MonitorsPublished on Dec 06, 2016
Both Russia and China have both proposed large railway infrastructure projects in Afghanistan and other weekly roundups from South Asia
South Asia Weekly | Volume IX; Issue 49|

< style="color: #0069a6;">COUNTRY REPORTS

< style="color: #0069a6;">Afghanistan

< style="color: #163449;">Russia, China moot rail lines

Both Russia and China have both proposed large railway infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. The Afghan Deputy Spokesman of Ministry of Public Works (MoPW) said on 1 December that the ministry was discussing the possibility of building a railway from Russia to Afghanistan and also trying to secure Russia's technical support regarding such a project after they showed an interest. The proposed railway line would also help increase trade between the two countries. China also proposed building a railway line from Quetta-Kabul and Peshawar-Kabul railway Line to link Pakistan and Afghanistan, after Chinese Foreign Ministers meeting with Ashraf Ghani earlier this week. For more information, see: “Russia ‘shows interest’ in cross border railway link”, Tolo News, 1 December 2016; “China recommends railway line between Pakistan, Afghanistan”, The News International

< style="color: #163449;"> US may offer Black Hawk

In an attempt to reduce Afghan Air Force’s reliance on Russian equipment, the US military is considering replacing the air force’s fleet with American-made aircraft. The US Defence Department is requesting funding to refurbish and update 53 older-model U.S. military UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the Afghans, enough to replace the current fleet of Russian-designed Mi-17 helicopters. Heavy fighting against the Taliban and difficulties in maintenance have taken a toll on the current fleet. Roughly 50 Mi-17 transport helicopters form the backbone of the air force, flying missions including troop and supply transport, medical evacuation and close air support. For more information, see: Under US plan, Afghans may get black hawks”, Tolo News

< style="color: #163449;">16 insurgents killed

16 Taliban insurgents were killed by Afghan security forces after a clash between the two in Ghazni province on 30 November. The clash took place after the Taliban attempted to overrun security check posts. Two Taliban commanders were killed in the fighting according to Ghazni’s police chief. For more information, see: “16 Taliban insurgents killed in Ghazni”, Tolo News

< style="color: #0069a6;">Bangladesh

< style="color: #163449;">Elections in 2019

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this declared the next parliamentary election will be in the year 2019. She further observed that 2019 is notfwar way and it is soon approaching. Prime Minister called her party members to start campaigning for next election. She made the announcement during a reception at Budapest in Hungary where she attended the International Water Summit. For more information see:Next Election: Hasina asks AL men to start campaigning

< style="color: #163449;">Upping defence ties with India

India-Bangladesh military ties got a boost with the visit of Indian Defence Minister Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar this week.  During the visit both the countries have expressed interest in strengthening defence cooperation. Indian Minister in this two-day visit besides meeting top military leadership met political leaders of the country including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Hamid.  The two sides and discussed a wide range of issues in areas, particularly in enhancing training engagements, joint exercises, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) activities, and Blue Economy initiatives were discussed.  For more information see:India proposes to raise capacity of Bangladesh armed forces”, The Daily Star, 2 December 2016 ; “India’s Parrikar speaks of ‘regional peace’”, Prothom Alo, 1 December 2016; “Delhi for joint effort to boost military ties with Dhaka”, The Daily Star

< style="color: #163449;">Early marriage still high

The number of girls married below the age of 18 remains high in the country reveals a study. Around 38 percent of the girls in the country are married between the age of 15 and 18 years. The study, however, under-15 marriage reduced significantly in the past two decades. The study was conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). For more information seeEarly marriage still high in Bangladesh: Study”, Financial Express

< style="color: #0069a6;">Bhutan

< style="color: #163449;">Trade ties with India hailed

Deliberating on the Indo-Bhutan Trade, Commerce and Transit Agreement in the National Assembly on November 30, parliamentarians hailed the good relations between the two neighbours. The renewed agreement was signed on November 12. For more information see: Indo-Bhutan trade pact receives support”, Kuensel

