MonitorsPublished on May 19, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII; 20

Afghanistan: Increasing violence and the future of peace process

Shubhangi Pandey

Since the signing of the US–Taliban deal on 29 February 2020, Afghanistan has witnessed a dramatic increase in violence, targeted not only at government officials and Afghan and allied forces operating in the country, but also countless civilians. However, despite the marked increase in the levels of violence, a security crisis further compounded by the looming health crisis amid political uncertainties, the Trump administration in the US continues to push the Afghan government to pursue talks with the Taliban.

Although progress on the peace process front remained sluggish and considerably behind schedule, the fact that prisoner exchanges, albeit in small batches, were at all taking place between the government and the Taliban, had kept the optimists waiting with bated breath, counting on the much awaited yet narrow window of opportunity to see the peace process advance. On the political front too, the deadlock between President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, was on the verge of ending in a mutually agreed upon power-sharing agreement, when the grotesque barbarism of two dastardly attacks rocked Afghanistan.

Wave of horror

On Tuesday, May 12, four gunmen dressed in military uniform attacked the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in western Kabul, a medical facility that housed a maternity clinic as well, run by the international humanitarian organisation, Doctor Without Borders. As per latest reports, at least 24 people, including new-born babies, mothers and nurses, were killed in the heinous incident of violence.

In a separate attack the same day, a suicide-bomber stormed the funeral of a police commander and former warlord in the Khewa district of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, and detonated himself, claiming 32 lives. Even with the knowledge that Afghanistan has suffered terrorist violence for almost two decades now, the brutal attacks on the maternity ward and the funeral in the holy month of Ramadan, have unleashed a wave of horror and disgust that is unlikely to die down anytime soon.

While the attack on the funeral was claimed by the Islamic State (ISKP or IS-K) branch that operates in Afghanistan and the larger, erstwhile Khorasan region, the planners of the hospital carnage are yet to surface. Given the demography of the area in Kabul where the hospital was located, a locality predominated by the minority community of Hazaras who are Shia Muslims, and have often been the target of ISIS - orchestrated attacks in the past, there is indeed a strong likelihood of Islamic State hand in the incident.

Moreover, targeting big cities and urban centres has been the strategy employed by IS-K militants, while the Taliban, based on the agreement signed with the US, have promised to limit their “activities” to rural neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, the Taliban have denied a role in either of the attacks, but have also refrained from condemning them, which has rightfully raised questions about the authenticity of their historically dubious statements and guarantees, especially since the perpetrators of hospital violence remain unknown.

Strategic restraint

In a rare Twitter spat between the US military spokesperson, Col. Sonny Leggett, and his Taliban counterpart, Zabihullah Mujahid, it was revealed that the agreement included an informal commitment from all warring parties to reduce violence by no less than 80%. While the Afghan forces, along with the forces of Resolute Support, abided by the US call to observes strategic restraint in the interest of the peace process, Taliban violence continued unabated – barring a week preceding the signing of the deal – and in fact, grew by 70% compared to the same period in 2019.

As reported by Afghan officials stationed on the eastern borders of Afghanistan, the Taliban have stepped up military activity in the eastern border provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar, and Nuristan, supported by fighters from the Al-Qaeda, and Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

Shortly after the twin attacks of 12 May, President Ghani addressed the nation to declare a significant shift away from the position of “active defence”, to an all-out resumption of operations against the Taliban, and other militant groups operating in the country. The Taliban, on the other hand, have the warned the government saying that the latter would be held responsible for any escalation of violence, if Afghan forces go on the offensive as planned.

Collective inability

With military operations against the Taliban and other militant organisations resumed in full swing, any possibility of the peace process advancing seems highly unlikely. However, while the Afghan government and the Taliban have been explicit about their respective strategic positions, the US seems to be contemplating the best way possible out of a security quagmire that can likely be expected to spiral out of control soon, if restorative measure are not undertaken at the earliest.

In a cautiously-worded press release, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned both attacks, while calling on the Taliban and the Afghan government to bring the perpetrators to justice, reflecting the strong American resolve to retain the gains of the peace process. At the same time, senior US military officials continue to reiterate that continued terrorist violence would result in equal retaliations by US forces, in support of the Ghani government.

