerable section of the State, the new law might be considered as an act of betrayal on the part of the union government towards Assam.

Therefore, the vehement protests against the CAA in Assam might be perceived as a fight for preservation of their distinctive cultural, political and economic interests from the outsiders who are now apprehended to be co-opted by India in large numbers. Despite repeated verbal assurances from the highest leadership of the Union Government, the scepticism of the Assamese population regarding the intent of the CAA still lingers.

Juxtaposing CAA and NRC

Third, the Central Government has repeatedly reiterated that the new law is merely to accommodate the minority groups who have come escaping persecution in Muslim-majority nations and the law has nothing to do with the Indian Muslims. But the protests have also been aggravated by the possibility of insidious consequences that this law might have if it is juxtaposed with the NRC procedure recently concluded in Assam and as proposed by the Union Government for the entire country.

As the consequence of the NRC, the illegal immigrants are supposed to be detected. Now, after the passage of the CAA, the non-Muslim illegal immigrants who are excluded from the NRC can be co-opted as legitimate citizens if they would prove their origin from any of the three enlisted countries in the CAA. But, the Muslims who might fail to get their names included in the NRC will not have the advantage of obtaining citizenship premised upon the CAA. So the law coupled with the Government’s plan for nationwide NRC is largely being seen as a plot by the proponents of Hindu nationalism to corner the minorities in India. Hence, a considerable sections of students and civil society along with the minorities are vociferously arguing against the intent of the newly passed law.

Lessons of statecraft

The history bears testimony to the fact that a diverse polity like India is replete with multifarious diversities and sensitivities towards different communities. Any major policy decision which touches the everyday lives of the people in a crucial manner and determines their future must be arrived at with adequate thinking, consensus and dialogue.

The scenario that emerged in the light of the hurried passage of this contentious piece of legislation should compel the present and future ruling dispensation in India to ponder over the long-term viability and acceptability of policy decisions amongst the electorate before pursuing them with unrestrained urgency.

Country Reports


US envoy meets Ghani

On 18 December, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in an effort to provide an impetus to the ongoing peace negotiations between the representatives of the Trump administration and those of the Taliban. In the meeting, President Ghani expressed deep concern about the continuing insurgent violence in Afghanistan, and the acute desire among Afghans for a sustainable peace deal, reported a spokesperson from the office of President Ghani. The spokesperson further added that if a peace deal was to be reach in the near future, the process should soon be pivoting to intra-Afghan dialogue.

Troop diversion to Indo-Pacific?

The Trump administration is likely to announce a significant reduction in the military presence in Afghanistan in the next few days, bringing the numbers down by about 4,000. Defence Secretary Mark Esper further stated that although official orders to initiate the drawdown process are yet to be received, there is a very real possibility that the reduction takes place with or without a peace deal. Moreover, the troops that may be pulled out of Afghanistan could likely be deployed in the Indo-Pacific, where a competitive China is on the rise, explained Esper.

UN renews sanctions

On 16 December, the United Nations Security Council renewed the sanctions regimes in place in Afghanistan, and the mandate of the monitoring team supporting the operations of the Afghan Sanctions Committee. Adopted in the form of Resolution 2501, the UN mandated all states to continue sanctioning the Taliban, as well as any individuals, groups, and other entities associated with the Taliban, which would entail the freezing of their assets, travel bans, and arms embargoes.


Controversy over Razakars' list 

Controversy surmounted over the list of the Razakars published this week. The list contained names of 10,789 Razakars who collaborated with the Pakistan army and carried out mass killings and atrocities against freedom fighters and common people during the 1971 Liberation War. The list became controversial as it included names of few freedom fighters also. The countrywide mass protest took place due to the fallacy in the list. Given the discrepancies, the government withdrew the list.

E-commerce growth 

E-commerce sales in the country are projected to double in the next four years. Currently, the e-commerce market stands at $1.6 billion and will reach $3 billion by 2023. The growth has been possible due to the government’s effort in laying down of solid a digital foundation and a tech-savvy population claimed a German research firm.

