MonitorsPublished on May 23, 2016
South Asia Weekly | Volume IX; Issue 21

< style="color: #0a83cf">ANALYSES

Myanmar: Call for a second Panglong

By Mihir Bhonsale

Myanmar’s supremo Aung San Suu Kyi, in her new capacity as State Counsellor, has called for a second ‘Panglong-style’ conference next month in an effort to resolve ethnic issues. The call comes at a time when the Union Army is still busy fighting ethnic groups in Northern Shan states.

The first such ethnic conference was held in February 1947 in Panglong in the Shan State. The meeting was between the Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minority leaders and Aung San, head of the interim Burmese government.  Then on the meeting was known as Panglong Conference. During the meeting, the leaders of the three ethnic groups unanimously decided to join the Union of Burma. It was agreed that after joining the Union, these states will be given full autonomy in the internal administration of the frontier areas. A separate Kachin state was agreed to be desirable, subject to discussion in the Constituent Assembly. Under the Panglong agreement, citizens of the Frontier Areas were to enjoy the rights and privileges regarded as fundamental in democratic countries. The financial autonomy of the Federated Shan States was not to be affected. Also, it was decided that financial assistance to the Kachin and Chin Hills likewise was not to be affected and the feasibility of the same arrangement for them as existed with the Shan states to be considered. On the agenda was the united struggle for independence from Britain and the future of Burma after independence as a unified republic.

Suu Kyi made the announcement for the second conference at the Joint Monitoring Group’s meeting on  April 27. Suu Kyi also showed readiness to include non-signatory groups to the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA), even as she faces a tough task ahead in creating an atmosphere of trust and also negotiating with the military.

Reality today

More than 60 years after the signing of Panglong agreement, the deals reached between General Aung San and ethnic leaders stand unrealised. Crying betrayal, ethnic nationalities have taken up arms and engaged in an ugly war with the Union Army. Suu Kyi has inherited a government that had deployed a ‘divide and rule’ policy and not let any solidarity develop on ethnic grounds.

The former quasi-civilian government had concluded a NCA with eight armed ethnic groups in October last year, just about a month before the general elections in the country. However, ethnic groups with large armies, like the Kachin Independence Army and the Wa State Army, had declined to sign the NCA.

The Thein Sein government had set the ceasefire-first strategy. This meant that the groups were asked to sign the ceasefire agreement before holding any political dialogue. But, armed ethnic groups have for long held that political dialogue must precede any signing of the ceasefire agreement.

Also, of significance is as to how would the Union Government deal with armed militias after an agreement has been reached. Some armed groups have maintained that they would retain their armies even after the agreement.

Suu Kyi’s call for a Panglong style conference hints that her government’s approach is not exclusionary. Including the non-signatory groups for the dialogue also refutes the ceasefire first strategy of the previous government.

Military’s role

Any efforts at reconciliation and peace will be impossible without the military showing intent and purpose to governmental initiatives. Fresh clashes have broken out between the military and the Kachin, Shan and Arakanese ethnic groups this year.

Suu Kyi will find challenging bringing the military on board of her plan to negotiate with the armed ethnic groups. So far, there has been stiff resistance to any restructuring plan.

Constitutional reforms that could not be finalised last year remains the key to confidence building efforts of the government. The Parliamentary Committee formed for reviewing the constitution had recommended greater autonomy to areas dominated by ethnic nationalities. But, the review could not be completed due to the elections last year. The Parliament will soon restart the review, and more autonomy under the constitution could well be the olive leaf for peace in Myanmar.

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

Maldives: Yameen snaps ties with Iran, cites 'Singapore model'

Source: Presidency Maldives

By N. Sathiya Moorthy

In a first of its kind for the four (Sunni) ‘Islamic nations’ in the eight-member SAARC, Maldives has severed its 40-year-long diplomatic ties with ‘Shia’ Iran. Simultaneously, President Abdulla Yameen has also commended the Singaporean ‘development (over) democracy’ model for his country, possibly for the first time in such clear terms.

In severing four-decade-long diplomatic ties with Iran, Maldives (under Yameen) has seemingly identified more with religion and sect than the region and neighbourhood. Whether or not it stirs up problems for and in the neighbourhood, as the political opposition in the country has claimed, there is no denying Sunni-Shia sectarian issues which have subsided to an extent in India but not in neighbouring Pakistan.

