MonitorsPublished on Apr 10, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 14


Pakistan: Feminism under attack in Imran’s  ‘Naya’ Pakistan?

Sohini Bose After Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement about the negative role feminism played in Pakistan, speculations were rife about the future of women in his promised ‘Naya’ Pakistan under the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. His past tenure as the head of the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had also not been exemplary as regards women’s rights. The province was the only one which could not pass the domestic violence bill in the five years of PTI government. In his defence, Khan had stated that the bill had been referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology to avoid controversy. But the popular perception was that Khan had deemed religious support to be much more important than women’s rights. As Pakistan, under the new leadership, aspires for progress and development, there is thus a need to introspect on how holistic this development is. For years, women in the country have borne the brunt of poverty, illiteracy and disrespect brought upon them by a repressive system and a social order. In recent years, instead of modernity induced liberalisation, they have become the victims of a renewed religious fundamentalism and social regression. Pakistan remains to be one of the most dangerous countries for women with frequent honour killings and complaints of domestic violence. The lives of women continue to be determined by their male family members even though very often they are the bread winners of the family.

Dire situation in rural areas

In rural Pakistan, this feudal outlook continues to predominate in many provinces. In Punjab women are still considered as symbols of male honour and they are often abducted or enslaved in feuds to disgrace rivals. They are also deprived of any rights to landed property and those who do inherit such estates have often been murdered or declared insane. As land is often given in dowry, such practices have aggravated polygamy and forces remarriage of widows. The feudal attitude also prevents the girl child from receiving education and even if they do there is a serious lacuna of job opportunities for women in the rural areas. Hence, educated girls from the villages of Pakistan are increasingly migrating to the cities. The situation is made worse with the prevalence of regressive practices like ‘kari kara’, ‘haq bakhsha’ and ‘khoon beha’ in which girls are married to holy books or given as compensation to rival families on blood feuds. In essence women are not treated as humans but rather commodities to be used by men at their pleasure. It is thus natural that women especially those who are crippled by mental or physical ailments face abandonment. Medical facilities are in fact a far cry in some rural areas. Therefore the handicap is not only in traditions but also in the lack of development and unavailability of facilities. Moreover there is also a dearth of women staff in the facilities that are available. On the basis of a practice known as ‘walvar’ men pay a price before marrying a woman and after that she becomes his property. A change is, however, now being witnessed with a number of men leaving for work in the Gulf countries, the responsibility of tilling the land and looking after the livestock is on the women. Moreover, the inflow of funds from the Gulf countries in the hands of women have vested them with some power. However the society still remains patriarchal and chid marriages are common in the rural areas, procreation is regarded as their primary task and barren woman are considered to have 'evil eyes'. The situation is, however, not so grave in the urban sectors. Upper-middle class women are engaged in a plethora of sectors but even then the ranges of opportunities available to them are limited, due to existing social prejudices and lack of available facilities. Also women employees are mostly concentrated in the teaching and the nursing sectors and a very marginal section work in administrative posts. Women from the lower income groups are, however, forming the bulk of the country’s domestic labour force but even in this sector they do not enjoy any legal benefits or standardised wages and are mostly unaware of their rights. They are paid by what is called the ‘going rate’ of the market as there is a surplus of labour. But in many situations oppression is more in the rural areas rather than in the urban sectors and the women labourers often find respite in the shelter of their employers rather than in their homes.

Role of government

However, gradually female empowerment is coming about in Pakistan through legal reforms. The NGOs and charitable organizations are also trying to empower women but the problem lies in lack of awareness about these facilities especially as the literacy rate of women in Pakistan is thirty six per cent. The PTI has also not been entirely unsuccessful in propagating women’s rights. As the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa it allowed local women to receive royalties from foresting. It also sent teachers in remote areas to promote girls education and allotted large funds for it. However questionable statements by the Prime Minister are likely to have a far reaching impact in the country and may further deteriorate the status of women in the country. Furthermore although the PTI manifesto acknowledges that Pakistan suffers intensely from gender disparity only a single page is devoted to gender equality. PTI followers also have a reputation for attacking women. The future of the country at the hands of the present government thus appears bleak and initiatives are now being taken by the women themselves. In this regard it is to be noted that recently thousands of women in cities across Pakistan participated in the “aurat march”. Their demand is economic justice, equality at work and freedom from sexual harassment. The posters used were bold meant to portray Pakistani women as strong and opinionated. They were about women taking charge of their own destiny.

Sri Lanka: More elephants in the room than the nation can handle?

