MonitorsPublished on Feb 19, 2019
Exploring Myanmar's Rakhine state, India's role in the Afghan peace process and other recent developments from South Asia.
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 7

Myanmar: Rakhine, the new state of war

Sreeparna Banerjee Bangladesh recently shut off its border for any new entrants from Myanmar. Already overburdened and limited in its resources, the former held its ground and stopped further access for those fleeing the neighbouring nation.  The disturbing part is that this time 35 Buddhist families had tried to flee Myanmar due to the recent war of violence between the rebel ‘Arakan Army’ (AA) and the nation’s armed forces, Tatmadaw. After Kachin last year, Myanmar’s Rakhine state has slowly developed into an area of bloodshed since the beginning of 2019.  On 4 January, the Independence Day of the nation, the AA launched systematic attacks on four police outposts near the Bangladesh border, killing 13 policemen. It’s the first time that the AA has directly attacked police outposts. This has outraged the government who instructed the army to curb the organisation citing national security reasons.

Unwavering support

The AA was formed nearly 10 years ago by 26 young Arakanese men. It has ever since grown in popularity and size, and today it is believed to comprise 7,000 fighters. Its real weapon is not its military valour but its ability to command unwavering support from Arakanese nationals. The purpose of the AA remains to protect Arakan people and to establish peace, justice, freedom and development. The Arakanese are predominantly Theravada Buddhists, which is the principal religion of Myanmar, but the AA and also the people tend to feel marginalised and underserved by the recent economic development, despite having access to many natural resources.  They also feel politically alienated. This has led to distress within the population and thus gave AA the power to act to bring back its lost glory. After the attack, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi  asked the army to use their power in order to crush the AA, branding them as a ‘terrorist organisation’. Like Kachin last year, this has made Rakhine, a war-like zone which has disrupted the lives daily lives of people. Tatmadaw has deployed a large number of troops to the region. Heavy weapons and artillery as well as helicopters have been used in the civilian areas leading to mass injuries and civilian deaths.  It has forced thousands to flee. About 7,000 IDPs have fled their homes but others stuck continue to face the brunt.

Supply cuts

The Myanmar Army uses the “Four Cuts” policy, an old military strategy used to fight against ethnic rebels in the past. The strategy aims to cut off food, funds, intelligence and support for the groups it is fighting. A letter was issued to United Nations and international humanitarian agencies by the Rakhine State government on 10 January instructing them all, with the exception of the World Food Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to suspend their activities in the five townships in northern Rakhine that are affected by the conflict, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw. This in-humanitarian tactic has been used by the Army against all previous conflicts with ethnic populations. The state government has even allowed the Army to check civilian houses whenever the Army suspected families of supporting the rebels. Incidentally, the Myanmar Army till date has arrested 38 people and charged them under the Unlawful Association Act 17 (1) and 17 (2), including seven young people who were detained for bringing supplies to displaced people at a monastery. It is frightening as two of the 15 people remain in detention, including a village administrator, and that they have been charged under the Unlawful Associations Act. Local activists and media reports suggest that arbitrary detentions and the use of vague and repressive laws have been commonplace during the latest military operation in Rakhine State.  This has resulted in around 30 village administrators to submit resignation letters in January, out of concern they might be wrongly prosecuted for unlawful association.

Bleak situation

The UN remains utterly distressed with Myanmar over this recent humanitarian crisis. It is important that the government is reminded that blocking humanitarian access is a serious violation of international humanitarian law. The U.N. refugee agency says it is worried by reports of people fleeing escalating violence. Also, it cannot assess the scale of the current humanitarian situation in these areas because there is little access to these and other regions in Myanmar. Thus the UN has requested the Government to allow full and unfettered access to the region to allow a free flow of information in the interest of the public. In close observation, it can be noted that the military seems to operate at its own will and doesn’t really follow rules from any other entity. Thus, if truth be told the government has no choice but to support the army or else it would appear to lack control. But this conflict risks worsening divisions among communities in an already fractured state. Now, Bangladesh remains miffed with Myanmar due to the latter’s delayed strategy to repatriate the Rohingyas and India is driving out Rohingyas citing national security, Malaysia, Thailand Indonesia remain burdened too,  thus it remains tough to understand what will happen to the Buddhists who are currently migrating due to the fear of the military attacks. Constructive solutions in that regard needs to be chalked out. The Government should prioritise the safety and well-being of all the people of Rakhine State and work towards peace around Myanmar.
The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata

Afghanistan:  A role for India in the peace process?

