MonitorsPublished on Mar 19, 2018
South Asia weekly report | Vol. XI Issue 12


India:  BJP’s emphatic advance in the North-East

Ketan Mehta In what could be a ‘surprise’ to political pundits, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was successful in forming governments in the north-eastern States of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. Till not long ago, it was believed that the BJP’s ideology, centred on the ‘Hindu identity’ and attachment to the Hindi heartland, were hurdles in the party’s expansion to regions with significant minority populations such as the north-east. However, the party which is currently having a troubled relationship with other National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners such as the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh, courted as many as four regional parties in Meghalaya to form government with mere two seats in the 60-member State assembly. In Nagaland, the BJP jettisoned its 15-year’s alliance with the Naga People’s Front (NPF) in favour of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). The BJP-NDPP alliance won 30 of the 40 assembly seats. The most-celebrated win for the BJP was Tripura, considered as the bastion of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The CPI (M) had dominated Tripura’s politics since 1977 – except for a five-year term in between. Manik Sarkar then consolidated the Left Front rule and became the longest chief minister of the State. What is more striking is that in 2013, the BJP had only one per cent vote-share in the State. The elections held in February 2018, however, saw the BJP emerge victorious in 23 of the 60 assembly segments while its partner the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) won eight. Since the announcement of the election results in March, BJP’s Biplab Kumar Deb has taken oath as Tripura’s Chief Minister. In Nagaland, Neiphiu Rio has assumed the position, supported by the BJP. In Meghalaya, Conard Sangma is leading an alliance government of three regional parties, being helped by the BJP.

Significant difference

The north-eastern States significantly differ from the rest of the country, in terms of their socio-economic profiles. For instance, Nagaland and Meghalaya have overwhelming tribal populations. In Tripura, there remains a divide between the tribal population and the Bengali community. Moreover, the Church reportedly plays a significant role in the political affairs of the States of Nagaland and Meghalaya. According to the 2016 mid-term census, Christians comprise more than 80 percent of Meghalaya’s population. There are striking differences too among the north-eastern States. In Meghalaya, for instance, three of the eminent tribal groups namely, Khasi, Garo and Jaintia are predominantly matriarchal. On the other hand, in Nagaland, 16 Naga tribes are largely considered to be patriarchal. Such dynamics also had an impact on BJP’s election campaign. Ram Madhav, BJP’s general secretary, showered a rare praise on the Christian missionaries. Also, more than 70 per cent of the party’s 47 candidates in Meghalaya were Christian. Unable to ignore the social landscape of the north-east, the BJP made several adjustments to bring about a change in the political status quo. In the wake of the tribal protests in Tripura demanding better representation in the public sphere, the BJP cornered the CPI(M) by pitting the Bengali community against the tribal demands. Concurrently, its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS), expanded presence in the tribal areas. In Tripura, the BJP further concentrated in mobilising the 2.5-lakh newly-registered voters and youth voters that numbered an estimated 10 lakh. However, the BJP’s relationship with its partner IPFT is not without any differences. The IPFT is planning to flag the demands of the tribal population with the BJP-ruled Centre, in the coming months. That includes the demand for separate statehood.

Crafty strategists

Rather than being affected by the social dynamics and the role of non-state actors like the Church (in Meghalaya, the Church was explicit in its rejection of the BJP), the party focused on strengthening its alliance with regional parties such as the IPFT in Tripura, the National People’s Party in Meghalaya and the NDPP in Nagaland. Additionally, crafty strategists such as Sunil Deodhar helped the BJP expand its presence in Tripura at the grassroots-level and build on the existing anti-incumbency against the CPI (M) that in 2013 had won in all the assembly seats in the tribal belt. The BJP also utilised the party’s strong base in Assam in expanding its presence in the north east. A prominent member of the Indian National Congress (INC), Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had switched loyalty to the BJP, was instrumental in absorbing the Deb Barma-led faction of the IPFT into the BJP. From being a marginalised player in the political affairs of the north-east, the BJP has in recent years made significant electoral gains. The BJP-led NDA had won 11 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from north-east, including Sikkim, in 2014. It is being said that the party now eyes at least 20 seats in the 2019 elections from the region. The case of BJP’s electoral success, especially in Nagaland and Tripura, strengthens the established argument that the political realities of a geography -- in this case, the north-east -- are subject to change, if only over time. However, achieving consensus on the issues of statehood, sovereignty and autonomy that have long been associated with the north- eastern States would constitute a challenge for the BJP that has traditionally held strong views on these issues. (The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi).

