MonitorsPublished on Mar 14, 2016
South Asia Weekly | Volume IX; Issue 11

Afghanistan: Electoral reforms not a done-deal, yet

Kriti Shah

On  March 5, 2016, President Ashraf Ghani issued the much-awaited constitutional decree which will see the country’s electoral system reformed. Although the nation’s CEO Abdullah Abdullah and the Electoral Reform Commission have welcomed the decree as the first step toward electoral reforms, Ghani’s decree is simply symbolic.

The present decree comes as the fate of the electoral reform process remains uncertain, given that the earlier two presidential decrees over reforms were rejected by the Wolesi Jirga (Afghan lower house of parliament). Therefore, the hype on the new decree should be eased, until it is cleared by the Wolesi Jirga and further visible concrete steps are taken by the National Unity Government to work on reforming the electoral system.

Electoral reforms in Afghanistan are not only imperative, they are crucial for the country’s stability and longevity of democratic governance. When the NUG came into power in 2014, both Ghani and Abdullah agreed on the need for “fundamental changes” to electoral laws and institutions. Although they both agreed that no elections should be held until the present electoral system in overhauled, they disagreed on how to proceed and who would be in charge of the overhaul process.

Sluggish, lacklustre

This stalemate caused a great deal of uncertainty, dissent and polarisation in the politics of the country. The electoral reform process has been slow, sluggish and lacklustre without commitment and strong political will in the high level of government. Such events coinciding with the resurgence of the Taliban in parts of the country have not contributed favourably to changing the situation of political uncertainty.

The reason why electoral reforms are so important is twofold. One, the general election in 2014 that eventually led to the NUG and the power sharing agreement between Ghani and Abdullah, was racked with controversy amidst allegations of fraudulent voting practices. These allegations of fraud and cheating by both Ghani and Abdullah camps pushed the country into great political instability.

Lost legitimacy

There was fear that the country would slide into violence and greater instability if no government got formed. When the power-sharing agreement was finally signed, both leaders promised electoral reform to ensure such a situation does not occur again. More specifically, both Ghani and Abdullah agreed that serious reform was required in the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) that was largely blamed for being biased and corrupt in its practices.

Since electoral bodies such as the IEC lost their legitimacy post the election, it was expected that they would be the first to be reformed and renewed. Needless to say, over a year and half since the formation of the NUG, there has been no significant reform in this regard. Electoral reform, especially change in composition of the electoral commission, is therefore a must as without reform, future elections risk the instability which pushed the country into the brink of an abyss in 2014.

The other reason why reform of the electoral system is so crucial is because it is the first step in the NUG’s ambitious electoral timeline, set out in the 2014 agreement: comprehensive electoral reform, followed by parliament and district council elections (which will create a quorum for the Loya Jirga), followed by a convening of the Loya Jirga within two years of the establishment of the government.

The Loya Jirga will in turn debate possible changes and amendments to the nation’s Constitution and will be responsible for formalising the post of executive Prime Minister for the current CEO, Abdullah Abdullah. Since proper electoral reform will take much longer, given the current pace, the NUG timeline has been pushed into redundancy.

Adding to this, parliament’s term expired in June 2015 without fresh elections and consensus on how to hold them. Although Ghani issued a decree to extend parliament’s term until elections are held, many called the move unconstitutional. All of this has resulted in international donors, such as Britain suspending aid and financing to the Afghan government until progress is made on electoral reforms.

Law-makers consulted

Although Ghani’s constitutional decree on electoral reform brings with it a sense of hope, it is still not a ‘done-deal’ that the government will be able to make progress in the reform process. Notwithstanding, it is promising that the government has consulted MPs and law-makers over the reforms in order to secure their support before the decree goes to the Wolesi Jirga.

