MonitorsPublished on Dec 05, 2018
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XI; Issue 49


India: Growing convergence between ASEAN and India

Pallav Agarwal and Ketan Mehta  The recently-concluded 33rd ASEAN Summit and the 13th East Asia Summit at Singapore signifies that Indo-Pacific realm has acquired much relevance in the global arena. Apprehension regarding China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and the nature of its growing investments has led the ASEAN countries to view India as a potential power that could balance a rising China. In these times, India too has gravitated towards augmenting its role by emphasising multi-sectoral partnership with the ASEAN countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Singapore for the ASEAN-India breakfast summit on 14-15 November 2018. He also participated in the East Asia Summit and attended bilateral meetings with US Vice-President Mike Pence and the leaders of Singapore, Thailand and Australia. Modi expressed satisfaction at the progress made in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations and also became the first head of government to deliver the keynote address at the Singapore Fintech Festival. He also launched a platform, Application Programming Interface Exchange (APIX), to connect fintech companies and financial institutions from India and ASEAN. These developments are suggestive of the growing convergence between the ASEAN countries and India.

Reflecting on past ties

India adopted the ‘Look East Policy” soon after the economic liberalisation of 1991. In 1992, India became a sectoral dialogue partner with ASEAN and in 1995, it achieved the status of full dialogue partnership. India became a member of ASEAN Regional Forum in 1996 and the relationship got upgraded to strategic partnership in 2012. To celebrate 25 years of India’s relationship with the region, India invited the heads of all the ASEAN states during the republic day for ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit held in New Delhi this year. India signed a FTA in goods in 2009 and Free Trade Agreements (FTA) in services and investments in 2014 with the ASEAN. As a result, Trade between India and ASEAN stood at $65.04 bn dollar in 2015-16 and comprises 10.12 percent of India’s total trade with the world. Investments from ASEAN to India have been over $70 billion in the last 17 years accounting for more than 17 per cent of India’s total FDI. Its importance was again reiterated when PM Modi, while attending East Asia Summit, underlined the centrality of trade and investment for the prosperity and security of Indo Pacific.

New’ areas of cooperation

Apart from commerce, connectivity is another important feature of the Act East policy of India launched by the current government. PM Modi emphasised on improving regional connectivity with the ASEAN, including land, water, air, and digital connectivity. India is working towards formalising its transit agreements and has launched various projects in the past like India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and Kaladan Multimodal Project. These projects, by improving infrastructure in the North-Eastern States of India, would contribute towards the development of the region. This is an important part of the initiative -- “Act East through North-East” under Act East Policy. While the focus of this relationship was initially on trade and connectivity but security has become an important area of their strategic partnership in recent years. China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea and the uncertainty generated due to Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have led the ASEAN states to explore the dynamics of their partnership with India. This can be seen from their desire to further extend maritime cooperation with India expressed during the summit. Apart from this it also allows India to discuss non-traditional security issues in the Indian Ocean Region like piracy, trafficking of drugs, arms and humans, illegal migration, etc. which stipulate discussion on a multilateral level.

The way forward

India should not focus primarily at the region only from the perspective of countering China. Given China’s exhaustive involvement in the region and its superior material capabilities mean that India is at a disadvantageous position. Moreover, India’s trade with ASEAN is nowhere near the set target of $200 billion by 2020.  Connectivity projects with ASEAN are way behind schedule. ASEAN members have been disappointed that India does not take a proactive role in the region. New Delhi is struggling to deepen the defense and maritime cooperation with several ASEAN member state. While India has focused on expanding its bilateral relations with ASEAN countries, it has inadequately addressed the need for a proactive engagement at the multilateral level. All in all, India needs to resolve these issues at the earliest and be more efficient in its dealing with the ASEAN countries. There is immense scope to increase cooperation in areas of digital technology and tourism. Thus, India’s ASEAN engagement would thus depend on the means by which New Delhi seeks to realise its vision of the Indo-Pacific.
The writers are Research Intern and Research Assistant, respectively, at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

