MonitorsPublished on Jul 24, 2018
South Asia weekly report | Vol. XI Issue 30


Bangladesh: Nuclear power for peace and prosperity

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Recently, the Bangladesh government gave the nod for the construction of the second nuclear power plant in the country, to be built reportedly by Russia. With this decision, the country has reiterated its intention of making the nuclear power the nation’s main source of energy. Electricity from nuclear energy is likely to be available to the country once the  first nuclear power plant at Rooppur in Pabna district, about 140 km from Dhaka, becomes operational. The power plant is now under construction by a Russian company. The construction of the first reactor started in November last year while the work for the second reactor began earlier this month. Increasing the power generation of the country has been a priority for the incumbent Awami League government. In 2010, the government developed a long-term plan for the country’s power system and the same was updated in 2016.  According to the plan, Bangladesh aims to increase its capacity to 23 GWe by 2020, 40 GWe by 2030 and 60 GWe by 2041. At present, the country relies on the locally available natural gas for its primary energy resource. But the reserves of natural gas is fast depleting, and hence the country is looking for alternate resources to achieve its ambitious goal.  The government is also focusing on enhancing coal-based power generation capabilities and construction of several such plants have been planned.  The country is also looking for expanding contributions from the renewable energy sector too. However, special emphasis is being given to the nuclear energy as it is the best way to meet the energy target. It plans to generate 7 GWe of nuclear energy by 2041.  It is likely to get its first supply of nuclear-based electricity in 2023, when the first reactor of the Rooppur plant is scheduled to be commissioned.

Neutral choice

Sustaining the economic growth has been a motivation for increasing the power generation in the country. Hence, nuclear power is considered a lucrative option for enhancing prosperity. Russia became a natural choice for building the plant not only because of its expertise in the field but also because it was a more neutral choice when compared to China and India and also given the country’s proximity to both the nuclear powers in its neighbourhood, which are competing for supremacy in South Asia. Initially, countries like China, Russia and South Korea had shown interest in helping Bangladesh in developing its nuclear power generation capabilities. In 2005, the nation even signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with China. The government in April 2008 also expressed its interest in working with China for building the power plant at Rooppur. However, the government reviewed the decision, apparently to maintain its neutrality and selected Russia, a country that enjoys a close relationship with China and India and also offers better technology.  In May 2010, it signed an agreement with Russia on the cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The agreement suggests cooperation in areas such as design, construction and operation of the power and research of the nuclear reactors, water desalination plants and electricity particle accelerators. Other areas covered in the agreement included fuel supply and waste management.

Trilateral cooperation

Of late, however, the country is showing an interest in diversifying and to engage with multiple partners. Recently, Bangladesh inked a deal with Russia and India, envisioning trilateral nuclear cooperation. There are some points of caution being expressed by analysts in the country about issues like non-availability of skilled manpower who will be able to run these nuclear power plants, necessary regulations, safety and security of these plant and ability to deal with a disaster if any.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

Bhutan: Thai PM’s visit marks further boost to bilateral ties

Bhutan’s relations with Thailand rest on multiple complementarities, and this has also been the corner-stone of bilateral relations between the two countries. Both are ruled by monarchies, and their respective people love and revere their monarchs. Neither Bhutan, nor Thailand was ever colonised, and hence also have a near-similar past. Buddhism is an important link that binds the two together. Recently, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, paid a two-day (20-21 July) official visit to Bhutan. The visit, the first state visit by a Thai Prime Minister to Bhutan, reflected the warm bilateral relations, built since the establishment of formal relations between the two countries in 1989.

Trade and investment

Both Chan-o-cha and Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay acknowledged that the Comprehensive Framework Agreement on Cooperation and Trade, and the Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement were the tools for scaling up the bilateral trade. The Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement is expected to promote and strengthen the relationship and confidence of the private sectors of the two countries which would further enhance bilateral trade, commerce and investment between the two countries. Thailand is Bhutan’s fifth largest trade-partner with a total trade volume of $ 24.3 million. A joint trade committee meeting, held in December 2017,  aimed at increasing bilateral trade two-fold within five years. By exploring opportunities for increasing and diversifying mutual trade, Bhutan is in line with the objective of the 11th Plan to become a self-reliant nation. The Thai Prime Minister singled out two priority sectors in Bhutan for Thai investment -- construction and hospitality sectors. The two Prime Ministers also reviewed Thai investments in the hotel industry in Bhutan. The Board of Investment of Thailand and the Department of Industry of Bhutan are working satisfactorily to this extent, the Prime Ministers said.