However, much more remains to be done in order to end the political bickering. The government must ensure that it develops a broad consensus and take the inputs of civil society and government while drafting the reforms. Great differences in opinion amongst the reforms will only add to future political strife in the country, something Afghanistan can no longer afford to risk. It must bring all political actors on board to work together, so that future governments are not undermined by internal factions and external groups.

It is high time that Ghani and Abdullah set aside their political differences and draft a coherent and unified roadmap to reforms. This will not only be beneficial to Afghanistan, but to them as well as the country goes into parliamentary and district council elections. By leading the reform process and sticking to a new efficient timeline, Ghani and Abdullah can hope to regain public support and trust in a government that is being loathed for its ineffectiveness.

They must realise that it is not only their political future and career that are at stake, but those of the nation’s as well. Electoral reform was the key foundation of the agreement that led to the National ‘Unity’ Government, preventing domestic strife and it would be a sad day in Afghanistan and the world, if electoral reform were the reason for the country’s downfall.

(Kriti Shah is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation in Delhi).

Maldives: Supreme Court concludes hearing in Nasheed appeal

N Sathiya Moorthy

Even as the revived, Government-sponsored all-party talks for political reconciliation floundered in the absence of Opposition representation, and the nation’s Supreme Court concluded hearing in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’ appeals, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader Mohammed Nasheed, has cautioned New Delhi, seems to be in an effort to counter President Abdulla Yameen. Nasheed was sentenced to a 13-year prison term by the trial court.

President Yameen had said at a public function in the northern Utheemu island in early March: “I spoke with both Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers at length” on the day the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) met in London to finalise their report on their Maldives visit earlier. Yameen told a public function in the northern Utheemu island in early March. “They were very obliging … It was their representatives who spoke in our defence. There were some who attacked us. But we were saved because of the work done by both of our neighbourly powers,” the Maldives Independent quoted him as saying further.

Though CMAG set a month’s deadline for the Government to address democracy issues that it did specify, Yameen said that the CMAG’s decision not to place the Maldives on its formal agenda as an indication that “there are no major issues here.” Any Commonwealth action will obstruct foreign aid, the President said, and reportedly insisted that he had no influence over the judiciary to secure freedom for jailed opponents – a reference this particularly to Nasheed, now on ‘medical leave’ in the UK, while serving the jail-term.

Citing Nasheed’s constant meetings and media appearances in the UK, Yameen reportedly said that the former did not need any spinal surgery, but “only an injection” (which was available in Maldives). As may be recalled, since landing in the UK on ‘medical leave’, Nasheed has reportedly said that he would decide on returning home, based mainly on political reforms and freedom for ‘political prisoners’.

Modi’s visit

As if to responding to Yameen, yet addressing India almost directly, Nasheed in an interview to The Hindu, said that “Maldives is sitting on a time-bomb” and that “India can play an important role in the restoration of democracy ... but the appeasement of dictators is not the way to do it”. He referred to President Yameen’s call for him to return to the county and work on the political reforms. “President Yameen should at least release the high profile political prisoners, six or seven of us....Only today he gave a speech on one of the islands, saying that India and Pakistan are willing to get him off the hook. If you have friends willing to do that, it is not likely that President Yameen would relent.”

Nasheed was also asked about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelling the Maldives leg of his four-nation Indian Ocean visit in March last, and the Indian aircraft-carrier, ‘INS Vikramaditya’ visiting the country a year later. “It is difficult to see how India projects power or creates leverage,” Nasheed said. “It is full of mixed signals and messages. And therefore, we have taken a very different view. Our actions and beliefs are not based on what the Indian government does. It is based on our principles. We are with India whatever they do. We might be in government or opposition, we might all be arrested, but we still have to hold on to our view.”

He said, he was “not disappointed” about India not taking a stronger position on democracy issues in his country,” because we take the long view. I feel that India will in time understand what is best for India, the Maldives and the Indian Ocean. At present I am not convinced that it has understood this. But to assume that appeasement towards dictators would help bring stability -- it’s a tested hypothesis (that it does not). How far do you appease? What do you achieve out of that?”

