MonitorsPublished on Aug 12, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 32

Pakistan: Mixed signals after India cancels ‘special status’ for J&K

Sohini Bose

While US President Donald Trump’s statement on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi supposedly asking him to mediate on the Kashmir issue is still fresh in minds, a historic legislation was passed by the Indian Parliament. On 5 August 2019, the Indian Government scrapped Article 370 of the India Constitution that grants ‘special status’ to Jammu and Kashmir. Accordingly, the State will be divided into two Union Territories, namely, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

As a result, all laws of the Union will no longer have to be first ratified by the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly. With the result, the national Parliament now has exclusive jurisdiction over matters of defence, foreign affairs and communications.

As a precautionary measure, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was also imposed on Kashmir, prohibiting gathering of people. Moreover as pre-emptive measure leaders such as Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have been kept under house arrest, internet connections and mobile networks have been suspended, tourists have been evacuated and education institutions have been temporarily closed.

Snapping ties

The Congress Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has reacted to the action stating that, “Kashmir is under curfew, former chief ministers and party leaders are under house arrest, there is an environment of war in Kashmir." Pakistan shares the view of the Indian opposition and claims the Indian act to be “illegal”. This is not surprising given the long history of disputes over Kashmir between the two countries. While Pakistan is considering placing the issue to the United Nations, the country itself has also manifested its protests through several initiatives.

On 8 August, the Pakistani government suspended the Samjhauta Express train service between Pakis­tan and India. The crew of the Express were apparently not willing to take the passengers to India as they had received life threats from the Indian Research and Analysis Wing. The Minister of Railways  Sheikh Rashid Ahmed considers India’s move to be an act of human rights violation and hence has implemented this decision of suspension as Pakistan cannot remain “a mere spectator”.

On the security front, the National Security Council has also established a group that would fight against India’s “Hindutva” ideology and government forces are patrolling near the border of “India occupied” Kashmir. The NSC has further decided to downgrade bilateral ties with India, expel the Indian high commissioner who had recently returned to Pakistan after Pulwama attack and bilateral trade has also been suspended by the two nations.

On 14 August, Pakistan’s Independence Day will also be observed in solidarity with the people of Kashmir while the Indian Independence Day will be marked as a ‘Black Day”. Meanwhile Prime Minister Imran Khan is confident that India’s decision will not be viewed favourably by the international community.

Imposing a ‘cultural ban’

On the cultural front, the Pakistani Ministry of Information and Broadcasting also launched a national slogan ‘Say No to India’ and has banned all cultural exchanges with the country including all joint ventures in the entertainment industry. Indian content has also been banned on the claim that it is a “clash of two ideologies”. While Pakistan has, “an enlightened moderate and progressive ideology, the extremist government in India has shown their hard-line, terrorist, fanatic and anti-Muslim ideology.”

Hence a cultural ban was necessary as the Indian content was portraying the country’s false propaganda. Pakistani print media also carries news about this abrogation highlighting the way in which freedom of the Kashmiris had been curtailed by the Indian government the night before the announcement.

Pakistan’s view of the situation in Kashmir is in vivid contrast to that being narrated in India. For Pakistan it is an aggressive act by an extremist government. It is also being considered a move to hinder Pakistan in its goal of achieving peace in South Asia. Using the narrative of being in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, Pakistan has thus drawn attention to the curfew that had been imposed on the state and has portrayed it as an act of human rights violation.

Following the same paradigm its has called the act to be illegal as it was not done with the prior consent of the Kashmiris as had been promised by Pandit Nehru when Article 370 had been passed. Using the people’s narrative Pakistan is thus justifying its position against the Indian government.

Hopes for peace

However, the country maintains that a direct war between two nuclear countries like India and Pakistan would be dangerous and it is therefore inclined to peace. Therefore Pakistan’s response to India has been restricted to the political, cultural and economic domains and has not been allowed to percolate to the military. The Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has further clarified that Pakistan remains committed to completing and opening the Kartarpur corridor as it does not want to impede people to people relations and is tolerant of all religions.

Pakistan has also emphasised that the country’s aid in facilitating the Afghan peace process will not be impeded by its disputes with India. In reply to questions about normalization of diplomatic ties the Pakistani government has stated that that would only be possible if New Delhi is also inclined to do the same. The Foreign Minister stated that “This will not be one way it has to be a two-way thing”.

Pakistan now relies on the secular, democratic and leftist elements in Indian society for further internal protests. However the future appears bleak especially in view of the fact that India-Pakistan ties have steadily deteriorated in the past few years owing to continuing “incidents” like Uri, the Pulwama attack, the Balakot Strike and now the Kashmir issue. It is uncanny how an adversity always seems to ‘happen’ just when the inter-country relations begin to normalise.

