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NIAS Global Politics News Database
South Asia This Week (11-17 Feb 2024)

  NIAS South Asia Team

Akriti Sharma, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan Govindaraj, and Narmatha S

Five Major Developments in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal
Elections to Pakistan’s national assembly and four provincial assemblies were the biggest developments of the week from the region.

The second major development in South Asia was from India - the visit of the Prime Minister of India to the UAE and Qatar, followed by the release of Indian Navy personnel by the latter. Additionally, the ASEAN-India meeting in Indonesia to discuss potential cooperation with the ASEAN countries. The Supreme Court of India struck down the electoral bonds as “unconstitutional” and the farmers' protest continued on Delhi borders after failed talks.

In Bangladesh, the Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, referred to as the father of microfinance, accused outsiders of taking over his organisations. Additionally, Rohingyas were relocated from Cox Bazar to Bhashan Char. 

In Nepal, the Tibet border closure by China has caused a major impact on the local people. The Foreign Minister attended the Indian Ocean Conference along with India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lanka has submitted its application to join RCEP to rebuild its economy. The increasing impact of climate change, air pollution, and poverty raises concerns in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

News Database for the Week
India: Prime Minister’s visit to the UAE

On 13 February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised India and the UAE as "partners in progress," during his two-day visit to the UAE. He said that the “relationship serves as a model for the world and are writing a new history in the third decade of the twenty-first century.” He added: "In terms of community and culture, the achievements of Bharat and the UAE serve as a model for the world to emulate." On 14 February, he inaugurated Dubai’s largest Hindu temple as a part of his visit. 

India: Navy personnel released by Qatar
On 13 February, eight Indian Navy veterans, who had been in Qatari custody since August 2022, were released in Doha. The men were given the death penalty by a lower court in Qatar on October 26, 2023. Subsequently, a Court of Appeal in Doha struck down the death penalty on December 28, 2023. The details of the case in which the men were arrested were not shared with the media by either side while the Indian officials maintained that the case was "sensitive." The release was followed by the announcement of the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Qatar where he met the Prime Minister of Qatar to discuss bilateral relations. 

India: ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers meeting
On 13 February, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar attended the ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers in Indonesia and discussed various areas of cooperation. He discussed fintech, food security, and maritime security with the leaders. The Ministers discussed the situation in Myanmar, which has been experiencing widespread protests and military airstrikes. Additionally, the Minister met with Foreign Ministers of Brunei, South Korea, and New Zealand and discussed bilateral cooperation and critical and emerging technologies. His visit included discussions on enhancing trade, food security, mobility, and space cooperation. 

India: Neighbouring countries' fund allocation in the budget
On 10 February, the 2024-25 interim budget was presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. According to The Hindu, the budget highlighted the allocation of funds to India's neighbouring countries. It specifically mentions the significant increase in allocation for the Maldives, from INR 400 crores to 770.90 crores, indicating India's increased investments.  The allocations for Bhutan and Nepal, with Bhutan receiving INR 2,398.97 crores and Nepal receiving INR 650 crores for various development projects. Additionally, Nepal received an allocation of INR 700 crores for the 2024-25 fiscal year.  

India: External Affairs Minister attends Indian Ocean Conference
On 09 January, Minister of External Affairs, S Jaishankar addressed the Indian Ocean Conference, 2024 held at Perth. The theme of the conference was ‘Towards a Stable and Sustainable Indian Ocean.’ He highlighted the significance of UNCLOS and emerging non-traditional threats such as fuel, food and fertilizer crises. He said: "We should be equally conscious that the ‘normal’ can be manipulated, leading to unsustainable debt, opaque lending practices, unviable projects and injudicious choices." He called on the countries to decide whether they should opt for collective self-reliance or worsen the existing situation. Additionally, he flagged India's growing relationship with Pacific islands like Fiji and Papua New Guinea and other multilateral institutions of the Indian Ocean like the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the Indian Ocean Commission, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, the Colombo Security Conclave to boost their activities. 

India: Tamil Nadu fishermen arrested and released by Sri Lankan Navy
On 8 February, 19 fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy, and two boats were seized. On 13 February, according to the Deccan Herald, 18 Indian Fishermen whom the Sri Lankan Navy arrested were sent home. They were arrested earlier for crossing the international maritime boundary and were taken into custody. A local court, after investigations, ruled their release earlier this month.