Iran pursues policies that are “detrimental to peace and security in the region, which in many ways, is also linked to stability, peace and security of Maldives,” the Foreign Ministry statement said, announcing in an obvious reference to the Gulf-Arab region and not South Asia. “The Maldives calls on Iran to show more commitment and tangible results in implementing the recommendations of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC),” the statement added.

In this context, the Foreign Ministry recalled last month’s Islamic Summit, which called upon Iran to pursue a policy based on the principle of ‘good neighbourliness, non-interference in their domestic affairs, respect for their independence and territorial sovereignty, resolving differences by peaceful means in accordance with OIC and the UN Charters”.

Clearly, the Maldivian decision has been influenced by Saudi Arabia, which at the head of the global Sunni sect summit had severed ties with Iran in January after an ‘embassy protest’ in Tehran. The protest followed the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia.

Maldives is a member of the Saudi-initiated 33-nation Islamic group launched last year to fight global terrorism. Before Maldives now, Bahrain, Sudan and Djibouti followed the Saudi precedent/initiative while Kuwait and Qatar recalled their envoys to Iran. The UAE too has downgraded diplomatic relations with Iran.

It’s another matter that the Colombo-based co-accredited Iranian envoy, Mohammed Zaeri Amirani, presented his credentials to President Yameen only last month.  The two had discussed Iranian oil imports to Maldives on the occasion. According to his office, Yameen had “expressed his hope and confidence that relations between the Maldives and Iran would continue to strengthen in the future”.

‘Irrational adventurism’

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was prompt in criticising the Yameen decision, calling it “irrational adventurism” and that it “brings contentious issues to our region, risking Indian Ocean stability”. It was “an additional disservice to Maldivians” by the Yameen administration, jailed former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, now in the UK on medical leave, tweeted.

Another MDP leader, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, former foreign minister and UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said: “This decision did not take into consideration Maldives’ interests or the security of the SAARC and South Asia. It was done to please or appease one particular country, Saudi Arabia.” At the same time, Maldives had also abstained in a UN Human Rights Council vote to extend his rights monitoring mandate in Iran, Shaheed said.

Other MDP leaders claimed that the drastic shift in foreign policy was not “adequately deliberated by relevant state institutions”. They also pointed out the Yameen leadership had rejected UN and Commonwealth calls for freeing ‘political prisoners’, including Nasheed, but had called for Iran to respect OIC recommendations.

Fine dividing line

In snapping ties with Iran, Yameen’s Maldives seems to draw fine dividing lines among three external powers, including the Indian neighbour. The evolving tripod thus involves India on security, including shared Indian Ocean, China on development front and Saudi Arabia from within the global Islamic nations.

Now, however, these lines seem to overlap, possibly adding to the concerns in India, though not necessarily of India. For starters, all three nations have been extending development aid of different kinds and extent to the Indian Ocean archipelago. India in particular has remained a constant supplier of all daily needs of the nation, in the two countries — education and health-care included.

China has replaced India in a short time, especially under Yameen, as the big-ticket investor after the ‘GMR fiasco’. Though the Yameen leadership has been successively reassuring India against extra-regional security engagements (read: with China), a vocal section of the Indian strategic community remains unconvinced. However, their specific concerns, if any, have remained unsubstantiated.

There has also been a simultaneous overlapping of development funding between China and Saudi Arabia. Though the latter, as the acknowledged leader of the Islamic world, has expanded political and economic ties with Maldives, it has not (sought to) replace China on big-ticket investments. Whether it has anything to do with bilateral Saudi-Maldivian concerns over the latter getting painted as a ‘Wahhabi outpost’ in India’s immediate Indian Ocean neighbourhood is unclear, however.

There is no denying the increasing number of Maldivians fighting for the international terror-group, IS, in Syria — and some going with their wife and children and losing their lives. In proportion to population numbers, the Maldivian involvement in IS has to be acknowledged as high in the region.  Yet, the increasing number of IS recruits from across the world, including the SAARC neighbourhood, makes a difference, nonetheless.

Critics of Yameen, especially from within the country, have sounded less convincing, especially on the foreign and security policy-front. It’s specifically so in the case of the MDP — and more so in the context of India and the collective Indian Ocean theatre.

