MonitorsPublished on Jan 28, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII; 4

Bangladesh: Why India should fast-track development projects

Joyeeta Bhattacharya

The recent operationalisation of the China-funded mega coal-fired power plant Payra in Bangladesh has left many comparing the implementation of developmental infrastructure projects funded by India in Bangladesh. The Payra power is the first of the various mega infrastructure projects, planned after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League came to power in 2009, to become operational, while similar Indian proposals have not made much progress.

India had proposed a similar power project in Rampal, near the eco-sensitive Sundarban, the world’s largest mangrove forest. The formalities for the construction of the plant were initiated in 2010. However,  the project is still incomplete even now. If the plant was completed in time, India would have had the distinction of developing the first mega power plant in the country, with a generation capacity of around 1300 MW. The delay in the delivery of the project has been a point of concern in Bangladesh. India need to fast track its delivery of development projects in Bangladesh to enhance itself as a credible development partner.

The Rampal plant, also known as the Maitri Power Project, is a 50:50 joint venture between Bangladesh’s state-owned Power Development Board and India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in this regard in 2010. This project was to be  completed by 2016. However, till now, only 60 per cent of the work has been completed.

The Payra Power Plant is also a 50:50 joint venture between Bangladesh’s state-owned North-West Power Generation Company and the China National Machinery Import and Export. The two companies signed the MOU in 2014 and the construction began in 2017. In January this year, the  plant became operational.

Competing partners

India and China, the two Asian giants perceived to be competing for influence in South Asian countries, are committed to invest billions of dollars to finance various developmental projects in Bangladesh. India has promised $8-billion financial assistance for various infrastructure projects including roads, bridges, railway links, power plants etc.

China, traditionally a development partner of Bangladesh, had promised $24 billion for various infrastructure projects during President Xi Jingping’s visit in 2016. The Chinese development assistances are used for the construction of power plants, ports, bridges, railways etc. Given the large size of the Chinese investment, India’s investment seems meagre, raising the question about the impact in influencing the relationship vis-à-vis China in Bangladesh. The strategic underpinning behind the development diplomacy cannot be overlooked.

Generally, Chinese projects globally are mired in various controversies. Countries that are recipients of development assistances from China accuse the projects to be resource-exploitative, by-passing local norms and regulations. Yet, India’s neighbours tend to prefer China as a developmental power vis-à-vis India. The fast pace of delivery of the project by Chinese firms is a key motivating factor.

Besides, Chinese projects in Bangladesh attract less controversy unlike in the case of India. In spite of worldwide concerns about coal-based power plants and its adverse impact on the environment, the Chinese bid to construct coal-based power plant hardly faced any criticism in Bangladesh.  Even environmental groups in Bangladesh were not that vociferous viz Payra as against India’s Rampal.

Delayed approvals

India’s projects are, largely, delayed because of the holding up of approvals in the host countries or in the recipient countries, challenging working conditions etc. Of late, India is giving priority to the delivery of its projects overseas. In 2012, India established the Development Partnership Authority within the Ministry of External Affairs for coordinating bilateral developmental cooperation as a step to streamline its projects. The government is also planning to host a monthly meeting to review development projects.

Though the steps taken by the government is encouraging, the success of these measures could be assessed on the time taken to complete the projects. In a country like Bangladesh, which is concentrating on transforming itself from an impoverished to a developed country, infrastructure building is given the top priority and the country is desperately looking for funding from all quarters. Timely delivery of projects by India will help deepen the bilateral cooperation and fulfil India’s vision of shared growth and prosperity, the fundamental of India’s neighbourhood policy.

Afghanistan: The dilemma of differing positions on peace

Shubhangi Pandey

In the third week of January 2020, the Taliban announced that they were willing to observe a seven to eighteen-day long ceasefire with regard to US troops in Afghanistan, and would initiate a “reduction of violence” against Afghan forces, to facilitate the smooth finalisation of the “peace deal” with US representatives in Doha. The Afghan officials, on the other hand, have yet again reiterated that a complete ceasefire remains to be the most significant and fundamental demand of the Afghan people at large, and that anything short of it would fail to bring peace to the country.

