MonitorsPublished on Sep 26, 2018
South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. XI Issue 39


Bhutan: Dark horse, front-runner in election race

Mihir Bhonsale The primary round of the Bhutanese general elections on 15 September sprung a surprise in the form of a new entrant, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), cornering the highest number of votes, 92,722, and leading the primary results in the nation’s third, multi-party democracy elections. The earlier two elections were held respectively in 2008 and 2013, with a fixed, five-year term for Parliament. The Opposition Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) came a close second with 90,020 votes. While Nyamrup (DNT) won in 16 constituencies, Phuensum (DPT) won in 22 constituencies. The DNT secured 31.8 percent of the total votes, where as DPT got 30.9 percent, People’s Democratic Party (PDP)  took 27.4 percent and Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) 9.7 percent. BKP, the new party to contest in the primary election, secured only 28,473 votes. The DNT unseated the incumbent PDP  to enter the final round of elections. The incumbent opposition party, DPT, however survived and is set to face-off with DNT in the 18 October final round. Pollsters in the tiny Himalayan kingdom hold the anti-incumbency factor to have decided the fate of PDP and outgoing Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay. Despite there being a rush of candidates to join the PDP that was a definite frontrunner before the elections, a section of the electorate, including civil servants, didn’t budge to the heavyweights fielded by the PDP. Negative campaigning by the PDP was also believed to have washed out PDP’s chances. Observers noted that the two most criticised parties on social media managed to qualify to the final round, brushing aside negative campaigns on social media directed towards them.

Behind PDP’s loss

The PDP won in the voting by Electronic Voting Machines but lost by a huge margin in the postal ballots. The party won in nine constituencies securing 56,180 votes in EVM, but managed to get only 23,703 in the postal ballots. The postal ballot facility is availed by the civil servants, defence personnel, a section of the corporate and private sector employees, citizens living abroad and those with special needs along with their dependents. This group makes up 133,795 of the registered voters. But of the 108,580 postal votes received, PDP won 21.8 percent of the votes. The PDP’s dismal performance in postal ballots is being attributed to the unpopularity of the decision to replace performing MPs. PDP was a strong contender going into the polls and hence several new entrants sought allegiance to the PDP; luring the leadership of latter to replace incumbents with new faces. Voters also did not buy into the PDP’s election campaign that negated the DPT but failed to offer constructive alternatives. The policy conundrum faced by the PDP government in policies like signing the BBIN-MVA and the handling of the Dokalam crisis showed the leadership in poor light. This was despite the government doing well on several fronts, including its role in tackling corruption and solving the credit crunch crisis. The hydropower projects continued to miss targets remain laggards owing to which the target for generation of hydropower was revised to half from initial 10,000 MW in 2020. Demonetisation and introduction of Goods and Service Tax in India inconvenienced the Bhutanese and especially traders who use the Indian rupee to a large extent. Also, the uncertainty on whether the de-monetised notes lying with the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan would be taken back by New Delhi or not is believed to have hurt the PDP’s chances. The PDP indulged in populist pledges that signalled, little had been achieved during their tenure in government.

Advantage DNT

The DNT, led by surgeon Lotay Tshering, has emerged as a strong contender for forming the government. Tshering who stood from Thimphu South seat has acquired an image of always being available for patients. The DNT’s promises of widening the net of employment and improving public health facilities are likely to have touched the voters. The DPT through well prepared appearances at T.V. debates has driven home the message that holding power for too long is dangerous to democracy. This is believed to have affected the fortunes of incumbents PDP and opposition DPT. The DPT would be banking on its two-time experience in parliament both as government and as opposition. It holds sway in eastern Bhutan, the region that has consistently favoured the DPT and has ruled out any change in candidates for the final round. But for new factors swinging the vote, the battle between the DNT and the DPT is evenly poised. With almost a month to go for the final round, the voters would look up to the parties and its presidents’ to make a final attempt to convince them and gather votes.
The writer is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata

India: Indus Commission meet, step in right direction

T.N. Suhas  The recently concluded high-level bilateral meet on Indus Water Treaty was the first official engagement between India and Pakistan since Imran Khan took over the reins of Pakistan on 18 August. Indian Water Commissioner P.K. Saxena and the Pakistan Water Commissioner Syed Mehr Ali Shah led their respective sides during the discussion that took place at the Lahore headquarters of the National Engineering Services of Pakistan (Nespak). At the end of this meeting, both the countries decided to undertake Treaty mandated tours which could be considered as a breakthrough. According to sources, India rejected Pakistan’s objections to the construction work and decided to go ahead with it. India has invited a few experts to visit the sites over the next month to address concerns over the construction of the projects. The Last PIC meet was held in New Delhi in March 2018, amid strained relations, in the backdrop of Uri attacks, where in both the sides shared the details of the water flow and the quantum of water used under the 1960 treaty. There had been disagreements between India and Pakistan on several projects. Indian side was keen to resolve the KishenGanga Hydro Electric Power Project (KHEP) (330MW) and Ratle (850 MW) projects on Jhelum and Chenab river. There were technical discussions on the implementation of various hydroelectric projects including Pakal Dul (1000 MW) and Lower Kalnai (48 MW) hydroelectric projects on river Chenab as per the provisions of the treaty to address Pakistan’s concern.


Pakal Dul is a reservoir-based scheme on river marsudar, right bank tributary of Chenab with a gross storage of about 108,000 acre-feet of water. The project envisages construction of concrete face rockfill dam across Marsudar and an underground powerhouse. It is designed in a manner would facilitate dam being filled every monsoon between June and August. Pakistan is of the opinion that the 40m height tunnel spillway of Pakal Dul should be maintained. India wanted the height to be reduced by 15m that would give India an advantage of 11,000 acres of feet water. Pakistan also sought clarification on the pattern and mechanism for storage of water and its release. Islamabad has also raised concerns over design of the Lower Kalnai hydropower project. Pakistan had challenged the discharge series of River Lower Kalnai (Left bank tributary of Chenab) at Dunadi which has a gross storage of about 1,508 acre feet of water for winter months and estimated permissible pondage of 0.38 cubic mega meters compared to Indian design of 2.74 cubic mega meters. With the World Bank allowing the India to continue with the Kishen Ganga Hydro Electric Power Project (KHEP), against which Pakistan had strong reservations, as it would result in 40% reduction of water for Pakistan, which is against the treaty. KHEP involves the diversion of the waters of the Kishenganga/Neelum River through tunnel into another tributary and eventually into the Jhelum River. Pakistan will receive this water when it crosses the Line of Control at Chakothi. This project is significant as it asserts India’s control over the resources of Jammu and Kashmir. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the part of the recent meet.

Water – scare commodity

Water, a scarce commodity, yet, is a huge area of contention. There is a need for scientific research on Himalayan glaciers, which feed the Indus basin. Review of water treaties on the grounds of climate change, by setting aside political aspirations is the need of the hour, as they pose a serious threat to the water resources availability and its distribution. This would ensure a realistic and cooperative water sharing mechanism without hurting the spirit of the current treaties. The territorial dispute is intricately enmeshed in the bilateral relationship thus obstructing comprehensive agreement on treaty issues. Therefore, it becomes imperative for external stakeholders to make a genuine effort to steer the two countries towards cooperation. The Indus Waters Treaty is an important international agreement that provides an essential cooperative framework for India and Pakistan to address current and future challenges of effective water management in order to meet human needs and achieve development goals. There is a greater need for both parties to demonstrate a firm commitment to the goals set out in the treaty’s preamble as extreme weather events and water shortages threaten livelihoods and the social and economic development of the people of the two countries. India would host the next PIC meet. This would be a great opportunity for both the nations to broaden the scope of bilateral engagement beyond discussing terror. Economic development of people is dependent on the river. Degradation of natural resource would widen inequality, undermine poverty alleviation and would create conflict. The Indus River rises in the southwestern Tibet Autonomous Region of China and flows through the disputed Kashmir region and then into Pakistan to drain into the Arabian Sea. Around 39 per cent of the basin is in India and over 50 percent in Pakistan while the remaining part is in China and Afghanistan. Indus river system is largely used for the purpose of irrigation. The history of modern irrigation engineering can be traced back to the 1850’s, when the British ruled an undivided India, constructed large canals, and revived old inundation channels. After the partition, the water system was thus bifurcated, with the head works in India and the canals running through Pakistan. There were tensions brewing between the two nations on the subject of the Inter-Dominion Accord of 4 May, 1948, which required India to provide water to the Pakistani parts of the basin in return for annual payments. With neither side willing to compromise, the negotiations had come to a standstill. David Lilienthal, former head of both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission visited the region for his research, had suggested for an agreement for joint development and administration of Indus river system, with the aid and advice of the World Bank. Eugene Black, the then president of the World Bank, agreed to this, which led to the formulation of the working group comprising of engineers from both the sides and from World Bank. Political compulsions (tensions), however, prevented technical discussions to arrive at an agreement. In 1954, the World Bank submitted a proposal to resolve the impasse. After six years of negotiations and talks, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Mohammad Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty on September 19, 1960. This treaty gave the waters of the western rivers—the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab—to Pakistan and those of the eastern rivers—the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej—to India. World Bank provides funds for construction of dams, channels. This helped in providing water to Pakistan (through Tarbela Dam on Indus River and Mangla Dam on Jhelum River) in the amounts that it had previously received from the rivers now assigned to India’s exclusive use. Article VIII of the treaty talks about the creation of a Permanent Indus Commission (PIC), with Water commissioners from each country, to maintain a channel for communication and to try to resolve questions about implementation of the treaty.
T.N.Suhas is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

