MonitorsPublished on Dec 18, 2018
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XI; Issue 51


Nepal: Asia-Pacific Summit 2018, an assessment

Sohini Nayak The Asia-Pacific Summit in Nepal, themed “Addressing Critical Challenges of Our Time: Interdependence, Mutual Prosperity, and Universal Values”, has remained in news for both appropriate as well as erroneous reasons. The primary organiser was the South Korea-based Universal Peace Federation     (UPF), supported by the Government of Nepal, which gathered around 1500 participants from 45 countries. Deliberating upon several issues, ranging from peace, development and good governance to climate change and the role of the media, the summit witnessed countries like India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Pakistan and Philippines playing crucial roles. This was the first international summit held in Nepal (30 November-3 December). Only weeks earlier, Nepal was host to the fourth BIMSTEC Summit, which was a regional event involving nations of the Bay of Bengal periphery. Some of the important participants included the counsellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, former Indian PM, H D Deve Gowda, Vijay Jolly of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Vice-President of Philippines, Maria Leonor G Robredo, and Governor of Tuvalu, Gen Iakoba Taeia Italeli. The confederation began with the inaugural address of Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, who has been trying to create a niche for Nepal in the past few months, predominantly in the field of diplomatic engagements and participation in global affairs. The reflections of Aung San Suu Kyi regarding issues like poverty, hunger, terrorism, migration and displacement also caught attention. It was also claimed by the government that such events would help promote better vision for tourism in the country for the year 2020, thereby helping in generating better revenue, more so after the earthquake of 2015. This is all the more applicable for religious tourism, centered on Buddhism, having its impact through South-East Asia and beyond.


Although the event may have been successful in the dissemination of ideas and interaction, it has also garnered raised eyebrows from not only the Opposition in the country, the Nepali Congress, but also the international community at large. One of the primary questions related to the funding provided by the UPF, popularly known for its ideology of Christianity and corporate corruption. Nepal is chiefly a country dominated by the Hindu population and the ascent of Christianity is not seen positively in the country. The UPF was also previously blamed for forcibly converting the people of Nepal into Christianity, through the branch organisation in the country. Therefore, the involvement of the Communist Party and its popular propaganda along with the idea of secularism in the country has not gone down well with the people. However, it must be mentioned here that such involvement with the group was witnessed earlier too, during the times of Sushil Koirala, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Girija Prasad Koirala, all leaders of the Nepali Congress. On earlier occasions, the mainstream media was also silent about it.  However, this time, the critics have been much more active in voicing their opinions and interrogations. Howsoever, in an explanation, Prime Minister Oli tried to clarify that such a conference was based purely on matters of business and must not involve issues like religion associated with it. Another important issue that came to be highlighted in the summit was through the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi and several questions that have been following like the safe return of the Rohingya Muslims, the repatriation process of whom is stalled at the moment. In this regard, there were expert opinions as to why Nepal never raised any inquiry about the rights of the refugees, who have also entered Nepal via India. Around 400 such people have been estimated to have been living in the Kapan area of Kathmandu and require serious address at the international level. There were several opinions that felt the need for Nepal to pressurise Myanmar government through an international collaboration, thereby helping the victims in regaining back their identity in the world community. Apart from these intrinsic issues, there were a few other obstacles that made the local people of the country suffer. For instance, there were restrictions in the movement of vehicles along with the imposition of the odd-even license plate. However, the questions on religious independence and democracy in the future remain, if such negotiations with purely aggressive religious sentiments are sustained.

Nepal ‘Asia-Pacific’

 As a landlocked country, Nepal has had its own set of ambitions and inhibitions located between two major Asian giants -- China and India. The power play at display here is not only complex but also clubbed with the notion of existence and development, majorly from the perspective of a small developing nation, which requires support and recognition from the major powers around.  Also, the closeness of Nepal with China can never be denied, thereby maintaining a safe distance from India, though not completely wary of the existence of the immediate neighbour and the cordiality present thereof. The ‘Asia Pacific’ remains one of the most sought after strategic realms of the world, underpinned as an area of interest by countries like the United States of America, China, Australia, India, just to name a few among the several other countries present in the realm. Through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Nepal has access to Chinese ports, specifically Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang, as sourced from the Ministry of Commerce, Government of Nepal. Given China’s interest in the Asia Pacific, Nepal would also be able to enjoy the fruits of better connectivity and business opportunities. There is also access to the land ports of Lanzhou, Lhasa and Xigatse in China, which are just a protocol away. Through such arrangements, the Nepali cargo from Japan, South Korea and the other north Asian countries could be easily routed through China, thereby cutting the shipping time and cost as well. Moreover, Nepal would also be able to make its presence felt in the region. Thus, through the Asia-Pacific Summit, Nepal was also able to harness better ties with the countries present here and also make interest of participating in the Asia-Pacific region, despite being a landlocked country, more prominent. It must be understood that Nepal, in order to strengthen its stakes, must participate and organise summits like these, though left with no other choice, in building partnerships and capacity in the region and the global platform on a whole.
The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata

Bhutan: Planning for five years and beyond

Mihir Bhonsale The total outlay for the 12th Five Year Plan (2019-23) of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan would be Nu 310 billion. This was decided by the  cabinet which met on 6 December to finalise the Plan, a last mile of the country’s journey towards graduation from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status. The objective of the Plan is “Just, Harmonious and Sustainable Society through Enhanced Decentralisation”. A Plan size of 310 billion has been provisioned with current expenditure of Nu 194 billion, capital expenditure of Nu 116 billion, internal revenue of 218 billion and grants of 63 billion. The expected shortage for the plan is Nu 29 billion.

Rationalising expenditure

More than half of the total outlay of the plan is assigned towards maintenance costs. The plan is based on projected Mangdecchu Tariff that remains to be negotiated with India. A set of 16 National Key Result Areas have been identified which shall be measured through corresponding Key Performance Indicators. Domestic revenues are set to increase due to the commissioning of three hydropower projects (one of them being Mangdechu) while the expenditure is also set to increase. An important objective of the 12th plan is to rationalise and manage expenditure, a lion share of which would be for recurring costs of maintenance. Out of the total capital expenditure of Nu 116 billion, about Nu 15 billion is assigned for flagship programmes and Nu 50 billion each for central agencies and local agencies respectively. The main thrust of the plan is decentralisation by assigning equal share for local institutions and central agencies. The flagship programmes to be taken under the plan include integrated water security, economic diversification, quality of education, providing affordable healthcare and improving livelihood programmes for people living in the highlands.

Attaining self-sufficiency

An important feature of Bhutan’s planning has been her reliance on the development grant from donor countries and the biggest among them has been India. Other important donor countries include Japan, European Union countries, the Swiss and multilateral institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc. An expected increase in domestic revenue i.e. Nu 218 billion to 128 billion in the 11th Plan is set to reduce the country’s dependence on external partners. The development aid that Bhutan expects from the 12th plan is that it will try and diversify her sources of getting funds like getting funds from multilateral agencies or funds including climate change. The plan also underscores the importance of the country’s private sector and civil society organizations that have a major role as far as diversifying sources is concerned. The 12th Five Year provisions for Nu 63 billion in grants bringing down the percentage of grants as part of the total plan outlay to 19.95 percent from 31.33 percent in the 11th Five Year Plan with Bhutan receiving 68 billion in aid from a total plan outlay of 213 billion.

Road ahead

The 12th Plan clearly sets its eyes on future and factors in post 2023 scenario through building economic resilience and productive capacity. Graduation from the LDC needs strengthening cooperation in the areas of mutually beneficial projects. Regional cooperation in trade, transit and energy is expected to give rise to new technologies and opportunities. Development of the private and non-hydropower sectors is extremely crucial for Bhutan in the near future. Also, Bhutan has not developed its capacity to date to pay off its debt which is already touching Nu 200 billion. While the hydropower sector that is part of the public sector has played a key role in increasing the country’s GDP, it has limited job creation capacity. On the trade front, the narrow range of export is a concern. Instability in agriculture remains to be yet another challenge. Challenges remain a part of any new venture but the important thing for Bhutan is that the die is cast for leading Bhutan into the future as a Middle Income Country.
The writer is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata



No peace deal behind doors, says President

The President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, insists that no peace deal will be concluded behind closed doors and without the will of the Afghan people. Also all decisions about the peace deal will be approved by the parliament and the people. The fate of the women will also not be compromised in the peace deal with the militants. He further added that it was the responsibility of the Afghan government to protect the votes of the people.

Corridor opened

Recently, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani inaugurated the Lapis Lazuli Corridor in the country’s western province of Herat. This Corridor’s history dates back to the time when Afghanistan’s Lapis stones were transported to Egypt and India via this route. Now other Afghan products like grapes, marbles, Kandahar’s pomegranates, Samagan’s almonds and saffron will be sent to Europe via this Corridor. He hailed the presidents of Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey for their help in realising this project.