Afghanistan: A step towards conclusive peace?

Sohini Bose On 28 February, the Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation Meeting was held in the Afghan capital, urging the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the government, aimed at a final political settlement that would ensure the ‘victory for all and the defeat of none’. This was the second of its kind, the first being on 6 June, 2016. The meeting involved several high-level representatives from the region, members of the international community, and international organisations. The proposal is ultimately aimed at benefiting the entire region and putting forward a strong and resilient resistance again the terror ideology. The proposal however is only meant for those “Taleban that quit the violence.”

Proposed terms

Put briefly, the proposal aims at the creation of a “political framework” which includes a “ceasefire”, recognising the Taliban as a political party, granting the group an office, allowing them to have passports and the freedom of travel, offering support to relocate their families back in the country and other confidence-building measures, and of course free and fair elections. It also suggests a legal framework to review and probably amend some sections of the nation’s Constitution, release of Afghan prisoners to join the negotiations and lifting sanctions against the Taliban. Apart from these concessions, the proposal demands that the Taliban recognise the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and respects the rule of law. It also provides for the return of Afghan refugees in other countries, and also measures to ensure the security of all. It appeals for the continuation of international diplomatic and financial support and the setting up of a monitoring/evaluation mechanism be set up. President Ashraf Ghani further explained that the process would be conducted in three phases: negotiations, ratification and implementation.

‘Political bribes’

The proposal is unique in many ways and raises some significant points of interest. It is different primarily in the terms in which support of the international community has been guaranteed. The international community promises to stand ‘behind intra-Afghan talks’ and offer firm support for sustainable peace and security. It also speaks of no foreign intervention in the peace process. What is more, the meeting was directed not only at the Taliban but also at persuading Pakistan to understand the benefits flowing from a stable Afghanistan. Further, it emphasised the need for renouncing all ties with international terrorist groups and stressed on the need for equal right and respect for all Afghan citizens, especially women. Even though the peace proposal was vastly comprehensive and detailed, its aim may not be accomplished in the immediate future for a variety of reasons. First, as regards the terms of the proposal, there is no deadline for the negotiations, lending it an essence of ambiguity Though there were no rhetorical words in the proposals, some of the terms could be interpreted as demands and can even be called patronizing, especially where it mentions that the demands of the Taliban would definitely be ‘considered’. There is also no mention of which party must initiate the ceasefire. In their reply to the proposal, the Taliban further said that they were not interested in “positions and privileges” which they considered to be “political bribes”.

Unfavourable activities

Second, activities unfavourable to the Taliban are occurring simultaneously while the peace terms are being offered in Kabul. The meeting came about even as talks were on for closing down the Taliban office in Qatar, which apparently is their only official channel for communication. The Afghanistan government has also recently courted Indonesia to arbitrate the peace talks while also asking the country’s ulema to condemn the Taliban ideology as ‘un-Islamic’. The Taliban are not expected to react favourably to this. Third, in the international scenario, despite pressures from the US and other allies, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence ISI) allegedly continues to fund and provide sanctuaries to the Taliban. Moreover, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPP) of Pakistan has increased its annual grants to the Haqqania madrasa, commonly known as the ‘jihad university’, which plays a major role in supporting the Taliban, is often considered a hindrance in the path of peace negotiations. Fourth, as regards the intra-Afghanistan dynamics between the government and the Taliban, the former as yet does not have a concrete plan for the returning ‘refugees’ whereas the local Taliban commanders with immense resources at their disposal provide an attractive alternative. It must also be understood that the Taliban is a guerrilla force, difficult to consolidate and integrate into the mainstream. But once inducted into the government structure, it might cause the already-shaky foundations of the system to collapse.