N Sathiya Moorthy Coming in the aftermath of Sri Lanka increasing its economic dependence on China even more, reports of the US Navy setting up a ‘logistical hub’ in the country and their Australian counterpart sending in four vessels and a thousand personnel for a multi-nation mid-sea exercise, have raised questions if Colombo was biting more than it could chew in the regional geo-strategic space. For now, at the very least, the nation needs those like China and Russia with their veto-vote in the UN Security Council on ‘war crimes probe’ and the like, if Geneva takes them there two or more years from now. The fact remains, Colombo is skating on thin ice, on all fronts with possibly no friends left in the end – or, more friends than it can handle and cope with all at once! At one-level, Sri Lanka, or the incumbent leadership of UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (too), seems to have concluded that it needs  China for developmental funding and the West and the rest for geo-strategic ties of whatever kind. In effect, it seems to be a take-off from predecessor Rajapaksa regime’s avowed declaration that it would be “China for funding and India for geo-strategic security.” Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s dispensation was also known to have held on to the view that Sri Lanka, along with Indian Ocean neighbour Maldives, would not want ‘extra-regional powers’ (read: the US, China, etc, etc) meddling in their shared waters with India, and that the latter alone was capable of protecting their common security interests through mutual consultations among the three and possible exclusion of all the rest. The forgotten 2005 poll manifesto of Candidate Rajapaksa, titled ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’, also spoke of making Sri Lanka into ‘five major hubs’, including those for maritime, navy and air transportation – which is what the Wickremesinghe Government also seems to be following upon with equal or greater gusto. The idea was to create jobs, incomes and revenues around these ‘hubs’, positing them mostly on the nation’s location-advantage in the Indian Ocean and without being adversarial to any one nation or power. That there was a national consensus of sorts in the matter became clearer when post-Rajapaksa regime, political rival in PM Wickremesinghe too started flagging those ‘hubs’ as a passport to national prosperity. Apart from the fact that the Rajapaksa regime had fast-tracked work on two of the hubs, through the Hambantota Port and Matara International Airport projects, the Wickremesinghe Government also seemed to have had clear ideas about going about the same in their own diverse ways. Even while blaming the Rajapaksas for pushing the nation into a debt-trap on the Hambantota sea-front, the Wickremesinghe went onto readily work out a ‘debt-to-equity’ swap deal with China without earnestly trying to pay back the debts – or, even seemingly making any pretentious moves in the matter. On Matara, which is possibly the only ‘international airport’ of the kind anywhere in the world not to have seen any commercial aircraft since its construction close to a decade ago, Sri Lanka is now working on alternative usages, possibly involving Indian investors, mainly government-owned, to avoid controversies. Rajapaksa’s ‘hubs’ concept also included an attempt to make Sri Lanka a ‘global financial centre’ in the vicinity, possibly after Singapore and Dubai. On this score too, the Wickremesinghe regime is now satisfied with moderating Chinese presence despite huge pre-poll public commitments (2015) to pack them off from the ‘Colombo Port City’ project.

Understanding India

For long, even before the Rajapaksas and Ranil Wickremesinghes appeared on the nation’s leadership scene, Sri Lanka has fancied itself as being able to use, misuse or even abuse its location-advantage to benefit the nation economically. However, through most of the pre-Rajapaksa era, the nation was also stymied by the unsubstantiated apprehension that the larger Indian neighbour needed tackling on the strategic, if not outright military, front. It was thus that Wickremesinghe’s UNP predecessor J R Jayewardene befriended the US at the height of the Cold War in the seventies. India was seen as being on the side of the Soviet Union. Rather, the Soviet Union was believed to be backing India in the South Asian region wholesale. It fitted JRJ’s strategic imagination to pit the US against the Soviet Union, without understanding/acknowledging India’s land-centric compulsions vis a vis Pakistan and China up north, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the southern island-neighbour(s). In this, possibly, Maldives was more realistic about its own assessment of India’s geo-strategic compulsions and needs with the result it did not seek to make any pre-emptive moves of the Sri Lankan kind when Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became President in 1978 – and stayed on for three long decades at the helm. Whatever realistic assessment of India’s problems on the geo-strategic front viz Maldives is of more recent, Chinese origin. In the contemporary era, Rajapaksa’s fuller understanding of India, which stood by Sri Lanka through the years of the decisive ‘Eelam War IV’ against LTTE insurgency and terrorism, was much less than the subsequent partial understanding by the Wickremesinghe leadership. Though former President Rajapaksa kept on declaring that “China is a friend but India is a relation”, his leadership failed to convey the full force of its intention to New Delhi, wholesale. India did not seem to have much reservations when it came to Chinese funding of development projects of the unproductive and uneconomical Hambantota and Matara kind, though New Delhi had its own share of apprehensions about the ‘pound of flesh’ that Beijing would demand out of Colombo, why, how and when. In the end and now under the Wickremesinghe leadership, Indian apprehensions, viz China’s long-term involvement in and through Sri Lanka, have come true. Yet, when the Hambantota ‘equity-debt swap’ deal happened, Rajapaksa, now in the Opposition, was the first one to protest, saying they were opposed to parting with Sri Lankan territory to the care of a foreign nation. They continued to protest, with parliamentarian-son Namal Rajapaksa even holding a rally outside of the Indian Consulate-General’s office in Hambantota, saying they were now opposed to Matara possibly going the Indian way. It was now for the Wickremesinghe leadership to defend the Hambantota deal before the Sri Lankan public. If anything, Rajapaksa’s repeated claims that they had not pushed the nation into a debt-trap and China’s own projection that their credit was only 14 per cent of Sri Lanka’s external debt, seemed to have had equal traction with the local population and opinion-makers, not to leave out the strategic community, either.