On Iran, the MDP government of President Nasheed had sponsored Dr. Shaheed as UN Special Rapporteur for Iran, when the hosts did not exactly welcome it. Despite MDP’s protests to the contrary, many an identifiable ‘Wahhabi convert’, mean and women, had participated in pro-democracy, pro-Nasheed protests in the country for years now.

On China, over which the MDP has often expressed India-centric concerns, Nasheed in office had cleared the diplomatic mission in Male. In a symbolism of a ‘balancing act’ of sorts, President Nasheed also inaugurated the Chinese mission on the very day then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was landing in the country for the 11th SAARC Summit (November 2011).

Split contracts

Clearly, the Nasheed leadership was also looking up at big-ticket Chinese investments after the GMR airport project from India. The Saudi-Maldives relations had also begun picking up at the time, and seem to be growing since at the government-level.

Despite protests and protestations to the contrary, there has been lack of transparency on Maldives’ China and Saudi relationships, now as then — and then as now. In an interesting turn on the Male airport front, the Yameen government has since divided contract work between the Chinese and Saudis just now.

A Saudi firm has since been contracted to build a new terminal while a Chinese company is constructing a second run-way and other civil works. This goes beyond original expectations and also the recent China-centric funding and construction approach of the Yameen government, including the sea-bridge connecting capital Male to the airport island of Hulhule.

Domestic compulsions

Much of the Maldivian confusion on the trilateral policy front seems to be growing out of domestic political compulsions, contradictions and competition than the existence of a genuine foreign policy or a genuine shift in foreign policy. In effect, there has been continuity with change.

This includes a purported shift in the foreign policy focus, introduced by Yameen in January 2014, only months after taking over as President. Possibly drawn out of GMR-centric India policy after the fiasco, the policy declaration openly aimed at making Maldives economically strong, to be able to follow an ‘independent foreign policy’ — and by extension an ‘independent security policy’.

Pragmatism seems to have ruled since, particularly in the context of domestic developments. After Nasheed’s arrest and the West’s posturing on the democracy front, Yameen’s Maldives needs India more on the international arena than China and Saudi Arabia put together. Even without it, Yameen has been declaring that Maldives would not want ‘extra-regional players’ in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood, which he wants kept ‘de-militarised’.

Aping Lee Kuan Yew?

Independent of the Iran-decision but around the same time, Yameen has seemingly joined issue with half-brother and former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, over the Maldivian development model. Though he had seemingly sought to replicate Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew’s model of ‘more development, less democracy’ while in office, Gayoom recently said that he was impressed by a group of young people he had met who did not “believe the Maldives should become another Singapore”.

“I was impressed by some young people I met recently who were quite passionate about protecting the Maldives as a beautiful, environment-conscious and progressive island nation where development is not concentrated in the Malé region, but takes place in all atolls... we have the most beautiful beaches in the world and we can build a more nature-friendly and environment-friendly progressive model,” Gayoom said in a Facebook posting.

Reacting strongly to Gayoom’s posting, but without naming him, Yameen said that to “maintain the beauty of our Maldivian islands we have to find the money to protect their shorelines. It is to maintain the beauty of our islands that we must consider the Singapore model”. The reference in context was more to re-location of people from sparsely-populated islands to the growing new township, Hulhumale, in suburban Male, on which every government from Gayoom’s has been working on.

“If we do not know how to raise funds, we cannot attain such objectives within a short period of time. So, why shouldn’t we emulate the Singapore model? There is absolutely no reason. Emulating the Singapore model, in my opinion, does nothing to our air, or strip the beauty of our islands. Land can be reclaimed, resources will improve, and population consolidation efforts will continue. This is what we must do in a modern economy.”

Yameen also did not mince words in wanting Maldives also to emulate Singaporean “democracy” based on discipline and public order. “The Singaporean and Maldivian democracy are the same. But, as Lee Kuan Yew has said, the most important aspect of democracy is, or the most important aspect for a country to progress, is public conduct, even more than democracy,” Yameen said even as critics nearer home dubbed it ‘Singapool’ in the social media — in an obvious reference to the heavy rains and floods that have rocked Male and much of the rest of the country.

Wooing the West

The US is a friend of Saudi Arabia and still has problems with Iran. The US is also reported to be expecting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to flag its concerns to Iranian leaders during his current visit. It’s however unlikely that the India-Iran talks during the visit would cover Maldives.

