MonitorsPublished on May 22, 2019
Exploring India's successful management of Cyclone Fani, Nepal's Buddhist diplomacy and other recent developments from South Asia.
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 20


Bangladesh:  ‘Cyclone Fani’ and the success of disaster management with India

Joyeeta Bhattacharya Disaster knows no boundaries and its impact transcends border. To reduce the impact of a disaster, there is a need for synergising disaster management approaches across the border. And, in the case of India and Bangladesh, a common approach can be of good help to both the nations. India and Bangladesh share common borders and common challenges to natural calamities like floods and cyclone. The outcome of the cyclone Fani, which hit the shores of the two countries earlier this month, suggest that there is a need for an agreement between the nations to bring complementarity in their disaster management approach,  especially cyclones. Fani, which means snake in Bengali, was one of the 14 severe tropical cyclones formed over the Bay of Bengal in the past 126 years (1891-2017). Fani hit the coastal Indian state of Odisha first and then it turned to Bangladesh. Fortunately, the cyclone had only a minimal impact in terms of  the loss of life, largely because of the early prevention measures undertaken by the authorities in the two countries. In India, Fani led to loss of 72 lives of people and in Bangladesh, 17. When compared with the losses in the past,  the losses this time is considered minimal. In 1999, the Super Cyclone had a disastrous impact Odisha, killing around 10000 people. In 2007, Bangladesh was hit by cyclone Sidr which killed around 3000 people.

Recovery, reconstruction

India and Bangladesh face threats of various kinds of disasters, both natural and man-made.  The countries being the Bay of Bengal littoral countries, occurrence of cyclones are frequent. The cyclones also have socio-economic ramifications since it causes losses of life and damages property,  agriculture, houses etc. Recovery and rehabilitation takes years after cyclone-induced destruction. India and Bangladesh are serious about managing disaster better.  They have laid down comprehensive policies, keeping their sovereignty in place.  Both have adapted the National Disaster Management Act (India in 2005 and Bangladesh 2012). New organisations have been established for smoothened disaster management activities in the two countries. India established the National Disaster Management Authority, headed by the Prime Minister, and the National Disaster Response Force to manage disasters efficiently. In Bangladesh too, the National Disaster Management Council, headed by the Prime Minister, is established. The primary duty of this council is to review disaster-affected areas and come up with a policy solution and directives to address them. A new division, Disaster Management and Relief Division, was established under the Minister of Food and Disaster Management to coordinate various disaster management activities.

Narrow approach

The significant steps undertaken by the two countries have also changed their perception about disaster management. Initially, both counties had a narrow approach to disaster management, restricting to relief and rehabilitation. Now, disaster management has got a wider connotation. It includes response, rehabilitation, reconstruction, development, prevention, mitigation and preparedness. To implement the new approach, the countries have introduced various initiatives like the use of science and technology to prevent and mitigate the risk of disaster, capacity building, etc. The outcome of the Fani cyclone highlights the transformational effect of this new approach to disaster management.  Improvement in the early forecasting of a cyclone, warning system and the preventive steps taken in  India and Bangladesh helped avert a major crisis. As a precautionary measure, around 1.6 million people in India and 1.2 million people in Bangladesh were evacuated from the vulnerable areas. Such a measure, made possible because of the accuracy in the forecast of the cyclone and its path, helped in reducing the risk.  After handling Fani, both India and Bangladesh were appreciated for their disaster management initiatives. This is welcoming.

Synergy, cooperation

Reaching synergy is not possible without cooperation. India and Bangladesh are cooperating on disaster management at the regional and bilateral level. Both nations are members of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and disaster management is given primacy in both the regional organisations. The BIMSTEC framework of cooperation gives emphasis to enhancing disaster management cooperation among the member countries through activities like joint exercises, sharing of information, including early warning systems, the adaptation of preventative measures, joint action on relief and rehabilitation and capacity building. The BIMSTEC has a Centre for Weather and Climate located in Noida, India. The objectives of the centre are to (1) promote and encourage cooperation between member countries in  identified  areas of fundamental and applied scientific research in weather prediction and climate modelling; (2) promote  scientific capacity building in weather and climate research and (3) encourage and assist the publication of important results of research done under BIMSTEC framework. SAARC nations in 2011 have signed an agreement, Rapid Response to Natural Disaster, which has laid down a framework for cooperation. It is worth mentioning here that the strategic goal of the National Disaster Plan 2010-15 was drawn from the SAARC Disaster Management Frame.

