MonitorsPublished on Apr 03, 2015
Reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping had proposed trilateral talks involving the shared Indian neighbour at a meeting with visiting Sri Lankan counterpart Maithripala Sirisena should make New Delhi sit up and take notice.
Sri Lanka: Playing peace-maker between India and China?
< class="heading1">Analysis

Reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping had proposed trilateral talks involving the shared Indian neighbour at a meeting with visiting Sri Lankan counterpart Maithripala Sirisena should make New Delhi sit up and take notice. India should consider the Chinese proposal for the spirit, if not for the content ? or non-content ? before foreclosing options.

There is nothing to suggest that China has made any specific proposals or sought to address any specific issue. But the fact that five senior Sri Lankan Ministers, headed by Cabinet spokesperson and Sirisena loyalist Rajitha Senaratne, have publicly spoken about it at a weekly post-Cabinet media-briefing should mean that Sri Lanka has taken the Chinese proposal somewhat seriously.

It is possible that the Sirisena leadership does not want India to draw wrong conclusions from any leaked media reports on the Chinese proposal. There is also the history of Sri Lanka under then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike seeking to mediate between the two Asian giants at the height of their war in 1962. More recently, during ’Eelam War IV’ Sri Lanka prided itself as being able to bring together China, India and Pakistan ? and also the US, Russia and the EU, among other nations -- on the same page in fighting LTTE terrorism. Across-the-board Sinhala political and intellectual opinion had hoped at the time that their nation would be able to do so in peace time and on the nation’s development agenda, as well.

Yet, it’s not without reason that in more recent decades India has had reservations about third nations wanting to get involved in bilateral issues with difficult and unpredictable neighbours like China and Pakistan. Apart from the complexities and national self-interests that are at the core of such concerns and contributions, there is also the possible apprehension that friends playing peace-maker faced the danger of alienating one or both the stake-holders ? India and China in this case ? at least in the interim. Sri Lanka can do without it all.

It’s not as if Sri Lanka, or other neighbours, cannot benefit from India-China bonhomie. The two are working with other non-western nations in Brazil, Russia and South Africa on the BRICS Bank, where they have encouraged participation by third and Third World nations like Sri Lanka. The BRICS Bank experiment should also inform nations such as Sri Lanka when to enter, and when not to enter, the ticklish relationship between India and China, or India and Pakistan.

News reports have not mentioned it, but it is not unlikely that the Chinese proposal might have involved possible Sri Lankan reluctance to revive some of the pending China projects in the island-nation, held over from the predecessor Rajapaksa government. The Indian concerns on Chinese engagement did not flow from China’s development investments and engagements with neighbours like Sri Lanka. It flowed instead from, especially more recently, China wanting to berth its submarines in Sri Lankan ports and in the process study the Indian Ocean hydrography in India’s neighbourhood seas.

As early as 2002, visiting Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji had spoken about marrying "China’s hard-power and India’s soft-power", for Asia to capture global IT markets. The analogy clearly went beyond IT cooperation-cum-domination by the two nations. India may not be ready for the un-uttered and unlettered part of Premier Rongji’s reference, and instead promptly increased strategic and defence cooperation with the US. Over the more recent past, however, India has distinguished between developmental and strategic cooperation. It has expressed greater willingness in engaging with China on the investment and economic front, including BRICS. This contrasts with the earlier Indian reluctance / reservations to allow Chinese companies even to bid for investment projects in the country, particularly those with a perceived strategic element.

’Cooperation in maritime age’

Addressing the joint post-Cabinet press conference after the China visit, Sri Lanka’s Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe reportedly made a specific point that India being a powerful country was concerned about everything that happened in Sri Lanka. Quoting the Minister, The Island reported that "Beijing understood New Delhi’s concerns and that was why President Jinping had offered to hold tripartite meetings". Minister Rajapkskshe also made out the point that "the move had been welcomed by Sri Lanka". Minister Rauff Hakeem, for his part, said that when President Sirisena referred to historical ties with China, his counterpart Jinping had replied that "our friendship was just not historical but an ’all-weather’ relationship."

The all-important Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said that he had attended the Baoa Economic Forum (BEF) ? which was in President Sirisena’s China schedule ? and pointed out that ten presidents, six prime ministers and leading business personalities had attended the BEF. In his brief address at the BEF, President Sirisena said that "Sri Lanka as a maritime nation with natural advantages would work in tandem with friendly countries to maintain cooperation in the maritime age".

It is unclear if President Sirisena had in mind China’s ’New Maritime Silk Route’ (MSR), a legacy from the predecessor Rajapaksa regime, of which he was a senior member ? and was also inviting India and other Asian nations to join in. If he had intended equitable participation/partnership in such maritime cooperation endeavours in Asia, he did not specify it, either. At the same time, some observers already see BEF as a Chinese-inspired parallel to Doha economic summit, like many of China’s other initiatives viz the existing West-dominated international institutions. The question is if and when India too would participate in the Baoa meet in the none-too-distant future.

Shorn of verbiage, President Sirisena may also be putting in a more acceptable terminology what predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa had been saying all along. The latter’s ’Mahinda Chintanaya’ electoral manifestos in 2005 and 2010, and even his first presidential poll campaign had made extensive and pointed references to Sri Lanka falling back upon Asian neighbours like "India, China and Pakistan" ? and keeping out the West, particularly in the context of ending LTTE terrorism and national reconciliation. At times, he also added Japan to the list of Asian countries whose help and assistance Sri Lanka would seek.

