MonitorsPublished on Jun 15, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII; 24

Afghanistan: UN report offers gloomy forecast for peace

Shubhangi Pandey

A report released on by the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on 2 June 2020 has mentioned the worst about the state of affairs in Afghanistan. Stating that the Taliban continues to maintain close ideological and operational ties with the Al-Qaeda, the UN report has, in effect, debunked the premise for the signing of the US-Taliban deal, and cast a shadow of doubt on the future of peace in Afghanistan.

As per the report, the Taliban, and particularly the Haqqani Network wing of the group, which is known to operate out of Pakistan, maintain friendly relations with the al-Qaeda, based on “a shared history of struggle, ideological sympathy, and intermarriage”. Further, the report not only contends that the al-Qaeda and a number of other terror outfits affiliated to the Taliban continue to remain in Afghanistan, but also that the Taliban held regular consultations with the Al-Qaeda while negotiations with the US were on, providing guarantees that they would honour their historical ties even after the deal was signed.

The Taliban, on their part, have rebuked the UN report and reiterated their commitment to the Doha agreement. However, reports of fissures within the Taliban leadership and the emergence of a hard-line breakaway faction called the ‘Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami’ have underscored the possibility of continued violence even if intra-Afghan talks result in political mainstreaming of the Taliban. The splinter group is reportedly based in Iran, and is closely affiliated with the likes of Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai or hardliners within the Taliban, rather than the pro-settlement delegation led by Abdul Ghani Baradar, according to the UN report. Despite reports of internal divisions along political, military, tribal, religious lines in the Taliban, and reduced enthusiasm among the fighting cadres to continue engaging in combat, any decision by the group leadership will largely be implemented on the ground, observers suggest.

Foreign terror groups

Adding to existing fears about instability is the seemingly resolute decision of the Trump administration to continue the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which is expected to render the Ghani establishment further vulnerable to encirclement by the Taliban, both politically and militarily. With US troops around, the Taliban were arguably able to maintain the integrity of their rank-and-file as the cadres could coalesce around the idea of defeating a common enemy – a foreign occupation that they wanted to drive out of their homeland. In the absence of the US, however, that common agenda will cease to exist and instead, be replaced by an unending quest for a greater share of power and control. The result will likely be continued hostilities among the various factions of the Taliban, and with the forces of the Afghan government.

Against that background, the presence of foreign terror groups in Afghanistan will surely result in consequences graver than one could imagine right now. Among the first signs of what may follow is the fact that the Al-Qaeda has reacted positively to the US-Taliban agreement, not because they are ardent advocates for peace, but because to them, the deal signifies victory for global militancy, as per the UN report.

Undoubtedly then, the challenge will be to ensure that the counter-terrorism gains of the past are retained, and the Taliban deliver on their commitment to abide by the Doha agreement, by severing ties with the Al-Qaeda. Existing evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Moreover, although the US may not be able to disengage completely, a significantly reduced US presence will make the business of monitoring whether the Al-Qaeda and other groups are being offered patronage by the Taliban, a difficult prospect.

Shaping the trajectory

In the absence of the US therefore, Afghanistan’s regional stake-holders will likely assume a greater role in shaping the trajectory of the Afghan peace process, by stepping up engagement with all parties involved, to further the reconciliation agenda and secure their respective economic and strategic interests. On the other hand, if intra-Afghan negotiations collapsed after US withdrawal, South Asia would arguably bear the direst consequences, given the close geographical proximity with Afghanistan, and a growing network of terror groups already operating in the region.

However, it remains to be seen how the future of the peace process unfolds, and the ways in which in implicates stakeholders in the neighbourhood. It would be prudent for states to therefore, prepare for all eventualities, but especially brace themselves to engage with the Taliban substantively, even if they hadn’t thus far. Moreover, Afghanistan must also equip itself to initiate a process of ironing of differences with regional players, an endeavour that will require immense diplomatic finesse and far-sighted policy making, to ensure lasting stability. 

