- May 16 2018
Bhutan: At the cross-roads of development path-ways
A triennial review of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) by the UN had recommended Bhutan’s graduation from the LDC status by 2021. Besides Bhutan, three more nations, all outside Asia, viz, Kiribati, Sao Tome and Principe, and Solomon Islands, were endorsed by the Committee for Development Policy to the ECOSOC.
This will be a double-achievement for Bhutan as the year 2021 also marks 50 years of the nation’s membership of the UN. Since the LDC status was accorded to Bhutan on the UN’s membership, it met the graduation threshold in two categories for a consecutive time. Only the economic vulnerability index (EVI) score of 36.3 was above the maximum threshold of 32.0. The country qualified in the other two categories of Gross National Income per capita and Human Assets Index.
A beginning has been made in the 11th Five-Year Plan for making the economy self-reliant through focussing on increasing the cover of Plan expenditure from domestic revenue. The Nu 300-billion 12th Five-Year Plan aims at walking the last mile out of the LDC graduation through economic growth based on the nation’s well-known Gross National Happiness (GNH) principles of safeguarding environment and culture and ensuring a good governance system.
The draft of the latest Plan (2018-23) suggests that Bhutan is gradually achieving self-sufficiency as a large portion of the Plan amount is projected to come from internal revenue. Of the Nu 317-bn Plan, domestic revenue will cover Nu 263 bn. By comparison, in the current 11th Plan of Nu 217 bn, only Nu 128 bn was available from domestic revenue.
Hydro-power export and service sectors like tourism are likely to be the money-spinners for Bhutan in the years to come, contributing significantly to the domestic revenue. The draft Plan had also factored in the process of the pulling out of donors, meaning fewer grants for development programmes, too. India, the EU and Japan are Bhutan’s largest donors. In the smaller 11th Plan, the grants component was Nu 68 bn but in the much bigger 12th Plan, it is only is Nu 54 bn.
Effects of the graduation
Access to markets for Bhutanese goods is not likely to be affected by the ‘graduation’, as major trade partners, viz, India, Nepal and Bangladesh are not bound by preferential trade agreements for LDCs. However, services’ export may have an impact because of its graduation from LDC as Bhutan is yet not a part of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and cannot take the benefit of the services-waiver scheme of the WTO.
In development cooperation, Bhutan will continue to receive financial assistance and technical support from ADB and World Bank, thus the graduation will not affect financial sources in a big way. Aid from donors is also likely to continue with the country receiving commitments from existing donors of, grants beyond the 2021 threshold for graduation.
Environment vulnerability is one concern that Bhutan has to address. It has to find a solution to this development dilemma by making amends to its growth strategy.
Having said this, the tiny Himalayan nation’s march of progress has been impressive and has pitted neighbours including Nepal in becoming a prospective nation for graduating out of LDC’s.
Neighbour Nepal having satisfied two of the criteria for the second time in March 2018, opted out from the graduation, saying they needed more time. Bangladesh, Myanmar and Laos three Asian countries met the eligibility threshold for the first time and would have to maintain the same level in 2021 to be recommended for graduation.
The country’s feat since 1971 when it was listed on the UN list of LDCs is a result of the untiring efforts by the people of Bhutan and donors, including the UN. Imminent graduation from LDC reflects the aspiration of the nation to improve the lives of people as mentioned by Foreign Secretary Sonam Tshong. A significant turnaround in country’s economic and development is expected and implies a lot to planning.
(The author is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata)
Myanmar: Streamlining India border movement, to fight HIV
In the wake of Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj’s current visit to Myanmar with hopes to enhance bilateral relations, one issue still remains to be unaddressed. The much-awaited step of streamlining the free movement of people within 16 km along the border of Myanmar and India has been deferred by the former on 4 March 2018. Though India was keen to sign the agreement, Myanmar, citing “domestic compulsions” as reason, has sought more time before the same is sealed. Publicly stated, that this MoU is aimed at enhancing connectivity and increasing interaction between the border populations, but in reality both the propositions remain very much active by practice. This step is basically intended to secure the unarmed border between both the nations.
Myanmar shares a 1643-km long border with India. The Indian north-eastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram share the border with Myanmar’s Sagaing region and Kachin state. Terrain on the Indo-Myanmar border is semi-mountainous with steep slopes covered by dense forest, and perennial and seasonal rivers with numerous waterfalls. Cross-country movement is extremely difficult and is restricted to existing tracks. Thick vegetation restricts both ground and aerial observation. Small villages in the border areas have tribal population, who share affinity with population on both sides of the border. Cross-border ethnic ties have facilitated the creation of safe havens for various north-east insurgent groups as well as propensity towards drug addiction in and around Myanmar.
