MonitorsPublished on May 28, 2018
South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. XI Issue 22


Pakistan: Iran ties and the CPEC

Mayuri Banerjee

Since inception, Pakistan and Iran ties have not been on an even keel. The territory of Balochistan has been seen as being central to the relation between the two countries and has often been a source of friction. The two nations shared a co-operative relation from 1947-79, that is till the end of the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi in Iran. During the 1971 Bangladesh War, Iran had assisted Pakistan with logistics supply and intelligence.

It was in the 90’s that bilateral ties witnessed significant decline, primarily over sectarian violence by Talibans, which Iran considered was supported by Pakistan. Also, in the new millennium, relation between the two countries failed to improve owing to terrorist incidents like attack on the Iranian consulate in Peshawar and the abduction of a senior Iranian diplomat.

The dramatic turn in the bilateral ties came in 2016 with the arrest of an Indian, Kulbhushan Yadav, in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. As claimed by Pakistani police, Yadav, an Indian spy, was trying to cross into Balochistan through Iran. The killing of Mullah Mansour in 2016, also near the Iran border, evoked speculation regarding Teheran’s responsibility in preventing the use of Iran’s soil for anti-Pakistan activities.

Issues like drug-smuggling, Baloch insurgents and pseudo-Taliban militant outfits continue to be a drag on better bilateral ties. The 2017 Iranian visit of Pakistani army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa,  was directed towards addressing these issues and also to secure Teheran’s assurance that it would not try to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation (CPEC) project.

Infrastructure cluster

Recently, Teheran showed a keen interest in joining the CPEC. Iran’s Minister for Roads and Urbanization, Abbas Akhoundi, on a recent visit to Karachi port, had expressed Iran’s desire to work with Pakistan for inter-connection linkage with the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. The CPEC, which is a cluster of infrastructure projects, became partly operational in 2016, when Chinese cargo was transported overland to Gwadar port for onward maritime shipment to Africa and West Asia. The CPEC rail-and-road connect s across the length and breadth of Pakistan, and will receive a major boost if Iran is successfully roped in.

Iran’s centrality in Eurasia and West Asia, and its proximity to the Gulf of Hormuz, makes her a geo-strategically important partner to the CPEC. Iran’s inclusion will not only enhance economic and trade ties between the two countries but will also provide Pakistan access to major Eurasian countries like Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia or Uzbekistan.  Further, the long-forgotten Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline might also be revived and with Chinese investment, and may be rechristened to Iran-Pakistan-China pipeline.

Pakistan will be most beneficial if ever a connectivity deal of this sort materialises. Import of gas from Iran will help Pakistan address its energy security. At the same time, the trilateral alliance will balance the overwhelming US strategic influence in the region.

Leverage points

Pakistan’s Gwadar port and Iran’s Chabahar port have in the recent years emerged as leverage points within the Indian Ocean geo- strategic space. Both the ports have become crucial to economic, strategic and security issues in the region and will be central to any plan for sub-regional integration in the future. While a section of strategists in the light of great power rivalry see Gwadar and Chabahar as competitors, many argue that given the geographical proximity between the two points, Chabahar and Gwadar can be explored for greater trading opportunities.

A well-known historian and Oxford University academic Peter Frankopan once stated that Gwadar and Chabahar can complement each other and be peers rather being rivals. The Gwadar port, if developed in collaboration with Chabahar, will also see significant rise in Pakistan’s share in receipt of maritime cargo and help elevate its status as an important transit zone.

The security implications following Iran’s joining of the CPEC is also a major area of interest in Pakistan. Iran’s participation will ensure greater defence co-operation between the two countries, and help Pakistan improve its strategic posture in the region. Issues like Taliban insurgency, cross-border terrorism along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Balochistan and counter-piracy measures in the Strait of Hormuz can also be better managed by an Iran-Pakistan collaboration of the kind.

However, US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and the restoration of American sanctions have complicated matters for Pakistan. The economic sanction, which is a major scar on Iranian economy, is likely to affect Iran-Pakistan trade ties and prevent Iran from playing a meaningful role in the CPEC project.

