Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh; revival of tourism in Pakistan — and other news from South Asia.
Bangladesh: Tackling trafficking of Rohingyas
In May this year, 23 teenage Rohingya girls were rescued from the Bangladesh capital Dhaka when they were bound for trafficking into Malaysia. The incident exposed the wide network of the human traffickers and the vulnerabilities Rohingya refugees are facing in the camps in Bangladesh. Authorities are taking measures to control human trafficking and have launched a drive against the traffickers. Considering the transnational nature of the crime, the country needs cooperation of the global community to tackle this crime.
Human-traffickers lure Rohingya girls by promising jobs in cities in Bangladesh or in countries like Malaysia, India or in the Gulf countries. The trafficked girls often end up in brothels as sex workers.
The Rohingyas are a religious and ethnic community from the Rakhine province of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh. They are primarily Muslim and speak a language similar to the dialect of Chittagong in Bangladesh, and at present are the world’s largest ‘state-less community’. The Myanmar government does not recognise Rohingyas as their citizens. Instead they are considered as migrants from Bangladesh. Owing to harassment and persecution, they have fled their homes and are housed in camps in the neighbouring nation.
Search for honourable life
With minimal facilities and no hopes of returning home, the Rohingyas’ desperation has given a major stimulus to human-traffickers. According to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and Fortify Right, a non-government organisation, trafficking in the Rohingyas is a trade worth between $ 50-100 m. The boatman crisis of 2014-15 unveiled the stories of exploitation at the hands of human-traffickers, even as the refugees are in search of an honourable life.
In 2014, bodies of Rohingya migrants were found in the sea close to the shores of Malaysia. Earlier, only men used to undertake these journeys, but lately women too are joining in following their strenuous environment.
Human-trafficking is not new to Bangladesh. Its both women and men are victims of trafficking. While men are trafficked with the promise of better employment opportunities abroad, women are promised of jobs. Around 50,000 girls are trafficked to India alone. The presence of the Rohingya refugees have increased the chances of the girls to be a prey of the human traffickers.
Bangladesh has been receiving an intermittent flow of Rohingya refugees since the 1980’s. The largest exodus of refugees, however, happened in August 2017. Around 600,000 Rohingyas came to Bangladesh as refugees as they fled atrocities of the Myanmar security forces after a militant organisation from the community attacked camps of the security forces in Rakhine. As of now, a million Rohingyas are estimated to be living in Bangladesh as refugees.
Fear of repatriation
The host government established relief camps and have been asking Myanmar for their repatriation. But the refugees have expressed reservations to returning to Myanmar as they fear they might face persecution. Experts say that the push for repatriation is an important reason for women opting for new destinations and falling into the hands of traffickers.
Bangladesh has taken measures to tackle human trafficking by enacting laws and developing the capacity for the concerned authorities. The major step in this regard has been the enactment of the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act. The law is stringent and it criminalises sex and labour trafficking, prescribing imprisonment and penalties. Despite all these, the efforts have fallen short of the required levels of international satisfaction. The US State Department Report on Trafficking in Persons 2018 listed Bangladesh as a ‘Tier Two’ country, meaning it is still under watch and requires improvement.
Given the transnational nature of the crime, strengthening partnership with other countries is a key factor to check this menace. Bangladesh has signed agreements at the bilateral and multilateral levels on this. Bangladesh also has been receiving some good cooperation from some countries like India. The issues of Rohingya migration is little different as it is dealing with the stateless people.
To find a permanent solution to the problem, there is a need to have a long-term view of it. First of all, the international community needs to encourage Myanmar to create an atmosphere safe and sustainable that will encourage Rohingyas’ return.
Pakistan: Promoting tourism, the Imran Khan way
Home to one of the world’s earliest civilisation-linked sites, Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, and some of the most picturesque valleys, Pakistan is the reservoir of untapped tourist potentials. The primary reason why tourism has not prospered in this country was its volatile and to an extent unstable political situation.
Indeed, former US President Barrack Obama had once called Pakistan “the most dangerous place”, referring to the tribal areas in the north-western parts of the country that had been the training grounds for militants and insurgents from both sides of the border. Such developments had marginalised Pakistan from the ‘global tourism radar’.