The Chintanaya-I in 2005 had spoken more specifically about Sri Lanka emerging as five important hubs ? in the fields of maritime, naval, air, energy and knowledge ? taking off from where Singapore on the one side and Dubai on the other would have to leave, they having reached capacity and space saturation. While targeting the Rajapaksa campaign then and his government’s policies on other issues and other concerns even in terms of developing these hubs (including ’corruption’ in China deals), the political Opposition of the day did not question their appropriateness and functionality. Nor have they proposed then or now, alternate developmental models for an economy such as Sri Lanka’s. It’s possibly otherwise not self-sustaining ? and also cannot feed the unlimited aspirations of a highly aspirational generation, cutting across ethnicity, education and employability.

Aspirations and alliances

It has thus become incumbent upon India’s policy-makers ? and more so, the strategic community ? to understand and appreciate the aspirations of neighbourhood nations, and their impatience for early results. Individually as citizens and governments, and electorally as political parties, their appetite for developmental funding, their goals for growth and impatience for early results have all to be met, if they have to move away from China so very completely and so very exclusively. The West does not have money, and small nations across the world where all India sees a hidden or not-so-hidden Chinese hand cannot eternally count on India, which itself is yet to stabilise its economy, to be able to flex its fiscal muscles.

The Indian fiscal muscle (or absence of it, in relative terms), democratic traditions, et al, do not permit India to deliver what the neighbours and friends, placed similarly as Sri Lanka, want. There is thus no meaning in India and the Indian strategic community reading out the accounts of what all India had done for their nations in the past. Like in the case of individuals, the wealthier you are and more willing you are to feed a poor cousin’s aspirations and indulge in him, too, the more influential you become. Not otherwise, not when you had attended to SOS calls for emergency help of economic or whatever other kind.

They all know that there are no free lunches in the global political market place, and there is a price to pay for Chinese developmental aid ? or, the West-backed global institutional funding and individual nation’s backing. If there is a price that they would have to pay, it would have to do without impinging on their own ’sovereignty’ and ’territorial integrity’. After a point, they could not care less, at least in the interim, if that would hurt an old and dependable friend. After all, when India chose the erstwhile Soviet Union for a friend and ally during the ’Cold War’ era and the US ’adversary of sorts’ from the past in the post-Cold War years, it did not inform or consult its neighbours.

The argument may sound hollow from an exclusively Indian perspective, but does makes a lot of sense when from seen from the other side. It does not mean that neighbours, including Sri Lanka, look at the India-China conundrum that way. Far from that. They look up to India even today, for everything, big and small. However, it does not ? and in their perspective, should not ? preclude them from doing business with other friends and allies, from the ’historic past’, of which there are various shades and sizes, depending on which that other nation is. Incidentally, China seems to proving that there are no free lunches for Si Lanka, if a concession or bonus would help tilt the scales.

The Chinese Embassy in Colombo lost no time in denying Minister Senaratne’s claim that their construction company had not promised to cut the cost of a road project by SL Rs 30 b. That’s anyway substantial money even for the ’super-rich’ (?) China to write-off or cut down, particularly without implying a ’grey deal’ involving the predecessor Rajapaksa regime in Colombo, benefitting one or both the parties involved.

Do’s and don’ts for China

Like India, Sri Lanka too shares history, culture and trade with the Arabs and Iran the Chinese and Cubans, continental Europe, the UK and the US, not to leave out the erstwhile Soviet Union ? the last one mostly in the post-War, post-Independence decades. India will thus have to address the apprehensions of its neighbours ? real and imaginary ? even as it addresses its own geo-strategic security concerns, most of which are real and at times immediate, too. It is not unlikely that much of the neighbour’s concerns flow from their misunderstanding of India on the one hand, and total lack of information and thus of understanding of apprehensions-driven independent Indian initiatives.

It will be heady for a smaller nation to be asked to play peace-maker of sorts between two larger nations, both of them neighbours and mutually-suspicious of each other, flowing in turn from an adversarial past and unresolved disputes. But the cost for failure, of being seen as biased by one or both players, could be worse. Anyway, Sri Lanka’s interest in wanting to address Indian concerns pertaining to China flows from mutual mistrust, based on real-time border issues between the other two. Sri Lanka can in no way be expected to help them solve their issues, which are based on ground realities in the high peaks of the Himalayas that joins India and China, geographically, but divides them, politically and militarily ? and also on perceived Chinese military initiatives and geo-strategic intent involving third nations in Sri Lanka’s place.

It is one thing for China to address India’s concerns for the latter to become less apprehensive about its intentions in the neighbourhood ? as much the Indian Ocean region as the land-linked third nations. It is entirely another for China to confuse itself, India and Sri Lanka (or, any other neighbour) by proposing tripartite talks, which would be a non-starter, and then dis-enthuse the third-nation involved. Sri Lanka in this case could feel snubbed and untrusted by India ? though, it may or may not be the intention of China, either.

Rather than taking a circuitous route to resolving bilateral issues with India, China seems to be expanding the scope of what’s necessarily a politico-technical border negotiations between the two nations, by involving Sri Lanka. For, the India-China suspicions do not originate in the Sri Lankan neighbourhood Ocean, but elsewhere. Some of them involves Pakistan, but there, China in turn cannot expect to be a direct party wanting to negotiate with India. Sri Lanka has no stake in either, nor possibly any detailed knowledge (other than what’s fed by either or both sides). China can still end Indian apprehensions about closer Sri Lankan links with India by keeping Sri Lanka out of it all, at least until the they too had made appropriate progress.

