MonitorsPublished on Jan 14, 2019
Our weekly roundups from South Asia.
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 1



Kartarpur Corridor: Much to worry about amidst the hype

Ketan Mehta

The decision to develop the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in India to Pakistan’s Kartarpur Sahib is a welcome. However, the caution expressed by the Punjab CM is a reminder that Pakistan’s enthusiasm to develop the corridor is sourced in its interest to reinvigorate the Khalistan separatist movement in Punjab.

Kartarpur Corridor, Kartarpur Sahib, Ketan Mehra, South Asia

As the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, first guru of the Sikhs, approached, India’s union cabinet on November 22 decided to develop their territory till the international border with Pakistan to facilitate the travel of Sikh pilgrims to Kartarpur — a place where Guru Nanak Dev died, and is now in Pakistan. The Indian government further announced the release of a commemorative coin and a postage stamp on the occasion. The Punjab government on the Indian side also declared that year-round celebrations would be held.

Just a day after the cabinet’s decision to build a corridor on the Indian side was finalised, Pakistan followed and under the leadership of the newly elected Prime Minister, Imran Khan, announced that it would undertake the construction of corridor on its side of the border. These developments were hailed not only by the Sikh community but also internationally by countries such as the United States who welcomed the move by India and Pakistan that have long shared an adversarial relationship.


Earlier, Navjot Singh Sidhu, a former Indian cricketer and who is now a cabinet minister in the Punjab government, visited Pakistan after being invited by Imran Khan, also a former cricketer, to his oath-taking ceremony in August. Sidhu was also seen briefly meeting Pakistan army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. His meeting drew criticism back home in India and Sidhu was lamented even by his Punjab chief minister, Captain Amrinder Singh, who has asked Pakistan army to cease anti-India operations.

But more importantly, Sidhu told reporters in India that Gen Bajwa had assured him that Pakistan would open the Kartarpur corridor on its side for the Sikh pilgrims. It has been a long-standing demand of the Sikh community that the Kartarpur corridor be opened for religious visits. Kartarpur issue has been an emotional one for Sikhs who had to undergo the trauma of partition in the first place that led to the division of their holy shrines and temples between India and Pakistan. The aforementioned developments related to Kartarpur corridor have therefore been welcomed by the Sikhs.

However, it would be short-sightedness on our part to be carried away by the hype associated with the news of Kartarpur corridor development. There is both empirical and anecdotal evidence that Pakistan has historically backed secessionist groups, including pro Khalistan groups which advocate for an independent Punjab and would continue to do in line with its larger objectives. In a recent article, chief minister Amrinder Singh explains that Pakistan’s decision to expedite the development of the Kartarpur corridor on its side of the border is aimed at creating a universal euphoria among the Sikhs to motivate the youth against the Indian state.

Secessionist moves

Supporters of ‘independent Khalistan’ have long relied on logistical support from Pakistan to back their agenda. Punjab saw its worst phase of violence incited by secessionist groups such as the ‘Khalistan Liberation Front’ (KLF) in the 1980’s. The violence peaked in the late 1980’s. Groups like the KLF were motivated, armed, and received some funding from Pakistan- which sought to benefit from the discontent among the Sikhs who had territorial, economic and other demands from the Indian state. It is estimated that over 30,000 people died in ensuing violence between the Sikh militants and the security forces including the Punjab police.

Wrecked by violence, Punjab suffered heavily. The state’s performance in almost all spheres from economy to sports deteriorated. Structural impediments such as its land-locked geography, a high percentage of landlessness among the rural population apart from non-existent cross border trade with Pakistan further hinder Punjab’s economic revival. Unlike neighbouring Haryana, which has been able to attract significant investments and registered an impressive economic growth, Punjab ranks lowly in the ease of doing business index, and its economy is struggling to diversify.

To further complicate matters, there have been attempts to revive the secessionist movement in the state. In August 2018, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)- a New York based group called for ‘referendum 2020’ rally in London’s Trafalgar square. Chief Minister Amrinder Singh has alleged that Pakistan’s ISI has helped Gurpatwant Singh Pannun- a New York based lawyer, in publicising the referendum 2020 agenda. Since 2017, Punjab police has apprehended more than 20 ISI modules and 95 operatives and, is coping withx the flow of narcotics from Pakistan which has caused considerable damage to Punjab’s socio-economic life.