Yet, by following in the Saudi footsteps on Iran and splitting airport contracts away from exclusive Chinese involvement, Yameen’s Maldives may be expecting sympathy from the American leader of political West for his own ‘democracy-development’ paradigm, especially of the Singaporean kind, for which the West has had a lot of appreciation. It’s another matter if any possible change of political leadership to the MDP — if it came to that, whenever — would at all be ready to consider restoring the snapped Iran ties, either.

Maldives, even under predecessor President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, had talked about possibilities of quitting the Commonwealth, again on issues concerning Nasheed and democracy. It has reiterated the view likewise under Yameen, but not after the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) sent out a deadline-oriented ‘to-do’ list to Maldives. The original one-month period ended long ago without Maldives meeting the CMAG’s expectations, and the latter is now expected to discuss the issue in its September meeting.

Maldives has now not thought twice about snapping ties with a fellow-Islamic nation such as Iran, even though sectarian differences exist. The question that should engage the West relates to the possibilities of the country exiting the Commonwealth if the September CMAG meeting prescribes stronger measures, including possible sanctions. In such a situation, India, whom Yameen thanked along with Pakistan, for standing by Maldives at earlier CMAG meetings, could have its hands full.

The message seems rather evolving. That the West should not ‘interfere’ with the internal affairs of Maldives (read: freedom for Nasheed, among other pro-democracy initiatives) in return for cooperation on Iran front wholly, and on the China front, to an extent at the very least. As may be recalled, Yameen had also sought to diversify investment interests towards Japan not long after taking over, by becoming the first Maldivian President to visit that country — before his twin trip to China in 2014 and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping maiden Maldives trip in between.

Just now, Maldivian ruling party parliamentary delegation, on a visit to Sri Lanka, reportedly told western diplomats that Yameen could not free Nasheed without attracting criminal proceedings, in the absence of a court order. It’s another matter, a fortnight has passed since Yameen unilaterally declared that he would call upon the Supreme Court to deliver its order on Nasheed’s pending appeal, long after the hearing in the matter had ended.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.

< style="color: #0a83cf">COUNTRY REPORTS

< style="color: #0a83cf">Afghanistan

Anti-govt protest

Thousands of demonstrators marched against the National Unity Government in Kabul protesting the government’s decision to reroute an electricity transmission line away from Baminan, a Hazara-dominated province. The demonstration, led by members of the ethnic Hazara minority tapped a deep well of factional tensions and frustration over the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

For more information, see: Huge protests against the Afghan government brings Kabul to a halt

Draft deal with Hekmatyar

The government has signed a draft peace deal with militant group Hezb-e-Islami and its leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Under the deal, the government would grant members of Hezb-e-Islami amnesty, and lobby the UN to have the group removed from a blacklist. The group would not join the government but would be recognised as an official political party. Human rights groups have criticised the deal.

For more information, see:Afghanistan signs draft deal with militant Hekmatyar

Taliban commanders killed

Security officials in Helmand said on 19 May that two key Taliban commanders had been killed in a military operation in the province, carried out by the Afghan Special Forces. The commanders, who were in charge of the insurgency group’s militant activities in Marjah and Hamidi were killed along with three fighters in the operation.

For more information, see: Key Taliban commanders killed in Helmand operation

Schools torched

Unknown gunmen torched and blew up three schools in Kunar province on 19 May. Local officials say the gunmen torched one girls’ school and two boy schools in the night. Education Minister Asadullah Hanif Balkhi said during his recent visit to Nangarhar province that soon wide reforms will be brought to the education sector in the eastern zone.

For more information, see: Unknown gunmen attack Kunar schools

< style="color: #0a83cf">Bangladesh 

Red-alert for terrorists

The government has issued a red-alert for six terrorists belonging to Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) from leaving the country. Police had evidence that they were involved in the recent killings of bloggers, writers and gay right activists, the government said.

For more information, see: “Red alert at all ports for six terrorists”,  Dhaka Tribune, 21 May 2016; “Liberation War affairs minister says ‘war criminals’ organisation Jamaat will be banned in June’”, bdnews24, 16 May 2016

Sedition case

The Home Ministry has decided to clear sedition charges against Opposition BJP leader Aslam Chowdhury, arrested on Sunday, for his alleged involvement with Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, to topple the government by fanning instability. Aslam already faces over two dozen cases of the kind – and is reported to have met with an Israeli parliamentarian with alleged links to Mossad at Delhi, India.