India: Farmers' protest after failed talks
On 12 February, after the second round of meetings held with Union Ministers Piyush Goyal and Arjun Munda in Chandigarh failed, the farmers decided to continue with the 'Delhi Chalo' protests scheduled for 13 February. The point of disagreement was an assurance on the Minimum Support Price (MSP). Their other demands included freedom from debt, increased import duties on all agricultural products, cancellation of all free trade agreements and other deals with the World Trade Organisation, suspending privatisation of electricity boards, a ban on Foreign Direct Investment and corporatisation in agriculture, and a pension for farmers have remained unanswered. The Delhi Police imposed Section 144, for a month to manage the protests. On 14 February, according to The Hindu, the farmers' protests in India escalated into a full-blown conflict with security forces at various points on the Haryana-Punjab boundary. The government said that assurance of MSP would not be possible but offered a third round of talks.

India: Supreme Court ruled electoral bonds as unconstitutional
On 15 February, the Supreme Court of India declared the electoral bonds scheme, which provides blanket anonymity to political donors, as "unconstitutional and manifestly arbitrary." According to the court, it allows wealthy corporations to make unlimited political donations. The Chief Justice of India stated that the absolute non-disclosure of the source of political finance through electoral bonds encouraged corruption and a culture of quid pro quo with the ruling party to implement policy changes or obtain a license. The court ruled the State Bank of India , the only authority to issue electoral bonds to immediately stop issuing them and directed to publish the details of the political parties that received bonds on its official website by 13 March 2024. In addition, the bank has to refund the purchasing party once the uncashed bonds have been returned.

India: Governor orders arrest of Trinamool Congress leaders for violence and property destruction
On 14 February, West Bengal Governor C.V. Ananda Bose ordered the arrest of Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders from Sandeshkhali in West Bengal who are suspected of violence against women and destruction of property. People have accused TMC officials of crimes. The Governor has proposed a judicial investigation into the situation and awarding ex gratia to the victims. He stated: “Arrest the gang leader and his henchmen immediately. Constitute a Special Task Force / SIT to investigate the alleged nexus of criminal elements, determine the depth and extent of the committed crimes, and bring all the culprits before law.” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that individuals responsible for the violence have been detained. 

Nepal: Foreign Minister attends the Indian Ocean Conference
On 12 February, the Minister for Foreign Affairs NP Saud raised climate and security concerns at the 7th Indian Ocean Conference 2024 in Perth, Australia. He emphasized the Indian Ocean's warming, leading to sea level rise, extreme weather events, and disruptions in the food supply chain. He also highlighted security challenges such as maritime terrorism, illicit trafficking, and illegal migration, stressing the need for immediate action. He highlighted the importance of the Indian Ocean for global trade and Nepal's dependency on it for reaching international markets. He also highlighted the link between the ocean and the Himalayan region, emphasizing the need to protect both from the impacts of climate change. 

Nepal: Impact of the Tibet border closure
On 14 February, The Kathmandu Post reported that the Nepal-China border closure in 2020 due to the pandemic (Tiptala Bhanjyang border point) significantly impacted residents living near the border in Nepal's Taplejung district. Families have been separated, with individuals unable to visit their relatives in Tibet for four years. Additionally, the closure has disrupted local trade, as residents rely on Tibet for essential goods and as a market for their products. The lack of phone connectivity near the border further added to the challenges faced by people. Despite efforts by the Nepali side, including the distribution of border identity cards, the border is closed. 

Nepal: Climate change causing erratic weather patterns
On 10 February, The Kathmandu Post reported that Nepal has received only 11 millimetres of rainfall since December 1, which is much lower than the regular winter average of 60.1 mm. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology stated that six out of ten previous winters had below-normal rainfall. According to a new report released by the department, cold and dry weather dominated the second half of December. Daytime temperatures were higher than usual, with nighttime temperatures cooler in the north and warmer in the south. Experts say the extreme weather patterns have become more frequent in recent years, in Nepal. As climate disasters caused by irregular weather patterns become increasingly severe and frequent, experts believe another problem has been developing for years: internal and external climate displacement. 

