MonitorsPublished on Jul 10, 2018
South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. XI Issue 28


Afghanistan: Woes of ‘war widows’

Sohini Bose Riddled by the continuing war for over three decades, Afghanistan is now home to one of the world’s largest population of widows, estimated to be around two million. Victims of illiteracy from childhood, these women lack any employable skills, which might help them secure their survival and often resort to begging. Thus wallowing in poverty and bearing the brunt of social stigma, these women (average age: 35 years) are faced with the challenge of raising almost seven children each. According to the nation’s Ministry of Social Affairs, Labour, Martyrs and Disabled, there are 70,000 widows who earn a living for their families. These widows, without access to adequate shelter or nutrition, are victims of malnutrition, oppression and violence, and are considered the most vulnerable citizens in the country. Consequently, the suicide rate of women is much higher than men in the country. The war widows are often compelled to withdraw their children from school, making the child vulnerable to sex-trafficking, sale, or a forced marriage. Amnesty International has reported that around 80 percent of Afghan marriages were forced. If under the system of levirate marriage, a widow remarries, she is often forced to abandon her children from the earlier marriage. Being illiterate, unaware of their social or legal rights and being raised in a society which accords a very low status to women, Afghan widows are often exposed to traumatic violence, according to a UN report in 2014.  The survey held in 2008 said that 82 percent of Afghan women had experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence at least once in their lives. Hence, widows often succumb to mental illnesses. The Afghanistan Human Rights Commission reports that 32 percent of widows in the country are affected by mental disorders and 22 percent have acute physical problems.

‘Feminine face of corruption’

The status of widows and more generally women had not always been this dire in the country. It began when women became synonymous with profanity at the hands of religious fundamentalists. Men and women were once equals once considered equals, and then came the Taliban. Once the Taliban regime set in, the treatment of women became unbearable and their role in society was reduced to just serve the purpose of child-bearing and maternity. In the face of such gender-disparity, women education seemed a distant dream. A law was passed in 1993 made it mandatory for all women to wear a veil in public as women were/are considered to be the ‘face of corruption’. After the abolishment of Taliban rule, the condition of women’s rights improved a bit especially in the urban centres. However, they still remained at the low level and far from international standards.

Future bleak?

It’s not a secret that Afghanistan remains one of those countries where gender equality still remains a distant dream. Empowering women in the country remains one of the crucial challenges of international institutions. In that regard, the Asia Foundation and Women Empowered Inc with their initiative to create socio-economic and political opportunities and increasing the literacy of women is a ray of hope for the nation’s women.  Increasingly, women are trying their hand at activities such as farming and animal husbandry. In the urban sector, women are now beginning to engage in medical professions, teaching and businesses. However, if the position of women and widows is to improve in Afghanistan, then the patriarchal nature of the existing society has to be curbed. The extremist, fundamentalist values rife in the country consider women especially widows to be less than human beings.  They have no social identity and the death of their husbands leaves them without any protection or support though Article 53 of Afghanistan’s Constitution guarantees the rights and privileges, as well as assistance to women without caretakers. The National Action Plan or the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) understands the disadvantage that the widows face in the country, but there is still no clear policy on widows.  President Ashraf Ghani, while speaking at the fifth Afghan Women Symposium in Kabul, stated that an anti-women culture still dominates government institutions and the participation of women in government institutions and the High Peace Council remains inadequate. Therefore, women must be facilitated to have a more active place in society as their role is crucial in bringing about sustainable peace and stability to Afghanistan. Apart from the Government, NGOs and international agencies do take an initiative in the matter but that effort remains insufficient in the face of such a widespread calamity. Though the Government has often organised awareness campaigns to reform the negative attitude against women in this regard, unless the women are made aware of their own rights and given a chance to pursue their education to acquire self-sufficiency, the plight of women and especially widows will continue.
The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation

Myanmar: FDI flow increases, especially from Japan

Sreeparna Banerjee While the world keeps shouting from roof-tops over the continuing persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority and its immediate negative impact on Myanmar’s economy, overseas investments in the manufacturing sector seems soaring high. It is mainly aided by the FDI flow from Japan. The nation’s Parliament had passed a legislation last year to ease restrictions on foreign investment, which is set to take effect in August. Recent deals include Singapore-based beverage group Fraser and Neave's return to Myanmar's beer market and a $ 5-million investment in local ride-hailing company Oway by Japan's Daiwa Securities Group. The manufacturing investment has risen to 50 percent, which means a four-year high of more than $1.7 billion. This has been attributed to the availability of cheap labour, which Chinese apparel shops in the country seems to be recruiting. The total number of investments surged 61 percent, to an all-time high of 222, with manufacturing accounting for over 60 percent. Also, the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SPZ) drew $400 million in the last fiscal year, for a 53 percent increase in foreign investment, which is approved under a separate framework. The SEZ is located on the outskirts of capital Yangon, and is being developed jointly with Japan. According to reports, Japanese companies rank among the most prominent investors. For Japan, geo-strategic competition with China and support for ASEAN, combined with its own economic interests, is the primary factors motivating engagement with Myanmar.