Bhutan: ‘Neighbourhood first’ in PM Modi’s visit

Mihir Bhonsale

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Bhutan on 16 and 17 August as part of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Modi visited the Himalayan kingdom last in 2014 at the start of his first term, making it his first port of call after becoming the prime minister. He is expected to inaugurate the 720 MW Mangdecchu hydropower plant besides holding political and bilateral areas of cooperation between the two countries.

Modi’s visit follows several bilateral visits and exchanges re-affirming the unique and special ties between the two neighbours. The newly sworn-in Bhutanese Prime Minister, Dr. Lotay Tshering, visited New Delhi in December when India pledged INR 4,500 crore in grant for Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan and a transitional Trade Support Facility of INR 400 Crore over a period of five years to strengthen bilateral trade and economic linkages.

Again, in May, Dr. Tshering visited New Delhi to attend the swearing in of Prime Minister Modi in his second term on the invitation of the PM designate to heads of all BIMSTEC member states. India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, also visited Thimphu in June, thus making it his first overseas state visit.

The two-day visit of the Prime Minister to India’s all weather friend Thimphu is said to be a continuance of strong and friendly ties with all its’ neighbours represented by India’s Neighbourhood first policy. But, the visit comes at a time when India needs its northern neighbour, the most for changing dynamics in the South Asian region, the latter long held by India within its sphere of influence. The Indian PM’s visit also hopes to assuage fears of Bhutan including its need to diversify its exports, the latter mainly comprising of hydropower export to India.

Strategic underpinnings

Into his second term as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s choices of bilateral overseas visit up to now are indicative of India’s strategic underpinnings. He visited the Bay littorals Sri Lanka and Maldives in June that have in the recent past seen heavy investments in port and logistics from China.

Prime Minister speaking at the parliament of Maldives in a veiled reference to China cautioned countries such as Maldives of the debt trap that they might get into unlike the Indian investments would never pose such a threat. The other was Modi’s appeal to unite against terrorism that targeted the region.

With Bangladesh balancing relations by attracting Chinese investments through active participation in the Belt and Road Initiative of Beijing, New Delhi’s encirclement could have been complete had it not been for Bhutan’s unflinching support to India who has time and again warded off China’s advances by abstaining from attending the BRI conference held in 2016 and protesting against the construction of a road in the disputed Doklam plateau where a 73-day long standoff ensued between the armies of China and India.

Beijing has always exerted pressure upon Thimphu for establishing formal diplomatic relations in lieu of Beijing settling borders with its northern neighbour. It has been Thimphu’s policy to not establish diplomatic relations with P-5 countries that include China. However, China’s ascendency as a regional power has begun to have a spell on a section of Bhutanese people who are arguing that Thimphu should balance out India’s investments and trade.

Bilateral concerns

Hydropower cooperation between the two countries has been riddled with delays and concerns have been raised on the environmental costs. Completion of large projects like the 1200 MW Punatsangcchu-I and 1020 MW Punatsangchhu II that are being built through a grants and loan from India has been delayed, increasing overhead costs for Thimphu’s.

India also has remained non-committal on the Sankosh reservoir project for which Bhutan has already incurred expenses for the detailed project reports. This has contributed to the non-materialisation of the 2020 target of generating 10,000 MW.

Bhutan is set to graduate from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status accorded to it by the United Nations in 2023 and the present 12th Five Year Plan is the last mile towards the graduation. Over-reliance of hydropower (and its costs to environment), that comprises of 32 percent of Bhutan’s total exports has been flagged as a danger for its economy in this transition into a developing economy.

Despite the concerns that Thimphu has with India, Bhutan has remained a steadfast strategic partner and as the Prime Minister Modi’s visit acknowledges and takes the neighbour into confidence for India to build a closer cooperation with allies and balance out China’s advances in the Bay of Bengal region.

Country Reports


Situation of ‘clear enmity’

Addressing a press conference in Kabul the Afghanistan Presidential spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi recently stated that the country was facing a group which has “clear enmity” with the people of Afghanistan.  The Taliban clearly, he said, is the main obstacle in the peace process and added that the group should immediately renounce violence and use the available opportunity for peace. He emphasised that the group has no options but to submit to the demands of the Afghan people.

Poll campaign off

According to the Peace and Moderation team, the incumbents of the electoral team have engaged in illegal actions raising questions about the credibility of the Election process. The Peace and Moderation electoral team led by Mohammad Haneef Atmar has therefore announced suspension of election campaigns for the upcoming month’s presidential elections. The other electoral teams have also sought suspension of election campaigns for a period of one week. No assurance yet exists for the transparency of the elections.


