MonitorsPublished on Feb 26, 2019
Weekly South Asia round-up: India's need for a more robust counter-terror strategy, Bhutan's failing Earn and Learn Scheme and more.
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 8


India: Urgently need more robust counter-terror strategy

Ameya Kelkar

Since the terror-attack in Uri, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed that any aggression by Pakistan would be dealt with in the harshest manner possible. Despite such statements, this has not deterred the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a terrorist outfit based in Pakistan and funded by the nation’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as the recent Pulwama attack clearly shows. A car with explosives was driven into a CRPF convoy, killing over 40 security personnel, making it one of the worst terrorist attacks the Kashmir Valley and the country have seen.

However, one must not lose sight of the fact that this attack could have been perpetrated if the security forces were caught unawares, which they were.

Lack of intelligence, joint-ness in operational capacities between the different branches of the security forces and the fact that this terrorist was radicalised within our borders using propaganda sent out via the internet from the Pakistani side of the JeM points to some serious gaps within our security machinery.

It was not just a terrorist attack. This is part of a strategy of hybrid warfare which our western neighbour has been practising since the first use of irregular soldiers in 1947. Simply put, Pakistan does not seek an all-out war as it will be an infeasible prospect for many reasons. Instead, Islamabad has chosen to try and ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’, manifesting in these terrorist-attacks and cross-border skirmishes and firings. This calls for only one response by India: a more efficient, proactive counter-terror measures.

India is a country that has been facing terrorist threats and yet sadly has not learnt a lot from them. Successive governments have seen law enforcement and military officials, along with civilian officials, being drawn into the crossfire of terrorist attacks, each more deadly than the last. However, when it comes to bettering ourselves, our representatives in the parliament, for a myriad of reasons, are unable to show to the public that they are well prepared to deter the next big attack.

It was not too long ago that the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai were supposed to be the final nail in the coffin when it came to attacks by non-state actors, but nothing happened. Pathankot and Uri were also supposed to be the final nails in the coffin, and all that came about was a surgical strike. Barely a month after, the Nagrota attack took place, supposedly the final nail in the coffin yet again.

It seems, at this point, the government, whoever is in power, is running out of coffins to hammer the proverbial final nail in. What this country needs, desperately at this point, is a herculean step forward in our methods to addressing these terrorist attacks. Terrorism in its current form is a modern problem, and modern problems require modern solutions.

Lessons from US

To their credit, the Centre has taken some immediate steps, such as suspending all trade relations with Pakistan. While it is sure to hurt Pakistan economically, it is by no means the only step the country can take. India can also exercise other options, which can hurt Pakistan just as badly, if not more so. And they can do that by studying the shift in America’s counter-terror response post 9/11.

After the destruction of the Twin Towers, George Bush sent American Troops into Afghanistan, starting his War on Terror, which is, after a decade, finally seeing progress in the form of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Domestically, the Bush administration introduced sweeping legislation designed to ensure an attack such as this would not happen on the American soil. The Patriot Act of 2001, recently a controversial topic, was one which introduced sweeping reforms in the intelligence-sharing capabilities of the law enforcement mechanism in the US.

Fourteen months later, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created, tasking it with intelligence gathering and sharing between the other agencies, federal or local among other duties, giving them a massive budget to conduct their operations unhindered. Because of this, the DHS has been one of the most effective agencies within the US federal law enforcement machinery, helping intelligence agencies fight terrorist organizations within and outside America.

While this system evidently is by no means perfect, all it took was a singular attack for the American government to realise that it needs to take a close look at its current infrastructure and reform it if necessary. This has ensured no such 9/11 style attacks happen, which they haven’t till date.

The Indian government can implement these measures, albeit suited to the Indian condition. India’s economy is not at the level of the US, but some of these measures can still be implemented. For one, within the intelligence community, the different branches need to coordinate better when it comes to intelligence sharing between them, ensuring there is a single stream for the dissemination of counterterrorism intelligence.

This needs to be augmented with quick action from the ground forces, which can only be possible if these forces are well-equipped and can move into action at the first sign of actionable intelligence. Moreover, taking another leaf from the US playbooks, the Central Intelligence Agency, the DHS, the FBI and other federal level agencies, despite being intelligence gatherers, do also possess on ground units to carry out operations based on this intelligence. India can adopt similar measures of intelligence sharing between the various arms of the security forces, ensuring every piece of actionable intelligence can be acted upon.

