VIF News Digest - Neighbourhood Studies: Pakistan, Afghanistan, PRC, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives (Vol 1 Issue IV)

December 1-15, 2017

Contents

Pakistan

Amid Delimitation deadlock, Speaker doubts system survival;

US Defence Secretary fails to get Pakistan moving on terror safe-havens;

Political scene heats up with new alliances, desertions, agitations;

Ishaq Dar declared proclaimed offender; NAB asks for Red Corner notice;

FATA reforms stuck as government backtracks yet again;

Blips appear on CPEC radar;

Balancing between Iran and Saudi Arabia;

Pakistan reacts predictably to Trump’s Jerusalem embassy decision;

Afghanistan

Parliamentary polls delay frustrates politicians, muddies politics;

Uzbekistan looks to Afghanistan for connectivity to Iran, sea;

Peace overtures even as war effort is ramped up;

China

Indian External Affair Minister Meets her Chinese Counterpart;

China holds Fourth World Internet Conference;

China Stops Funding of some Projects in Pakistan over Graft Issue;

South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited China;

Taiwan

Legislative Yuan Passes Transitional Justice Act;

Taiwan Supports the National Defence Authorization Act of the United States;

Nepal

Election Process Completed-UML led Left Alliance to form Government;

Important victories and losses in the election;

Madhesi parties hold a little significance outside Province 2;

Bangladesh

Over 6.5 Lakh Rohingya cross into Bangladesh;

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attends One Planet Summit in France;

Bangladesh strongly condemns New York blast;

Myanmar

Army Chief indicates that the military has political role;

Peace Process: Ethnic Groups Looking for Federalism;

Sri Lanka

Hambantota Port handed over to China

Maldives

China and Maldives Signs Free Trade Agreement

Pakistan

Amid Delimitation Deadlock, Speaker doubts System Survival

With the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) continuing to block the Delimitation bill in the Senate, there is growing uncertainty over whether the 2018 general elections will be held in time, if at all. The PPP has given a 12 point charter of demands for verification of the census results, and wants the government to agree on this before they cooperate on passing the delimitation bill in the Senate. The government has been negotiating with the PPP and is also trying to get other Senators on board to get the bill passed by the required 2/3 majority.

Meanwhile, the Speaker of National Assembly set off alarm bells after he expressed his doubts on the assemblies completing their term. He has dropped dark hints about a ‘plan’ to short-circuit the political system and has claimed that the resignations of some parliamentarians is part of this plan. Remaining vague about what the plan was and who was hatching the conspiracy against the political system, he claimed that his ‘sixth sense’ told him that something was about to happen because, according to him, he has never seen the sort of political drift, disarray and uncertainty that he was seeing now. [ Back to Contents ]

US Defence Secretary fails to get Pakistan moving on Terror Safe-Havens

The much anticipated visit of US Defence Secretary James Mattis to Islamabad didn’t have much to show in terms of getting Pakistan to act against terror safe-havens. There was a lot of speculation that Mattis will do some tough talking during his visit. The State Department said that Pakistan had been communicated specific steps that it was expected to take against militant groups. But on the eve of his visit Mattis had softened both his tone and tenor and said that the “US remains committed to a pragmatic relationship with Pakistan that expands cooperation on shared interests while reinforcing President Trump’s call for action against terrorist safe havens,” and added that “the bottom line is that Pakistan has to act in its own best interest”.

During his visit, Mattis apparently kept telling the Pakistanis that they needed to “redouble efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country,” and the Pakistanis kept denying there were any safe-havens in their country. The Pakistan army chief however did offer to “look into the possibility of miscreants exploiting Pakistan’s hospitality”. But the Pakistanis rejected the proposal for joint operations against terrorists operating on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Expectedly enough, the Pakistanis assured the Americans that they weren’t playing a double-game and sought more time to “show better results against terror remnants”.