Changed tactic?

Going by local media reports, at the ‘Abdulla case appeals’ in the Supreme Court, Nasheed’s defence seemed to have changed tack and tactics, to concede an ‘unlawful arrest’ against an ‘act of terror’, which attracted a lower penalty under the new penal code, which came into force (only) in November last. Earlier, the Supreme Court had decided to hear the State appeal, moved purportedly under international pressure against the trial court verdict.

As reported in the local media, Nasheed’s lawyers also pointed to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (WGAD), concluding that his trial, conviction and sentencing were arbitrary and politically-motivated. His lawyers submitted that the Government was bound by the findings as it had signed the UN Charter, and also the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The government had however rejected the UN body’s finding in September last, claiming it was non-binding, but however conceded that the Supreme Court would consider the WGAD’s opinion during the appeal.

As may be recalled, Nasheed had refused to move the High Court against the trial court verdict. He had also stopped participating in the trial after his lawyers refused to involve themselves, citing court’s refusal for them to meet with their client in prison, as frequently as they had wanted. The government seemed to have been peeved at the lawyers’ purported behaviour of making political statements unconnected with the case, to the media and the rest after the prison meetings.

Nasheed’s decision at those stages however seemed to be as much a political tactic as it might have been a legal strategy, too. However, the High Court’s decision against accepting the State’s appeal, citing ‘procedural issues’ involving the trial court, for reasons of locus standi, seemed to have weighed on Nasheed’s defence, for him to join the Supreme Court’s appeal. The State was the first one to move the Supreme Court. Technically, the appeal is against the HC rejection.

It would look as if Nasheed’s international legal advisors may have had a role in his U-turn. Arguing the HC’s rejection of the State appeal before the SC, Nasheed’s lawyers submitted that the five-member Male Bench of the High Court was cannot hear the appeal at present, as all three trial court judges in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’ have since been elevated – and the other two also had causes to recuse themselves, should the SC direct fresh hearings by the HC.

It is another matter that to help decentralise judicial administration across the archipelago-nation, the Yameen Government had created two Branches/Benches of the High Court in the South and North of the country, through amendments to the Judicature Act. However, transfer of Judges to the Benches too has run in to rough weather, with some of the transferees taking it up with higher authorities, including parliamentary committees.

The Prosecutor-General’s appeal against the trial court verdict had centred on the larger question, if Nasheed’s rights had been assured – or, violated/denied – during the 19-day trial. If Nasheed gets a favourable verdict on the ‘terrorism’ charge, it would also benefit other convicts in the ‘Judge Abdulla case’, and also former Defence Minister, Col Mohammed Nazim, who is facing ‘terrorism charges’, for offences, not as specific as those against jailed Vice-President Ahamed Adheeb, who was later impeached, for plotting a bomb-blast on President Yameen’s boat. Conversely, the appeal hearing in the Nazim case has also been concluded, and the verdict could have a bearing on the Nasheed case as well.

The procedural issue now thus involves a question on the legality of Nasheed joining the Supreme Court appeal after skipping the one in the High Court. The substantive issue however concerns the application of anti-terror law with retrospective effect that too after the original trial had commenced months ago. Another legal question could also relate to the Nasheed defence’s submission for retrospective application of the new penal code in his case.

Yet the political question would remain if any Supreme Court’s lowering of Nasheed’s sentence, based on his defence’s reported submission of a ‘lesser crime’ and ‘lesser penalty’ would entail him to contest the presidential polls, due by November 2018. If Nasheed had been convicted and sentenced under the original penal provisions, he would have to cool his heels for three years after the completion of a jail-term not over one year, before being allowed to contest elections. The alternative would be presidential pardon, for which he would have to apply – which could be politically unwise with an unsure future course, as well.

False start?