Cattle-ban, ‘blessing’

Once heavily dependent on Indian cattle, which were often smuggled in, Bangladesh today is almost self-reliant in meeting its own demand, even when millions of cattle are slaughtered across the country during festive days like Eid-ul-Azha, which falls on Monday, this year. According to official information, 11.18 million livestock are being reared across the country, mainly to be sold for the Eid-ul-Azha celebrations.  The number of locally reared cattle includes - 4.58 million cows and buffaloes, 7.20 million goats and sheep, and hundreds of other sacrificial animals – now available at hand, officials said, pointing out that the intervening Indian ban and strict enforcement of an export-ban and smuggling of cattle-heads across international borders, has helped the nation in its own way.


Prayers for Sushma

King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck offered prayers and a thousand butterlamps at Simtokha Dzong on 7 August in memory of Her Excellency Sushma Swaraj, the former External Affairs Minister of India. Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said in a condolence message that it was with great sadness that he learnt of the demise of Swaraj and called her highly respected political leader and statesman who will be dearly missed by the people of India and Bhutan.

Flash floods

A flash flood that led to the swollen Punatsangchhu river on the night of 6 August washed away a truck ferrying four labourers working for Punatsangchhu II Hydroelectric Project Authority (PHPA-II), damaged a store of Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (BHEL) containing electronic and mechanical components worth 7.5 billion and a fabrication house of JayPee. Amresh Kumar of PHPA-II said they have mobilised resources to look for the missing labourers, restore the highway and the materials.


‘Special status’ goes

The Union Government issued a presidential order on 5 August, 2019 which annulled the provisions that granted special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir under article 370 and article 35-A of the Indian constitution. The order also recommended the bifurcation of the state into two union territories –Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir would have a legislature which the union territory of Ladakh would be without a legislature. Later, the Jammu and Kashmir Bill, 2019 was passed in both the houses of the Parliament to give effect to the presidential order.

Monsoon session ends

The Monsoon session of the Parliament, which was extended to expedite some crucial pending legislations, ended on 7 August, 2019. The Rajya Sabha has cleared 32 bills and the Lok Sabha has cleared 35 bills in this session. This session has been hailed as one of the most productive sessions of Parliament by the respective presiding officers of both the houses.


‘Terror group’ involved?

The Presidential Commission on Deaths and Disappearances with policing and prosecution powers has concluded that a ‘terrorist group’ was behind the abduction of Ahmed Rilwan though what happened later remained unknown. Commission chair Ahmed Suood also said that the attempted murder of blogger Ismail Khilath Rasheed in June 2012, the assassination of law-maker Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, Rilwan’s abduction in August 2014, and the murder of blogger Yameen Rasheed in April 2017 were all connected and carried out by an extremist group.


Unrest over drug-eradication

More than 200 villagers fled their homes in Tangyan township on 6 August to escape nearby fighting between the Myanmar military and Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) troops in north-eastern Shan state. Lt-Col Sai Hsu from the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the political wing of the SSA-N, said the fighting was sparked by measures it is taking under its drug eradication campaign in the state, as announced at 2 August meeting. So far, the SSPP has arrested more than 100 people on drug-related crimes since it began its latest campaign.

KMIC to boost ties

Myanmar’s Ministry of Construction, Korea Land and Housing Corporation and Global Sae-A Co Ltd is setting up a joint venture company to develop an industrial zone in Hlegu township north of Yangon. An agreement was signed on 7 August in this regard to be known as the Korea Myanmar Industrial Complex (KMIC), which would be built on 555 acres of land belonging to NyaungHna Pin training school. Minister of Construction U Han Zaw said the KMIC would not only create between 50,000 and 100,000 jobs but also enhance the country’s manufacturing base, exports, training of talent and support socio-economic development.


Silence on ‘Kashmir’

The recent move of the Indian government to do away with Article 370 has commenced waves of discussion in the global platform. However, as an immediate neighbour, Nepal’s position is still conspicuous. The Nepalese government has not made any formal comment. Moreover, the opposition party in Nepal, the Nepali Congress, has also maintained silence stating that it would remain aligned with the decision of the government. Given the recent closeness between Nepal and China, the reaction of the former would be noteworthy.

Trade unions banned?

The banning of trade unions has come up as a grave issue in the country, vehemently opposed by the Nepali Congress. Trade Unions have been representing public opinion since time immemorial. The best possible way to bring them in control would be to curb their power but not completely erase their existence from the civil society.

Millennium Challenge Corporation Grant

Nepal has recently received the Millennium Challenge Corporation Grant from the United States of America for a multimillion dollar programme. The process would begin from June 2020. However, the catch is to complete the process within a period of five years.


Samjhauta Express suspended

In contrast to work continuing on the Kartarpur Corridor, Pakistan has decided to suspend the Samjhauta Express service that runs between the two countries, following New Delhi’s decision to withdraw the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Before the announcement of suspension, the passengers were sent to the Wagah border and India was asked to dispatch an engine for their return. Pakistan views India’s act as a violation of human rights and hence refuses to remain a spectator.