Destabilising element

India also needs to look at the information warfare element of this attack. This attack was perpetrated by a terrorist who gained access to radicalising information through the internet. While it is true the internet is a place for these kinds of inflammatory content to circulate freely, it also leaves the Indian government with the impetus to try and counteract the effect these messages have on the people. For one, vigilantism on the Kashmiris is not a solution.

The people need to be shown that despite a terrorist attack, the actions of one do not colour a whole community, and as such, the government first needs to take steps to ensure this vigilantism does not go out of hand within the rest of India. A terrorist’s objective is not territorial gains, it is the destabilizing of the everyday machinery of the country. Only through sending and implementing a strong message of peace and harmony among ourselves will foil the objectives of the terrorist, striking a blow to their morale.

This attack was one which hit the country and its security establishment in such a manner that it has brought into serious question the effectiveness of our current machinery. Only through systematic reform can the government not only answer for the lives taken this time, but also prevent lives from being taken at any future date. Surgical strikes will not send a strong message, however.

What will send the greatest message to the JeM is that this, and any, government is committed to the preservation of its citizens and reactionary vigilantism will not be tolerated as it only gives the terrorist organization more fuel to recruit more youngsters from within our borders, leading to an unending cycle of violence. What the government needs to do is to break this destructive wheel of terrorism and reactionary vigilantism and focus on the bigger issue at hand, which is ensuring an attack of this sort never happens again.

Bhutan: Failure of the ‘Earn and Learn Scheme’ 

Mihir Bhonsale

Bhutan, Earn and Learn, South Asia, Education, School, Cham, Tibetan, Tshechu, Development, India, Japan, Jobs Source: Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

The new government in Bhutan is facing a stiff challenge in the wake of the ‘Earn and Learn’ Scheme that aims to provide overseas employment to jobseekers in Japan and India. Addressing the concern of high youth unemployment rate was a stated objective of this government scheme that sent the first batch of students to Japan in April 2017.

The scheme came under the scanner in September last year after students faced deterioration of living standards and professed inability to repay their loans while in Japan under the scheme. Nearly 700 students have been studying in Japan alone, under the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) scheme.

A female student had to be hospitalised and was detected with Meningitis Tuberculosis while a male student committed suicide last year, allegedly unable to cope up with his job in Japan and was unable to repay the loan.

Bhutanese jobseekers have in the past turned to countries, including India, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar and Thailand. Encouraged by this trend, and in order to address the problem of youth unemployment, the MoLHR, conceived in 2016, extended the scheme to Japan and Australia. Bhutan is riddled with jobless economic growth. At a time when the country was surging ahead at 8 percent in 2016, the youth unemployment increased to 13.2 percent from previous year when it was 10.7 percent.

Bringing down the unemployment rate and diversifying the mix of skilled workforce in the country was a stated objective of the overseas ‘Earn and Learn’ scheme.

Students were provided with assistance in loans that covered their tuition fees and living expenses in Japan. It was mandatory for the students to attain proficiency in the Japanese language, a prerequisite for getting fulltime placement in their chosen foreign land.  The students were allowed to earn through part-time jobs helping them to repay their loans and the interest.

The first problem was in the policymakers’ overestimation of the capability of the youth placed under the scheme to bag full-time jobs. The incompatibility of Bhutanese youth to the Japanese job market with difference in culture, lifestyle and work ethics was evident from the entente that ensued.

The choice of Japan was circumspect when for the scheme where the youth had an additional burden of learning a foreign tongue for two long years besides doing part-time jobs, allegedly added to the woes of the youth.

But, the government officials argue, that Japan is cost effective for jobseekers over Australia, the latter where the youth have to spend Nu 3 million. Japan costs Nu 700,000 only and offers working conditions similar to Australia.

Fixing the problem

The government led by Prime Minister Lotay Tshering has already announced that loan repayment will be deferred for jobseekers in Japan by four years for those who have completed Class 12 and by two years for graduates.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Bhutan had pulled up the private agency Bhutan Employment Overseas for lapses and corrupt practices in the award of training in Japan and India. As rightly pointed out by Dr. Tshering, it is a social problem, but also a case of failed policy of the government.

The government cannot wash hands off the matter by implicating the private agency and the officials in labour ministry for lapses and corrupt practices, it has to introspect and bring forward an alternative to break the deadlock, yet address the root causes of unemployment.

