MonitorsPublished on Jan 24, 2018
South Asia weekly report | Vol. X1 Issue 4


Nepal: Alternate internet, the additional link to China

Sohini Nayak The further amicability of relations between Nepal and China found relevance in the Sino-Nepal deal for internet bandwidth. Though conceived in June 2017, the final implementation came this year with a formal accommodation between China Telecom Global (CTG) and Nepal Telecom, indigenous to the country itself. The primary attraction of the deal has reflected through the incorporation of terrestrial fibre cables that would connect the two countries through Kerung in China to Rasuwagadi in Nepal. Promoted as an alternative, the accord highlights the lower pricing aspect of internet broadband that would in turn enable the Nepal government to tie up with other telecom companies in future as well. For several decades now, the land-locked Himalayan country had relied on India for providing internet services. In a scenario in which Nepal is trying to bring about economic development, especially after the devastating 2015 earthquake, searching for a surrogate can be deemed necessary. However, this current drift towards the Chinese supply has not come as a great surprise to India, mainly after China’s Doklam brinkmanship involving Bhutan, too. By ending the monopoly of Bharti Airtel and Tata Communications, a new phase of cold negotiation has already begun. The country undoubtedly wanted to hold on to a resilient position of operation if there is any catastrophic technical failure of connections from India. Furthermore, with a second source of international transit, Nepal would be granting itself an advantageous position to negotiate the terms and pricing as well.

Regional dynamics

South Asia boasts of being one of the most strategically positioned regions of the world that is not only tumultuous in nature but is also characterised by ever-dynamic diplomatic ties. With 6.7 per cent GDP growth-rate in 2016, the transformation that this part of the globe has witnessed is remarkable. The liaison between Nepal and the extra-regional actor, China, deserves special mention here because of the long standing demonstration of friendship that has been portrayed. Much to India’s dismay, Nepal has begun participating in China’s ‘One-Belt- One-Road (OBOR)’. The internet accord is thus assumed as only one of the infrastructural developments among the many that may follow. Through such investments in neighbouring countries, the Dragon hopes to benefit in trade along with political and military influence as well. One instance of such investment comes in form of the Lhasa-Kathmandu rail-link that would not only enhance trade but also religious connectivity through Tibet, with cross-border tourism as well. In this connection, the Indo-Nepal ‘blockade’ of 2015-16 becomes noteworthy. The presence of a persistence perception from the Nepali end of deeming India responsible is still widespread. This might be one of the reasons for China to be able to cultivate on such figures of discomfort caused to the common Nepali masses. The present operation of military drills, on counterterrorism, between the two countries, is also proof of the growing closeness, to which India would not be given a chance to counter. With such friendly dealings, Nepal and China are undoubtedly gaining closeness and comfort, making the sub-regional presence of India much more anticipating. (The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata chapter)

Pakistan: Twitter-storm hits US ties

Mayuri Banerjee The year did not begin well for Pakistan, as the US, which Islamabad considers almost its neighbour, suspended the Coalition Support Fund for counter-terrorism operations, for the country. The declaration came hours after US President Donald Trump in a tweet accused Pakistan of ‘lies, deceit and misuse of funds’. The tweet met with huge protests in Pakistan from all sectors concerned. Especially with elections forthcoming, opposition parties have raised their pitch in denouncing America and President Trump. Things have gone on a snow-balling mode since, as the US has also expressed its willingness to take unilateral action if Pakistan “fails to do more” on counter-terrorism front. The fundamental conflict is between the narratives emanating from two countries. On the one hand, the US is accusing Pakistan for providing “safe havens” to the Taliban and the associated Haqqani Network. On the other, Pakistan has dismissed these accusations claiming that US is being blind to the complex security arrangements of the region. The widening divergence in opinion between the two countries has further contributed to the worsening of ties. It goes beyond stating that Trump’s foreign policy style has not been well received in Pakistan. One media house termed President to be ‘mercurial’ in nature and questioned whether such tweets should be dealt with seriousness. Moreover, the Pakistan Foreign Office has claimed that US ‘brinkmanship’ tactics may prove to be counter-productive. The administration has refused to treat this event as an isolated incident, especially in the backdrop of the increasing Indo-US-Israel ties, Pakistani vote against the US decision on Jerusalem and the emergence of China as a strategic player in the region. Pakistani analysts have cited a range of instances like the US decision to deport Pakistani immigrants, designating Pakistan as a religiously-intolerant nation under America’s International Religious Freedom Act  and outright threat at the UN that the “US will be closely watching the votes” to substantiate the claim.