Loss of faith

There have also been past instances where the government’s promises to the Taliban’s were not kept, resulting in a loss of faith of the latter. The Taliban also does not yet recognise the Afghan government, and is eager to have direct talks with the US bypassing the government, provided the US removes its troops from the country. However, if the US does remove forces, there is no guarantee that the Taliban will not lash back with full force like the Mujahideens did in the past, or that Pakistan will not attempt to subdue its north-western neighbour once again. These loose ends signify that though the Kabul Process is the most concrete peace initiative since 2001, it is perhaps a one dimensional peace offer. The concerns of the Taliban cannot be looked upon patronisingly. It must be understood that the key to a successful peace negotiation is a complete understanding of the interests of the other party. The peace negotiation has to be a compromise between the Government and the Taliban. Hence, there is a need for a mindset to reach a solution which convinces and reconciles both parties. Peace negotiations of the kind are not short-term efforts aimed at political gain. Through all this, there is the need to identify the final decision-maker. There must be a unanimous decision on who should be the signatories to any peace accord, from among various stake-holders. (The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata Chapter)

Country Reports


$ 20.5-m boost

Giving a significant boost to the economic sector of the country through exports and domestic production, 25 USAID-supported Afghanistan traders have bagged contracts worth $ 20.5 million at the Dubai Gulfood Exhibition, the largest annual food and hospitality show. This year India was the lead buyer of the Afghan produce followed by Saudi Arabia. This is likely to greatly benefit Afghanistan, as agriculture forms the backbone of the country’s economy.

Bolstering security

The Afghan national defence and security forces and the US military are preparing to bolster the security of Kabul to protect the people from apprehended large scale attacks of insurgent groups. The idea is to create an inner ring and an outer ring of security. The newly arriving US army advisers would pair with the Afghan troops in this effort and Commandos will carry out intelligence driven raids throughout the city to eliminate all Taliban strongholds and facilitators.

Fresh forces in Faryab

The 209th Shaheen Corps of the Afghan Military stationed in the North of the country has reported the arrival of fresh forces and modern military equipments including warrior helicopters belonging to the Special Operations Forces in the Faryab province of Afghanistan. These will be used in counter terrorism operations in the North where the anti-government insurgent groups are now seeking to expand their foothold. Death of several insurgents due the Afghan Air Force Operations has already been reported.


Bail to Begum Zia

The High Court this week granted bail for four months to opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who is serving a 5 years jail sentence following her conviction in a corruption case.  Despite the court verdict, Begum Zia remained in the prison since Supreme Court ordered a stay against the decision of the High Court in response to an appeal of the Anti-Corruption Commission, the complainant of the corruption case against Begum Zia.  The bail episode resulted in BNP to express doubt about the impartiality of the judicial process, which they considered politically motivated.

Bangladesh plane crashes in Kathmandu

In an unfortunate incident, a Bangladesh plane having 71 people on board crashed in Kathmandu airport in Nepal. Around 50 people died in the crash. A private company in Bangladesh operated the plane.

Seeks China support on Rohingyas

Bangladesh has sought political support from China for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar. The State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam made the appeal during his meeting with the newly- appointed Chinese envoy to Bangladesh, Zhang Zuo. The minister urged China to respond positively to the request.  The envoy, however, informed his country would take a neutral position over the prevailing Rohingya crisis.


PM meets EU leaders

Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay on his official visit to Switzerland discussed bilateral relations and exchanged views on international issues and agreed on collaborations in areas of mutual interest. Before heading to Switzerland which is an important development partner for Bhutan on 8 March, Tobgay visited European Union headquarters in Brussels and met EU leaders.

Delay in Nikachu plant

The 118 megawatt Nikachu project is likely to be delayed by 6 to 10 months as the contractor who is constructing the plant has encountered liquidity issues. The Nikachu project is a model project which is for the first time trying to source materials and resources from within Bhutan is now expected to be completed sometime in 2020.

Friendship rally ends

The sixth Indo-Bhutan friendship car rally 2018, themed ‘Connecting People’, commemorating the golden jubilee diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan, ended on March 11. Thirty teams participated in the rally competition of about 500 kilometers covering four Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Sikkim, and West Bengal, and two districts of Bhutan, Chukha and Thimphu. The rally was flagged off from Kolkata on March 4.


