MonitorsPublished on Jan 25, 2021
South Asia Weekly | Volume XIV; Issue 4

Nepal: Understanding 6th Joint Commission meeting with India

Sohini Nayak

The sixth meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission, co-chaired by Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Nepalese counterpart Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, was held on 15 January 2021 in New Delhi. As the Nepalese delegation, comprising the Foreign Minister, Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal and other senior officials visited India, the world kept a keen eye on the probable developments, after the cold demeanour of the recent past over the border row.

As mentioned by the spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Anurag Arivastava, the primary vision of this meeting lay in having constructive discussions on the bilateral relationship between the two countries, that has indeed been taking the test of time and implement constructive measures for the future.

Roots of synergy

Commencing way back in 1987, the Joint Commission is predominantly a bilateral mechanism at the level of the Foreign Ministers ‘with a mandate of reviewing the entire spectrum of Nepal-India bilateral relations’. As a matter of fact, it is the multifaceted cooperation between the two countries that has enjoyed ‘a special and unique relationship rooted in shared heritage, civilization, culture and extensive people-to-people relations’. Various facades of cooperation in areas ranging from connectivity, economy and trade, energy cooperation, water resources, border management and tourism to education and capacity building, come under the canopy of this interaction.

The meeting came at a time when the entire first half of 2020 was spent in constructing and theorising a new foreign policy approach to break the ice after Nepal made serious allegations about India allegedly encroaching upon its territories, and redrew the nation’s map overnight through parliamentary legislation, unilaterally. At the same time, the Himalayan country is also reeling under deep political turmoil as the governing Nepal Communist Party (NCP) split into two -- one led by Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli and the other by NCP Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Nepal. Given this background, what interaction Nepal has with India will be interesting to note as claims of India influencing the upcoming Nepalese elections, for its own regional security, scheduled for April 30 and May 10 have been quite ripe.

Special emphasis

The Joint Commission meeting is one of the first major visits of Nepal after the Covid-19 pandemic, though India has had made a fair share of diplomatic visits to the northern neighbour. Given the need of the hour, the Covid-19 and its necessary preventive mechanisms across the border with an active Track-1 reciprocity was a special emphasis that undoubtedly required better tone between the two countries.

Inevitably, this is also seeming to be one of the foremost reasons behind the more or less loosened diplomatic approach of Nepal towards India, which was way more stringent in 2019 after the first political map with Kashmir and Ladakh as states had been released with the mention of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura.

Nonetheless, Nepal has already received one million doses of the covid-19 vaccines under the special grant assistance in sync with the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ of India. A special Air India aircraft was also designated for the same, following which the vaccines were unloaded at the Tribhuvan International Airport and then taken to a health facility at Teku, in the outskirts of Kathmandu, as per the norms of the Health Ministry.

Prime Minister Oli also thanked Indian counterpart Narendra Modi for the making the entire scenario of health diplomacy an important cornerstone of fixing the past issues of ambiguity and apprehension.

Apart from this, other issues of connectivity like milestone achieved by the Motihari-Amlekhganj petroleum products pipeline and discussions on extending the pipeline to Chitwan and the establishment of a new pipeline on the eastern side connecting Siliguri to Jhapa in Nepal were made. Both sides also welcomed the completion of the work on first passenger railway line between India and Nepal from Jaynagar to Kurtha via Janakpur, and noted that operating procedures for commencement of train services were being finalized. Other cross-border rail connectivity projects, including a possible Raxaul-Kathmandu broad gauge railway line, also found its way to the discussion.

The Joint Commission recorded the need to facilitate cross border movement of people and goods. Mention of the recently inaugurated Integrated Check Posts at Birgunj and Biratnagar was also made that  have helped in seamless movement of people and trade between the two countries. Both sides welcomed the commencement of construction of third ICP at Nepalgunj. India conveyed that construction of new ICP at Bhairahwa would be initiated shortly.

