MonitorsPublished on Feb 05, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 5

Bangladesh: Fanatics trying to scuttle Govt steps to check child marriage

Joyeeta Bhattacharya

Recently, the Bangladesh Ulema League, a religious organisation, held a rally in capital Dhaka, demanding a ban on activities of the non-governmental organisations (NGO) working for the elimination of child marriage in Bangladesh.  During their agitation, activists of the Ullema League specifically mentioned international child-right organisations like the UNICEF, Save the Children and Terre des Homes as ‘anti-Muslim’ and ‘anti-Islam’. The Ulema League demanded repealing of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017.

The Ulema League claims allegiance to the ruling the Awami League, whose leader is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But the Awami League denies any association with the organisation and says the party does not endorse the views of the Ulema League.

However, the episode highlights a major societal churning that the nation is experiencing now. Today, the modern liberal values are facing increased challenges from fanatics who are trying to hold on to conservative beliefs, by pressuring the polity through various protests and rallies. Strengthening of such fanaticism will stumble the growth trajectory which the party takes pride in.

Success story

Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country with liberal values, is a success story to imitate, especially in terms of the socio-economic development achieved since Independence in 1971. Once considered a ‘basket case’ in economic terms, it is today one of the fastest growing economies, globally. Recently, Bangladesh qualified to become a middle-income country, a rare in the present century.

Women, who constitute half of the population of the country, have been at the forefront of this saga of development.  Various NGOs, like the world-famous Grameen, engaged with the women to push various socio-economic developmental initiatives. Women are present in every segment of economic and social activities, and the country is gaining mileage from this empowerment of the women.  The ready-made garment sector, which is a global leader in terms of production and exports, has been a beneficiary of women’s empowerment because a significant section of the workers is women.

Major obstacle

In spite of the positives, Bangladesh’s glory is only half fulfilled due to the continued practices of the child-marriage.   The country ranks fourth globally in the highest number of child marriages.  The countries that are ahead of Bangladesh include Niger, Central African Republic and Chad. Almost half of the Bangladeshi girls are married before the age of 18 and 20 percent of the girls are married below the age of 15.

Child marriage is considered to be one of the major obstacles to the development of women, caused by early motherhood and social isolation. Child marriage causes disruption in the education of girls, limiting opportunities for career and vocational advancement. In conservative societies like those in South Asia, especially Bangladesh, the child bride often faces humiliation from the in-laws and her status is subjugated to that of men, both in families and local communities.

Child marriage also violates human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending parties. In the case of child marriage, the clause of “free and full consent” is not maintained as in most cases, the child bride is either too young to be aware of the situations she is entering into, or her opinion is ignored since predominantly such marriages are arranged and families decide for the bride.

Poverty and conservative religious and social beliefs are the primary reasons for the prevalence of child marriage in Bangladesh.  Besides, safety and security of the girl child is also a consideration for child marriage.  The child marriage also highlights distinct class differences as the practice is prevalent mostly among the poor.

Significant success

It is worthy to note that Bangladesh has shown significant success in reducing the incidence of child marriage.   The number of child marriages under the age of 15 years has come down significantly in the last few years. The rate of child marriage under 15 years came down from 62.8 percent in 2015 to 10 percent in 2017.

The government has taken effective steps to address the problem of the child marriage.  At the 2014 World Girl Summit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to end child marriage below 15 years by 2021, and bring the number of marriages between 15-18 years down by one-third, and end child marriage completely by 2041.

The fanatics attacking the issues of child marriage are not only threatening the future of the societal development in the country but also are forcing the nation to falter on the internationally-acknowledged ‘Sustainable Developmental Goals’ (SDG). Ending child marriage is a focus area under the SDG.   In the past few years, religious fanatics often have taken up issues that are detrimental to the progress of women. They had, earlier, protested against the reservation for women in jobs and their right to inheritance.

For the sustenance of liberal socio-political order, the nation is ensuring undeterred well-being of women, and in this, men will be a key determinant.  The experience across the world suggests that a surge in conservatism helps to strengthen the fanatics, which contribute in the radicalisation of the society.

Already, the country has been witnessing some strands of radicalism. However, much to the credit of the government, it has been successful in controlling the growth of radicalism. For its future, Bangladesh needs to take these incidents seriously and has to find a way to tackle them

The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

Pakistan: Role in Afghanistan peace process

Sohini Bose

As Afghanistan’s immediate neighbour, it is understood that Pakistan will be affected by its state of affairs and hence it is natural that the country seeks a resolution of the Afghan conflict. Accordingly, Pakistan joined the US- initiated War on Terror as a frontline state. In 2017, it carried out Operation Raddul Fasaad in order to eliminate hidden terrorist shelters across the country and decided to fence the entire Afghanistan-Pakistan border and build watch posts to curtail the cross border movements of the insurgents. It cost $150 million to the country in the last 17 years, apart from the loss of 80,000 lives, including those of military personnel and civilians.