TDP snaps BJP ties

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has pulled out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, criticising the Centre of not living up to past promises of conferring ‘special status’ on the state after bifurcation that created Telangana . The TDP also said that it will move a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government in the Lok Sabha after the state Opposition YSR Congress launched a campaign in this regard. The TDP has 16 members in the Lok Sabha.

BJP-NDA loses by-polls

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre suffered electoral defeat in the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the party’s ruling JD-U ally of chief minister Nitish Kumar, too, lost by-elections. The BJP lost the Lok Sabha by-polls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the two Lok Sabha seats which were held by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, respectively, before taking over the state’s charge after the Assembly polls of 2017. In Bihar, the BJP won a seat against the national Congress rival but with a reduced, 15,000-vote margin while the Opposition RJD of jailed former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav won its seats against the BJP and the JD-U by bigger margins.

French President in India

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in India on 9 March. During his fopur-day visit, Macron highlighted, “France wants India as its first strategic partner in Asia, and it wants to be India’s first strategic partner in Europe, and even the western world”.  In all, 14 agreements were inked during Macron’s visit.


Protests momentum

A month and more into the state of Emergency imposed on 5 February, the Joint Opposition-led street-protests, especially in capital Male, has gained increasing momentum, with the 16 March, Friday evening rally against President Abdulla Yameen reporting thousands of participants, and the police too acknowledging the arrest of 141 participants, possibly the single largest on any day. Among those arrested was the MDP Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih, and former Home Minister, Hassan Afeef, even as the ‘coup-corruption’ trial against Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed was scheduled to commence on Sunday.


Japan ties up

Japan has agreed to facilitate the Myanmar private sector in business, infrastructure and human resource development. An MoU in this regard was signed between the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Japan-Myanmar Economic Committee in Yangon on 15 March. Japan is one of Myanmar’s strongest trade partners. Over the years, it has also channelled substantial investments into the development of projects such as the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and the Yangon-Mandalay Railway, which has helped to boost the country’s economy.

Free internet for schools

The country’s fourth telecommunications operator, Mytel, which will soon enter the market, is going to discuss offering free fibre broadband service at schools. Currently, the ministry has allowed internet service at more than 1000 schools, including universities around the country in order to improve the student access to information and knowledge that can be sourced through the web. Mytel plans to spend US$80 million on its corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, 80pc of which is allocated for education.


Cabinet expansion progresses

Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli has announced the induction of the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) in the government. This inclusion will be apart from the already existing seven ministers from the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre.  All the decisions have been made in consultations with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Chairman, Maoist Centre and Upendra Yadav, Chairman, FSFN. However, the Rashtriya Janata Party-Nepal has backed out of this alliance.

China border re-opened

The Sino-Nepal bond has yet again demonstrated its strength through the agreement on operating the Tatopani border-point which lost access after the 2015 earthquake. The Tatopani Frontier Inspection Station is located in the (TAR) of China. The region has been receiving Chinese assistance since 2012.

SAARC business conclave

The sixth edition of the SAARC Business Leaders Conclave that has begun in Kathmandu comes as a great reassurance of the organization’s worth, despite the recent setbacks.  The conference has been arranged by the SAARC Chamber of Commerce to promote the economic prospects of South Asia as a whole.


India envoy recalled

India-Pakistan bi-lateral ties have touched a new low with Islamabad recalling High Commissioner, Sohail Mahmood, from New Delhi. The Pakistan Foreign Office has accused Indian agencies of harassing its diplomatic staff and their family members. Therefore, the Pakistani High Commissioner has been recalled to Islamabad for consultations over the same. The Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr. Mohammad Faisal claimed that despite strong protests, the Indian government has failed to act. This latest controversy comes in the backdrop of comments made by Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawja Asif, that India-Pakistan ties are not likely to get better soon.

Plight of higher education in Pakistan

The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan has banned enrolments in M.Phil and PhD programmes across 13 universities offering distance-learning programmes for failing to adopt standards set by the commission. The decision has come after allegation of non-compliance of these universities to HEC guidelines. A letter from the HEC Consultant Quality Assurance Division,  has directed that students enrolled in M.Phil and PhD programmes be shifted to regular disciplines of the university to avoid loss of their studies. The decision is likely to impact 4000 students and exposes the shortcomings of the academic system at the highest level.