Discussions were held on expediting joint hydropower schemes, including the proposed Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, which have numerous benefits for the people of both countries. India conveyed that it would undertake two more cultural heritage projects in Nepal, namely, the Pashupatinath Riverfront Development and the Bhandarkhal Garden Restoration in Patan Durbar, with grant assistance. Views on international, regional and sub-regional cooperation were also exchanged. Nepal also extended support for India’s permanent membership of an expanded UN Security Council to reflect the changed balance of power. Both sides agreed to hold the next meeting of the Joint Commission in Nepal on mutually convenient dates.

Even though there has been no concrete resolution to the border dispute, acknowledgment of the prevailing state of affairs has made the situation better. All in all, the meeting seems to have gone well in good faith, for the days to come as two geographically contiguous neighbours have no alternative but to restore the trust that must prevail. This is all the more crucial for India as Nepal still remains in the good books of China and vice versa, that holds within itself the potential of tilting the geopolitical dynamics of the region at any given time.

Pakistan: Minorities under Imran Khan Govt

Ayjaz Wani

Just a day before the Covid-battered year 2020 ended, a mob led by local leaders of a religious party vandalised a century-old Hindu shrine in Karak district of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP). The mob of more than 1,000 people set the shrine on fire. They did not even spare an under-construction house owned by members of the Hindu community. The incident occurred in the wake of the permission granted to the minority community to extend the temple.

The administration and police remained silent spectators as the mob went about vandalising and setting fire to the premises. The police arrested 24 people for the arson only after outcry from human rights activists and the minority Hindu community. The incident also caused global embarrassment to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI government, prompting Noorul Haq Qadri, the Minister for Religious Affairs, to condemn the attack, saying that the incident was “a conspiracy against sectarian harmony”.

The supreme court of Pakistan, during the hearing of a plea from Hindu lawmaker Ramesh Kumar, directed the Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB) to start reconstruction of the temple and directed submission of the details of all non-functional and functional temples and Gurdwaras in Pakistan.

The police chief of KP, who was also present at the hearing, told the court that 92 police officials, including the superintendent of police and his deputy, were suspended after the incident and 109 people involved in the incident were arrested. The Chief Justice of Pakistan also directed the EPTB to clear all the encroachments from minority religious places and take actions against the officials involved in such incidents.

Same is the case of other Muslim minorities like Shia Hazara, who continue to face the wrath of the state, terrorists as well as other sectarian groups from time to time. On 4 January, 11 members of the Shia Hazara community working as coal miners were killed by unidentified gunmen. Their relatives protested for four days in Quetta and demanded a visit by the Prime Minister.

Pakistan’s minorities always live under the cloud of insecurity and fear. They are demonised. The plight of the minorities has not changed even under Imran Khan’s rule, who champions himself as a messiah of minorities and criticises other countries on the same issues.

Equal citizens…

From the time Imran Khan took the office of the Prime Minister, he had persistently claimed that minorities in Pakistan are equal citizens and were under state protection in many of his tweets and interviews. However, much of his words have remained mere lip-service. Like his predecessors, Imran Khan too seems to have caved in to pressure from the Islamists. In 2018, soon after Imran Khan became the PM, he was forced to revoke his decision to remove a globally renowned scholar from his Economic Advisory Council (EAC). A Princeton University professor and economist Atif Mian of prosecuted Ahmadi religious community was chosen to be a part of the 18-member EAC. Just hours after the announcement, Islamists, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and other opposition parties objected to his faith and started a vilification campaign against him.

Such was the hateful campaign against Atif Mian that Imran Khan's PTI government revoked his appointment within days. The government initially tried to defend the decision when Information Minister Fawad Chaudury said, "Pakistan belongs as much to minorities as it does to the majority... we will not bow to extremists".

Ironically, the minister continued to insist that the government wants to work with all sections of society, including Islamists, even after Atif’s ouster. It is pertinent to mention here that the Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in Pakistan through a constitutional amendment passed on 7 September 1974 during the tenure of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Govt toothless

The government has historically remained toothless when it came to Islamists. Following the bomb blasts of 2013 at the PeshawarAll-Saints Church, the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court asked the government to set up the National Commission for Minorities (NCM). The NCM was eventually launched in 2020 with six official and 12 non-official members, including the chairman for a term of three years.

