South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. XI Issue 19

     May,SAW,South Asia Weekly

    File photo of Bangladesh's opposition leader Khaleda Zia

    Analysis

    Bangladesh: Opposition BNP faces leadership crisis

    Joyeeta Bhattacharya

    The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is facing a leadership crisis as its chief Begum Khaleda Zia remains in jail since February this year. Begum Zia was convicted in a case of misappropriation of funds of an orphanage named after husband and former military ruler Gen Ziaur Rahman. Tarique Rahman, her son and party vice-chairman, was seen as her successor but the prospect of his taking over the reins of BNP seems limited, following his conviction in the same case. The conviction of Khaleda and Tarique have made both of them illegible to contest the parliamentary elections later this year.  Illegibility of the top leadership of the party to fight the election has resulted in speculation about the future of leadership in the party.

    Concerns about the future of the BNP leadership intensified further after the news of Tarique seeking asylum in the UK became public. In April, controversy flared up in the country over the submission of his passport to the authorities in the UK, where he is residing with his family for a decade approximately. Tarique’s submission of passport led to whispers about denouncing his Bangladeshi citizenship. The party has denied the claims. The government of ruling Awami League Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina  has been talking to the UK authorities for the deportation of Tarique Rahman as he is convicted in two cases – with more pending disposal in local courts.

    It's worthy to note that the BNP claims on Khaleda Zia and Tarique are politically motivated. Given the situation on the ground, Tarique will be not able to lead the party in the 2018 election. Party general secretary Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir is running the affairs of the BNP after Khaleda’s imprisonment. In a country where politics is mostly driven by personalities, will he be acceptable to the BNP cadres, particularly, more in an election year?

    Personality-driven

    In a country like Bangladesh, cadres mostly pledge their allegiance to the founders of the parties than to the party per se. The Awami League and the BNP, the two leading political parties, are personality driven -- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first Prime Minister of the country, for the Awami League and Gen Ziaur Rahman, the military dictator and husband of the Begum Khaleda, for the BNP.  Gen Ziaur’s name has been an integrating factor for the party.  The continuation of the legacy of Gen Ziaur Rahman was one of the triggers for Begum Zia to join politics.

    The BNP has experienced defection in the past as senior leaders like Col Oli Ahmed and former President Badrudreza Choudhury had formed new political parties after breaking away with a small faction. Such defections hardly made any major impact on the party. Begum Zia had been successful in maintaining unity in the party.

    At present, the situation is both an opportunity and challenge for the leadership of the party. The challenge will be to uplift the morale of the party workers which has had faced some jolts due to the arrest of the leaders. The morale of the party workers was further affected after the BNP boycotted the parliamentary election in 2014. Besides, the party’s organisational strength has also suffered for being out of power for years. The BNP was in the government last from 2001-06.   The present situation is also an opportunity to bring in a new stream of leadership in the party and to break the culture of personality politics in the country.

    There is speculation if the BNP will actually go for elections without Begum Zia. The party, however, has expressed its desire to fight the forthcoming elections as it believes it has a fair chance of winning it.  The party is now at a pivotal situation -- will it stay united and take the advantage of the opportunity and chart a new beginning for the politics of Bangladesh is, however, the question for which the leadership has to find answers without much more loss of time.

    (The author is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)


    Sri Lanka: On the ‘letter and the spirit’ of India’ Accord ‘87

    N Sathiya Moorthy

    It is sad that 40 years after it was signed to end the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka and a decade after the conclusion of the ‘ethnic war’, someone still should have to talk about the Rajiv-Jayawardene Accord of 1987, whose aim was to end the strife and de-escalate the war for good. What instead the nation and the neighbourhood witnessed was an unstoppable, no-holds-barred LTTE war.

    “Our journey continues, we need the Accord, we need to ensure that the ‘spirit’ of the Accord is implemented and India must do its duty to ensure the same. It is India’s duty and India cannot get away from that duty,” The Hindu quoted Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan as saying recently. He was speaking at the launch of the Tamil book on the subject, ‘Or Inapprachchanaiyum, Or Oppandhamum’ (‘An Ethnic Issue and an Accord’), authored by T Ramakrishnan, an Associate Editor in the Chennai-based newspaper group.

