MonitorsPublished on Mar 27, 2018
South Asia weekly report | Vol. XI Issue 13


Nepal: Trends of the new government under Oli

Sohini Nayak The existence of political and economic stability in Nepal comes up as an extremely important criterion that primarily tests the expertise of the new Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, who has often been regarded as one of the most dynamic leaders that the country has ever come across. The path of formulating a concrete Federal structure is important to him. It is not only a historic democratic transformation for the country but also the beginning of new and improved ties with its neighbours, especially in amplifying the presence of China. A lot of hopes have been pinned on the 65-year-old Communist leader for initiating peace, stability and fiscal development in the Himalayan nation, after his recent return to power.  It was the unbearable massive governmental unpredictability that finally enabled the Left Alliance, dominated by Oli’s Communist Party (Unified Marxist–Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center), to preponderate the power hubs of the country by winning a noteworthy majority. The challenges that lay ahead were quite daunting in nature as it required the formation of provinces in the federal set-up. The lack of funds also needed international support for managing the system. Apart from these, the expectations of the Madhes-based parties to amend the 2015 Constitution to voice their opinion in the federal structure also wanted attention. Both Prime Minister Oli and the CPN-UML have rejected any such probable changes in the Constitution in the near future. Such domestic pressures faced by them is main rooted historical background of the land-locked country that has forever been a ‘buffer state’ caught up between two major influences like India and China. The circumstance now is providing Nepal with the opportunity of carving a niche for itself with internal substantiality and cohesion. The task lies in the hands of Oli to make the right decisions that could either make progress for the country or have the prevailing stagnation continue on.

Asymmetric dependence

One of the dominant existential issues for a country like Nepal is to strategise its foreign policy so as to gain maximum benefit for development. However, as for the new government, there is certainly a point of dilemma that PM Oli and his Foreign Ministry are caught up in. This asymmetric dependence is not to India’s satisfaction because of the left-leaning tendencies of the country towards China. The One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative simply reaffirms it. If there is no fine-balance, the sphere of influence will inevitably remain limited in its horizon. As already mentioned, the requirement of multilateral donors is something that PM Oli has to keep in mind. The recent visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is another instance where the stance of Nepal has come under scrutiny and question, especially in India. It is quite evident from that Nepal is all set to bag privileges from the China-Pakistan economic corridor that is under progress. Thus, the future posture of the country vis-à-vis India is one of enormous significance. From the Sino-Nepal rail -ink to the reopening of the Tatopani border with the help of China and also the trade and transit agreement with the latter, the policy of Nepal is going quite steady, being itself aware of the predicaments of the future. After the devastating earthquake of 2015, the new government has been determined to promote the cultural and tourism sectors so as to garner higher investment and revenue. With a target of generating around two million tourists each year, there is also a provision for constructing the second international airport at Najgadh of Bara. The idea is to ensure that the government and the private sector work together with harmony and in collaboration.

Competitive spirit

The recent dynamics of Nepal, in conclusion, has been regarded as the promotion of national interest, as declared by PM Oli. Both the central government as well as the provincial governments do not have any excuse for unsuccessful ventures as they have the 13 years ‘Millennium Developmental Goals (MDG) ahead of them. All the seven provinces must be seeped in a competitive spirit so as to facilitate better development of the country as a whole. Thus, with better foreign policy, provisions for economic prosperity, cultural and promotional activities and a very strong cabinet, headed by PM Oli, Nepal’s prospects as a country trying to move out of its LDC (Least Developed Country) status is on track. For moving beyond its status as a land-locked small neighbour to big giants, only a calculative measure in areas of growth can promote the nation as a stronghold for South Asia as whole. (The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata Chapter).

Pakistan: Cold War adversaries becoming allies?