US efforts for peace deal

In a Twitter post, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, shared updates of his meeting with the Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan as part of his regional trips to revive Afghan peace talks. This was his third trip in this endeavour, the first two being to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has hailed Khalilzad for his efforts and stated that the Afghan government has announced a negotiating team in the Geneva conference.


AL says it will win 160-220 seats

Sajeed Wazed Joy, son of Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina and her ICT Advisor, this week informed that the ruling Awami League will win 168 to 220 seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections on 30th of December. Joy made his observation in his Facebook page citing an opinion poll conducted from August to October by the Research and Development Centre.  Expressing optimism about the country’s outcome in the election Joy claimed that the margin of Awami League's victory would be even greater than the 2008 election.

UNGA backs proposal

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Bangladesh’s resolution on the ‘Culture of Peace’ this week. The resolution was adopted unanimously by the UNGA. Tareq Md Ariful Islam, Chargé d’ Affaires and Deputy Permanent Representative (DPR) of the nation’s Permanent Mission to the UN, presented the proposal.


BBIN pact under review

Foreign Minister Dr Tandin Dorji said that the government has plans to reconsider the Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN) after intensive consultations with all the stakeholders involved. The review decision was announced after a delegation of Bhutanese industries from Southern Bhutan approached the minister with problems owing to Bhutan’s non-ratification of the agreement

Satellite link soon

Bhutan is now targeting to commission the South Asia satellite towards the end of this month. Once commissioned the Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation’s (BBSC) television and radio signals will reach every part of the country. The installation works of earth station which cost around Nu 10 M has been completed and set up of the control room is underway. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is executing the works. The South Asia Satellite or GSAT-9 launched in May last year is a gift from India to its neighbouring countries. It will be used by Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Unsold cardamom

The government has announced that it would buy back the unsold stock of cardamom from farmers across the country. The farmers are anxiously waiting for the cardamom price to improve and its export hassles resolved.


Cong edges out BJP in State Assembly polls

The Congress, which was locked in a tantalising see-saw battle with the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, has emerged as the single-largest party with 114 seats after the vote count ended on 12 December morning, according to the State Election Commission Office. The party is, however, two short of the simple majority mark, 116 seats, in the 230-member Assembly. The BJP was close behind with 109 seats. The party has since formed the Government in all three central Indian States. In Mizoram, however, the MNF swept the Congress out of power, winning 26 seats in the 40-member Assembly. The grand old party, which dominated the 2013 elections, was reduced to single digits, winning only five seats. In southern State of Telangana, the ruling Telangana Rasthra Samithi (TRS) scored a massive victory for a second successive term.

New boss for RBI

Citing personal reasons, Urjit Patel has resigned as the Reserve Bank of India governor. His resignation comes against the backdrop of increasing tensions between the Finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India. Urjit Patel, 55, who took over as the 24th Governor of the central bank on 5 September 2016, had the shortest tenure since the year 1992. The Government has since named former Revenue Secretary, Shaktikanda Das, a veteran of Indian Administrative Service (Tamil Nadu cadre) in the place of Urjit Patel.


President on his first overseas visit

President Ibrahmin Mohamed ‘Ibu’ Solih will be undertaking his first overseas travel after entering office, a three-day ‘State visit’ to India, beginning Sunday, 16 December. While in the Indian capital of New Delhi, the President and his team, which includes Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, other ministerial colleagues and officials, will meet with President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, and also an agreement on ‘visa leniency’ for Maldivians visiting India for medical treatment, etc. President Solih and the First Lady will also visit the Taj Mahal on Tuesday before returning home.

Yameen a/c frozen

The police have frozen the bank account of former President Abdulla Yameen, with a reported balance of $ 6.5-m, and summoned him to the police headquarters for questioning. The local media reported that the police action followed banking authorities and officials of State-owned corporations reporting illegal transaction under the Yameen regime. Post-interrogation, Yameen and his lawyer, former Attorney-General, Aseema Sukhoor, said there was no wrong-doing and that the police did not charge him with any specific offence. They also reportedly told the police that some of the transactions, including a $ 1-m deposit in foreign currency and withdrawal of the same ten days before the 23 September presidential polls related to campaign funds, but the local media reported that all election funds and spending had to be only through a new, separate bank account in the candidate’s name, opened exclusively for the purpose.