‘kingdoms, one destination’ campaign

Tourism as a priority sector for investment is particularly significant from Bhutan’s perspective. The two had already signed an MoU on tourism cooperation in 2017. Chan-o-cha and Tobgay encouraged the officials concerned to work together on tourism promotion under the theme, “Two kingdoms, one destination” through joint marketing, package tours, and the promotion of Buddhist tourism. The two sides also agreed to finalise pending MoUs to enhance connectivity between the two countries to promote trade, tourism, trade, and people-to-people contact on a mutually agreed time. Earlier, Thailand had show an interest in the development of the Thimphu international airport.

Development cooperation

Thailand has been providing support and assistance to Bhutan in priority areas of socio-economic development of Bhutan such as engineering, economics, public health, education, management and agriculture. The Thai Prime Minister’s maiden visit invigorated bilateral cooperation in some of these sectors. Prime Minister Chan-o-cha proposed that both sides could discuss a community development model based on the application of the Gross National Happiness and Sufficiency Economic Philosophy towards the realisation of the ‘Social Development Goals’. He proposed to support the implementation of the ‘Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat’ (EENT) care service project, which includes setting up of an EENT centre in Bhutan. He also visited ‘One Gewog One Product’ outlet in Thimphu. The development project, between the Queen’s Project Office of Bhutan and the Thailand International Cooperation Agency, is a replica of the ‘One Tambon One Product’ of Thailand and is said to have benefitted 400 families in 80 gewogs.

Five jewels

Next year, Bhutan will be completing 30 years of its diplomatic relations with Thailand. Offering visa-free travel to promote people-to-people interaction and boost tourism exchange is one of the ways proposed for marking the occasion. During this period, development cooperation has expanded from agriculture, health and human resource development to many others, including telecommunications and ICT. Bhutan is keen to open up her economy for investment. Bilateral trade has also spiralled remarkably by 66.5 percent in 2013. Bhutan has already put in place resources that have the advantage for changing the trade-balance in her favour. Known as the “five jewels”, hydro-power, tourism, agriculture, cottage industry and minerals could hold the key to Bhutan’s balancing of trade with Thailand. Increase in trade and investment and expanding the areas of cooperation indicate the incremental nature of the relations that have been built brick-by-brick, by the visionary tour-de-force of the two nations, namely King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand and then monarch, Jigme Singye Wanchuk, the fourth King of Bhutan, who abdicated in favour of his son and more so for more democracy in the Himalayan nation
 The writer is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata CentreCountry Reports


Securing Kabul

The ARG Presidential Palace, under the aegis of Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, recently hosted a high-level meeting of security institutions regarding the security of Kabul. Top security and government officials, who participated in the meeting, voiced their concerns and made several recommendations for protecting the capital. Ghani said that the Kabul Garrison Command must find its place in ensuring better safety and security, and defence institutions must work together and formulate a single plan for improved security of the city.

New Chief of Secretariat

Ahmad Shah Zamanzai has been appointed as the New Chief of Secretariat for the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan from a list of candidates which had been forwarded earlier by the leaders of the Government of National Unity, according to a spokesman of Independent Election Commission, Syed Hafizullah Hashemi. This comes following the resignation of  Shahla Haq from her position as the acting head of the Secretariat due to her opposition to stickers in the identity cards of voters.

Joint border exercise

Amidst the growing instability in the key northern provinces of Afghanistan, the Russian and Tajikistan forces launched a joint military exercise close to the borders. This is because Central Asian states which share borders with Afghanistan are concerned about the ongoing turmoil in the country. Hence the armed forces are being prepared to respond to border threats from the insurgents in Afghanistan. 400 Russian troops and close to ten thousand Tajikistani forces are involved in the exercise.

Protestors shut Govt offices

Supporters of the Junbish Milli party closed down government offices in the Jawzjan and Takhar provinces of Afghanistan in protest against acting police chief, Commander Nizammudin Qaisari’s arrest in the Faryab district. The provincial government offices, provincial election offices and provincial local governance offices have been shut down. The health, education and electricity departments have however been left open. The protesters demand immediate release of Qaisari and return of Afghanistan’s first Vice-President Gen Abdul Rashi Doshtum.


