MonitorsPublished on Jul 29, 2019
Examining the implications of the Trump-Imran Khan meet, the death of General Ershad in Bangladesh and other news in South Asia.
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 30

Pakistan: Was Trump-Khan interaction really a ‘resounding success’?

Sohini Bose

Many Pakistanis living in the US and Canada gathered to welcome Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan as he arrived in Washington D.C. on an official visit, making it the biggest community meeting for any Prime Minister of the country. At the very outset, Khan clarified that he would speak to US President Donald Trump on equal and bilateral terms. This gave an indication that the interaction between the two statesmen would not be one of requests and grants but rather transactional in nature.

Prime Minister Khan was accompanied in his visit by Pakistan’s military chief Lt-Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Intelligence chief Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed. Prior to the meeting, speculation was rife regarding the issues that would be deliberated upon. While it was granted that the talks would cover Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghanistan reconciliation process and the issue of terrorism in Pakistan, a letter also reached President Trump from members of the US Congress, urging him to raise the issue of human rights abuse in the Sindh province with PM Khan.

Change in attitude

This meeting came at a time when bilateral relations had dwindled last year and questions were being raised about how effectively Pakistan had utilised the US aid. However, contrary to popular perceptions about the outcome of the interaction, both leaders seemed to agree on most contentious issues. The two nations have reaffirmed their commitment to the Afghan peace process and PM Khan did not face any major criticism about the involvement of his country in terrorist pursuits. Washington instead appreciated the efforts that Pakistan has extended to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan.

This change in attitude may be attributed to the fact that America requires Pakistani help to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and to extricate itself gracefully from Afghanistan. The US appreciation of Pakistan is aimed at urging the country to do more to facilitate the peace process. While the same message had earlier been conveyed more forcefully, this time it was more subtle. This change in attitude is indicative of the important role Pakistan holds in easing the peace process, especially as a decision has to be reached before the Afghan presidential elections in September.

The change in attitude was most manifest when the issue of terrorism, which has been the primary bone of contention between the two countries, did not feature as a major issue in the ensuing talks. PM Khan simply put forth that Pakistan’s policy regarding terrorism had transformed drastically and that there now exists a civil-military agreement in Pakistan which states that it is not in the interest of Pakistan to extend support to the insurgent groups.

Overall, Washington seems to be agreeable to Pakistan’s present disposition towards terrorism. Apparently, the US is giving Pakistan an opportunity to crack down on groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Moreover, the US military training programme to Pakistan that President Trump had suspended last year is likely to begin again shortly.

At present, the US and Pakistan appear to be satisfied with the outcome of the interaction. The visit is expected to provide a much-needed boost especially to Pakistan’s diplomacy. After his return home, Prime Minister Khan said that interaction has begun to “reset” Pakistan’s faltering relations with US and is a step in Islamabad becoming a self-reliant nation.

Disputable statements

However, in view of the statements that have been made by President Trump regarding Afghanistan and India, it is worth contemplating about the credibility of the promises made during the interaction. Also on issues of common concern between the US and Pakistan, President Trump said, "I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone." He told reporters that "It would be over, literally, in 10 days. And I don't want to do. I don't want to go that route."

President Trump’s statements naturally sparked a strong response from Afghanistan and the country proclaimed that "The Afghan nation has not and will never allow any foreign power to determine its fate." It also stated that "While the Afghan government supports the US efforts for ensuring peace in Afghanistan, the government underscores that foreign heads of state cannot determine Afghanistan's fate in the absence of the Afghan leadership."

Moreover, President Trump has been requested to clarify what he meant by his statement, especially as the US has consistently stated that the peace process in Afghanistan is one of the people and that America will gradually withdraw all its forces from the country. Bearing the brunt of Trump’s statements, the US Special Envoy for Peace in Afghanistan, Amb Zalmay Khalilzad, recently tweeted that President Trump still stands for a negotiated settlement of the Afghan problem.