It is also the only way that results could be achieved, not anyway otherwise. The earlier Sri Lanka explained the situation to China, better it would be for all. For, as and when the India-China border-dispute is resolved to mutual satisfaction ? and then alone ? the global geo-politics that is increasingly getting centred on the region could/would undergo a sea-change as never before in any part of the world, and without anyone having to fire a shot or berth a submarine outside of its territory. That could also be when a Chinese submarine could berth in an Indian port, or the other way round. Better still, no sub or naval vessel would have to be anywhere near India or the Indian Ocean if they did not (have to) belong there.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent three-nation Indian Ocean visit (with Maldives getting tagged on at the appropriate time) is illustrative of a regional willingness at maritime and strategic Ocean cooperation. It may need to be differentiated between ’maritime cooperation’ involving all of Asia and ’naval cooperation’ to secure the shared neighbourhood waters for all, even outside of the Asian region. In the latter case, the extended and expanded sub-continental efforts would suffice, as long as extra-territorial nations are discouraged from berthing their subs and having their military bases (as with Diego Garcia). The initiative (and of a different kind) just now rests with China, and viz India. Once that’s done and the results of mutual confidence with India built, that is also when China’s ’hardware-software’ analogy would work to mutual satisfaction and regional maritime cooperation.



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

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Afghanistan: Peace talks once again

Aryaman Bhatnagar

During his inauguration ceremony in September last year, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had extended an invitation to the Taliban to join the political process and resolve the conflict in the country through negotiations. Six months into his presidency, the offer from President Ghani still stands.

The need to reach some form of reconciliation with the Taliban has gained greater urgency post the drawdown of foreign troops from the region. President Ghani’s overtures to the Taliban predate his formal assumption of power. His representatives had reached out to the insurgents even before the second round of voting in the presidential elections had begun. During the election campaign, he had gone on record to state that the Taliban "are a fact" of Afghanistan and cannot be ignored. His Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who at one stage was a staunch opponent of talking to the Taliban, has now also extended his support to the process. He spoke of the need for "genuine and representative" talks during his election campaign.

These attempts are a continuation from Hamid Karzai’s time. President Ghani’s predecessor, during his second term, made repeated efforts to reach an agreement with the insurgents. Besides some short-lived breakthroughs, the progress was far from satisfactory. Mr Karzai even admitted in his farewell speech that the peace process has been a "failure". In light of the previous precedents, reports in February suggesting a willingness on the part of the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

New opportunities

The context has definitely changed to a certain degree since President Ghani took over and conditions may now be more conducive for a reconciliation between the two sides. For instance, there has been a marked improvement in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations.

The Pakistan Military Establishment is said to be far more comfortable with Kabul since the change of leadership. President Ghani has made a conscious effort to enlist the support of the Pakistan military in the hope that it would improve Kabul’s prospects of reaching an agreement with the Taliban as well. Afghanistan has not only undertaken military operations against Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) bases on Afghan soil but also sent a cadre of army officers for training to Pakistan and withdrew its request for arms from India.

Pakistan, for its part, has publicly offered to help facilitate the peace process by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. Pakistan’s Army Chief Raheel Sharif had, during his Kabul visit in mid-February, declared that "enemies of Afghanistan are also enemies of Pakistan". There have also been reports suggesting that Pakistan has been putting pressure on Taliban officials to engage with Kabul, even threatening the use of military force against those who refuse to oblige.

Apart from Rawalpindi’s show of support, China has also been showing signs, over the past six months, of wanting to play a much bigger role in the region. It has offered on numerous occasions to help set up a forum to move the peace process forward and even hosted a Taliban delegation late last year. With Beijing willing to step up its political and diplomatic engagement with the region, it is hoped that Chinese involvement could be a genuine game changer.

Same problems

In spite of these new opportunities, the reconciliation process continues to face similar challenges. Pakistan’s sincerity remains to be seen. It has provided extensive support to the various Afghan insurgent groups for the better part of the past two decades to pursue its own interests in Afghanistan. Even today, groups like the Haqqani Network are seen as Rawalpindi’s strategic assets and despite the reported proscription of the group it has remained largely untroubled. Moreover, Pakistan has failed to deliver on past promises to assist the reconciliation process. In fact, it has disrupted the process on a number of occasions by arresting Afghan Taliban officials who sought to engage directly with the government.

It is no surprise that President Ghani’s efforts towards Pakistan have faced strong opposition in Afghanistan. There are concerns that the new government may have offered too many concessions to Pakistan with the prospects of getting anything in return being extremely limited. Former government officials like Umer Daudzai and Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who served as the Interior Minister and the National Security Advisor respectively under Mr Karzai, have warned President Ghani to be careful while approaching Pakistan. The fact that Kabul still has had no access to the Taliban tends to validate these concerns.

Besides Pakistan’s willingness, an equally daunting, if not bigger challenge, may be Rawalpindi’s actual capacity to deliver on these promises. Pakistan may not have sufficient influence over the Taliban to push them towards the negotiating table. A Taliban official, quoted by The New York Times, said that while there has been some pressure from Pakistan on the group to engage with Kabul, it feels that it is "not under an obligation to talk".

