MonitorsPublished on Nov 26, 2018
This week’s roundup from South Asia.
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XI; Issue 47


Bangladesh: What does parliamentary poll hold for the nation?

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

With the declaration of the date for the parliamentary election, Bangladesh has now entered the poll mode. The Election Commission first declared 23 December as the poll day, which was later shifted to 30 December after opposition requested for deferring the date.

The change of the election date was considered a major move by the ruling Awami League to convince its arch-rival — opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. BNP participation in the election was important for the credibility of the upcoming election. Earlier, there were doubts regarding the participation of the BNP in the upcoming election following the arrest of its chairperson, Begum Khaleda Zia, after she was sentenced to five years prison on charges of corruption.

Contrary to the popular speculation, the BNP declared that it would participate in the election. The BNP’s decision has brightened the prospects for an inclusive election. All the major political parties are now busy preparing for the election.

Fear, however, persists that the present political equilibrium might face disruption with a slight discord, particularly between the ruling Awami League and opposition BNP. A peaceful election is important for the strengthening of democracy in Bangladesh. And the conduct of the political parties ahead of the election will be crucial for maintaining peace during the election.

Stalling polls

Elections in Bangladesh have often faced troubles and political parties resorted to street protests to voice their demands. Use of street protest as a means to settle differences not only hampered the growth of democratic culture as it undermined the importance of debate and discussion, which is the popular norm in resolving differences in most democracies.

Elections in the country have been often violent and there had been instances of stalling of the elections due to the deterioration in law and order following violent clashes between the political parties. In 2007, parliamentary election was postponed and an emergency was declared after violent clashes between parties broke out.

Before the 2014 election also, Bangladesh witnessed months of violent protests by the opposition that resulted in the death of many people and disruption of daily lives. Many times, the opposition parties resort to street violence as they hardly find any space in voicing their demands.

Ahead of the declaration of the poll date by the Election Commission, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had held a discussion with all the major political parties, including the BNP-led Jatiyo Oikyo Front (JOF). During the talks, the JOF laid down seven demands. The main demands were reconstitution of the Election Commission, neutral poll-time government, free and fair election, dissolution of the parliament and deferring of the election date.

Although the demands of the JOF are yet to be fulfilled, the BNP’s decision to join the polls is a new beginning for the country’s political culture. The BNP had not participated in the 2014 parliamentary election as the government rejected its demand of formation of a non-partisan government to oversee the elections.

Considering the uncertain nature of politics in the country, it is very difficult to make predictions on election. However, people hope that all political parties will behave in a responsible way and participate in the elections to choose the next government. For the strengthening of democracy in the country, participation of all political parties in the election is necessary. The future of the country depends on the good health of democracy and free and fair elections.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Afghanistan: Politics of ethnicity

Sohini Bose

Afghanistan, identity politics, Hazara, ORF, Sohini Bose Photo: Hassan Reza — © Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The war in Afghanistan exists not only with external forces but within internal factions as well. These factions comprise the multiple ethnic groups in this war-torn country. This multi-ethnic and almost tribal society is divided mainly amongst 13 ethno-linguistic groups — Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Aymāqs, Turkmens, Balochs, Pashais, Nuristanis, Gujjars, Arabs, Brahuis, Pamiris and a few others.

Though these groups coexist, there is a serious lack of harmony and cooperation between them, as some continue to pre-dominate the political system while the others are marginalised. This situation has long prevented Afghanistan from transforming from a country into a nation despite the state being ‘controlled’ by a single Union government. It had been previously hoped that the fall of the Taliban regime would provide an opportunity to the country's elite regardless of their region or ethnic background to unite on liberal and democratic grounds and contribute significantly toward remedying the country’s political fragmentation.

However, despite the common fear of a resurgence of the Taliban rule, these elites failed to share a common platform and though some ‘national’ institutions came into being, mainstream governance continued to be bereft of the idea of pan-Afghan national politics. A prime example of this was the split of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan along ethnic lines in the 1960s-1980s. The situation worsened at the hands of demagogic politicians who spread the language of hatred and openly talked of ethno-politics except in the national platforms where they resorted to vague rhetoric.

Tribalism at the root

At present, the ethnic tension is growing in Afghanistan as is exemplified by the zone based elections in the province of Ghazni. Tribalism is at the very root of this ethnic problem, wherein loyalty to the ethnic group often superseded national integrity. This is further fueled as political leaders exploit these ethnic bases to gain power.