Maldives: Can Yameen win more elections for MDP rival?

N Sathiya Moorthy

In the midst of the covid pandemic rocking the nation, Parliament Speaker Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed sort of took time off to talk politics.  In a hand-written message shared on WhatsApp of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), of which he is the boss, ,the former President said that the court ordered imprisonment of the immediate past-President Abdulla Yameen ‘alone is not just’.

“We said that we will investigate the crimes of treachery in the previous administration. There is no reason why we should hesitate in doing so,” Nasheed said in the statement. He said that “just as so, we have to do what we said with the Commission on Deaths (DDCOM)”.

The Commission, appointed by incumbent MDP President Mohamed Ibrahim Solih, found that local affiliates of international terror organisations like Al Qaeda and breakaway ISIS were involved in the 2014 disappearance and killing of journalist Ahmed Rilwan, as  his views on religious freedom were unacceptable to radical groups. Indirectly, it absolved the Yameen leadership of wrong-doing, as implied by certain sections. The Commission is also probing such other cases, including the murder of young blogger Yameen Rasheed in 2017 and Islamic scholar-cum-parliamentarian Afrasheem Ali at the stair-case landing of his Male apartment in 2012.

Surprise re-tweets

Nasheed’s statement on Yameen was a sort of response to the tweeted greetings Yameen’s PPM-PNC combine leaders on the latter’s birthday on 21 May, when his re-tweeted messages of the latter’s followers confused MDP cadres. Nasheed said that he did not support the ideology nor the actions of Yameen. He said that the imprisonment of “just Yameen” in a scandal was something he “saw as justice”. In this context, Nasheed went on to add, “We said that we will investigate the crimes of treachery in the previous administration. There is no reason why we should hesitate in doing so.”

Jailed, fined

A year after he lost power, a criminal court in capital Male sentenced Yameen to five years imprisonment and $ 5 million in fine, for allegedly diverting $1 m in licensing fee from private investors for development of island-resort, and falsifying statements to police investigators. Yameen has appealed his conviction in the High Court, and the case may go to the Supreme Court as well. However, the intervening Covd19 pandemic has delayed the judicial process.

It is in this background, Speaker Nasheed has said that his party government of President Ibrahim Solih should take forward other pending cases against Yameen. One such case is over a charge of ‘treachery’ or acting unconstitutionally when Yameen was President. The reference is to Yameen as President proclaiming emergency and arresting two of the five Supreme Court Judges on corruption charge after the Full Bench had ordered freedom for all ‘political prisoners’, including Nasheed, who had obtained political asylum in the UK while on ‘prison leave’ for medical treatment.

Transitional justice

Nasheed is a firm believer in the ‘western, liberal’ concept of ‘transitional justice’. Under his leadership of the party, the Solih government also passed the law to investigate “organised and systematic” violations of human rights and basic freedoms by state institutions or senior officials and to establish a legal framework to provide justice and redress for victims, confining to the Yameen regime.

As the first ‘multi-party democracy’ President of the country from 2008-12, Nasheed pursued criminal cases against predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was in ‘elected office’ for 30 long years. Some of the liberals in the Nasheed/MDP camp also questioned the propriety of the government going after Gayoom, then in his seventies, despite being promised personal immunity from criminal cases of the kind, after the former facilitated a ‘smooth transition’ at the end of the 2008 presidential polls.

The Nasheed government’s summoning of Gayoom, who otherwise is considered the ‘architect of modern Maldives’, with tourism-centric economic revival, did not go down well with the masses, cutting across party lines. ‘Pushed to the wall’, Gayoom returned to the centre-stage, when he was expected to retire from active politics, contributing in no small way to Nasheed’s early exit from office, in February 2012. Nasheed’s demand for justice against Yameen in pending cases and new ones, as promised by his MDP ahead of the presidential polls, thus, make political sense.