Technical cooperation

The bilateral cooperation between India and Bangladesh also has its origin in the 2011 SAARC framework agreement. Article 3 of the agreement highlights developing a mechanism for technical cooperation and exchange of advance information with respect to a natural disaster. The two countries have also been members of various international organisations, including the United Nations, that also have laid down various frameworks for disaster management.  The Yokohama strategy and the plan of action for a safer world, signed in 1994, was the first major international framework for disaster risk reduction. The Sendai Framework, signed in 2016, is the latest international framework for disaster management. The cooperation between India and Bangladesh in various fora also helped in advancing disaster management and contributing to collaboration in risk mitigation.  With the rise in the threats of climate change, collaboration among the countries will gain prominence. And coordinated steps will help in saving lives in the country and cross the border.

Nepal: ‘Buddhist diplomacy’, a new realm in India relations

Sohini Nayak The importance of growing Buddhist tourism is not unknown to South Asia. This is all the more important for countries like Nepal and India, who have been thriving on the concept as a major part of attracting tourists as well as economic appreciation for the development of major Buddhist tourist sites like Lumbini, Bodh Gaya and Sarnath among the others. This is all the more crucial for landlocked countries like Nepal, which has been trying to promote trade, investment and infrastructure, primarily after the devastating earthquake of 2015 which left a scar on the undying and dire efforts of creating its own identity in South Asian regional politics and expedience. In fact, ‘Buddhist diplomacy’, often used as a soft power strategic tool in maintaining bilateral ties, holds within itself the immense potential of becoming either a benchmark of competition or greater bond between India and Nepal. The materialisation of this thought would considerably gain ground with the participation of China in this sector, which indeed has been encouraged by Nepal itself, much to the worry of India.

Playing on strengths

Cultural coherence in Asia has been time and again credited to Buddhism, which has travelled from India. With the evolution of faith based tourism, Nepal did not take much time to realize that its giant neighbour India was way ahead in providing better amenities for the same. Consequently, the present official slogan of Nepal’s ecotourism – “Naturally Nepal-Once is Not Enough” has been seen to highlight the incorporation of Buddhism for innumerable faith based travellers from several South East Asian countries including China, demonstrating the Himalayan nation as the birthplace of Lord Buddha. In a bid to popularise Lumbini as the Mecca of Buddhism, the government of Nepal has a target to bring 2.5 million tourists by 2025. However, the slow tread of infrastructural development paired with ineffective promotional strategy, Nepal has been lagging behind in drawing better prospects in the tourism industry. It is in this scenario that the role of China comes of immense vitality, which Nepal has been trying to grasp upon, given its membership in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China, providing them with the roadmap as well as the required funding. If we recall the initiative of the Nepal Government to organize a three day Buddhist conference in Kathmandu, in 2016, on the occasion of the 2560th birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, we would find Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping, on the same stage.  In this regard, it must be acknowledged that India also has similar plans of advertising Bodh Gaya as a major tourist hub, as it is the place where Buddha had actually attained Nirvana. At the end of the conference, India seemed to gain nothing out of it, thereby advancing a reflection of growing major competition in the realm, where the smaller player was showcasing its strength with the capabilities of one of the major apprehensions of bigger player -China.