Mayuri Banerjee Last week, at a meeting of the Pakistan-Russia joint working group, officials from both sides expressed their commitment towards finding a ‘political solution’ to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. Both Islamabad and Kremlin have demonstrated a similarity in their strategies towards Afghanistan. While the US in support of the Ghani administration is pushing for a complete expulsion of Taliban from the country, Pakistan and Russia are promoting an all-party dialogue which will render recognition to the Taliban. The Russia-Pakistan alliance on Afghanistan began last year  when the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, in a meeting with then Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif, declared that an effective counter-terrorism strategy can be devised only by consulting all the stake-holders concerned. One year later, Russia’s acknowledgement of Pakistan as an important actor to the Afghanistan peace process has come as a political saviour when Islamabad is being increasingly cornered over issues of trade, terrorism, political corruption and governance. Traditionally, Russia-Pakistan relations used to be plagued by mutual suspicion. Since the Cold War days, Pakistan had remained aligned to the US and played a key role in ending the USSR’s occupation of Afghanistan by supporting Taliban insurgency. It is indeed ironic that the two countries found a common ground for co-operation through their stance on the same Taliban. Russia’s support for the Taliban regime stems from the security threat it faces from the IS to its northern Caucasus and Central Asian boundaries. Pakistani policy-makers believe that an Afghan civilian government will result in greater strategic influence by India at their cost. In short, the two countries perceive considerable strategic loss to let the Taliban fade out of the scene.

Political soother

For Pakistan, which was shocked at the chastisement received at the hands of the Trump administration in the US, Russian friendship has come as a political soother. Pakistan is eyeing the bi-lateral ties as a serious balance to US-India collaboration, which seeks to reduce Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan was reported to have told The Financial Times that Pakistan is aiming a regional recalibration to undermine the US war policies in Afghanistan. Although no provision for Russian military aid Pakistan exists on paper, the two countries have deepened their military co-operation since 2014. In September 2016, Russia and Pakistan conducted joint military exercises named ‘Druzhba’ and in 2017 Russia also participated in Aman-17 naval exercises in the Arabian Sea. Russian support is particularly crucial for Pakistan to increase its credibility in Kabul and resist getting side-lined in the peace talks. However, current developments in the bilateral ties suggest that the collaboration cannot be viewed solely through a military prism and is likely to spill over to other areas like greater strategic collaboration in the region and in the international forums and most importantly energy co-operation.

LPG pipe-line

Pakistan is one of the fastest-growing importer of Liquefied Natural Gas. In 2017, Russia’s Gazprom International and Pakistan’s Oil and Gas Development Company Limited signed an MOU in Moscow. According to recent reports, Russia is helping to construct a LPG gas pipeline from Lahore to Karachi which will be completed this year. The two countries are also negotiating energy deals worth more than $ 10 billion. One Pakistani official pointed out that building energy infrastructure across the country is one of the key focus areas in Russia-Pakistan ties. Therefore, the economic dimensions of Pakistan-Russian détente also warrant attention. The energy deals are particularly crucial for Pakistani economy whose industries, medical system and agriculture continue to suffer from power shortages. Russian companies have exhibited particular interest for mineral exploration, developing offshore fields and building underground storage. These activities are likely to be a great boost to Paksitan’s faltering economy, especially due to the foreign investments it will miss for its inclusion in the FATF grey- list. As the geo-political alignments are rapidly changing in the South Asian scenario, it remains to be seen how the ties between Russia and Pakistan evolve in the long run. The ‘opening’ of relations between the two countries appear hopeful but will require sustained investment of political capital to maintain a dynamic trajectory. (The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata Chapter)

Country Reports


Terrorist-hunt continues

The combined counter-terrorism forces of the Afghan Special Security Force and the US Special Operators recently infiltrated Daesh’s capacity to use foreign fighters to terrorise Afghan people. So far, air-strikes have been carried out in Jowzjan where the head facilitator of Daesh was captured and his facilitators were killed later in Sar-e-pol. It is hoped that continued operations will help in the restoration of normal life in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, as in southern Nangarhar, earlier.

Violence ‘no longer feasible’

Speaking at the US Institute for Peace, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Mohammad Atmar said that the government’s peace offer is the best option for the Taliban. He added that though the government seeks peace, it also has a strategy for war. Therefore, the insurgent group’s attempt at victory through violence is futile. Issues such as illicit opium-smuggling, peace deal with Hezb-e-Islami and efforts to establish a regional consensus in the fight against terrorism were also discussed.