< style="color: #163449;">Demonetisation taken up

India has said that the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) of Bhutan is in touch with the Reserve Bank of India regarding the facilitation of collection and deposit of old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 that are already in stock of the RMA, other banks and financial institutions, besides general public, under existing provisions, a India’s Spokesperson said. For more information see: Nepal, Bhutan in touch with India over demonetisation”, The Indian Express

< style="color: #163449;">Boost to Singapore ties

The first official visit of the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay to Singapore has explored more areas of cooperation between the two countries. The Prime Minister was on a three-day visit to Singapore when he met Acting President of Singapore, JY Pillay and the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong. For more information see:PM welcomes greater cooperation between Bhutan and Singapore”, Kuensel

< style="color: #0069a6;">India

< style="color: #163449;">Terror strike at Army HQ at Nagrota

A group of heavily armed terrorists disguised in police uniform attacked the army headquarters in Nagrota in Jammu on Tuesday. Two officers and five soldiers were killed leaving several injured. In a separate incident, four BSF personnel and a policeman were injured in a blast in Samba district of Jammu and Kashmir while carrying out mopping-up operations. For more information, see: “J&K: Seven army men killed in terror attack at Army post in Nagrota, all terrorists neutralised”, Indian Express, 29 November, 2016 and “Nagrota attack: Seven army personnel, including two officers and five jawans, killed”, First Post

 < style="color: #163449;">Talk with Pak unlikely

With the Heart of Asia conference beginning on Saturday, India has ruled out any possibility of a bilateral discussion with Pakistan. With increasing tensions across the LoC and international border, particularly the recent Nagrota attack by terrorists has only amplified India’s concern over cross border terrorism.  Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup stated that “India will never accept continued terrorism as the new normal of the bilateral relationship”. For more information, see: “No talks amid continued terror: India”, Indian Express, 2 December, 2016 and “Talks unlikely, India to focus on cross-border terror at Heart of Asia meet”, Times of India

< style="color: #163449;">Smart fence by 2017

India shall have smart fence borders installed along its borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh, by late 2017. With sanctions from Union ministry, BSF Director-General K.K Sharma stated that they are working towards implementing a Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS). Security of these sensitive borders will shift from regular troops patrolling system to a quick reaction team pattern. Troops on ground will respond when there is an alarm of an infiltration bid in the multi-tier security ring comprising the regular fence and laser walls. For more information, see: Patrol-free, multi-layer smart fence along Pakistan, Bangladesh border by end of 2017: BSF”, Times of India

< style="color: #163449;">Lok Sabha clears new tax bill

On Tuesday, Lok Sabha passed a bill to tax money deposited in banks post demonetisation. The new Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Bill 2016 was passed without any debate, leading to strong protests from the opposition. The bill will entail 30 percent of the income declared, an additional surcharge of 33 per cent of the tax amount, and a penalty of 10 per cent of the declared income. This adds up to a total liability of about 50 per cent. In addition, the amendment states that 25 per cent of the declared income is to be deposited in an interest-free deposit scheme with a lock-in of four years. For more information, see: “Amid disruptions & uproar, Bill to tax deposits passed in Lok Sabha”, The Hindu

< style="color: #0069a6;">Maldives 

< style="color: #163449;">India ‘most helpful’

India was helping Maldives the most in fighting terrorism, Col Abdul Raheem, deputy director of National Counter-terrorism Centre has said. In a separate development, Attorney-General Muhammad Anil described as ‘baseless accusation’ that the Government was giving away the Minicoy Channel to India. For more information, see: “India assists the most to the Counter Terrorism Center: Abdul Raheem”, Miadhu, 29 November 2016; “Government denies giving Minicoy Channel to India”, Miadhu, 27 November 2016; “MNDF coastguard has the fastest vessels in the world: Adam Shareef”, Miadhu, 27 November 2016; “Chinese oceanography vessel opened to the public”, Miadhu, 26 November 2016; “Maldivians will go over the China Maldives Friendship Bridge to vote in 2018 elections : Minister Zameer”, Miadhu, 28 November 2016; “My duty was to prevent a civil conflict and to stabilize Maldives: President Waheed”, Miadhu, 26 November 2016; “Foreign ambassadors pressured Dr.Waheed to resign : Dean”, Miadhu