This has divided the Afghan population and fostered favouritism in some cases which is the main cause of conflict. This is especially the case in public offices where those in authority provide preferential treatment to their kith and kin despite contrary norms. Consequently there has been gross mismanagement of the country’s national and international resources provoking agitation and protests from the deprived citizens.

Further, the unequal allocation of infrastructure projects among the provinces has made this favouritism based on ethnicity even more apparent. Not only has this marginalised some sections of the population but has also hindered the country from attaining balanced development. The lack of social cohesion continues to trigger ethnic conflicts which very often border on civil wars.

Among the ethnic groups, Afghanistan continues to be the cradle of Pashtun pride, reminiscent of the erstwhile glory of Kandahar; the seat of an empire ruled by the Pashtuns. The worst sufferers of the ethnic problem are the Hazaras.

Hazaras’ horrors

The Hazaras are one of Afghanistan's largest ethnic minorities who live primarily on the highlands of the country’s centre. They account for 20 per cent of the country’s 30 million residents. They have distinct Asiatic features, a Persian dialect and are Islamic Shias which distinguish them from the other tribes. Such distinctions caused them to have a history of persecution and until 1970s, the Afghan law barred Hazaras from holding office or any position of national authority.

Hazaras have been killed and sold as slaves over generations. They lived primarily in villages and until recently only a few received higher education or procured government jobs. In 2004, the Afghanistan Constitution granted Hazaras equal rights. However, they continue to feel discriminated against and opine that the government does not cater sufficiently to Hazara interests and the poverty of Bamiyan, the unofficial capital of the Hazaras, validates their stance.

Hence it is not surprising that many of them flee to Europe as refugees in search of a better life. The Taliban who are essentially Pashtuns and Sunni Muslims are especially known for their notorious persecution of the Hazaras as they consider only Sunni Islam to be authentic. This has not only been confined to killing Hazaras but also spilled on to destroying their structural heritage as was witnessed in 2001 when the fabled six century AD ‘Buddhas of Bamiyan’ were reduced to rubble for the fault of being ‘un-Islamic’ at the hands of the Taliban.

The most recent instance of killing and hounding of the Hazaras in the province of Uruzgan and Ghazni has once again fueled the flames of ethnic and sectarian violence. However, the Taliban denied having targeted a particular ethnic group and posted a statement on its website stating that its attack was specifically against the “Kabul regime and American hireling positions in Jaghori.” Observing the state of affairs, a US government watchdog reportedly commented that Kabul's control of Afghanistan had slipped in recent months. This is not surprising as Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, despite contrary expectations, has been much of an ethno-nationalist in practice.

Ethnic bias still

Ghani has isolated a number of prominent non-Pashtun leaders and fired Ahmad Zia Massoud, his senior adviser who is also a popular Tajik figure. He has also compelled the Vice President, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a prominent Uzbek leader, into a self-imposed exile. Ghani has further severed ties with Mohammad Mohaqiq, a powerful Hazara and a deputy of CEO Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani has also signed a controversial peace deal with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious Pashtun tribal war lord, who has ties with the Taliban.

However, the politics of co-option and patronage will only drive the country into deeper dirty waters and strengthen the ethnic divide. Hence, to truly restore stability in Afghanistan, Ghani’s National Unity Government will have to focus on framing a pan-Afghan vision to which all the citizens will feel a sense of belongingness. An overarching Afghan identity must be forged and that will only be possible through visible efforts of accountability and a fair distribution of national resources amongst the entire population, regardless of their ethnic origin.

The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation.



Raids against Taliban

According to the statement released by the Office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan, the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces have been ordered to increase raids against the Taliban militants in a bid to ensure safety of the people and forces. The statement further opines that the Taliban group continues to wage an imposed war even as Afghanistan struggles with problems of drought and cold weather which creates difficulties for people and also losses for them.

Hekmatyar disappointed

The leader of Hezb Islami, former war lord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar reacted strongly to the scheme which was announced by the Grand National Coalition against the upcoming Presidential elections. Hekmatyar is of the opinion that the announcement made by Ahmad Zia Massoud, advisor of the Coalition, is unjustified. He also opined regarding the formation of the transitional Afghanistan government that certain circles are conniving to grab more power by convening a summit similar to the earlier Bonn conference.