In the context of India, the US President claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had requested his help as a mediator in the Kashmir issue during the G-20 meeting in Japan. The Kashmir issue has long been the reason for hostility in theIndo-Pak ties, and PM Imran Khan welcomed American efforts to intercede on the grounds of resolution of a long standing conflict that has claimed many lives.

However, India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, who was present at the G-20 meeting, was quick to respond that no such request had been made by Prime Minister Modi to President Trump on India’s behalf. New Delhi maintains that it will not accept any third party intervention in the Kashmir issue.

Such statements which have been strongly opposed in both Afghanistan and India, question the fruitfulness of the Trump-Khan interaction. While US diplomacy continues to support negotiated peace in Afghanistan and has refrained from getting involved in the Kashmir issue so far also stands in contrast to President Trump’s statements. It is thus remains to be seen how the Pakistan-US bilateral relations are really affected by this interaction which is still being considered a ‘resounding success’.

Bangladesh: Ershad’s death and implications for domestic politics 

Joyeeta Bhattacharya

The death of Gen Hussain Muhammad Ershad, the Jatiya Party chief and former military dictator of Bangladesh, marked the end of an era in the country’s national politics. General Ershad was suffering from illness for a while and died in Dhaka earlier this month.

Ershad was the last military dictator of Bangladesh who took over power in 1982 in a bloodless coup. He founded the Jatiya Party in 1985 to gain credibility to his government, which adopted democratic politics after his ouster following a popular movement in 1990. The party is a major force in the country and is considered a close ally of the ruling Awami League.

The party, however, seating in the opposition benches after the Awami League’s arch rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) declined to join Parliament as they declined to accept the results of the post-December 2018 election. Considering his stellar influence in the Jatiya Party, speculation is rife about the party’s future and its role in the nation’s politics after Ershad’s death.

Even when Ershad was around, the Jatiya Party made little difference to the political stability of the Awami League government headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as it enjoys a massive majority in Parliament, with 253 of total 300 seats. At the same time, the influence of Jatiya Party in national politics cannot be underestimated, either.

Lending credibility

In the December 2018 elections, the party won 22 seats.  The party is considered a trusted ally of the Awami League and has stood by its side in its hours of need. In 2014, the party fought the election, opposing the Awami League, after the BNP boycotted the election. The Jatiya Party’s participation as an opposition party brought legitimacy to the election credibility, which was otherwise debatable.

Interestingly, after the 2014 elections, Roushan Ershad, the wife of Gen Ershad, became the leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Ershad’s brother, Gulam Qadir, became his deputy in the party. Considered Ershad’s successor, Qadir became a minister in the Sheikh Hasina Cabinet. This made analysts to doubt the effectiveness and Jatiya’s sincerity and credibility as the main Opposition.

In the 2018 elections, the party fought as a partner of the Awami League and won 22 seats. Nevertheless, the party decided to sit in the Opposition. Unlike 2014, the party is not included in the Sheikh Hasina cabinet.

Ershad, despite blamed for corruption and encouraging Islamisation of Bangladesh when in power, was respected for his tacit manoeuvres to remain in a position of influence by cutting deals with political parties. In the 2008 election, his party was an alliance partner of the Awami League which won a landslide margin. Winning the trust of the Awami League won for him the title of ‘Special Envoy to the Prime Minister’ in 2014.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Political vacuum

Post-2018 election, Gen Ershad developed ambitions to acquire a greater role in national politics. He indicated a desire to transform his party into a major political force that could become an alternative to the BNP. Pundits suggested that Ershad wanted to take advantage of the political vacuum persisting in Bangladesh due to the fall of the BNP, but there are doubts about the party’s actual ability to do so.

Constitutionally, Bangladesh has a multi-party democracy but the Awami League and the BNP have dominated the politics of the country. Until 2008, the two parties were alternatively in power after democracy was restored in 1991. The trend changed in the 2008 elections and the Awami League became the first party in Bangladesh to retain power for three consecutive terms.