‘Happiest nation’

The 2018 UN report, Pakistan has been ranked the happiest nation among all other bordering nations. According to the sixth World Happiness Report Islamabad is 58 points ahead of India, 11 points ahead of China, 31 points ahead of Iran and 70 points ahead of Afghanistan in the ranking table of happiness. The ranking is based on indicators like per capita income, life expectance, social support, freedom, generosity and corruption.

Sri Lanka

Emergency lifted

On return from a ‘successful’ tour of India and Japan, President Maithiripala Sirisena ordered the lifting of the ‘state of Emergency’, imposed at the height of anti-Muslim, ‘Ampara-Kandy’ racial violence. Earlier, the Government withdrew the ban on the social media, but with a proposal to regulate their usage through law to check against ‘hate crimes’, starting with the spread of rumours.



Opinion Pieces

Susan E. Rice, “Tell the Truth About Our Longest War”, The New York Times, 16 March 2018 Mujib Mashal and Taimoor Shah, “Taliban Briefly Take Afghan District as Security Worsens”, The New York Times, 12 March 2018Optimism amidst stagnancy Preeth Nallu, “Pressure builds in powderkeg Kabul as refugees return home”, The Guardian, 15 March 2018


Afghanistan Times, “Optimism amidst stagnancy”, 13 March 2018 Afghanistan Times, ’Pashtun Long March’, 11 March 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan,“Right to Information: The foundation for Anti-corruption Initiatives”,  14 March 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Afghan Youth Involvement in Political Decision Making: Main Barriers and Drivers”, 13 March 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Afghan Women Economic Empowerment: Identifying Main Barriers”, 12 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Sajeeb Wazed, “Bangladesh Digital Security Act Protects Free Speech and Minorities”, Modern Democracy, 11 March 2018 Brig-Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, “The expanding phenomenon of religious and nationalist extremism”, The Daily Star, 15 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Sourajit Aiyer, “How Bhutan can become a $7.5 billion economy by 2025 from the current $2.5 bn”, The Bhutanese, 10 March 2018


The Bhutanese, “Unite against racism”, 10 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Harsh V. Pant, “New Delhi is walking into the China trap”, Live Mint,12 March 2018 Ruhi Tewari, “Modi-Shah might have lost today, but the BJP is not going to mourn for long” ,The Print,14 March2018 SK Sood, “Dropout Rate in CRPF, BSF Increases & Bureaucracy Is To Blame”, Quint, 14 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives minister’s K-talk: More than a snub on India?”,, 15 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Nyo Me, “What gender is your robot?”, The Myanmar Times, 16 March 2018 Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Remembering Myanmar’s Unsung Heroes — Its Women”, The Irrawaddy, 8 March 2018


The Irrawaddy, “Two Years of Effort but Not Many Results for President U Htin Kyaw”, 15 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Aditya Man Shrestha, ‘Vulnerable countries’, Republica, 14 March 2018 Birendra P. Mishra, ‘Thank you for coming’, The Kathmandu Post, 16 March 2018


The Himalayan Times, ‘Get started’, 16 March 2018 The Kathmandu Post, ‘Listen to the people’, 12 March 2018 Republica, ‘Time to deliver’, 15 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kamran Yousuf, “Saudi Reforms: blessing for Pakistan?The Express Tribune, 12 March 2018 Hasaan Khawar, “CPEC: western route and Balochistan”, The Express Tribune, 13 March 2018 Zubeida Mustafa, “Guns or Books”, Dawn, 16 March 2018


The Indian Express, “Iran’s Chabahar Overtures”, 14 March 2018 Dawn, “UNMOGIP targeted”, 16 March 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Wooing India, the Tamil ‘hard-liner’ way?”, The Sunday Leader, 18 March 2018 M S M Ayub, “No political will, no end to unrests”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 March 2018 Kusal Perera, “Cornered to unite”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 March 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Self-indulgent and all!”, Ceylon Today, 14 March 2018 Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, “In the name of God, Go!”, The Island, 14 March 2018 Jehan Perera, “Unity government should unite for national unity”, The Island, 13 March 2018 Lasanda Kurukulasuriya, “Resurgence of communal strife with Govt in crisis mode”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 March 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Policing security, or ‘securing’ the police?”, The Island, 12 March 2018


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