The bottom-line is that the Pakistanis are sticking to their guns and the Americans aren’t ready to push the envelope and turn the screws on the Pakistanis. In other words, the history of the last sixteen years continues to repeat itself. [ Back to Contents ]

Political Scene heats up with new Alliances, Desertions, Agitations

Even as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif continues his tirade against the judiciary, accusing them of undisguised bias, the political situation in Pakistan is entering a phase of realignments, new alliances, agitations and desertions, all with an eye on the 2018 general elections. After the huge setback received by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN) because of its abject surrender before the Barelvi agitators in Islamabad, it suffered another blow when another influential cleric heading the Sial Sharif shrine in Sargodha insisted on the resignation of the Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah. With the minister digging in his heels, the cleric held a huge public meeting in Faisalabad where two members of national assembly and three of the provincial assembly announced their separation from the PMLN and resigned from the assemblies. While there were reports that nearly 20 law makers would put in their papers on the orders of the Sufi cleric, no more resignations were forthcoming.

Nevertheless, the mini rebellion has come as a wake-up call for the Sharifs who have now started to reach out to their disgruntled and disaffected party members and address their grievances. Nawaz Sharif has also reorganised his party by setting up a Central Executive Committee (CEC) and reconstituting a bigger Central Working Committee. Both Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam and Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza have been made members of the CEC. The party has also decided to take disciplinary action against some senior leaders who have openly been opposing the party. These include former Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali and former federal minister Raza Hayat Hiraj.

In Punjab, the PMLN suffered a bit of a setback after the Lahore High Court ordered the government to release the report of the one-member judicial commission constituted to inquire into the 2014 police firing on the headquarters of Tahirul Qadri in which 14 people were killed and over a 100 injured. The report however proved to be a bit of a damp squib since it did not name anyone for being responsible for the carnage. However, the fact that the report did cast a shadow of doubt on not just Punjab Law Minister Sanaullah but also Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, gave ammunition to the opposition to target the Sharifs.

For the moment, it appears that the storm that was expected to be generated by the judicial commission report has blown over. But there are signs of new clouds gathering that could become a major storm in the not too distant a future. Tahirul Qadri has used the report to demand cases against the politicians and bureaucrats mentioned in the report. He has threatened a dharna in Lahore in the New Year to press for the resignation of both Shahbaz Sharif and Sanaullah, and has received support of not only the PPP but also Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) for the dharna.

Meanwhile, there are also other realignments taking place. The old six-religious-parties alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has been revived, albeit with only five parties – Jamiat Ulema Islam of Fazlur Rahman (JUIF), Jamaat Islami, Jamaat Ahle Hadith, Jamiat Ulema Pakistan and the Tehri-e-Islami. The sixth component, Jamiat Ulema Islam of Samiul Haq has fallen out and tied up with Imran Khan’s PTI, which the proverbial ‘Father of Taliban’ (Samiul Haq) has called ideologically similar and will help in ushering in an Islamic system in Pakistan. The MMA parties have decided that they will quit from whichever coalition government they are currently a part off – Jamaat Islami will exit its coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with PTI and the JUIF will exit from the federal government. In Karachi, meanwhile, there are signs of PTI entering into either an alliance or accommodation with the military-establishment midwifed breakaway faction of the MQM, Pakistan Sarzameen Party (PSP) led by the former mayor of Karachi, Mustafa Kamal. [ Back to Contents ]

Ishaq Dar declared Proclaimed Offender; NAB asks for Red Corner Notice

The Accountability court hearing the disproportionate assets reference against former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has declared him a proclaimed offender after he remained absent from the court proceedings. The court rejected his petition that he was unwell and undergoing treatment in London and therefore couldn’t return to face the trial. An order has been issued by the court for attaching his properties and as well as the properties of his guarantor. Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau chief has ordered the arrest of Ishaq Dar and instructed the bureau to get Red Corner notices issued against Dar in order to bring him back to Pakistan. [ Back to Contents ]

