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NIAS Global Politics News Database
South Asia This Week (2-9 Mar 2024)

  NIAS South Asia Team

Akriti Sharma, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sneha Surendran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan Govindaraj, Narmatha S, and Dhriti Mukherjee

The major regional development in South Asia was Nepal’s changing political landscape with the CPN (Maoist Centre) ending the long-standing political coalition with the Nepali Congress. This was speculated due to ongoing political differences between the two. Pushpa Kamal Dahal secured the support of CPN (UML), Rastriya Swatantra Party, and Janata Samajbadi Party to form the government which is seen as a move to revive the left wing in Nepal. Nepali Congress being the largest party in the Parliament will now sit as opposition. Another major development was the signing of a free military agreement between the Maldives and China amid the ongoing military withdrawal by India. Maldives’ pro-China moves have led to India increasing its strategic presence in the Indian Ocean with an upcoming naval base in Lakshadweep. Additionally, South Asia’s performance ranks below average for women in business, according to a report by the World Bank titled “Women, Business, and Law Index” highlighting a huge gender pay gap in South Asia. Nepal ranks the highest in the Index but all the countries perform low on the Index.

From India, the major development was  External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to Japan and South Korea to bolster cooperation on semiconductors. India confiscated a dual-use consignment of Pakistan and retained its custody due to speculations of it being used in the nuclear weapon program which was later condemned by Pakistan.. Indian Navy announced its plan to build a new base named INS Jatayu on Minicoy, the southernmost island in the Lakshadweep archipelago, as the tension between India and Maldives is on the rise. Additionally, India conducted bilateral military exercises with Japan to boost strategic cooperation and challenge common security issues. Internally, people in Ladakh staged a protest to demand inclusion in the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution, the establishment of a public service commission, and statehood.

In Pakistan, an Aurat March was conducted on International Women’s Day, where women made multiple political demands to the government and asked for equal rights and representation. Additionally, the IMF expressed willingness to work with the new government while Moody’s provided a positive outlook for the country’s banking sector. PML-N became the largest party in the National Assembly after the reserved seat post the distribution of reserved seats.

In Sri Lanka, the major development was fishermen protesting against alleged illegal fishing by Indian fishermen, demanding swift action to prevent poaching. This issue strained India-Sri Lanka relations for decades. Additionally, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has called a meeting with party leaders to discuss the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) proposals. An Indian company U-Solar has been granted the construction of hybrid renewable energy infrastructure in Sri Lanka, involving the construction of three solar and wind hybrid power generation facilities with funding of USD 11 million from India. This initiative is part of a bilateral energy partnership and aims to optimize capacities by combining various forms of energy, including solar and wind.

From the Maldives, the major development was the signing of a free military agreement with China providing military assistance to the Maldives. This comes against the backdrop of Indian troop withdrawal from the country. This week’s major developments in Bangladesh were a building fire that killed 46 people, and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus was granted bail for a USD 2.3 million embezzlement case. Additionally, a Japanese project will aid public health in Rohingya camps. Also, the US  has asked Bangladesh to upgrade labor laws to match the global standard. The major development from Bhutan was the signing of an agreement to enhance digital connectivity with India's support and the Prime Minister assuring freedom of the press to the journalists facing issues.

Nepal: PM Dahal’s long-standing alliance with Congress ends
On 03 March, the long-standing alliance between the Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Centre) ended. This is attributed to division between the Congress and the Maoist Centre, particularly after the Maoist candidate lost the National Assembly elections in Koshi Province, Congress Chief Sher Bahadur Deuba's reluctance to replace the Finance Minister who had strained relations with the prime minister. Additionally, the Congress had decided to contest the next elections independently and their disputes with the Maoist Centre were manageable. On 4 March, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal broke the longstanding alliance with the Nepali Congress by siding with the UML to revive the “left alliance.” On 05 March, the CPN (Maoist Centre) formed a new alliance with the CPN-UML, Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), and Janata Samajbadi Party. The largest party, the Nepali Congress with 80 seats will now be the opposition party.

Nepal: PM announced his new Cabinet
On 06 March, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal reformed his Cabinet, appointing 20 new ministers from the CPN-UML, his own CPN (Maoist Centre), and the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP). On 4 March, the prime minister assigned three ministers after abandoning the alliance with the Nepali Congress the day before and establishing a new ruling coalition that included the UML and other parties. Following that President Ramchandra Paudel swore in sixteen new Cabinet members at Sheetal Niwas on 6 March. Prime Minister named four ministers from his party, seven from CPN-UML, three from RSP, and two from the CPN. However, the Janata Samajbadi Party did not join the Cabinet despite its leader, Upendra Yadav, being one of four signatories to the eight-point agreement on the new government alliance. Following the development of the new political equation, the Congress officially withdrew its support for the government on 5 March, vowing to remain in opposition. According to the constitution, Dahal must seek a vote of confidence within 30 days after the Congress's withdrawal, which begins on 6 March.