 V-Day feted

The 49th Victory Day was celebrated with mass fanfare in the country. To mark the occasion various functions were held in the across the country. Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid attended the victory day parade in capital Dhaka. On 16 December 1971 Bangladesh won victory from Pakistan after a nine months-long bloody war. Indian Army also fought along the side of freedom fighters during the Liberation War.

India asked for illegals’ list

Foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen claimed that government has requested India to provide a list of Bangladeshi nationals living illegally in that country and assured that they will be allowed to return. The Minister made this comment while responding to a question on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India. NRC has been implemented in the state of Assam to identify foreigners living illegally in the state, who mostly claimed to be from Bangladesh. Around 19 lakhs people are left out of the NRC. Officially, the government maintains that NRC is an internal issue of India. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina raised the issue with Indian leaders following apprehensions expressed about possible push back of the people left out in the NRC.


Second entry gate opened

The second entry gate at Phuentsholing from the border town opened to the heavy vehicles on 19 December. Heavy vehicles would now easily reach the new mini dry port which will be used for the customs clearance for the vehicles carrying consignments.  Meanwhile, light vehicles can now enter Phuentsholing from both the gates. This initiative, officials believe will help ease traffic congestion in Phuentsholing and neighbouring town of Jaigaon in India.

Travel advisory on India

A 12-hour ‘Assam Bandh’ called by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) on 12 December disrupted movement of vehicles against the Indian government’s proposed citizenship amendment bill. A day earlier, a group of Bhutanese truckers narrowly escaped a riot near Bongaigoan in Assam.

Second royal child

King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck announced that Gyaltsuen was expecting their second child to the roar of celebration from a capacity-packed crowd, celebrating Bhutan’s 112th National Day at the Changlimithang stadium in Thimphu on 17 December.


Nation-wide protests against CAA

In the wake of the new Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 (CAA), which was passed by the both houses of the parliament recently, protests against the controversial act erupted in many parts of the country. The CAA amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, and seeks to make foreign illegal migrants of certain religious communities except the Muslims coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. States like Assam and West Bengal has been at the forefront of the protests. Opposition leaders Mamata Banerjee, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and others spearheaded the protests against CAA. Apart from the opposition leaders, students from universities across the country have strongly voiced their discontent against the act. Protests in institutions like Jamia Milia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University faced police clampdown which has further triggered response from the student fraternity and civil society against the police action. As the protests in Bengal and Assam have receded to some extent, protests have been reported in Bengaluru and Uttar Pradesh.


1,400 ‘ready to kill’

Addressing a conference of island councilors from across the country, Maldivian police boss Mohammed Hameed has come up with the startling revelation that as high as 1,400 persons across the nation were ‘ready to kill’ for their (Islamic) cause. This is the highest figure not only from a State agency, namely the Commissioner of Police (CoP) but also by all previous estimates put out by domestic sources and the international community. According to the police chief, 423 Maldivians attempted to join terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq, of which 173 people managed to enter the war zones. “Hundreds” of local extremists also travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan before the Syrian civil war, some of whom have been spreading radical ideologies since returning to the Maldives.

Solih introduces income-tax

In an unprecedented move and keeping with his poll manifesto, President Ibrahim Mohammed ‘Ibu’ Solih has given his assent to a new piece of legislation, introducing income-tax for individuals in the country. The law also combines some of the business and corporate taxes and fixed new rates for various categories of tax-payers. First studied and considered for implementation by the Nasheed presidency (2008-12), when Solih’s MDP was in office, at the instance of the IMF, the proposal did not see the light of the day after the scheme became a part of the anti-government agitation, leading to the quick exit of Nasheed, following mass protests initiated by a combination of religious NGOs and political adversaries going by the name of ‘December 23 Movement’.


Airport in Chin state

Myanmar is building an airport in the mountainous Falam township of Chin state to bring more tourists to the region. It is hard for people to move within the state due to the lack of reliable transport infrastructure and in the monsoon season, landslide and floods make it almost impossible to travel. Thus, the authorities are using a state budget of 19.93 billion kyats (13.28 million US dollars) for the first phase of the Surbung Airport project. Runways, terminals and navigation facilities are being built and 58.3 percent of the airport construction work are said to have been completed.