Given the BNP’s poor performance in the 2018 election, there is a realisation that the party’s influence in the country’s politics has become marginal, though the BNP does not accept such claims. By raising doubts about the fairness of the election, the BNP has been trying to argue that their electoral debacle owed to the same, not otherwise. Whatever that be, today, the Awami League is unchallengeable in Bangladesh politics.

Uniting factor

The strength of Ershad was his support in some parts of the country, primarily in Rangpur in northern Bangladesh. In spite of Ershad being in jail, the Jatiya Party could manage to win 35 seats in the 1991 election. Ershad was the major uniting factor for the party.

However, at present, there is rift between Ershad’s wife and brother over who should control of the party. The role of party cadres is considered important now to decide the future leadership of the party. Ideally, Gen Ershad’s wife and brother should work together to sustain the allegiance of the party cadres, and project it as a possible alternative to the ruling Awami League, say analysts.

Country Reports


Talks on peace talks

US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan Amb Zalmay Khalilzad recently arrived in Kabul and held discussions with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. He also interacted with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani. The deliberations focused on the next steps of the peace process which involves identifying a national negotiating team that will participate in the intra-Afghan negotiations. Amb Khalilzad is scheduled to visit Qatar next to further facilitate the Afghan peace process.

Presidential polls

Recently, during a summit in the Afghan Ministry of Defence, the Afghan security and defence institutions and the Resolute Support Mission unveiled the plan for the upcoming Afghanistan presidential election. The plan will be implemented in three phases; before the election, during the election and after the election. Additionally the plan includes provisions of security for the presidential candidates and the security institutions have also been asked to resolve the existing concerns which have hampered the previous elections.


61 dead in floods

The country is facing severe flooding, causing havoc to lives and livelihood of more than three million people. Flooding has so far claimed the lives of 61 people and displaced nearly 800,000 people. Country’s disaster management and relief ministry claimed that this year is worse than in the last two years. Flood is almost an annual affair in Bangladesh. Officials fear outbreak of infectious diseases once the water recedes. The government is planning to organise relief and assistance for the people to rebuild lives of the flood victims.

Eight lynched

Vigilante people killed eight people after rumours spread in the social media that children are being kidnapped and sacrificed as offerings for the construction of a bridge over Padma River, a tributary of the Ganga.   Amongst the victims were two women and a deaf man who was killed by the angry mob based on the rumour spread primarily through Facebook. Authorities have shut down at least 25 YouTube channels, 60 Facebook pages and 10 websites as a measure to control the rumour.


Modi visit in August

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would visit Bhutan in early August. The visit is expected to reinforce the ‘special ties’ between the two countries. The Indian Prime Minister will have summit level talks with Dr. Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, and his cabinet and receive an audience with King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck.

Domestic credit swells

More than four years since the temporary measures on loan and import restrictions were lifted in 2014, the country’s domestic credit has swelled by more than Nu 60B. Financial institutions in the country lent Nu 124B in the domestic market as of March this year. The economy saw domestic credit increase by almost Nu 20B in a of 12 months.

Forestry ‘under-utilised’ 

World Bank’s latest report has found that out of the country’s vast forests cover, only five percent of the total forest area is currently under commercial management, making Bhutan a net importer of forest-based products. The sector constitutes an important but underutilised economic sector of the economy.


New CM in Karnataka

The 14-month-old Congress-JD(S) alliance government in Karnataka fell on 23 July after Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy government lost the trust vote in the state legislature with 99 votes for the government and 105 votes against it. The BJP, with a strength of 105 MLAs in the house, has staked claim to form the next government in Karnataka. B.S. Yeddyurappa, BJP leader and three times Chief Minister of the State, took oath as the Chief Minister on 26 July.

Chandrayaan-2 launched

India's second moon spacecraft Chandrayaan-2 was successfully launched on 22 July. It has been developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the mission was launched from the second launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 2:43 pm IST. It is one of the most complex and prestigious missions ever undertaken by the ISRO. It has made India the fourth country after Russia, the US and China to pull off a soft landing on the moon.