Balancing act

The Indian discomfort with Sri Lanka, rather with the Rajapaksa regime, grew only when Colombo allowed two Chinese submarines to berth in its waters. Claimed to be a part of China’s anti-piracy naval missions off the Sudanese waters, the submarines, it was felt was a part of Chinese efforts to study the oceanographic parameters of the seas off India – for possible deployment in the future, now or later. With this, China also became the only country to deploy subs for anti-piracy missions. It is anybody’s guess if other extra-regional powers, including the US, too could not have handled the Sudanese piracy problem without individual and individualistic naval deployment of the kind that was witnessed during the previous decade. Multiple questions arise out of the current context. Seeking to ‘diversify’  foreign investments, Sri Lanka is now hopeful of the Indian neighbour and one-time largest donor in Japan pumping in money for port and urban development projects of the eastern Trincomallee kind. As PM Wickremesinghe asserted at a recent function, a power-project in Hambantota involving UAE investments are all in the pipeline in the closing year of his administration. In ever-evolving scenario(s), Sri Lanka may not have too many niches to seek help from – or, better still, hide.  It is a dangerous game of playing global Peter against a regional Paul(s), and getting nowhere. Sri Lanka knows it from the Cold War years – and should remember it, as muchand for a long time to come.



Collective action

After Amb Zalmay Khalilzad held discussions about his progress in Afghan talks with the Allies at the NATO Headquarters last week, the NATO foreign ministers recently discussed the US efforts to find a political settlement in Afghanistan. The NATO Secretary General further stated that as they had entered into Afghanistan together any decision about their future presence in the country will be a collective one. He reiterated that the aim of the political settlement is to establish lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Contract for air force

Amidst the ongoing peace process talks, the Pentagon has awarded a new contract worth 24.7 million dollars for training of the Afghan Airforce pilots and maintainers. It will be performed in the Moody Air Base at Georgia and in Afghanistan and is expected to be completed by 31 December 2023. Efforts are also presently underway to strengthen the Afghan Air Force. The coalition forces in Afghanistan had earlier promised that the Air Force will be tripled by 2023.


No conflict on refugees

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ruled out option for conflict and said that the resolution of repatriation of Rohingya refugees will only be through negotiation with Myanmar. She said that her country would never engage in any conflict with Myanmar because it is a neighbouring country.  Sheikh Hasina made these comments during her interaction with the officials of the defence ministry in Dhaka. It is worthy to note that Sheikh Hasina is also the defence minister of Bangladesh.   Around 1 million of Rohingyas from neighbouring Myanmar have taken refuge in Bangladesh following persecution in there.

Growth forecast

International lending agency World Bank speculated that the economy is likely to grow at 7.3 percent in the fiscal year ending on 30 June.  Notably, the World Bank’s projected growth is lower than the government’s estimate. The government projection suggests the economy grow at 8.13 percent in the present financial year. The Asian Development Bank (ADB), however, predicted 8 percent growth. Watchers of the country’s economy observed that they would prefer to go by the projections of the government and the ADB.


MHPA commissioning

The 720-MW Mangdechhu project will be fully commissioned between May 10 and June 25 this year. The project taken up in collaboration with India on a 70:30 loan grant ration is said to have cost Nu 50B. Within this period, all four units in the power house, each capable of generating 180MW of power, will be up and running.