 Pakistan: Unrestricted population growth affects demography

Sohini Bose Amidst various contemplations and debates raging in Pakistan over political and social concerns, one problem which has the potential of seriously affecting the country’s future has been left comparatively unheeded. This is the issue of the nation’s unrestricted population rise and the radical demographic changes it is instigating, symbolic of a domino-effect. Pakistan has now become the fifth most populated country of the world and a provisional report of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics stated that the population of Pakistan ranges around 208 million, which is not surprising given the staggering growth rate of 2.4 per cent per annum. The country is growing at an annual rate of 3 percent, the fastest pace in South Asia. Hence the causes behind this crisis of overpopulation need to be analysed. The problem is primarily of illiteracy amongst the Pakistani people. About 35 per cent of the adult population are illiterate and are therefore more vulnerable to religious beliefs which encourages expanding the family. It is interesting to note that while  other Muslim countries like Bangladesh and Iran have successfully controlled their population despite the prevalence of this religious belief in their countries the situation is not so in Pakistan. The problem is further aggravated by the lack of women empowerment which stems from the dated conception of men having unquestionable authority over women. Moreover the vast discrepancy between birth and death rates, with the former being much higher than the latter, the relative absence of family planning initiatives and technological advancement in fertility treatment has worsened the problem. Inadequate response from the government in dealing with this problem and the increasing influx of Afghan refugees and other immigrants into Pakistan has caused the population of the country to acquire alarming proportions.

Issue of illiteracy

The alarming extent of poverty in the country has further worsened the situation. Pakistan ranks 147th in the Human Development Index with close to 30 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. This is not surprising as almost sixty per cent of Pakistan’s population is under the age of thirty, millions of whom have never attended school and with dwindling job opportunities the future appears bleak. For Pakistan, which already faces issues of violent extremism, having a large population of uneducated and unemployed youth will only increase the risk of the youth being radicalised and joining the extremist religious groups. This poses a threat to the socio-economic stability and security of the country. As a result of over-population Pakistan is also experiencing one of the fastest urbanisation rates and the urban population is almost 36.4 per cent of the total population. The United Nations Population Division estimates that “by 2025 nearly` half the country’s population will live in urban areas.” The migration trend from rural to urban areas is primarily amongst the young population who are shifting to urban areas where the rare employment opportunities are still existent. As the main bulk of Pakistani population comprises of youth the pressure on the cities is unbelievable. This has led to a virtual closure of the agricultural and industrial economy. The increasing demand for urbanisation has led most of the agricultural land to be turned into towns, and housing societies. Therefore if the population rise continues at the current pace, Pakistan will soon face food insecurity. This is also contributing to environmental degradation such as intensifying deforestation and generating pollution. The existing environment management capacity cannot sustain such a large population if it is to provide a good quality of life.

Difficulties in family planning

In the purview of family planning, it has not been easy to sell contraceptives and some would like help but are too shy to discuss a taboo topic. Family planning centres very often face the question of why they are trying to restrict the expansion of the Ummah (Muslim masses). A response based on religious grounds have been found to be most effective and the family planning centres often resort to the explanation that the prophet had preached that there should be a gap of at least 24 months between each child and that the families resources must be considered when making such decisions. Also, many rural families believe that God will provide for any child that is born. Some religious scholars note that Islam does not contradict the idea of family planning, but challenges the Western concept of birth control. Islam allows "natural family planning" via breast-feeding but not "stopping the reproductive system permanently. Attempts to open rural family welfare offices are also met with community suspicion and political opposition. In the villages the influences of traditional culture and Islamic teachings are stronger, and the reach of public media campaigns about baby spacing is much more limited.  Although some families are now more open to family planning services, women still have difficulty in getting their husbands to cooperate. Hence some women secretly get an "implant" — a hormone dose injected under the skin that prevents conception for several years. However despite the severity of the situation, the population problem has not figured significantly in the national discourse of the country. There is a discernible lack of alacrity in dealing with the situation. The population count of 2017 had been delayed by almost two decades and was executed only after the intervention of the apex court of the country on the grounds that conducting a census was a constitutional obligation. Moreover, the country’s ruling elite never used the census results beyond redrawing of constituencies to ensure more political support. These problems are reflective of the little priority being given to population planning in the country. An internal implosion caused by this crisis of overpopulation coupled with the problems of fragile domestic economic and financial conditions and an uneducated young population is likely to bring Pakistan dangerously close to an outbreak of civil war.  Initiatives such as providing better education, raising awareness of family planning must therefore be implemented by the government without further delay.
The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata



Aga Khan’s support

On the sidelines of the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, Prince Karim Aga Khan, reaffirmed his support to Afghanistan during an interaction with the Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. They also held talks regarding the activities of the Aga Foundation, its investments and future plans in Afghanistan. In that regard the Prince stated that the Foundation sought peace and development in the country and was prepared to assist the Afghanistan government.

Atmar for presidency?

Afghanistan’s former National Security Adviser Mohammad Atmar has opined that he seeks nomination in the upcoming presidential elections, which are scheduled to be held on 20 April 2019. He aims to revive national unity that he believes to have deteriorated under the present government. He also wishes to modify the Afghan constitution and establish the post for a third Vice President to the country. He further stated that the ongoing peace negotiations are not happening with national consensus.


Khaleda's poll hopes dashed

The hope of Bangladesh Nationalist Party Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia contesting the upcoming parliamentary election sank after the Supreme Court upheld the High Court ruling barring a person sentenced to more than two years in jail from taking part in elections even if an appeal against the conviction is pending.   The court verdict put uncertainty over BNP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. The parliamentary election scheduled for 30 December. Begum Zia is in jail since February this year after a court sentenced her to 5-year prison is a case of misapplication of funds in an orphanage named after her husband and former military dictator Gen Ziaur Rahman.

EU not as ‘observer’

Signalling confidence in Bangladesh’s democratic process, the European Union Parliament will not send observer for the upcoming parliamentary election scheduled for 30 December. The EU delegation that visited Bangladesh earlier has observed that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is capable of holding free and fair elections. The EU has a rich experience of observing elections and sends observers in various countries across the globe including some countries in South Asia.


Power loans from India

Hydropower loans, which account for 94 percent of rupee debt and almost 70 percent of the total outstanding external debt of Nu 172 billion as of March this year, is bloating the country’s debt, the draft 12th Five Year plan says. The 12th Plan targets the lowering of debt-to-GDP ratio, from 115 percent to 61 percent. Loans from World Bank and Asian Development Bank alone constitute USD 511M of the convertible currency debt. Of the total debt, Nu 126B is rupee denominated debt and convertible currency debt constitute USD 693M (about Nu 4.5B). Hydro debt forms more than Nu 119B of the total rupee debt.

$ 35 mn grant from ADB

Grant agreements worth $35 million were signed between Bhutan and Asian Development Bank (ABD) on 29 November. Of this total grant, US$ 20 M will be used for health sector development program while the grant of US$ 15 million will be used for Skills Training and Education Pathways Upgradation Project (STEP-UP).


Farmers demand Parliament session to discuss agrarian crisis

Over 1,000 policemen were deployed in the city on 29 November as thousands of farmers reached Delhi as part of the two-day Kisan Mukti March. The farmers assembled at the Ramlila Maidan in central Delhi and marched to Parliament Street, demanding a special three-week joint session of Parliament to discuss the agrarian crisis.

Kartarpur corridor with Pakistan

 India and Pakistan on 29 November committed to build the Kartarpur corridor which will facilitate visa-free travel by Indian Sikhs to Pakistan’s Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara. This will allow Sikhs to celebrate the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November 2019.

Ex-Coal Secy convicted

Former bureaucrat HC Gupta and five others have been found guilty by the Delhi High Court in a case related to alleged irregularities in the allocation of the coal blocks in West Bengal. HC Gupta was Coal Secretary for two years under the Congress-led UPA government before he retired in 2008.


‘India First’, but...