    It is interesting and ironical at the same time to see a veteran Sri Lankan Tamil (SLT) moderate leader like Sampanthan now talking about the ‘spirit’ of the Accord which was facilitated and signed by slain Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who also gave his life for the same. Sampanthan is the sole living testimony from the high-power leadership of the forgotten Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), whose truncated and unrecognisable form remains while he himself went on to head the TNA, a creation of the LTTE.

    Rightful voice

    Soon after the Accord was finalised, and signed later on, at Colombo, the TULF, which was a major party to the tripartite negotiations, criticised the same. Unacknowledged, the TULF’s reservations owed mostly to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s opposing the Accord, starting with the very spirit of it. In a way, India signing the Accord where it did not have a direct locus standi also owed mostly to apprehensions that if TULF as the rightful moderate voice of the SLT community, that it could then trigger an LTTE insistence on being made a more direct party to the process than itself.

    By then, SLT politics in Sri Lanka had reached a stage that the moderates had to say whatever the terror-outfit said, louder and shriller, if it had to be heard by their own constituency back home. When the LTTE and Prabhakaran thus opposed the Accord after allowing themselves to be convinced by the Indian Government and PM Gandhi, that too after ‘surrendering arms’ to the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF), in turn called in under the very same Accord to ensure the safety and security of the Tamils in the aftermath of ‘Pogrom-1983’, the TULF’s voice became louder even more.

    All those moderate voices would all be drowned, when the LTTE took up arms against the IPKF on the one hand, and assassinated senior TULF leaders like Appapillai Amirthalingam. A stage would soon be reached when Sampanthan would ditch the TULF and go on to head the TNA, a creature of the LTTE – though post-LTTE, to be fair to them all, they have regained their original respectability, nerve and verse to a very substantial degree.

    But at the very signing of the Accord, the more ‘legitimate voice’ of the Tamils’ opposition came from the TULF. The TULF was heard better and clearer than the LTTE and such other militant groups in New Delhi and Colombo, and even in the community’s ‘socio-cultural capital’ of Jaffna. For Sampanthan, thus, to talk about India now having to work to implement the spirit of the Accord after remaining the sole surviving signatory to the TULF’s original reservations to the same in 1987, should cause eyebrows to raise.

    ‘Moderate persuasion’

    Yet, to be fair to the TNA now and Sampanthan, they have all continue to stick to their moderate line on the ethnic issue. What more, they have also won a series of elections since the conclusion of the war in the Tamil areas of the island-nation by huge margins, showing that the larger Tamil constituency has attested to their line of ‘moderate persuasion’ of the majority Sinhala polity and the larger Sri Lankan state.

    “Tamils have no intention of dividing the country,” The Hindu report on his speech at the book-launch quoted Sampanthan as saying. “They wanted to live with respect and dignity in an undivided country, where their rights are acknowledged,” he was quoted as saying. In an obvious reference to the deadlocked/forgotten ‘new Constitution’ process in the country that has been drowned in the din and dust of months-long political crisis, especially engulfing the coalition government, Sampanthan had this to say: If Sri Lanka’s leaders failed to negotiated with all the people to evolve and acceptable political solution, “we will not hesitate to do, what we must do, to get a just solution”.

    Sampanthan also had possibly this clarification to offer: “We are not saying India alone can solve this, our demand is for a political solution evolved in this country, with the consensus and support of all the people of this country.” It reads as simple and straight as it looks, but then years and decades of the post-Independence Sri Lankan experience has shown that it is anything but that. And Sampanthan’s qualified caution that the Tamils “will do what we must do” may be an indication where they still want to posit India, and not where India wants to posit itself in the context of the unresolved ‘ethnic issue’ in his country.

    (The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)


    Country Reports

    Afghanistan

    An elite coalition

    Amidst the growing political and security instability, the top political figures of Afghanistan have formed a new major coalition in view of the upcoming presidential elections next year. It consists of First Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Doshtum, Chief Executive of Jamiat Islami, Ata Mohammad Noor and Ahmad Zia Massoud along with other parliamentary members. The Chief of Staff of the Vice President confirmed the news by posting online, a photo of the coalition and a short statement.