Real intention

In times like these, Pakistan’s decision to develop the Kartarpur corridor masks its real intent which is to provide ideological motivation to the Sikh militancy — which is already showing signs of revival. Considerable evidence points to insurgent groups in Kashmir continuing to receive arms and funding from the Pakistani state as it defies significant international pressure. Pakistan continues to provide safe heaven to leaders of terror outfits such as Hafeez Sayeed, who Indian authorities indict in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and heads of regional criminal syndicates such as Dawood Ebrahim.

In line with its strategy for Punjab, reports suggest that Pakistan revived the KLF in Malaysia in 2009 and is harboring various pro-Khalistan activists inside its territory. It seems that Pakistan’s interest in reviving the Sikh militancy is part of its larger aim in keeping India engaged with internal disturbances and motivating the Sikh youth against the Indian state. Historically, Pakistan provided support to north-east insurgent groups and, according to security agencies made dedicated efforts to radicalise a section of Mulism youth in India to serve its purpose.

Furthermore, in the event of an attack on a Nirankari Bhawan in Amritsar on November 18, Punjab police arrested the two accused and recovered hand grenades that had markings of the Pakistan Ordinance Factories (POF) which signifies the reliance of terror groups on the support from the Pakistani state to carry out their agenda. There have also been claims that Pakistan’s Interservice Intelligence (ISI) is making efforts to link the Khalistani and Kashmiri separatist organisations.

Therefore, to take Genl Bajwa and PM Imran Khan on their word would only constitute short sightedness on India’s part. Evidence and opinion from the experts too suggest that Pakistan intentions are a lot more than what meets the eye. Nevertheless, as it is believed that Pakistan army has a considerable say in foreign policy issues, especially pertaining to those with India, Gen Bajwa’s interest in the Kartarpur corridor could certainly expediate the completion of the corridor. However, it remains to be seen whether Bajwa’s gesture was an honest move that was guided by humane intentions or by other strategic objectives aimed at reviving Sikh militancy.

The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi.

Bangladesh: China-India chorus in parliamentary polls

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, Awami League, Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, South Asia Photo: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

On 30 December 2018, the 11th parliamentary election was held in Bangladesh. In the election, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League and its allies won 288 seats out of the total 300-seat parliament and its arch opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) managed to win only seven seats. The election has been significant for more than one reason. The first and foremost, the victory of Awami League has resulted in Prime Minister Sheik Hasina forming government for the third consecutive time, rare in the history of the country.

Two, with the elections, Parliament has become literally one-sided because the opposition hardly could win substantial numbers of seat to form a credible counter to the ruling the party. One significant aspect of the election, however, has been that India and China, two major Asian powers considered competitors in the South Asian region for the position of influence, supporting to the ruling political dispensation in Bangladesh.

Coordinated response

China and India are one of the first nations to promise support to Prime Minister Hasina after her impressive victory. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping were among the first to congratulate Sheikh Hasina after her electoral victory. Such a coordinated response by India and China is not always visible in the neighbourhood context. Contrarily, politics in South Asian countries are often defined by the either-or support of these two countries. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina needs to be credited for balancing the two competing Asian giants and bringing them on the same page for now. The scepticism, however, looming large will she be able to manage to balance the two in the future.

China and India are important for Bangladesh. India is Bangladesh’s next door neighbour with which it shares two-thirds of its boundary. China is a major developmental partner and a key supplier of its military hardware. There have been substantial sections in Bangladesh who perceive China to be a counterbalance to India, its mighty neighbour having socio-cultural and linguistic commonalities. General Ziaur Rahman, the military dictator and founder of the BNP, could be described as a major promoter of the relationship. China and Bangladesh diplomatic relations were established in 1976 but it attained momentum only after the visit of General Ziaur Rahman in 1980.

The BNP was famous for its enthusiasm for Bangladesh’s relationship with China. The party, however, maintained reservations towards Bangladesh’s ties with India. Again, the Awami League often criticised by its opposition to be favouring India have been supportive of the country’s relationship with China.