Development aid

Japanese engagement as well as investment in Myanmar dates back to the Reparations Agreement of 1954, when Japan began supplying half of then-Burma’s development aid. This continued through to the post-Cold War sanctions period, when Japan continued to provide piecemeal aid on a case-by-case basis. Japan has continued plying Myanmar with economic aid even as the South-East Asian nation's treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority has stirred international backlash, choosing the threat of condemnation over the risk of China taking over as the preferred partner. That way, Japanese investment in Myanmar reached an all-time high of about $1.48 billion in fiscal 2017 following the nation’s transition from military to civilian rule in 2011, boosted by large-scale commercial complex and steel manufacturing projects. According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Planning and Finance, Japanese investment in fiscal year 2017 through March this year more than quintupled from a year earlier, topping the previous record of $1.02 billion in fiscal 2014. Thus, Japan became the fourth-biggest foreign investor in fiscal 2017 after Singapore, China and the Netherlands, according to the Japan Desk in the Ministry’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration. The Thilawa SEZ remains the first-ever Japan-Myanmar public-private initiative. While the usual Japanese corporations have been awarded the contracts for infrastructure connected with the Thilawa SEZ, the Japan International Cooperation Agency – Japan’s public aid agency – is in fact a shareholder in the Thilawa SEZ. Along with Mitsubishi, Marubeni and Sumitomo, the Japanese own 49 percent of the Thilawa SEZ.

Geopolitical importance

Underpinning all this is the widely held perception that Japan has invested heavily in Myanmar since its Independence and now it is time to reap the benefits. The Government of Japan understands the geopolitical importance of Myanmar and that China is seeking to increase its leverage in this nation. Having said this, Japan can assist Myanmar economically in terms of capital, investments, the utilisation of high technology, and respective complementary factors. Therefore, an agreement between the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Myanmar (JCCM) and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) bodes well for 2018 and the years to follow. Prior to the agreement between JCCM and UMFCCI, the level of Japanese investments in Myanmar was at a low base compared with what it should be. Hence, it is important that Japan and Myanmar focus on recent economic positives in order to build a strong relationship. The current areas of interest include energy, industrial development, infrastructure projects, telecommunications, transportation, and other important areas. Not surprisingly, the attractiveness of investing in Myanmar means that foreign capital and business loans became extremely attractive after the political events of 2011. Also, the Thilawa Special Economic Zone is an example of how public-private initiatives between the two countries can boost this developing nation. Hence, while projects will vary, it shows how both nations can complement each other by focusing on respective strengths and know-how. But the question remains is Japan reverting back to its Cold War keizai kyoryoku foreign economic policy? Certainly, private and public actors have cooperated to a high degree, and have been highly proactive in their attempts to ‘open up’ Myanmar. It may also be that such policy never really disappeared, and is now merely operating in a more amenable environment. Or, perhaps the geopolitical imperative of countering the rise of China is forcing Japan to revert to its Cold War strategies. What is certainly true is that many Japanese stakeholders feel that Japan has a perceived “right” to Myanmar, which stems from its long-term investment. Therefore, with many powerful Japanese companies investing in Myanmar and the three main Japanese banks being involved, the future looks positive.
The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation

Country Reports


Coordinated efforts

The Presidential Palace in Afghanistan hosted the third round of Citizen and ARG Debate with the slogan of “Responsible Citizen and Accountable Government” focusing on the agenda of “One UN in Afghanistan”.  Farkhunda Zahra, the senior presidential adviser on UN Affairs, said the agenda is to ensure a coordinated and united effort and cooperation in areas of development, human right and emergency aid. The approach of the UN agencies will also change from project to programme basis accordingly.