The US has not always had a favourable view of Pakistan’s role in curbing terrorist activities in the war torn country. In fact, US President Donald Trump has often accused Pakistan of “doing nothing” in spite of receiving “billions of dollars” in assistance.

Both Afghanistan and the US have also persistently maintained that the country provides shelters to the insurgent groups, especially the Haqqani network, which creates chaos in Afghanistan. Pakistan in its part has refrained from supporting Trump’s new Afghanistan policy of remaining in the Afghan territory with an enlarged military capacity and has now reaffirmed its commitment to facilitate the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Reconciling views

Of late, US, however, seems to be reconciling with the Pakistan’s aim of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and ending the war peacefully. Washington believes that Islamabad will be successful in influencing the insurgents to agree to negotiations. Therefore, on 3 December 2018, US President Donald Trump wrote a letter to the new Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, seeking his help in bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table.

Following this request, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad visited Islamabad and interacted with Khan and the Pakistan military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. As a result, Imran Khan who had earlier been mocked as ‘Taliban Khan’ for his apparent sympathies with the insurgent group now seemed to have emerged as a key facilitator in realising the peace process successfully.

As a reflection of this resolve to mediate peace in the war torn country, Pakistan facilitated a direct interface between the Taliban leadership and Khalilzad last month in Abu Dhabi. The ensuing three-day parleys were attended by the representatives of the Afghan Talibans and officials from the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The uniqueness of this interaction lay in the fact that for the first time the military and political leadership of Taliban attended a ‘negotiation’ meeting. They were earlier represented only by their political office in Qatar. It may thus be said that off late Pakistan has revived its credentials as a sincere peace promoter in Afghanistan.

However, now even though the Taliban are being drawn to the negotiation table, the results of this meeting reveals that their demand for complete withdrawal of the US troops from Afghan soil before they decide to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process, remains constant. The Taliban refuses to accept any extra US military presence beyond the number required for the protection of the US diplomatic mission. Moreover, they insist on a date or a time frame within which all foreign troops will be removed from the country. The Taliban also wants the US to release all their prisoners, remove their names from the blacklist and lift the ban on the movement of their leaders.

Apart from their demands, by way of concession, the Taliban have expressed their willingness to agree on the proposed six-month ceasefire – provided Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE guarantee that the future Afghan government will be formed with the Taliban consent. This concession reveals the flexibility that may have been achieved as a result of Pakistan’s intervention in the peace process. The Taliban may have obliged these three countries as they had not only lent diplomatic recognition to the Taliban regime but also supported them.

Chinese approach

Apart from the US, Pakistan also engages China on the Afghan situation. China is apprehensive that continued instability in Afghanistan would provoke problems in its Uighur Muslim inhabited and volatile Xinjiang province. Therefore, amidst the reports of the US planning to reduce its military presence in Afghanistan, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi flew to Beijing to interact with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi and both emphasised upon an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process."

Qureshi also reported that China is appreciative of Pakistan’s initiatives to propagate peace in Afghanistan and has affirmed its support to the country. Both sides also believe that military means cannot resolve the ongoing Afghan conflict and promoting political reconciliation is the only option. Moreover, Beijing enjoys goodwill in Kabul and maintains contact with the Taliban.

In December 2018, China also launched a trilateral mechanism with Pakistan and Afghanistan to promote peace, security, economic and political cooperation among the three neighbours. It also consistently aims at reducing the trust-deficit between Afghanistan and Pakistan and make joint efforts for peace.

Facilitator’s opportunity

Both the US and China are thus influencing Pakistan to condition the Afghan peace process but in different ways. Whereas the US until recently charged Pakistan for sheltering the insurgents causing mayhem in Afghanistan, China has tried to bridge the gap between the two countries and directly coax the Taliban into peace proceedings.

Pakistan is therefore more likely to enhance China’s role in facilitating the peace process rather than that of the US. This may be especially attributed to the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor which is an important economic factor of consideration for China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The insurgents, however, continue to maintain that the “talks have been for the sake of talks” and will not add any value until their demands are fulfilled. The major responsibility therefore continues to rest on the US. Meanwhile, Pakistan as the facilitator of the peace process, either way has the immense opportunity of repairing relations with Afghanistan.

The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata



Reconciliation key

President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani stated that the Afghan government has the key for peace and reconciliation as a proper plan, program and road map is only available with the government. He also emphasised that the government wants unconditional negotiations with the Taliban but the reconciliation process has its own conditions. This comes as efforts are being made to begin direct negotiations between the government and the Taliban but the latter has so far rejected such offers.