This raises questions about the Taliban’s commitment to the peace process. Many have pointed to its refusal to accept a ceasefire or renounce al Qaeda as a reflection of its lack of sincerity. The Taliban’s rare display of willingness to engage with the government have been viewed by many in Afghanistan as a diversionary tactic on the part of the insurgents aimed at running down the clock till foreign troops completely withdraw from the country. The Taliban’s perception of itself as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan ? it still refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate ? and its desire to amend the Constitution to make it more reflective of the Sharia have convinced critics that the Taliban is not willing to accept the existing system in the country.

Overwhelming concerns

There are overwhelming concerns within Afghanistan that any settlement with the Taliban may be at the cost of civil liberties and rights secured by the government over the past 13 years. Kabul has given reassurances that it would not compromise on these aspects. However, given that the government and coalition forces have failed to achieve a significant military breakthrough against the Taliban, Kabul cannot negotiate with them from a superior vantage position. As the Taliban continues to remain resilient and the Afghan forces do not have the sufficient capability as yet to make a lasting dent on the insurgency, the prospects of addressing this gap are remote. Consequently, even if the Taliban does agree to come to the negotiating table, an agreement between the two is unlikely.

Finally, differences within the Taliban pose another set of challenges. It should be remembered that not all factions or commanders within the movement are in favour of talks with the government. While Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura are said to be in favour of the process, it is unclear whether they retain the ability to impose their will, especially in case of an agreement with the government, on the opposing factions. The growing presence of the Islamic State in the region provides these dissenting voices with a viable alternative if they are not willing to accept the decision of the Quetta Shura.

The recent decision of the US to retain all 9800 US troops in the country through 2016, maintain funding for a full strength ANSF and provide air support and other logistical assistance to the Afghan government does embolden Kabul as it prepares for what is expected to be a violent fighting season. However, these commitments also provide an opportunity for these opposing factions within the Taliban to strengthen their stance and further propagate their impression of the new government as a puppet of the US. This in turn may create further complications for both Kabul and the Taliban factions amenable to the reconciliation process.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Afghanistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">6500 foreign militants

According to a recent UN report, there are as many as 6,500 foreign militants fighting in Afghanistan, who have links with al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). The report, which was presented to the UN Security Council, comes a day after a group of militants belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan swore allegiance to the IS. In a video released by them ? which shows the beheading an Afghan soldier ? one of the militants claimed that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the IS in Iraq and Syria, was their new leader instead of Mullah Omar.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see: "Uzbek Militants Pledge Allegiance To Daesh", Tolo News, 1 April 2015; "6,500 Foreign Militants in Afghanistan: UN", Tolo News, 2 April 2015;

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Billions of aid money wasted’

Pentagon officials have claimed that billions of dollars in aid money have been wasted by Afghan government agencies. The government agencies enforced no formal spending requirements to ensure the better utilisation of the influx of massive aid money. The Pentagon watchdog warned that unless this problem is addressed by the new government it would become difficult to convince the US and other Western countries to continue their financial assistance to Afghanistan.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : " Afghan Govt. Agencies May Have Wasted Billions in US Aid: Pentagon", Tolo News, 31 March 2015;

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pakistan reaffirms support for peace

Pakistan’s Ambassador in Kabul, Syed Ibrar Hussain, reaffirmed his country’s support for Kabul’s efforts for restoring peace in the region. He claimed that Pakistan was willing to pursue genuine and constructive engagement with Afghanistan in the political, economic, security and cultural spheres. He made these comments during the annual "Pakistan Day" celebrations held at the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul. Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also expressed optimism but called upon Pakistan to step up its efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. In the meanwhile, the Afghan Senate Chairman Fazl Hadi Muslimyar criticised the Afghan government for making concessions to Pakistan claiming that virtually impossible for Pakistan to play a constructive role.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see: " Pakistani Ambassador Reaffirms Support for Peace, Abdullah Asks for More", Tolo News, 2 April 2015; "Muslimyar Says Pakistan Won’t Bring Taliban to Negotiation Table", Tolo News, 31 March 2015

Bangladesh

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Death of a blogger

In yet another act of violent extremism Oyasiqur Rhaman, a blogger and an activist against rising radicalism in the country, was killed by a group of religious fanatics. Police arrested two of the culprits involved, of whom one was cadre of banned religious militant organisation Jamaatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB). Investigative agencies informed that conflict over ideological differences was the main cause of murder. This incident is significant as it is the second incident of murder of bloggers, who have been critical of rising radicalism, within a month. Killings of bloggers who were vocal about the rising ride of radicalisation raising concern about the future social-political situation of the country.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see: " Another blogger stabbed to death in Tejgaon", The Daily Star, 30 March 2015; "Cops yet not sure about militant groups behind Bangladeshi blogger Oyasiqur Rahman murder", The Daily Star, 1 April 2015; "Bangladesh Killings Send Chilling Message to Secular Bloggers", The New York Times, 31 March 2015

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">China important development partner

Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali observed China is an ’inspiration’ and the country acts as an ’important partner’ in Bangladesh’s journey towards its transformation into a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed one by 2041. He made the remarks while speaking in cultural event in Dhaka. The Foreign Minister laid emphasis on enhanced cooperation in cultural and other bilateral areas between the two countries under closer and comprehensive partnership initiatives.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "China acts as important partner in development",The Independent, 3 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Preferential trade pact with Myanmar

Bangladesh and Myanmar are contemplating to sign a preferential trade agreement to enhance bilateral trade. The government undertook a study in this regard and the report is submitted it to the ministry of commerce.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Bangladesh, Myanmar plan preferential pact to boost trade",The Financial Express, 30 March 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">JMB plot to topple govt: NIA

India’s National Investigative Agency (NIA), the agency investigating incident of Burdwan bomb blast of 2 October 2014, this week filed charge sheet against banned Bangladeshi terror organisation Jamaat-ul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB). In the chargesheet NIA claimed that JMB was conspiring to topple the democratic government in Bangladesh led by Sheikh Hasina. Giving details of the case, NIA said that 21 person were allegedly involved in the conspiracy. The investigation by NIA revealed existence of JMB network in India primarily in West Bengal, Assam and Jharkhand.