Zero-tolerance to irresponsible armed individuals

Speaking to the 201st Silab Corps in the East, Afghan President Ashraf Ghnai announced that the activities of irresponsible armed individuals will no longer be tolerated. This comes as the government arrested armed officials who have subsequently been transferred to Kabul. Amongst them Commander Nizamuddin Qaisari, a prominent official of the Junbish Milli in northern Faryab province, was caught in a verbal clash with participants of a security, meeting in Maimana city which ended with four being killed.


UN chief’s visit

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited Bangladesh to have a first-hand assessment of the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. He visited Rohingya refugee camps and also met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and promised to support Bangladesh in dealing with the crisis. Around 7,00,000 Rohingya refugees are residing in Bangladesh since August last year, following an outbreak of violence in Myanmar.

Doubling wages

The Government has approved a wage hike for workers at state-run factories. Under the new wage structure, the minimum wage will be Taka 8,300 and maximum wage will be Taka 11,200. Previously minimum wage was Taka 4,150 and Taka 5,600 respectively.


PM in India

 Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay undertook a three-day official visit to India from 5 July. Tobgay’s team included Finance Minister Namgay Dorji. The team met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and President Ramnath Kovind. Among the topics discussed was India’s assistance for Bhutan’s 12th Five-Year-Plan.

 Income gap widens

Income-inequality has widened and remained stubborn since 2007, despite the country making progress, the 11th Five Year Plan report reveals. In terms of the Gini coefficient, that represents income or wealth distribution of a nation, inequality declined from 0.42 in 2003 to 0.35 in 2007 but increased slightly to 0.36 in 2012. In 2017, it increased to 0.38.

Truck driver beaten

A Bhutanese truck driver, travelling from Gomtu to Samdrupjongkhar with cement, was severely beaten by a mob in Kumarikata in Assam, India, following a hit-and-run case on 1 July. It was learnt that the driver ran away after hitting an auto rickshaw, injuring an Indian national while reversing the truck at Rangia. Bikers and people along the highway followed the truck. Assam police officials cautioned Bhutanese drivers travelling along the Indian highway for slowing down the speed.


LG cannot be obstructionist

On the long-going tussle between the AAP government of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on one side and the Lt-Governor of Delhi, and implicitly the BJP-led central government on the other, the Supreme Court ruled on 3 July that the “LG cannot be an obstructionist” and has to listen to the State government. While AAP hailed it as its victory over BJP, the latter referred to the other major part in the verdict saying, “Delhi cannot have full statehood”  -- which was a major poll promise of AAP -- as AAP’s defeat at the SC.

Nicky Haley meets PM

On a three-day visit to India, from 26-28 June, Nicky Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, met with Prime Minister Narendera Modi, and called for India cutting down dependence of Iranian oil, which is on America’s ‘sanctions list’. In the backdrop of US postponing the ‘2+2’ high-level meeting, she emphasised on the significance of strengthening bilateral relations, especially with respect to their strategic interests, besides shared ideas.

Quota row in AMU

The recent row over the issue of providing reservations to the SC-ST in minority institutions like Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) refuses to die down after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath raised the long pending issue and many others backed the thought. Recently, the State S/ST Commission chairman emphasised the issue and denied the ‘Minority Institution’ status to AMU, citing Constituent Assembly debates and Supreme Court verdicts.


India emphasises on ‘credible restoration’ of political process

India has sought "credible restoration" of the political process and the rule of law in Maldives before the presidential polls, scheduled for 23 September. "The announcement of elections in the Maldives at a time when the democratic institutions, including the Majlis and the judiciary, are not allowed to function in a free and transparent manner is indeed a matter of concern," India’s MEA said, adding that New Delhi was closely following the evolving situation in the country, adding, "It is important that a conducive atmosphere is created for holding free and fair elections in the Maldives.”


Ahead of the 23 September presidential polls, incumbent Abdulla Yameen has named Dr. Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, a religious scholar who at present is the chancellor of Islamic University of Maldives (IUM), and Islamic Affairs Minister under two former Presidents, Mohammed Nasheed and Dr Mohammed Waheed, as his running-mates. In the Joint Opposition camp, religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) has expressed strong reservations to the Jumhooree Party (JP) ally toying with the idea of fielding a woman running-mate for MDP’s common presidential candidate Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih, citing Islamic scriptures. According to reports, the JP was considering the idea of fielding jailed/self-exiled party founder Gasim Ibrahim’s fourth wife, Aishath Nahula, with no previous political experience. Incidentally, Adhaalath Party’s only parliamentarian is a woman, Anara Naeem.