Qatar for peace

A meeting was recently held between the Special Envoy of the Foreign Ministry of the Qatar Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani and the Afghan High Peace Council Chief Karim Khalili in Kabul. As a result, Qatar has promised to hold further peace talks in support of the Afghanistan reconciliation process only six days after the talks ended between USA and Taliban in Doha. Khalili, on his part, expressed that the peace process must be led and owned by Afghans.


Suing Manila bank

The Bangladesh central bank governor informed that his country would file a lawsuit in an American court against Philippine’s Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) over its role in one of the world's biggest cyber-heists.  In February 2017 In February 2016, some unknown criminals syphoned around $81 million from Bangladesh central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York using the SWIFT payments system.

Fresh poll sought

Demanding fresh elections to the parliament, the Opposition this week held a human chain in Dhaka.  This is the first protest movement by the opposition after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s illustrious victory in the parliamentary election held on 30 December, which the opposition claims to be partial.  In the election, Prime Minister Hasina led alliance won 288 seats out of the 300. The opposition managed to win only eight seats.

Rohingyas’ return

Foreign Minister Dr Abulkalam Abdul Momen observed that Myanmar could agree to create a safe zone under the direct supervision of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ensuring safety and security for Rohingyas. Further, the minister informed his country is committed to voluntary repatriation Rohingyas to their homeland as soon as Myanmar will create a conducive environment for their safe return. The made these comments during his meeting with  Special Envoy of Prime Minister and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam Nguyen Quoc Dzung during his visit to Dhaka.


Mangdechhu  project ready

The 720MW Mangdechhu Hydropower Project is close to being commissioned as the dam’s diversion tunnel, which was used to divert the river during the construction of the dam was plugged on 31 January. This means that the dam is ready to store water; reservoir filling will begin by lowering the floodgates. The final cost of the project is Nu 49.83B, said project’s director, A.K. Mishra.

Govt’s vision questioned

The opposition trained their guns on the government for lacking clarity of vision and direction, the Opposition stated on 31 January after assuming office. This, the Opposition said is apparent from the modest targets of GDP growth, poverty reduction and gini-coefficient intended to achieve in the 12th Plan. Delving into the 12th Plan, he said the biggest highlight of the Plan is the flagship programmes. All nine programmes, he said are tentative and that the government is not sure what they want to do.

UN fund for development

The UN aims to mobilise and invest an estimated USD 120.9 million (M) an increase from USD 80M for the year 2014-2018 the areas of data accesibility, improving social services, inclusive governance and climate change and disaster risk reduction. These four outcomes the United Nations Sustainable Development Programme Framework (UNSDPF) targets for Bhutan over the next five years.


Yameen retains PPM

By quashing the Election Commission order declaring the PPM Congress of September 2018 as unlawful, the Supreme Court has upheld the election of former President Abdulla Yameen as party chief. The SC order comes in the midst of PPM founder and Yameen’s half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, challenging Yameen-centred party leadership throwing him and his followers from the party. After he lost the presidential polls of 23 September, the party congress met hurriedly and elected Yameen, until then PPM patron, the party chief. While the Supreme Court upheld the High Court order in the matter, it is however yet to dispose of Gayoom’s plea, challenging his dismissal from the PPM, which was upheld by the civil court in 2016.


China surveys rail line

China Railway Eryuan Engineering Corporation (CREEC) has started a partial survey for the Muse-Mandalay-Kyaukphyu railway line, part of the China –Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) and the larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the project, expected to be one of the largest road and railway projects in the country, last October. China is said to view the project to connect the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone and deepwater port in Myanmar as something that will benefit both countries under the larger CMEC umbrella.

Need for education reforms

During a visit to Sagaing Region, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi spoke of the importance of improving the country’s education system to fit in with a changing world. She asked the requirements for promoting the quality of education and realizing the future objectives of the students. She gave instructions to encourage acquiring knowledge by reading in libraries, to hold physical exercise programs to synchronize students’ physical and mental development, to understand the essence and ideas of Myanmar’s literature and poems, and to consider a future career as a teacher in the education sector to greatly support the nation.

UN envoy visits Rakhine

At the end of a 12-day visit, Christine Schraner Burgener, the United Nations’ special envoy on human rights stated that freedom of movement is important to rebuild trust in Rakhine State, in Myanmar. The main focus of her visit was to spend time with the people affected by restrictions on freedom of movement in and around the state capital of Sittwe. Burgener is hopeful that Myanmar and Bangladesh can strengthen cooperation on the repatriation of more than 700,000 northern Rakhine refugees now stuck in makeshift camps on the Bangladesh border.


Upper House passes medical bill

The National Assembly or the Upper House of the Parliament has endorsed the much controversial National Medical Education Bill, thereby paving the way for its implementation. Amidst opposition from the Nepali Congress (NC), the bill has been endorsed even without any revision. The Bill will come into effect after being authenticated by President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

Cement industry becomes self-reliant

After receiving an investment of around Rs 200 billion from both national and foreign sources, the cement industry of Nepal has become self-reliant. The sector is also ready to generate extensive export profit for the next fiscal year. With further public –private partnership there can be further progress.