If the higher courts do not acquit him or reduce his sentence, Yameen cannot contest the next presidential polls that is due in two years, in late 2023. But the sensitive political question remains if ‘over-doing’ the same may not gain public sympathy for the failed and fallen leader, possibly without a political career to call his own, any more.

Surprise vote-share

At the head of a four-party coalition reportedly brokered outside the country, MDP’s Solih defeated incumbent Yameen by 58-42 percent in 2019. The surprise element of the election was not Solih’s victory, as made out by the western media, but Yameen getting a high 42 percent vote-share, against the proven 4.9 percent when contesting alone, likewise, in the parliamentary polls of 2009.

The results indicated that Yameen’s friends-turned-foe in half-brother and predecessor Gayoom and Jumhooree Party (JP) of billionaire-businessman Gasim Ibrahim, who were MDP’s allies in 2018, had lost substantial vote-shares to the former. The picture became curiouser when the MDP won two-thirds majority in the 87-member Parliament, when contesting alone in the 2019 elections but had to be satisfied with a 45.83 percent vote-share.

The splintered and fractured Opposition had still managed a grand total of 54-percent vote-share. It was a clear message for the MDP ahead of the nation-wide local council elections, whose term the party-led Parliament promptly extended from three to five years, in December 2019, long before the pandemic intervention. This has since been followed by another law, facilitating term-continuance for incumbent members for full five years.

Coming now, as it will, the local council polls will be a sort of referendum on the Solih Government, only months prior to the 2003 presidential polls. With Parliament adopting the term-extension law, the divided Opposition and their aspiring leaders have put on hold their ‘alternative models’ and talks in this regard, at least until after the Covid crisis ended.

Unmatched proclivity

The MDP’s proclivity and ability to absorb more of the allies’ votes than that of the political rival is unmatched since the democratisation process commenced with the presidential poll of 2008. Yet, if post-Covid, the Government is going to go back to the Yameen cases, and make them their central political issue for the coming months and years, it could backfire. Or, the chances of Yameen winning the local council and presidential polls in the next two years for rival MDP may be minimal.

Going by South Asian and Third World mood, people tend to ignore a defeated leader until he is pushed on into the centre-stage as the main adversary of the ruling dispensation, as happened in Maldives under President Nasheed (2008-12). More importantly, having voted out the predecessor, the aspirational voter will be looking up to the incumbent, to deliver on his expectations – not necessarily, all of them the ruler’s poll promises from five years past.

Maldives has a young population, with four yearly-batches of first-time voters joining the queue, between the parliamentary polls 2019 and presidential elections 2023. They will be in their late teens, and seeking to stoke their memory about the presidential past of Yameen, when they were all in their early teens, may not help.

In the post-Covid scenario, as after the post-tsunami era in the previous decade, voters, especially the youth and first-time voters, will be asking for jobs and increased family incomes, not avenging the wrongs done to others. This apart, the party needs to remember that independent of the controversial Supreme Court interventions that may have facilitated Yameen’s election in 2013, the MDP’s continued focus on ‘transitional justice’ against Gayoom and also the party’s proclivity to ‘ditch’ allies even then were also factors that cost Nasheed his re-election then.

Country Reports


Taliban-Al Qaeda ties

Reacting to the report released by the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team that points to the existence of close ties between the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda, top general of the US Central Command Gen. Kenneth Mckenzie said he would not recommend a full withdrawal of troops if the terror nexus was maintained. The US would be prepared to withdraw all troops if conditions laid down in the US-Taliban deal were met by the insurgent group, he stated. According to the UN report though, 400-600 Al-Qaeda fighters continue to remain in Afghanistan, operating in 12 out of the country’s 34 provinces.

Completing prisoner-swap

President Ashraf Ghani announced that the remaining 2,000 Taliban prisoners will be released very soon, citing the rationale that completion of prisoner swap is imperative for intra-Afghan negotiations to begin. Ghani also underscored the importance of receiving clarity from the Taliban about the fate of Afghan forces in their captivity, and assurances that the last security personnel held captive would be released.