Inclusive polls, UN’s priority

United Nations informed this week that an inclusive, credible and transparent election in Bangladesh is its priority. Farhan Haq, Deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general observed that UN’s priorities are the need for the elections in Bangladesh to be inclusive, credible and transparent. Haq further added that the organisation would study the arrangements and see whether those particular priorities upheld. Bangladesh is going for parliamentary election in 30th of December this year.

Repatriation postponed

Repatriation of Rohingya refugees was stalled at the last moment after the refugees declined to return to Rakhine fearing persecution. Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali informed that the refugees to return. He further added that Bangladesh provided shelter to the persecuted Rohingyas with an open heart fled from their home is Rakhine last year, hence, they cannot be forced to go. Repatriation of Rohingyas planned to bein the week and around 150 of the refugees were selectedfor return in first batch Rohingyas are an ethnic community in Rakhine state of Myanmar border Bangladesh. In August 2017 around 800,000 of them fled following a crackdown by the Myanmar security agencies in retaliation to an attack by a group of Rohingya militants in the camps of Myanmar Security forces.


Bettering India ties

Dr. Tandi Dorji, who has assumed the charge of foreign minister, said that he would work to strengthen the existing foreign policies, including the crucial ties between India and Bhutan. He also plans to mobilise more resources and funds for his country. In addition, he plans to look after the issues faced by the students who are studying abroad. He said the ministry will also help the Bhutanese working abroad.

Rupee reserve at INR 20 billion

The country’s international reserve position as of August this year was at USD 1.1 billion, of which the rupee reserve forms INR 20.5 billion. Convertible currency reserve was at USD 817 million. The rupee reserve in the beginning of the year was INR 23 billion, the highest in 2018.

Committee on hydro projects

A committee formed by the erstwhile Government in 2017 for developing a hydropower development strategy in the country’s long-term interests recommended completing the current projects, going for Sunkosh and Kuri Gongri in a phase wise manner. The report says that since there are problems with projects under construction and also the finalization of the Joint Venture projects which has led to negative media coverage, increasing public concerns about delays, cost overruns, and huge debts being incurred, it will be prudent to slow down hydropower development till these issues are clearly overcome or resolved.


CVC report on CBI Director

The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) on 12 November submitted to the Supreme Court its report on a preliminary inquiry into allegations raised against CBI Director Alok Verma by his deputy and Special Director Rakesh Asthana. The report was handed over in a sealed cover to the top court. Another report was also submitted before a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shyam Kishan Kaul on the decisions taken by the officiating CBI Director M Nageswara Rao since he took Verma's place.

Modi at ASEAN summit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Singapore on 14 November for a two-day visit during which he will attend the East Asia Summit, an ASEAN-India informal meet, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership summit and hold a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence.PM Modi's first engagement in Singapore would be to deliver the keynote address at the Singapore Fintech Summit, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a tweet.


Modi at Inauguration

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the only Head of State or Government to be invited for President Ibrahim Modhamed ‘Ibu’ Solih’s Inauguration held at an open football stadium in capital Male on Saturday, 17 November. Modi accompanied Ibu at the Inauguration, and were received by former Presidents Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed (MDP) and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (PPM). China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other nations were represented by Ministers other than their Prime Ministers, while outgoing Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen stayed away, saying that his participation would go against the people’s wish.


Strengthened ties with China

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi discussed bilateral ties on 15 November and vowed to boost the cooperation between the two countries. China is willing to work together with Myanmar in pursuit of further synergy between their development plans and carry out cooperation in human resources and education, Li said. Such efforts will help Myanmar develop its economy and society and benefit both peoples, he added.


Cabinet discussions in process

The Council of Ministers have held a meeting, that remains undisclosed as of yet. In general, the decisions taken are made public. However, this time, the tradition has been broken. The public has to wait for another week, as declared by Gokul Baskota, Government spokesperson, Minister of Information and Communication Technology, to be aware of the new policies.

Courtesy call

Velerie Julliand, the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Nepal, paid a courtesy call on Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Gen Purna Chandra Thapa. Over the meeting, several issues were discussed, like bilateral relations and other areas of mutual interest between Nepal and the UN.

Airlines incurs loss

The wide body craft of the Nepal Airline Corporation has incurred losses one and half months after its operation, thereby turning to the government for support. Due to the amount of money being spent on its maintenance, profits have not been registered along with high degree of debt. This has also affected the flight’s international share.