In this context, the country’s previous governments had undertaken efforts to stabilise the country’s political situation through military operations to pave the way for tourism. However, no drastic improvements had been noted in the tourism industry. It is, therefore, not surprising that the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, highlighted his ambitions of developing the tourism sector to boost the country’s economy during his oath taking ceremony.
The Prime Minister’s words were an echo of an agenda in the party manifesto of Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) to promote tourism under the banner of ‘Pakistan as Asia’s Best Kept Secret’ in the global tourism market. Referring to the diminishing security issues plaguing the country, PM Khan stated that the country now has a much more improved environment for investments to be made. He also assured that no other sector in Afghanistan would guarantee as much return on investment as this industry would.
To attain this objective, the government plans to build 20 tourist resorts in its five-year tenure. Subsequently to promote tourism and investments, PM Khan announced new visa policy for 190 countries in 2018 that became operational in June 2019. At present, e-visa facility is available to nationals from the UK, China, Turkey and the UAE, for a fee of $ 8. In the near future, citizens from a high number of 175 countries will be able to enjoy the same.
The list for countries eligible for business visas has also been extended from 48 to 96. The list is expected to benefit nationals from 170 countries in the near future. Visa fees have also been substantially reduced to attract more tourists.
To further improve the prospect of tourism, two of the largest airports of the country, Karachi and Lahore, have been installed with passenger identification systems. PM Khan has also urged for the creation of a tourism corridor covering the member-nations of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and to promote regional connectivity through cultural and tourism exchanges.
Speaking at the Pakistan Tourism Summit in Islamabad where several global travel bloggers were in attendance, he also highlighted the hospitality of the people of Pakistan that is most conducive for tourism. He has also promised to build four resorts each year and develop beaches at par with international standards.
There has also been an announcement on the implementation of a framework to incentivise private sector investments in developing facilities that would encourage “themed” tourism such as eco-tourism, which are more lucrative. Efforts are also underway to provide four-star accommodation at affordable cost and to set up a comprehensive web-site identifying tourist zones being set up providing detailed information to visitors. Internationally successful models are being followed to promote tourism in Pakistan.
Photo: Flickr/ CC BY 2.0
The country has also urged its countries to revise their travel advisories to clarify that Pakistan is now safe for travel. However countries such as US, Canada, UK and Australia still list Pakistan on ‘reconsider travel’ category which means to avoid unnecessary travel to the country. While promoting tourism the Prime Minister is also particular that the industry must be regulated through appropriate laws. In that regard Khan has advised his task force on tourism to “make people respect the local sensibilities and local culture." Disrespecting local customs especially in the tribal areas would negatively affect the industry.
As some risks continue to prevail in many pockets of Pakistan, under Khan’s impetus, the tourism industry has partially revived in the country that is likely to elevate the economic standing of the country through foreign exchange revenues. This is especially necessary as Pakistan is on the verge of accepting a $ 6-billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund to sustain its otherwise debt ridden economy.
Growth in the tourism sector would also contribute towards alleviating poverty and lowering the unemployment ratio of the country as it has the capacity to absorb semi-skilled labourers. The industry also has the capability of generating seasonal employment.
Owing to the relative stability in the past one year under Khan’s regime, tourists are now more confident about visiting and exploring the country. Pakistan’s tourism industry is currently estimated at $ 22 billion and is expected to grow to over $ 39.8 billion within a decade as forecast by the World Travel and Tourism Council. However Pakistan still trails behind in terms of the average GDP share of region’s tourism sector.
To further boost its tourism potential, Pakistan must undertake several other measures. Creating awareness amongst the locals about their surroundings and the richness of their culture is of primary importance. At the same time, they must also be taught about environmental conservation and sustainability so as to preserve the natural tourist attractions.
Local and community based ownership projects will help sustain both the natural environment as well as the local economy. Efforts must also be generated to improve and expedite visas processes and granting no-objection certificates.
Better use must also be made of the technological advancements to attract the attention of tourists to Pakistan and facilities such as online accessibility of hotels, purchase of rail and air tickets and car bookings must be improved. It must be understood that tourism offers a unique opportunity to Pakistan not only to revive its economy but also to project to the world that it is now on the path towards development.