FATA Reforms stuck as Government Backtracks yet again

Just when it seemed that the government was all set to introduce the long delayed Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) reforms legislation and fast track the repeal the infamous Frontier Crimes Regulation (something that was announced by the States and Frontier Regions Minister), at the very last minute the government developed cold feet and did not present the FATA reforms bill which would have paved the way for the merger of the territory with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The decision to delay the presentation of the bill led to an uproar in the National Assembly and the opposition boycotted parliament in protest for five consecutive days. Although the government claimed that there was a legal hitch that held up the bill, it is commonly believed that the real reason was the continuing opposition of two of the allies of the government – Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mahmood Achakzai – to the merger plan. Despite the army jumping into the fray by calling for FATA reforms, the deadlock couldn’t be broken. [ Back to Contents ]

Blips appear on CPEC Radar

News that the Chinese had temporarily stopped the funding of three road projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) left the Pakistani officials ‘stunned’. According to the Chinese, the procedure under which funds were released was being changed for projects that were not in the list of ‘early harvest’ projects, and hence the stopping of the funding. Some reports suggested that allegations of corruption had led the Chinese to stop the funding and review the mechanism for release of funds. Meanwhile, there are reports that the Chinese haven’t as yet accepted the replacement of Hattar SEZ with Rashakai SEZ – the former is preferred by the Chinese while the latter is being insisted upon by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.

In addition, it was revealed that the Chinese have got the Pakistanis to agree on signing supplemental agreements between Pakistani energy agencies and Chinese project sponsors. The Pakistanis have also succumbed to the Chinese demand that Pakistan addresses the issue of timely payment of electricity charges of power projects under CPEC. There is also an insistence from the Chinese side that Pakistan refrain from adopting differential electricity charges in case of CPEC power projects. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cautioned Pakistan to factor in the impact of repayment of Chinese project loans and repatriation of profits from CPEC projects, which will have a major impact on the Balance of Payments position in Pakistan. [ Back to Contents ]

Balancing between Iran and Saudi Arabia

The inauguration of the first phase of the Iranian port of Chabahar has set alarm bells ringing in Pakistan which fears not only being by-passed in regional trade but also the future viability of the Gwadar port. Although the Iranians have assured Pakistan that Chabahar will not be a rival to Gwadar and will not be allowed to be used against Pakistan by any other country, it hasn’t entirely been successful in setting Pakistani fears at rest. The Pakistanis are however finding it a bit of a tight rope walk to balance their relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. While on the one hand, Pakistan has proposed an all-encompassing strategic pact to deepen their bilateral defence ties with Saudi Arabia, they are also making efforts to not rub the Iranians, who are pretty cut up with Pakistani participation in the Saudi-led International Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, the wrong way. For their part, the Iranian overtures to Pakistan as well as their outreach to India and Afghanistan on Chabahar, appear aimed at ensuring that Pakistan doesn’t lean too much in the direction of Saudi Arabia. [ Back to Contents ]

Pakistan Reacts predictably to Trump’s Jerusalem Embassy Decision

The decision of the Trump administration to shift its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has caused predictable, if also impotent, outrage in Islamabad. The government of Pakistan called it a regrettable decision which violated international law. The Pakistani National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the US decision and the Pakistani street erupted in anger with Islamist parties leading the charge protesting the shifting of the embassy.

According to one report, there was some pushback from the US side which warned Pakistan to not go so far in their opposition to the embassy move that it affects the already fragile relationship between the two countries. Meanwhile, in keeping with the typical low cunning of Pakistani diplomacy, the army chief Gen Bajwa held a meeting with the Palestinian ambassador and tried to draw parallels between the situations in Palestine with Kashmir. [ Back to Contents ]

Afghanistan

Parliamentary Polls delay Frustrates Politicians, muddies Politics

Even as the security situation in Afghanistan remains very fragile, the political situation appears to be heading south because the long-delayed parliamentary elections which are now scheduled for next July are unlikely to be further delayed. The lack of progress on the parliamentary elections is increasingly being attributed to the reluctance on the part of President Ashraf Ghani to hold them.