The only way to ensure that fighting remains to a minimum, and the peace process continues to inch forward, would be for the US and Afghan forces to realistically acknowledge their collective inability to win the war by military means, and that the continuation of conflict would only mean more violence. Acting upon that grave realisation however, is undoubtedly easier said than done. In the immediate future, therefore, while the Afghan forces may continue fighting the Taliban, the US would likely keep up with the troop drawdown, in keeping with their national security objectives, leaving Afghans to eventually “take care of themselves”, as Trump says.

Bhutan: Nurturing the entrepreneurship ecosystem

Mihir Bhonsale

As the Himalayan nation looks to tide over the health emergency presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and crawl back to normalcy, concerted efforts are needed to revive different sectors of the economy. Here, the Cottage and Small-scale Industries (CSI) and start-ups have an important role in reviving the economy.

As of June 2018, there were about 20,000 Cottage and Small-scale Industries (CSI) registered in the country, employing over 92,000 people. About 79 percent of the CSI is dominated by the service sector, while the production and manufacturing sector accounts for only about 10 percent and the remaining 10 percent comprised the contract sector.

Economic diversification of the small nation of Bhutan requires ‘leap forward’ in the CSI and start-ups sector, that constitutes 95 percent of the industrial sector of the country. Reckoning with the importance of CSI and start-ups in economic diversification, the government has launched a flagship programme.

The launching of the Nu. 1.2 billion CSI and start-up flagship has been a major initiative undertaken by the present government that has professed the motto of “Narrowing the gap”. The flagship is part of the ongoing12thFive Year Plan (2018-23) and aims at replacing 10 imported products by the end of 2023.

The programme aims at setting up an autonomous business start-up by June this year. The programme is focused on creating about 2,000 job opportunities to young people in both the CSI sector and start-up centres.

The flagship programme is divided into different phases, each phase focusing on developing a set of products that may later be replaced with imports. In February this year, the government announced the establishment of the National CSI Development Bank Limited, a wholly-owned state-owned enterprise.

Of paramount importance for helping CSI’s catalyse economic progress is the need to create a conducive environment, regulations and infrastructure. There is a need to bridge the trust deficit between the lending agencies and entrepreneurs.

Country-watchers argue that lack of continuity between government policies is affecting the growth of business. They vouch for the government to turn towards the second phase of the business cycle, i.e. of addressing the need of both human and financial capital. This is felt as a major reform that can leverage the CSI potential.

Partnership with India

The CSI and start-ups need to explore partnership, technology and capital to attract foreign interest and investment in the CSI sector. To sustain this requirement, Bhutan launched the bilateral partnership with India to interact, exchange and develop inter-business networks and cooperation in start-ups.

Indian Minister of Railways, and Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal, who headed a business delegation for the Bhutan-India bilateral summitannounced, has sponsored training of 100 Bhutanese trainers and entrepreneurs at the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India.

A feasibility study for setting up an Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Bhutan to serve as a training hub for mentorship and economic activities would also be undertaken by India.

During the summit, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry signed a Memorandum of Understanding facilitating enhanced cooperation and collaboration between the business communities of both countries.

It was also made public that CII would establish its first office in South Asia in Thimphu soon. The office is expected to provide hands-on training, guidance, mentorship and work closely with the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry for entrepreneurship development.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma, speaking at the summit, said that diversification of economy was an essential concept for Bhutan, as the country is challenged by a small economy and market, which was both against the economy of scale.

A study by the Gross National Happiness Commission in 2013 had indicated that the country is faced with a narrow economic base and high dependency on external trade. Bhutan has the highest trade-to-GDP ratio in the region (82 percent).

Furthermore, Bhutan’s exports are concentrated, increasing her exposure to trade shocks since more than 40 per cent of exports are hydropower exports to India. Mineral and metal-based products that constitute the second major exports are highly dependent on the availability of low- cost hydropower, which is also subject to considerable hydrological risks.

Graduating from LDC

In 2018, the UN Committee for Development Policy recommended Bhutan’s graduation from a Least Developed Country to a Developing Country by 2023. The assessment was based on three criteria -- Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, Human Assent Index (HAI) and Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI).

While, Bhutan successfully completed two of the three thresholds required for attaining eligibility for graduation. It crossed the threshold on GNI and HAI but failed on the third recording a high economic vulnerability index (EVI). Bhutan’s EVI was 40.2 in 2018 above the threshold score of 32 or below.

The Cottage and Small-scale Industries and start-up flagship remain extremely important for Bhutan’s economic diversification. If executed well, it will incrementally prepare the pathway of Bhutan’s graduation into a developing economy by 2023 with confidence in its economy and minimise the economic vulnerability of the country.