‘Unique’ peace opportunity
Amidst the wide variety of challenges that is hindering the country’s peace process, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called the existing opportunity of peace in Afghanistan to be ‘unique’. He further affirmed the full support of the Allies towards the US Special Representative Ambassador Zalamy Khalilzad in his attempts to achieve a political settlement. He further stated that the NATO remains strongly committed to Afghanistan and recently forces have also been generated for the next year.
Lucrative trade in India
The United States Agency for International Development, in collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, recently organised an exhibition under the banner of “Made in Afghanistan: Nature’s Best” at the Mumbai Trade Mission and Exhibition. The event turned out to be lucrative for Afghanistan as the Afghan exporters of fruits, nut, honey, spices and juice returned with contracts worth more than 123 million USD from Indian buyers.
Highest ever inflow of foreign direct investment was recorded in 2018. Bangladesh received net foreign direct investment (FDI) of worth US$3.61 billion in 2018. The rise in FDI was possible due to the one-off payment of US$1.47 billion by Japan Tobacco Inc. to purchase Akij Group’s tobacco business. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), FDI rose by 67.94 percent from a year earlier. The power sector was the highest recipient of FDI. It attracted $1.01 billion, followed by food ($729.69 million), textile and weaving (US$408.08 million), banking ($282.54 million), telecommunication ($219.87 million), leather and leather products ($ 110.55 million) and trading ($101.91 million).
Indian grid for power trade
In a way forward to deepening region electricity trade in South Asia, officials of Nepal and Bangladesh in a meeting agreed to use the existing Indian transmission lines for trading in power. The official, however, clarified that the measure in only for the short run. The dedicated transmission line would pass through the Siliguri corridor in India. Bangladesh and Nepal have signed an agreement in this regard. It is worthy to note that the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on “Cooperation in the Field of Power Sector” in August last. The two countries have decided to, to study the prospect of building dedicated power lines in future.
Rohingyas: Appeal to China
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requested China to persuade Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya refugees residing in Bangladesh. Prime Minister made the request during she had a meeting with Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh in her office in the Parliament. Rohingyas are a linguistic and religious group of Rakhine province in Myanmar. Around one million Rohingyas are residing in Bangladesh as refugees following persecution in their home.
Power project shut
The 1020 MW Tala project was shut down on 25 and 26 June due to transmission line outages in India. The transmission lines in India were hit by lightning and bad weather as the region south of Bhutan’s border suffered from heavy rains and winds. Tala has six units in total of 170 MW each (1020 MW) but only two units were operating due to limited water levels.
Rains affects life
Heavy rainfall in Bhutan has led to a rise in the water levels of Pagladia and Borolia rivers in Assam. According to reports, due to heavy rainfall, a crucial bridge connecting Tamulpur to Baksa District Headquarters has been washed away. This has left the locals in the region in great difficulty. People are using bamboo or banana rafts to cross the water.
Six charged for smuggling
The Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) has charged six people for illegally importing 31 kg of gold into the country from the northern border. OAG on 21 June registered the smuggling case with the Paro dzongkhag court charging two businessmen, three farmers and a soldier for smuggling gold, solicitation, active and passive bribery of public servant and omission amounting to abuse of functions.
Quota Bill for J&K
Stating that his bill is not meant to please anyone other than those living near the International Border between India and Pakistan, Union Home Minister Amit Shah tabled the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2019, his first one. This bill, aimed at providing reservations in educational institutions and government jobs for those living within 10 km of the International Border, also seeks to extend the President’s Rule in the State, which is said to end on the 2 July, by 6 months. This bill has the support of NK Premchandran of the RSP from Kerala, who has also stated his discomfort over any attempt to pass this bill as an ordinance by the government.
Maoists kill CRPF men
Two officers were been killed and one injured in an encounter with Maoist forces in the Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh earlier on Friday. An Assistant Sub-Inspector and a Head Constable of the CRPF were killed in this ambush, while the injured officer is also an Assistant Sub-Inspector. Two civilian girls were also caught in the crossfire, resulting in one of the girls dying while the other one was injured. A back-up team was sent to the ambushed area to provide reinforcements to the embattled forces.