In New Delhi, after meeting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and other policy-makers, Maldives’ new Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid declared that post-Yameen era, his nation was reverting to the ‘India First’ policy of the latter’s predecessors, but there was no question of India replacing China or vice versa. Back home, ahead of President Ibu Solih’s maiden overseas visit, again to New Delhi, Shahid clarified – so did his Government, formally – that there was no question of Maldives allowing permanent Indian army presence on its territory, as speculated by a section of the international media, in return for New Delhi granting $ 1-b in aid to repay a part of the debts that the nation owed China.


CMEC gains momentum

Ning Jizhe, the vice chair of China’s top planning agency National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), visited Myanmar from 24 to 27 November  with regards to the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). The CMEC stretches from China’s Yunnan to Myanmar’s Yangon and Kyaukphyu area. The designated locations are the key areas for the bilateral collaboration in trade and investment, according to the embassy’s press release. By setting up the CMEC, the basic infrastructures of the two countries can be connected and cooperation will be promoted on sectors such as agriculture, energy, financing, tourism, “digital silk road” and border trading zone.

Min Thu for Union Minister

President Win Myint presented the name of current President Office Deputy Minister Min Thu to Union Parliament to be appointed to the vacant post of Union Minister of Union Government Office. Former Minister of Union Government Office Thaung Tun was recently shifted to the newly created Union Minister of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations Ministry. A profile of Min Thu was distributed to MPs on 26 November after the parliament session and no objection has been received as of yet.

MoU with S Korea

Director-General of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum U Kyaw Oo Lwin and Vice Chairman of the Asian Culture Centre for Republic of Korea Kim Ho Kyum signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), to develop a master plan for cultural development in Myanmar, at the Mini Theatre of the National Museum in Nay Pyi Taw on 26 November. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture is making efforts to protect, preserve, and accumulate knowledge of Myanmar’s cultural heritage to teach future generations, to cherish and value it, and also raise the spirit of nationalism.


Suu Kyi visits Kathmandu

Better bilateral relations between Nepal and Myanmar seem to be on cards as Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar, visited Nepal on the official invitation of Prime Minister Oli. Upon arrival, Suu Kyi paid a courtesy call to President Bidya Devi Bhandari. Furthermore, she will also attend ‘The Asia Pacific Summit 2018-Nepal’, held between 30 November to 3 December.

Asia-Pacific Summit

Nepal is set to host the Asia Pacific Summit 2018. This is indeed one of the biggest events in the country, engaging distinguished policy-makers from over 45 countries. This also comes across as a platform for various bilateral negotiations along the sidelines of the event. Universal Peace Federation (UPF) is the organizer with the slogan “Addressing Critical Challenges of Our Time: Interdependence, Mutual Prosperity and Universal Values”.

Microfinance summit

With an aim to discuss the existing situation of the microfinance sector in the country, along with its probable prospects and problems, a summit on the same was organised by the Centre for Self-help Development (CSD). The event was inaugurated by PM K. P Sharma Oli. This congregation aims at moving beyond the prevailing crisis in the arena.


SC seeks PM’s family tax details

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has asked the Federal Bureau of Revenue to provide the tax details of Aleema Khanum (sister of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan) to the court. She has been identified as a benamidar of property in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the court has currently taken up a case against 44 politically exposed individuals or their benamidars who possessed property in the UAE. The court has also pinpointed twenty individuals to be investigated.

‘No truth in charge’

Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary, while addressing a seminar of the ‘All-Party Parliamentary Kashmir Group’ in Islamabad, advised the Government of India to accept that there are no solutions to the ‘Kashmir issue’. He claimed that the Indian allegation against Pakistan of inciting unrest in Kashmir had no foundation and that it had only adopted this stance to crush the struggle for freedom in the region.

Sri Lanka

Talks to end dead-lock?

Pending the revived Supreme Court hearing in the ‘Parliament dissolution case’ on 7 December by an enlarged, five-member Bench, and with ‘new’ Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa unable to prove parliamentary majority, President Maithripala Sirisena has revived talks with political parties, including sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP, and the ‘Opposition’ TNA with 14 members in the 225-seat House. In continuation thereof, the UNP has proposed Wickremeisnghe’s name as their sole prime ministerial nominee even as the TNA has gone public saying that they would not back any proposal to ‘impeach’ Sirisena.