E-passports from Germany 

The government has signed an agreement with a German firm for issuing e-passports. Earlier, the government had  decided to issue electronic passports alongside the machine-readable passports (MRP) to the citizens of the country. Director-General of Immigration and Passports Department, Maj-Gen Mohamad Masud Rezwan, and the chief executive officer of Videos Hans, Wolfgang Kunz, signed the deal on behalf of their respective sides in Dhaka.  Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan and German Foreign Minister of State Niels Annen were present during the signing of the MoU. The long-term € 340-m contract covers the entire value-chain for e-passports, from security paper right through to e-Gates. The contract will run for 12 years.

India to aid repatriation

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that his country will work on assisting Bangladesh in repatriation of the 750,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled the violence in Myanmar. The Minister also pledged to provide relief supplies to Rohingyas in Bangladesh as well as to build homes in Rakhine state, Myanmar. During the visit, the Indian minister also held a discussion with Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. His visit gained significance since it came ahead of Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali's trip to Myanmar to oversee the repatriation of the first group of Rohingya refugees who have been verified as the residents of Rakhine. This repatriation is according to an agreement brokered by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi between Bangladesh and Myanmar.


Damchu-Chukha road opens

The 29.2 kilometre Damchu-Chukha bypass road was inaugurated on 18 July in the presence of dignitaries including Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Works and Human Settlement Minister Dorji Choden, Indian Ambassador to Bhutan Jaideep Sarkar and the Director General of Border Roads Organisation, Lt Gen Harpal Singh. The bypass road is part of the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway and was built by Project Dantak over the period of 8 years.

Thailand PM arrives

The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, General Prayut Chan-o-cha (Retd), arrived in the country on a two-day official visit. The Thai Prime Minister is accompanied by Foreign Minister, Don Pramudwinai, the Prime Minister’s spouse, Naraporn Chan-o-cha and other Thai officials. This is General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s first official visit to Bhutan.

Drukair registers profit

Drukair Corporation Limited’s (DCL) profit after tax (PAT) amounting to Nu 349 Million (M) is a record in the company’s history since its first commercial operations in February 1983. Drukair’s chief executive officer, Tandi Wangchuk, said that one of the major reasons for the record making profit was due to the increase in the aircraft utilisation. “As airline companies’ profits depend on aircrafts’ flight, there was an increase in the number of hours aircrafts flew.”


No trust-vote lost

The first-ever no-trust motion against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four-year old government was defeated after a 12-hour debate in the Lok Sabha, by 325-126 votes. Initiated by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Member from Andhra Pradesh, the motion’s conclusion was a foregone one, but it was noted for spirited speeches by Congress president Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition leaders, and an equally powerful defence by Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, among others, for the Government. By initiating the motion, the TDP formally split ties with the ruling BJP-NDA at the Centre, while ally Shiv Sena in Maharashtra sent out a signal by walking out without participating in the debate and vote, along with the BJD in Odhisa and the TRS in Telangana, opening up possibilities about new alliances for Elections-2019. While coming down on the Centre on Tamil Nadu related issues, the ruling AIADMK with 38 members in the Lok Sabha, however, voted for the Government and against the motion.

Law against lynching: SC

The Supreme Court on 17 July asked the parliament to take necessary steps, via legislations, to curb ‘mobocracy’. The three judge bench, headed by CJI Deepak Misra, held both State and Central Governments responsible for preventing such violent acts and ensuring law and order in the nation.

LS clears fugitives bill

The Lok Sabha on 18 July passed the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill. This Bill now replaces the Ordinance issued by the President of India in April. The Bill is aimed at confiscating properties of the economic offenders who escape the nation without repaying the debts.


Gayoom, Imran say, ‘No’

With the Joint Opposition’s candidate for the 23 September presidential polls away in London for his child’s graduation day, jailed Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran rejected incumbent Abdulla Yameen’s offer of pardon and overseas retirement, conveyed by the latter’s running-mate, Mohammed Shameem Ali Saeed. Yameen’s half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, too, refused to play ball with his lawyer rejecting Yameen’s public offer of transferring the octogenarian leader to house-arrest if he handed over his mobile phone to investigators handling the ‘February 1 coup-bid verdict’ case’ involving two of the nation’s Supreme Court Justices of the time, since imprisoned, too. Meanwhile, the criminal court in capital Male has ordered freedom for Ibrahim Siyad Gasim, son of jailed and self-exiled Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, the former also arrested in connection with the ‘coup-bid case’ but without any progress being made by the investigation team.