Balanced relationship

Prime Minister Hasina in the present tenure (2009-onwards) has been able to maintain a balanced relationship with both China and India. Bangladesh declared to be a strategic partner of China and have joined the belt road initiative. China promised to Bangladesh to invest $24 billion for development of various infrastructures. Its worthy to note that Bangladesh, however, has been careful of safeguarding its interest and not just complying to Chinese pressure. It had scrapped a proposal for construction of a port by China since the terms were not best suited to its interest.

Again, Sheikh Hasina recognises the importance of maintaining a friendly relationship with India. In the present, Prime Minister Hasina has been attentive to India’s concerns and have cooperated on security issues. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina acted on the insurgent groups who were active in her soil. India reciprocated by providing $8 billion lines of credit to Bangladesh for the various developmental project, highest by India promised to any country.

Apparently, the principle of equi-distance practiced by the Awami League government paid a dividend to the Awami League government. The two countries nations will boost the morale of the government because Prime Minister Hasina sought vote for development. Cooperation between the Asian will be helpful for Bangladesh contribute to the growth of the country as it plans become a developed country by 2041.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should work to creating an environment which will be win-win for all. It needs to be mentioned that Bangladesh as a bridge between India and China. Bangladesh stands at the centre of the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar) which is aimed at connecting Kunming with Kolkata, that to reach India. Such initiatives will be successful only when the interest of all is taken into account. Friendship and warmth only will help to achieve this and managing Bangladesh’s relationship with China and India will be a test for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Can Bangladesh show a path?

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

Country Reports


Partial poll results

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan recently announced the initial parliamentary poll results in respect of the Baghlan province, Sikhs and the Hindu community. According to a statement released by the IEC , eight individuals have secured seats in the Lower House of the Parliament or the Wolesi Jirga. Narendra Singh Khalsa has secured a seat on behalf of the Sikhs and Hindus community. IEC has so far been unable to fully announce the results of the polls.

Meeting of defence officials

The Afghan Acting Minister of Defence in Afghanistan, Asadullah Khalid and the National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib discussed the capabilities of the Afghan armed forces and the possibility of a ceasefire with the Taliban. The two officials have also agreed that the armed forces would continue their operations to suppress the anti government armed militants with coherence and coordination to respond to the demands of the nation. The armed forces have proven their place in securing national values.


PM wins third term

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led Awami League ruling party won for the third consecutive term in the 11th Parliamentary election held on 30th of December. Awami League and its allies have won 288 seats out of 300 seats and its arch-rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) managed to win only 7 seats. Following BNP’s debacle in the election, the party has rejected the outcome of the election and alleged the polls to be rigged. The party have urged for a fresh election. There were allegation violence during the poll and caused the death of around 17 people. The election commission has been investigating the complaints of vote rigging. Meanwhile, the newly elected Members of Parliament have taken their oath of 3rdof January.

Boost for solar power

In a major step to promote green energy generation in the country, the government approved proposals for the establishment of up five solar-based power plants. The plants are expected to l generate 227 MW of electricity.


Rs 4,500 cr India aid

Bhutan held wide-ranging talks in a "warm" and "friendly" atmosphere, reflecting the spirit of trust, co-operation and understanding on priority areas between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bhutanese counterpart Dr Lotay Tshering, who was on his first foreign visit after assuming office, from 27-29 December. Prime Minister Modi on 28 December announced Rs 4,500 crores in financial assistance for Bhutan’s 12th five-year plan in continuation to the policy of India that has provided assistance to Bhutan in every Five Year Plan.

More funds for power project

After talks with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said that the Indian counterparts tried their best to send the Bhutanese delegation back with the expectations fulfilled on the proposed tariff for Mangdechhu hydropower project. India has agreed to provide additional Nu 1 billion outside the tariff cycle with extension in loan period. India agreed to a Nu 4.12 per unit rate which is higher than the Indian officials’ final offer from their side which was Nu 3.80 per unit but lower than Bhutan’s final expectation of Nu 4.27 per unit.