The author is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata

Nepal: Human-trafficking along India border

Sohini Nayak

The porosity of borders in South Asia has always played a very important role in strategically positioning the arena in the global order. In this scenario, with increasing trends of globalisation, a parallel escalation has also come about, accentuating non-traditional security threats that have in turn posed a new angle to security considerations in the space. From poverty to undocumented migration and also illegal trafficking of humans along with narcotics and infectious diseases, this demeanour in border identification has opened a new dimension in rethinking security. When the government is putting in effort to redress border control policies and improve border administration, such pernicious challenges are major factors in influencing the policy decisions.

Regarded as a major human rights concern, the issue of trafficking has attracted tremendous attention across all the major borders, including the India-Nepal border, which is highly permeable and is an open one. The 1,751-km long border is marked with around 19 major border-crossing points, thereby being highly exploited with illegal actions and mismanaged security system. It is important to note that according to the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries, the two governments have granted each other certain privileges in matters of residence, ownership of property and participation in trade and commerce along with the movement of people on a reciprocal basis. This has enabled the citizens of the two countries to move freely across the two sides without any requirement of visa or passport.

Major transit-point

Human trafficking has always had a very ubiquitous presence across the world, often closed and unseen due to the high level of secrecy that surrounds it. This unfortunate process is also present in Nepal that has a disproportional smuggling of young women and girls covering a number of around 20,000 a year, specifically right across the southern border. This Indo-Nepal border line has been of widespread concern here due to its growing rate over the past few years. India being a transit country in this process, with Kolkata as a major transit-point, the reach of such a nexus becomes even more prominent with access to South-East Asia as well. There is a noticeable combination of both push and pull factors at play like natural calamities and political unrest which facilitates this phenomenon, involving domestic and international participation therein.

Nepal’s Trafficking in Persons and Transportation (Control) Act, 2007, comes of special importance, as it specifically defines trafficking as the trading of any person for any reason, ranging from sex trade to the forceful removal of any human body part, illegally. To provide an even more comprehensive idea of this issue, this concept of trafficking has been involving internal migration as well which is not only for marriage but also encompasses women who work as household maids or are employed in other forms of domestic help. In this regard, strict actions were taken by the Nepalese authority to curb the international migration of women to safeguard them from any sort of trafficking or bodily harm as such. Such laws were incorporated by the Ministry of labour and employment.

India serves as both the recipient as well as the transit country here for trafficking from Nepal. A total of 26 districts have been identified by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, under the government of Nepal that has hinted at data documenting around 2000,000 to 250,000 trafficked women and children to Indian brothels in total.

Post-quake increase

This notion has significantly increased after the massive earthquake of 2015 that left many people jobless and led to forced migration to the neighbouring countries. According to the media reports, there has been a significant, three -fold increase in trafficking post the earthquake, in comparison to 2014. The worst affected districts of Sindhulpalchowk, Ramechhap and Nepalgunj along with Jhapa and Chitwal have the maximum number of such cases. The trafficking of males is also extremely noteworthy here, who are primarily lured with lucrative offers as labourers in several important Indian cities or even internally.  Thus, we find such aspects being directly affected by the economic structure of the country, which is majorly dependent in nature. This economic vulnerability and financial insecurity, heightened with cross-sectional violence, have led to trafficking, projecting a severe urge to look into the situation.

One of the most effective ways out is undoubtedly the joint border management mechanisms that are undertaken. In the due course, the traffickers and the victims are often found to be unaccounted for. Thus, along with community mobilisation and sensitisation, there is also a need for collaboration between the NGOs of the two sides with prevention, interception and rehabilitation processes that may be undertaken. To mention here, South Asia suffers from the lack of connectivity, despite the prevalent geographical contiguity.

Until and unless a more serious stance is taken on the proper checking of points with regard to the entry and exit of people, nothing productive can come across. Along with this, proper schemes of income and prospects for economic independence must be catered to the ordinary people so that evils like child marriage can be contained. The BBIN sub-region can help as a better collaborative plan here, thereby facilitating and forging better ties within India and Nepal within a specific framework of understanding.

It can also address similar issues with Bhutan and Bangladesh as well -- the two countries which also face similar troubles with regard to human trafficking.  After the 1986 Traffic in Humans (Control) Act, this issue has remained a burning one.

