MonitorsPublished on Apr 23, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 16


Afghanistan: Up in ‘arms’ against peace

Sohini Bose Any war is fuelled or facilitated by the abundant and ceaseless supply of arms and ammunition. In Afghanistan, war has been going on for the past 17 years between the insurgent groups and the US forces coupled with the government of Afghanistan. One of the primary reasons behind this continuing violence is a robust system of illegal arms trade going on in the country. Demand for arms is more in the southern provinces of Afghanistan as the insurgent groups are trying to gain a stronghold there. The competition among smugglers is also fierce and the rates and prices of the weapons are steadily increasing.

The arms trail

Arms and drugs are often exchanged across Afghanistan’s northern frontiers, especially across the River Amu. The smugglers procure drugs such as heroin from Afghanistan and sell them for armaments across the river to the neighbouring countries of China or Tajikistan. Young unemployed men are trained in the Badakshan and Wakhan provinces of Afghanistan to carry out these unlawful exchanges with China. In the case of Tajikistan, the smugglers use the Darquad Pass which links the country with the Takhar province of Afghanistan. These arms are then sold in the country at elevated rates. The costliest weapons are those which come from the America. Often these weapons are also transferred to Pakistan via the Hindukush Mountains. In fact, the Karkhano area of Peshawar is a weapons trade market for both Pakistani and Afghani smugglers. Usually the arms smugglers are former mujahideen warlords. The friendship of Afghan separatists with Tajiks and other insurgent groups from Central Asia facilitates this illegal trade. The eastern province of Nangarhar in Afghanistan which has been subject to many insurgent attacks in the recent past is one of the most notorious regions for illegal arms exchange.

Sales and bribes

Apart from illegal trade, Taliban and ISIS also seize American weaponry from the Afghan and US forces during operations. Although rare there are also instances of members of these forces selling such US made guns and cars to the insurgents in the black market. Other equipments such as night vision goggles and lasers are also captured which has in effect increase the night time insurgency attacks in recent times. The weapons are also used by the militants tactically to impersonate Afghan and Western forces. The police unfortunately have often been bribed and pose insufficient hindrance to the smugglers in return for their drug money. Usually the payments are made in advance and ironically if this is not done, the smugglers are arrested.  Police vehicles are also used for across country arms smuggling across the country.

Mechanisms in place

During the Taliban era possession of weapons were considered to be a serious offense but after the regime collapsed people began procuring arms again and in the face of a weak government it was only a matter of time before people with weapons (which had by then become equivalent to a status symbol) began taking law in their own hands. Programmes such as Disbandment, Demobilization, Reintegration (DDR) and Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) showed promise in the first few years of their implementation but gradually lost merit and strong support from the government. Another initiative to curtail the illegal arms trade was the practise of issuing license for registered weaponry that was begun in 2005 by the Interior Affairs Ministry. Moreover the legal validity of arms was given as three years after which a renewal was necessary without which the owner would be charged of criminal offense. But this practise too is fraught with discrepancies and different types of weapons continue to be traded illegally. Also in many areas licenses are issued without proper verification about the ammunition. The US Defence Department through the Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the funds allocated for arms in Afghanistan are properly utilised. But they have also received information of how much weaponry has been lost to the insurgent groups by the security forces. Unfortunately, there are no mechanism in place to track American-supplied equipment and weaponry that the Afghan military and police lose to the Taliban. The Afghan government has also not been able to monitor this loss despite its responsibility as a ‘recipient country’ to protect and control items received from America. This is most manifest in the cases where the armed militants have been able to infiltrate the Afghan Army and Police.

Prospect for peace

However as a remedial mechanism once war equipment are captured by the terrorists, the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces rapidly tries to either reacquire  or in a worst case situation eliminate the usage of that particular equipment from usage in Afghanistan. Nonetheless as long as groups continue to exist across the border to facilitate illegal arms trade in the country, peace is unlikely to come to Afghanistan despite the official checks by the US government. It must be understood therefore that the lucrative business of illegal arms is at the very heart of the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. Hence if any peace process such as the one being negotiated by Zalmay Khalilzad the American Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, is to be executed successfully in the country it must devote primary attention toward resolving this pertinent crisis. It must also be kept in mind that illegal arms trade not only facilitates war but it is also an attractive business opportunity for many within this poverty ridden country. Hence, alternative options of income along with sufficient training, which hold substantial promise, will also have to be provided by the peace process if the illegal trade of arms is to be truly curtailed.