In a separate development, the MDP refused to participate in the all-party talks, revived by the Government, reiterating demands for the release of all ‘political prisoners’. Apart from Nasheed, the party had also included religion-centric Adaalath Party (AP) leader, Sheikh Imran, who too has been jailed for months now – also under ‘terrorism’ law – after the common Opposition rally that he had organised had turned violent, and policemen were beaten up.

The MDP has also rejected Government suggestions for one-on-one discussions on ‘clemency’ for Nasheed. The Government’s negotiations team, headed by Fisheries Minister, Dr Mohamed Shainee, has since repeated the invitation to the MDP. Indications are that the party may be apprehensive that any such move – particularly, yet another ‘false start’ by the Government, could hamper Opposition unity on the one hand, and could still deny Nasheed, the ‘right’ to contest the 2018 presidential polls.

The Government continues to hold that it was all for political negotiations, democratic, constitutional and judicial reforms but it should be an all-Maldivian affair. At the bi-annual UNHRC meet in Geneva, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon reiterated the Government’s resolve in this regard, saying that they won’t ‘apologise’ for upholding the law of the land. She also said that the Yameen leadership “will change Maldives into a democracy that protects the rights of everyone” (but not under pressure from elsewhere).

With the result, the nation’s Parliament, where President Yameen’s PPM-led coalition holds a majority, rejected Opposition demands for a discussion/debate on CMAG report. It’s another matter that twice in the past two years, first under President Waheed Hassan Manik, and later under Yameen, the Government had said that Maldives was ready to quit the Commonwealth, if it came to that – yet, on both occasions, did cooperate with the CMAG, even if up to a point this time round.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)

Country Reports


Taliban announces it will not join peace talks

On 5 March, the Taliban confirmed they would not join the next round of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) peace talks held by the United States, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in Islamabad, Pakistan this month. According to a statement from the Taliban’s website, “We reject all such rumors and unequivocally state that the leader of Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) has not authorized anyone to participate in this meeting.” The statement then listed the preconditions needed for Taliban participation in the peace talks, saying, “(Islamic Emirate) once again reiterates that unless the occupation of Afghanistan is ended, black lists eliminated and innocent prisoners freed, such futile misleading negotiations will not bear any results.”

For more information, see: Taliban reject invite to Afghanistan peace talks”, CNN, 5 March 2016

China offers to help fight Taliban

The Afghan Defence Ministry announced an increase of military financial assistance from China to aid in Afghanistan’s fight against extremist groups, including the Taliban. The deal was put together in February when a delegation of Chinese military officials, led by General Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army, visited Kabul and met with President Ashraf Ghani, among others. China’s military financial support totals $70 million. While far less than the investment made by the United States, it is significant due to China’s previously neutral posture in Afghanistan as they sought to manage relations with the Taliban to further broad peace in the country.

For more information, see: China Offers Afghanistan Army Expanded Military Aid”, Wall Street Journal, 9 March 2016

Taliban attack government office in Helmand

On the morning of 8 March, Taliban operators attacked the police head office and intelligence offices in Gereshk, located in south-central Helmand, according to Omar Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor. Suicide bombers struck inside the police compound, but security officials were able to deter the attackers at the intelligence offices. A legal, investigative representative appointed by President Ashraf Ghani in Helmand, Jabbar Karaman, reported that seven Taliban militants had been killed, while three police officers and an unknown number of civilians had died as the gunfight continued. Helmand remains in a precarious position, as all but three of the 14 districts are controlled by Taliban forces.

For more information, see: Taliban attack police headquarters in Afghanistan’s Helmand”, AP, 9 March 2016

Afghan-Tajik border clash kills two

On 7 March, a clash at the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border began as a group of nine, armed militants attempted to cross the border from Afghanistan into Tajikistan. According to the State Security Committee, the attempted cross occurred at the Panj border post before a gunfight broke out and one of the militants was killed. The Afghan-Tajik border is home to roughly 5,000 Taliban and other extremist-group fighters who have gathered near the border, according to a Tajik security official. The other victim of the clash is a Tajik security guard. The affiliation of the nine militants is unknown.