World Bank support

The World Bank vowed on 4 July to continue its support to Myanmar government in building peace, economic reform, said a statement released by the international financial institution, according to the Xinhua. World Bank's Vice-Chairwoman for East Asia and Pacific Region, Victoria Kwakwa, will visit to Myanmar to meet State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other government officials as well as development partners on 8 – 9 July, the statement disclosed.

Demand for Kayah state

The Government should not underestimate the scale of marginalisation and poverty in Kayah state, says a report issued by the Transnational Institute (TNI), an international research and advocacy group. The report released this week highlighted conflict resolution, political reform, demilitarisation, ceasefire transition, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), and rights to land and natural resources in Kayah, which suffered decades of armed conflict, as the most pressing issues.

Crop insurance

Due to heavy rainfall in June, more than half a million acres of farming land was flooded and some 250,000 acres totally destroyed as at 29 June, said U Myo Tint Tun, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI). That underscores the need to implement a crop insurance system to insure farmers against losses as a result of damaged crops.


Trade Transit treaty with China

The K P Oli government has decided to send a nine-member delegation to China, led by the Secretary of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, for signing the protocol on the Trade and Transit Treaty. The group would also be given the authority to sign the required documents on behalf of the government. The decision of the Cabinet was taken a week earlier at Baluwatar. The protocol will enable Nepal to use the Chinese ports and reduce its dependence on India and is yet another sign of the growing Sino-Nepal friendship.

House panels

The parliamentary hearing committee would be formed as soon as all the required procedures are finalised by the parliament secretariat. The house committees are also known as mini-parliaments. According to Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the committee would get its full shape within a week’s time. The prolonged wait has been primarily due to the delay on the part of the parties in sending out the names of the members. There are 16 committees, out of which 10 are in the lower house and four in the National Assembly, with two as joint committees. This process may be regarded as one of the integral steps in bringing the federal structure in further practice.

Protest-ban challenged

A writ petition has been filed at the Supreme Court with regard to the ban issued by the government on various protests in Kathmandu. The Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the District Administration Office have been named as defendants by petitioner Dinesh Tripathi. The apex court has been approached to lift and suspend the ban which was issued by the Cabinet on 15 April. The Maitighar Mandala in the capital, is of significant relevance here as it has been used for organizing protests since years.


Turkey to sell warships

The press release issued by Pakistan embassy in Ankara on 5 July confirmed that Pakistan Navy has signed a contract with Ankara for acquisition of four x MILGEM class ships with M/SASFATAS Turkey. The contract also included complete transfer of technology and transfer of intellectual proprietary rights for the design of those ships to Pakistan. The inclusion of these warships will be a significant addition to Pakistani Navy’s strength. Also, senior government officials see this contract as an essential base for fostering long-term Pak-Turley strategic partnership.

UN lauds peacekeeping role

A top UN official, visiting Rawalpindi, called on General Qamar Javed Bajwa to congratulate Pakistan for its outstanding contribution to UN peacekeeping. Following the meeting with Jean Pierre Lacroix, the UN Peacekeeping Operations Under-Secretary General, the military’s media wing affirmed in a statement that Pakistan will continue to play its positive role as the highest troop contributing nation for maintaining international peace and security under United Nations.

US seeks help 

The US Administration’s point person for the region, Alice Walls, in a crucial meeting with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Januja, has asked for Pakistan’s intervention to revive the moribund talks with the Taliban. According to diplomatic sources, the agenda of the meeting was to find a common ground on Afghanistan endgame. Although the foreign secretary emphasized that Pakistan is doing its best to play a role of a ‘facilitator’ in the Afghan peace process, Walls remained unconvinced and asked Pakistan to redouble its efforts for persuading the Taliban insurgents to come to the negotiating table.

Sri Lanka

Quits over ‘LTTE remark’

Under pressure from within his UNP back-benchers and also the SLPP-JO of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran, the only Tamil woman member in the Council of Ministers, to quit for making  controversial, ‘pro-LTTE statement’ at a Government function in the northern Jaffna town. In her public address, which she reportedly sought to deny initially, Vijayakala was seen/heard saying that in the absence of the LTTE, life in the Tamil areas had become unsafe, particularly for women and young girls. In context, she also went on to declare that they wanted the LTTE back and would work for the same, when the outfit remained banned in the country. The UNP as a party and the police are continuing with their inquiry into the minister’s statement for initiating appropriate action against Vijayakala, who became the UNP parliamentarian, after her husband T Maheswaran was shot dead on a temple premises in Colombo, New Year’s Day, 2008.