Majlis polls on 6 April

Shifting the parliamentary polls from March, when otherwise expected, to 6 April, the Election Commission has fixed 28 January as the tentative date for opening nominations. Learning from controversies and complaints flowing from this year’s presidential polls, the EC has also announced that from now on re-registration of voters will be allowed if and only if they intend casting their vote from a new polling station. In the past, given the time and distances to travel, elections in Maldives provided for voters to choose their polling station at will, and almost a couple of weeks ahead of the polling date.


Indian President’s visit

President of India Ram Nath Kovind and First Lady Savita Kovind paid a State Visit to Myanmar from 10-14 December, resulting in a wide range of issues being discussed and a number of MoUs being signed in the areas of judicial and educational cooperation. The Indian side also handed over the first 50 units of pre-fabricated houses built in Rakhine State funded by the Government of India. Furthermore, both sides agreed to sign at the earliest the MoU for Cooperation on Combating Timber Trafficking and Conservation of Tigers and Other Wildlife as well as the MoU on Bilateral Cooperation for Prevention of Trafficking in Persons; Rescue, Recovery, Repatriation and Re-integration of Victims of Trafficking.

Thai loan approved

Myanmar's Union Parliament has approved borrowing a loan from the Neighboring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (NEDA) of Thailand for the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) East-West Economic Corridor towns’ development project, parliament. The 24.3-million-US-dollars loan is to be used for upgrading water distribution system and waste disposal system as well as for capacity building of government employees in Myawaddy of Kayin state. The loan will also help in the development in tourism and industrial development sectors supporting Myanmar's entire economy.


Talks on with China

Reflecting the ever strengthening Sino-Nepal relations, Foreign Secretary of Nepal, Shanker Das Bairagi called on State Councillor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Yi, at Beijing. The meeting was of extreme significance as it discussed investment opportunities and identification of the areas of mutual concern. The fruitful discussions went on lines of bettering ties between the two countries.

CJ name finalised

Justice Cholendra Shumsher has been suggested as the new Chief Justice of the country. After delaying for a long times, the final decision was taken with Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli as the Chair along with the Leader of the Opposition, former PM, Deuba and the speaker and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives and chairman of the National Assembly, forming the committee.

Road to power

The Rasuwagadi Hydropower Project at Timure, in the Gosaikunda Rural Municipality – 2 has completed the establishment of an 11 km road to the nearby Thuman village. Through this, the people belonging to the locality would also get access to the project. The construction of the project began in 2013 and is almost on the verge of completion. There are also Chinese contractors associated.


Deficit caused devaluation

During a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue, the Governor of State Bank of Pakistan explained that the primary reason behind the recent devaluation was the last fiscal year’s $19 billion current account deficit. The need for such a yawning gap to be met explains the recent depreciation of rupee against dollar. This exchange rate which has now reached ‘near to equilibrium’ has been guided by and is reflective of the present market conditions.

Protecting economy

A senior official from the US Treasury Department stated that the essential purpose of US’s economic engagement with Pakistan is to ensure that Pakistan’s economy does not fail in future. Pakistan is currently seeking a loan of $8 billion from the International Monetary Fund’s to bail itself out of a severe balance-of-payments crisis that may cripple its economy. The Trump Administration wants to make sure that Pakistan does not use this loan to repay its debt to China.

Concern over INGOs’ closure

In a recent joint statement, a delegation of the European Union (EU), heads of the mission of the EU member-states and heads of mission of Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Japan and Australia expressed their concern over the implementation of the International Non-Governmental Organizations’ (INGOs) registration policy in Pakistan. The INGOs have been shut down without clear justification and this will to impact Pakistani society. Therefore they have urged the Pakistani government to take action in this regard.

Sri Lanka

Rajapaksa bows out, Ranil is back

In a surprise development, though not as shocking as its origins, SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa formally resigned’ as ‘prime minister’, paving the way for predecessor UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to return to office. President Maithripala Sirisena, who had held out against Wickremesinghe’s return, swore him into office, after which the latter pledged to ensure the return of normalcy. The situation eased after the Supreme Court posted Rajapaksa’s appeal against the Court of Appeal’s interim order, restraining him from discharging the functions of PM, until after mid-January, when the case was posted for hearing after the winter vacation.