Parliament convenes

King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck graced the opening ceremony of the first session of the third Parliament held on January 2. National Assembly Speaker, Wangchuck Namgyel said that the people of Bhutan entrusted Druk Nyamdrup Tshogpa (DNT) with the huge responsibility to form the government during the third Parliament elections. The first session of the third Parliament will conclude on January 24. Finance Minister, Namgay Tshering presented the budget appropriation bill for year 2018-19.


Trump’s claim rejected

Government officials said India has been implementing a range of mega infrastructure projects as well as carrying out community development programmes in Afghanistan as per requirement of its people. “They said such assistance would go a long way in making the country economically empowered and stable.” Trump had taken a jibe at Modi for funding a "library" in Afghanistan, saying it is of no use in the war-torn country. "Maybe Trump should know that while he is decrying every other help in Afghanistan, India has been building not only libraries, but roads, dams, schools and even parliament building," Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary, tweeted.

Congress for Rafale probe

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday said if his party comes to power in 2019, a criminal investigation will be launched into the Rafale deal and the accused will be punished. Addressing the media outside Parliament ahead of the government's reply, Rahul urged Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to answer the questions raised by the Congress on the multi-million dollar fighter jet deal

IS module busted in UP

On December 26, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested 10 persons, including group leader Mufti Mohammad Suhail, after the counter-terror probe agency carried out searches at 17 places — six in east Delhi's Jafarabad area, six in Amroha, two each in Lucknow and Hapur and one in Meerut. The agency also seized a country-made rocket launcher, 12 pistols, 112 alarm clocks, 100 mobile phones, 135 SIM cards, several laptops and various electronic gadgets, besides 150 rounds of ammunition.


Kept, ‘un-met’ promises

At the end of 30 days in office, the administration of President Mohammed Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih has claimed an 84 percent success rate against the 67 promises made to the electorate ahead of the 23 September presidential polls. Work was on progress on other poll promises, the Government claimed even as the local media pointed to the non-compliance to publish the personal finances of all political appointees and their spouses, within the first 100 days of the new Government. The other un-met promises include new law, or the tightening of existing laws to try the corrupt. Parliament could not vote on the Bill before the year-end recess as some ruling combine MPs stayed away from the House, not all of them with convincing reasons.


Year of human-trafficking

A total of 206 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2018, and most of them involved victims entering into forced marriages with Chinese men. Between January and December, 2018, the anti-trafficking police force registered 598 offenders in 206 cases involving 317 victims. Of the 317 victims, 25 were children, according to data from the police force. Of the total cases, 152 involved forced marriages with Chinese men, one case involved forced prostitution, one case involved illegal adoption, four cases involved illegal surrogacy, and six cases involved job exploitation.

ICT development with China

China's Huawei telecommunications company and Myanmar's Rectors' committee have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for ICT talent development under the management of the Education Ministry. The agreement covers cooperation on establishing ICT diploma course system, sponsoring "Seeds for the Future" program, establishing the Huawei Authorized Information and Network Academy, providing ICT Talent Scholarship to outstanding university students, organising the Youth Open Day at Huawei Customer Solution Innovation and Integration Centre as well as assisting in ICT related scientific research in Myanmar.


Ban on Indian currency

The Government of Nepal has recently declared a ban on Indian currency in the country. However, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has denied any correspondence with the neighbouring government to any such development. This decision has also come up with criticisms from the tourism sector, one of the primary industries of Nepal, dealing with plastic currency from Indian tourists. This problem dates back to 2016, when India announced its demonetisation policy, which adversely affected Nepal as well.

Airline scam

The wide-body aircraft purchase deal of the Nepal Airlines Corporation with corruption of 4.34 billion in aircraft procurement has been the much talked about news in Nepal. In order to investigate, the government has established a high-level probe committee, under former Cief Justice, Govinda Prasad Parajauli. It is also backed by the government’s objection to the report prepared by the parliamentary sub-committee to look into the issue.


PM talks to Turkey

The Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan recently met with a delegation of the Turkey-Pakistan Business Council of the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey. He said that though the socialist regime had stepped down the mindset still remained in a few sectors of bureaucracy. However the PTI-led government supports investments and is taking measures to increase money making opportunities. It is expected that the Prime Minister’s visit to Turkey will bring necessary relief to ease Pakistan’s economic crunch.