For more information, see: Two killed in clash on Afghan-Taliban border”, Reuters, 7 March 2016


UK bars direct air cargo

Citing failure to meet international security requirement United Kingdom (UK) has banned air cargo directly from Dhaka. Following this Biman Bangladesh Airlines, the only airline that carries cargo directly to the UK in its four weekly passenger flights will not be able to carry fly any more cardo to that country. Business community felt that this is going to impact Bangladesh’s exports to UK. An average of 25 tonnes of cargo -- mostly apparels, vegetables and agricultural products -- is flown to the UK in each flight.

 For more information see:  “UK bars direct air cargo from Dhaka”, The Daily Star, 10 January 2016

Indian credit line opens

Bangladesh signed   an agreement with India’s Exim Bank for operationalising $2 billion line of credit from that country. Funds from India will be used for 14 projects in railway, road transport, power, education, vocational training, health, ICT, shipping, and economic zones. The credit carries 1 percent interest rate with repayment period of 20 years and a grace period of five years.

For more information see:  “$2b Indian credit ine opens for Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 10 January 2016


FM attends Bangkok Dialogue

At the invitation of the Thai foreign minister, Bhutan participated at the 14th Asian Cooperation dialogue (ACD) in Bangkok which ended March 10. Foreign affairs minister Damcho Dorji led the Bhutanese delegation. The 14th ACD ministerial meeting was themed “ACD – The Way Forward” and discussed regional economic integration; interconnectivity; sustainable development and mechanisms on further strengthening the ACD process.

For more information see: “Foreign minister at Asian Cooperation Dialogue”, Kuensel, 11 March 2016

HC interview for marriage

The High Court will conduct the first interview to issue marriage certificate (MC) between a Bhutanese and foreigner spouse this month. Of more than 600 applicants between 2010 and beginning of this year, 103 couples that submitted complete documents, qualified for the interview scheduled for March 29 and 30.

For more information see: “Know Bhutan, its tradition and culture”, Kuensel, 4 March 2016

Tashi air reapplies for time

Tashi Air, which is required to resume domestic operations by next month, has reiterated to the government that the domestic market is not large enough for two airlines. This was revealed during the information and communication ministry’s mid-term review, last week.

For more information see: “Tashi Air re-appeals for time”, Kuensel, 5 March 2016


Navy ship for Mauritius National Day

Indian naval ship, INS Tabar, a stealth frigate, has reached Port Louis in Mauritius on a four-day visit to participate in the National Day celebrations of the island-nation. On the occasion of the Mauritian National Day (March 12), the ship would be fielding a marching contingent in addition to fly-past by Chetak helicopters and performance by the Indian naval band.

For more information see: Indian Navy ship in Mauritius for National Day celebrations, The Economic Times, 10 March 2016

SAARC ministerial meet

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will leave for Nepal on March 14 to attend SAARC ministerial meet even as there was no clarity on whether she will have a bilateral meeting with her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz. Swaraj along with Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar will visit Nepal for SAARC meetings during which India expects a review of decisions that have been taken at SAARC forums over the past year and a half, especially India-initiated proposals like SAARC satellite.

For more information see: SAARC Ministerial Meet: Sushma Swaraj To Leave For Nepal On March 14, NDTV, 10 March 2016

No invitation for China, Pak

The defence attaches of Pakistan and China in their New Delhi missions have not been invited to the Indian Air Force's power demonstration exercise ‘Iron Fist’, the IAF said on Thursday."We have invited defence attaches but not those of Pakistan and China," Vice-Chief of IAF, Air Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, said. This was a "collective decision of the MEA (ministry of external affairs) and MOD (ministry of defence)" to leave out the defence attaches of the two countries from the mega exercise.