< style="color: #163449;">MMA defends pay-out

The Maldivian Monetary Authority (MMA) Governor Azeema Adam has defended the decision to bail out the Government by purchasing $ 140-m worth of bonds floated by the Male Airport Company Ltd (MACL), to pay Indian infrastructure major, GMR Group, over the cancelled contract. This even as Parliament passed the Budget, which proposed $ 25 per head for domestic and foreign travellers for each use of the Male airport towards ‘development charges’, originally introduced by GMR but opposed by present President Abdulla Yameen and the rest. For more information, see: “Central bank defends bailing out government with GMR payout”, Maldives Independent, 27 November 2017; “Airport development fee to be introduced in 2017”, Maldives Independent, 26 November 2016; “President ratifies amendment, international port fee increased”, SunOnline, 29 November 2016; “Concern over investor confidence after appeals court approves seizure of Villa properties”, Maldives Independent

< style="color: #163449;">Court puts off polls

On a petition from President Abdulla Yameen-controlled faction of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the civil court has ordered the postponement of the nation-wide local government polls, originally scheduled for 14 January 2017. The party cited ‘unavoidable circumstances’ as the reason for making the plea, though earlier the party had moved the court to delay internal party primaries, citing the non-availability of party membership details with the Yameen faction after the recent vertical split in the PPM. For more information, see: “Court orders 2-month postponement to Council Election”, SunOnline, 1 December 2016; “Court delays local council elections”, Maldives Independent, 2 December 2016; “Ruling: Current councilors will remain in office until election”, SunOnline

< style="color: #0069a6;">Myanmar

< style="color: #163449;">Singapore treaty on cards

Singapore and Myanmar will begin discussions on a bilateral investment treaty, as well as update an avoidance of double taxation agreement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on 30 November, according to a report by Channel News Asia. For more information, see:Myanmar, Singapore to discuss investment treaty”, Mizzima, 1 December 2016; “Singapore, Myanmar to start talks on investment treaty”, Eleven, 30 November 2016 “Suu Kyi woos investors in Singapore”, DVB

< style="color: #163449;">Security beefed up

Authorities are ramping up their security efforts around high-traffic tourist attractions in Rangoon and Mandalay, to include pagodas and crowded public spaces, after a series of small explosions struck four locations in Yangon in November. For more information, see: Authorities Ramp up Security Measures at Tourist Sites”, The Irrawaddy

< style="color: #163449;">Villagers displaced

About 400 internally displaced people (IDPs) have fled their homes in Namtu and Mongton townships and taken shelter in Namtu town, according to local sources, following the latest clashes between the Burma Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in northern Shan State. For more information see: Fleeing Shan State Conflict, 400 Villagers Take Refuge in Namtu Town”, The Irrawaddy

< style="color: #0069a6;">Nepal

< style="color: #163449;">Call to revise Bill

Two days after the government registered a constitution amendment bill, the Madhes-based parties, at whose insistence the move was taken, on December 1 called for revising the bill before it is put to vote, saying that their consent was not taken before it was registered.  The Madhes-based parties’ hardened position has driven the government into a corner, as it is already facing stiff opposition from the CPN-UML, which has already started disrupting the House to protest against the bill. For more information, see: Constitution amendment: Madhes-based parties press PM to revise bill”, The Kathmandu Post, 2 December 2016; “Constitution amendment bill will be endorsed thru majority of votes: Deuba”, Republica