In the 2 October bomb blast took place in Burdwan town of West Bengal killing 2 people. The incident for the first time highlighted existence of JMB in India.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "JMB wanted to topple Bangladesh govt: NIA chargesheet on",Business Standard, 30 March 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian call to end cattle-smuggling

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked the Border Security Force personnel deployed along the India-Bangladesh border to ensure a complete halt to the smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh. The Indian minister made the directive during his visit to the border in West Bengal. Around 17 lakh cattle were smuggled to Bangladesh in 2014annually.

In the 2 October bomb blast took place in Burdwan town of West Bengal killing 2 people. The incident for the first time highlighted existence of JMB in India.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Indian minister: Halt cattle smuggling to Bangladesh",Dhaka Tribune, 2 April 2015.

Bhutan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">King attends Lee’s funeral service

King Jigme Keshar Namgyal Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema attended the funeral service of Singapore’s former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Yew who ruled Singapore for over 3 decades died on 23 March aged 91. The King described Yew’s death as equally a loss for Bhutanese people as the Singaporeans.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "His Majesty attends funeral service of Lee Kuan Yew",Kuensel Online, 30 March 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">External debt bigger than economy

Bhutan’s total outstanding debt exceeded the size of economy by 12 percent as of December last year. The Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan stated that the country’s debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio stood at 112 percent, that is 12 percent over and above the size of Bhutan’s economy.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "External debt exceeds size of economy by 12 percent",Kuensel Online, 30 March 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Dam construction begins

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay laid the foundation for the 1,020 MW Punatsangchhu-II hydroelectric Project Authority (PHPA-II) and construction work of the dam is expected to be ready in another 3 years. Tobgay called the installation as a major milestone achievement. The Punatsangchhu-I Project started in 2010 and just 15 KM away from the PHPA-II has run into geological difficulties.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Construction of dam begins",Kuensel Online, 1 April 2015.

India

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Foreign Trade Policy to boost exports

The new Foreign Trade Policy (FTP) promises to unleash the potential of the Indian trading regime. The government aims to boost exports to $900 billion by 2019-20 through various schemes introduced. Two flagship programmes have been introduced to expedite exports in specified goods and services- Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS) and the Services Exports from India Scheme (SEIS). Further, schemes have been introduced to boost employment, value addition and the ease of doing business. These initiatives are focused around the principles advocated by the Prime Minister’s Make in India, Digital India and Skill India campaigns.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Government unveils new foreign trade policy; aims to raise exports to $900 billion by 2020", The Economic Times, 2 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Lags in UNDP index

India ranked 83 out of 130 countries on the business-to-customer e-commerce index. The ranking is undertaken on the basis of four parameters, namely, number of Internet users, the availability of secure infrastructure, credit card penetration and postal delivery. Even though India stood out for its largest postal network in the world, it was noted that most customers exercise the option of cash-on-delivery, thus pointing towards the low credit card penetration across the country.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Information Economy Report 2015- Unlocking the Potential of E-commerce for Developing Countries", United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 24 March 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Evacuation from Yemen

349 Indians in Yemen, most of them employed as hospital staff, were rescued during the week. The Indian Navy took the rescuers to Djibouti from where they were flown to India. Later, on April 3, India received permission to fly civilian aircrafts to Sana’a from Saudi Arabia, which is carrying out airstrikes and controls the Yemeni airspace.

The Arab state is affected by a civil war between rebels belonging to the Houthis, a Shia Zaidi sect that makes a third of the population, and the incumbent government of Abdrahbu Mansour Hadi. While the rebels are believed to be supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of regional countries like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, among others.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Air India gets nod to fly into Sana’a", The Hindu, 3 April 2015; "First Air Force Plane Reaches Djibouti to Bring Back Indians Evacuated From Yemen", NDTV, 1 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Anti-terror law in Gujarat

The Gujarat state assembly passed a controversial Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, which enables law enforcement officers to present intercepted phone conversations as evidence, and makes confessions to police officials admissible in court. The bill also doubles the period of time for which the police can keep a suspect in custody to 30 days.

This is the fourth time in 12 years that the bill has been introduced after it previously failed to gain presidential approval. The opposition Congress staged a walkout to protest against the bill which it believes is ’contradictory of central law’.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Gujarat Government Pushes Ahead With a Proposal Rejected by 2 Presidents", NDTV, 31 March 2015; "For fourth time, Gujarat Assembly clears anti-terror Bill", The Indian Express, 1 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cost cut for urea

The Cabinet approved the policy to supply natural gas at a uniform price to all urea plants. This will be undertaken through a pooling mechanism. The move will lower the subsidy and import burden of the government and will result in savings estimated at 15.5 billion rupees. Further, the policy aims at boosting two defunct fertiliser-manufacturing plants in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This will thus boost the availability of India’s most commonly used fertiliser.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Uniform gas price may boost urea capacity, improve profits", The Economic Times, 2 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Healthcare plan goes

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for cutbacks on India’s ambitious universal healthcare plan, one of the chief electoral promises of the BJP-led government. The cost of the project was estimated at a phenomenal Rs 1.16 trillion over five years.