The author is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata

Country Reports


New US commander

Lt-Gen Austin Scott Miller has been appointed as the Commander of the US forces in Afghanistan by the Government of the United States of America.  This choice is indicative that the Trump Administration is considering a return to conventional means to put pressure on the Taliban.  Given Miller’s experience of combating in terror operations and expertise in training missions, he was the natural choice, says the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US, Gen Michael Mullen.

Illegal mines remain

It has been reported that the ISIS-Khurasan is extracting talc from the mines of eastern Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Foreign engineers from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been brought in and heavy machinery is installed in the deposits. The talc extracted here is being transported to Pakistan through the Torkham border, the  government-held territories. Though the government has closed down such illegal mines in the past, some are still remaining.

Violence in Kandahar

Though the security situation had improved in the past few years, it has once again begun to falter in the last few months in the province of Kandahar in Afghanistan. A recent car bomb explosion has killed twenty-one individuals and has left at least forty others wounded. It detonated while the security personnel were busy trying to diffuse the vehicle borne explosive in a yard. Till now no group or individual has claimed responsibility for the car explosion.


War against narcotics

The government in its resolve to eliminate the menace of drugs has launched a major anti-narcotics drive.   Around 55 people, claimed to be narcotics smuggles, have died in various part of the country in the anti-narcotics operations by the security forces. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that her government contained militancy and now it has taken the initiative to save the country from this drug menace. The opposition and rights group have expressed concern over the mass-killings.

Hasina meets Modi

Bangladesh-India relation got a major boost following Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina’s visit to India this week.  Prime Minister Hasina visited India, mainly, to attend the inauguration of the Bangladesh Bhawan at Santiniketan in West Bengal. Besides receiving a honorary D Lit degree by Kazi Nazrul Islam University at Assansol, 200 km from Kolkata. However, Prime Minister Hasina met her counterpart Narendra Modi, who flew in from Delhi to meet her in Santiniketan. The two leaders discussed issues concerning bilateral relations.


Two-month delay

The project deadline for the 720-megawatt Mangdechhu hydropower project has been pushed to November from the earlier deadline of June-September. The project’s managing director, A.K. Mishra, claimed that short supply of cement during the last one and half months has been the reason for the delay. The Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited (DDCL), a subsidiary company of the Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), supplies cement to the project.

Plan grants frozen

The grant for the 12th Five-Year Plan from India is likely to be the same as for the 11th Plan despite shooting costs through delays in Punatsangchu I and II projects and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The Indian government gave Nu 45 bn as grant in the 11th Plan with an additional Nu 5 bn as an Economic Stimulus Package (ESP). Bhutan in principle is not to seek a grant- increase much above the 11th Plan figure.

PDP replaces 13 candidates

The incumbent ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has replaced 13 candidates contesting the general elections. Two of the incumbent’s have reached their age while four are going on their own and seven had been replaced due to poor performance. Former Education Minister and Member of Parliament from Dewathang, Gomdar Mingbo Dukpa and the Speaker Jigme Zangpo from Monggar constituencies have crossed their age limit to contest in 2018.


Nipah virus scare in Kerala

The deadly Nipah virus (NiV), which is reported to be spreading fast, has had at least 12 people confirmed with the virus and 10 deaths reported from the southern State of Kerala. It has a reported death rate of 70 percent, can infect both humans and animals, and particularly pigs. There is no vaccine available for it. Initial symptoms of Nipah virus can include headaches and drowsiness, and patients can slip into a coma within days, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. In a bid to halt the spread of the deadly Nipah virus in Kerala, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has sought help from Australia, where an antibody against the virus was found to be effective in tests.  However, according to reports, the antibody has not been tested on humans so far.

13 killed in police firing

The movement for the closure of Vedanta Groups Sterlite Copper plant turned bloody on the 100th day of the agitation as 13 persons, including two women, were killed when police opened fire on rampaging protesters in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, on 22 May, during a protest over alleged environmental pollution. NGOs had rallied people demanding the closure of the copper smelting unit which they said was polluting the environment and causing ailments in the neighbourhood. The rights groups and residents have demanded an investigation on the conduct of state police force.