Calling the term “reduction of violence” ambiguous, Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesperson for the Afghan President, said that if reduction meant five attacks daily instead of ten for instance, the Taliban offer was of no use or consequence, and that on the question on ceasefire, President Ghani and President Trump were on the same page. The deputy head of the Afghanistan Lawyers’ Union Abdul Subhan Misbah also stated that the term “reduction of violence” had no place in the Afghan constitution, according to which any act of violence or criminal activity is a crime and the perpetrators must be prosecuted by law. The usage of the term “reduction of violence” is being understood by Afghan officials as a political trope, and not a legal concept.

Having said that, even as the Afghan establishment is refusing to accept the Taliban offer as a legitimate case for lasting peace and claiming that Afghans and Americans are synchronised in their demand for a comprehensive ceasefire, President Trump’s call has been for a “significant” drop in violence to enable “meaningful” negotiations, and not an unconditional stop to overall violence. However, despite making the demand for a “significant drop in violence” a precondition for the resumption of meaningful talks, US – Taliban negotiations have been going on and are in fact, nearing completion by January end, reports suggest. In that sense, the Trump administration has been successful in keeping the doors of communication open with the Taliban, as well the Afghan political apparatus, and has therefore managed to stay on track with its own strategic priorities.

Strategic reorientation

While both Ghani and Trump have explicitly committed themselves to bringing peace to Afghanistan, the strategic objectives they want to achieve along the way are subjectively distinct. Trump wants to bring home the US troops stationed in Afghanistan engaged in fighting the 18-year long war on terror, and has made troop withdrawal an integral component of his re-election campaign in the upcoming president elections. President Ghani on the other hand, is notably preoccupied with the results of the 2019 presidential election in Afghanistan, and in the process, has lost many close aides and colleagues, leading to decreased amounts of human capital at his disposal to assertively pursue his peace agenda.

Moreover, there is a strong sentiment in Afghan political circles that that US Special Envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has often ignored the Afghan government while engaging in negotiations for Afghan peace, which has added to the already existing distrust towards US involvement in the peace process. Amid this dynamic, the Taliban has continued to portray the Afghan government as the enemy, maybe owing to the need to justify their violence on the ground. Further, they have continuously tried to dismiss the Afghan government as a legitimate stakeholder in the reconciliation process, belittling their worth to that of being a puppet in the hands of the US.

In order to see irreversible progress on the peace process front, it is first and foremost, imperative that all stakeholders realise that they are in a mutually hurting stalemate and therefore principled compromises must be made to achieve their respective strategic objectives. There is scope for greater strategic cooperation and collaboration between the US representatives debating Afghan peace with the Taliban, and the Afghan government that has not yet been granted a seat at the table, as both parties have a common antagonist in the Taliban. The Taliban too would do well to realise that any agreement signed without the assent of the Afghan government would be weak and easily surmountable, and tear them further away from their stated political aspirations.

Country Reports


Differing terms of ‘peace’

Declaring the official position on terms of ‘peace deal’, a spokesperson for President Ghani stated on 22 January that nothing short of a comprehensive ceasefire by the Taliban would facilitate peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban, on the other hand, agreed to initiate a “reduction of violence”, but not a complete ceasefire as they fear it may trigger division within their ranks. The Afghan establishment dismissed the Taliban proposal of a “reduction of violence” as a political trope, not a legal one, explaining that reduction could mean 5 instead of 10 attacks, but attacks nonetheless.

Budget approved amid discontent

On 22 January, the Afghan Parliament approved the draft annual budget of $5.5 billion for the year 2020-2021, allocating $3.5 billion for expenditures and almost $2 billion for developmental projects, which include infrastructure development in the agriculture sector, education, health and services. The draft was approved amid protests claiming discrimination in the distribution of funds to the various provinces, especially that of Ghor, where some significant infrastructural projects did not receive the promised funding.

Breaking taboo through art

A dance troupe led by Fahima Mirzaie, found of Shohode Arefan (Sama Dance Band) challenged a cultural taboo set by the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam, as men and women collectively performed the Sama dance in public spaces. The ‘Sama’ is a manifestation of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, which is performed in many other Muslim countries, but is considered taboo by the religious fundamentalists of Afghanistan.