    Security jeopardy

    Ata Mohammad Noor, the Chief Executive of the Jamiat Islami, is apprehensive of the launch of the Electronic National Identity Cards (e-NIC).  He opines that the Afghan people’s need of security, unity, and freedom from poverty will be compromised by the e-NIC as it will heighten tension and expand the rift in society. Accordingly he considers those national processes which have not been made with prior consultation within the Government and with the people to be illegitimate.

    Promise on elections

    Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani reconfirmed the government’s stance to hold the presidential elections on schedule, as per the constitution of the country and in a transparent manner. Speaking on a teleconference to provincial governors and security officials, Ghani reiterated the determination to fight against corruption, and sharing information with the people. He said that elections are a national duty for any democratic country and so it will be held with dignity and without government intervention in Afghanistan.

    Insurgents from Pakistan

    The Afghan Intelligence, National Directorate of Security (NDS), has foiled yet another deadly attack on the Kabul city.  The militants had been tasked to target the Ghazi Amanullah Khan hospital and another health facility of the security institution. Seven of them have been arrested and have confessed to have been trained by the seminaries and madrasas located in the Chaman area of Pakistan. The madrasas are claimed to be run by a key Taliban commander by the name of Mawlavi Ahmad Kandahari.

    Bangladesh

    UN team meets Rohingyas

    A delegation of UN Security Council visited the camps of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to have a first-hand understanding of the conditions of the refugees living there.  The UN delegation resolved to work hard to end the crisis of the Rohingya refugees who fled their homes in Myanmar in the aftermath of violence in August 2017.   Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also urged the UNSCl on Monday to press Myanmar to take back refugees.

    Thailand, gateway to SE Asia

    Thailand's Minister for Economic Reforms and Investment Dr Kobsak Pootrakool observed that he could become the gateway to Southeast Asia for Bangladesh. Thai minister made the remarks during his visit to the country. Dr Pootrakool was leading a 30-member strong business delegation to Bangladesh to explore trade and investment opportunities between the two countries.

    Bhutan

    Elections in October?

    The general elections are expected to be conducted around October 2018, and a new government may come into office only by November 2018. However, the 12th Five-Year Plan as per the financial calendar and budget starts after the end of the 11th FYP in June 2018. Since  elections and the start of five year plans no longer coincides, the government is considering options for passing the budget before the June session of parliament.

    Bhutan Day in Frankfurt

    The Bhutan Day was marked by the annual general assembly of the German-Himalaya Society in Frankfurt on 28 April. The society founded in 1984 saw three speakers from both countries speak on Buddhism.

    India

    Fastest growing economy

    India tops the list of the fastest growing economies in the world for the coming decade and is projected to grow at 7.9 per cent annually, ahead of China and the US, according to a Harvard University report. The Centre for International Development at Harvard University said in new growth projections yesterday that countries that have diversified their economies into more complex sectors, like India and Vietnam, are those that will grow the fastest in the coming decade.

    Nirbhaya case: order reserved

    The Supreme Court on Friday reserved its verdict on the plea of two condemned convicts--Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta--seeking a review of the 2017 verdict by which they, along with two others, were awarded death penalty in the sensational December 16, 2012 (Nirbhaya) gangrape cum murder case here.

    Ceremony boycott

    The National Film Awards ceremony to honour artistes created bitterness among several recipients who alleged that President Ram Nath Kovind's decision to present only 16 out of 140 awards had belittled their achievements. Several disgruntled filmmakers boycotted Thursday’s event.

    Maldives 

    ‘Coup probe’ leaks

    On the lines of the Wikileaks, it would seem, records of the ongoing investigations into what President Abdulla Yameen’s camp claims as a ‘constitutional coup’ to overthrow his government through the 1 February Supreme Court order, have also found their way to the public domain. The local media has begun coming out with excerpts of select police depositions of individuals that they had investigated/interrogated, and the Government has claimed that top people involved in the ‘coup bid’ were behind the leaks – but without explaining, how it could help their cause, now for freedom and all!

    Myanmar

    Trapped in war zone

    More than 3,000 people are now trapped in conflict zones amid clashes between the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State, according to the Kachin Baptist Council (KBC). The total number of displaced persons in Tanai, Kamaing, Namti, Waingmaw, Chipwe and Injangyang towns has increased by over 6,100 since 1 April. Of this group, around 2,800 people are taking shelter at churches in Myitkyina and Namti townships, and nearly 3,400 remain trapped in unsafe places.