The plan envisaged the provision of free drugs, diagnostic services and insurance for serious ailments to all Indian citizens. The increased expenditure on infrastructure as announced in the Union Budget, which has reduced flexibility of federal expenditure has been cited as the cause of the withdrawal.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Exclusive: Modi government puts breaks on India’s universal health plan", Reuters, US, 26 March 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Delhi hikes minimum wages

The Delhi government hiked wage rates across all categories of labourers- unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled by 5%. In addition, the government is organising camps for the registration of construction workers through a hundred points identified across the city. The construction workers thus registered will be able to avail various benefits.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Delhi government hikes minimum wages of unorganised sector workers", The Economic Times, 1 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Flood waters recede in J&K

Fears that persistent rainfall will cause another flood in Kashmir ended on 2 April after the state government announced that the most severe phase of the inclement weather was over and that water levels in the Jhelum river had dropped below the danger mark. Even though more rainfall is predicted, the Flood Control Department ruled out possibility of a deluge. Footage of inundated neighbourhoods shown on national news were attributed to the failure of local drainage systems. Kashmir suffered its worst floods in more than a century in September last year (2014) in which more than 400 people had died, renewing anxiety in the valley over the week.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Respite For People of Kashmir, Fears of Flood Over", NDTV, 2 April 2015; "No immediate threat of floods in Kashmir: CWC", Greater Kashmir, 2 April 2015.

Maldives

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New law bars Nasheed in MDP

The ruling PPM-controlled Parliament has passed a new law, barring prisoners from holding membership of registered political parties. This would mean that former President Mohammed Nasheed, now undergoing 13-year prison-term under anti-terror laws, would lose membership of the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), of which he is a co-founder, and also party’s future battle over possibly nominating him for the presidential polls of 2018.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Government bars Nasheed from MDP", Minivan News, 30 March 2015; "Nasheed to sue four Criminal Court judges for defamation", Minivan News, 30 March 2015; "Democracy will be maintained; stability will be established", Haveeru Online, 30 March 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Two more die in Syria

The local media has reported that at least two more Maldivians have died in the ongoing civil war in Syria. Official sources have claimed that around 50 Maldivians are fighting civil wars in foreign countries, an euphemism this for ’ISIS jihad’.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Two Maldivians reported dead in Syria", Minivan News, 30 March 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New terminal at Male airport

A new terminal is being planned for construction at the Male international airport. The Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL), the State-run corporate owners of the airport has signed an agreement with Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) for the purpose, reports said.

The clarification came after a section of the local media reported otherwise, citing the document that the MDP, JP and AP had signed earlier.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Contract signed for preparations for new terminal construction", SunOnline, 30 March 2015; "Singaporean company appointed to manage airport expansion", Haveeru Online, 2 April 2015.

Myanmar

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Apology to China

China foreign ministry has claimed that Myanmar has regretted, the cross-border aerial bombing that left five Chinese citizens dead last month. Myanmar’s foreign minister U Wunna Maung Lwin apologized as a special envoy of President U Thein Sein, according to the Chinese ministry.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Myanmar apologizes over bombing: China", Mizzima, 2 April 2015; "China Says Burma Apologizes for Bombing, Admits Responsibility", The Irrawaddy, 2 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">USDP denies rumour

The recent rumours that Gen Aung San’s son, Aung San Oo is planning to run in the upcoming elections to serve as vice-chairman of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) were discarded by the USDP spokesperson. The rumours were up on the internet about Oo’s candidature.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "USDP Denies Rumour That Son of General Aung San Will Lead USDP", Eleven Myanmar, 2 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Bengalis’ give up resident cards

Nearly, 1,800 White Card Holders or ’Bengali’ temporary residents in Rakhine state surrendered their cards on 1 April at 11 centers according to the Immigration and National Registration Department. President Thein Sein had earlier announced that the White Cards would be no longer valid after 31 March.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "Temporary Residents in Rakhine State Give Up White Cards", Eleven Myanmar, 2 April 2015.

Nepal

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Qinghai-Tibet rail link to be extended

China plans to extend its Qinghai-Tibet Railway network up to Kerung, the nearest Chinese town from Nepal, by 2020. The rail connectivity will improve trade, tourism and people-to-people relations between Nepal and China.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see : "China to extend railway link by 2020", eKantipur, 2 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Doctor ends fast

Dr Govinda KC, a senior orthopedic of Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, ended his hunger strike after 12 days on Thursday after the government agreed to address all his demands. The deal saw thousands of agitating doctors return to work.

< class="text11verdana">For information more see : "Dr KC ends fast after 11-pt deal with govt", eKantipur, 3 April 2015; .

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India seeks support for UNSC bid

India has requested Nepal to lend support in its candidacy to the membership of the UN Security Council. Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar made the request to Minister for Foreign Affairs Mahendra Bahadur Pandey during a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday.