Budget predicts 8.2 pc growth

The 49th annual budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 was presented in the parliament by the Financial Minister A H M Mustafa Kamal this week. In this year budget, economy is estimated to grow at 8.2 percent which is higher than the World Bank’s projection of 1.6 percent.  Given the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic health sector again special attention this year as the government allocated 14 percent of the budget.  

Post-lockdown trade begins 

After a pause of 70 days, the bilateral trade with India via Benapole and Petrapole will resume from this week.  This development followed the state government in neighbouring West Bengal state of India gave its nod to the resumption of the trade through the Petrapole integrated check-post (ICP). Trading in   Petrapole was suspended due to the Covid-19-induced lockdown in India. The Petrapole Asia's second busiest border crossing point and a prominent check post for bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh. The pause in the service of the ICP impacted the bilateral trade. 

Call for solidarity for migrants

Amb Rabab Fatima, Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative at the UN, has called for global solidarity and cooperation to tackle the challenges faced by migrants due to outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. Amb Fatima made the remarks during a meeting of the Group of Friends of Migration titled "Migration in the time of Covid-19: Migrant Health and Remittances" in New York in the week. The migrants are severely affected by the impact of the Covid-19 and facing an uncertain future globally. The fate of the migrants in the era of Covid-19 is an important issue for the country since remittances have been a major source of earning foreign exchanges. Migrants send around $18 billion remittances annually and fear is hundred and thousands of the migrants might return to the country in near future if the global economic situation does not improve. The global economy is facing a meltdown due to Covid-19 pandemic.


Pact soon on power project

A   concessional agreement is likely to be signed this month on the 600-MW Kholongchu project allowing major works to start soon. The project to be built in a Joint Venture between DGPC and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN), an Indian PSU, had run into differences on the power purchase agreement on 70 percent of the power generated from the plant.In a breakthrough, both sides have agreed that the 70 percent of the power will be sold based on the inter-governmental model like in the case of the recent Mangdechu project where both sides will negotiate the tariff rate as the project comes to a close.

WHO applauds efforts

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has commended the country’s efforts in preventing community transmission of Covid-19 so far. However, the growing complacency among the public amidst increasing cases within and globally is a major concern.The total of positive cases in the country have reached 62. A total of 16 Bhutanese have successfully recovered. With the recent detection of COVID-19 cases in neighbouring towns in the south, the Health Ministry has urged Bhutanese living in the southern border towns to strictly practice effective social distancing, maintain good personal hygiene and practise proper cough etiquette.

Decision hailed on mining site

The upper house of the parliament, National Council (NC), applauded the government for taking a bold decision in handing over the Chunaikhola dolomite mining to the State Mining Corporation Ltd (SMCL) in the interest of the people of Bhutan. Earlier on 2 June, the government cancelled auctioning the dolomite mining rights in view of the Covid-19 exigency. Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering had said that given the unavoidable health and economic dynamics, the likelihood of auctioning the mine as a profitable venture for both the private sector and the government appears slim, and this has compelled to reconsider the timeline. There are all together 67 active mines of gypsum, coal and dolomite currently under operation.


Border-conflict de-escalates

The India-China border dispute which started in early May in the Galwan river valley in eastern Ladakh began to show early signs of resolution as partial disengagement of troops on both sides has taken place. A number of ground level military talks are also being held to further quell possibilities of conflict at the local level. Both sides are attempting to reduce tensions in at least four out of five points of contention. Indian army has officially informed that the situation along the border with China is under control. It also informed that a lot of ground level talks and disengagements happened.

Covid-19 cases on the rise

With the continuous rise of coronavirus positive cases across the country, India now has fourth highest COVID-19 cases in the world after US, Brazil and Russia. In the light of the rising cases, PM Modi will hold meetings with the state Chief Ministers on 16 and 17 June to discuss the way forward.