Far from victory

Nepal and India must realise that the Buddhist circuit involving the major places revolving around the life of the Lord is in the minds of around 550 million Buddhists across the globe. However, both the countries have been able to achieve only a fraction of that statistic. Thus, if this area becomes one of contention rather than convergence, between China-Nepal on the one hand and India on the other, it would have a serious consequence leading to imbalances in the diplomatic theatre. For instance, China has been trying to club its military diplomacy with the psychological bearings of Buddhism, often known as ‘Buddha’s tooth diplomacy’ to influence countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the other South East Asian countries. It is here that the struggle for leadership emerges, because India too has been recently sponsoring Buddhist conferences with ‘Buddhist diplomacy’ at the heart of its foreign policy. What Nepal can gain out of it is the confidence to strike a higher chord with proper campaigns, so that it is not sandwiched between any super-power rivalries in the region, as it would not be able to handle the costs of the loss even though it has the side of China by it. It must try to sustain on its own, through competitive and sustainable tourism efforts, if possible with the creation of a tourist nexus with Indian collaboration that is authentic and transparent. This will also help in maintaining harmony as well as the spiritual and religious sanctity of the destinations in concern. There also must be the involvement of media for greater projection of the project and a regional rehabilitation committee may be established to oversee the developments as well as the future endeavours. It is only through such measures that the Buddhist trail would be successful in action.

Country Reports


Taliban commander killed

According to recent reports from the Afghan Ministry of Interior, one of the most dangerous commanders of Taliban, Mullah Khadem, has been killed in the joint operations that were conducted in the northern Balkh province. Another significant member of the group named Sarwar has been arrested in the same operations. Taliban and the other insurgent groups have as yet refrained from commenting on the incident. Balkh is one of the relatively calm provinces in the north of Afghanistan.

US alert on polls

In Kabul, the US embassy is preparing for the finalisation of the results of Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections. They have also urged the Afghan authorities to prepare for the Kabul Presidential elections that are scheduled to be held in September this year. They have also requested that a budget aligned to the appropriate operational plan, hiring and training of sufficient staff, registration and coordination with security ministries be put forth. They propose that Afghan people deserve to choose their leaders.


China, a top investor

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI witnessed record growth in 2018. In 2018, Bangladesh received $3.6 billion as FDI that was 68 per cent higher than the previous year. With a total of $1.03 billion, China became the highest source of FDI in Bangladesh. The bulk of the Chinese investment was in the power sector and estimated to be $834 million.  In 2017, China invested $119 million in Bangladesh only. Traditionally the United States of America was the topmost source of FDI. US investments were $174 million in 2018 that was marginally higher than in 2017. In 2017, US investment in Bangladesh was $166 million.

Poverty reduction slow

In spite of the steady growth of the economy, the pace of poverty reduction has been slowing down in Bangladesh. For more than a decade, Bangladesh maintained an impressive economic growth of 6 percent and made substantial progress in improving the lives of the people. Nevertheless, the rate of poverty decline has slowed since 2010, suggests the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics data. Between 2010 and 2016, the percentage of poor people dropped to 24.3 percent of the population, registering a decline at a yearly rate of 1.2 percent. Notably, the annual rate of drop in poverty was 1.7 percent from 2005 to 2010.


Inflation down

The consumer price index (CPI) or year-on-year inflation in March 2019 was recorded at 2.98 percent, down by 0.03 percentage compared to February 2019. This means that the prices of goods and services have increased by 2.98 percent in March this year compared to the same month last year.

Rough weather

Short spells of rainfall, thunderstorm and gusty wind were experienced in isolated parts of Southern, Central and Eastern parts of the country. According to the National center for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) this was due to isolated convective clouds which has formed over South-West Bhutan on 12th May and has moved to Eastern Bhutan covering the entire country. Places like Phuentsholing, Samtse, Sarpang, Deothang in Samdrup Jongkhar and Pemagatshel are likely to be mostly cloudy with rainfall while other parts of the country is expected to be cloudy with possibility of rainfall.


Campaign cut by a day

In a first-of-its-kind decision, the Election Commission, has curtailed by day all campaigning for the elections in West Bengal, citing the State government’s failure in providing a level playing field for all political parties. The Commission also ordered the immediate removal of Rajiv Kumar, Additional Director-General, CID and Atri Bhattacharya, Principal Secretary (Home) of the West Bengal government. This move has been met with suspicion by the opposition parties, who claim that the timing of the closure of campaigning still allows the BJP to hold two rallies on Thursday, while denying the dame opportunities to the other parties.