< class="text11verdana">For information more see : "India requests Nepal to support UNSC bid", eKantipur, 2 April 2015; "Foreign Secy reaches Nepal, takes stock of country’s political situation", The Indian Express, 3 April 2015;

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">More time for constitution-writing

Constituent Assembly Chairman Subas Nembang is unlikely to begin the voting process from the CA meeting scheduled for Monday, in order to provide more time for the parties to forge consensus on the key disputes of constitution writing.

< class="text11verdana">For information more see : "Parties to get more time for accord", eKantipur, 3 April 2015; "Nembang to allot time for accord even after CA meets", eKantipur, 3 April 2015;

Pakistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Military courts hand down first sentences

The Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif has confirmed that the recently established military courts have awarded death sentences to six hardcore terrorists after trial. A seventh accused has been sentenced to life imprisonment.

< class="text11verdana">For information more see : "Military courts hand down first sentences", The Nation, 3 April 2015

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Yemen crisis taken to joint session; PM to confer with Turkey

The Pakistan Muslim League ? Nawaz (PML-N) has decided to summon a joint session of the Parliament to reach a national consensus on the country’s role in the Middle East crisis and on sending troops to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has left for a one-day official visit to Ankara to meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and discuss the ongoing Saudi-Yemen crisis.

< class="text11verdana">For information more see : "Govt takes Yemen crisis to joint session", The Nation, 3 April 2015; "PM needs Opp support for sending troops to KSA", The Nation, 3 April 2015; "Yemen crisis: Nawaz to confer with Turkish leadership", The Express Tribune, 3 April 2015; "PM leaves for Turkey, to discuss Yemen crisis", Dawn, 3 April 2015.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NAP report indicates little progress

A consolidated report on the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) announced three months ago indicates that there has been little progress on several key fronts. The plan aims to counter terrorism and extremism. The report was prepared by the interior ministry.

< class="text11verdana">For information more see : "NAP report indicates little progress on key fronts", Dawn, 3 April 2015.

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Eight held for anti-forces film

The police have arrested eight persons, reportedly dubbing a film against the armed forces, purportedly for being aired on the Channel IV British television.

The police feel that the film was a part of a series aimed at continuing to discredit the armed forces in the eyes of the international community, during the course of the UNHRC investigations into allegations of ’war crimes’ and ’accountability issues’ flowing from ’Eelam War IV’.

< class="text11verdana">For information more see : "Eight arrested while dubbing anti-army film Police say suspects were working for Channel Four", The Island, 29 March 2015; "UNP pats itself on the back over re-imposition of LTTE ban by EU", The Island, 30 March 2015; "Wimal accuses govt. of hounding those who defeated terrorism... condemns smear campaign against former SLAF chief", The Island, 30 March 2015; "Ex-CDS sees conspiracy to deprive him of due promotion", The Island, 29 March 2015

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Not now, hints ex-President

Former President MahindaRajapaksa has said that he was not just now contemplating to enter this Parliament, and at the same time not ruling out that he might (want to) contest the parliamentary polls, whenever held.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see: "No reason to enter this parliament yet: MR", Daily Mirror Online, 3 April 2015; "Premajayantha criticises PM’s assertion that current political situation is only a rehearsal", The Island, 2 April 2015; "SLFP leadership says party facing risk of split", The Island,1 April 2015; "Tissa quits govt.", The Island, 1 April 2015

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">19-A draft challenged in court

At least 20 petitions have been moved in the Supreme Court, challenging the draft of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, moved in Parliament by the Government side earlier.

The draft bill seeks to reduce the powers of the Executive President without referendum, and the petitions have challenged the new law and also the procedure.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see: "19-A: Over 20 petitions in SC", Daily Mirror Online, 1 April 2015; "19A reduces President to a mere rubber stamp", The Island, 1 April 2015

China for trilateral talks

At a meeting with visiting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena the previous week, his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had proposed trilateral talks, also involving India, to address regional issues and security concerns, Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said at the weekly media briefing on return to Colombo.

< class="text11verdana">For more information see: "China proposes trilateral talks with India, Sri Lanka to resolve regional security issues", The Island, 1 April 2015; "President pledges maritime cooperation at Boao Forum", The Island, 29 March 2015; "China denies Rajitha’s Rs.30 bn ’cost cut’ claim", The Island, 2 April 2015; "Chinese contractors reduce outer circle roads cost by Rs.30 billion - Govt.", The Island, 1 April 2015; "China agrees to assist in evacuating Lankans in Yemen", Daily Mirror Online, 2 April 2015; "SL govt. unlikely to allow Dalai Lama visit- reports", Daily Mirror Online, 2 April 2015; "Sri Lanka seeking more US military training opportunities", The Island, 2 April 2015

Primary Documentation

India

Interview of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, "We have fulfilled the promises made to the people during the Assembly election", Tehelka, 4 April 2015

"Foreign Trade Policy 2015-2020 Unveiled", Press Information Bureau, Government of India, 1 April 2015

P Chidambaram (former Finance Minister and Home Minister), "We have fulfilled the promises made to the people during the Assembly election", The Indian Express, 29 March 2015

"Prime Minister’s Remarks to the Media on the occasion of his visit to Singapore to attend the State Funeral Services of Singapore’s founder and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew", Ministry of External Affairs, 29 March 2015

Nepal

Press Release on the visit of the Foreign Secretary of India, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2 April 2015

Pakistan

PM chairs meeting on Middle East situation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, 2 April 2015

Pakistan Condemns Terrorist Attack in Khost Province of Afghanistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, 2 April 2015

UNESCAP Executive Secretary Calls on Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, 2 April 2015