Driver attacked

A Bhutanese truck driver suffered injuries after a mob of Indians attacked him after an accident. The incident happened on 1 April at Deosuri, an Indian town in Assam, about 20 kilometres away from Gelegphu. The medical supply truck he was driving accidentally hit and injured an eight-year-old Indian boy. Shantipur Police had taken the driver along with his handy-boy into custody. The Gelegphu police later bailed them out. This is the sixth such incident to be reported at the Gelephu Police station this year. Bhutanese drivers are advised to be cautious while driving along the Indian highways.

No new entry-points

One of the government’s pledge to open new entry points for regional tourists through the southern part of the country have been put in the back-burner, according to Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen. The minister said that the government has also decided to defer the permission for Bhutanese families to employ foreign maids. He said this decision was taken because of lack of assessment on the impact of it on the country’s security.


Seizure from CM convoy

Officials from the Election Commission, acting on information given by Congress Party workers, seized Rs. 1.8 crore from cars parked at the Pasighat government guest house on Tuesday night. One of the vehicles, registered as a government vehicleto the Secretary of state transport department, was part of the Chief Minister’s convoy on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rally in Pasighat. Tapir Gao, the state chief of the BJP, has denied the allegation of the party indulging in a cash-for-votes scheme, stating that the money seized is private money and stated that this seizure is part of a conspiracy by the Congress to defame the BJP in the upcoming elections.

Rahul files papers

Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party president, has filed his nomination papers to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from the Wayanad constituency in Kerala. He shall be contesting the elections, competing against Smriti Irani of the BJP, who is also fighting the Lok Sabha elections from the Amethi constituency. Smriti Irani has stated that this change from Amethi to Wayanad for Rahul Gandhi is a signal that he does not enjoy the support he had for the last 15 years, also stating that he has deserted his old constituents for electoral gains.

Chandrayan-2 put off

ISRO chairman K. Sivan has  confirmed that the moon lander, which was in its testing phase, has suffered damages to two of its legs and will thus require further modifications to its design. This has led to the launch of the Chandrayan 2 project being put on hold until May. The chairman said the project is still on schedule. He has set up a task force of 12 members to address this and any other anomalies which might come up during the testing phase to ensure the launch takes place on schedule.


MDP sweep

The MDP leader of the four-party ruling coalition that brought President Ibrahim Solih to power made a near-sweep of the 6 April parliamentary polls by bagging a high 67 seats in the 87-member House, contesting on its own and with a few seat adjustments with religion-centric Adhalaath Party (AP) partner. Two other allies, including Speaker Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Party (JP) and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s MRM, did not do well as hoped for. So is also the case of ousted ex-President Abdulla Yameen’s PPM-PNC combine. The elections became a multi-cornered contest after the direct fight for the presidency in last September.


MoU with Nepal

The Federation of Contractors’ Association of Nepal and Myanmar Licensed Contractors Association signed a memorandum of understanding to move ahead in collaboration for the infrastructure development. The MoU was signed between the office-bearers of Federation and Association during the concluding ceremony of the Nepal Investment Summit. The MoU was signed in the presence of former Prime Minister and Chairman of Communist Party of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

Tourists to Indonesia

Indonesia’s ministry of tourism announced that it is expecting to receive 40,000 travellers from Myanmar this year. More than 28,570 travellers from Myanmar visited Indonesia last year, and the number is only expected to rise.  At present, there are no direct flights between the two countries, and hence it costs more for tourists to travel between Myanmar and Indonesia. Indonesia will soon be opening the New Yogyakarta International Airport in Java which is expected to serve as a hub for direct flights from Yangon.


Updating understanding

The Chief Ministers of the seven provinces of the country recently called upon Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli. The primary agenda was to discuss the 29-point understanding which was finalized during the inter-province council (IPC) meeting in 2018. Several issues that have not yet been addressed by the union government were mentioned along with proper resource allocation and budget. The unfulfilled demands may lead to the threat of lurking misunderstandings between the union and the provinces.

Envisioning National Plan

Nepal is all set to achieve ambitious economic targets with the 15th National Plan, which starts from the fiscal year 2019-20. The National Development Council (NDC) has endorsed the approach paper and the vision paper of the same. Intentions like the achievement of 10.2 per cent economic growth and raising per capita income to USD 1,600, by the end of the five year plan, have been enlisted. The government would also work with the private sector.

Airport expansion

The Gautam Buddha International Airport is being expanded, in terms of capacity and space. One of the primary focuses has been the growing number of tourists over the years. New models of development are also being adopted, which is more advanced than the previous framework of 2012. This construction is of national pride and once completed would open up an array of new opportunities for the country.