Country Reports


Maternity ward attacked

On 12 May, four gunmen dressed in police uniform attacked the maternity ward at the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in the western part of Kabul, and killed at least 24 people, including women, nurses and new-born babies. Though no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban and resumed military operations, while the US has blamed the Islamic State, calling on President Ghani to continue negotiations with the Taliban.

‘Martyrdom attack’ in Paktia

A car bomb detonated in front of a Ministry of Defence (MoD) facility in the city of Gardez, in the eastern Paktia province, claiming 5 civilian lives and wounding 24 others, on 14 May 2020. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack via a WhatsApp message shared with the media by their spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, calling it a “martyrdom attack” in response to the government decision to resume offensive operations against the Taliban.


Corona genome sequencing

A team of scientists of the Child Health Research Institute has claimed to have successfully completed the genome sequencing of the Covid-19 virus in the country. This breakthrough will contribute to understanding details like- the type of virus, its source and the time of its arrival in the country. Additionally, this development will help to predict the trend of this virus in future and in the discovery of the vaccine. Notably, sequencing of the virus has been already done around 16000 times worldwide.

Lockdown extended

The nationwide lockdown has been extended until May 30, following a surge in the cases of Covid-19 infection. Authorities have declared to impose a strict restriction on transportation and no vehicles will be allowed on roads except for emergency needs.  Lockdown was slapped on 26 March to curb the spread of coronavirus cases, however, some relaxation made earlier this month. The country has recorded 20000 cases of infection and 298 persons have died till the time of the filing of this report.

Package for youth, expats

The government has announced Taka 2,500-crore package for the youth and expatriate Bangladeshis who became jobless amid the coronavirus pandemic. Man-power export has been an important segment of the country’s economy and thousands of youth have been working abroad and contributing to the economy by sending remittances.  Thousands of them have returned from to the country after they lost their jobs due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.


6,500 return from 35 countries

Nearly 6,500 people have returned home from 35 countries. The highest among the returnees are students — 3,430 followed by those working abroad — 1,102. Majority of the returnees, 4,228, came via flight and the rest by land transport through border areas in southern Bhutan. India saw the largest outflow of Bhutanese — 2,568. Two Bhutanese returned from the Philippines and 890 returned from the Middle East. The country has quarantined 6,805 people, including border trespassers, frontline workers and local primary contacts. Thirty-seven airline crew and 85 health personnel were also quarantined.

7,000 jobs in construction

A round 7,000 job-seekers will find work in the construction sector through the labour ministry’s ‘Build Bhutan Project’ beginning in June. The job seekers will include both the youth who were unemployed before Covid-19 pandemic and those that were laid off by the companies following Covid-19 pandemic.The project is designed to meet the immediate labour force need in the construction sector. The project isprepared as part of the Economic Contingency Plan announced by the Prime Minister’s Officeand also seeks to retain the skilled labour workforce in the construction sector and build the sector as viable employment generating industry.

Risk of entry

Samdrupjongkhar residents are worried about the transmission of the COVID 19 virus through the cross-border movement of vehicles from India. In the wake of Covid-19, trucks are carrying essential items like grocery and vegetables ferrying from India to Bhutan daily. Bhutan however discontinued disinfecting the vehicles ferrying grocery items and vegetables at the border gate since 1 May. The authorities had allowed trucks from across the border to ferry gypsum from Samdrupjongkhar, accentuating fears among the locals of an increased risk of infection of the virus.


Modi announces Rs 20-lakh crore relief package

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced an economic relief package of Rs 20-lakh crore to help the revival of the economy and extend assistance to all the section that have been adversely affected by the pandemic and the prolonged lockdown. The Prime Minister stated that the new rules and guidelines for the fourth phase of the lockdown will also be announced shortly. As indicated by the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in a series of press conferences, have announced the detailed blueprint regarding how the economic package, that amounts to 10 percent of India’s GDP, will be allocated and utilized for addressing the concerns of the farmers, migrant workers, poor and vulnerable, street vendors and the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME).  Other announcements are also expected to be made by the Finance Minister in due course.


More Indians leave

Indian Navy ship INS Jalashwa on Friday departed from Male for Kochi, with 588 nationals stranded due to Covid19 travel restrictions. This was the second repatriation trip made for the trip, after carrying a total of 698 Indian repatriates.  In addition to this, a further 202 Indians were evacuated by another INS ship, INS Magar, from Male to Thoothukudy, taking the total thus fr to 1488. Indian High Commissioner Sunjay Sudhir, who was on hand to see off the third batch of repatriates, said that they had to cut down the number of evacuees for the third trip from about 700, owing to weather conditions.