Political analysts and observers believe that the President has lost so much political capital and support that he will have virtually no say or backing in the next parliament. Recent actions by the President against his opponents, including corruption probes and steps to prevent opposition politicians from coalescing, have only added to the growing anger against him. [ Back to Contents ]

Uzbekistan looks to Afghanistan for Connectivity to Iran, Sea

An agreement between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan to extend the existing rail network connecting Uzbek town of Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif further to Herat will provide direct access to sea to Uzbekistan through Iran and Afghanistan once it is linked to an under-construction railway track connecting Herat to Iran. With the first phase of the Chabahar port having been inaugurated, the Uzbek-Afghan-Iran rail network will prove to be a game-changer in providing the land-locked Central Asian states an access to sea.

Significantly, Pakistan which is pitching Gwadar and CPEC to the Central Asian states, could end up being by-passed once the Iranian route opens up. [ Back to Contents ]

Peace Overtures even as War Effort is Ramped Up

The High Peace Council has made an offer to the Taliban to open an office in Kabul for talks with the government. The Taliban have been asked to decide how they would like to hold the talks which will be without any pre-conditions. There has however been no response from the Taliban to this offer. Meanwhile, a lot of the focus of the US and Afghan forces is shifting to combating the Islamic State (IS) presence in Afghanistan. With reports filtering in of Chechen and Uzbek IS fighters collecting in Faryab and Jowzjan provinces in North-Western Afghanistan, the US and Afghan special forces are prepping to dislodge the IS fighters from their toe-hold in Afghanistan. There are also reports that the IS has managed to build a base in part because of the defection of some top Taliban commanders. Equally troubling are reports that some French and Algerian IS fighters have also entered North Afghanistan and linked up with other fighters in the IS base in that area. The ISIS activities have also increased in Eastern Afghanistan with a number of attacks in Jalalabad, including on a private TV station and on an intelligence unit.

Even as operations against the ISIS are being ramped up, there has been no slackening in the operations against the heroin labs to disrupt, degrade and dismantle the narco-network that provides the bulk of funding to the Taliban and other Islamist groups. According to one estimate, the US has eliminated around $80 million of the narco-money so far. [ Back to Contents ]

China

Indian External Affair Minister Meets her Chinese Counterpart

On the sidelines of Russia-India-China (RIC) meeting (New Delhi Dec 11, 2017), Foreign Ministers of India and China held bilateral dialogue meeting. Spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs of India, tweeted “Imparting fresh momentum to our bilateral relationship, EAM @SushmaSwaraj had a positive and forward-looking meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in New Delhi ahead of Russia, India & China (RIC) Foreign Ministers’ meeting.” At the joint press conference, the Indian Minister said, “Foreign Minister Wang Yi and I agreed that we should further strengthen our mutual trust to develop a better understanding between the two parties. And it will be better to meet again and without agenda, which will help us to expand our mutual understanding”.

Remarkably, on his return to Beijing, Wang Yi, said that bilateral ties during 2017 were “not very satisfactory”. He further said, “The viciousness caused by the cross-border infiltration on the Indian Border guards put bilateral relations under severe pressure. The matter was finally settled peacefully through diplomatic means, reflecting the maturing of bilateral relations.” [ Back to Contents ]

China holds Fourth World Internet Conference

The fourth World Internet Conference was held on 3-5 December 2017 in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, China. It was co-hosted by the Cyberspace Administration of China and the People’s Government of Zhejiang Province. The Theme of the conference was “Developing Digital Economy for Openness and Shared Benefits- Building a Cyberspace Community of a common future’.