Sohini Bose Afghanistan and India share a heritage of close bilateral relations based on strong political, cultural, economic interactions and exchanges. Ties grew stronger in the post 9/11 era after the US declared the War on Terror in Afghanistan. As the socio-economic infrastructure started crumbling in Afghanistan, India began investing heavily to rebuild the institutions and infrastructure in this war torn country. Since 2001 India pledged $ 750 million toward reconstruction efforts out of which $ 270 million has already been used in developmental projects. The assistance package has only increased ever since. As the process continued, over the years India became the Afghanistan’s closest regional ally. The country continues to be one of the largest recipients of Indian aid and this has been acknowledged as the “the most focused and effective” program in Afghanistan in terms of the value it has generated. The aid is well acknowledged even amongst the international community. As a result India enjoys substantial good will among both the citizens as well as the policy makers of Afghanistan.

New Delhi’s interest

India’s aid however is not without its fair share of national interest. As the Islamic State gains a foothold in the Middle East and the Taliban become more assertive in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s sympathies with both emerge as a security concern for India. The mountain country of Afghanistan therefore holds significant geo-strategic potential to monitor Pakistan’s activities. It is thus in India’s interest to maintain strategic autonomy in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Apart from this singular interest, as a country which hopes to extend its influence beyond South Asia, India deems stability in Afghanistan to be pre-requisite. It therefore seeks to shape to address the country’s security concerns and in turn shape the regional security architecture. In the purview of commercial interest, Afghanistan is also the gateway for India into the energy rich states of Central Asia with which it hopes to enhance energy cooperation. India is also building the Chabahar port in Iran. Helping in reconstructing Afghanistan is part of India’s soft power strategy of “reviving the traditional role of Afghanistan as a land bridge, connecting South Asia with Central Asia and West Asia”. Afghanistan, India, PM Modi, Narendra Modi, Hassan Rouhani, Afghanistan Peace Deal, Afghan Peace Process, Taliban, US Source: Flickr As a participant to the Bonn Conference of 2001, India has thus been committed in its assistance to the Afghan government. It has also undertaken initiatives to engage with the different ethnic groups in Afghanistan and tried to understand their diverse political affiliations. These groups play a crucial role in sustaining peace in Afghanistan if united. The Afghan government also hopes to retain its legitimacy by strengthening the Afghan economy for which it has to depend on substantial foreign aid where India has a major contribution. Apart from aid, India and Afghanistan also share a Preferential Trade Agreement which is marked by reciprocal concessions. Afghanistan’s admittance to SAARC was also part of the economic re-construction initiated by India support. Most recently in September 2018, the two countries agreed to initiate the ‘New Development Partnership’, according to which India agreed to take up 116 high-impact community development projects to be implemented in 31 provinces of Afghanistan.

Potential facilitator?

India thus already has an important presence in Afghanistan. As a country which enjoys the support of both the Afghan government and the Afghan people, India is in a position to manoeuvre the peace processes that are currently under process in the country. Questions however may be raised about how  India can influence the Taliban to enter into the peace negotiations given that it has been never been supportive of the activities of the insurgent group. Here, it must be kept in mind that the former Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s had openly expressed India’s support for the Afghan Government’s plan of re-conciliation which involved the Taliban as they were also an integral part of Afghanistan. This thereby signalled the end to India’s public opposition in dealing with the Taliban and acting as a bridge between the insurgent group and the United States. Not overtly sympathetic to the demands of the Taliban, India is also perhaps a more suitable mediator to facilitate the peace process. It is understood that a peace deal which is brokered by Pakistan which is known for its support to the Taliban is likely to give an edge to the insurgent group in the governance of Afghanistan in future. It will perhaps signal an even more dangerous, conflict which involves terrorist groups operating as a legitimate government. Coupled with Pakistan’s already strained relations with India, this will not be a very desirable neighbourhood security scenario for India in the years to come. Pakistan’s success in convincing USA of engaging with the “good Taliban” has only increased this risk of India’s marginalisation. This is apparent given that United States has discouraged India from undertaking a greater role in the Afghan peace process out of apprehension of offending Pakistan. In such times the role India has served as a peace-keeping force in the world must be kept in mind. Moreover, it is also important to take into account India’s current involvement in Afghanistan, how much it has done for the war torn country and the enormous goodwill that India enjoys among the Afghan people. < style="color: #1669a6">India’s significance in playing a part in the Afghan peace process must therefore be understood from the point of view of the Afghan people who benefit from the using the Indian assistance to rebuild their lives. It is therefore not justifiable for India to stay aloof from the Afghan peace process as Pakistan clearly desires. It must also be noted that India’s influence in Afghanistan has even now weakened Pakistan’s strategy of assuming the role of a core mediator between the Taliban and the West. However apart from which country facilitates the peace process, it is more important that peace comes to Afghanistan and stays there. The latter however is only more likely to materialise if the insurgent groups are not overtly ‘appeased’ to agree to the peace negotiations.
The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata



 ‘Dirty-money’ blacklist

According to news reports, the European Commission has added Afghanistan in a blacklist of nations which pose a threat to the block due to lax controls against money laundering and terrorism financing. This results not only in damaging the country’s reputation but also jeopardises its financial ties with the European Union. European banks are now obligated to apply tighter controls on transactions with the country. The Central Bank of Afghanistan calls this move of EU a hasty decision.

Peace talks in Pakistan

The Taliban in Afghanistan have announced their commitment to attend a meeting regarding the peace process on 18th February in Islamabad at the request of the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. The interactions will be between the Islamic Emirates and USA. The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is also scheduled to attend the same. The Islamic Emirate team will also engage in discussions with Imran Khan to improve Afghanistan-Pakistan relations and other concerns like refugees.


Military pact with Saudis

With Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh this week signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthening military cooperation. According to MoU, the two countries will engage into cooperation in a wide range of areas, including military training, exercise and higher studies at defence institutions, exchange of intelligence information, exchange of military visits, enhancement of skill, maritime security, and curbing piracy in the sea.  Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division Lt Gen Md Mahfuzur Rahman and Deputy Chief of Staff of Saudi Armed Forces Lt Gen Mutlaq bin Salim signed the MoU on behalf of their respective governments in Riyadh.

PM hints at last stint?

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this week hinted that this might be her last tenure as prime minister. Additionally, she expressed her intention for creating scape for younger leaders. Prime Minister Hasina made this observation during her interview with German International Broadcasting Deutsche Welle.  In January this year, Prime Minister Hasina formed government for the third consecutive term following her overwhelming victory in the 30 December parliamentary election.

Poll results challenged

Around 55 candidates of the BNP-led 20-party alliance, who were defeated in the 30 December parliamentary election, have filed petitions in the High Court, challenging the legality of the election. The petitioners complained of irregularities in the polls and appealed for cancelling the results in their constituencies. Besides, they urged the court to give direction to the Election Commission for fresh polls in their constituencies.


Border security with India

The security situation has improved along the border areas with India, the relevant agencies of two countries Bhutan and India noted in the 13th Bhutan -India meeting on Border Management and Security held in Thimphu on 14 February.  The Bhutanese delegation was led by the Home Secretary, Sonam Tobgay and the Indian side was led by Indian Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba. Curbing cross border crimes, improving coordination between the counterparts of the two countries, strengthening security arrangements and other mutual concerns were reportedly discussed in the meeting.

Short-listed for IP sharing

The Korean Invention Promotion Association (KIPA), a not-for-profit organisation based in Seoul, has short-listed Bhutan among four countries in the 2019 Intellectual Property (IP) Sharing Project. The KIPA sharing project is a support program for developing and least developed countries to foster creativity and innovation through intellectual property rights and it has shortlisted six project proposals from Bhutan. The officials are currently scrutinizing the project proposals in the country ranging from medicinal plants, drying technology to a self honey extractor.


49 killed in suicide-attack

Over 40 CRPF personnel were killed when a suicide-bomber attacked a CRPF convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway in Pulwama district of the troubled border State, by triggering a car-bomb. This attack, for which the Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility, has drawn anger from across the country, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising ‘full freedom’ for the security forces to retaliate in the way they chose. India has also withdrawn the unilateral ‘most-favoured-nation’ (MFN) status for Pakistan, and is making diplomatic efforts to get Jaish founder, Maulana Masood Azhar, on the UN Counter-Terrorism Sanctions List, having been blocked on previous occasions by China.