Opinion Pieces

Mujib Mashal and Fatima Faizi, “-f”, The New York Times, 2 July 2018 Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada, “Afghan Government Ceasefire Initiative Should Encompass Security, Peace & Development Strategy”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 2 July 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Social Cohesion in Afghanistan: Challenges and opportunities”, 5 July 2018 Afghanistan Times, “UK Ambassador’s unorthodox remarks”, 3 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

Nahela Nowshin, “When does development equal freedom?”,T he Daily Star, 5 July 2018 Selim Raihan, “Our road to rapid industrialisation”, The Daily Star, 5 July 2018


Xinhua,Bangladesh tech firms eye Chinese funding, expertise for future growth”, 2 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

Sonam Yangdon, “More than 34 People Trafficked in the 10 Cases Registered with RBP from 2007-2018”, The Bhutanese, 30 June 2018 Curtis S. Chin, “Urban Bhutan? Embrace the old in building the new”, Kuensel, 30 June 2018


Kuensel, “State of the nation”, 30 June 2018


Opinion Pieces

Niranjan Sahoo, “SC gives back Delhi’s elected government its powers — but misses a historical chance”, Observer Research Foundation, 6 July 2018 Annie Zaidi, “Nikki Haley Talks a Lot But Her Silence Is Louder – We Know Why”, The Quint, 29 June 2018 Monika Arora, “Reservation Policy and Aligarh Muslim University: What are the Facts? What the Law says?”, 30 June 2018


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Joint Opposition back on track as Nasheed quits race”,, 5 July 2018 P K Balachandran, “Maldivian presidential election is no longer a one-horse race”, Daily Mirror Online,Colombo, 3 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Phyo Tha, “Obsession With Statues Only Fuels Distrust in Union Government”, The Irrawaddy, 4 July 2018 Bidhayak Das “Is Modi Govt Getting its Act Together for a Better Act East Asia Policy?”, The Irrawaddy, 4 July 2018 Kavi Chongkittavorn, “ASEAN’s Role in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy”, The Irrawaddy, 2 July 2018 Kyaw Phyo Tha, “Same Old Story: For the Military, the Media is Simply a Tool”, The Irrawaddy, 30 June 2018


Opinion Pieces

Khem Raj Neupane, “Digitizing governance”, Republica, 5 July 2018 Binay K. Mishra, “Learning from Bihar”, The Kathmandu Post, 6 July 2018 C. K Lal, “When nothing happens”, Republica, 2 July 2018 Ram Prasad Mainali, “The missing factor”, The Kathmandu Post, 4 July 2018


The Himalayan Times, “Reduce red tape”, 6 July 2018 Republica, “Smells bad”, 4 July 2018 The Kathmandu Post, “Not guilty as charged”, 6 July 2018 The Kathmandu Post, “Pilgrims’ distress”, 5 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

Sikander Ahmed Shah, Abid Rizvi, “Shirking diplomatic responsibility”, Dawn, 2 July 2018 Hasaan Khawar, “Demystifying FATF’s Grey List”, The Express Tribune, 3 July 2018 Syed Mohammed Ali, “A UN-backed chance to address the Kashmiri plight”, The Express Tribune, 6 July 2018


The Express Tribune, “Small victory”, 2 July 2018 The Express Tribune,Chasing peace”, 4 July 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “NYT Statements, Hitler blessing and the Tiger Curse”, The Island, 8 July 2018 Sanjana Hattotuwa, “A harbour of discontent”, The Island, 8 July 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Now, Wiggy in the box”, The Sunday Leader, 8 July 2018 Neville Ladduwahetty, “Impact of US withdrawal from UNHRC on Sri Lanka”, The Island, 6 July 2018 K K S Perera, “Bring back LTTE! -Want a Hitler? But, Don’t ‘Shoot the Messenger’”, Daily Mirror Online, 6 July 2018 M S M Ayub, “So many Vijyakalas”, Daily Mirror Online, 6 July 2018 Kelum Bandara, “Vijayakala overshadows NY Times revelation”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 July 2018 Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, “Vijayakala’s suicide bombing, Northern Nazism, the Tamil Hitler and north-south politics”, The Island, 5 July 2018 Malinda Seneviratne, “Poser for the self-righteous: Will yahapalanists back a Tamil or A Muslim presidential candidate?”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 July 2018 Ranga Jayasuriya, “Chinese financing to MR: Govt should downplay”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 July 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Value for money”, Ceylon Today, 4 July 2018 Jehan Perera, “Winning confidence internationally and locally”, The Island, 3 July 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Who then wants to blink first?”, The Island, 2 July 2018


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