Among the 12 members, three memberships each were reserved for Hindus and Christians, two each for Sikhs and Muslims and one each for Parsi and Kalash communities. The NCM has largely remained ineffective and often been criticised by human rights activists. Most of the religious minorities and their homes, religious places continue to be targeted by Islamists under the pretext of the infamous blasphemy laws.

Forced conversions, hate speech and discrimination remain unchecked. Instead of taking stock of the worsening situation of its own minorities, the NCM has been used by the PTI government to discuss the minority rights and discrimination faced by religious minorities across the border. Since its establishment, the NCM has come to be seen as merely a political gimmick of the government rather than doing any good for the minorities at home.

Over the years, the laws and rights of the minorities have seen a gradual shift from neutrality to blatant discrimination. In 2016, the Sindh government tried to outlaw forced conversions and marriages but failed because of the criticism and opposition from religious parties.

A revised version of the bill was introduced in 2019 but was again withdrawn following protests from Islamists. In March 2019, 2,000 Hindu minority members held protests, demanding justice for two sisters, Reena and Raveena. The Hindus claimed that the two sisters were forcefully converted and married. But the Islamabad High Court ruled out conversion.

Between 2013 and 2019, 156 forced conversions have reportedly taken place. Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that includes the right to freedom of religion. Still, the government has failed to comply with these international obligations and protect the minority non-Muslim women from exploitation.

Country Reports


Two female SC judges killed

Two female judges of the Supreme Court were killed in an ambush in Kabul. The attack took place when the Supreme Court judges were driving to work. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid mentioned that the group wasn’t responsible for the attack. There is a surge in violence in Kabul especially with the increase of targeted killings over the last few months.

Nearly 50 Force members killed in clashes

A Taliban attack on the outpost in Khashrod district in the South-West province of Nimroz killed six police force members. A total of 40 security force members have been killed in fighting with the Taliban with the majority of casualties reported from the  areas of Kunduz, Baghlan and Nimroz province. Over 40 Taliban members have been killed in recent clashes in Kunduz and multiple Taliban fighters have sustained casualties in the attack in Nimroz.

Polio vaccine campaign

The Public Health Ministry has announced a nationwide campaign to administer the polio vaccine to nearly 10 million children under the age of five. A total of 65,000 health workers will be implanting the campaign over a period of five-days. In the war torn country where the Taliban group doesn’t allow healthcare workers in the areas under their control to carry out campaigns, a total of 3.4 minion children were deprived of the vaccines and 56 children contracted the disease.


Talks on Rohingya repatriation

A virtual meeting between Bangladesh and Myanmar mediated by China was held to discuss the repatriation of Rohingya refugees into Myanmar. Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen claimed that the repatriation of the refugees will begin in the second quarter of this year. The Rohingya refugees are living in Bangladesh since 2017 after they were forced to leave their home in Myanmar to avoid persecution in the aftermath of a violent attack on the camps of Myanmar security forces by an armed group from the community. Rohingyas are inhabitants of Rakhine province in Myanmar but they are not recognised as citizens by the country’s authority.

India’s gift

As a goodwill gesture, India donated two-million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed jointly by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and produced by a privately owned Indian pharmaceutical company Serum Institute. The consignment of the vaccine was sent in a special flight this week. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed her gratitude to her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, for the special gesture.


Wangdue Dzong construction

According to official sources, the Wangdue Dzong construction is well on time, all set to be inaugurated by December 2022. Even though the country was under two very crucial and stringent lockdowns, the construction work is nearly 80 percent complete. It has an investment of around Nu 1 billion with 350 labourers at work.

Dzongkhags unlocked

The country has been conducting a back-to-back mass screening in the 18 dzongkhags with the Covid-19 Task Force, except Thimpu and Paro. Near about 52,000 people have tested negative, resulting which the process of ‘unlocking’ has begun. Nonetheless, there is strict monitoring of public spaces with permission for inter-dzongkhags travel as well. However, tourist in the country have to make registrations with the Post Management System, before the travel takes place.