Twin verdicts

The fast-tracked exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa and return of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe became possible following twin-verdicts by the nation’s Supreme Court. In the first and more important one, a seven-Judge Bench, headed by Chief Justice Nalin Perera, unanimously struck down on ‘unconstitutional’, President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament and order fresh elections on 5 January 2019. The court held that post-19th Amendment, the President could do so unilaterally only six months ahead of the dissolution of Parliament, or based on a two-thirds resolution by the House. In the other case, heard by a three-Judge Bench, the SC declined to strike down the interim stay granted by the Court of Appeal, for Mahinda Rajapaksa to continue to function as Prime Minister, and posting the case for further hearing to mid-January, after the winter vacation, which commenced on Saturday.



Opinion Pieces

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “The Difficulty of Fighting Corruption in Corrupt Structure”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 12 December 2018

Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada, “Cancellation of Election Results of Entire Kabul Province is yet another Blow to People’s Trust on Electoral Process”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10 December 2018 Fahim Abed, “Afghanistan Suspends Five Soccer Officials in Sex Abuse Scandal”, The New York Times, 9 December 2018


Afghanistan Times, “Expediting peace efforts”, 12 December 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Human Rights Must be Valued”, 12 December 2018 Afghanistan Times, “Undone sins”, 11 December 2018


Opinion Pieces

Mohammed Mamun Rashid, “Why we need a policy framework for displaced people”, The Daily Star, 14 December 2018 A N M Muniruzzaman, “Belt and Road Initiative: The hurdles along the way”, The Daily Star, 13 December 2018 Ali Riaz, “Routine gesture or is there more to it?”, The Daily Star, 12 December 2018 Mohammad Tarikul Islam, “Cooperation or interference: MP's role in local government”, The Daily Star, 11 December 2018



Kuensel, “CoS resuscitates”, 11 December 2018 Kuensel, “Development activities must speed up”, 10 December 2018


Opinion Pieces

Devesh Kapoor, “India’s state public sector undertakings: More agony than ecstasy”, The Print, 13 December 2018 Ashutosh Varshney, “Taming hubris”, The Indian Express, 14 December 2018


The Hindustan Times, The BJP must draw the right lessons for 2019, 12 December 2018


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: Political stability, too, key to India relations”,, 10 December 2018


Opinion Pieces

Lawi Weng, “Peace Commission’s Acceptance of Three EAOs Deserves Praise”, The Irrawaddy, 13 December 2018 Kyaw Zwa Moe, “A Human Rights Day When Myanmar’s Junta Lived Up to its Reputation”, The Irrawaddy, 10 December 2018 Joe Kumbun, “Myanmar Rubbing Salt into its Own Wounds”, The Irrawaddy, 10 December 2018


Opinion Pieces

Manjeet Mishra, “Power to people”, Republica, 13 December 2018 Hari Prasad Shrestha, “Looking inward”, The Kathmandu Post, 13 December 2018 Dinesh Pant, “Laws are not enough”, The Kathmandu Post, 11 December 2018


The Himalayan Times, “Unclear plan”, 13 December 2018 The Kathmandu Post, “Fault lines in federalism”, 11 December 2018


Opinion Pieces

Sartaj Aziz, “Code of conduct”, Dawn, 14 December 2018 Nilofar Ahmed, “Triple talaq”, Dawn, 14 December 2018 Imran Jan, “Are peace overtures worth the effort?”, The Express Tribune, 13 December 2018


Dawn, “Curbs on media”, 14 December 2018 The Express Tribune, “Freedom listing”, 14 December 2018 The Express Tribune, “Loadshedding of gas”, 13 December 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Kumar David, “Constitution-less, government-less anarchy”, The Island, 16 December 2018 Jayadeva Uyangoda, “Judiciary’s message: Constitution and Democracy first”, The Island, 16 December 2018 Rajan Philips, “A Karmic ruling”, The Island, 16 December 2018 M S M Ayub, “Need an election, not by hook or by crook”, Daily Mirror Online, 14 December 2018 Ameen Izaaden, “The President must bow to unanimous Supreme Court verdict”, Daily Mirror Online, 14 December 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sri Lanka: SC verdict puts ball back in President’s court”,, 14 December 2018 Jehan Perera, “Four parameters of a political solution at this time”, The Island, 11 December 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Pushing MS to the wall again”, Ceylon Today, 11 December 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Where from here the constitutional freeze?”, Colombo Gazette, 11 December 2018 Dr Nirmala Chandrahasan, “The present political imbroglio...some random thoughts”, Daily Mirror Online, 10 December 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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