It is well known that Myanmar is the world's second-biggest opium producer after Afghanistan. It is an integral part of the ‘Golden Triangle’ that accounts for the highest percentage of opium cultivation in Asia. The Golden Triangle refers to the region between the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Within Myanmar, cultivation of opium is highest in Kachin, North Shan, South Shan and East Shan.
Methamphetamine production is reaching new heights as well. It is interesting to know that many farmers rely on the drug business. By some estimates, drugs once accounted for 50 percent of the nations GDP. In the 1990s, families of “retired” drug lords financed the construction of new hotels, bridges and roads and ran Myanmar’s largest company, Asia World, which operated both of Rangoon’s ports. The drug lords have turned to manufacturing massive quantities of amphetamines and methamphetamines which can be produced cheaply in small, hidden laboratories, without the need for acres of exposed land.
In 2015 it was estimated that there were 22,794 people living with HIV. The Asian Epidemiological Model (AEM) report estimates to be people who inject drugs (28.5 percent) to be the chief reason for this epidemic. In 2016, the Government has pledged US$15 million for HIV treatment including ARVs and other commodities and US$1 million for the procurement of methadone. The Myanmar Health Sector Coordinating Committee (M-HSCC), established as a part of the Nay Pyi Taw Accord in 2013, has the broad mandate as the coordinating body for all public health sector issues.
Critically, a large proportion of people living with HIV in Myanmar do not know their HIV status, while stigma, discrimination, and late diagnosis present substantial barriers to improving health outcomes. Indeed, approximately half of the people living with HIV are still not receiving lifesaving antiretroviral therapy. There are reports of new cultivation areas opening up in Sagaing region that borders with the Indian states of Manipur and Nagaland.
As per India’s National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) 2017 report, the highest prevalence of the disease has been recorded in India’s Northeastern States, namely Nagaland (1.29%), Mizoram (0.81%) and Manipur (0.60%) which shares border with Myanmar. Injecting Drug Use (IUD) remains the chief driver of HIV AIDS in these States thereby hinting at the deeper social and economic roots of the disease. The state of Manipur is closer to the drug circuits of Shan Hills and Tiddim Kachin regions. This provides an easy access and means of smuggling drugs to different part of the world making Manipur the transit state.
Manipur has the highest estimated adult HIV prevalence of 1.15 percent. Also, heroin and other drugs are smuggled into Mizoram from Myanmar. While pseudo-ephedrine tablets are being smuggled into Myanmar from India in trucks to Guwahati from where they are taken to Manipur or Mizoram before entering Myanmar. Karimganj and Silchar act as transit points in this regard. In Myanmar they are manufactured into methamphetamine in clandestine laboratories mostly run by militants gaining seed money which is later used to procure weapons in the black market. This leaves a dark mark on the security system and check gates.
Though a lot of efforts are being made in order to combat this deadly disease it cannot be ignored that Myanmar has one of the worst health indicators in the world. The public health care system in the country is severely under-resourced. The discrepancies in the access and coverage of healthcare facilities further accounts for the poor health indices in the country.
In mid 2017 Myanmar adopted the National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS (2016-20) which aims for the achievement of global 90-90-90 targets -- whereby 90 percent of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90 percent of the people who know their HIV-positive status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads -- are met by 2020. The plan also aims to ensure that 90 percent of key population’s access HIV prevention services and that 90 percent of people living with and affected by HIV report zero discrimination, especially in health, education and workplace settings.
In India, the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) has launched National Aids Control Programme (NACP); Phase IV (2012-17).The State AIDS control societies in Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland have been implementing prevention programmes that target the MSM, FSW and IUD groups. Governments of both the countries have sought collaboration with non-state actors and international funding agencies. Myanmar government receives generous support from funding agencies such as the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the National External Quality Assessment Scheme (NEQAS) of HIV while Indian Government has been supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Notwithstanding such measures being adopted by both the governments in their respective domains, systematic efforts needs to be taken to build a framework for cross border health infrastructure. It is also important that an initiative towards developing cross border disease surveillance mechanism is incorporated as well. Also, Myanmar needs to rethink its stance of not signing the streamlining of FMR that has been deferred for the third time in the last seven months.