Country Reports


Indian envoy quits

Shortly after Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s one day visit to India, the Afghan Ambassador to India, Dr. Shaida Abdali, submitted his resignation from his position. He claimed that he had been willing to leave office long ago but it had been delayed owing to the President’s scheduled visit. He is set to return to his country and work in the areas of peace and national unity. ARG Palace is yet to comment or approve his resignation.

Ghani meets Modi

Recently Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in New Delhi, to hold talks on bilateral interest. Discussions were held on expansion of bilateral trade, joint fight against terrorism, furthering economic and transit relations, regional connectivity, development of India-Afghanistan air Corridor amongst others. It has also been agreed to explore new air routes between Amritsar and Herat and the Indian Foreign Minister is scheduled to visit Afghanistan soon to discuss joint strategic cooperation.

GNC men held

Sixteen supporters of the Grand National Coalition (GNC) in Afghanistan have been arrested on the charges of closing the provincial election office in the Nangarhar province. The members closed the elections by launching a sit-in protest. So far the GNC has shut down the offices of the Independent Election Commission in three provinces of Afghanistan, including Herat. The protest is based on their claims of not having their demands met positively by the government and the election commission.


Digital security bill passed

The parliament this week passed the digital security act, despite reservations expressed by the journalists who fear the law will curtail media freedom in the country. The new law provides heavy jail sentences for secretly recording government officials or spreading "negative propaganda" using a digital device. The journalists have been opposing the bill, as they believe it poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in the country.

 Record GDP growth

In a positive news to the economy, Bangladesh recorded its highest ever 7.86% GDP growth in the 2017-18 fiscal year. The figure surpassed the estimated growth of 7.65 percent. The per capita income also has increased to $1,751 in FY 2017-18 from $1,610 in the previous fiscal year, informed Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). The GDP growth was 7.28 percent% in FY 2016-17, 7.11 percent in FY 2015-16 and 6.55 percent in FY 2014-15, according to the BBS.

Port access to India

Cabinet this week approved the draft of a proposed agreement with India to allow it to use the Chittagong and Mongla seaports for transporting goods to and from to it north-eastern states. The agreement would be effective for five years with a provision of automatic renewal for another five years while either of the countries could scrap it giving a six-month notice.  Four routes have been suggested for goods movements – Chattagram Port/Mongla Port-Agartala via Akhaura, Chattagram/Mongla-Daouki via Tamabil, Chattagram/ Mongla-Sutarkandi via Sheola, and Chattagram/Mongla-Bibekbazar via Simantapur. According to the agreement, only Bangladeshi vehicles and vessels would be used to carry the goods inside Bangladesh and a tracking system will be used to monitor the cargo moving through Bangladesh.


DPT nominees stay

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) cleared air that the party has no plans to replace its candidates to contest in the general round next month. All 47 candidates have been asked to file their nominations. Dorji Wangdi, who is also one of the three vice presidents, also brushed off the rumours that DPT was approaching some of the PDP members to join in as candidates.  He said it is not in their strategy to replace candidates.

Delhi fete on

Bhutan’s rich culture and way of life would be on exhibit by 300 participants at the ‘Bhutan Week’ to be held in New Delhi from 23-30 September. Her Majesty Gyalyum Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck will grace the opening ceremony of ‘Bhutan Week’ on 23 September in New Delhi as the Chief Guest along with the Vice-President of India Venkaiah Naidu.