BJP leader apologises

Responding to a statement made by actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan, who called Gandhiji’s assassin Nathuram Godse independent India’s first terrorist, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur countered the statement by stating that the assassin of Mohandas Gandhi was, is and will be a ‘desh bhakth’. The BJP president Amit Shah, in response, assured the public that this statement is not in line with the party’s ideology and is not the stance of the party, clarifying that these statements are the personal remarks of the candidates. Sadhvi Pragya has since issued an apology and publicly retracted her statement.

Six militants killed

Six militants were killed in two separate encounters in the Pulwama and Shopian districts of South Kashmir on Thursday. The army and police have stated that the militants began firing indiscriminately into the crowd, which was being evacuated by the security forces, leaving a civilian and a Sepoy of the Indian Army dead. Denying claims that the civilian killed was being used as a human shield by the police and army, the military has stated that the civilian was killed by the random firing of the militants. Three of the slain militants belong to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist group, while the identity of the other three militants is yet to be ascertained.


China pact on markets

The Economic Development Ministry has signed a MoU with China’s State Administration for Market Regulation, to provide technical assistance to the Maldives economic development ministry. Chinese experts would help identify and resolve problems in the business environment and provide assistance with “market regulation, consumer protection, and challenges facing small and medium-sized enterprises,” Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail said, adding that the country would benefit from China’s experience in adhering to international best practices.


Universities rank high

Some universities in Myanmar have risen in this year’s global ranking. The University of Yangon was ranked at 13,072 in 2016 but climbed to 8509 in January. Likewise, the University of Mandalay rose to 12,614 from 20,701 in 2016. Other universities that improved this year are the Yangon University of Computer Studies, which moved to 3643 from 14,302 in 2016.  The University of Myeik also moves up, to 15,880 from 25,439 in 2018, while Yangon University of Technology climbed to 18,390 from 22,678 in 2016. The University of Dagon also improved to 20,508 from 21,352 in 2017, and Yangon University of Economics climbed to 21,737 from 23,537 in 2017.

Talks on French ties

Christian Lechervy, Ambassador of France, is in Myanmar for his second visit to Ayeyarwady Region for a follow-up in economic delegation composed of three institutions and nine French companies. This visit aims at strengthening economic development cooperation between France and the vibrant Region of Ayeyarwady and to deepen topics discussed during the first visit, such as infrastructure and agriculture subjects.


Upper Trishuli III ‘A’ linked

The Upper Trishuli III ‘A’, one of the most coveted projects in the country, has finally been connected to the national grid. An achievement for the Nepal Electricity Authority, it will produce 72 hours of continuous electricity via 220 KV double circuit for test. The project also has investments from China.

Indian investments sought

Finance Minister of Nepal, Yuba Raj Khatiwada recently addressed Indian investors at the Nepal-India Franchise Investment Expo and Conclave, asking them for greater participation in trade. From the tourism sector to the private industrial sector, Nepal would now provide a convenient environment for production and market. Consequently, through better trade, both the neighbours can create better opportunities for improved bilateral negotiations.

‘Free Tibet’ row

Rashtriya Janata Party law-maker Iqbal Miya’s contentious participation in the ‘free-Tibet movement’ in Latvia has been an issue of great controversy. Consequently, the party held a meeting in Kathmandu expressing its incognizance of the same. Given Nepal’s commitment and relationship with China, such a circumstance appears to be uncalled for.


Questions on terror-funding

Recently a meeting was held between the Asia-Pacific Group (APG) on money laundering, a regional affiliate of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and a ten-member delegation led by the Finance Secretary Mohammad Younas Dagha representing Pakistan at the two day APG meeting in Guangzhou, China. Participants from India raised tough questions about Pakistan’s sincerity in acting against stated organizations and the effectiveness of internal controls.  Pakistan replied that they had complied with the FATF action plan.

Creating jobs

At a meeting on the  “Wazir-i-Azam Kamyab Naujawan Programme, Prime Minister Imran Khan approved in principle, a programme  aimed at creating job opportunities, soft loans, education and other professional skills for the youth of the country. Although such programmes had been launched previously a lack of effective strategy prevented these from becoming effective. Under a youth development roadmap a national youth development framework has also been devised as well as a National Youth Council.