Bangladesh:  Drive towards a drug-free nation

Joyeeta Bhattacharya Bangladesh has declared to free the country of the menace of illegal drugs. The law enforcement agencies are engaged in countrywide operations against the drug dealers. The anti-drug operation started in May 2018, and it had killed around 300-drug peddlers/ dealers, besides thousands were ebing arrested.  The country’s war on drugs has attained global attention. Drug addiction is recognised as the most pressing social problem in the country.  Around 7 million are estimated to be addicted to some kind of the drug.  The numbers of drug abusers are reported to be increasing in Bangladesh. Among them are a large section of the youth with 80 percent of them being in the age group of 15 to 30 years. Bangladesh is a country of 160 million and this number is considered to be high for the country. Recognising the gravity of the problem, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to free the country from the drugs. In 2018, she made a speech regarding her intention to make the country drugs-free. Following this, the law enforcement agencies launched their drive against the drugs.  After her third consecutive victory in the elections in December 2018, she reiterated her resolve to eradicate the problem of drug abuse and instructed the home ministry to take the necessary steps. To Sheikh Hasina, drug abuse, terrorism, militancy and corruption are impediments for transforming the country into a developed one. Sheikh Hasina desires Bangladesh to be a developed nation by 2040.

Popular drugs

The problem of drug abuse is not new in Bangladesh. Traditionally, drugs like opium, cannabis and alcohol were consumed.  At present, the popular drugs include ganja, phensydyl, yaba and heroin. It’s worth noting that Bangladesh is not a drug manufacturing country and drugs are smuggled into the country. Due to proximity to the ‘Golden Triangle’ (Myanmar, Thailand and Loas) and the ‘Golden Crescent’ (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran), highest drug-producing countries in Asia, the country had been a transit-point and part of the global drug cartel. The country’s land, air and sea exits were used for transporting the drug to various markets, including North America and Europe.  Over the years, the country itself succumbed to drug addiction. In 1990, Bangladesh established a Narcotics control department to raise awareness against drug abuse and dangers of the illicit drugs. However, a large number of abusers in Bangladesh have raised doubts about its success. Bangladesh’s porous border with Myanmar and India are identified as a major entry point of drugs in the country.  Bangladesh shares border only with India and Myanmar.  These borders are complex and their management is a challenge. Due to their porous nature, these borders have been subject to various transnational crimes, including smuggling of narcotics.

Current drive

In the present drive against drugs, ‘yaba’ was the common drug seized by law enforcement agencies.  The ‘yaba’, popularly referred to as mad drug is a tablet containing a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine, is smuggled from Myanmar.  In 2018 alone, the security forces seized 53 million pills. In February this year, over 100 drug traffickers surrendered in the Taknaf, close to the Myanmar border, with 30 kilograms of ‘yaba’ pills. Currently, ‘yaba’ is the most popular stimulant used by addicts in Bangladesh. Security at the border with Myanmar has been strengthened to curtail smuggling. This measure, however, appears to be insufficient. Some media reports claim that since Bangladesh, Myanmar and India share a contiguous border, the smugglers are using India’s territory for smuggling ‘yaba’ into Bangladesh. This claim, however, needs to be verified. It needs to be mentioned here that India and Bangladesh share a good relationship and have an active border management cooperation. It was India’s active action against the smuggling of phensydyl, a cough syrup with high codeine content, that helped in reducing its use in Bangladesh. Phensydyl is banned in Bangladesh because of its use as a stimulant. The case of Bangladesh suggests that for battle against drugs and narcotics, a comprehensive policy approach is required. This would demand both internal measures and the support of international community, primarily from neighbours.



Peace jeopardised

In the recent Doha talks, the Taliban in Afghanistan had considered a reduction in violence. The commitment was reportedly made to the Commander of the NATO led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan General Scott Miller. However this was until the sudden announcement by the Taliban about launching their spring offensive on the Afghan people. The Security Council of the United Nations has strongly condemned this announcement of the insurgent group that will only result in more unnecessary suffering.

German funds

The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation has promised to invest almost EUR 59 million to uplift good governance, sustainable economic development and urban growth in Afghanistan. The amount has been committed to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. In reciprocation the German government expects the Afghanistan government to execute reforms towards fighting corruption, promoting women’s rights and ensuring transparency in mining and extractives sector. EUR 40 million will also be allotted to promote bilateral cooperation in the energy sector.


Visit of Bhutan PM

Bangladesh’s ties with Bhutan got a major boost following visit of Prime Minister Lotay Tshering.  The Bhutanese Prime Minister during his visit has met top leaders of the country including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. During the visit, two countries signed five bilateral instruments to enhance cooperation on inland waterways, health, agriculture, tourism sectors and Public Administration training centres.