For more information, see: “Home Ministry to allow sedition case against Aslam”, Dhaka Tribune, 20 May 2016; “Khaleda shocked at country's present state”, Dhaka Tribune, 17 May 2016; “BNP leaders attend meeting at US ambassador’s residence”,, 16 May 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Bhutan

Visa centre

Bhutanese will no longer have to go to New Delhi in India to process Australian and UK visas as it is now available from a Visa Application Centre in Thimphu, that was launched May 19.The Australian Ambassador to Bhutan, Harinder Sidhu, and the Honorary Consul for the UK in Bhutan, Michael Rutland, formally opened Etho Metho Visa Application Centre, which is located below the cinema hall on Norzin Lam.

For more information, see: Australian, UK visa application centre opens in Thimphu and Visa application centre for UK and Australia opens

Confusion over local government polls

Given inconsistencies in the Acts, Paro Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) will seek clarification from Parliament, the Election Commission of Bhutan and the Department of Local Government (DLG) on the confusion over local government election related issues. The DT decided to seek clarification on whether local leaders are allowed to re-contest while still in office. The tshogdu will also enquire if local leaders will have to complete the five-year term.

For more information, see: Paro DT to seek clarification on tenure of local leaders

Land tax revised

Samdrupjongkhar thromde had proposed for a revision of the existing urban land taxes to achieve financial sustainability at the mid-term review on May 15. He said that as the existing land tax is based on  the 1992 rate which is comparatively low, the thromde could not meet the current expenditure through internal revenue.Given such issues, the thromde was able to achieve only 36 percent of its target to generate internal revenue.

For more information, see: S/jongkhar thromde proposes revision of land taxes

< style="color: #0a83cf">India

Congress loses badly

The unexpected gains for the Congress in West Bengal may be cold comfort for a party that has been comprehensively reduced to a rump, considering that just over six per cent of India’s population now live in states ruled by the Congress — the lowest since.

For more information, see: Congress rules barely 6% of India, is out of states at cusp of major change

Ordinance on NEET exams

Government approved promulgation of an ordinance to keep state boards out of the ambit of uniform medical entrance examination, for one academic year. The executive order is aimed at “partially” overturning a SC verdict which said all government colleges, deemed universities and private medical colleges would be covered under NEET.

For more information see: Centre moves ordinance to postpone NEET for state-run institutions

Six banks to merge in SBI

Moody's Investors Service said that the merger idea mooted by SBI of six banks with itself would cost around Rs 16.6 billion ($250 million) and will have limited impact on its credit metrics. The agency also said the opposition to the merger by the employee unions also poses considerable risk.

For more information, see: Merger of six banks to cost SBI $250 million: Moody's Investors Service

Navy ships for SC Sea

Indian naval ships have sailed this week for over two months long operational deployment to the disputed South China Sea during which they will take part in Malabar naval exercise with the US and Japan. The Indians ships participation in MALABAR-16, a maritime exercise with the US Navy and JMSDF, reflects the vital strategic importance of the region to India.

For more information, see: Indian naval ships sail for operational deployment to South China Sea

Army test-fires Prithvi-II

The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) of the Indian army on Wednesday conducted a fresh user trial of surface-to-surface short range ballistic missile (MRBM) Prithvi-II from a defence base off the Odisha coast. The indigenously built nuclear capable missile was test launched from a Mobile Tatra transporter-erector Launcher (MTL) at the launching complex-III of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at about 9.40 am reconfirming the armed forces' preparedness to launch the missile in a war like scenario.

For more information, see: Indian army successfully test fires Prithvi-II ballistic missile

PM to ink port deal

India will sign a contract to develop Phase-1 of Iran's Chabahar port during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the Persian Gulf nation on May 23-24.Indian Ports Global Pvt Ltd will sign a contract with Arya Bandar Company of Iran for developing two terminals and five multi-cargo berth in Phase-1, said Gopal Baglay, Joint Secretary (Pakistan-Afghanistan-India) in the Ministry of External Affairs.

For more information, see: PM Modi to ink Chabadar port deal during Iran visit

US House clears defence ties

The US House of Representatives has approved a bipartisan legislative move to bolster defence ties with India and bring it on par with other NATO allies in terms of sale of defence equipment and technology transfer. The amendment (Enhancing Defence and Security Co-operation with India) was sponsored by Holding and Ami Bera (House India Caucus Chairs) and Chair and Ranking Member of House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce and Elliot Engel, respectively.