Nepal: Increasing poverty levels
On 12 February, the National Statistics Office released the fourth Nepal Living Standards Survey 2022-23 assessment which states that the country has not come out of poverty. Around 20.27 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line. The report underscores concerns over Nepal’s failure to restore the standard of living. According to the Kathmandu Post, a chief statistician stated: “We expected to cut down the poverty rate to 15 percent of the population, But it stayed over 20 percent,” The causes of the poverty include political instability, prolonged load-shedding, earthquakes, the introduction of the new federal constitution, the first and second federal elections, and pandemic. There is a huge poverty gap between urban and rural areas. Adding this, they opined the country has no options to overcome the issue. 
Bangladesh: Grameen Bank accused of unlawful takeover
On 16 February, The Daily Star reported that Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus held a press conference at the Grameen Telecom Bhaban in Dhaka. He accused that a group of outsiders had taken over eight non-profit organizations he founded, including Grameen Telecom and Grameen Kalyan. The group claimed to be affiliated with Grameen Bank and appointed seven directors, including a chairman, for Grameen Kalyan and Grameen Telecom. The group locked the offices of both organizations and prevented employees from leaving after office hours. Professor Yunus sought help from the police but did not receive support. Grameen Telecom and Grameen Kalyan released a statement saying that the sudden appointment of the chairman and directors from outside by Grameen Bank was a blueprint for destroying the social business organizations. Grameen Bank refuted Professor Yunus's allegations, stating that it had the legal authority to appoint a chairman and directors of organizations formed under its financing.

Bangladesh: Relocation of Rohingyas across camps
On 13 February, about 1,500 Rohingyas were moved from the camps in Cox Bazar to Bhasan Char. Myanmar's internal conflict is influencing Bangladesh's border areas. According to the Dhaka Tribune, the Additional Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) said they will leave for Chittagong at night. He added: "In the 23rd phase, approximately 1,500 Rohingyas from the Ukhiya-Teknaf camp will travel to Bhasan Char. On 14 February morning, a naval ship would travel to Bhasan Char. Previously, 32,000 Rohingyas from Cox's Bazar camp were similarly relocated to Bhasan Char." More than 1.1 million Rohingyas from Rakhine state migrated to Bangladesh after being forcibly expelled from Myanmar and are now living in refugee camps in Teknaf and Ukhiya in Cox Bazar. Two years ago, the government began the process of moving at least 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, an island in the Meghna estuary near Hatia in Noakhali, to alleviate refugee strain. 

Bangladesh: Rising sea level causing displacement
On 12 February, The Daily Star reported that the sea level rise could displace more than nine lakh people from Southern Bangladesh by 2050. According to a report released on 10 February, by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), the situation will worsen by the end of the century, with increasing oceans submerging 12 per cent to 18 per cent of Bangladesh's coastal land. According to the report, this would have disastrous effects on critical food crops, and more people will be forced to flee their homes and Bangladesh is repeatedly facing extreme weather events. The yearly average loss due to cyclones is USD 1 billion, or 0.7 per cent of GDP. The growing effects of climate change in Bangladesh emphasise the urgent need for increased worldwide action on climate change. 

Bangladesh: Overhaul in economy
On 12 February, while addressing the parliament, Finance Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said that the government is rebuilding its economy as a whole. He said: "Not only is the black money, but the entire economic situation under review. After seeing the initial symptoms, it seems to be that we are heading towards development. I will get a complete picture a few more days later,” addressing questions on the dollar crisis and economic turmoil due to the money laundering issue. He confirmed that the country is recovering at a slower pace which came to light after he met with several delegates from the Asian Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Sri Lanka: Poor air quality
On 11 February, the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) reported that several parts of the country had been facing deteriorating air condition levels. The assessment highlighted the districts including Colombo, Akurana in Kandy, and Jaffna. This threatens health security in the affected regions.

Sri Lanka: Application to join RCEP
On 11 February, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe confirmed that Sri Lanka has applied to join the RCEP trade agreement despite India's exit. He emphasized the need for diverse markets for Sri Lanka's growth while recognizing the existing free trade agreement with India. He expects presidential elections in 2024 and parliamentary elections soon after. Regarding India-Maldives tensions, he ruled out Sri Lankan mediation and expressed hope for a bilateral resolution. 

Bhutan: Rebuilding the economy
On 10 February, according to the Kuensel, the government's first objective is to rebuild the economic fundamentals. The government is tasked with propelling the country towards high-income status. The primary goal is to increase the gross domestic product (GDP) from USD 2.5 billion to USD 5 billion by 2029, then to USD 10 billion by 2034. The Minister of Finance stated that internal resource mobilisation must be improved while ensuring sensible public investments. He added that fiscal restraint would be maintained, ensuring sustainable fiscal and finance policies were implemented under Article 14 (5) of the Constitution. He stated that the ministry will collaborate closely with the central bank, the Royal Monetary Authority, to ensure that monetary and fiscal policies work together to achieve the country's national objectives. 

About the authors
Akriti Sharma is a doctoral scholar at NIAS.  Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan Govindaraj, and Narmatha S are postgraduate scholars at Madras University.

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