During the conference two reports were issued covering the development of the internet around the world and in China respectively. According to the reports, China’s digital economy reached 22.58 trillion yuan (USD 3.4 trillion) in 2016, ranking second globally and accounting for 30.3 percent of the national GDP. [ Back to Contents ]

Chinese Authorities collect DNA samples of the Residents of Xinjiang

Chinese authorities are collecting DNA samples, fingerprints and other biometric data of every resident of Xinjiang between the ages of 12-65. Some of the data is being collected through a free health examination program called ‘Physicals For All’, which the government says is voluntary. Part of the collection is being done through government-provided medical checkups, and it is unclear if patients are aware the examination is also designed to transmit biometric data to the police. It is however clear that China's leadership sees the collection of DNA as key to security in the region.

According to the Human Rights Watch, the data can be used for “surveillance of persons because of ethnicity, religion, opinion or other protected exercise of rights like free speech”.

Google is Expanding its Artificial Intelligence Research Center to China

Google is opening an artificial intelligence (AI) research center in Beijing. The center will be the first of its kind set up by Google in Asia. In recent years, China has become a leading center of artificial intelligence research. Notably, Google has a conflicting history in China. Its core search product is censored by the Chinese government. On the other hand, Google operates a significant business in China including its Android operating system. [ Back to Contents ]

China Stops Funding of some Projects in Pakistan over Graft Issue

China has decided to stop funding of some projects, particularly those related to the road network under the CPEC. China has cited concerns about corruption linked to the projects. Reportedly, the funds would be released after China issues ‘new guidelines’.

The road projects that are likely to be affected include 210-km-long Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob Road, the 110-km-long Khuzdar-Basima Road and the remaining 136-km of Karakarom Highway (KKH) from Raikot to Thakot. Originally, all the three projects were part of the Pakistan government's own development programme, but in December 2016, they were included under CPEC so as to become eligible for concessionary finance from China. [ Back to Contents ]

South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited China

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in visited China from 13-16 December 2017. He was accompanied by a large contingent of 300 executives from major South Korean companies including Samsung, Hyundai and LG, which have been frozen out of doing business with China after a disagreement over South Korea’s deployment of a US anti-missile system - Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

During the visit both the leaders inked seven agreements. The agreements included follow-up negotiations regarding investments under the South Korea-China Free Trade Agreement. [ Back to Contents ]

Taiwan

Legislative Yuan Passes Transitional Justice Act

On 6 December 2017, the Legislative Yuan passed the ‘Transitional Justice Act’ that aims to remove authoritarian –era symbol and retry cases of injustice from that era. As a part of the bill, parties must declare all political files they have dating 1945-1992. It further states that data unconstitutionally seized during this period should be collated and archived and made available for research and educational purposes as long as people mentioned in the data have their privacy and their freedom of communication protected. It also calls renaming of streets and schools. [ Back to Contents ]

Taiwan Supports the National Defence Authorization Act of the United States

Donald Trump signed the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) of the United States for 2018. On the Taiwan issue, there are several provisions for the strengthening of the defense partnership, including recommendations that Taiwanese military forces be invited to participate in military exercises, such as the ‘Red Flag’ exercises, advanced aerial combat training drill, and to consider ‘re-establishing port of call exchanges’ between their navies.

China opposed Taiwan related terms in the Act. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China said, “Although those Taiwan-related clauses of this act are not legally binding, they severely violate the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three China-US Joint Communiques and constitute an interference in China's internal affairs. China always firmly opposes this and has lodged stern representations with the US government. [ Back to Contents ]

Nepal

Election Process Completed - UML led Left Alliance to form Government

With the Left Alliance sweeping the Parliamentary and Provincial elections, winning 116 of 165 First-Past-the-Post seats for the House of Representatives (HoR) and leading in proportional representation (PR) count for the 110 seats, the key alliance partners, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-MC) have started talks for the formation of the new government at the Center and in most of the Provinces. Going by the results of the HoR and Provincial Assembly (PA) elections, the Left Alliance is likely to form provincial government in all the provinces except Province 2. UML Chairman K.P. Sharma Oli is expected to be the new Prime Minister even as power-sharing arrangements are being discussed between him and MC Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal @ Prachanda.