With the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) accepting the nomination of jailed, self-exiled and hence ‘out-lawed’ former President Mohammed Nasheed as a candidate for the party primaries for the presidential polls later this year, the nation’s Election Commission has threatened to disband and debar the party, as per existing regulations. Both the MDP and some western nations identifying with the Nasheed and the MDP have condemned the EC communication to the party, since.


Need for collaboration

"Golden Triangle" countries must address corruption and collaborate more closely to tackle record meth production and the gangs who traffic the drug across Southeast Asia and beyond, the UN said on 21 May. Worth an estimated $40 billion a year, huge volumes of meth pass through the Golden Triangle, waved through by corrupt law enforcement and border controls. Its drug labs which are mainly in Myanmar's conflict-ridden Shan State -- are working overtime, aiding organised crime gangs in their quest for new markets as far away as Australia and Japan.

China denounces violence

China’s special envoy on Asian affairs met with Myanmar’s military Coammander-in-Chief on 22 May in the aftermath of clashes along the border between Myanmar and China that left at least three Chinese citizens dead. Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing held talks with Sun Guoxiang in Myanmar’s capital city of Nay Pyi Taw. The two discussed border security and the delay of an upcoming round of talks that are part of a longstanding effort to end fighting between ethnic armies and Myanmar’s military.

New UN envoy

The new United Nations envoy for Myanmar will pay a first visit to Naypyidaw next month for talks on the Rohingya refugee crisis. Christine Schraner Burgener, who was Switzerland's ambassador to Germany before her appointment last month, will hold a first round of meetings in June following a Security Council visit to Myanmar. Schraner Burgener, who also served as Swiss ambassador to Thailand from 2009 to 2015, was appointed in April following a months long search for an envoy who would be acceptable to Myanmar's government.


Socialist budget

The Communist government in Nepal with Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli has pointed out the introduction of a ‘progressive and socialist oriented budget’. This announcement came at the Federal Parliament in Baluwatar. The undercurrent of such a decision lies in fulfilling the people’s expectations, primarily after the merger of the two national parties, the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre, into the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN).

Industrial villages

The new government is planning to establish industrial villages or estates in all the seven provinces. Accordingly, as declared by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, the government’s policies and programmes for Fiscal Year 2018/19 would also unseal a sector each in all the local 753 units across the entire country. This has come as a welcome step as new jobs would be unfolding along with better opportunities for the youth, making the country self-reliant therein. Moreover, closed industries would also be opened through public-private partnership.


Victim in US school-shooting

Seventeen-year old Sabika Sheikh was one of the 10 students killed in the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. Sabika was an exchange student studying under the Kenneth-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Programme. Pakistan embassy in Washington DC confirmed through twitter that Sabika was among the high school students killed. Pakistan ambassador to US Aizaz Chaudhry expressed his heartfelt condolences to the victim family. Later Prime Minister Shahidh Khaqan Abassi met the victim’s family and in a press statement termed the school shooting as an instance of dangerous extremism.

Funding for CPEC

Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing has reassured Islamabad of continued concessional financing from China for some of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects which will put the delayed projects back on track. The Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal confirmed in a press statement that China’s decision to honour the commitment was conveyed in the 54th CPEC review meeting. The minister hoped that the Gwadar Master Plan will be ready in next four months which is also falling behind its original schedule by last one year. At the review meeting officials from both sides underscored the need for a stable economic framework and Minister Iqbal urged the provinces to relocate Chinese industries to the Special Economic Zones.

Sri Lanka

Statute work still on

The Steering Committee of the Constitution Assembly, headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has directed the experts’ panel working for it, to submit a final draft for a new statute within two weeks. The final draft will take into account the contents of all earlier drafts, and is expected to be presented to the full House after being cleared by the Steering Committee.