Upper House passes SEZ Bill
The Rajya Sabha, in an effort to attract more investment to India’s Special Economic Zones, cleared the Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019. This bill will allow financial trusts to set up their own units in these zones, which provide various tax incentives for investors. This bill will replace the Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019, which has been passed in March. This ordinance was met with strong criticism from the Opposition parties, who saw the issuance as an election tactic, as it was done very close to the General Elections, while the incumbent government stated the passing of the ordinance as a method to circumvent the disruptions in Parliament.
The Chief of Maldivian defence forces, Maj-Gen Abdulla Shamaal, has said that work was underway to collaborate with relevant institutions to establish a counter-terrorism framework. He stated that work is further underway by the institutions to bring amendments to the Prevention of Terror Act. "Any and all measures are being taken to secure Maldives from terrorist attacks, and if any such cases were to occur, to respond", conceding that the threat of terrorism posed to Maldives has increased after the April 21 bombings in Sri Lanka. Vice Chief of Defence Force Brig-Gen Abdul Raheem Abdul Latheef pointed to the terrorist attacks on a mosque in the normally tranquil New Zealand as an example that there was no room to say that any country was safe.
Teaching volunteers from China
Under the HKU-Jockey Club Nurturing Global Leaders Programme (NGL), a group of student volunteers from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have come to Myanmar this summer, starting from June to August, to teach students in different schools and education centres. Every two volunteers are teamed up to co-teach in a number of teaching centres and schools, which are located in Hpa-an, Kalaw, Nyaung Shwe and Yangon respectively. Each pair of volunteers is assigned to one school and will work for two months. For the students, their education level varies a lot, ranging from primary school to university.
Over 1,700 refugees from Paletwa and surrounding villages fled during the latter part of November 2017 due to armed conflict between the Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army (AA). The Mizoram government and Assam Rifles have failed to deport 219 Chin refugees from Lawngtlai district to Myanmar. The refugees staying in Hmawngbuchhuah village were supposed to be deported on 25 June but reports from the Ministry of External Affairs said that Myanmar authorities failed to send people to persuade the refugees to return to their country. An attempt to deport the refugees also failed on 15 June due to 'inclement weather' and 'humanitarian' reasons.
The inherent clash of ideologies between the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) is not new. Yet again, the President of NC and former Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, alleged that democracy is being hampered in the country. He pointed at issues like prevailing corruption and lack of infrastructure as major bottlenecks.
In a bid to promote Nepal and its economic and foreign policy goals, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a two-day ‘Nepal Promotion’ programme. The nodal idea was to encourage Honorary Consuls and Consul-Generals of Nepal to be the ideal flag-bearers for the country. The endeavour was successful in generating a new trend, which has never been practiced before.
Opposition for joint strategy
The Pakistani Peoples Party (opposition in the Pakistani parliament) has stated that the multi-party conference of the opposition had been successful and a joint strategy would be devised to bring ‘good news’ to Pakistan. Based on grievances like the governments’ decision to file references against the Supreme Court judges and the ‘injustice’ done when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan did not personally receive the Afghan head of state, the opposition has found it necessary to topple the government.
Revitalising Afghan ties
Recently, the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani held a one-on-one meeting in Islamabad wherein the inter-country relations were reviewed. A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after the meeting stated that the countries have agreed to revitalise their relations that have become clouded by mistrust through a ‘forward looking vision’ that will be based on political cooperation rather than competition. This comes as hopes are anew about resumption of US-Taliban talks.
‘Lone wolf’ attacks?
Appearing before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday serial-blasts, army chief, Lt-Gen Mahesh Senanayake did not rule out the possibility of ‘lone-wolf’ attacks without any direct and wide-ranging international conspiracy. In separate appearances before the PSC, Acting IGP C.D. Wickramaratne said there was no evidence to link former Minister Rishad Baithudeen to the blast even as the latter said that he did not know that a main perpetrator was related to an aide.
Death for four?
Amidst protests from foreign governments, including the UK, and rights groups like the Amnesty International, President Maithripala Sirisena signed the official orders for enforcing the dormant death penalty for the first time in over 40 years. Though Sirisena had resisted earlier calls in this regard, he cleared death for four drug-peddlers, delayed owing to the intervening ‘Easter Sunday serial-blasts’, which claimed over 250 lives.
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Afghanistan & Pakistan:
Maldives & Sri Lanka:
N Sathiya Moorthy
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