ADB clears package

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $195 million financing package for a project that will develop climate-resilient and market-oriented infrastructure and livelihoods in 2,942 villages in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady, Chin, Sagaing, and Tanintharyi regions. This will help reduce rural poverty and strengthen the villages' climate and disaster resilience, benefiting around 1.8 million people. The project will help identify, develop, and fund 3,000 climate- and disaster-resilient community infrastructure subprojects, which include village access or farm roads, small bridges, water supply, electric grid connection, and multipurpose centers.


NC for American MCC

Nepali Congress, the most vital opposition party in Nepal, has been persistent in bringing about the endorsement and enforcement of the US’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant. This aid is basically being provided by the US for transmission lines and road connectivity projects. While the government of Nepal is still in two minds over it, the opposition is pursuing it because it was reached during the NC-led government.

Disaster management

The Ministry of Home Affairs has come up with a very systematic framework for integrated information management system to tackle disaster-based risks. The idea is to provide data at all levels of the government and also help establish a link between neighbouring governments as well. This seems to be a welcome step to establish coordination in South Asia as a whole.


Death for Musharraf

In a historic judgement delivered on 17 December, a special court in Islamabad found former military ruler Gen Parvez Musharraf guilty of high treason. The former dictator was sentenced to death under Article 6 of the constitution. The three-member bench of the special court headed by Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and comprising Justice Nazar Akbar of the Sindh High Court and Justice Shahid Karim of the Lahore High Court implicated Musharraf’s decision to impose a nationwide emergency on 3 November 2007 as being central to the case of high treason. Moreover, Musharraf’s decision to put political adversaries under house arrest during the imposition of emergency further exacerbated his case and the rationale for pursuing a case against him. The landmark judgement was received with both adulation and outrage.

Boycotting KL summit

Under the pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan took a U-turn from the Kuala Lumpur Summit, considered to be his brainchild. Imran Khan, along with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, made plans to establish the Kuala Lumpur Summit on the side lines of UN General Assembly session in New York. The collaborative platform was aimed at cooperation and dialogue in many fields among the three Islamic nations. According to Mahathir, one of the Summit’s key agenda was to deliberate why Muslim countries are “in a state of crisis, helpless and unworthy of this great religion”.

Back in American IMET

The US state department on 19 December said that the Trump administration has decided to resume Pakistan’s participation in the coveted International Military Education and Training Programme (IMET). Pakistan’s participation in IMET as well as security aid to the country was suspended by Trump Administration in January 2018 to mend Islamabad’s support for terrorism in South Asia, especially in Afghanistan and India. After August 2018 the US barred Pakistani army officers from the IMET programme. Under IMET, foreign military officials are trained at US military institutions including the US Army War College and the US Naval College. However, the participation of Pakistan army in IMET is subject to the approval of the US Congress.

Sri Lanka

No re-negotiations

After declaring during his India visit, before and after, that his government would re-negotiate the Hambantota Port deal with China, President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has since said that it would not be done, as it was a ‘commercial deal’. The Chinese Embassy in Colombo has lauded the President for his statement, adding, ““China reiterates once again that it highly respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. The security and control of Hambantota Port are entirely in the hands of the Sri Lankan Government and Navy, which is no any different from other ports in Sri Lanka.”

Justice for soldiers: PM

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that the government would ensure justice for armed forces personnel who were’ hunted and harassed’ by the predecessor regime, in alleged criminal cases of ‘civilian disappearances’ or such other charges that the West otherwise qualifies as ‘war-crimes’. His declaration comes after President Gotabhaya’s reiteration that his government could not accept the ‘co-authored’ UNHRC resolution 30/1 in the present form.