For more information, see: US House of Representatives approves move to bolster defence ties with India

< style="color: #0a83cf">Maldives 

Iran ties snapped

Following as if in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia and a few other Gulf Arab nations, ‘Sunni’ Maldives has scrapped diplomatic ties with ‘Shia’ Iran, claiming that Teheran’s policies were ‘detrimental to peace and security’ in West Asia. The Opposition MDP has prompted criticised the government decision, saying that ‘the irrational adventurism’ risks security and stability in Indian Ocean.

For more information, see: “Maldives severs diplomatic ties with Iran”, Maldives Independent, 17 May 2016; “Severing ties with Iran risks Indian Ocean stability, says opposition”, Maldives Independent, 18 May 2016

Yameen for ‘Singapore model’

President Abdulla Yameen has joined issue with half-brother and predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, commending on the ‘Singapore model’ of funding to develop the nation’s beautiful islands (possibly as resorts). Yameen also recalled Lee Kuan Yew’s idea of democracy with discipline, to ensure development.

For more information, see: “Yameen hits back at Gayoom’s criticism of development vision”, Maldives Independent, 17 May 2016; “Yameen can be prosecuted if he frees Nasheed from jail – Maldivian Govt. MP”, The Island, 20 May 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Myanmar 

IFC-Telco deals

The investment, through IGT’s Singapore-incorporated owner Irrawaddy Towers Asset Holding (ITAH), would consist of two injections of up to US$30 million for equity and debt, the IFC project description said. IGT has built and operates more than 2000 towers in Myanmar and aims to put up nearly 3000 more by 2018. IFC wants to help with the company’s infrastructure rollout, which in total could cost $490 million.

For more information, see:  IFC proposes $60m telco towers deal

Protest law to be eased

Burma’s Upper House of Parliament has decided to review a bill to replace the controversial Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, so as to align it more closely with international human rights standards, after criticism from rights groups that it retained several provisions used to stifle dissent in recent years. In particular, they recommended that the requirement for protest leaders to supply the content of slogans to local police along with the names of speakers should be “deleted or amended.”

For more information, see: Lawmakers  Propose Further Easing of Protest Law

Myanmarese limb Everest

Mountaineers Pyae Phyo Aung and Win Ko Ko made climbing history this morning by becoming the first Burmese nationals to scale the world’s highest mountain. The pair reached the summit of Mount Everest about an hour before sunrise on Thursday, according to Bo Htun, a spokesperson for the climb’s sponsor, the Htoo Foundation.The climbers began the final leg of their ascent at 9pm Wednesday and climbed without stopping until they reached the top, Bo Htun told DVB.

For more information, see: Burmese Everest climbers reach peak

Madhesis called for talks

The government has yet again urged the agitating parties to come for talks to settle their concerns regarding the contents of the new Constitution. According to Minister for Industry Som Prasad Pandey, the meeting of the council of ministers on May 20 discussed about addressing the concerns of the agitating parties and urged the parties, including United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), to come for talks. The meeting also said the government would show maximum flexibility.

For more information, see: Govt again urges talks but agitating parties want top leaders at table and Govt invites agitating parties for talks

Low remittance

The growth rate of remittance flowing into Nepal has been dropping for five months straight as told by Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) in its latest macroeconomic report published on May 17. Nepali migrant workers scattered across the globe sent home Rs481 billion in the first nine months of the fiscal year.Bhesh Bahadur Karki, one of the directors of the DoFE, said that a number of factors including last year’s earthquake had contributed to the decreasing growth rate of remittance.

For more information, see: Remittance growth rate falls for 5 mths straight

Travel advisory

The British government has advised its citizens to not participate in political activities in Nepal. In a travel advisory issued on May 20, the UK government stated, “If you’re involved in any political activities in Nepal you may be liable to penalties including deportation and/or a fine.” Stating that disagreements arising from Nepal’s new constitution have led to protests, rallies and strikes throughout Nepal, the advisory said, “Monitor the local media and follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.”

For more information, see: UK advises its citizen to abstain from political involvement in Nepal and UK asks nationals to shun Nepal protests

< style="color: #0a83cf">Pakistan

US curbs military aid

 The United States (US) House of Representatives on 19 May voted 277 to 147 in favour of a defence policy bill seeking to increase restrictions on military aid for Pakistan unless certain conditions are met. The House, expressing frustration over what they term Islamabad's failure to crack down on the Haqqani network, passed the $602 billion National Defense Authorization Act 2017 or NDAA.