India’s CAA ‘unnecessary’

In a media interview, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina observer that she did not understand the purpose of the Citizenship Amendment Act passed recently in India. Nevertheless, the law was unnecessary, she opined.  Prime Minister, however, observed that the issues in the internal affair of India. In December 2019, India amended it citizenship act that helps to ease the process of citizenship by naturalisation for members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christians who have allegedly fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014.

ICJ order: Plea to Myanmar

Reacting International Court of Justice verdict of the petition filed the Gambia on the Rohingya genocide; the government has urged Myanmar to implement the order of the International Court of Justice in its totality.  Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said that the verdict is a victory for humanity, a milestone for human rights activists, a victory for the Gambia, the Rohingyas and Bangladesh. On 22 January, ICJ, the United Nations’ top court, ordered Myanmar to implement emergency measures to protect Rohingya Muslims against violence and preserve evidence of possible genocide. Rohingyas have been taking refuge in Bangladesh to avoid persecution in Myanmar since the 1980s. The largest flow of Rohingya refugee came to Bangladesh after August 2017, around 750,000 Rohingyas came into the country fleeing a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine.


GST reforms

In a historical move to reform taxes, the Ministry of Finance introduced flat 7 percent Goods and Service Taxes (GST). The GST will replace all indirect taxes like sales tax, customs duty and exercise duty. GST will be applicable across the country and expected to reduce princes since it helps to avoid double or triple taxation.

Tax on tourists

The government introduced $15 as environment tax for visitors from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Maldives. The law came on effect on 16 January. This tax named the Sustainable Development Fee is a special concession of the tourists for South Asia. Tourist outside the region pays around $65 SDF. Tourist from South Asia did not have to pay any of such taxes. The step considered to restrict tourist flow since many of the tourists from South Asian countries failed to respect local customs.


No additional funds for Kerala

The Central government revealed this week that it will not allot any additional assistance to Kerala from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) as it has failed to produce utilisation certificates for 50% of over ₹3,000 crore funds allotted to it after the 2018 floods. The Kerala government had demanded an additional 2,000 crore from the fund after the 2019 floods. Kerala was hit by successive floods in 2018 and 2019.

Bolsanaro, R-Day guest

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was the guest of honour for this year’s Republic Day celebrations held on Sunday in New Delhi. The invitation to the controversial leader Bolsonaro has received opposition from activists and opposition parties on two grounds. First, his image as a pro-gun lobby, far-right religious former Army Captain who came to power in 2018, has evoked a controversy. Second, Brazil has been seen increasing stakes against the support measures taken by the Indian government which has put sugarcane farmers of India in agrarian distress in recent years.


Record LGA funding

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has said that the first instalment of MVR 134 million, from the MVR 1.6-billion free aid allocated for local councils, has been deposited into council accounts. Compared to the MVR 656 million allocated for councils last year, the figures for fiscal 2020 entails average increases of 148 percent, 155 percent, and 433 percent for island, atoll and city councils respectively. According to policy secretary at the President's Office, Aminath Shauna, this year’s allocation constitutes five percent from state revenue, 40 percent from island and lagoon leases, and 100 percent income via the leasing of any land or lagoon under each island's respective jurisdiction. The government, which is seeking to fulfil President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's electoral pledge of empowering local councils, also stated that this record budget would allow councils to serve the citizens under their jurisdiction independently without depending on the Government.

Seven stuck in Wuhan

The Foreign Ministry has said that seven Maldivian students are stuck in China’s Wuhan city, which has been locked down following the spread of deadly coronavirus. The Maldivian Embassy in Beijing was working to move them to other safer locations in that country, a Ministry statement said. Foreign Ministry said the seven Maldivians in the city are in good health and State Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Khaleel ha since met with Chinese Ambassador to the Maldives, Zhang Lizhong to discuss moving the seven Maldivians in Wuhan city to another location. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has assured that the government would assist foreign students in Wuhan city and ensure their safety.


End genocide: ICJ

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) highest UN court delivered its ruling in The Hague on 23 January following a case that began last month and saw State Counsellor and Nobel peace prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi defend her country against accusations of genocide against the nation’s Rohingya Muslims. The court ordered Myanmar to follow four provisional measures - to prevent the commission of all acts in the Genocide Convention against the Muslim groupn ensure that the military and any of its directed or supported organisations do not commit genocidal actions; take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence of genocide crimes, and provide a report on its action to the Court within four months and then every six months until the case closes.