    Investments cleared

    Mandalay Investment Commission has approved five domestic investments and five foreign investments, totalling 10 investments within nine months since it was established, according to the regional Directorate of Investment and Company Administration. US$13.653 million for five foreign investments and K1,280 million for five domestic investments were approved and most are in the industrial sector, but also include hospitality and agriculture sectors.

    India to develop airport

    According to the International Airport Review, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has signed an agreement with the Government’s Ministry of External Affairs to begin preparations for phase one of the Kalaymyo Airport development works in Myanmar. The airport is located 70 km east of the border with India’s Mizoram state and is very close to the border with Chin State. The airport is operated by the Myanmar Government.

    Nepal

    Communists to ‘unite’

    The coalition government in Nepal has been faring well in implementing the new federal system in the country. In this scenario, several rounds of talks are being conducted for the unification of the Communists – the CPN-UML and the Maoist Center. This idea has been put forward for the overall holistic good and economic development of Nepal and further closeness between Prime Minister K. P Oli and CPN Maoist Center chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, is proof. It would be based on a seven-point framework deal, so that the Maoist Center (MC) can have a distinguished share in the eight executive committees of the government with equal representation.

    Border dispute

    Province 7 of Nepal has urged the Federal government to bring about proper resolution to the Kanchanpur border dispute that revolves around the Dudhuwa National Park. There has been alleged intervention by the Sashtra Seema Bal, India’s Central Armed Police Forces when the locals of the district tried to keep out the wild animals from the National Park. The Nepal-India Joint Survey Committee is likely to look into the issue.

    Preparing for Modi visit

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to visit Nepal again on 11 May. This sojourn has invited an overwhelming response from the tourist industry as entrepreneurs are hopeful of a rise in Indian tourist inflow. The two-day visit will begin from Janakpur, Nepal and the visit has also been labelled as a ‘religious’ one with no agreements to be signed.

    Pakistan

    No need to panic, says ADB

    The statement of the ADB director general for Central and West Asia Regional Department, Werner Leipach comes, as a ray of hope in the face of increasing budget deficit and falling foreign exchange reserves. Leipach declared on 3 April that there is no need to panic over Pakistan’s economy as it was doing reasonable well. While briefing the media at the 51stAnnual Meeting of the ADB Board of Governors in Manila, Leipach stated that the country’s foreign remittances remain strong which touched a seven-month high at $1.77 billion in March 2018. Also, the imports have shot up due to increased economic activity related to CPC. He added that the budget deficit was normal owing to the election pressure.

    Military drills with India

    The speculation about Pakistan joining military drill with India has been confirmed. Both Pakistan and India along with other regional countries would be taking part in the military drill to be organized in Russia in August this year. The military drill will be held under the banner of SCO and will focus on dismantling terror attacks and terror networks. SCO holds military drills every year and it is the first time India and Pakistan will participate together. The development is significant given the tense state of bilateral ties between India and Pakistan and recent rounds of fire exchange along the LOC.

    Sri Lanka

    Caught unawares

    The arrest of two top aides, including Chief of Staff H M Mahanama, on corruption charges, seems to have caught President Maithiripala Sirisena, given especially the latter’s personal access long before the latter had occupied the nation’s highest office. The two had reportedly sought SLRs 540-m in bribes from an Indian investor for the privatisation of the Kantale sugar factory, ‘settled’ for SLRs 100-m and were caught taking the initial payment of SLRs 20 m, ‘red-handed’ and in a public place. Coming as it does after Sirisena climbing the pedestal on the UNP partner’s alleged role in the ‘Central Bank bonds scam’, the latter is now expected to use the arrests to embarrass him, in turn, and weaken his ‘high moral position’, even as the Opposition SLPP-JO watches it all from the sidelines.