< style="color: #163449;">ADB approves loan

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has agreed a $186.80-million loan to upgrade 160 km of the strategic road network and improve domestic and regional transport connectivity in the country. The total cost of the project is $256.50 million, with the government contributing $69.70 million. These road improvements expect to help 673,000 people in the Tarai area have better access to schools, hospitals, jobs as well as local and international markets.” For more information see: ADB okays $186m loan to upgrade key road sections”, The Kathmandu Post

< style="color: #163449;">Speeding up pipeline work

In its bid to accelerate construction of much-delayed 41 km Raxaul-Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline, the Ministry of Supplies is holding a multi-stakeholder meeting in Amlekhgunj, Bara, on December 2. The committees will hold consultations with all stakeholders concerned to facilitate the pipeline construction process and avoid any possible complications in the future. An estimated 33.6 acres of land will be required for the project. For more information, see: “Govt moves to expedite petro pipeline project”, The Kathmandu Post

< style="color: #0069a6;">Pakistan

< style="color: #163449;">Bajwa, new Army chief

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the country’s new army chief on 26 November. Bajwa was serving as Inspector General of Training and Evaluation- the position his predecessor General Raheel Sharif held as well before being promoted. He has also been the former commander of 10 Corps that is responsible for the area along the Line of Control. On 29 November, Raheel Sharif handed over command of the army to Bajwa. For more information, see: “General Qamar Bajwa takes over as Pakistan’s new army chief”, The Times of India

< style="color: #163449;">Trump calls Sharif

US President-elect Donald Trump spoke over the phone to Nawaz Sharif on 23 November; however the details of the conversation are being debated. According to Pakistan, Trump told Sharif you are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am looking forward to see you soon. As I am talking to you, Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long." Trump’s office on the other hand, put out a statement which said the two sides have a “productive” conversation about the US and Pakistan’s working relationship going into the future. Trump had earlier called Pakistan, the most dangerous countries in the world. For more information, see: “Donald Trump reportedly praises Pakistan’s ‘terrific’ PM”, CNN

< style="color: #163449;">New trade route with China

China and Pakistan have launched a new direct rail and sea freight service from Yunnan province to Karachi. The new route is expected to reduce the cost of logistics and transport by 50 per cent and is a part of China’s Maritime Silk Road initiative. A cargo train loaded with 500 tonnes of commodities left Kunming, capital of Yunnan, for port city of Guangzhou from where the cargo will be loaded on ships and transported to Karachi, marking the opening of the new route. For more information, see: “China launches direct rail, sea freight service between Kunming and Karachi”, Dawn

< style="color: #163449;">No compromise: President

Only days promising Opposition TNA parliamentarians about his talking to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe about discussing ethnic reconciliation issues with predecessor President Mahinda Rajapaksa, incumbent Maithiripala Sirisena, vowed to protect Buddhasasana at all costs. For more information, see: “President pledges to protect Buddhasasana”, The Island

< style="color: #163449;">Stiff fines on poachers

Within weeks after discussing the fishing issue with the Indian counterpart, the Government is reportedly considering a plan to impose still fines, going up to Rs 7 crores on foreign vessels trespassing into Sri Lankan waters.  Already, there is a proposal to ban bottom-trawling practised by Indian fishers through a parliamentary law, replacing the existing Executive order, enforced with great alacrity. For more information, see: “Sri Lanka mulls stiff fines for boats trespassing into its waters”, The Hindu, 1 December 2016; “China boosts defence co-operation with ‘Aircraft Overhaul Wing’”, The Island

< style="color: #0069a6;">PRIMARY DOCUMENTATION

< style="color: #0069a6;">Bhutan

< style="color: #163449;">Press Releases

Prime Minister awarded the prestigious German Sustainability Award, Cabinet Secretariat, 28 November 2016