(The author is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata)
The religious scholars or ulemas of Afghanistan, Indonesia and Pakistan have issued a declaration on war and peace in Afghanistan, in which they opposed terrorism and exhibited support towards the peace process. The announcement was in favour of the peace offer made by the Afghan government to the Taliban and acknowledged the support of the international community towards the peace initiative. The ulema also stated that religious scholars of the three countries play a critical role in promoting peace.
Afghanistan President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani held talks with the Commander of the US Central Command, Gen Joseph Vortel, and discussed were reforms in security and defence sectors, US strategy for South Asia, fight against terrorism and the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections nearer home. The deliberations were deemed positive, thereby facilitating continued American support to Afghanistan especially for security during elections.
The Laghman province of Eastern Kabul witnessed the death of twelve militants’ during the operations of the Afghan army Commandos and the Special Forces of Afghan Intelligence, National Directorate of Security. It was conducted near the Alingar district. A weapons depot was eliminated from a suspect. Operations have also been carried out by the Commandos in the Qasaba and Salingar areas of the district. A well-known militant, Mohibullah has been arrested. There were no casualties amongst the Commandos.
This week Bangabandhu-1 (BS-1) satellite, country’s maiden satellite, started its journey in the orbit after it was launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The satellite named to honour Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh and father of the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, is set to revolutionise the communication in the country. Bangladesh has not relied on any satellite telecommunication since 200, hence the country’s 28 television channels had to rent bandwidth from Chinese, Indian and Singaporean satellites. Telecommunications Minister Mostafa Jabbar observed that the satellite is not just a technical or commercial issue but was a matter of intense pride for our country. Some sections of the local media claimed that following the launch of the satellite India will face stiff competition since it enjoyed a monopoly in the region till now since other countries in the region also can avail the Bangladesh satellite’s services.
Power plant deal with China
Energy cooperation between China and Bangladesh got a major boost after the state-run Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) and China Huadian Hongkong Company Limited (CHDHK) signed an agreement to set up a joint venture company for construction of Moheskhali Island in Cox’s Bazar around 415 kilometres away from Dhaka. The plant is likely to be in a capacity of 1,320 megawatts. The joint venture, equally owned by both the companies, will take four years to start production.
India as ‘Observer’ at OIC?
At the Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) held in Bangladesh, the country proposed the induction of India as an observer. To facilitate India’s entry into OIC, Bangladesh further suggested reforming the charter of the OIC. India’ demand for entry into OIC is long-standing since it is home to for third largest Muslim population globally. Supporting reform of the 57-nation grouping, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Mahmud Ali said that a number of non-OIC countries had large Muslim populations and there was a need to build bridges with them.
Six in the fray for NC chair
Six members are running for the post of Chairperson and three for Deputy Chairperson in the National Council, voting for which was scheduled on 10 May. The first sitting of the third National Council will mark the beginning of the five-year term when the newly elected members will vote for the two posts. Also, all the five eminent members of the second National Council have been re-nominated by the King.
Regulation under test
The Labour Ministry is awaiting response to a letter sent to Scan Café, seeking justification from the private company’s relieving of 67 employees from work. The employees of this US-based company following their termination had written to the ministry stating that even after working hard for the company for five years their services were terminated without notice. Scan Café’s director-operations, Ramendara Narayan had earlier said that the company had to take the decision because of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will come into effect on 25 May.
Committed to Nepal ties: PM
Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi during his two-day visit to Nepal said that New Delhi would remain committed to Nepal’s economic growth and development. The visit is seen as part of an effort to bring back normalcy in their ties and comes a month after Nepali counterpart K P Sharma Oli’s discussions in Delhi.
Monitoring the US pull-out from JCPOA
Following the pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement between Iran and the five permanent Security Council members which led to the cessation of economic sanctions on Iran against commitment to terminating nuclear programme, India’s Ministry of External Affairs stated that it was closely monitoring the situation arising out of Trump's announcement to pull the US out of the Iran deal.
Prison for SC Judges
In what should be judicial history the world over, a trial court in Male has sentenced the nation’s jailed Chief Justice Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and brother-Judge Ali Hameed to an equally unique jail-term of one year, seven months and six days, on the charge of influencing subordinate judges on cases and verdicts since 2016 till 1 February 2018, when the five-Judge Full Bench of the Supreme Court ordered freedom for all ‘political prisoners’ and restoration of parliamentary membership for 12 members, disqualified for floor-crossing. It is unclear if the subsequent law disqualifying sitting higher court judges convicted in criminal cases would take effect immediately or would be held back until final disposal by appellate courts, if moved.