Wellness, freedom: Solih

Addressing the nation on the eve of the 59th Independence Day, President Ibrahim Solih said that his administration's foremost objective is to ensure wellness and unity in the community through policies that focus on improving housing, infrastructure, health and social welfare. The goal is to afford all Maldivian citizens with the means to realise their potential and live fulfilled lives with civil liberties and economic prosperity.The President stressed that "freedom is a fundamental right that defines us as humans; it is an inalienable birthright that should never be taken away and the freedoms to which all Maldivian citizens are entitled to should never be compromised or undermined, for any reason."


Cooperation with ASEAN

Maj-Gen Aung Thu, deputy minister of Home Affairs, readily agreed to cooperate in the effort against transnational crimes as well as in regional development under the ASEAN framework at the opening of the 19th Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime in Nay Pyi Taw on 24 July. Transnational crime has become a global issue that causes suffering. Transnational organised crime gangs are involved in money laundering, human trafficking, cybercrime, narcotics, weapons, endangered animals, and others, which need to be monitored, controlled and prevented.

Exploring new port

Yangon Region chief minister Phyo Min Thein stated that they were conducting a study and analysis for building a new port in Yangon River. The Chief Minister was speaking at a Yangon Region Investment Committee meeting held on 24 July. Currently vessels with 167 metre in length, 9 metre in draft and 15,000-tonnage can enter Yangon port but the bigger vessels with 200 metre in length, 9-metre draft and 20,000-tonnage have to enter the new Thilawa port.


NCP working for ‘unity’

The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has been working towards better unity within the party that would in turn help a more efficient functioning of the government. Chairperson of the NCP, Pushpa Kamal Dahal was recent noted mentioning the ideologies of the party that have been upheld by the veterans since the inception of a common communist ideology. In this recourse, a nation-wide campaign would be started by the beginning of August.

BRI talks in Yunan

Nepal’s Vice-President Nanda Bahadur Pun has recently had a meeting with the Deputy Governor of the Yunan Province of China, regarding the Belt and Road Initiative, of which the two countries are partners. During the interaction, Vice-President Nanda expressed his gratitude to have been given this opportunity that can harness maximum profit for Nepal. Various investment sectors were also highlighted. To what extent Nepal would be able to make the best of it, only time can say.


Regulators under Cabinet

In a recent federal cabinet meeting presided over by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, a decision was taken to bring five major regulatory bodies under the cabinet. A proposal to remove the column of profession from the national passport was also approved. Furthermore a decision has also been made by the Pakistani government to allow dual-national Pakistanis to hold elections in the country as the prime Minister wants them to become part of the Pakistani political system.

Escosoc’s post for envoy

The Pakistani Ambassador to the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi, has recently been elected as one of the four Vice-Presidents of the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) which is the economic arm of the United Nations. Her candidature had been backed by the 54-member body and she is soon to assume the Asia Pacific seat in the Ecosoc bureau. Ambassador Lodhi tweeted that her election to Ecosoc is a “vote of confidence from the global community”.

Sri Lanka

TNA targets UNP too

In the revived sessions of Parliament acting as Constitution Assembly, speakers of the Tamil National Alliane (TNA) did not spare Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe even while targeting President Maithripala Sirisena and the latter’s predecessor Mahinda Rajpaksa for not keeping the political promises to the Tamil community. This is possibly among the last sessions of the CA before presidential poll fever takes over more than already, with little or no chance of a final draft being put up for vote and possible implementation. In this turn, Rajapaksa, now Leader of the Opposition, declared that the incumbent Government of incapable of getting a new Constitution passed, adding that if elected President, his party would work for a political solution to the ethnic issue, addressing the concerns of all communities, but supported by a public referendum. PM Wickremesinghe and most ministers were not present when the House discussed the constitutional issues.