Numbers on rise

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) on Saturday confirmed 47 new cases of Covid19 in the country. The new cases comprise 19 Maldivians, 22 Bangladeshi nationals, two Nepalese and four Indian nationals. With these developments. the total number of cases in Maldives has reached 1078, with 1025 active cases, four fatalities and 49 recoveries. Capital Malé, one of the most densely-populated places in the world, too has recorded a significant increase in Covid19 cases, after the first case was recorded on 15 April.


Work-creation in farm sector

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MoALI) on jobs in agriculture and construction will be made available to the unemployed section under the COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP), under Cash for Work program. To yield jobs for around 800,000 farmers, MoALI will harness a total of 400,000 acres of farmland on which it will work a joint venture with the Myanmar Rice Federation. Half of the land will be utilized to produce seeds for planting. The remaining half will be used for the growing and harvesting of crops. Funds are expected to come from the government budget as well as international financing.

Sailors trapped at sea

The Myanmar Seafarers’ Employment Services Federation (MSESF) has written to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi about the hardships faced by Myanmar sailors stranded at sea amid COVID-19. It estimates that around 2500 of these seamen, who work onboard international vessels and oil rigs, are from Myanmar. These workers have been unable to return home and are stranded at sea with expired employment contracts. The letter states the families of the sailors and MSESF are concerned that harsh conditions at sea could affect the sailors’ mental as well as physical wellbeing, reduce their performance and increase workplace accidents unless the crew shifts can be immediately carried out.


‘Lipulekh’ in news again

An all-party meeting had been organized by Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli to discuss the recent strategic link road inaugurated by India. This road connects Mansarovar of the Tibetan Autonomous Region with Darchula of India via the Lipulekh Pass in Nepal, mainly for trade as well as the pilgrims. Nepal is visibly not happy with the development and is referring to this as an ‘encroachment’. This meeting also involved the representatives from the Indian Embassy in Nepal, talking out the issue.

New fiscal policies

President Bidya Devi Bhandari recently declared the annual Policy and Programs of the government at the joint session of the Federal Parliament. The most important point that came up was to make the country COVID free. The government would do its best to assess the socio-economic aspects of the pandemic and take steps accordingly.


Japan sends more aid

Japan has come to the rescue of Pakistan to help the nation deal with mounting economic and health problems due to spread of coronavirus. Japan has decided to release the fifth tranche of assistance worth $4 million to combat the spread of virus. The fresh aid will be used to provide necessary support for the equipment and material as requested by Islamabad. The money will be used to enhance contact tracing capabilities and for the treatment of the people who have contracted the disease. Prior to this grant, Japanese government has provided assistance to Pakistan that stood at $3,410,000. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan is facing grave problems in health sector during this pandemic. 

Panel chief replaced

The government of Pakistan elected Shehryar Afridi as the chairman of Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir without consensus. Afridire replaced Syed Fakhar Imam who was leading the Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir since 2019 to highlight the Kashmir issue at global and region levels. The controversial move was opposed by all the three mainstream opposition parties. The opposition parties criticised the move and said Afridi lacked experience to become Kashmir committee chairman, which in the past, had been headed by towering personalities. It is first time that consensus was not reached in parliament over the election of chairman.

‘Kashmir again in limelight 

Pakistan on 14 May once again showed fake concerns for the people of Kashmir. The Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui accused New Delhi of continuing extra-judicial killing by forces in Kashmir. The statement came after a youth was killed in Budgam district of Kashmir by security forces on 13 May. Aisha Farooqui while condemning the incident said that in April alone Indian forces have killed more than 33 Kashmiris and 150 were injured seriously. The spokesperson also called upon international community to take notice of situation in Kashmir and stressed for immediate resolution of Jammu and Kashmir issue under UNSC resolutions. 

Sri Lanka

TNA’s ‘prisoner plea’ for AG

The plea of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) for early freedom to whom they call ‘Tamil political prisoners’ has been referred to the Attorney-General’s (AG) office for opinion, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has said. The initiative followed TNA spokesman and member in the dissolved Parliament, M A Sumanthiran, met with PM Rajapaksa in the latter’s official residence, and handed over a list of 86 prisoners, who have been held in custody for up to 13 years without trial and verdict. The meeting was a follow-up on TNA leader R Sampanthan seeking an appointment with the PM at the all-party ex-MPs’ meeting called by the Government to discuss the Covid19 situation a fortnight back, and a meeting of TNA ex-MPs’ at the PM’s residence that evening. Indications are that the Government may take a sympathetic view of the TNA’s plea, sending out positive signals ahead of revived political discussions on the ethnic issue, after pending elections to the nation’s dissolved Parliament.