No pre-arrival test

In a bid to boost economic revival through banned tourism industry, the Government has exempted expected holiday-makers from abroad to produce pre-arrival tests for Covid-19 produce the medical certificate on handling. However, they will be tested if flagged during thermal-screening. Tourists are also banned from travelling to islands that are declared ‘red zone’ and have been advised to maintain social-and other pandemic-related protocols. The authorities have also mandated that resorts should set up medical facilities and have a Covid-19 task force each.

Positives cross 2,000-mark

With the addition of 10 new cases, the nation-wide figure for Covid-19 positive cases has crossed the 2,000-mark, at 2-13 to be precise. Of them, 786 are active cases, 1,217 recoveries and eight deaths. Of the  new cases, seven were Bangladeshi nationals and two Nepalese, apart from one Maldivian. As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Maldives' capital Malé has recorded a significant increase in pandemic cases in the first weeks following the first confirmed local transmission on 15 April. However, the number of recoveries has been significantly on the rise, with over 60 percent now recovered.


Quarantine facilities, inadequate

Migrant workers returning from Thailand at the Kawthoung border-crossing in Tanintharyi Region are stranded on the Thai side due to a shortage of quarantine facilities.  U Moe Wai of the Migrant Workers Education Centre has stated that many of the schools that have been repurposed as quarantine facilities have been returned to the Ministry of Education in preparation for the reopening of school in July. Out of 12 quarantine facilities only four are left holding more people than is comfortable. The government requires all quarantine facilities for returning migrant workers to slow the spread of the disease.

UNODC provides PPE

The total number of Covid-19 cases in the nation has risen to 260, with 11 more confirmed cases. UNODC and the Myanmar Police Force (MPF) took an important step towards improving border security and mitigating the impacts of Covid-19. UNODC provided the MPF with 20,000 surgical masks, 200 pairs of goggles, 8,000 pairs of disposable gloves, 160 protective suits and 60 contactless temperature scanners, which will now be used by frontline border officers at 13 land border crossings. The equipment was supplied by China’s Ministry of Public Security, who donated the PPE to UNODC for distribution across the BLO network.


Call for Indo-Nepal dialogue

The main opposition party in India, the Indian National Congress, has recently released a statement calling for bilateral talks between India and Nepal. The primary idea is to solve the long standing border standoff over India’s road construction along with the Kalapani and Lipulekh issue. Since the two countries have always been amicable towards each other, Chairperson of All India National Congress’ Foreign Affairs Department and State Assembly leader Anand Sharma, said that time is ripe to talk over and resolve the issue.

Lockdown eases

After prolonged period of lockdown in the country, the government has finally decided to embrace normalcy once again. After a cabinet meeting it was decided that functioning of the traffic an odd-even basis along with social distancing would be adopted. Nonetheless, this is primarily for the Kathmandu Valley and the districts are still under stringent rules. The operation of business and industries has been allowed. The government offices will also function in two shifts.


Defence budget up

In spite of long-term recessionary trends emerging in the Pakistani economy owing to the Covid-19 outbreak, the federal government has increased the defence budget allocation by 11.9 percent. The defence budget allocated for the 2020-21 will be PKR 1,289 billion, that is 2.82 percent of the GDP. The reasons for the increased budget allocations are souring of relations between Islamabad and New Delhi since the Pulwama terror attack in February 2019.The relationship between the two countries worsened after New Delhi’s decision to scrap Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India in August. Pakistan spends $9,000 per solider per year while India, with the world’s third largest defence budget after the USA and China, spends $18,000 per solider.

Indian response ‘regretful’ 

The Pakistani Foreign Office (FO) has termed India’s Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) response to its efforts to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19 on the country’s low-income groups as regretful. Prime Minister Imran Khan on 11 June offered to share the ‘Ehsaas’ programme with New Delhi and cited the report published in Pakistani Newspaper that 34 percent of households in India will not be able to survive without assistance. The MEA responded by highlighting that India’s stimulus package “is as large as the GDP of Pakistan” and asked Pakistan to worry about its own debt problems. The FO has termed India’s response as regretful and also said that the comments revealed lack of serious intent to galvanise SAARC countries to share their experiences of combatting the novel coronavirus.