Economic corridor with China

Recently, U Aung Naing Oo, director general of the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration of Myanmar, said that Myanmar and China will soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on building the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), one of the key projects of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). This project is supposed to strengthen the economic ties between both the nations. But some scholars are worried that the corridor may not be completed due to ethnic conflicts in northern Myanmar as well as the xenophobia of Myanmese people.

Farm industry blooms

A total budget of over K 3.134 trillion will be invested in the Myanmar Agricultural Development Strategy (ADS) in the coming five years, until 2023, according to the report of Ministry of Agricultural Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI). 52.7 percent will be used for productivity, covering projects for irrigation, water resources, research, education, crop cultivation, livestock and fisheries, resilience to climate change. 33 percent will be used for improving competitiveness, such as rural infrastructure, community development, value chain development and food safety.

Task force to curb illegal trade

Myanmar Vice President U Myint Swe told a private sector development committee meeting on 14 July that small and medium enterprises (SME) suffered from illicit trading while paying tax as they cannot keep up with non-competitive import practices whereby foreign companies undercut Myanmar's domestic producers by flooding the market with cheap surplus goods. Thus, Myanmar will form special task forces to curb illegal trade and will conduct surprise checks with mobile teams at some trading main gates.


Medical Bill

After a 21-day long battle with regard to medical reforms in the country, Dr. Govinda K C has still not received any concrete assurance of addressing his grievances from the government. Senior orthopaedic surgeon at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, the doctor’s fast unto death has resulted in him being airlifted to Kathmandu from Jumla, where the demonstration was held. However, Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Giriraj Mani Pokharel, has promised further assessment of the Medical Education Bill and a balanced approach.

Hopes on ‘financial flexibility’

Post the 2015 devastating earthquake that hit Nepal, a grant of USD 750 million had been granted by India for its post-quake reconstruction. As of now, the Nepal government is in need of the Indian consent to switch a part of the Line of Credit (LoC) for other projects -- for being more reasonable in approach. Recently, a meeting was held between the Nepal Finance Ministry’s International Economic Co-Operation Co-ordination Division (IECCD) and Indian External Affairs Ministry’s Development Partnership Administration to ease out a solution.

Dry port imports up

Fiscal Year 2017-18 has witnessed a 25 per cent increment in the import rate of Sirsiya Dry Port in Birgunj, Nepal. This movement of goods is primarily from the Indian ports and primarily signifies a comprehensive growth in the country’s ‘third –country imports via dry ports’. The Customs office at the port centre has enlisted around 472 rakes in comparison to 382 of the Fiscal Year 2017-17. Each rake is capable of carrying around 90 containers. However, the negligible improvement in the export statistics is worth mentioning here, deserving the attention of the government therein.


US acknowledges importance

Commander General of US CENTCOM, Joseph Votel, in a statement to the press on 19 July declared Pakistan support to be indispensable for attaining peace in Afghanistan. Votel, a highly placed military official, is expected to represent administration’s views which now sees Pakistan’s co-operation necessary to attain durable peace in Afghanistan. Votel’s statements are significant, especially after Alice Walls’ crucial meeting with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janunja in June which sought to enlist Pakistan’s support for US peace efforts and Votel also reiterated US administration demand for Pakistan to do more.

Need for independent policy

Jaimat Ulema-e-Fazl leader Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, while addressing an election rally, has emphasised on an independent foreign policy. He said that if voted to power, his party would revive the country’s Islamic identity adding that the days of gun and sword are over for now as victory is only possible through the vote.

Defence ties with Iran

Assessing the regional security environment top military commanders from Pakistan and Iran decided to strengthen defence and military. The two parties reached an understanding during formal talks between Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Chief of General Staff Iranian Armed Forces Major General Dr Mohammad Bagheri at Rawalpindi. Bagheri described Pakistan as one of the most important neighbours of Islamic Republic of Iran adding that two countries will enhance bilateral friendship in areas of trade, connectivity, cultural relations and enhancing people-to-people contacts.

Sri Lanka

Death for drug-offences

Despite reservations from international human rights organisations and trade allies like the European Union (EU), President Maithiripala Sirisena has stuck to the Government’s recent decision to order execution of drug-offenders, waiting in the death-row after the completion of the due process. Though death sentence continues to remain on the statute book, for over four decades, the country has not executed anyone condemned to death by courts, citing Buddhist religious principles and global mood.