No deliberation

The Sindh government had approached the Supreme Court with a claim that the subject of health had devolved to the provinces under 18th Amendment and that the responsibility of three hospitals should rest with it. In that regard, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, recently stated that though the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was laudable, the parliament despite being the supreme authority to make and amend laws had not deliberated its provisions before passing it as was necessary.

Sri Lanka

Speaker criticised

President Maithriipala Sirisena-led SLFP-UPFA has criticised Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya for demanding the abolition of Executive Presidency. Jayasuriya was elected to Parliament on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP ticket. An UPFA spokesman said that as the ‘custodian of Parliament, Speaker Jayasuriya should not have commented on issues that would have come up for discussion in the House in various forms. Local media reports, pointing out that Jayasuriya was the author of the Constitutional Council for selection to ‘high-posts’ in the Government, indicated that this may be his way of staking his claims to UNP’s presidential nomination.



Opinion Pieces

Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada, “Economic Development & Security Should Top Afghan Government Agenda for the Year 2019”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 3 January 2019

Robert D. Kaplan, “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan”, The New York Times, 1 January 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Lack of Offensive War Strategy as the Main Cause of Taliban Advance”, 3 January 2019

Afghanistan Times, “Refusal after refusal”, 2 January 2019


Opinion Pieces

Tamim Choudhury, “The Bell Tolls on Bangladesh's Democracy”, The Diplomat, 31 December 2018

Harish Damodaran, “Simply Put: Lessons from Bangladesh elections”, The Indian Express, 3 January 2019

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, “India-Bangladesh Ties Will Strengthen With Sheikh Hasina’s Return”, The Quint, 2 January 2019


Opinion Pieces

Mihir Bhonsale, “Bhutan PM’s Visit: Special Ties to be nurtured”,, 27 December 2018


Kuensel, “Ruminating change”, 29 December 2018

The Bhutanese, “Overseas employment case”, 29 December 2018


Opinion Pieces

Neerja Chowdhury, “Narendra Modi has his task cut out for 2019 – and he is pulling out all stops. Will it work?”, Scroll,3January 2018.

Lt. Gen H S Panag, “Operation Parakram: The war that wasn’t but could have reined in Pakistan”, The Print, 3 January2018


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Zwa Moe, “My Only Wish for 2019 Is…”, The Irrawaddy, 4 January 2019

Mon Mon Myat, “Nationalism Undermines Myanmar’s Transition to Democracy”, The Irrawaddy, 27 December 2018

Lawi Weng, “Tatmadaw Ceasefire Poses Risks For Armed Group Alliance”, The Irrawaddy, 26 December 2018


Opinion Pieces

Som P. Pudasaini, “Drifts on foreign policy”, Republica, 3 January 2019

BhanuBhaktaAcharya, “A tightened muzzle”, The Kathmandu Post, 4 january 2019

P Kharel, “Saving SAARC”, Republica, 31 December 2018


The Kathmandu Post, “Nipped in the bid”, 2 January 2019

The Himalayan Times, “FDI shortfall”, 27 December 2018


Opinion Pieces

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, “Beyond the PAC stalemate”, Dawn, 4 January 2019

Syed Mohammad Ali, “Environmental enteropathy and stunting children”, The Express Tribune, 4 January 2019


Dawn, “Rising circular debt”, 4 January 2019

The Express Tribune, “Controversy on dam bidding”, 3 January 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “Leaving Sirisena alone and finding a way to end Executive Presidency”, The Island, 6 January 2018

Neville Ladduwahetty, “Need to revisit 19th Amendment”, The Island, 4 January 2019

Kusal Perera, “What is NEW this New Year?”, Daily Mirror Online, 4 January 2019

Malinda Seneviratne, “Justice delayed is justice affirmed?”, Daily Mirror Online, 3 January 2019

Austin Fernando, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in India, “Building Sri Lanka-India relationships through Kumbh Mela”, The Island, 3 January 2019

Steeve Creech, “Boat owners set to destroy country’s marine resources in the North?”, Daily Mirror Online, 1 January 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Tamil polity, Tamil people”, Ceylon Today, 31 December 2018

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Can Ranil fix the ‘Rajapaksas’ still?”, Colombo Gazette, 29 December 2018


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ketan Mehta

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.