Vaccine for neighbours

The Government has commenced distribution of Covid-19 vaccines as a goodwill gift to the neighbouring countries as a part of India’s vaccine Maitri diplomacy. Covishield vaccine and Astra-Zeneca manufactured by the Serum Institute of India have been delivered to Seychelles, Mauritius and Myanmar, Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal last week. India has also recently conducted training workshop for health officials and workers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Bahrain, Brazil, Mauritius, Morocco, Oman, Seychelles and Sri Lanka.

PM visits poll-bound States

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the poll bound states of Assam and West Bengal on 23 January. In Assam, Modi distributed land ownership certificates to over one lakh families assuring the people of the state that the decision would ensure their “pride, freedom and protection”. In his speech, he also highlighted other achievements of the Centre and BJP-led Assam government. In West Bengal, Modi attended the function in Kolkata to mark the 125th birth anniversary of freedom-fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.


HC upholds Yameen verdict

In a 2-1 verdict, the High Court has confirmed the 3-0 trial court award of five years in prison and $ 5 m in fines in a money-laundering case against former President Abdulla Yameen, who has been in prison for over a year. Yameen’s defence team, led by estranged one-time Vice-President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, and more so Yameen-centric PPM-PNC combine have since questioned the High Court verdict, claiming that the two judges violated the Sharia and the Constitution, and did not address all of the defence questions. The party’s general council has since decided to  protest against the verdict, with at least one speaker pointing to the ‘presence of thousands of Indian soldiers’ in Maldives, and another citing the Opposition protest against the arrest of then Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, which led to the forced resignation of then MDP President, Mohammed Nasheed, now Parliament Speaker. There was no mention of Yameen appealing against the verdict in the Supreme Court.

Indian vaccine arrives

A consignment of 100,000 doses of India-made Covishield pandemic vaccine, capable of usage for 50,000 persons at two shots each, has arrived from India. With this, Maldives became the first nation to receive the Indian vaccine. In an address to the nation, President Ibrahim Solih, said that the vaccine brought with it new hope for the nation, and thanked India for the free shipment. Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, speaking in Hindi, too thanked India.


Vaccine from India

A consignment containing 1.5-million doses of Covishield vaccines reached Yangon on 23 January. Myanmar is one of the first countries to receive India’s gift of the “Made in India” Covishield vaccines, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. Myanmar is an important land and maritime neighbour of India. The nation shares close historical, cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic ties. In addition, Myanmar is a vital component of India’s “Neighbourhood First” and “Act East” policies. With such a gesture India strengthens further its bilateral relations.

Talks on repatriation

Myanmar has called on Bangladesh to repatriate more than 400 displaced Hindus who were among the 2017 exodus of 740,000 Rohingya fleeing a brutal army campaign in Rakhine state. The call came during a meeting between Myanmar, Bangladesh and China this week that was conducted online due to COVID-19 concerns. Myanmar urged that verified refugees, including the Hindus, be returned in the first phase of repatriations after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.


New political nexus?

A new political circle that is being speculated to share power, after elections, is coming up in the country. This new nexus comprises the chairman of the Nepal Communist Party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the top leader of the Janata Samajbadi Party, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who met Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun recently. Most know that Dahal and Bhattarai have remained in close proximity in the past, while both were very prominent Maoist leaders. Whether this is a new group against Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli on the opponent team or not is still unknown. Nonetheless, it can be well comprehended. At the wake of this new transition that is about to come in the country with the upcoming elections, the fate of Nepalese people lies solely on the outcome of this power struggle.

Mid-term elections on its way

The elections for the House of Representatives have been scheduled for April 30 and May 10, respectively. Prime Minister Oli clearly mentioned that the country will host ‘free and fair’ elections. He also pointed out the necessity of increasing security in this regard, especially in the border points.

Sri Lanka

Indian fishers killed

Four Indian fishers were killed when their trawler collided with a Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) patrol vessel and sunk. While the Navy blamed it on the illegal trawlers, it is not clear why and how the SLN patrol boat did not seem to have attempted a rescue. The Indian High Commission in Colombo has since issued a strong demarche in this regard, and fishers in the poll-bound south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, from where the dead fishers belonged, protested the killing asking for the immediate arrest and punishment for the errant SLN personnel.