One nation, two views

Two strands of opinion have emerged inside Pakistan, in the wake of the crisis in bilateral ties. While one section is advocating a careful and co-operative approach the other is claiming that the US has more to lose than Pakistan. However, both sides agree that Pakistan is being wrongly blamed for political failure of the Afghan and US administration. The section inclined towards co-operative approach treat the incident as a “temporary phase” in Pakistan-US ties and advocate careful balancing between Pakistan and US interests. They argue that Pakistan should set aside the current rhetoric and focus towards finding a political solution for the long run. For instance, one newspaper column pressed that the current the US administration considers widening of the military base will produce faster results, but history points towards a different direction. Many officials in Pakistan have expressed their reservations to the US policy, citing the disastrous consequences of the ‘Salala incident’ and the US incursion into South Wazirsitan. Therefore, both parties have been urged to draw up a clear strategy of operation and list of priorities to prevent further misunderstanding. The second section of opinion appears more confrontational in its stand and accused President Trump of being a “rabble-rouser”. The US’ announcement of taking unilateral action inside Pakistan has met with stringent criticism from this group. They argue that unilateralism in the US policy is not new but Pakistan will not tolerate any encroachment upon its territorial sovereignty. Some have also pointed out that if pushed further, Pakistan can suspend the facilities to the US military, like the use of Karachi port to send military supplies to Afghanistan, or the use of Pakistani airspace to fly men or carry air strikes. In that case the war in Afghanistan may get costlier for US. Moreover, Trump’s approach to Pakistan will push the latter closer to China and Russia depriving US of an important strategic ally. Therefore, the US interests are at stake this time.

Strategic independence

While some argue that suspension of military aid is an opportunity for the Pakistani administration to prove its strategic independence from the US in policy-matters, others have noted the limitations by which Islamabad can respond. So, even if the Pakistani government desires to “do more” there are certain challenges which impends effective action. The first challenge relates to the nation’s border with Afghanistan. The ‘Durand Line’ which is not recognised by Afghanistan remains a source of tension between the two countries. Therefore, hot-pursuit across the border may provide the Afghan government another opportunity for stoking anti-Pakistani sentiments. Also, sealing off the border or strict regulation of cross-border movement will invite severe protests from ethnic communities engaged in cross-border trade. The second challenge is Pakistani concern for its own security. Pakistan continues to be one of the worst-affected victims of terrorism. Pakistani officials argue that TPP and other anti-Pakistan insurgent groups use Afghan territory to launch terror-attacks against Pakistan.  Unless the Afghanistan government takes concrete measures to eradicate these groups, Pakistan’s hands are tied. These claims are not completely unfounded because in the past, Pakistan has borne the brunt of immediate retaliation to the US military actions. The third challenge is volatility of its own domestic politics. General elections are due in Pakistan only for the third consecutive time, and if held peacefully will be an important milestone in the country’s tradition. The incumbent government is under considerable pressure to prevent any massive outbreak of anti-US sentiment, which may result in disruption and seizure of power by other groups. The opposition is also likely to hammer on this issue and reduce the ruling party’s chances of coming back if the government fails to take a strong stand against US diktats. Therefore, Pakistan faces a precarious situation where on the one side it is anxious to prevent another Abottabad and on the other it is also reluctant to antagonise a powerful ally. It remains to be seen whether American and Pakistani interests converge, or if divergence becomes the order of the day. (The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation in Kolkata)

Country Reports


‘Disregard for humanity’

The Norwegian government has rejected the plea for a temporary halt on the return of Afghan asylum-seekers to their own nation, where persecution is still raging strong. The country now deports more Afghans than any other European power. The Amnesty International regards this as an instance of disregard for life and humanity. All over the world, people have now signed the Amnesty International Petition asking the Norwegian government to stop returning people to Afghanistan until the country becomes safer.