Sri Lanka

Sajith for stiffer PTA

Even as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) is blaming former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SLPP for withdrawing cooperation to enact a new counter-terror law in the aftermath of the ‘Easter terror-blasts’, senior minister Sajith Premadasa has favoured the Opposition’s earlier demand for stiffening the provisions of the existing, war-time PTA law in this regard. Sajith, son of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was slain by the LTTE, is an aspirant for the UNP’s presidential nomination and his comments came even as SLPP veteran and war-time Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa reiterated his recent resolve to contest the presidential polls, due in December.



Opinion Pieces

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Taliban Optimism: the United States on the Verge of Defeat and Withdrawal from Afghanistan”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 16 May 2019 Rod Norland, “Taliban Target Aid Groups, in an Ominous Turn in Afghanistan”, The New York Times, 13 May 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Peace Talks Should be Give-and-Take Process”, 16 May 2019 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “In the eve of New Security Crisis on the Most Harmless People of Afghanistan”, 15 May 2019


Opinion Pieces

Shawkat Hossain, “How credible is the GDP calculation”, ProthomAlo, 15 May 2019 AyshaAkterAkh, “Towards a new boat people crisis”, ProthomAlo, 14 May 2019 Mostafiz Uddin, “Is Bangladesh’s apparel sector ready for industry 4.0?”,The Daily Star, 12 May 2019



Kuensel, “There are lots under surface (collection)”, 11 May 2019


Opinion Pieces

Biplab Loho Choudhury, “Felling An Icon: Vandalising Vidyasagar’s Statue Goes Against Bengal’s Intellectual Legacy”, The Indian Express, 17 May 2019 Neha Thirani Bagri, “India IS Trapping its Young People”, Foreign Policy, 14 May 2019 Akriti Bhatia, “Rhetoric Over Real Issues: on 2019 General Elections”, The Hindu, 16 May 2019 Vrinda Bhandari, “Mamata Meme Case: SC Order Discourages Satire And Free Speech”, Hindustan Times, 16 May 2019


Opinion Pieces

Joe Kumbun, “Secession, Confederation, Federalism or Decentralization?”, The Irrawaddy, 16 May 2019 Nyein Nyein, “Peace Process Is Foundering, KNU Chief Tells EAOs”, The Irrawaddy, 16 May 2019 Kyaw Phyo Tha, “Myanmar Can No Longer Afford to Ignore the Threat of Nationalism”, The Irrawaddy, 14 May 2019 Bo Kyi, “Prison Riot Investigation Must Address Inhumane Conditions”, The Irrawaddy, 14 May 2019 Andrew Ong, “After the Fanfare, Back to Basics—The UWSA and Ceasefire Realities”, The Irrawaddy, 13 May 2019


Opinion Pieces

Chandra Bahadur Shrestha, “Cause of delay”, Republica, 16 May 2019 Hans Peter Lankes, “Poised to scale new peaks”, The Kathmandu Post, 17 May 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “The future of education”, 7 May 2019 The Himalayan Times, “Listen to lawmakers”, 16 May 2019


Opinion Pieces

Moonis Ahmar, “If Modi loses Indian elections…”, The Express Tribune, 17 May 2019 I.A.Rehman, “The marriage age debate”, Dawn, 16 May 2019


The Express Tribune, “The rising dollar”, 17 May 2019 Dawn, “Taking to the streets”, 17 May 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Laksiri Fernando, “Anti-Muslim riots and anatomy of the second security failure”, The Island, 19 May 2019 Ameen Izzadeen, “Wahhabism, Salafism: The good, bad and evil”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 May 2019 M S M Ayub, “Ethnic riots: A mix-up of friend and foe”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 May 2019 Kelum Bandara, “Terror strikes create new security dynamics in China, Sri Lanka relations”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 May 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “National security: Serious business of belling the cat”, Ceylon Today, 16 May 2019 Prof G L Peiris, ex-Foreign Minister: “Current crisis: An urgent common sense action plan”, The Island, 15 May 2019 Jehan Perera, “National political leadership accountable for failure”, The Island, 14 May 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “H.E. Mr. Cardinal President, Sir?”, Colombo Gazette, 13 May 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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