Clean power for Jaffna

The cabinet has approved a $ 12-m project to generate 1700 kV of wind power and 530 kV of solar amounting 530 kv under a scheme to provide clean energy to the Tamil-majority Jaffna Peninsula, Power and Energy Minister Dullas Alahapperuma has said. Plans are underway to install hybrid renewable energy systems to the islands of Nagadeepa, Delft and Analativu in the Northern Province, the Minister said adding, that international competitive bids would be called for the purpose.



Opinion Pieces

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, ’The Challenges and Opportunities of Peace in the eve of International Changes’, The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 19 January 2021

Jyoti Malhotra, ‘If Biden ignores Afghanistan-Pakistan, ISI will get a long rope. India must play bigger role’, The Print, 20 January 2021


The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Draft Budget Needs to be Balanced and Transparent’, 19 January 2021

Afghanistan Times, ‘Safeguarding Afghan Female Activists’, 18 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

Saleem Samad, “The Chinese dilemma”, Dhaka Tribune, 19 January 2021

Saleemul Huq, “Bangladesh can lead the world on the journey towards climate resilience”, The Daily Star, 20 January 2021


New age, “Myanmar promises alone can’t make Rohingya return a reality”, 21 January 2021



Kuensel, “Laws do not set double standards, implementers do”, 23 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

DivyaVaid, “A new framework around caste and the census”, The Hindu, 23 January 2021

Namita Bhandare, “To protect women, challenge patriarchy”, hindustantimes, 22 January 2021

Manabika Mandal and Sreekumar Nhalur, “True empowerment of the electricity consumer”, The Hindu, 21 January 2021

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, “Being tethered to bars during a pandemic”, The Hindu, 19 January 2021

Nilanjan Sircar, “The political economy driving farm protests”, hindustantimes, 19 January 2021


The Indian Express, “Laws on pause”, 22 January 2021

The Telegraph, “Screens on fire: regulation in the OTT and digital space”, 22 January 2021

The Indian Express, “Neighbour’s pride”, 21 January 2021

The Telegraph, “Trust first: President donates for Ram Mandir”, 19 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Solih meets with allies ahead of local council polls”,, 21 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

Joe Kumbun, “Myanmar Needs Major Powers’ Cooperation, Not Competition”, The Irrawaddy, 21 January 2021

Yan Naing, “China’s Belt and Road Initiative Continues to Make Inroads in Myanmar”, The Irrawaddy, 20 January 2021

Bo Kyi,“Myanmar Still Lacks a Meaningful Definition of  ‘Political Prisoner’”, The Irrawaddy, 19 January 2021


Opinion Pieces

Binod Ghimire, “Nepal yet to ensure transitional justice,” The Kathmandu Post, 23 January 2021

Rajaram Bartaula, “Messing up the system,” Republica, 22 January 2021

Amish Raj Mulmi, “Who gets to write our history?The Kathmandu Post, 21 January 2021


The Kathmandu Post, “Relief for the returnees,” 20 January 2021

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

D B S Jeyaraj, “Acquittal of TMVP leader Pillaiyan from murderr charges”, Daily Mirror Online, 23 January 2021

Ameen Izzadeen, “Tamil Nadu politics behind India’s new hard line on Lanka”, Daily Mirror Online, 22 January 2021

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Understanding protests against Indian private investments in Colombo Port”,, 22 January 2021

Ranga Jayasuriya, “Have Tamils benefited from UNHRC resolutions?”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 January 2021

P K Balachandran, “Conflicting demands from Sri Lanka pose a serious challenge to UNHRC”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 January 2021

Jehan Perera, “President’s decision on Colombo Port in national interest”, The Island, 19 January 2021

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Trump, Trumpism and Triumphalism”, Ceylon Today, 19 January 2021

N Sathiya Moorthy, “It is not diplomacy, Mr Watson”, Colombo Gazette, 18 January 2021


Sandun A Jeyasekara, “The Govt is trapped in a huge mess and muddle: Harsha”, Daily Mirror Online, 22 January 2021


Afghanistan: Ratnadeep Chakraborty

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan & Nepal: Sohini Nayak

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Pakistan: Ayjaz Wani

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