Opinion Pieces

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Will US Direct Peace Negotiations End The Conflicts in Afghanistan?”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 19 July 2018 Rod Nordland and Jawad Sukhanyar, “Taliban Leaders Declare a Halt to Bombings in Civilian Areas”, The New York Times, 18 July 2018 Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Poverty: The Paralyzing phenomenon in Afghanistan”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 18 July 2018 Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada, “Afghan Government Needs Defined Strategic Lines in Its Efforts to Bring Long-Lasting Peace”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 17 July 2018 Upendra Baghel, “Afghan Police Needs to Spell out its Doctrine and International Support Needs to be Afghanized”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 16 July 2018 Mujib Mashal and Eric Schmitt, “White House Orders Direct Taliban Talks to Jump-Start Afghan Negotiations”, The New York Times, 15 July 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Better Detentions Do Matter!”, 19 July 2018 Afghanistan Times, “Air corridor boosts economy”, 18 July 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Poverty: The Main Causes and Consequences”, 18 July 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Constructing a Security Community: Equality, Equity, and Justice”, 17 July 2018 Afghanistan Times, “Is rigged election looming?”, 16 July 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Ethnic Politics: the Root Cause of Ethnic Conflicts”, 16 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

Nafiz Ahmed, “Is the Bangladesh Labour Act only for factory workers?”,The Daily star, 20 July 2017 Pallab Bhattacharya, “A visit beyond usual trappings”, The Daily Star, 19 July 2018 Mustafa K Mujeri, “Jobless growth' in Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 19 July 2018



Kuensel, “Let the people decide”, 16 July 2018 The Bhutanese, “A review of jobs”, 14 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kumar Anshuman, “Five reasons why the opposition’s calculations have gone horribly wrong with the no-confidence motion.”, The Print, 19 July 2018 Krishnadas Rajagopal, “SC asks Parliament to bring in special law against lynching”, The Hindu, 17 July 2018 Remya Nair, “Lok Sabha approves bill to bring back fugitive economic offenders”, Livemint, 19 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Under Yameen, India ties can only get worse?”,, 17 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

Dr. Kyaw Lat, “The New Yangon City Project: An Urban Planner’s View”, The Irrawaddy, 16 July 2018 Maung Thet Pyin, “What did we learn from the martyrs?”, The Myanmar Times, 19 July 2018 Andrew Bauer and Arkar Hein, “Myanmar’s economic future hinges on reforming state-owned enterprises”, The Myanmar Times, 16 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kamal Dev Bhattarai, “Rise of China in Nepal”, Republica, 19 July 2018 Rune Bennike, “Dangerous development”, Republica, 18 July 2018 Amar Kant Jha, “Uneven representation”, The Kathmandu Post, 20 July 2018 Lok Raj Baral, “Bad days ahead”, The Kathmandu Post, 18 July 2018


The Himalayan Times, “Expensive internet”, 20 July 2018 Republica, “Prime Minister, mend your ways”, 19 July 2018 The Kathmandu Post, “Wrong prescription”, 16 July 2018 The Kathmandu Post, “Not guilty as charged”, 16 July 2018


Opinion Pieces

Muhammad Imran Azeem, “Forest resources in mitigating climate change”, The Express Tribune, 18 July 2018 Malik Siraj Akbar, “Who speaks for Balochistan in upcoming elections?”, Dawn, 20 July


The Express Tribune, “The fall and fall of rupee”, 18 July 2018 Dawn, “A new charter”, 19 July 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, “Enforcing the death penalty”, The Island, 22 July 2018 Rajeewa Jayaweera, “Inaction on Vijayakala’s LTTE cravings”, The Island, 22 July 2018 Kumar David, “India’s influence on presidential elections”, The Island, 22 July 2018 Neville Ladduwahetty, “Addressing the leadership deficit”, The Island, 21 July 2018 D B S Jeyaraj, “Black July: Thirty-fifth anniversary of 1983 anti-Tamil violence”, Daily Mirror Online, 21 July 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Risking the roulette with the Russians, too!”, Colombo Gazette, 19 July 2018 Ravi Nagahawatte, ”Rajapaksa possibly loves what he sees!”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 July 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Change for the sake of electoral change”, Ceylon Today, 17 July 2018 Jehan Perera, “Losing faith in redemption”, The Island, 17 July 2018


Kelum Bandara, “Names from outside the Rajapaksa family considered for presidential candidate: Basil”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 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 Coordinator: Sreeparna Banerjee
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