Some experts are of the view that the process of government formation may get delayed till the National Assembly is constituted through representatives elected by the provincial assemblies. The HoR or the Lower House, with 275 seats and the National assembly with 59 seats constitute the federal parliament structure at the Centre. The CPN-UML, which is set to become the single largest party, has argued that election to the National Assembly will not be an issue for starting the process of forming a new government at the Centre. As per Article 93 of the Constitution, the President will summon a session of the federal parliament within 30 days of the declaration of the final results of the HoR. According to the Constitution, an Electoral College of 2,056 elected representatives (550 PA members and 1,056 Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs of 752 local units) will elect 56 members (8 from each provinces) for the 59 strong National Assembly. Three members will be nominated by the President. [ Back to Contents ]

Important Victories and Losses in the Election

Though the Left Alliance swept the polls, some of its key leaders like Bamdev Gautam of CPN-UML and senior Maoist Centre leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha suffered defeat. Gautam lost in Badiya-I to Nepali Congress candidate Sanjay Kumar Gautam. Narayan Kaji Shrestha lost to Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. Two senior leaders of Nepali Congress, Ram Chandra Paudel and Krishna Prasad Sitaula, lost HoR elections to CPN-UML’s Kisan Shrestha while Sitaula lost to Rastriya Prajatantra Party’s General Secretary Rajendra Lingden by a margin of around 13,000 votes. Lingden was supported by the leftist alliance including UML and Maoist Centre.
UML’s K.P. Sharma Oli registered a thumping victory with a huge margin of 28,842 votes against NC’s Khagendra Adhikari. MC strongman Pushpa Kamal Dahal defeated RPP’s Bikram Pandey by a margin of 9327 votes. NC President and current Prime Minister Deuba won from Dadeldura defeating MC’s Khagraj Bhatta. [ Back to Contents ]

Madhesi Parties hold little Significance outside Province 2

Even as the alliance of the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal (SSF-N) and the Rashtriya Janta Party–Nepal (RJP-N) did well in the HoR, results show that the Madhes based parties influence is limited largely to Province 2. Not surprisingly, all the Madhesi leaders who had campaigned in favour of the Constitution amendment, have won their respective seats. They include Mahanta Thakur of Rashtriya Janta Party Nepal (RJP-N), Upendra Yadav of Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal, (SSF-N) and Rajendra Mahato of RJP-N. [ Back to Contents ]

Bangladesh

Over 6.5 Lakh Rohingyas Cross into Bangladesh.

An estimated 6,55,000 Rohingyas have crossed into Bangladesh fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State since August 25, 2017, taking the total number of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar to 8, 67,000. These figures are based on a report of the UN migration agency. The new arrivals are living in settlements increasing the need for humanitarian assistance including the need for shelter, food, water and sanitation. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is working closely with the Bangladesh government and the other humanitarian community to meet the needs of the displaced population. IOM and the other agencies scale up their humanitarian operations to respond the needs of the new refugee arrivals and the existing problems of the local Bangladeshi residents of the area once the refugees have arrived.

Speaking on the Rohingya issue during her recent visit to Paris in connection with the ‘One Planet Summit’, PM Hasina called the actions of the Myanmar army against the minority Muslims as unacceptable. The French President Emmanuel Macron assured the Prime Minister of diplomatic support to solve the ongoing crisis. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the global leaders that Bangladesh was sheltering the Rohingyas in 1,783 hectares of forest land in Cox’s Bazar purely on humanitarian grounds. This crisis has severely affected the forests and the environment. [ Back to Contents ]

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attends One Planet Summit in France.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina left Dhaka for Paris on December 11, 2017 on a three day official visit to attend ‘One Planet Summit’. The focus of the Summit Will be to determine the prospects of support and accelerate common efforts to fight climate change by public and private finance companies. At the conference, the Prime Minister and the other political leaders discussed seven specific issues, including carbon neutral alliance, alliance on boycotting coal and climate funding. Sheikh Hasina said, “With our limited resources, we’re addressing the consequences of climate change by mitigation and adaptation. This has been in the main stream in our sustainable development strategy aimed at becoming a middle income country by 2021”.