For more information see: China, Pakistan attaches not invited to IAF exercise, Business Standard, 10 March 2016

‘Art of Living’ seeks time to pay fine

The Art of Living Foundation has said sought four weeks’ time to comply with the National Green Tribunal order to pay Rs. 5 crore environmental compensation imposed on them to host the World Cultural Festival which begins this evening at the stressed and fragile floodplain of Yamuna.

For more information see: Art of Living foundation seeks four weeks time to pay fineThe Hindu, 11 March, 2016

SC declines PIL plea

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to entertain a public interest litigation petition seeking quashing of criminal prosecution, suspension and other action taken against Gujarat police in the 2004 alleged fake encounter killing of Ishrat Jahan in view of the recent testimony of jailed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Headley.

For more information see: “SC refuses to entertain PIL plea for dropping action against Gujarat police”, The Hindu, 11 March 2016

SEBI to crack whip

Regulator SEBI plans to choke fund-raising taps for 'wilful defaulters' while fund-raising norms are set to be made easier for start-ups. The proposed moves are aimed at safe-guarding the interest of small investors while deepening the capital market place to provide new products and avenues for institutions.

For more information see: “Sebi to crack whip on wilful defaulters, relax start-up normsBusiness Standard, 11 March 2016


SC hearing ends

The Supreme Court has concluded hearing on the High Court rejecting to hear the State appeal against the trial court conviction of former President, Mohammed Nasheed, now on ‘medical leave’ in the UK against his 13-year prison-term. At the hearing, Nasheed’s defence team argued both on procedural and substantive issues after keeping off from much of the trial and entirely from the State-moved appeal in the High Court, even as his MDP stayed away from the reconvened all-party meeting for political reconciliation.

For more information, see: “Maldives top court concludes appeal rejection hearings on ex-pres jailing”, Haveeru Online, 7 March 2016; “Supreme Court wraps up Nasheed’s terror appeal”, Maldives Independent, 7 March 2016; “Nasheed’s lawyers request to bring ex-PG to attest in Supreme Court”, Miadhu, 7 March 2016; “Maldives opposition rejects govt invite for sit-down over Nasheed”, Haveeru Online, 7 March 2016; “Opposition party rejects Maldives government's offer for "exclusive meeting"”, The Hindu, 8 March 2016; “Male urges Opposition to engage in talks”, The Hindu, 8 Mach 2016; “Maldives seeks one-on-one with opposition on Nasheed clemency”, Haveeru Online, 7 March 2016; “Former prosecutor general faces charges of forgery, unlawful arrest”, Maldives Independent, 6 March 2016


NLD wins presidential nominations

U Htin Kyaw and Henry Van Thoi have been confirmed as nominees for the presidency, both easily defeating their Union Solidarity and Development Party rivals in parliamentary voting on March 11.

For more information see: “NLD candidates win presidential nominee vote”, Myanmar Times, 11 March 2016; “Presidential nominees confirmed”, Mizzima, 11 March 2016

Gambhira detained

Ashin Gambira, one of Myanmar’s well-known dissidents, has been formally indicted at a Mandalay court six weeks after his latest arrest. He was charged under Section 13.1 of the Immigration Law at Maha Aungmyay Township court.

For more information see: “Gambira detained on immigration charge”, DVB, 11 March 2016; “Court formally charges 2007 protest leader”, Myanmar Times, 11 March 2016

52 firms to invest

The Myanmar Investment Commission has allowed 52 domestic and foreign businesses to invest in the country. The commission met at least eight times in January and February before granting the licences, most of which were in manufacturing.

For more information see: “52 firms allowed to invest in Myanmar”, Eleven, 10 March 2016


Hydro deal with China

The Investment Board of Nepal (IBN) has called on the concerned authorities, including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), to materialise a Joint Venture (JV) agreement between the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and China’s CWE Investment Corporation for developing the 750MW West Seti Hydropower Project during Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China beginning March 20.