Record of the Press Briefing by Spokesperson on 2nd April 2015, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, 2 April 2015

Visit of the Prime Minister to Turkey, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, 2 April 2015

Heavy Rains and Landslides in Kashmir, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, 1 April 2015

Evacuation Update, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, 1 April 2015

Bibliography

Afghanistan

Opinion Pieces

Shanthie Mariet D’Souza, "Delhi must play in Kabul", The Asian Age , 2 April 2015

Akbar Shahid Ahmed and Ali Watkins, "Securing Afghanistan Means Relying On Difficult U.S. Partner -- Pakistan’s Army", The Huffington Post, 2 April 2015

Jonah Blank, "Give Ghani a Chance: Why This Time is Different", Foreign Affairs, 31 March 2015

Munir Akram, "Afghanistan: is hope real?", Dawn, 29 March 2015

"Afghanistan’s Next Chapter", The New York Times, 28 March 2015

Bangladesh

Opinion Pieces

Mamun Rashid, "More than just neighbours", Dhaka Tribune, 3 April 2015

Raza Rumimarch, "Bangladesh on the Brink", Foreign Policy, 26 March 2015

Bhutan

Opinion Pieces

The Bhutanese, "The Environment Pays Back", The Bhutanese, 30 March 2015

Pasang Tshering, "Who Will Pay for The Damage?", The Bhutanese, 30 March 2015

India

Reports

Siddharth Varadarajan, "Can Modi Deliver a New India?" (pdf), Current History, April 2015

Krushna Ranaware et al, "MGNREGA Works and Their Impacts: A Study of Maharashtra", Economic and Political Weekly, 28 March 2015

Opinion Pieces

"A festering sore on Indian democracy", Tehelka, 11 April 2015

Sanjaya Baru, "Narasimhanomics and the middle way", The Hindu, 3 April 2015

Sanjay Joshi, "The AAP and the 1935 parallel", The Hindu, 2 April 2015

Wasim Khalid, "Why the Ghost of Last Year’s Flood Still Walks the Streets of Srinadgar", Caravan, 2 April 2015

Anit Mukherjee, "Closing the military loop", The Indian Express, 1 April 2015

"New trade policy moves India closer to WTO norms", Live Mint, 1 April 2015

"Cabinet gives nod to policy supplying natural gas at uniform price to urea plants", The Economic Times, 1 April 2015

Katie Benner, "Xiaomi’s passage to India reflects global hurdles", Live Mint, 1 April 2015

"India ranks 83rd on UN index assessing e-commerce readiness", The Economic Times, 29 March 2015

Ashutosh Varshney, "Faults and lines", The Indian Express, 28 March 2015

Myanmar

Opinion Pieces

Eleven Myanmar, "Million Miles From Second Panglong", Eleven Myanmar, 2 April 2015

Geoffrey Goddard, "Wielding the red pen in China’s favour", Mizzima, 1 April 2015

Nepal

Opinion Pieces

Jagannath Lamichhane, "Matters of the mind", eKantipur, 3 April 2015

Bhanu Bhakta Acharya, "Dead and denied", eKantipur, 3 April 2015

Kenji Kwok, "Remembering dementia", Nepali Times, 3 April 2015

Yubaraj Ghimire, "Nextdoor Nepal: Fear of trial and punishment", The Indian Express, 30 March 2015

Pakistan

Opinion Pieces

Arif Rafiq, "The Dangerous, Delicate Saudi-Pakistan Alliance", Foreign Policy, 1 April 2015

Farheen Rizvi, "Why Pakistan Will Fight Saudi’s Wars but Not Its Own", The Huffington Post, 1 April 2015

Akbar Shahid Ahmed and Ali Watkins, ""Securing Afghanistan Means Relying On Difficult US Partner ? Pakistan’s Army", The Huffington Post, 1 April 2015

Mohammad Jamil, "Pakistan should tread carefully", Daily Times, 31 March 2015

C Raja Mohan, "The great game folio: Pakistan in Yemen", The Indian Express, 31 March 2015

Omar R Quraishi, ""OPINION: Why Pakistan should not take sides in the Saudi Arabia-Yemen conflict", The Express Tribune, 27 March 2015

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Kelum Bandara, "China looks to improve ties with SL", Daily Mirror Online, 2 April 2015

Gomin Dayasiri, "Drifting without a leadership?", Daily Mirror Online, 2 April 2015

N Sathiya Moorthy, "Sri Lanka-India: Fishermen talks on track, but core issues remain", South Asia Monitor, 2 April 2015

Gunadasa Amarasekara, "Is the headless SLFP facing dissolution?", The Island, 31 March 2015

Sumanasiri Liyanage, "PM’s Jaffna visit and good governance", The Island, 30 March 2015

Dr Sivakumara, "Appointments to High Post and Independent Commissions", Daily Mirror Online, 30 March 2015

Dr Steve Creech, "Is the continuing brawl due to inadequate fishery management?", Daily Mirror Online, 29 March 2015

N Sathiya Moorthy, "National leaders, new and old", The Sunday Leader, 29 March 2015

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan : Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh : JoyeetaBhattacharjee;
Myanmar & Bhutan : Mihir Bhonsale;
India: KaustavDharChakrabarti and Shruti Gupta;
Maldives & Sri Lanka : N SathiyaMoorthy
Nepal : Pratnashree Basu;
Pakistan : Taruni Kumar

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.

Contributor

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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