For more information, see: US House decides on conditional military aid for Pakistan

Army chief meets Chinese PM

Pakistan Army chief Raheel Sharif met Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on 17 May and reaffirmed the pact that both countries would work closely together to complete the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) promoting peace and stability in the region. General Sharif was on a two-day visit to the country to hold meetings with senior political and military leaders. Reports state that the Chinese leadership appreciated Pakistan Army’s role for CPEC security and reassured Pakistan of Chinese support in ensuring the country’s sovereignty, integrity, security and development.

For more information, see: Army chief, Chinese PM reaffirm commitment to complete CPEC

Envoys summoned

Pakistan and Bangladesh have summoned each others’ diplomats as tensions between them rose following 18 May execution of a Bangladeshi Islamic political party leader, accused of committing crimes during the country’s 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. Shortly after Pakistan called the Bangladesh envoy to convey its unhappiness, Bangladesh summoned the Pakistani High Commissioner in Dhaka to express its strong protest over Pakistani statements.

For more information, see: Pakistan, Bangladesh summon envoys over execution of Islamist leader

Off-shore links

Pakistani opposition leader and head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Imran Khan, has acknowledged using an off-shore company to avoid paying tax on a London property site. Analysts suggest that the admission will ease the pressure from the Nawaz Sharif government who Khan has repeatedly attacked in a row over offshore wealth.

For more information, see: Pakistan opposition leader Khan admits using off-shore company

< style="color: #0a83cf">Sri Lanka 

Peace challenge: MS

Peace-building and promoting inter-communal harmony and reconciliation post-war has been quite a challenge, President Maithripala Sirisena said, at the seventh anniversary of the conclusion of the decisive ‘Eelam Wars’ victory. The Government had rechristened ‘Victory Day’ as ‘Commemoration Day’ last year and this year, cancelled the ‘victory parade’, the routine under predecessor President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

For more information, see: “Peace-building process is challenging – President”, Daily Mirror Online, 18 May 2016; “MR: It was a privilege to defeat LTTE”, The Island, 18 May 2016; “NPC commemorates civilians in Wellamulli Waikkal”, Daily Mirror Online, 18 May 2016; “Cancellation of Victory Day Parade will help national reconciliation – TNA...Champika organises war heroes’ commemoration at Panagoda”, The Island, 18 May 2016; “GTF too welcomes cancellation of Victory Day parade, calls for full implementation of UNHRC resolution”, The Island, 18 May 2016; “Genocide Remembrance at Mu'l'livaaykkaal passes strong messages to IC”, TamilNet, 18 May 2016; “TNA denies undermining political rivals”, The Island, 18 May 2016; “UN commends SL’s decision to pay victims raped by peacekeepers”, Daily Mirror Online, 15 May 2016; “MR not invited for Victory Day ceremonies”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 May 2016: "Govt. to strip Gota of army security”, The Island, 16 May 2016; “PMSD has recommended bombproof vehicles for Prime Minister – Sagala”, The Island, 15 May 2016

India rushes flood aid

Two Indian naval ships rushed relief material to Colombo from their base in Kochi, after the season’s first cyclone, Ronau, caused severe damage in Sri Lanka, in which close to a hundred persons lost their lives. The cyclone brought one of the highest rainfalls to the country, causing landslips in highlands and cutting off roads and supplies, leading to army deployment for relief work.

For more information, see: “Indian naval ships rushed to SL with relief material”, Daily Mirror Online, 20 May 2016;  “Highest rainfall recorded”, Daily Mirror Online, 18 May 2016; “Modi responds positively to Sirisena’s request...Converting Sampur project into LNG-powered plant”, The Island, 16 May 2016; “Inviting both President and Sampanthan "politically significant" – Sumanthiran”, The Island, 15 May 2016; “SL agrees to provide land to Indian MP government for Sita temple”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 May 2016; “Spiritual leader Ravi Shankar arrives in SL”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 May 2016; “India can’t be trusted as genuine trade partner: GMOA”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 May 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">PRIMARY DOCUMENTATION

< style="color: #0180b3">Bhutan

Press Releases

The 4th Bhutan-India Small Development Project Committee (SDPC) meetingMinistry of Foreign Affairs, May 16, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Myanmar