For more information, see: “IBN for materialising West Seti agreement”, The Kathmandu Post.  11 March 2016; “Govt eyeing fuel, hydro deals during PM's China visit”, Republica, 10 March 2016

High petrol price

The government has allowed Birat Petroleum to sell petrol at an arbitrary rate of Rs 130 per litre, although Nepal Oil Corporation's own rate across the country is Rs 99 per litre and fuel supplies are slowly returning to normal. However, officials of the Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology (NBSM) say that Birat's petrol is of the same quality as that imported by state-owned NOC.

For more information, see: “Govt still allowing Birat to sell fuel at arbitrary rate”, Republica, 10 March 2016

Nepal joins ACD

Nepal has been picked as the 34th member of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) during the 14th Ministerial Meeting of Asia Cooperation Dialogue being held in Bangkok, Thailand. The meeting that began from 8-10 March, 2016 unanimously endorsed Nepal as ACD’s 34th member on March 10. DPM Thapa iterated full commitment to the principles, values and objectives of the ACD assuring the forum that Nepal will continue to engage in its activities and programmes with sincerity and dedication. For more information, see: “Nepal becomes 34th Member of Asia Cooperation DialogueThe Kathmandu Post.  10 March 2016


Afghan-Talibans held

On 10 March, Pakistani law enforcement agencies reportedly arrested 14 Afghan Taliban militants in the Pashtoonabad area of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province. According to Dawn, there have been prior arrests of Afghan Taliban members in the Pashtoonabad area. The arrests come at a time when the Afghan peace process is highly dependent on the Pakistani government’s supposed ability to sway Afghan Taliban members – due to their longstanding existence in Pakistan – to negotiate with the Kabul government. But as of yet the Taliban have expressed no desire to participate in the peace negotiations.”

For more information, see: 14 ’Afghan Taliban’ militants arrested from Quetta”, Dawn, 10 March 2016

Probe into Taseer’s release

On 10 March, Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan ordered an investigation into the circumstances of Shahbaz Taseer’s release from five-year captivity. Taseer, the son of the deceased former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, was kidnapped in Lahore in August 2011 and was recovered this week. Since his rescue, reports over a $10 million ransom paid to secure Taseer’s freedom have surfaced.

For more information, see: Pakistan to probe circumstance for release of governor’s son”, AP, 10 March 2016

Parole hearing for Gitmo inmate

On 9 March, 68 year-old Saifullah Paracha appeared before the Washington, D.C.-based Periodic Review Board via teleconference to make his first case for parole. Paracha, formerly a Pakistani businessman and the oldest prisoner at Guantanamo, has been imprisoned there for 12 years for providing financial and other support to senior al Qaeda figures. He was captured in a US. government-operated sting in Bangkok, Thailand in 2003. Paracha and his son, Uzair, were also accused of assisting an al Qaeda operative travel to the United States. Uzair is serving a 30-year sentence at a prison in the United States.

For more information, see: Gitmo detainee Saifullah Paracha gets first parole hearing”, Dawn, 9 March 2016

TTP kills 10 in courthouse

An attack carried out by an affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban – Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA) – killed over 10 people near a courthouse in the city of Charsadda, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on 7 March.  TTP-JA, claiming the attack in an email sent to journalists, said it was a retributive attack for the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the former bodyguard and killer of ex-Punjab governor Salman Taseer.

For more information, see: At least 17 killed, including 2 children, in Pakistan suicide attack”, CNN, 7 March 2016

Sri Lanka

More loans from China

Contrary to pre-polls expectations last year, the Government has sought fresh loans from China, for new projects. It has also has plans for American and French companies to explore for natural gas, and has obtained Indian aid for some water-related projects.