Ordinance on ‘triple talaq’

President Ram Nath Kovind promulgated an ordinance after the Union Cabinet resolved to make talaq-e-biddat, or ‘instant triple talaq’, a criminal offence, which will attract a maximum jail term of three years. The ordinance incorporates safeguards, including a provision for bail, for those an accused before the commencement of the trial.


‘Poll monitors’ denied visa

Even as the Maldivian Election Commission claimed to have cleared the names of international poll monitors and correspondents of foreign media and news agencies to cover and ‘monitor’ the presidential elections of 23 September, individuals and institutions claimed that the nation’s Immigration authorities had either denied or not cleared the required ‘business visas’ for the purpose. The affected included Indian news agencies and news personnel, though India, it would seem, was not among the nations, whose poll bodies were invited officially to oversee the elections.


UK calls for justice

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on 20 September called for justice on the Rohingya crisis after his visit to Myanmar's Rakhine state, telling embattled leader Aung San Suu Kyi the world "won't let it rest". Hunt's rallying cry for accountability comes at the end of a busy two-day visit during which he visited Rakhine which is said to be the epicentre of a brutal military campaign. The British foreign minister's visit came the same week UN investigators released a damning and meticulous report detailing why six Myanmar generals should be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

ADB fund for power scheme

Myanmar's ninth union parliament session concluded late on 19 September, with a report on the current work of the government presented by U Kyaw Tint Swe, Minister of the Office of the State Counsellor. The report is related to political, economic and social development and the peace process. The last day’s session approved the forest bill and the Union Taxation Bill 2018-19 as well as a motion to accept a loan of $ 298.9 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to be used for implementing the power supply network project of the Ministry of Electricity and Energy.

Border trade with China

The value of Myanmar’s trade with China from April to July of the current mini-budget period totalled $4 billion, including export worth $1.89 billion and import valued $2.14 billion. Myanmar’s regional trade with ASEAN countries showed the highest growth, closely followed by its bilateral trade with China. The border trade with China performed better than trade via the sea. Rice, various types of peas, sesame seeds, corn, fruits and vegetables, dried tea leaves, fishery products, rubber, minerals and animal products are exported to China, whereas machinery, plastic raw materials, consumer products and electronic tools flow into Myanmar.


Tourism ‘fares well’

There has been a hike of around 18.87 per cent in the inflow of foreign tourists in Nepal, in comparison to the previous year. The data has been released by the Nepal Tourism Board and the figure has been praise worthy. In this regard, visitors from China remain the highest. However, UK, Germany and France are also not far behind.

PM talks of equal rights

The third anniversary of the promulgation of the new Constitution of Nepal was celebrated this year as the National day in the country. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli took this opportunity to address the crowd with regard to issues concerning activities that are often utilized in name of propagating equal rights. The new framework of federalism was upheld and it still being in its nascent stage requires patience for complete implementation.

Investment summit on anvil

In order to promote Nepal as a ‘lucrative destination’ for foreign investments, the government has decided to host another investment summit in March, 2019. The previous summit was successful in drawing USD 13.74 billion on board. Though this has been only in paper, Investment Board Nepal (IBN) is all set for another such conference. Since the political scenario of the country has changed over the year, the idea is to project a ne viable environment of better opportunities.


Possible harbinger of peace

Speaking on the Saudi-Yemen dispute, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan opined that all conflicts have political solutions which could be reached through dialogues. Highlighting that he sought to be instrumental in bringing peace to the Middle East, Khan spoke of Pakistan wanting to play a reconciliatory role in mitigating the conflict ensuing between the two countries. However the PM also pledged Pakistan’s unwavering support to Saudi Arabia which brings into question the country’s neutrality as a potential conciliator.

Third partner in CPEC

Recently Islamabad has announced that Saudi Arabia is all set to join the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Project as the third major partner, with Chinese assent. A high level delegation is scheduled to visit Pakistan in the first week of October this year to continue the talks. This development comes as Pakistan and China hinted at inviting like-minded countries to invest in CPEC which is a major flagship project of the broader Belt and Road Initiative.

US ‘de-stabiliser’

Pakistan Minister for Human Rights, Dr.Shireen Marzai, has strongly reproved the US President Donald Trump’s recent tweet regarding Gulf nations raising oil prices despite the protection which America accords to them. Marzai re-tweeted Trump’s with the words that it was perhaps necessary to remind the latter that US has been responsible for historically destabilising the Middle- East with its policy of militarism and that oil came primarily from West Asia and the Gulf countries and not the Middle East.