Foreign militants killed

The Toto area of Shirzad district in the volatile Nangarhar province of Afghanistan recently witnessed a military operation against the al-Qaeda. It was reported that five members of the terrorist network were killed in the encounter. Amongst them were foreign militants, a suicide bombing plotter and an important group member. Of the foreign militants killed, three were citizens of Chenchen and Pakistan. Arrests have also been made of an armed militant and two suspects by the security forces.

Talibans in Turkey

To end violence in Afghanistan, the Taliban chief, condescended to send a Taliban delegation to Islamabad to explore ways to revive peace. Following this was an unofficial meeting in Turkey. The Taliban spokesperson however stated that Talibans who interacted in this meeting were not representing the government.        But, Humayoun Jarir of the Afghan high peace council in the meeting reported that under the Turkish government talks were underway with the Taliban group to bring about a reconciliation process.

Uprising if talks fail

Ata Noor Mohammad, chief executive of the Jamiat-e-Islami, recently announced the decision to set a deadline for launching a widespread uprising if the talks for Balk provincial political leadership between the Afghan government and the Jamiat-e-Islami fail. Noor criticized the government’s failure to provide protection against the expanding ISIS activities. He proclaimed his stand for social, political justice and the rights of the people and has promised the government his resignation if the talks have a positive outcome.


Repatriation in two years

Optimism about the return of the Rohingya refugees to their home brightened after   Bangladesh and Myanmar finalised an agreement this week on the physical arrangements for the repatriation of the ethnic Rohingya. Authorities in Bangladesh are hopeful that the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees, who fled from Myanmar following violence, would be completed in next two years.  The decision arrived during a meeting of a joint working group of Bangladesh and Myanmar authorities in Naypyidaw.  Around 650000 Rohingya refugees had fled to Bangladesh since August last year.

Poll process from October

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) A K M Nurul Huda this week announced that the process for holding the 11th parliamentary elections would begin in October this year.  He also expressed its optimism about the participation of all the political parties in the upcoming election, after the main Opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and allies boycotted the same five years back, and have not confirmed their participation this time, as yet.


Logo to mark golden jubilee

Marking the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Bhutan and India, Damcho Dorji, Foreign Minister of Bhutan and Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister of India jointly unveiled the logo for the Golden Jubilee Celebrations in Thimphu and New Delhi through video conference.

Towering hydel projects

The Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL) will construct some 57 power transmission towers for Nikachhu Hydro Energy Project (NHEP) in Trongsa.

Trade rules underway

The work to finalise the draft trade rules and regulations is underway with a multi-sectoral meeting held in Phuentsholing to discuss the draft. The sectoral meeting is expected would consolidate various existing rules and regulations into a single document.


Civilians killed at border

A BSF officer has stated that Pakistan Rangers targeted 40 border outposts along the international boundary in Jammu and Samba districts for the second consecutive day. The heavy firing along the international boundary has claimed two civilian lives and six persons were injured. According to the BSF official Indian forces effectively retaliated but the situation along the International Boundary continues to be tense.

Haj subsidy suspended

Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi declared at a press brief that the government has decided to suspend the Haj subsidy from this year. He stated that the decision was in line with the 2012 Supreme Court order asking the government do away with subsidy which BJP considers as minority appeasement. Instead the money will now be devoted to empowerment without appeasement. Naqvi stated that the government was also in talks with Saudi Arabia to bring down the costs of the pilgrimage.

Jolt for ‘Make in India’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream project ‘Make in India’ got a severe jolt as Japan, which is funding the Delhi-Mumbai bullet-train project, is also likely to supply 70 per cent of the core components. The NHSRCL, the agency tasked to execute the bullet train project, commented that the Japanese have some reservations since the work culture and systems in the two countries are different. Another official stated that the Japanese counterparts have raised serious concerns regarding efficiency of their Indian counterparts and their ability to meet deadlines. However, the Modi government, facing 2019 parliamentary elections, is under pressure for generating jobs is likely to come under criticism.