Maldives: Free military assistance agreement signed with China
On 05 March, the Maldives and China have signed a defense cooperation agreement, marking a significant shift in their bilateral relations. This move comes after the Maldivian President, Mohamed Muizzu, set a deadline to withdraw the first group of Indian military personnel from the Maldives. The agreements were formalized in a ceremony, with the Maldives Minister of Defence, Ghassan Maumoon, and the Deputy Director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of the People's Republic of China. According to the agreement, China will provide military assistance to the Maldives at no cost, which could deepen military and strategic ties between the two countries. The specifics of the assistance have not been disclosed, leading to speculation about the nature and scope of the military support. Additionally, a parallel agreement was signed concerning the Chinese research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3 entering into the Maldivian waters. The Maldives, situated in a strategically vital location in the Indian Ocean, plays a crucial role in maritime security and trade routes. The current government's increased engagement with China signals a strategic pivot, potentially recalibrating the balance of power and influence in the region.

Maldives: The technical personnel who were replaced are civilians, not soldiers
On 06 March, the Sun Online reported Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) official statement that the technical personnel from India are civilians and not soldiers. The MNDF confirmed through various security screening that the technical personnel from India are civilians, not soldiers. Colonel Ahmed Mujthaba, MNDF’s Principal Director of Plans, Policy, and Resource Management, said that the removal of Indian military personnel who were stationed in the Maldives is being performed in compliance with the significant diplomatic discussions. Ahead of President Mohamed Muizzu’s initiative to clear Indian troops stationed in the Maldives, Colonel assured that no foreign soldiers would remain in their soil after May 10.

Maldives: MNDF to head Indian helicopters and civilian crew
On 07 March, while addressing a press conference, the Principal Director of Plans, Policy, and Resources Management for the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), Colonel Ahmed Mujuthaba Mohamed mentioned that the Maldives Defence Force will be heading the helicopter given by India and the civilian crew. He confirmed discussions on Indian troops' withdrawal are on board and highlighted President Mohamed Muizzu’s decision of not allowing any foreign troops after 10 May. This comes ahead of the 10 March for the first phase of the removal of Indian troops, fixed by President Muizzu. So far, there are 88 Indian military personnel in Maldives to operate two helicopters and an aircraft – as per Maldives authorities.

South Asia: Low performance on gender according to the World Bank report
On 04 March, the 10th edition of the World Bank’s Women, Business, and Law Index was published. On 8 March, The Kathmandu Post reported that Nepal has secured 80.6 points out of 100 for the legal framework in the Index. Gender discrimination is prevalent when it comes to women in business, which is unknown. Women are not paid equally as men are. The subsidiary loans that are allocated by the government to improve women's entrepreneurship are being misused through various means. Men open up firms in the name of women to acquire the loans that the government provides. Though the country has various other laws, the problem lies when it comes to their implication. The pay gap is wide in Nepal in the professional category. As compared to the regional average score in South Asia, Nepal’s score is relatively high. Nepal is followed by Bhutan, securing 75 points, India with 74.4, the Maldives with 73.8, Sri Lanka with 63.6, Pakistan with 58.8, Bangladesh with 49.4, and finally Afghanistan with 31.9. With the women's mobility and marriage scores, South Asia performs well. In terms of mobility, seven out of eight states have laws that assure the freedom of women to travel anywhere as men do. On marriage, all eight states have freedom and laws for women to be the head of the family. Six of eight states have specialized family courts; five states provide legal aid for family-related issues; and four states have fast-track processes. Viewing the pessimistic side, no country in the region ensures safety, workplace, parenthood, childcare, and entrepreneurship indicators for women. Four of eight states (Bhutan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan) have a score of zero when it comes to childcare for women.

India: Pakistan’s dual-use goods confiscated at Mumbai
On 02 March, The Hindu reported that the recently confiscated dual-use consignment of Pakistan continues to remain in Indian custody. Shipped from China’s Shekou Port and bound to Karachi Port by a Malta-flagged vessel. The consignment contained two advanced Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines manufactured by GKD, Italy, which can be used in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. On 22 January, the vessel arrived at Nhava Sheva Port (JNPT) in Mumbai. Indian customs agents intercepted the package due to intelligence about potential proliferation issues from Pakistan and China. On 3 March, The Hindu reported that Pakistan condemned India for seizure of dual-use goods bound from China to Karachi at Mumbai port on 23 January. Pakistan accused India, citing "high handedness" and "disruption of free trade."