New Year celebrated

“Pohela Baishakh” or 1st day of Baisakh the Bengali new-year celebrated with much fanfare across the country on 14 April.  The main function took place in the capital was held in Dhaka beginning with a flamboyant early morning procession famous as Mongalshoba Jatra lead by fine arts faculty of Dhaka University and the day is celebrated with various cultural events. The Bengali New-year celebration is the biggest festival of Bangladesh and signifies the cultural identity of the country.


GDP growth slips

Despite, the South Asian region is projected to emerge as the fastest growing region in the world, Bhutan’s economic growth projection is trailing behind the regional average. The country’s economic growth slipped for the second consecutive time as the construction of hydropower projects slowed and electric power production declined, according to the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) outlook. ADB’s provisional estimates, as per the outlook, indicate that the GDP growth in 2017-2018, slowed further from 6.3 percent in 2016-2017 to 5.5 percent.

Complaint against job agent

Over four hundred parents and students of the Japan ‘learn and earn’ program gathered on 7 April to discuss the case against the agent, Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) which will be forwarded to the court after receiving power of attorney from the remaining students in Japan. The Japan issue came to light after a 24-year-old boy committed suicide in Fukuoka, Japan in December last year. He is believed to have taken this step due to the extreme situation and stress faced in Japan.


Cross-LoC trade suspended

The home ministry, in conjunction with the National Investigation Agency (NIA), has indefinitely closed all cross-border trade along the line of control, citing misuse of these trade routes. The NIA has claimed these routes are used by terrorist organizations based in Pakistan to smuggle weapons, narcotics and counterfeit currency into the country. These trade lines have been suspended, pending the formulation and implementation of stricter regulations.

Accused on bail, BJP candidate

Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, one of the accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts, will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from the city of Bhopal on a BJP ticket. She will be contesting against former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh from the Congress. This move by the BJP has drawn strong criticism from many in India, with the father of one of the victims in the Malegaon blasts moving the special court hearing her ongoing case to cancel her candidature for these elections.

Jet Airways shuts down

Facing financial trouble for the past few months, Jet Airways has decided to temporarily suspend all operations. This move comes after the SBI, on behalf of the Consortium of Indian Lenders, declined to provide the ailing airline with additional funds, leaving the airline without the resources to pay for critical services such as fuel for their airplane fleet. The airline is now waiting on a fresh round of investment, failing which the company would be forced to permanently shutter its operations, marking the end of a 27-year long tenure as India’s first private airline.


Freehold law repealed

Parliament has since repealed an Yameen era law that conferred freehold rights to Maldivian property to foreign buyers and entities, passed when he was President. This could mean that the Government of President Mohammed Solih could initiate proceedings to retrieve a resort-island sold to a Chinese enterprise to develop a tourist resort, near-exclusively for visitors from that country. With this, the old system of giving islands for resort-construction only on long-term lease to foreigners has been restored. The Solih Government has also reiterated its resolve to revisit the China FTA, hurriedly concluded when Yameen was President, and consider the possibility of cancelling the same.

Reshaping PPM?

In a bid to retain his hold over the PPM-PNC combine, of which he is the boss, former President Abdulla Yameen, has named his nephew, Ghassan Maumoon, politically-estranged second son of half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and two others as party vice-presidents. The move came after PPM parliamentary group leader in the outgoing Parliament, Ahmed Nihan Manik, a one-time loyalist, quit office after the party and he personally lost the 6 April polls, calling upon everyone in leadership position to do so, and inject fresh blood. In the wake of Nihan’s exit, reports also spoke about an inevitable re-grouping of the nation’s political conservatives under a new/common leadership, possibly Yameen’s one-time Home Minister, Umar Naseer, with his own long-term ambitions for the presidency.


Seoul restricts travel

South Korea’s foreign ministry stated on 16 April that it has decided to issue its highest-level travel restriction to ban travel by its citizens in the northern part of Myanmar's Rakhine state that borders Bangladesh, citing high safety risks. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued its second-highest travel warning, recommending the evacuation of areas neighbouring China, Laos, Thailand and India in Myanmar. It issued the third-highest alert of its four-tier travel warning system to call for extra precautions in the states of Kachin and some parts of Shan in the north-eastern region as well.

Maritime trade down

Myanmar’s maritime trade as of 29 March this 2018-19 Fiscal Year has touched $ 12.09 billion, down by over $50 million or 0.44 per cent, matched against the corresponding period of the last FY. In the first six months of this FY, the country’s total maritime exports include almost $ 4.6 billion in exports and nearly $7.5 billion in imports. During the same period in the previous FY, Myanmar’s maritime trade stood at $12.14 billion, with exports worth about $4.2 billion and imports worth $7.9 billion.