IS claims responsibility

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has declared itself accountable for the motorcycle bomb explosion in Jalalabad. The statement of the terror group asserted that the victim of the attack was a pro-government gathering in the city while another source, which publishes ISIS reports, announced that the target was a vehicle carrying pro-government militia forces. This comes as the insurgent group is under immense pressure from the ongoing counter terrorism operations, aimed at annihilating terrorist safe havens.

New leadership for Balkh

At a ceremony marking the beginning of Nowruz, the Chief Executive of the Jamiat-e-Islami, Ata Mohammad Noor, claimed a breakthrough in discussions with the government and that a final agreement would soon be reached and details shared with the people. Based on the recommendations of the Independent Local Governance Department and the approval of the Office of the President, Mohammad Ishaq Rahgozar has been introduced to provincial officials as the new Balkh governor.


‘Developing nation’ status

The country this week celebrated attaining eligibility criteria to elevate its status to a developing country from a least developed nation.  At a function held in capital Dhaka, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina observed that it was an achievement of the people of Bangladesh. The UN's Committee for Development Policy (CDP) on March 15 officially declared Bangladesh eligible for graduating from the LDC, and handed over a letter in this regard to Bangladesh's Permanent Representative to the UN, Masud Bin Momen.

Defence policy approved

The cabinet this week approved the National Defence Policy. Cabinet Secretary Shafiul Alam said that the policy was prepared with a vision of building people-oriented, modern and professionally competent armed forces to protect the country's independence and sovereignty and ensure public welfare. The policy also defines the military's relations with civilians and the media. The policy suggests the establishment of a national security committee headed by the prime minister to make necessary recommendations for the government to ensure state security. The committee, once formed will be the highest policy-making authority on national security.

Go-ahead for border roads

The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) had given its final nod to the proposal of construction roads along the India and Myanmar border.  The government proposed to build 317 kilometres of roads along the border to ensure security and better connectivity. Improved connectivity at the border expected to help border guards in implementing strict measures in hilly border areas, curb illegal drugs and arms smuggling.


Talks with Australia

The fifth annual consultation with Australia on development cooperation was held in Thimphu on 20 March. The consultation marks the country’s 15 years of diplomatic relations with Australia. Development cooperation in areas including human resources was reviewed in the consultation meeting.

Happiness Day marked

The ‘International Day of Happiness’ was observed all over the country on 20 March. To mark the occasion at Simtokha Dzong, Foreign Minister Damcho Dorji highlighted the importance of relationships, kindness and helping each other. This is the fifth time that this day is being marked since United Nations General Assembly decided to mark this day.

Drukair for Dubai, Japan

National carrier Drukair will add one more Airbus to its fleet and is likely to fly to Dubai and Japan by 2020. The new airbus A3-20 has a capacity of 140 passengers and will cost approximately Nu three billion.


Border peace must for China ties

In a statement issued after the 11th round of the "Working Mechanism on Consultation & Coordination for India-China Border Affairs" (WMCC), India’s External Affairs Ministry stated that maintenance of peace in border areas is an "important pre-requisite" for the development of India China ties.

Data-mining exposed

Cambridge Analytica (CA), the UK-based private company which engages in data-mining and analysis for electoral processes, is reported to have had the BJP, Indian National Congress (INC) and the Janata Dal (United) as its clients from India. On its website, the company claimed to have conducted an in-depth electorate analysis for the Bihar Assembly Election in 2010.

Elected unopposed?

Bhartiya Janta Party’s Telangana  president K Laxman has said that as directed by the party’s central leadership, the party would not be contesting the three Rajya Sabha seats in the State. Four candidates are in fray -- three from the ruling Telangana Rashtara Samiti (TRS) and one from the Congress, indicating that all of them would be declared elected unopposed.