Opinion Pieces

Fatima Faizi and Rod Norland, “Afghan War Casualty Report: Nov. 23-29”, The New York Times, 30 November 2018 Hujjatullah Zia, “Afghan Women Make Strides with Democratic Constitution”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 28 November 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Paving the Way for Investment and Business”, 28 November 2018 Afghanistan Times, “NUG now lacking trust in institutions”, 26 November 2018


Opinion Pieces

Devadeep Purohit, “All quiet before Bangladesh elections”, The Telegraph, 28 November 2018 Subir Bhaumik, “Bangladesh Election: Will Sheikh Hasin’s China and India Balancing act be enough to keep power?”, South China Morning Post, 26 November 2018



The Bhutanese, “From aid to trade”, 27 November 2018 Kuensel, “Narrowing the gaps”, 24 November 2018


Opinion Pieces

Khaled Ahmed, “Trade vs Terror”, The Indian Express, 29 November 2018 Tridivesh Singh Maini, “Kartarpur Corridor Rings With Echoes of Sidhu-Amarinder Rivalry”, The Quint, 30 November 2018


The Hindu, “Number theory: on lowering UPA-era GDP growth rate”, 30 November 2018

Maldives Opinion pieces

Shafeea Riza, “No more: Taking domestic violence seriously”, The Edition, 27 November 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Modi in Maldives: Sets the ball rolling for restoring old ties”,, 26 November 2018


Opinion Pieces

Lawi Weng, “Human Casualties Will Be the Cost of War as RCSS Moves North”, The Irrawaddy, 29 November 2018 Aung Zaw, “Look East Policy Is Fine, but a Balancing Act Is Needed”, The Irrawaddy, 27 November 2018 Mon Mon Myat, “New Strategies Needed as EAOs Adapt to Changes in Drug Demand”, The Irrawaddy, 26 November 2018


Opinion Pieces

Mahabir Paudyal, “America is watching”, Republica, 29 November 2018 Amish Raj Mulmi, “Nepal, as it was”, The Kathmandu Post, 30 November 2018 Dinesh Bhattarai, “Testing times for democracy”, Republica, 28 November 2018


The Kathmandu Post, “Need an opposition”, 27 November 2018 The Himalayan Times, “Avoid ordinance”, 30 November 2018

The Kathmandu Post, “Beginning at home”, 20 November 2018


Opinion Pieces

Faisal Bari, “Assessments for what?”, Dawn, 30 November 2018 Syed Mohammad Ali, “PTI’s rural development agenda”, The Express Tribune, 30 November 2018


Dawn, “Shameful numbers”, 30 November 2018 The Express Tribune, “Kartarpur, a corridor of peace?”, 29 November 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Tisaranee Gunasekara, “Waiting for Judgment Day”, The Island, 2 December 2018 Gnana Moonesinghe, “Do we need an Executive President?”, The Island, 2 December 2018 Jayadeva Uyangoda, “Constitutions need constitutionalism”, The Island, 2 December 2018 M S M Ayub, “Need of the hour: Guts to compromise in the name of the country”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 November 2018 Kusal Perera, “Pickled Constitution and achcharu Parliament”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 November 2018 Ameen Izzadeen, “Mr President, be a statesman even at this late hour!”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 November 2018 Laksiri Fernando, “Parliamentary and presidential elections necessary”, The Island, 30 November 2018 Malinda Seneviratne, “Democracy is alive, ladies and gentlemen!”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 November 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Re-assessing Sirisena”, Ceylon Today, 27 November 2018 Jehan Perera, “Setting a perilous political precedent”, The Island, 27 November 2018 K K S Perera, “King Charles I and the Speaker in 1642: Karu J attempts to re-enact it”, Daily Mirror Online, 26 November 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Now, Maithri turns tables on Ranil?”, Colombo Gazette, 26 November 2018


Kelum Bandara, “We will adopt next strategy after Supreme Court ruling: MR”, Daily Mirror Online, 30 November 2018 Kelum Bandara, “Prez, SC cannot dispute Speaker’s ruling: Kiriella”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 November 2018


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