Work visas from Qatar

The Consul-General of Qatar in Karachi, Mishal M. Al Ansari, has announced that his country will recruit 100,000 Pakistanis by issuing work visas in all sectors. This is aimed at strengthening the relation between the two countries and Qatar is especially cultivating a partnership in the agriculture industry. The country already imports fruits and vegetables from Pakistan and this is likely to increase with special provision for Sindh farmers who directly export their produce to Qatar.

Indian conduct ‘immature’

Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Mohammed Faisal recently opined that India must fight its electoral battles within its own borders and should not involve Pakistan into the process. He further condemned India for its comments on the All-Party Hurriyat Conference and for referring to its leader Mirwaiz Umar Farroq as a ‘terrorist’. Further as regards the ‘Kartarpur issue’, Faisal said that his country has a clear policy on the corridor but unfortunately “India’s conduct has been immature”.

Revitalising Punjab

A World Bank team is scheduled to visit Pakistan shortly to review the pace of implementation of the Punjab Green Development Programme -- an undertaking directed at strengthening environmental governance and promoting green investments in the province. Although the execution of the project had begun last year, it got delayed after the Pakistani general elections.  Hence the World Bank is now corresponding closely with the country’s new government implement the aforementioned programme with renewed vigour; revealed a Bank document.

Sri Lanka

Another ‘national govt’?

The ruling United National Party (UNP) of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has written to Parliament Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, for the formation of another ‘national government’, entailing the addition of more Cabinet ministers. Indications are that the UNP-UNF is in negotiations with a section of the erstwhile SLFP partner, led by President Maithripala Sirisena. The joined ‘Government of National Unity’ (GNU) fell apart when the SLFP withdrew support to the Wickremesinghe leadership overnight, following which Sirisena ‘replaced’ the Prime Minister with predecessor President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and followed it up a week later with the dissolution of Parliament and ordering fresh polls. The Supreme Court however unanimously declared the sacking and replacement of PM Wickremesinghe unconstitutional, thus causing Rajapaksa’s resignation and Wickreemsinghe’s return.



Opinion Pieces

Rod Norland, “Afghan Government Control Over Country Falters, U.S. Report Says”, The New York Times, 31 January 2019

Hujjatullah Zia, “Will Upcoming Election Ensure Democracy?”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 31 January 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Challenges for Presidential Election Teams”, 29 January 2019

Afghanistan Times, “Grand Jirga”, 29 January 2019


Opinion Pieces

Riasat Noor, “Bangladesh in the bay”, Dhaka Tribune, 29 January 2019

Khalilur Rahman, “China’s considerations and concerns”, ProthomAlo, 28 January 2019

Mazher Mir, “An avertible war”, Dhaka Tribune, 29 January 2019



The Bhutanese, “Austerity again”, 26 January 2019

Kuensel, “BCCI towards Private Sector Development”, 26 January 2019


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: Anti-India rhetoric back in run-up to parliamentary polls?”,, 31 January 2019


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Imagining a Better World in a Kayan Mountain Village”, Irrawaddy, 26 January 2019


Irrawaddy, “Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room”, 30 January 2019


Opinion Pieces

Poonam Khetrapal Singh, “Sustain, accelerate, innovate”, Republica, 30 January 2019

Dinesh Kafle, “A dream deferred”, The Kathmandu Post, 1 February 2019


The Himalayan Times, “Landmark verdict”, 1 February 2019

The Kathmandu Post, “Crime and candidacy”, 30 January 2019


Opinion Pieces

Arif Hasan, “Karachi demolitions”, Dawn, 31 January 2019

I.A.Rahman, “A grave threat to freedoms”, Dawn, 31 January 2019


The Express Tribune, “Failing bilateral ties”, 31 January 2019

Dawn, “Water economics”, 30 January 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Kusal Perera, “Stooging in the name of democracy”, Daily Mirror Online, 1 February 2019

M S M Ayub, “Who is afraid of Deshapriya?”, Daily Mirror Online, 1 February 2019

Sarath Wijesinghe, “How independent is the judiciary?”, Daily Mirror Online, 31 January 2019

Kelum Bandara, “President puts ball in UNP’s court”, Daily Mirror Online, 31 January 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Delineating religious terrorism”, Ceylon Today, 29 January 2019

Ranga Jayasuriya, “Can Gotabaya deliver?”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 January 2019

Jehan Perera, “President needs to limit Opposition in Government”, The Island, 29 January 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “If it’s ‘untenable’, it’s one for the CA”, Colombo Gazette, 27 January 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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