Opinion Pieces

Ahmad Shah Katawazai, “Hospital Attack Leaves Peace Process on Brink of Collapse,TOLO News, 14 May 2020

Ravi Agarwal, “Afghanistan’s ‘Cradle to Grave’ Cycle of Death”, Foreign Policy, 14 May 2020


Afghanistan Times, “Enemies Sabotaging Peace Process”, 13 May2020

Afghanistan Times, “Deadly Tuesday”, 13 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Rubaiya Murshed, “What changes do we want in a post-pandemic Bangladesh?”, The Daily Star, 13 May 2020

Nabeel Khan, “Can RMG navigate all the risks?”, Dhaka Tribune, 12 May 2020


The Daily Star, “Why don’t the beneficiaries’ NID numbers match with those on EC database?”, 14 May 2020

The Daily Star, “Protect migrant workers from food shortages”, 14 May 2020

Dhaka Tribune, “Finding new ways to serve and protect”, 13 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Dorji Wangchuck, “Solving the youth unemployment conundrum”, Kuensel, 14 May 2020


Kuensel, “Are we doing enough?”, 14 May 2020

Kuensel, “A good time to reflect on our tourism policy”, 13 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Barkha Dutt, "There is a humanitarian crisis in India. Lift the lockdown, now", Hindustantimes, 15 May 2020

Kaushik Basu, "The stress of the pandemic is often robbing us of consistency", The Indian Express. 15 May 2020

Neelkanth Mishra, "Fund for MSMEs will ease credit, but govt may have to scale up support in coming months", The Indian Express, 15 May 2020


The Indian Express, "Back on the move" 16 May 2020

The Indian Express, " Freeing the farm", 16 May 2020

The Hindu, "One for the poor", 15 May 2020

hindustantimes, "The SC should have been more proactive in tackling the migrant crisis", 15 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: Evacuation, yet another milestone in bilateral ties”,, 12 May 2020

Shahudha Mohamed, “Locked-down in India: A Pandemic Away From Home”, The Edition, 10 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Aung Zaw, “All Signs Point to a Worsening of Myanmar’s Rakhine Conflict”, The Irrawaddy, 11 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Kul Chandra Gautam, “A COVID Challenge for Nepal Army”, Republica, 14 May 2020

Madhukar Upadhya, “Plans after the pandemic”, The Kathmandu Post, 14 May 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “Warning bells”, 15 May 2020

The Kathmandu Post, “Earthquake reconstruction: no more excuses”, 12 May 2020


Opinion Pieces

Samar Halarnkar, “Smoke, mirrors and Modi: A grand illusion of governance during Covid-19”, Dawn, 14 May 2020

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, “Of strategic depth”, Dawn, 15 May 2020

Dr Moonis Ahmar, “How is India changing the demography of Occupied J&K?”, The Express Tribune, 15 May 2020

Imran Jan, “Stakeholders of violence in AfghanistanThe Express Tribune, 14 May 2020

Durdana Najam, “India’s hatred for Muslims and its scheduled class”, The Express Tribune,14 May 2020


The Express Tribune, “Worrying projections”, 15 May 2020

Dawn, “Dam deal”, 15 May 2020.

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Kumar David, “Whither Sri Lanka if it is a depression?”, The Island, 17 May 2020

Gnana Moonesinghe, “Unity and resolve: the need of the hour”, The Island, 17 May 2020

D B S Jeyaraj, “Did the Tigers form the TNA in 2001?”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 May 2020

Uditha Devapriya, “Governed by task force, led by president SL combats Pandemic While Opposition flounders”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 May 2020

Kelum Bandara, “Conducting General Elections: EC hamstrung”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 May 2020

Jehan Perera, “Holding the executive accountable is a democratic necessity”, The Island, 12 May 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Ethnic issue back on centre-table?”, Ceylon Today, 12 May 2020

Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, “Why don’t they read Article 170?”, The Island, 12 May 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Rebalancing international politics and internal economics”, Colombo Gazette, 11 May 2020


Afghanistan: Shubhangi Pandey

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

Pakistan: Ayjaz Wani

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