Prime Minister Tshering has also proposed to discuss with Japan whether the students would be allowed to enrol in technical internship programme by means of which, the students would be able to repay their loans.

Reportedly, there was lack of coordination on part of the government to bring both, students and the agency and try and to get to the root of the problem. In a late development, the government has also changed its mind on sending a team to investigate the matter, instead preferring to focus on deferment as one serves all solution to the matter.

Similarity with 2015

It is pertinent to note a similar case in 2015 of cheating by an educational consultant who had broken on the promise of covering tuition and hostel fees. About 193 Bhutanese students were subjected to an uncertain future while living in Bengaluru, India and studying in a private university.

Here again, the jobseekers who are also students are facing problems due to the alleged wrongdoings by the agencies and the government. The government needs to take recourse by installing a proper monitoring so as agencies whether in Bhutan or collaborators in foreign land are prevented of exploiting the youth in any way.

Bhutan through its mission in Japan needs to discuss the problem with Japan and try and break this entente and also put in please to measures to prevent reoccurrence of such issues in the future.

Country Reports


US envoy meets VP

Amb Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, recently met the First Vice-President of Afghanistan, General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Talks were held on the peace process, the prospective presidential elections and the Consultative Loya Jirga. The need to end this war through intra-Afghan talks and establish peace in the country was emphasised. It was also decided that the primary needs of Afghanistan are confidence building in the system and creating a national peace consensus.

Meeting with UAE

According to reports from the Afghan Ministry of Defence, a meeting was recently held between the Acting Minister of Defence of Afghanistan Asadullah Khalid and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Sheik Mohammad bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan. The interaction was held in Abu Dhabi on the sidelines of a four day long international defence exhibition. The talks dwelled on issues of security and bilateral relations with the UAE. No further excerpts from the meeting were divulged.


War on pornography

As part of a measure to control pornography, authorities have blocked around 20,000 websites.  Terming the present move by the government as a “war" against pornography, Mustafa Jabbar, the Posts and Telecommunications minister, observed that he wants to create a safe and secure internet for all Bangladeshis. The crackdown followed after the High Court in November last year ordered the government to block pornography websites and publication of obscene materials in electronic forms for six months.

Fire carnage

Around 80 people have died in one of the country’s most devastating incidents of fire. The incident took place in the congested old districts of capital Dhaka.  Old districts of the capital date back to the Mughal era and are crammed with buildings separated by narrow alleys, with residences commonly above shops, restaurants or warehouses on the ground floors. The government has formed a 5-member committee to investigate into the incident of fire.


Punatsangchu-I delayed

Punatsangchu-I hydropower project, that was expected to be completed in 2023, has again been postponed by a year owing to landslide on the right bank in the dam area. The revised date of completion of the 1200 MW project to be built with help from India is now set sometime in 2024. There will be technical meeting on the 24 February in Delhi to discuss a solution and holistic approach to the problem.

Loan deferment

Procedural delays could mean deference in loan repayment for the youth in Japan. The youth were sent to Japan as part of the ‘Earn and Learn’ scheme of the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources. The Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL) requires the client to sign the agreement of deferment in person. Unable to repay loans, the students are facing problems and one youth also committed suicide.

Convicted for drug-traffic

A court in Punakha in the second week of February convicted 3 men for trafficking cannabis and its derivatives and sentenced them to prison terms ranging between five years and eight months to five years and three months. Punakha police found Rinchen Gyeltshen, 25, from Paro, in the possession of 98.36 gm. of hashish and 0.6 gm. of cannabis on 8 November 2018. The permissible limit for cannabis is 50 gm. and for hashish seven.


Terrorism ‘common concern’

Departing from protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi received Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Delhi Airport, only few days after the ‘Pulwama terror-strike’, by Pakistan-based JeM.  After talks with PM Modi, and reaffirming his country’s commitment to work with other nations in combating terrorist organizations, Prince Salman stated that the problem of terrorism was a common point of concern for both India and his nation. The visit also witnessed the signing of five MoUs between the two governments in the investment and housing sector to name a few.

Water-diversion post-Pulwama

Taking immediate measures to retaliate against the Pulwama attack, the NDA government has decided to limit the water supply of Pakistan by cutting off its access to the three eastern rivers in the Indus basin. These rivers will, according to Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, be diverted for usage in the Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab regions, providing the citizens with electricity and water for agriculture. Responding to this, the government of Pakistan has stated it is not concerned about the diversion of waters, as it is within the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty.