Govt bans extremists website

Even as the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) said that the number of Maldivians who had travelled overseas as militants had gone up to 61, and a ‘jihadi training’ propaganda video did the rounds on the social media, the Government has decided to ban all religious extremist websites. In two unrelated yet relevant developments, Maldivian parents expressed concern over eighth grade textbook containing blasphemous content pertaining to Roman gods, and a local media report claimed that ‘naming and shaming’ discouraged more young women from taking off their hijab in public.

Opposition’s democracy concerns

The four-party Joint Opposition of Maldives expressed their ‘democracy concerns’ in the country at a meeting with British Ambassador James Dauris at his Colombo Embassy. On a mission of the kind to Maldives, a European Union delegation met with Government ministers, Opposition leaders and third-nation diplomats, including Indian Ambassador Akhilesh Mishra, even as Government officials raided the resorts owned by jailed Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, now on a self-exile after travelling to Singapore for medical care.


Suu Kyi meets Chinese team

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on January 17 met with Chinese deputy foreign affairs minister Kong Xuanyou and deputy chief of the joint staff department of China’s central military commission (CMC) Maj-General Shao Yuan Ming and the two sides discussed promoting bilateral relations and cooperation as well as ensuring a successful Third Union Peace Conference- 21st Century Panglong besides the development in the Maungdaw area of Rakhine State.

Kachin parties merge

Three political parties who stake their appeal on claims to represent the interests of the ethnic Kachin population in northern Myanmar have agreed to merge, after none of them managed to make much headway at the polls in the country’s 2015 general election.

Concern over President’s health

Concern over President U Htin Kyaw’s health is growing among politicians, army officers and diplomats. The president has been receiving medical treatment in Bangkok since late last year, and plans to visit Singapore for further treatment soon.


Assembly winners certified

The Election Commission (EC) handed over certificates of credential to the elected winners of the Provincial Assembly, conducted under the Proportional Representation System. The formal ceremony was witnessed after declaring the results, with CPN-UML topping the chart with 75 seats. A total of 220 candidates have secured their positions in the State Assembly.

New Governors sworn in

The oath of office to the newly appointed Governors of seven provinces was conducted on 19 January under the administration of President Bidya Devi Bhandari. The investiture ceremony took place in the President’s Official residence, Sheetal Niwas.


DGMOs to meet at Wagah

The Senate defence committee is considering a proposal for meeting of DGMOs of both the countries for reducing border tensions. According to Pakistani sources border and air space violations by the Indian army has resulted in escalation of tensions along the border. Also, the recent comment by India’s Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has heated up the atmosphere. A defence ministry official is reported to have said to the Senate defence committee that the meeting will aim towards launching fresh rounds of confidence building measures along the LOC. However, the final resolution of the committee is still unknown.

India’s statements ‘provocative’

Pakistan Foreign Office on Thursday stated that India’s provocative and irresponsible statements may prove detrimental to regional security and stability. In a weekly brief, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr. Muhammad Faisal stated that Pakistan will not be reluctant to respond to any misadventure and claimed that India’s unprovoked firing at the border was aimed to divert international attention from human rights violation in Kashmir. He stated that Pakistan will share its concerns with the five permanent members of the UN Security council.

Pressure on Afghan front

The US ambassador to United Nations Nikki Halley has stated that the Afghan government has asked the world-powers to step up pressure on Pakistan. Haley, after an UN Security Council visit to Afghanistan, claimed that the Afghan leaders were confident that the Taliban can be brought to the table. Haley did not specify what measures will be employed to pressurize Pakistan but sanctions are expected to follow.

Sri Lanka

MS walks out

In a rare event of the kind, President Maithiripala Sirisena walked out of a Cabinet meeting, reportedly protesting the personal campaign, launched against him by a section of UNP partners in the Government, headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne claimed that the President had left the Cabinet meeting only to ‘answer the nature’s call’, even as Wickremesinghe and senior ministers pacified Sirisena and brought him back to the weekly meeting. In an independent development, responding to a presidential request, a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously held that incumbent Sirisena’s current term would end in five years, and not the original six, after the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

No longer ‘under UNP’

Addressing a campaign rally for his SLFP candidates in the nation-wide 10 February local government elections, President Maithiripala Sirisena said that the Economic Development Council, chaired by him, would manage the nation’s economy henceforth, and not by Minister Mangala Samaraweera of the ruling UNP ally. With the Central Bank bonds scam probe report has put the UNP leadership under a cloud the party has decided not to react to Sirisena’s claims until after the polls.