For more information, see: “Govt seeks loans from China”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 March 2016: “US, French Oil Cos to explore gas here”, Daily Mirror Online, 8 March 2016; “India to finance three water projects in SL”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 March 2016; “ETCA scrutinized by IPS”, Daily Mirror Online, 10 March 2016; “George Soros conducted Economic Forum- PM”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 March 2016; “PM proposes to increase VAT to 15%”, Daily Mirror Online, 8 March 2016; “All Share Price Index falls below 6000”, Daily Mirror Online, 8 March 2016; “Tax revision proves govt. is in crisis: JVP”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 March 2016; “CB Bond scam caused economic crisis, not MR regime: Yapa”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 March 2016; “US$20m recovered while routed to SL”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 March 2016

Primary Documentation


Press Release

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lyonpo Damcho Dorji is leading the Bhutanese delegation to the 14th Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) in Bangkok, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 10 March 2016


Press Release

Press Release on Hon. DPM and FM leaving Kathmandu today to attend the 14th Ministerial Meeting of the ACD in Bangkok on 9-10 March 2016.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, 09 March 2016



Opinion pieces

Abdul Ahad Bahrami, “The Uncertainties over the Electoral Reforms”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 1 March 2016

Mujib Mashal, “As the Taliban Menace Afghanistan, the Helmand River Offers Solace”, 8 March 2016

Hujjatullah Zia, “Afghan civilians suffer insecurity”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 8 March 2016


Opinion Pieces

Mohammad Abdul Qayyum, “Disaster management in Bangladesh: Reducing vulnerabilities”, The Daily Star, 10 March 2016

Sharjil Haque, “Does Bangladesh deserve a higher sovereign rating?”, The Daily Star, 10 March 2016

Ghulam Suhrawardi, “Why we need a maritime policy”, The Daily Star, 7 March 2016

Book Review

Finding home halfway across the world, Author: Mustafa Chowdhury, published: Academic Press and Publishers Library (APPL), February2016, Reviewed by Md. Mahamudul Haque, The Daily Star, 7 March 2016



Kuensel, “Investing in a larger international airport”, Kuensel, 11 March 2016


Raja Mohan, Raja-Mandala: Trading places, The Indian Express, 09 March 2016


Opinion Pieces

Azra Naseem, “An attempted assassination, a jinni and the Maldives army”, Maldives Independent, 10 March 2016

Shoko Noda, “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality”, Maldives Independent, 8 Mach 2016

Hassan Moosa and Zaheena Rasheed, “How much is your MP worth?”, Maldives Independent, 7 March 2016


Opinion Pieces

Derek Tonkin, “A New Role for Suu Kyi – as Prime Minister”, Mizzima, 11 March 2016

Hanna Hindstorm, “Henry Van Thio and the harmful legacy of ‘Burmanising’ ethnic language”, Myanmar Times, 11 March 2016



The Kathmandu Post Hackers Inc”, The Kathmandu Post, 11 March 2016

Opinion Pieces

Ian Buruma “The referendum charade”, Republica, 9 March 2016


Opinion Pieces

Khurram Hussain, “Is Pakistan self correcting?”, Dawn, 10 March 2016

Sana Ali, “Kashmir in play”, The Express Tribune, 10 March 2016

Tanuj Garg, “Intelligence alert”, The Express Tribune, 10 March 2016

Christine Fair, “Pakistan’s Internal Security Environment”, NBR

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

M S M Ayub, “The presidential punch”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 March 2016

Dr Ranga Kalanasooriya, “Stop the blame-game, think of the future”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 March 2016

Lakhisiri Fernando, “Women’s Representation Bill: Have we found a solution to our LG conundrum?”, The Island, 10 Mach 2016

Jehan Perera, “International participation to deal with the past”, The Island, 8 March2016

Sunil Abhayawardhane, “Open Sesame: Understanding the importance of ECTA”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 March 2016

N Sathiya Moorthy, “War-crimes’ investigations when war-time army chief is minister”, The Sunday Leader, 7 March 2016

Contributors: Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah

Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Shubh Soni & Pushan Das

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy

Nepal: Dr Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury & Sreeparna Banerjee

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