Sajith swears by father

With loud voices of support being heard from within Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) for fielding senior party leader Sajith Premadasa in the presidential polls later this year, the latter has come out in the open, declaring that if elected President or PM, he would work on the welfare schemes initiated by his slain father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa. By keeping his options open of either accepting the Presidency or PM’s post, while declaring that he would not use religion to climb up, he seems to have send out a clear signal that he was ready for a compromise with rival camps, starting with one identified with PM Wickremesinghe.



Opinion Pieces

Hujjatullah Zia, “Afghans Fear Return of Islamic Emirate”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 25 July 2019

David Zucchino, “Suicide Bombing at University Kills 10 as Violence Surges in Afghanistan”, The New York Times, 19 July 2019


Afghanistan Times, “Reckless remarks”, 24 July 2019

Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “US-Pakistan Close Ties Will Catalyze Afghan Peace Process”, 23 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Saleemul Huq, “A developing partnership between Bangladesh and the UK to tackle climate change”, The Daily Star, 25 July 2019

Habibullah N Karim, “What graduating out of LDC status means for Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 22 July 2019



Kuensel, “Fix accountability immediately”, 19 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Jagdish Rattanani, “Having the Last Word on Population Control”, The Hindu, 25 July 2019

Rajesh M. Kayal, “For faceless tax scrutiny to be successful, tax rules ought to be drafted with clarity”, The Indian Express, 26 July 2019

Dipankar Dasgupta, “When exactly will we become a $5-trillion economy?”, The Telegraph, 26 July 2019

Prabhakar Singh, ”Kulbhushan Jadhav: A rather curious case”, The Telegraph, 23 July 2019


The Hindu, “Soaring to the Moon”, 23 July 2019

The Hindu, “Undermining RTI”, 25 July 2019

The Indian Express, “A Dismal Future”, 25 July 2019

The Times of India, “Vijay Diwas: Unfinished business from the Kargil conflict”, 26 July 2019

The Times of India, “Afghan recalibration: India has no option but to talk to Taliban”, 23 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: India catching up on tourism, China will still remains a ‘monumental’ development partner”,, 24 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Htun Htun, “More Than 100 Tons of Plastic Waste Enter Irrawaddy River Daily: Survey”, The Irrawaddy, 26 July 2019

Myo Pa Pa San, “Work on City Side of Yangon-Dala Bridge to Start Next Month”, The Irrawaddy, 26 July 2019

Moe Moe, “For Peace, Arakanese Lawmakers Must Temper Rhetoric: Tatmadaw”, The Irrawaddy, 26 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Dinesh Bhattarai, “Time to ensure a safe and dignified return of the remaining refugees to Bhutan”, The Kathmandu Post, 26 July 2019

Sunil Bahadur Thapa, “Reimagining Nepal Oil Corporation”, Republica, 24 July 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “To open an embassy or not”, 25 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Anjum Altaf, “Education is not a solution”, Dawn, 25 July 2019

Usman W Chohan, “Time for a Public Finance Management Act”, The Express Tribune, 25 July 2019


Dawn, “A ‘free’ media”, 26 July 2019

The Express Tribune, “Unfair reactions from India”, 26 July 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion pieces

Dr N Kumaraguruparan, “Indo-Lanka Accord: JR and Rajiv’s final political devolution”, Daily Mirror Online, 27 July 2019

K S Sivakumaran, “Reinforcing our basic fundamentals”, Daily Mirror Online, 27 July 2019

M S M Ayub, “Can the PM solve the ethnic issue in two years?”, Daily Mirror Online, 26 July 2019

Kelum Bandara, “Presidential candidacy: Sajith faction flexes muscles”, Daily Mirror Online, 25 July 2019

Kamanthi Wickremesinghe, “Global waste trade: Is Sri Lanka the newest waste-dumping ground?”, Daily Mirror Online, 24 July 2019

Jehan Perera, “Creating a non-partisan presidency”, The Island, 23 July 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “TINA, the TNA’s only trump-card”, Ceylon Today, 22 July 2019

C A Chandraprema, “13-A: SL never got what India has”, The Island, 22 July 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Has the political bug smitten the Cardinal too?”, Colombo Gazette, 22 July 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

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