Emergency ends

After a 30-day extension to the original 15-day proclamation ending mid-week, President Abdulla Yameen has ‘withdrawn’ the ‘State of Emergency’, but after obtaining end-of-trial detention orders against predecessor and half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and two incumbent Judges of the Supreme Court charged with ‘terrorism’, coup-bid and conspiracy. While self-exiled ex-President Mohammed Nasheed called it a ‘new normal’, the Indian neighbour, while welcoming the exergency-end, however wanted the restoration of normal political processes and dialogue before calling presidential polls, due later this year.


President quits

After serving nearly for two years, President U Htin Kyaw abruptly resigned on 21 March from office. A government statement said the president wanted to take a rest from his responsibilities and the resignation takes effect immediately. The resignation comes one day after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi returned from her trip to Australia. The State Counsellor herself had reportedly suffered from fatigue while abroad, which led to the cancelation of a public event in Australia’s capital of Sydney.

$ 400-m FDI in SEZ

Japan, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, the UK and the Netherlands were the largest investors in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone in the last fiscal year. Foreign investments worth some $400 million went into the Thilawa SEZ and this figure is up by $20 million compared with last year. The manufacturing sector absorbed most of the foreign direct investments (FDI), accounting for 73 percent of the total FDI in the zone.

India Education Fair

In order to facilitate a wider range of career assessment opportunities, the 5th India Education fair 2018 is opening again to reach out to students of Myanmar on 23 and 24 March 2018, at Summit Parkview Hotel, Yangon. It is organized by "SAPE Events & Media Pvt. Ltd." and is supported by the Embassy of India, Yangon, India-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and 4R Consultancy Yangon which is bringing a delegation of Universities from India. The focus of the event will be to invite students to study in India under various scholarships.


Voting rights for NRNs

The Supreme Court of Nepal has come up with a welcome step of granting the Non-Resident Nepalis with voting rights. Ruling on a writ petition before  the Court of Justice, a Division Bench made the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, Parliament, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Election Commission, the defendants of such an order.

NC strategy session

With the passage of three months after the dynamic electoral process in the country, the Nepali Congress is all set to recapitulate and analyse the defeat that was encountered with. The Central Working Committee of the party has taken upon itself the responsibility of carrying out meetings that would address the reports from a grass-root level. This conference would also not only identify the ballot performance but also strategize its prominent role as the revered opposition.

Ties talks with locals

Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli recently held a meeting with the local, provincial and federal leaders to discuss the proper implementation of the federal structure. This idea was to incorporate the association of the southern and northern neighbours to bring about prosperity and development. An approximation of a compatible and homogenous structure in all the sub-systems has been reinforced.

‘Tourism Vision 2020’

The intention of welcoming an approximate of two million tourists in Nepal has been concreted as the set target of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. After the devastating earthquake, the aim is to counter the setback with the creation of a Government-Private Sector nexus that could help materialize the aspiration. In this regard, the construction of the second international airport in Nijgadh of Bara is also worth mentioning.


Work-goals with Kabul

Bilateral ties between Islamabad and Kabul are improving. However, it is too early to predict anything concrete.  In a meeting between National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjau and Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal, Islamabad and Kabul have agreed to maintain contact and pursue common goals. The turn in relations is assumed to have resulted due to Janjau’s last visit to Afghanistan where he held talks with President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and others. The NSA has welcomed Ghani’s peace overtures but has also pointed out that while Afghanistan wants a military solution, Pakistan will remain committed to political measures and an all inclusive dialogue.

IS talks with Russia

Both Russia and Pakistan have expressed grave concern over growing security threat from IS. The Pakistan-Russia Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism stated in one of their meetings that returning IS fighters from conflict zones to their countries of origin will aggravate security threat in many parts of the globe. The Working Group also emphasized the need for regional co-operation to counter the threat. The bi-lateral dialogue covered other aspects like strategic co-operation, and co-operation at international forums. The evolving ties between the two countries come in the backdrop of growing priximity between the US and India.

UN adopts resolution

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs during its 61st regular session adopted through consensus a resolution tabled by Pakistan for strengthening efforts to prevent drug abuse at the educational centres. The resolution drew attention to the challenge of drug use amongst school children, colleges and university settings. It also underscored the need for enhanced efforts including preventive intervention for purchase and abuse of illicit drugs. The global community acknowledged the role of educational institutions in promoting healthy lifestyle among students.