Sri Lanka

Re touches new low

With the Sri Lankan rupee touching a new low, past 170 against the US dollar, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa blamed what he termed ‘infighting’ among the ruling front partners and the consequent political instability as among the causes for foreign investors coming in a way, and thus help improve forex reserves on a medium and long-term basis. However, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera blamed it on the Rajapaksa regime’s tendency to push the nation into a ‘debt-trap’, which in turn had made interest and repayment burdens now and even more in the coming years as among the causes, which according to him also included steep rise in international oil prices.



Opinion Pieces

Rod Nordland and Fatima Faizi, “‘Suicider! Came the Warning. For Afghans, Wrestlers Deaths Resound”, The New York Times, 20 September 2018 Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Imran Khan Pledges to Grant Citizenship to Afghan Refugees”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 19 September 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Afghan Elections Dilemma: Political Parties Conflicting Demands and Terrorist Threats”, 18 September 2018 Afghanistan Times, “President’s new military strategy”, 14 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Eshrat Waris, “Technology can help close the gender gap in Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 17 September 2018 Rahnuma Sultana, “Developing Bangladesh’s economic corridors”, Dhaka Tribune, 17 September 2018 Nusrat Nasim Meraji, ”The fight for women’s rights in Bangladesh”, Asia Dialogue, 19 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Faizan Mustafa, “Why the Triple Talaq ordinance is neither perfect nor necessary?”, Indian express, 21 September 2018 M.K. Narayan, “2+2 is less than the sum of its parts?”, The Hindu, 18 September 2018  Flavia Agnes, “The endgame of triple talaq”, The Tribune, 21 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Omkar Khandekar, “Expat expectations and Maldivian elections”, Maldives Independent, 22 September 2018 Shaina Abdulla, “Appointed officials, or party representatives?”, The Edition, 21 September 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives polls: Sea-bridge from China, ‘cut-out culture’ from India”,, 20 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Zwa Moe, “The Importance of Reading Between the Lines”, The Irrawaddy, 14 September 2018 Aung Zaw, “From the Army’s Perspective, Now Is Not the Time to Stage a Coup”, The Irrawaddy, 18 September 2018 Mon Mon Myat, “Myanmar Caught in Her Own Trap”, The Irrawaddy, 19 September 2018


The Irrawaddy, “The Anti-Corruption Commission Lands Some Big Fish at Last”, 14 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Keshab Sharma, “Why monorail is bad for Kathmandu”, Republica, 20 September 2018 Deepak Thapa, “A village on the waiting line”, The Kathmandu Post, 20 September 2018 Achyut Wagle, “Stirring up a hornet’s nest”, The Kathmandu Post, 18 September 2018


Republica, “Nepal Army must exercise transparency”, 20 September 2018 The Kathmandu Post, “Law of the land”, 20 September 2018 The Himalayan Times, “Cold-shouldered”, 18 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Rameez Khan, “Nawaz will stick to his narrative”, The Express Tribune, 21 September 2018 Khurram Husain, “Stabilisation begins”, Dawn, 20 September 2018


Pakistan Times, “Remedies that do not address the underlying cause”, 21 September 2018 Pakistan Times, “Imran’s circle of advisors”, 19 September 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “The politics of free trade: The split-Executive and the Joint Opposition”, The Island, 23 September 2018 Neville Ladduwahetty, “The forthcoming UNGA sessions”, The Island, 2s September 2018 Ameen Izzadeen, “Oslo, 25 years on: Peace in tatters!”, Daily Mirror Online, 21 September 2018 M S M Ayub, “MR and India: A business deal”, Daily Mirror Online, 21 September 2018 Kusal Perera, “Aimless search for puppet Presidents”, Daily Mirror Online, 21 September 2018 Kelum Bandara, “Modi, MR break new ground regarding relations”, Daily Mirror Online, 20 September 2018 Jehan Perera, “President’s forthcoming address to UN will address challenges to reconciliation”, The Island, 18 September 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Polls in near-future?”, Ceylon Today, 17 September 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “It’s pre-poll time, competitive Tamil politics is also back in business”, The Island, 17 September 2018


Daily Mirror, “Why Sri Lanka loves India’s Modi”, 21 September 2018


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ketan Mehta and T.N. Suhas  Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak
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