Yameen jailed, woos Gasim

Only weeks ahead of parliamentary polls scheduled for 6 April, the police arrested former President Abdulla Yameen for allegedly falsifying statements made to investigators in a larger ‘money laundry scam’ probe. The criminal court ordered his imprisonment until the end of trial, after which he was sent to the Maafushi island-prison where many of his political adversaries had been housed when Yameen was in power. A day after Yameen’s arrest, his twin parties, namely, the PPM and PNC, lost no time in postponing the polls for the same reason, but was rejected by the Election Commission. More importantly, PPM and PNC leaders, at a joint news conference, wanted MDP President Ibrahim Solih to quit for Jumhooree Party (JP) Vice-President Faisal Naseem to take over, succeeded by JP boss Parliament Speaker, Ibrahim Gasim, whom they said was the most suitable person for the job. According to media reports, the PPM-PNC combine on the one hand and the JP, which is otherwise a constituent in the ruling four-party combine are contesting in 50 and 42 seats respectively in the 87-member House, indicating seat-adjustments of some but overlapping kind.

CJ slams MDP ‘reforms’

Speaking at the inaugural session of the two-day conference on ‘Judicial Independence and Reforms’, the Chief Justice, Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, criticised President Ibrahim Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) plans to curtail the powers of the Supreme Court. CJ Didi characterised the MDP’s proposals as “efforts to render the Supreme Court of the Maldives powerless and rob it of its status as the highest authority of the judiciary in order to achieve a political purpose in the name reforming the judiciary.”The MDP’s legislative agenda includes amending laws to remove powers exercised by the Supreme Court to  appoint and transfer judges, suspend lawyers, and take over cases from lower courts. But the chief justice argued the Supreme Court must have “supervisory jurisdiction” over lower courts, and quoted former US Supreme Court Justice James Wilson to say  that there should be a top court to “superintend and govern” the rest of the judiciary.

‘IS widows’ want to return

Widows of Maldivian jihadis who left to fight in Syria and Iraq for the ISIS in particular are seeking to return to the country, National Counter-Terrorism Centre, Brig Zakariyya Mansoor, has said. Six families have contacted the centre but there were many difficulties in bringing back the women and their children, he said adding that the biggest challenge was the lack of identification documents for their children born outside the country, he said. According to statistics from the NCTC, 61 Maldivian men, along with the wives and children, have travelled out of the country to join foreign wars, mostly in Syria.


Positive spell for BRI

At the first meeting of the steering committee for implementation of tasks relating to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, Aung San Suu Kyi stressed the need to work on the projects under the BRI in harmony with the country's national priorities and stated that the welfare of the people will be counted while implementing the projects. The BRI can promote cooperation in all sectors including infrastructure. Vice-President U Myint Swe called for engagement between respective ministries and regional governments for better implementation of projects under the framework of BRI.

Refugees return from Thailand

This week more than 500 refugees in Thailand are expected to return to south-eastern Myanmar as part of a voluntary repatriation process led by the Royal Thai Government and the Government of the Union of Myanmar, with the support of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and its partners. This is the third such movement, providing returning refugees a chance to rebuild their lives in their home country following decades of displacement in Thailand. The refugees will be departing from five refugee camps on the border and crossing from Thailand into Myanmar’s Kayin and Kayah States.


Austrian FM in Kathmandu

Karin Kneissl, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Austria, arrived in Nepal for a three-day official visit. This liaison is indeed very special as the two countries are directly connecting with each other after nearly 30 years. The meeting has been fixed with Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli along with an interaction with the Institute of Foreign Affairs.

No ‘hydropower’ returns?

The Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project (UTHP) has remained stagnant for over a year now. Although at its last leg, the gigantic infrastructure remains so due to the inefficiency of the Indian contractor involved. Consequently, the investment of around Rs 70 billion by the general public is going a waste. The Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation has no clear response, according to reports.

NCP panel goes

The ruling Nepal Communist Party had set up a Working Committee was initially formed to unify the at the grassroots-level. However, as of now, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli himself has reportedly suggested to dismantle of the same, as it could not bring the desired result of unification. Quite naturally, the members of the working committee have resented the decision.


Deprivation in Balochistan

The Chief Minister of Balochistan Jam Kamal Alyani has recently stated that only three per cent of the entire investment for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is being spent in the province. This has worsened the situation and in effect created a sense of deprivation among the people He further mentioned that the administrative steps that had been taken for Balochistan by the former governments were also ad hoc in nature and did not provide much needed improvement.