Sri Lanka

Polls on Aug 5

After postponing it twice owing to Covid-19 pandemic, the three-member Elections Commission (EC) has fixed 5 August for the conduct of parliamentary polls. Before announcing the same after a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court had dismissed all seven petitions on polling date and related issues, the EC consulted health authorities and also conducted a mock polling to determine social-distancing procedures and also the time required in this regard. The EC has also indicated that the counting of votes too make be delayed owing to pandemic-related precautions and full results would be known only two or three days after polling.



Opinion Pieces

Shantanu Mukharji, “UN Findings Unsettling for Pakistan”, The Statesman, 11 June 2020

Colm Quinn, “Will There Still Be a Taliban to Negotiate With?”, Foreign Policy, 10 June 2020


Bloomberg, “Don’t Bungle the Ending of America’s Longest War”, 10 June 2020

Afghanistan Times, “Resolving Issues with Neighbours”, 10 June 2020


Opinion Pieces

Wahiduddin Mahmud, “Optimistic budget in pandemic times”, Prothom Alo, 12 June 2020

Abdulah Sibli, “Will foreign investors relocate to Bangladesh from China?”, The Daily Star, 9 June 2020



Kuensel, “The DungsamKhothakpa lesson”, 12 June 2020


Opinion Pieces

Kartik Muralidharan, “A post-Covid-19 social protection architecture for India”, hindustantimes, 11 June 2020

Suhas Palshikar, “Will there be a George Floyd moment in India’s public life?”, The Indian Express, 11 June 2020

Anup Sinha, “ Collateral damage”, The Telegraph, 10 June 2020


The Hindu, “A better rate: On COVID-19 recovery”, 12 June 2020

The Hindu, “Back from the brink: On India-China border row”, 12 June 2020

The Indian Express, ”Inferno in Assam”, 12 June 2020

hindustantimes, “Secure the future of migrants”, 9 June 2020


Opinion Pieces

Mariana Infante Villarroel, “COVID-19 crisis is opening opportunities for occupational safety and health in Myanmar”, The Myanmar Times, 12 June 2020

Matthew B. Arnold, “COVID-19 highlights the importance of local governance”, The Myanmar Times, 9 June 2020


Opinion Pieces

Suman Kumar Karna, “Managing monsoon floods amid COVID-19”, Republica, 11 June 2020

Amish Raj Mulmi, “Is this the end of the ‘special relationship’?” The Kathmandu Post, 11 June 2020

Jagannath Lamichhane, “Oli must go, but what’s the alternative? “ Republica, 11 June 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “Exit”, 11 June 2020


Opinion Pieces

Jeff Paine, “Digital future”, Dawn,11 June 2020

Zahid Hussian, “A global movement”, Dawn, 10 June 2020

Imran Jan, “Kabul’s conspiracy theoriesThe Express Tribune, 11 June 2020

Inam ul Haque, “Future warfare, full spectrum conflict and our options”, The Express Tribune, 11 June 2020


Dawn, “Blaming the people?”, 13 June 2020

Dawn, “More swarms arriving”, 13 June 2020

Dawn, “Economy in distress”, 13 June 2020

The Express Tribune, “Debt relief”, 12 June 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion pieces

D B S Jeyaraj, “Plot within TNA targeting party spokesman Sumanthiran”, Daily Mirror Online, 13 June 2020

M S M Ayub, “A wrangle over election ethics”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 June 2020

Kelum Bandara, “Where will Mangala head for?”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 June 2020

Rohana Hettiarachchie, “Making parliamentary elections a reality”, Ceylon Today, 10 June 2020

Jehan Perera, “Ensure more representation in governance until election of new Parliament”, The Island, 9 June 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “One less poll issue for Rajapaksas, and how”, Ceylon Today, 9 June 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “By George, it’s flawed!”, Colombo Gazette, 9 June 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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