UN pressure on Rohingyas
The UN Security Council on 9 May called on Myanmar to speed up efforts to ensure the safe return of the Rohingya and to hold accountable perpetrators of attacks against the Muslim minority. The statement followed a fact-finding mission by the council's ambassadors to Myanmar and Bangladesh from 28 April to 1 May to get a firsthand look at the crisis from the forced exodus of 700,000 Rohingyas form Myanmar.
Sushma holds talks
Sushma Swaraj, the Minister of External Affairs of India, paid an official visit to Myanmar from 10-11 May 2018. During the visit, the External Affairs Minister held discussions with the Myanmar leadership on various bilateral, regional and multilateral issues of mutual interest. The discussions were expected to review progress made on decisions taken during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Myanmar in September 2017 with a view to further reinforcing bilateral ties.
Focal investment areas
At the Yangon Investment Forum on 9 May, Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein announced the five sectors namely trade, logistics, industry, public transport and energy sectors his government intends to prioritise and in which Yangon welcomes foreign investments. Adding to this he also stated that the Yangon deep sea port, development of a Special Economic Zone, new industrial zones and townships as well as launch of new electricity projects would yield fresh opportunities for foreign direct investment.
Better days ahead?
Nepal and India are probably experiencing one of the best phases of their relationship, despite tensions witnessed in the recent past and the active presence of China. The much anticipated visit of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi to Nepal is bearing its fruit now. As expected, both the Prime Ministers have engaged themselves in varied discussions on further enhancing their relationship through the mention of several connectivity projects and the completion of the old ones. Some of these include the HIT Highway, the Arun- III hydro-power project and also the Raxaul-Kathmandu rail link.
Modi bid for tourism
In a bid to re-boot tourism in the country after the devastating earth-quake of 2015, visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid media-highlighted visits to Janaki Temple and the Muktinath Temple, which are highly-appreciated tourist attractions. The tourism industry believes that the Indian PM being a very popular figure internationally would be able to help promote religious tourism and other forms of it in the international circuit.
Hydro project ‘delayed’
The 45-megawatt Bhotekeshi hydropower project has been one of the important projects of the Nepal government. However, it has been delayed time and again due to natural disasters and it is likely to take one and half years more. The renovation of this project is supposedly the largest, being done by the private sector. The reconstruction bill has also reached Rs 7 billion, which is also a great concern for the government.
Pakistan’s proposals to place Jamaat-ul-Ahrar chief Omar Khorasani on the UN sanction list was shot down again after the objections raised by a member. Since the UN Sanction Committee’s deliberations are confidential, it is not clear on what grounds Pakistan’s request was turned down. Official sources confirmed that Pakistan’s request was taken up by the Sanctions Committee only to be turned down after the US objected to it. Many in Pakistan decried the US move calling it to be demonstration of US double-standards. The Foreign Office expressed deep disappointment, terming it to be a failure on the UN’s part to secure justice for innocent victims of Khorasani.
Deals with Iran hit
Pakistan is likely to bear the cost of US pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. The gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan will be delayed further if US imposes new sanctions on Iran. The delay might negatively affect deeper commercial and trade ties with Iran which Pakistan has been seeking for a long time. And relations with US may also worsen if Pakistan in the face of renewed sanctions continues its deepen its engagement with Iran. Upset with US’ decision the Foreign Office issued a statement terming it be a violation of rigorously negotiated international treaties.
Seeks UNSC seat for Muslim countries
Pakistan has sought proportional representation of Muslim countries on the UNSC. Pushing for reform in the main decision-making body of the UN, Pakistan urged the 57-member organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) to play a greater role in discussions over reform. The proposal was put forward by Foreign Secretray Tehmina Januja during the two day meeting of the OIC Foreign Ministers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She suggested that as the second largest intergovernmental organization OIC should take up the lead role in reform process for UN and secure adequate representation of Muslim countries in UNSC.
For a new-look UNP-UNF
After initiating half-hearted measures that did not satisfy back-benchers in the ruling UNP, party Leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has begun meeting with minor partners in the United National Front, most of them representing the ‘minority communities’, with a view to giving them a new look ahead of the presidential polls, due by early January 2020. The idea is also to consider a new, ‘common symbol’ for the UNF, in the place of the current UNP’s ‘Elephant’, with a view also to check against post-poll defections by parliamentarians, including those the UNP may been keen on wooing from the President Maithiripala Sirisena’s SLFP.
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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