Opinion Pieces

Christopher Dickey, “Trump, Afghanistan, and the ‘Tweet of Damocles,’” The Daily Beast, 15 December 2019

Manoj Kumar Mishra, “Tragedies of the Afghan War,” Asia Times, 16 December 2019

Maureen Callahan, “Lying by Bush and Obama is this era’s Pentagon Papers,” New York Post, 14 December 2019

Javid Ahmad, “America’s ‘catastrophic success’ in Afghanistan,” The Hill, 14 December 2019


The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “The Rocky Resumption of Peace Talks,” 15 December 2019

The Kabul Times, “All out support essential to make anti-corruption drive a success,” 17 December 2019

The Kabul Times, “US drawdown shouldn’t pose risks,” 18 December 2019


Opinion Pieces

Syed Mehdi Momin, “Upholding the spirit of Victory Day”, The Independent, 16 December 2019

Kalyani Shankar, “Citizenship and ties with Bangladesh”, The Statesman, 15 December 2019


Dhaka Tribune, “Bringing an end to human trafficking”, 20 December 2019


Opinion Pieces

Karma Phuentsho, “Gyalyong Duechen: The National Day”, Kuensel, 17 December 2019


Kuensel, “The national service”, 18 December 2019

Kuensel, “National Day comes home”, 17 December 2019


Opinion Pieces

Kabeer Srivastava, "Inaccurate diagnosis, draconian remedy", The Hindu, 20 December 2019

Harish Khare, "In thralls of its own violence", The Hindu, 20 December 2019

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, "Discrimination, not justice: Hope this generation does a better job of navigating the struggle than the one that came before", The Indian Express, 19 December 2019

Alankrita Srivastava,  "Students who protest against discriminatory laws are real patriots. They offer hope for future", The Indian Express, 19 December 2019

Kham Khan Suan Hausing, "Not about Hindu and Muslim: BJP under-estimated the CAA effect in the Northeast", The Indian Express, 19 December 2019


The Hindu, "A duty to publish: On RTI", 19 December 2019

The Indian Express, " India stand up" 19 December 2019

The Hindu, "Unfulfilled promise: On Personal Data Protection Bill", 17 December 2019

The Hindu, "Many mutinies: On protests against amended citizenship law", 16 December 2019


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: ‘China factor’ still hurts – but intra-party equations, this time?”,, 17 December 2019


Opinion Pieces

Aung Thiha, “Myanmar Govt to Develop Offshore Gas With Total, Woodside and Local Company”, The Irrawaddy, 19 December 2019

Kyaw Phyo Tha, “Legal Team Defended Myanmar to ‘Best of Their Ability’ at ICJ, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Says”, The Irrawaddy, 19 December 2019

Min Aung Khine, “Mines Explode in Rakhine State’s Manaung Township Ahead of Myanmar State Counselor’s Visit”, The Irrawaddy, 19 December 2019


Opinion Pieces

Ram SharanMahat, “How Nepal lost Arun III”, Republica, 19 December 2019

Pramod Mishra, “Day of ignominy and infamy”, The Kathmandu Post, 19 December 2019

Bam Dev Sharma, “Combating environmental threat”, Republica, 16 December 2019


The Himalayan Times, “Restore services soon”, 20 December 2019


Opinion Pieces

Ansar Abasi, “Abu Bachau Muhim”, Roznama Jung, 20 December 2019

Zahid Hussain, “Musharraf’s conviction” Dawn, 18 December 2019.

Rustam Shah Mohmand, “Will Musharraf verdict change the political landscape?” The Express Tribune, 19 December 2019.


Dawn, “Decent into medievalism, 20 December 2019

The Express Tribune, “US to resume military training programme for Pakistan: State Dept”, 20 December 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajeewa Jayaweera, “Sri Lanka, a beleaguered Republic”, The Island, 22 December 2019

M S M Ayub, “Can the President replace devolution with development?”, Daily Mirror Online, 20 December 2019

Kelum Bandara, “Will the fate that befell SLFP befall UNP?”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 December 2019

Malinda Seneviratne, “The new populism is to resist populism and populists”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 December 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “UNP has too many cross-roads ahead”, Ceylon Today, 17 December 2019

Jehan Perera, “Independent institutions can keep international intervention to the minimum”, The Island, 17 December 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Friendship or domination”, Colombo Gazette, 16 December 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: Ayjaz Wani

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