Fast road to development

The Pakistan Ministry of Communications has launched the Pakistan National Road Safety Strategy (PNRSS) 2018-2030 which aims to better facilitate the commuters and reduce the number of road accidents. Road safety is a major public health issue in Pakistan and an accident occurs every five minutes. The PNRSS initiative has been undertaken by the Pakistan government in collaboration with UK-Aid and Asian Development Bank. The Ministry further stated that the government is determined to bring development to Pakistan.

Reviving sick state companies

Pakistan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf government has taken the decision to not privatise but to revive the 195 ‘sick’ state enterprises and has accordingly ordered the bureaucracy to make sure that all top officials follow the government policies. To deal with the sick government units, the Cabinet has approved the formation of Sarmaya-i-Pakistan Company to revive sick entities. The Prime Minister is scheduled to unveil the 100 day achievements of the government before the nation on 29 November.

Sri Lanka

Continuing confusion

Despite the declaration by Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, twice in three days, that the House had passed a ‘no-trust vote’ against Mahinda Rajapaksa, the latter’s camp has refused to yield, citing procedural flaws. This has led to a further stalemate to an already confusing situation, with the nation having ‘two Prime Ministers’ the previous week and none this week. President Maithripala Sirisena, whose act of replacing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Rajapaksa has been holding confabulations with various political parties, groups and leaders, but to no avail.



Opinion Pieces

Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada, Afghan Government Should Protect Relative Calm Zones In The Country, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 12 November 2018.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, Simple Dose of Solution to Rescue a Nation, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 12 November 2018.


Afghanistan Times, 125 years of controversial Durand Line, 15 November 2018.

Afghanistan Times, Peace in the offing, 10 November 2018.


Opinion Pieces

Sultana Yesmin, The changing dynamics of China-Bangladesh relationsThe Daily Star, 11 November 2018.

Shahdeen Malik, Election after dissolution of parliament, ProtomAlo, 9 November 2018.

Yead Mahmood, Securing our future:Bangladesh needs long-term security planning to continue its development, Dhaka Tribune, 9 November 2018.


Opinion Pieces

Meet the New Cabinet, The Bhutanese, 13 November 2018.


More than a political promise, Kuensel, 12 November 2018.


Opinion Pieces

Gopal Krishna Gandhi, The algebra of Opposition unityThe Hindu,10 November 2018.

Shyam Saran, India must take a well considered position to ensure reform in the WTO, Hindustan Times, 14 November 2018.

Rajesh Gopal, Not Burning Bright, The Quint, 14 November 2018.


Opinion Pieces

Praveen Kumar Yadav, To remember, we must first learnThe Kathmandu Post, 16 November 2018.

Dinesh Bhattarai, Let them go home, Republica, 15 November 2018.

Brahma Chellaney, Concert of Indo-Pacific democracies, Republica, 15 November 2018.


The Himalayan Times, Summon the House, 16 November 2018.

The Kathmandu Post, A full plate, 14 November 2018.

The Kathmandu Post, “Digital defence”, 1 November 2018


Opinion Pieces

Faisal Bari, “Change & continuity”, Dawn, 16 November 2018

Asha’ar Rehman, “Left with the old question”, Dawn, 16 November 2018


Pakistan Today, “Lawyers on the rampage”, 16 November 2018

Pakistan Today, “FDI fall”, 16 November 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “Judiciary stands tall over a chaotic Parliament and a bewildered President”, The Island, 18 November 2018

Dr Upul Jayawardene, “Of that unfolding drama”, The Island, 16 November 2018

M S M Ayub, “New Parliament only way out”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 November 2018

Ahilan Kadirgamar, “See SL’s national crisis for what it is”, The Hindu, 15 November 2018

Malinda Seneviratne, “Sri Lanka’s Democracy Deficit”, Daily Mirror Online, 15 November 2018

Kelum Bandara, “Constitutional crisis set to deepen”, Daily Mirror Online, 15 November 2018

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Will the ‘sinners’ stand up now?”, Ceylon Today, 14 November 2018

C A Chandraprema, “Constitutional gridlock and petitions against a parliamentary election”, The Island, 14 November 2018

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Is Tamil polity heading for a crash, at last?”,, 13 November 2018

Jehan Perera, “Judicial sovereignty needed to save national sovereignty”, The Island, 13 November 2018

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Is regime-change an end in itself?”,, 12 November 2018

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Round One goes to Rajapaksa, but...”, Colombo Gazette, 12 November 2018

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Lanka’s clash of civilisations”, Deccan Chronicle, Asian Age, 11 November 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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