More precaution at LOC

Six of the ten districts Of Azad Jammu and Kashmir which share the Line of Control (LOC) with India, have been warned to take additional precautionary measures against any possible “mischief and aggression” by Indian forces. The State Disaster Management Authority has ordered the Deputy Commissioners of Neelum and Jhelum valley to instruct people not to assemble along the LoC, avoid travelling along any roads close to LoC unless urgent and restrain from unnecessary lighting, especially after sundown.

Sri Lanka

‘Cocaine’ charge

State Minister Ranjan Ramanayake has charged in public that at lest 24 of the 225 MPs in the country were ‘cocaine users’ and also handed over a list of their names to the CID, and later to Parliament Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya. Ramanayake’s ruling UNP promptly set a a disciplinary committee to probe his charges, and Cabinet Minister, Lakshman Kiriella, who is also the Leader of the House, said that a CID probe alone would clear the situation.



Opinion Pieces

Mariam Safi and Muqaddesa Yourish, “What Is Wrong With Afghanistan’s Peace Process”, The New York Times, 20 February 2019

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Afghanistan public health: Achievements and challenges”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 20 February 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “From No Governance to Good Governance”, 21 February 2019

Afghanistan Times, “Cancelling Islamabad trip”, 20 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Dr Kamal Monnoo, “Bangladesh’s recipe for economic success”, The Nation, 20 February 2019

Shooha Tabil, “Bangladesh’s energy conundrum”, Dhaka Tribune, 18 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Arvind Subramanian and Josh Felman ,“The Coming China Shock”, The Bhutanese, 16 February 2019


Kunesel, “Unfinished business”, 15 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

M.P. Nathanael, “Looking Beyond Pulwama”, The Indian Express, 22 February 2019

Gurmeet Kanwal, Ajai Sahni and Manmohan Bahadur, “After The Terrorist Strike in Pulwama, Is War Even an Option?”, The Hindu, 22 February 2019

Seema Bathla and Abhishek Jha, “Revoking Pakistan’s MFN Status: More Symbolic than Punitive”, The Hindu, 21 February 2019

Ranglal Jamuda, “Nutrition, An Orphan, Should Receive Attention It Deserves”, Outlook India, 19 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Making Myanmar’s Constitution Democratic”, The Irrawaddy, 22 February 2019

Nyein Nyein, “Rising Public Concern Over Vacant Land Law Amendment Goes Unaddressed”, The Irrawaddy, 22 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Sukhdev Shah, “Why Nepal lags?”,Republica, 19 February 2019

Madhukar Upadhya, “Erosion of economic base”, The Kathmandu Post, 20 February 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “A gift of tongues”, 22 February 2019

The Himalayan Times, “Focus on lawmaking”, 22 February 2019

The Kathmandu Post, “An offer he couldn’t refuse”, 19 February 2019


Opinion Pieces

Asha’ar Rehman, “One speech and more”, Dawn, 22 February 2019

Adeel Mukhtar Mirza, “Belligerence begets more belligerence”, The Express Tribune, 21 February 2019


Dawn, “No tax vision”, 22 February 2019

The Express Tribune, “Kabul should help reduce tensions”, 22 February 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

D B S Jeyaraj, “The politics of federalism and demonising it as separatism”, Daily Mirror Online, 23 February 2019

M S M Ayub, “For whom are the PCs?”, Daily Mirror Online, 22 February 2019

Kusal Perera, “Constituting the Constitution Council and civil society reps”, Daily Mirror Online, 22 February 2019

Milinda Seneviratne, “Constitutional Council and the poverty independent, integrity and intellect”, Daily Mirror Online, 21 February 2019

Kelum Bandara, “PM draws Tamil political jibes after making a call to ‘forget and forgive’”, Daily Mirror Online, 21 February 2019

Jehan Perera, “Constitutional Council and independent institutions are part of transition to rule of law”, The Island, 19 February 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “The ‘Troika’ way to India ties”, Ceylon Today, 19 February 2019

P K Balachandran, “How Jaffna Hindus met the challenge of European missionaries”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 February 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Forget Ranil’s proposals, the timing is ’unforgivable’, too”, Colombo Gazette, 19 February 2019


Daily Mirror Online, “A Just Society: Where do we go from here?”, 23 February 2019

Daily Mirror Online, “Fifteen Years of Jathika Hela Uramaya”, 21 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

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