Meeting the top French business leaders in Paris, the PM Hasina urged the French companies to set up Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s) in Bangladesh. She highlighted the immense scope for more French investments in various sectors. She underscored need for French investment in Bangladesh to expedite its growth by diversifying its export destination. Bangladesh has achieved 7.28 percent GDP in 2016 and this powerful momentum has created a huge opportunities. The two-way trade between Bangladesh and France stands at over USD 2 billion. [ Back to Contents ]

Bangladesh strongly Condemns New York Blast

Bangladesh government strongly condemned the blast in the crowded subway corridor near Times Square in New York on the 11th of December, 2017, and asked that the terrorists must be brought to justice. The suspect has been identified as Akayed Ullah, of Bangladesh origin. Ullah is from Chittagong and is a US resident. He has no criminal record and had last visited Bangladesh on September 8. The US Law enforcement officials said Ullah was inspired by the Islamic State group. He although did not have any direct contact with the organization. Bangladesh’s counter terrorism Chief Monirul Islam reportedly informed a news agency of not having found any links of Ullah with any militant group in Bangladesh. But the Chief added that the investigations were continuing and Ullah’s family was under constant surveillance. [ Back to Contents ]

Myanmar

Myanmar Army Chief indicates that the Military has Political Role

Myanmar Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said the military as an institution must be free of political influence, while at the same time asserting the principle that the Tatmadaw continues its efforts in support of “national politics.” He was addressing newly graduating officers of the Defense Service Academy in Mandalay Region, on 01 December. Army chief also praised his troops’ handling of the Rakhine State crisis and peace-building efforts in the country.

This statement should be viewed in the background of the fact that 25 percent of seats in the legislature are reserved for military appointees and the military also has under its charge three key ministerial posts. But on the other hand, he also remarked that the Tatmadaw “needs to end its involvement in the government and parliament sooner rather than later.”

However, when will the Tatamdaw’s political role end is a million dollar question. So far, there seems to be no movement towards amendment of the Constitution and it is unlikely that it would happen during the current tenure of the Myanmar parliament. [ Back to Contents ]

Peace Process: Ethnic Groups Looking for Federalism

Myanmar has now moved into the second generation of reform, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government succeeding the U Thein Sein administration. But, the current government still has not mentioned what type of democracy it will offer to the ethnic groups. As for the federal system, there is still no plan ready to be implemented despite two reformist governments taking power. It is time for the Myanmar government and the military to tell the country’s ethnic groups exactly what type of federal system they can expect to be part of in the future, leaders of the groups said on 12 December.

The next round of the 21st century Union Peace Panglong conference is likely to be held in January where the above would come in for discussion. [ Back to Contents ]

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Handovers Hambantota Port to China

Last fortnight, Sri Lanka handed over the port of Hambantota to China on a lease of 99 years. In July, the China Merchants Port Holdings Company had signed a deal with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to control 70 percent stake in the Hambantota port. The Sri Lankan parliament has also approved tax concessions for the project. The tax concessions include an income tax holiday of up to 32 years. [ Back to Contents ]

Maldives

China and Maldives Signs Free Trade Agreement

On 7-10 December 2017, President of Maldives Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom visited China. The two heads of state jointly signed of a Memorandum of Understanding on jointly promoting the “Belt and Road” Construction between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of Maldives, and a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries and bilateral cooperative documents in such areas as economy, technology, human resources development, oceans, environment, health care and finance.

Reportedly, Xi Jinping told President Abdulla Yameen that the free-trade agreement and memorandum of understanding on the maritime plan would inject “new energy” into the countries’ deepening ties. In addition, Xi Jinping asked Maldives to support China within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). [ Back to Contents ]