Work on Kartarpur Corridor

While there is tension brewing between India and Pakistan, following the formers decision to scrap Article 370, the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has announced that they will remain committed to completing and opening the promised Kartarpur Corridor. He also urged Indian Sikhs to question whether the Indian government wanted to continue with the project. Qureshi further mentioned that Pakistan’s support for the peace process in Afghanistan would also remain unaffected despite the country’s dispute with India.

Sri Lanka

Gota for Prez, MR, PM?

After taking over as the president of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), former President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced brother and his war-time Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapksa as their nominee for the presidential polls, due by year-end. In a bid to convince his personal constituency to vote for Gota in the presidential polls, Mahinda also declared himself the party’s prime ministerial candidate, pointing out how under 19-A, the PM had more powers than the President. In Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP, the tussle for the nomination continues, with party deputy leader and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa reportedly preparing to launch (his) presidential campaign at a public rally in Badulla, later this week.



Opinion Pieces

Mujib Mashal, “In Afghanistan, the Endgame Demands a Difficult Balancing Act in a Region on Edge”, The New York Times, 8 August 2019

Hujjatullah Zia, “Targeting Civilians – A Lukewarm Response to Peace”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 8 August 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Pursing Peace Process ‘Shared Responsibility’”, 7 August 2019

Afghanistan Times, “Lifeblood for the Afghan economy”, 4 August 2019



Dhaka Tribune, “A matter of identity”, 9 August 2019


Opinion Pieces

Tenzing Lamsang, “The real issues in the Sonam Tamang and LEP case”, The Bhutanese, 3 August 2019


The Bhutanese, “The DG”, 3 August 2019

Kuensel, “APA and the Prime Minister”, 3 August 2019


Opinion Pieces

Mohammed Ayoob, “Much ado about little”, The Hindu, 9 August 2019

Gargi Mishra, “Our notions of motherhood”, The Indian Express, 9 August 2019

Pinaki Roy, “We have failed to put even basic systems in place to conserve water”, The Telegraph, 9 August 2019

Amitabh Mattoo, “Piecing together Kashmir’s audacious road map”, The Hindu, 6 August 2019


The Hindu, “Knee-jerk: On Pakistan expelling Indian Envoy”, 9 August 2019

The Hindu, “Cycle of Extremes: Of droughts and floods”, 9 August 2019

Times of India, “Taxing times: Tax policies have become extractive and they are often backed by coercive methods”, 7 August 2019

The Indian Express, Unlock the valley, 7 August 2019


Opinon Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: What Ahmed Adheeb’s escape means for India”,, 6 August 2019


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Ominous Rumblings in Myanmar’s ‘Abode of Kings’”, The Irrawaddy, 8 August 2019

Dr. Myint Zan, “The Long-Lived Tyrants of the Khmer Rouge—and Myanmar”, The Irrawaddy, 7 August 2019

Shawn W. Crispin, “From Conflict Zones to Courtrooms, Myanmar's Media Under Fire”, The Irrawaddy, 1 August 2019


The Irrawaddy, “Myanmar’s Balancing Act Moves to India”, 2 August 2019


Opinion Pieces

Bhairab Raj Kaini, “Restructuring agriculture project”, Republica, 8 August 2019

Madhavji Shrestha, “Nepal, watch out”, Republica, 8 August 2019


The Himalayan Times, “Let them decide”, 9 August 2019

The Kathmandu Post, “Road to unfreedom”, 8 August 2019


Opinion Pieces

Asha’ar Rehman, “Our little escapes”, Dawn, 9 August 2019

Moonis Ahmar, “US may leave but Afghan war is unlikely to end”, The Express Tribune, 9 August 2019


Dawn, “A tepid response”, 9 August 2019

The Express Tribune, “The bearish bourse”, 8 August 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

C A Chandraprema: “Electoral Reforms: No option but patchwork solutions?”, The Island, 10 August 2019

Dr Ruvaiz Haniffa, “In search of a true Sri Lankan identity”, Daily Mirror Online, 10 August 2019

Lalith Dhamikka Mendis, “The dismal state of politics in Sri Lanka”, Daily Mirror Online, 10 August 2019

M S M Ayub, “Fighting over a toothless presidency”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 August 2019

Malinda Seneviratne, “So it is Gota and also-rans?”, Daily Mirror Online, 8 August 2019

Kusal Perera, “Will Tamils, Muslims vote for the next President?”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 August 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sri Lanka: Easter blasts and India’s NIA probe”,, 7 August 2019

Jehan Perera, “Litmus test of leadership for a united Sri Lanka”, The Island, 6 August 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Will a Sri Lankan hang before the polls?”, Ceylon Today, 6 August 2019

Dr Upul Wijeyawardana, “End of the road for SLFP?”, The Island, 5 August 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “New wine in old bottles?”, Colombo Gazette, 5 August 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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