Curbing illegal land transfer

The K. P Sharma Oli government has taken serious steps to curb the illegal transfer of land, belonging to the public to private individual ownership. The office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers has had discussions with the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation to take note of such transactions and take appropriate action. This step is undoubtedly igniting hope towards transparency against all anti-social actions in the country.

Better news for ‘hydro power’

The Kelukhani III and the Upper Trishuli 3A are two important hydropower stations in Nepal, often noted as ‘sick’, are on the way to final completion by the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA). They have remained delayed for quite a number of years now, because of the 2015 earthquake. When inaugurated, the country would be able to boast of two new power banks, having capacity of 14 MW and 60 MW respectively.


New house in ‘Naya Pakistan’

The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has launched his government’s ‘Naya Pakistan’ Housing Scheme. The aim is to relocate those living in large urban settlements into rapidly constructed flats and high rises. Even though the scheme was not a part of Khan’s original priority list it steadily rose to the forefront as he found out how difficult it is for the salaried class to afford homes especially post retirement when they have to evacuate their government accommodations.

Internet capacity to be up

Pakistan’s internet infrastructure capacity is about to increase by ninety-six terabits per second with the country’s first carrier neutral, open-access submarine cable owing to a landing party agreement signed between PEACE Cable International Network Company Ltd and Cybernet Pakistan. This 12,000-kilometre long, privately-owned cable system will provide crucial connectivity to the economic corridors of Asia, Africa and Europe in the first phase. The project is scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of 2020.

Sri Lanka

150 killed in serial blasts

At least 150 persons were killed when a series of bomb-blasts rocked Sri Lankan capital during Easter Sunday prayer hours, in three churches – two of them in Colombo neighbourhoods and one in eastern Batticaloa – and three five-star hotels, all of them in the city. The cause and perpetrators of the blasts are not known, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called upon the people to remain strong and united.



Opinion Pieces

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, ”ICC Rejects Appeal to Investigate War Crimes in Afghanistan”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 17 April 2019 Faheem Nazimi, “Let women lead peace talks”, Afghanistan Times, 12 April 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “How Afghanistan Can Ensure its National Interests in the Peace Talks”, 17 April 2019 Afghanistan Times, “Controversy over Doha conference”, 17 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

M Rokonuzzaman, “RMG sector's tipping point”, The Daily Star, 19 April 2019 Shahedul Anam Khan, “BNP's hard choice: To join or not to join?”, The Daily Star, 19 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Sonam Tobgay, “Views on the 4th Pay Commission Report”, Kuensel, 13 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Ashish Kothari, “Sustaining India: Is There Anything to Choose Between BJP and Congress?The Wire, 16 April 2019 Suresh Menon, “Master of Zen, Why MS Dhoni is God of Cricket Too”, Outlook India, 18 April 2019 Amb. Rakesh Sood, “India: Why Foreign Policy Matters In The World’s Biggest Election”, Italian Institute for International Political Studies, 18 April 2019 Gyan Prakash, “The Massacre That Led To The End Of The British Empire”, The New York Times, 13 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

The Myanmar Times, “Letter: Don’t belittle indigenous communities”, 19 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Amish Raj Mulmi, “Tracing the ups and downs of the Nepal-India relationship”, The Kathmandu Post, 19 April 2019 Ujjwal Satyal, “Nepal’s first satellite, NepaliSat-1, launched”, The Himalayan Times, 19 April 2019 Bhairab Raj Kaini, “Post-summit challenges”, Republica, 16 April 2019


The Himalayan Times, “Ports for trade”, 11 April 2019 The Kathmandu Post, “All in one place”, 16 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Rafia Zakaria, “Welcoming tourists”, Dawn, 17 April 2019 Syed Akhtar Ali Shah, “Tinkering with fiscal autonomy under 18th amendment”, The Express Tribune, 17 April 2019


Dawn, “The fight for human rights”, 17 April 2019 The Express Tribune, “Taking back health facilities 17 April 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “The curse of non-abolition: No party has suitable presidential candidate”, The Island, 21 April 2019 Kumar David, “Gota uncertainty bonanza for others”, The Island, 21 April 2019 D B S Jeyaraj, “Mob attack on Methodist Church, Anuradhapura, and its aftermath”, Daily Mirror Online, 20 March 2019 M S M Ayub, “Can Gota win over minorities?”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 April 2019 Kusal Perera, “Political mess we wish to continue with”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 April 2019 Neville Ladduwahetty, “The campaign to abolish the Executive Presidency”, The Island, 19 April 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “A Rajapaksa manifesto for presidential polls?”, Colombo Gazette, 16 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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