    Bibliography

    Afghanistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Hujjatullah Zia, “Afghanistan: Slaughterhouse of Journalist and Civilians”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 3 May 2018

    Ewen MacAskill, “UK backs down over Afghan interpreters' immigration fees”, The Guardian, 3 May 2018

    Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada, “Protecting civilians & building defenses against invisible enemy”, Afghanistan Times, 1 May 2018

    Mohammad Zahid Akbari, “A glance at challenges of media in Afghanistan”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 30 April 2018

    Pashtana Durrani, “Bacha Khan International University A gateway to academic Afghanistan”, Afghanistan Times, 30 April 2018

    Thomas Gibbons, “Attack Kills American Service Member in Eastern Afghanistan”, The New York Times, 30 April 2018

    Mujib Mashal, “Photojournalist Killed in Kabul Left a Legacy of Images”, The New York Times, 30 April 2018

    Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “A glance at challenges of media in Afghanistan”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 30 April 2018

    Editorials

    Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Political Corruption: As the Main Cause of Weak Social Trust in Afghanistan”, 3 May 2018

    Afghanistan Times, “Electronic ID cards distribution kicks off”, 3 May 2018

    Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Mass Media and Terrorism: Double Potentials”, 2 May 2018

    Afghanistan Times, “Scourge of unemployment”, 2 May 2018

    Afghanistan Times, “Atrocities of daesh”, 1 May 2018

    Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Is the Situation for Journalists Improving?”,1 May 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “The Forgotten Responsibilities of our Schools”, 30 April 2018

    Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “China’s Role in Bridging the Gap between Afghanistan and Pakistan”, 29 April 2018

    Afghanistan Times, “India-China set to help Afghanistan”, 29 April 2018

    Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Treating Every Citizen Equally”, 29 April 2018

    Afghanistan Times, “Peace is still a dream”, 29 April 2018

    Bangladesh

    Opinion Pieces

    Barun Das Gupta, “Battle of two Begums”, The Millenium Post, 30 April 2018

    Bhutan

    Opinion Pieces

    Choney Lhamo, “Are we getting our priorities right?”, Kuensel, 3 May 2018

    Editorials

    Kuensel, “Housing crisis”, 30 April 2018

    India

    Opinion Pieces

    Indrani Bagchi, “India energises diplomacy in neighbourhood” , The Times of India, 4 May 2018

    Madhavi Goradia Divan, “The death penalty is a quick fix unlikely to deter monsters in our society, Hindustan Times, 4 May 2018

    Myanmar

    Opinion Pieces

    Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Getting the News Out by Bicycle, under Cover of Darkness”, The Irrawaddy, 3 May 2018

    Lawi Weng, “New Government, New Fears for Journalists in Myanmar”, The Irrawaddy, 3 May 2018

    Pete Cobus, “South China Sea at centre of regional conflict, diplomacy”, The Myanmar Times, 2 May 2018

    Aung Zaw, “UNSC Comes to Myanmar”, The Irrawaddy, 30 April 2018

    Nepal

    Opinion Pieces

    Mahabir Paudyal, “To Modi, with memories”, Republica, 3 May 2018

    Prakash Chandra Lohani, “Dissecting Nepali economy”, Republica, 1 May 2018

    Achyut Wagle, “Modi-Xi yin yang’” The Kathmandu Post, 1 May 2018

    Editorials

    The Kathmandu Post, “Back to basics”, 3 May 2018

    Republica, “Stand tough”, 2 May 2018

    Republica, “Three priorities”, 30 April 2018

    Pakistan

    Opinion Pieces

    Hasan Khawar, “CPEC and Gwadar”, The Express Tribune, 1 May 2018

    Muhammad Hamid Zaman, “Listen to the future”, The Express Tribune, 1 May 2018  

    Khurram Hussein, “Scorched earth, parched lands”, Dawn, 3 May 2018

    Editorials

    Dawn,Scorching heat”, 4 May 2018

    The Express Tribune, “The value of people’s security”, 3 May 2018

    The Express Tribune,Not out of the woods as yet” 30 April 2018

    Sri Lanka

    Opinion Pieces

    Rajan Philips, “Sugar buddies caught with cash in a carpark...”, The Island, 6 May 2018

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Silencing dissent through silence”, The Sunday Leader, 6 May 2018

    D B S Jeyaraj, “TNA may launch non-violent protest campaign against Government”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 May 2018

    Neville Ladduwahetty, “The presidential system should not be abolished”, The Island, 5 May 2018

    M S M Ayub, “Cabinet reshuffles”, Daily Mirror Online, 4 May 2018

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Defending Hambantota, still!”, The Island, 2 May 2018

    N Sathiya Moorthy, “Why care for 20-A?”, Ceylon Today, 1 May 2018


    Contributors

    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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