Press Releases

Media Advisory for Myanmar- U.S Foreign Ministers’ Joint PressMinistry of Foreign Affairs, May 18, 2016

Joint Press Briefing by Myanmar and Singapore Foreign MinistersMinistry of Foreign Affairs, May 18, 2016

Media Advisory for Myanmar-Singapore Foreign Ministers’ Joint PressMinistry of Foreign Affairs, May 17, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Nepal

Press Releases

Press Release on the Participation in the World Humanitarian Summit, High-Level Midterm Review of the IPOA and Official Visit to Israel, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 20, 2016

Press Release on the Recent Occurrence of Heavy Rainfall, Flood and Landslide in Sri LankaMinistry of Foreign Affairs, May 20, 2016

Press Release issued by the Permanent Mission of Nepal to the UN on the establishment of diplomatic relations between Nepal and GuineaMinistry of Foreign Affairs, May 20, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">BIBLIOGRAPHY

< style="color: #0a83cf">Afghanistan

Opinion Pieces

Syed Zafar Mehdi, “Why Pakistan is a roadblock in Afghanistan’s quest for peace”, Huffington Post, May 20, 2016

Najibullah Noorzai, “Corruption: Can Afghanistan’s government overcome its national shame?”, The Diplomat, May 14, 2016

Catherine Putz, “Hezb-e-Islami Moves Closer to final deal with the Afghan government”, The Diplomat, May 18, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Bangladesh

Opinion Pieces

Fakhruddin Ahmed, “Pakistan incriminates itself for war in Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, May 19, 2016

Brig-Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, “Is it time to rethink our Pak-Turkey policy?”, The Daily Star, May 19, 2016

Afsan Choudhry, “Turkey, Pakistan and our diplomatic lethargy”,, May 15, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Bhutan


Need to iron things outKuensel, May 20, 2016

Opinion Pieces

 Gopal S. Mongar, Norzin Lam closure will benefit everyone,Kuensel, May 16, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">India

Opinion Pieces

Shekhar Gupta, Five predictable results make for an uncertain 2019, Business Standard, May 20, 2016

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, A BJP-dominant system, Indian Express, May 20, 2016

T. N. Ninan, Re-inventing the Congress”, Business Standard, May 20, 2016

C. Raja Mohan, Raja Mandala: Obama, Trump and a question in Japan, The Indian Express, May 17, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Maldives

Opinion Pieces

John Glen, “Time to promote freedom in Maldives”, Maldives Independent, May 18, 2016

N. Sathiya Moorthy, “Yameen to seek early SC order in Nasheed’s case”,, May 13, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Myanmar

Opinion Pieces

Nehginpao Kipgen, Resolving ethnic issues is the key to unlocking US sanctions, DVB, May 20, 2016

Aung Zaw, Army To Rebrand Itself As New Political Reality Sets In, The Irrawaddy, May 16, 2016

 Saw Yan Naing and Kyaw Kha, A Fragmented  Ethnic Bloc Impedes Suu Kyi’s ‘Panglong’ Vision, The Irrawaddy, May 20, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Nepal


Rights closure, The Kathmandu Post, May 20, 2016

Election timeRepublica, May 18, 2016

Opinion Pieces

Nina L. Khrushcheva, Chinese etiquette,  Republica, May 18, 2016

Binoj Basnyat, Thoughts on securityThe Kathmandu Post, May 20, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Pakistan

Opinion Pieces

Anuradha Chenoy, India should avoid Pakistan’s path to extremism, The Hindustan Times, May 16, 2016

Tanuj Garg, Bravo Shahbaz Taseer!, The Express Tribune, May 18, 2016

Talat Masood, Managing relations with Afghanistan, The Express Tribune, May 17, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Malinda Seneviratne, “The 18th of May 2009 and the battle over meaning”, Daily Mirror Online, May 19, 2016

Prof Siri Hettige, “Policy paralysis and the political response”, Daily Mirror Online, May 18, 2016

Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, “Seven years since”, Daily Mirror Online, May 18, 2016

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Where from here, UN Rapporteur?”, The Sunday Leader, May 15, 2016

< style="color: #0a83cf">Contributors:

Afghanistan and Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah

Bangladesh: Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan and Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Shubh Soni and Pushan Das

Maldives and Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy

Nepal: Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury and Sreeparna Banerjee

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