Opinion Pieces

Liu Jinasong,’ “Belt And Road’ Will Determine Afghanistan, China’s Future”, Tolo News, 14 January 2018 Mujib Mashal, “The President, the Strongman, and the Next U.S. Headache in Afghanistan”, The New York Times, 15 January 2018 Mohammed Hanif, “An American, a Saudi and Some Pakistanis Walk Into Afghanistan ...”, The New York Times, 15 January 2018 Sayed Niyam Alami, ‘Only strong Afghan air force can guarantee winning the war against terror’, Afghanistan Times, 15 January 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Approval of the Budget for the Year 1397”, 18 January 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Democracy is Strengthened through Elections”, 17 January 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “The Vitality of Media”, 16 January 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Consequences of Releasing Hizb-e-Islami’s Prisoners”, 15 January 2018


Opinion Pieces

Nahida Akter, “The uncertain fate of Rohingya women”, The Daily Star, 15 January 2018 Shah Husain Imam, “Soft underbelly of connectivity projects?”,The Daily Star, 19 January 2018 Selim Raihan, “High tariff's impact on trade”, The Daily Star, 18 January 2018


The Daily Star, “More than 72 percent terrorists on bail!”, 15 January 2018



Kuensel, “50 years on: A tale of two nations”, 14 January 2018 The Bhutanese, “The Zhemgang Story”, 13 January 2018


Opinion Pieces

Nissim Moses, “India and Israel ties have been historically strong”, The Hindustan Times, 17 January 2018 Renuka Bisht, “ASER 2017 report: A gloomier picture for girls”, The Times of India, I8 January 2018 Rajdeep Sardesai “People’s confidence in the judiciary is really shaken”, The Hindustan Times, 19 January 2018


The Hindustan Times, “General Rawat is on the right track”, 16 January 2018 The Hindustan Times, “We must focus on three R’s” 18 January 2018 The Times of India, What Trump means”, 19 January 2018


Opinion Pieces

Seinenu Thein-Lemelson, “Myanmar’s Van Gogh Taken Too Soon, Leaves Legacy of Indomitable Beauty”, The Irrawaddy, 16 January 2018


Opinion Pieces

Baburam Bhattarai, “Struggle for reforms”, Republica, 15 January 2018 Thaneswor Chalise, “Birth of the left alliance”, The Kathmandu Post, 19 June 2018 Bhubanesh Pant, “Attracting FDI: Make it easy for investors”, The Himalayan Times, 15 January 2018


The Kathmandu Post, “Power to the people”, 12 January 2018 Republica, “Not again”, 14 January 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kamran Yousuf, “Pakistan wants strategic concerns addressed”, The Express Tribune, 15 January 2018 Muhammad Hamid Zaman, “Pity the nation”, The Express Tribune, 16 January 2018 Ikram Juanidi, “Rabbani warns against emerging US, Israel and India nexus”, Dawn, 18 January 2018


Dawn, Aggressive Remarks from India”, 15 January 2018 The Express Tribune,Getting water to Gwadar”, 17 January 2108 Dawn, Paigham-i-Pakistan”, 18 January 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philip, “Two years is long enough time for the government to born again, or die again”, The Island, 21 January 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Dual irresponsibility and worse”, The Sunday Leader, 21 January 2018 M S M Ayub, “President and UNP cannot divorce each other”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 January 2018 Jehan Perera, “Reconciliation process suspended until after elections”, The Island, 16 January 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “TNA: How better is ‘better’?”, Ceylon Today, 15 August 2018 Lasanda Kurukulasuriya, “LNG terminal in Colombo Port: Has Japan joined regional game of Chinese chequers?”, Daily Mirror Online, 15 January 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Taking Parliament for a ride?”, The Island, 15 January 2018


Afghanistan: Sohini Bose  Pakistan: Mayuri Banerjee Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihiir Bhonsale India: Ketan Mehta Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Nepal: Sohini Nayak  
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