SC Bench split on ‘Delhi Govt power’

After around three and a half months of hearing, the Supreme Court has arrived at a split-verdict on the distribution of constitutional powers between the elected government of Delhi and the central government. The decision reached by the two-judge bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan was unanimous regarding the control of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and institute a commission of inquiry, which lay with the central government. The state government would have the power to make decisions related to electricity department reforms and announce revisions in the rates of agricultural land. However, the split came when the Justices debated who should be in charge of the administrative services of the city-state. While Justice Bhushan is of the opinion that all administrative services lay with the central government, Justice Sikri has stated that apart from the posting and transfers of officers of and above the level of joint secretary should remain with the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, the same for officers below this rank should stay with the state government. This matter, due to the split, will now be referred to a three-judge bench at a later date.

Citizenship, Triple Talaq Bills lapse

With the adjournment of the Rajya Sabha on the 13 February, many bills such as the Triple Talaq and the Citizenship (Amendment) bills have lapsed until the next session of the lower house, which will only take place after the general elections of 2019. While this adjournment is strictly routine, it has left many communities in a state of uncertainty due to the fact that the parliament could not, in time, pass the bills which would have made important issues such as divorce in the Muslim community clearer. The non-passage of these bills also threatens the BJP government’s influence in the northeast, where it had come with the promise of solving the citizenship crisis of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who had been coming into India, especially through the Bangladesh border, since the 1970s, with an uptick in illegal immigration taking place among the muslim community due to the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.


JP deal with PPM?

Ahead of the 6 April parliamentary polls, some media reports have indicated a possible seat-adjustment between the Opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) of former President Abdulla Yameen and Parliament Speaker Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Party (JP), which is otherwise a partner in the ruling four-party coalition headed by the MDP, of which President Ibrahim Solih is a member. Two other coalition partners, namely religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s MRM, the latter since registered as a political party, are contesting in a few constituencies but claiming to be as ‘coalition candidates’ even as the MDP leader has fielded candidates for all 87 seats.

Stress on ‘self-sufficiency’

Back from India, where he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, apart from addressing two seminars in capital New Delhi, former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that what Maldives needed was self sufficiency as opposed to foreign assistance. While the country would surely receive financial aid from foreign bodies, "standing on our own feet with our own revenue is more important", he said, adding that the nation was headed in that direction. He expressed confidence that the nation's foreign debt and budget deficit would be decreased by the end of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's first term.


Japan-aided bridge work begins

On 13 February with a ground-breaking ceremony in Yangon the construction of a Japan-funded bridge in Myanmar began. The bridge, funded by a ¥ 31 billion (K 427.5 billion) low-interest loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, will be constructed over the Bago River next to one that was built with Chinese aid more than two decades ago. The 2-kilometre-long bridge, to be completed by the end of 2021, will allow heavy container trucks to access the SEZ via a shorter and more convenient route than at present. The existing two-lane bridge, which has a rail track in the middle, has weight restrictions due to aging, forcing trucks weighing 32 tonnes or more to use a bridge located about 6.4 km upstream. It has also become increasingly congested.

Statute-change on cards

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on 13 February proposed to draft a bill to amend four of the five sub-sections under Section 261 of the Constitution to allow the election of chief ministers. Currently the Constitution has over 400 provisions covering the appointment of chief ministers. The amendment will enable the election of chief ministers for regions and states to reduce centralisation and to focus on national reconciliation, ethnic rights and fairness.


‘Futile’ controversy

Hinting at the comments made by the government and the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) on the ‘Venezuela crisis’, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli dismissed any kid of controversy. In this regard he added that any attempt to tarnish the image of the country vis a vis neighbours and foreign donors would be futile.

Shipping office inaugurated

PM Oli recently inaugurated the Nepal Shipping Office based at Ekantakuna. This was indeed one of the primary promises made by the government, after assuming office. Coming across as a major breakthrough for the country, the office has been established by the planning division of Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies. The cabinet has also approved 16 member staff under the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.

Hydropower development: Govt. banks on people

The government of Nepal is launching a programme in order to generate funds from the general public for hydropower development. PM Oli will inaugurate the event, coinciding with the first anniversary of the formation of the government. People will be encouraged to invest in such projects. Projects like Upper Tamakoshi, Kulekhani III and Budhigandaki would be given special mention.


MFN status withdrawn

Following the attack on the Indian security forces in Kashmir, where over 40 paramilitary soldiers were killed, the Indian government has decided to withdraw the Most Favoured Nation status from Pakistan.  Modi’s cabinet has further decided to undertake necessary steps to ensure complete diplomatic isolation of Pakistan. The move was announced by the Indian Foreign Minister Arun Jaitley after a cabinet meeting.  He added that there is “incontrovertible evidence of Pakistan having a direct hand in the terrorist ploy.