Travel ban by US

US President Donald Trump stated on 22 January that his administration was preparing to add a "couple of countries" to the controversial list of states whose citizens are subject to travel bans or severe restrictions on entry to the United States. According to a report published by the Wall Street Journal- Nigeria, Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania may be some of the countries considered to undergo the restrictions. These countries would not necessarily face blanket bans on US travel but could see certain types of visas curtailed. Unlike the nations covered by the current ban, most of these new additions do not have Muslim-majority populations.


Integrated check-post with India

The development of a new integrated check post in Birgunj has brought another occasion to discuss bilateral relationship between Nepal and India. The post was jointly inaugurated by the Prime Ministers of the two countries, K. P Sharma Oli and Narendra Modi.They discussed issues of mutual concerns on the occasion. Also, the recent territorial claim over Kalapani was hinted to be settled through diplomatic channels. The Nepali PM also thanked India for the reconstruction mechanisms in the earthquake hit zones in Nepal.

Lethal weapons from US

Nepal’s desire to import lethal armaments from the United States of America had been delayed for quite some time. The Nepali Army had been attempting the purchase of M4,M-16 and A4 rifles specifically for its squads posted as ‘blue-helmets’ in the war torn countries. However, Nepal had been facing monetary issues with the same. According to sources, the legal hurdles have now been cleared to acquire the weapons. Nepal’s ambition as a small Himalayan country, in the field of advancing military capability is noteworthy.


180-degree turn FATF grey listing?

Pakistan looks set to be let off the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list, with reports claiming its successful defence of compliance to the conditions laid out by the Paris-based international anti-terrorism financing watchdog. The groundwork for a decision favouring Pakistan’s removal from the grey list was laid when Beijing expressed its satisfaction over Pakistan’s compliance, at the Asia-Pacific Joint Group of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) meeting held in Beijing. The Pakistani delegation, led by Minister of Economic Affairs Division Hammad Azhar, arrived in Beijing on 21 January 2020 for the three day with the FATF. According to sources, besides its all-weather friend, China, Pakistan is also likely to be backed by the United States in the FATF plenary scheduled in Paris on 16 February 2020, ruling out any further adverse action by the global body.

No transparency in CPEC

Senior US diplomat Alice Wells on Tuesday renewed criticism of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), implied urging Islamabad to rethink its involvement with the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). She alleged that there was no transparency in CPEC projects and Pakistan’s debt burden was growing due to the Chinese financing. She pointed out that the CPEC was not an aid to Pakistan, but a form of financing that guarantees profits for the Chinese state-owned enterprises, with little benefits for Islamabad. Wells also emphasised the need for Pakistan to know that unlike the US, China was providing loans, not grants.

Sri Lanka

UNP, UNF on split-mode?

With the Opposition UNP unable to resolve the ‘leadership crisis’ haunting the party since ahead of the failed presidential polls in November last year, both the party and the party-lead, larger UNF coalition may be heading for a split ahead of the parliamentary polls, due later this year. While UNP Leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is said to be considering a re-look working committee to reward and/or buy loyalists, popular faction leader and defeated presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa has openly declared his intention to leader a parallel poll alliance without ‘splitting the party’. Unsure of Wickremesinghe’s ability to keep the party together and of Premadasa’s attraction for their respective constituencies, ‘minority’ parties of the SLT, Muslim and Upcountry Tamil communities that had backed the UNP’s Premadasa for the presidential polls are now talking among themselves for an independent seat-sharing arrangement among them, to reconsider their UNP alliance after the parliamentary polls.