< style="color: #163449;">Bibliography

< style="color: #0069a6;">Afghanistan

< style="color: #163449;">Opinion pieces

Harsh V. Pant, “The message from Amritsar”, The Hindu, 2 December 2016 Jason Dempsey, “Elephants in Afghanistan: The Military’s Counterinsurgency Failure”, War on the Rocks, 1 December 2016 Sune Engel Rasmussen, “ISIS, Afghanistan’s accidental broker?”, The New York Times, 1 December 2016

< style="color: #0069a6;">Bangladesh

< style="color: #163449;">Opinion pieces

Shantanu Mukharj, “Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina’s India visit: A few questions to ask”,, 29 November 2016

< style="color: #163449;">Book Review

A Political History of Bangladesh, author Ali Riaz published by London: I.B. Tauris, 2016, reviewed by Ahrar Ahmad in The Daily Star, 28 November 2016

< style="color: #0069a6;">Bhutan

< style="color: #163449;">Opinion Pieces

Nim Dorji, “Vegetable Vendors and Sustainability of Agriculture”, The Bhutanese, 26 November 2016

< style="color: #163449;">Editorials

Land acquisition and management”, The Bhutanese, 26 November 2016

< style="color: #0069a6;">India

< style="color: #163449;">Opinion pieces

M.K. Narayanan, “Writing a new Pakistan playbook”, The Hindu, 1 December, 2016 T.T. Ram Mohan, “Dashed Expectations”,  The Hindu, 30 November  2016

< style="color: #0069a6;">Maldives

< style="color: #163449;">Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Govt pays up GMR, offers legal protection to investors”,, 28 November 2016

< style="color: #163449;">Interviews

Shafaa Hameed, “Q&A: Rights advocate calls for affirmative action for Maldives women”, Maldives Independent, 28 November 2016

< style="color: #0069a6;">Myanmar

< style="color: #163449;">Opinion pieces

Liu Yun, “Moving beyond the Myitsone Dam dilemma”, Myanmar Times, 2 December 2016

< style="color: #163449;">Editorials

A dangerous step backwards”, Mizzima, 30 November 2016

< style="color: #0069a6;">Nepal

< style="color: #163449;">Opinion Pieces

Mukesh Jha, “Power to the people”, The Kathmandu Post, 2 December 2016 Gunjan Upadhyay, “The great barrier”, Republica, 1 December 2016

< style="color: #163449;">Editorials

The Kathmandu Post, “Reform begins at home”, The Kathmandu Post, 2 December 2016 Republica, “Embrace all”, Republica, 1 December 2016

< style="color: #0069a6;">Pakistan

< style="color: #163449;">Opinion Pieces

Brig Anil Gupta (Retd), “New Pakistan Army chief: Will there be a change of narrative for India?”, Economic Times, 30 November 2016 Muhammad Saad Khattak, “The new COAS”, The Express Tribune, 28 November 2016 Khurram Husain, “The giddy brigade”, Dawn, 24 November 2016

< style="color: #0069a6;">Sri Lanka

< style="color: #163449;">Opinion Pieces

Kusal Perera, “South should accept Wiggy’s invitation for dialogue”, Daily Mirror Online, 2 December 2016 M S M Ayub, “Remembering those killed in the war”, Daily Mirror Online, 2 December 2016 Ranga Jayasuriya, “Militant Buddhism and shadowy Salafism: Govt should fight both”, Daily Mirror Online, 1 December 2016 C A Chandraprema, “Changes to Judiciary and Fundamental Law”, The Island, 30 November 2016 Kelum Bandara, “Constitution making process slows down”, Daily Mirror Online, 1 December 2016 Jehan Perera, “Deal with problems before they escalate”, The Island, 29 November 2016 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Stop this coup-talk, nonsense!”, The Sunday Leader, 27 November 2016

< style="color: #0069a6;">Contributors:

Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale India: Sabah Ishtiaq Maldives & Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy Nepal: Sreeparna Banerjee
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