Foreign banks bid

The Pakistan government’s decision to sell two LNG-fired power plants is now being considered as the country’s biggest privatisation initiative in a decade and is expected to bring much needed foreign capital. The government has already received ten bids from groups which want to play a financial advisory role and it expects to select banks by the end of March. Companies like JPMorgan Chase & Co, CLSA and Credit Sussie Group AG have already pitched for a role.

Sri Lanka

‘Forget’ war-crimes: PM

On a three-day visit to the war-affected Northern Province ahead of the upcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called to ‘forget war-crimes’ and proceed with future life. TNA parliamentarian M A Sumanthiran said it was an acknowledgement of ‘war-crimes’ while one-time party Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran, now heading a breakaway party, said they could not ‘forget’ it.



Opinion Pieces

Rod Norland, “A Shotgun Under Her Bed, This Afghan Maverick Wants No Peace With Taliban”, The New York Times, 15 February 2019 David Zucchino and Fahim Abed, “Afghan Government Fires Election Officials After Votes Tainted by Fraud Claims”, The New York Times, 12 February 2019


Afghanistan Times, “Before of July Presidential polls”, 11 February 2019 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Afghan Peace Process: Multiple Players with Conflicting Agendas”, 9 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Ranjan Basu, “Why does India cautiously watch Bangladesh’s economy?”, Dhaka Tribune, 4 February 2019 Pervez Hoodbhoy, “Why Bangladesh overtook Pakistan”, The Dhaka Tribune, 12 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Sonam Tobgye, “The Development of Bhutan’s relations with India”, Kuensel, 9 February 2019


Kuensel, “Resort to dignified and meaningful development”, 11 February 2019 Kuensel, “The Economics problem”, 9 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Dr Manoj Joshi, “No Mr Modi, 'Terrorism' and 'Militancy' Are Not the Same Thing”, The Wire, 4 February 2019 Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee, “Amol Palekar and a Dystopian Time of Censorship”, The Wire, 15 February 2019 Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, “Pulwama Attack: Modi Has No Choice But To Flex Muscle Before Polls”, The Quint, 15 February 2019 Harsh Mander, “No Shortcuts to Income Guarantee”, The Indian Express, 15 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Aya M R Naseem, “Can coral reefs keep up with a warming planet?”, Maldives Independent, 16 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Lawi Weng,“Gen. Aung San Statues Are Costing NLD Political Support in Ethnic States”, The Irrawaddy, 14 February 2019 Lawi Weng, “Many Arakanese Embrace AA’s Presence”, The Irrawaddy, 12 February 2019 Tony Waters, “The Fortunate Failure of 'Voluntary Repatriation' For Rohingya Refugees”, The Irrawaddy, 11 February 2019 Kyaw Zwa Moe, “The NLD Is Following Its Roadmap on Charter Change”, The Irrawaddy, 9 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Bimal Pratap Shah, “Nepali Congress 4.0”, Republica, 13 February 2019 Narayan Manandhar, “The fallouts of Ncell”, The Kathmandu Post, 14 February 2019 Sujeev Shakya, “Banking on a plan”, The Kathmandu Post, 12 February 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “Watch out”, 13 February 2019 The Himalayan Times, “Wilful inaction”, 14 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Haseeb Ullah Siddiqui, “Amendment’s side effects”, Dawn, 15 February 2019 Syed Mohammad Ali, “How lopsided taxation regimes compound inequality”, The Express Tribune, 15 February 2019


Dawn, “Larkana killings”, 15 February 2019 The Express Tribune, “The memogate case”, 15 February 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Laksiri Fernando, “Failure of another New Constitution?”, The Island, 14 February 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Time and again, Tamil politics hits a dead-end”,, 14 February 2019 Kelum Bandara, “India shows neutrality in dealing with SL politics”, Daily Mirror Online, 14 February 2019 Malinda Seneviratne, “Elections-fearing democrats and the PC conundrum”, Daily Mirror Online, 14 February 2019 Ranga Jayasuriya, “A charade: National Government”, Daily Mirror Online, 14 February 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “An Utopian failure called Constitutional Council”, Colombo Gazette, 12 February 2019 Jehan Perera, “Pluralist ethos is more relevant to national identity”, The Island, 12 February 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “A double whammy for President Sirisena”, Ceylon Today, 12 February 2019


Kelum Bandara, “How can there be democracy without discipline?: Gotabhaya”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 February 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
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.