Opinion Pieces

Adrian Morel, “Afghanistan’s Borderlands: Unruly, Unruled, and Central to Peace”, The Asia Foundation, 22 January 2020

Sayed Sameer Sadat, “The Solution for Kabul’s Diseased Lungs”, The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 23 January 2020

Khushnood Nabizada, “There Are More Chances of ‘Run-Off’ Presidential Election in Afghanistan”, Afghanistan Times, 24 January 2020


Middle East North Africa Financial Network, “Irony of Ghani’s Demagogic Appointments”, 22 January 2020

Afghanistan Times, “What is Behind the Walls”, 23 January 2020

The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “The Tortuous Path of Counter Terrorism”, 23 January 2020


Opinion Pieces

Tasneem Tayeb, “Bangladesh caught in the crosscurrents of Middle East posturing”, The Daily Star, 20 January 2020

Iftekharuzzaman, “BANGLADESH IN CORRUPTION RANKING: Do we have the political will to improve?”, The Daily Star, 24 January 2020

Ahsan Habib, “Rising economy, falling stock markets”, The Daily Star, 22 January 2020


The Daily Star, “A momentous ruling by the World Court”, 24 January 2020



Kuensel, “Rethinking highland development”, 16 January 2020


Opinion Pieces

Krishnan Srinivas, "As India prepares to honour Bolsonaro", The Hindu, 24 January 2020

Ajit Ranade, "Will the Budget suspend the FRBM’s fiscal deficit goals?", The Hindu, 24 January 2020

Pratiksha Baxi, "A mercy petition allows for rectifying miscarriage of justice, mitigates errors in the legal system", The Indian Express, 24 January 2020

Sushant Singh, " With a flag, song and book: Reclaiming national symbols is an act of political genius and imagination", The Indian Express, 24 January 2020


The Hindu, "Needless impatience: On Centre’s plea on death row convicts", 24 January 2020

The Hindu, "Rumblings in Ranchi", 24 January 2020

The Hindu, "Ending inaction: On Speakers and disqualification", 23 January 2020


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: Need to secure Indian Ocean with India’s lead”, ,22 January 2020

Raif Amyl Jalyl, “Profitable avenues of investments on the rise. Investors wanted!”, The Edition, 22 January 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: Development & decentralization, MDP’s plank for island-council polls?”,, 21 January 2020


Opinion Pieces

David I. Steinberg, “President Xi Jinping’s Myanmar Excursion: A Historical View”, The Irrawaddy, 21 January 2020

Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Beyond the Cliché of ‘Pauk-Phaw’, China and Myanmar Need Each Other”, The Irrawaddy, 17 January 2020


Opinion Pieces

Sourav Dhungana, “Lessons from Southeast Asia”, Republica, 22 January 2020

Khadga Bahadur Bisht, “Clarifications on MCC Nepal Compact”, Republica, 20 January 2020

Ajaya Bhadra Khanal, “Restoring democracy back to the default”, The Kathmandu Post, 20 January 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “Fast gateways and the customs crunch: a case for integrated check posts”, 22 January 2020

The Himalayan Times, “Unwarranted move”, 22 January 2020


Opinion Pieces

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, “Rent-a-state”, Dawn, 24 January 2020

I.A. Rehman “The Five Capital Curses ”, Dawn, 23 January 2020

Imran Jan, “FATF stands for Finishing American-Taliban Fight” The Express Tribune, 23 January, 2020


The Express Tribune, “Imran in Davos”, 24 January 2020

Dawn, “Pakistan- India Ties”, 24 January 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Ranga Jayasuriya, “A step in the right direction, what next?”, Daily Mirror Online, 25 January 2020

Uditha Devapriya, “Sajith Premadasa’s conundrum”, Daily Mirror Online, 25 January 2020

M S M Ayub, “UNP on the brink of suicide”, Daily Mirror Online, 24 January 2020

Kusal Perera, “Two unconventional politicians and ‘crisis’ exposed”, Daily Mirror Online, 24 January 2020

Rohana R Wasala, “Why secularism is good for Sri Lanka”, The Island, 24 January 2020

Lasanda Kurukulasuriya, “Russian FM Lavrov’s visit and the paradigm-shift in Sri Lanka’s foreign relations”, The Island, 23 January 2020

Harim Peiris, “The irrelevant UNP leadership struggle”, The Island, 22 January 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “High-voltage visits and the UNHRC”, Ceylon Today, 21 January 2020

Jehan Perera, “Efficiency needs to be supported by ethics and systems”, The Island, 21 January 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Throwing the baby with the bath-water”, Colombo Gazette, 20 January 2020


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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