Opinion Pieces

Elaha Rahmani, “An Open Letter To The New Generation”, Tolo News, 22 May 2018

Farhanaz Rahmani, “Era of political instability and its impact on youth”, Afghanistan Times, 22 May 2018

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Taliban’s Response for Repeated Peace-call”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 22 May 2018

Zabihullah Ghazi and Rod Nordland, “Rare Attack on Cricket Match in Afghanistan Kills at Least 8”, The New York Times, 19 May 2018

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Will New Moves End the Complexities Between Afghanistan and Pakistan?”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 19 May 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Afghanistan Water Resources: The cause of Conflicts with Neighboring Countries”, 23 May 2018

Afghanistan Times, “Drop bomb on poppy fields”, 22 May 2018

Afghanistan Times, “International unanimity on counterterrorism fades as war drags on”, 21 May 2018

Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Illiteracy is more Perilous than Terrorism for Afghanistan”, 21 May 2018

Afghanistan Times, “Farah’s unrest recedes”, 21 May 2018

Afghanistan Times, “Civilians caught in conflict”, 20 May 2018

Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Human Rights Violations Continue”, 20 May 2018

Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Extremism Will Lead to Terrorism”, 19 May 2018


Opinion Pieces

Syed Basher and Teresa Islam, “A global aging population and Bangladesh's economy”, The Daily Star, 25 May 2018

Rafia ZamanCoal Power Generation In Developing Countries: A Bangladesh Case Study”, Science Trend, 18 May 2018



The Bhutanese, “Reducing grant dependence”, 19 May 2018

Kuensel, “When projects get delayed”, 23 May 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kalyani Shankar, “Modi’s rivals need to get their house in order before they think of defeating BJP”, The Print, 24 May 2018

Emily Tallo, “The Centre Is Defeating Itself in Kashmir”, the Wire, 24 May 2018

V Jayanth, “Sterlite’s Tuticorin Strategy: Job Creation Trumps Green LawsThe Quint, 25 May 2018


Opinion Pieces

Farah Ahmed, “The Goldilock dilemma in the Maldives”, Mihaaru, 24 May 2018


Opinion Pieces

Lawi Weng , “A New Business Sense Helps Bind the Ties Among Northern Alliance Members”, The Irrawaddy, 18 May 2018

Joe Kumbun,  “Government Fails Basic Test of Democracy with Silence over Kachin Crisis”, The Irrawaddy, 19 May 2018


Opinion Pieces

Narayan Manandhar, “Will it last?”, Republica, 23 May 2018

Mahendra p. Lama, “Make in India”, The Kathmandu Post, 23 May 2018

Suman Mandal, “A balancing act”, The Kathmandu Post, 23 May 2018


Republica, “The red era”, 20 May 2018

The Kathmandu Post, “Waiting for budget”, 23 May 2018

The Kathmandu Post, “Politics of stability”,21 May 2018


Opinion Pieces

Hasaan Khawar, “CPEC and skills development”, The Express Tribune, 22 May 2018

Huma Yusuf, “Muslim Unity?”, Dawn, 21 May 2018


Dawn, “Pompeo’s bluster”, 23 May 2018

The Express Tribune,Uncertainty over Chabahar”, 22 May 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “Shangari La tamasha...”, The Island, 27 May 2018

Kumar David, “Lanka’s lost fight against corruption...”, The Island, 27 May 2018

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Pushing Gota into a corner”, The Sunday Leader, 27 May 2018

Kelum Bandara, “Presidential Elections: Both sides saddled with challenges in deciding on candidates”, Daily Mirror Online, 24 May 2018

Malinda Seneviratne, “Elections: the Yahapalanists’ true fear”, Daily Mirror Online, 24 May 2018

Gomin Dayasiri, “Merger of UNP and JVP with NGOs”, Daily Mirror Online, 24 May 2018

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, “Northern nonsense, the SLPP slip-up”, The Island, 24 May 2018

N Sathiya Moorthy, “That cannot be cricket”, Ceylon Today, 23 May 2018

Mangala Samaraweera, “Gota wants to put country on a destructive path”, Daily Mirror Online, 22 May 2018

Jehan Perera, “Danger of space for dissent being captured by nationalists”, The Island, 22 May 2018

Sreya Maitra, “India’s Lanka dilemma”, The Island, 22 May 2018

N Sathiya Moorthy, “A betting on borrowing, too?”, The Island, 21 May 2018


Afghanistan: Sohini Bose

Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Parth Giri and Ketan Mehta

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

Pakistan: Mayuri Banerjee

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