Sri Lanka

No-trust move

The SLPP-JO, identified with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has handed over a no-trust motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, with signatures that included those of four ruling SLFP partner in Government. The JO says more would follow on voting day even as Ranil’s UNP has launched a competing trust-campaign among party MPs in particular.



Opinion Pieces

John Nicholson, “Resolute Support Extends Best Wishes For Nawroz”, Tolo News, 20 March 2018 Borhan Osman, “The U.S. Needs to Talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan”, The New York Times, 19 March 2018 Zabihullah Ghazi and Mujib Mashal, “Killed Shovel in Hand: Afghan Farmers Are Latest Victims of a Chaotic War”, The New York Times, 18 March 2018 Andrew E.Karmer, “Shelters Have Saved Countless Afghan Women. So Why Are They Afraid?”, The New York Times, 17 March 2018 Dilawar Sherzai, “Democratization of Our Society”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 20 March 2018


Afghanistan Times, “Our brave security forces”, 22 March 2018 Afghanistan Times, “House searches gone far beyond”, 19 March 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Will Afghan Reach Peace wishes?”, 19 March 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Ethnic Diversity: As Afghanistan’s Weakness and Strength”, 19 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Saleemul Huq, “Risks and opportunities of LDC graduation”, The Daily Star, 21 March 2018 Inge Amundsen, CMI, “The ruins of Bangladesh’s LGBT community”, East Asia Forum, 23 March 2018 Mansid Arko, “Bangladesh Undergoes a Shift in Religious Extremism”, The Batesstudent.Com, 21 March2018


Opinion Pieces

Brian M. Levin and Kiernan P. Schmitt, “Building a better Bhutan – Land of Happiness to Silicon Shangri-La”, Kuensel, 19 March 2018


Kuensel, “Importance of using franchise”, 19 March 2018


Yashwant Sinha, “Dramatic Change In Perception Of BJP This Month”, NDTV, 21 March2018 Atanu Dey, “What Keeps India in a State of Poverty? The Answer Is, The State”, Quint, 22 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Shaafa Hameed, “Crowded by concrete”, Maldives Independent, 24 March 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Yameen lifts Maldives Emergency, Nasheed calls it ‘New Normal’”,, 23 March 2018 Team MI, “An unjustly jailed dictator”, Maldives Independent, 21 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Incoming President Needs More Power to Implement Government’s Plans”, The Irrawady, 22 March 2018  Kim N. B. Ninh, “A front row seat to five years of change”, The Myanmar Times, 22 March 2018 Kavi Chongkittavorn “Australia’s new strategy on ASEAN”, The Myanmar Times, 20 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Meena Bhatta, “Pitfalls of power”, Republica, 22 March 2018 Sarin Ghimire, “Getting into murky waters”, The Kathmandu Post, 22 March 2018 Deepak Thapa, “Politics in a man’s world”, The Kathmandu Post, 22 March 2018


Republica, “Hurray!”, 18 March 2018 The Himalayan Times, “NBA suggests US-like federal structure”, 22 March 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kamran Yousuf, “Sham Democracy”, The Express Tribune,19 March 2018 Zamir Ahmed Awan, “Key to CPEC success The Express Tribune, 20 March 2018 Aida Girma, “Nature’s solutions”, Dawn, 22 March 2018


The Express Tribune,Hostages to fortune”, 20 March 2018 Dawn, “Powerful Xi”, 23 March 2018

Sri Lanka

Kumar David, “Sirisena spinelessly waltzes with Mahinda”, The Island, 25 March 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Trust, no trust!”, The Sunday Leader, 25 March 2018 M S M Ayub, “Identity crisis and Muslims”, Daily Mirror Online, 23 March 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “How ‘social’ should be the media?”, Ceylon Today, 23 March 2018 Jehan Perera, “Ensure governmental unity to strengthen governmental system”, The Island, 20 March 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Presidency, or none!”, The Island, 20 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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