GDP to remain low

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific has released a survey report entitled ‘Ambitions beyond Growth’ which  forecast that Pakistan’s GDP will remain lowest in the region at 4.2 per cent in 2019 and 4 per cent in 2020 compared to the other countries in the region. The report further stated that Pakistan’s economy is experiencing balance in payment difficulties as there are large amount of deficits and increasing pressure on the currency.

Reviewing prices

The Pakistan National Price Monitoring Committee has decided to establish a robust forecasting mechanism to ascertain the availability of all essential food items for the next three to six months. This effort was undertaken after consultation with the provincial governments. Monthly meetings will also be held to review the supply and prices of all commodities so that mechanisms can be installed to tide over shortages. The Market committees have also been asked to play a more vigilant role.

Sri Lanka

Big win for budget

Overcoming former President Mahinda Rajapaksa-centric SLPP-JO’s threat, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’ government’s Budget-2019 cleared the third-reading vote in Parliament by a substantial 45-vote margin, as with the first two votes, earlier. With the Rajapaksa’s unclear about fielding President Maithripala Sirisena as their candidate in the December polls this year, some of latter’s SLFP-UPFA continued to break ranks, among whom even otherwise some MPs were keen on returning to the Government and ministerial berths, and abstained from voting.



Opinion Pieces

Fahim Abed, “Taliban Attack Kills Dozens in Afghanistan Despite U.S. Efforts in Peace Talks”, The New York Times, 4 April 2019 Dilawar Sherzai, “Vigilance is Vital in Democracy”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 4 April 2019


Afghanistan Times, “Maltreatment of Afghans at Torkham”, 4 April 2019 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Core Values and National Integration”, 4 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Mahmudur Rahman, “Nimbus clouds on the RMG horizon”, Dhaka Tribune, 4 April 2019 Hasanat Alamgir, “Health issues of RMG workers need attention”, The Daily Star, 3 April 2019 Manzoor Ahmed, “Bangladesh in the next three decades”, The Daily Star, 31 March 2019



Kuensel, “Running out of gas”, 4 April 2019 Kuensel, “At the cost of the state, 1 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Somya Sethuraman, “India Urgently Needs Safer Sanitation Solutions”, The Wire, 5 April 2019 Girish Shahane, “On Balakot and After, Real Mystery is How the Indian Response Has Been Touted as a Triumph”,, 3 April 2019 Kumkum Dasgupta, “Is Climate Change Fueling Political Conflicts Globally?”, Hindustan Times, 5 April 2019 Jean Drèze, “Making Sense of NYAY”, The Indian Express, 5 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “On poll-eve, Maldives’ HC frees Yameen, de-freezes bank funds”,, 3 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Nan Lwin,“Wariness Over BRI as State Counselor Prepares for Beijing Forum”, The Irrawaddy, 3 April 2019 Kyaw Htut Aung, “‘May I Help You?’ The Police and National Reconciliation”, The Irrawaddy, 3 April 2019 Aung Zaw, “Myitsone Dam Is Now a Sovereignty Issue”, The Irrawaddy, 1 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Manjeet Mishra, “Beginning of new inning”, Republica, 4 April 2019 Amar Singh Pradhan, “The night of the big wind”, The Kathmandu Post, 4 April 2019 Sujit Mainali, “Diversifying foreign investment”, Republica, 3 April 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “Imbalance of powers”, 4 April 2019 The Himalayan Times, “Give justification”, 28 March 2019


Opinion Pieces

Faisal Bari, “Inclusive education”, Dawn, 5 April 2019 Pervez Tahir, “Elite capture”, The Express Tribune, 5 April 2019


Dawn, “Child abuse”, 5 April 2019 The Express Tribune, “Catering to the homeless”, 5 April 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “Brexit and UNHRC, Parliament vs the President”, The Island, 7 April 2019 Rajeewa Jayaweera, “After UNHRC Resolution 40/1”, The Island, 7 April 2019 M S M Ayub, “Recollections of 1971 insurrection”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 April 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Has moderation helped TNA?”, Ceylon Today, 2 April 2019 S I M Khaleel, “Wilpattu Islmophobia and looming prospect of Islamization”, Daily Mirror Online, 2 April 2019 Jehan Perera, “Value of President’s three-track approach to drug problem”, The Island, 2 April 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Wasting time-outs, the Sri Lankan way”, Colombo Gazette, 31 March 2019


Kelum Bandara, “Norway seeks cooperation on multiple fronts”, Daily Mirror Online, 3 April 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ameya Kelkar Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak
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