India: Navy to construct a new base in Lakshadweep
On 02 March, the Indian Navy announced its plan to build a new base named INS Jatayu on Minicoy, the southernmost island in the Lakshadweep archipelago. The Navy said: “The base will enhance operational reach and facilitate the Indian Navy’s operational effort towards anti-piracy and anti-narcotics operations in the Western Arabian Sea. It will also augment the Indian Navy’s capability as the first responder in the region and augment connectivity with the mainland.” Adding on to that it stated the base was a part of a policy to improve security infrastructure at strategically important islands.  This move comes amidst concerns over the deteriorating relationship between India and the Maldives following President Mohamed Muizzu's pro-China stance and his pledge to remove Indian security forces from the country.

India: External Affairs Minister’s visit to Japan and South Korea

On 06 March, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar completed his three-day visit to Japan.  Both countries discussed cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. The Minister highlighted that the visit will focus on potential cooperation gathering on new and critical technologies, such as semiconductors, artificial intelligence, renewables, and electric mobility. He said that India and China are big power players "but to be accurate, there are others as well, including the Gulf, ASEAN, Latin America and Africa." In South Korea, the Indian Minister of External Affairs co-chaired the Joint Commission Meeting that reviewed bilateral cooperation and explored avenues for further strengthening them. The MEA of India said “India-Republic of Korea Special Strategic Partnership has expanded to diverse areas of cooperation, which include trade, investments, defence, education, Science and Technology, and culture. The visit was aimed at bolstering the semiconductor industry of India and cooperation in new emerging technologies.

India: Military exercise with Japan
On 26 February, the bilateral military exercise, Dharma Guardian took place between between the Indian Army and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in Rajasthan. The annual exercise is being held alternatively in Japan and India to develop interoperability, bonhomie, and camaraderie between troops of both sides to boost strategic cooperation and challenge common security issues. The Japanese contingent comprising the 34th Infantry Regiment and the Indian Army contingent comprising a battalion of Rajputana Rifles had 40 members on each side. The Indian Army said in a statement that the exercise regulates a high degree of fitness, joint planning, joint tactical drills, and the basis of special arms skills.

India: Insistence of “stringent monitoring” of Pakistan by IMF
On 6 March, The Hindu reported that India had taken a tough stance and called for "stringent monitoring" of any emergency funds provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Pakistan, emphasising that such funds must not be redeployed to pay defence bills or repay loans from other countries. Executive Director Krishnamurthy Subramanian, represented India in the IMF’s executive board, during a recent review of the Fund's ongoing USD 3 billion short-term Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with Pakistan, which was granted in July. India has generally refrained from voting on loans sought by Pakistan, and it did so again last July when the SBA was granted. When the board reviewed the loan in mid-January, India's representative refrained from voting again, but the IMF dispersed USD 700 million to Pakistan. However, this time, the Indian government urged the Executive Director to emphasize the IMF board's need to establish "checks and balances and ensure stringent monitoring" of Pakistan's use of IMF funds. Pakistan’s new government is urging immediate talks with the IMF to seek additional fund support, which includes the USD 1.2 billion balance under the SBA which expires next month.

India: Mizoram adopts resolution against government’s  border fencing
On 28 February, the Mizoram Assembly unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Centre’s move to terminate the Free Movement Regime (FMR) and fence the borders with Myanmar. The resolution called upon the central government to review its decision and take measures to help the Zo ethnic community which inhabits their ancestral land. According to The Hindu, Mizoram’s Home Minister, stated: “The British geographically divided the Zo ethnic people who have inhabited [present-day] Mizoram and the Chin Hills of Myanmar for centuries together, once under their own administration. We have been dreaming of reunification and cannot accept the India-Myanmar border imposed upon us,” Mizoram shares a 510 km border with Myanmar. The FMR allows people on the India-Myanmar border to travel into each other’s territory for a limited period without a visa. On 6 February, Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, declared the government's decision to fence the India-Myanmar border and end the FMR to maintain the country's internal security and preserve the demography of the Northeastern states. While Mizoram and Nagaland are against the fencing of their borders with Myanmar, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh have responded favourably. India: Assam Rifles called upon to restore stability in six Manipur districts

India: Manipur Police personnel abducted and rescued later
On 29 February, the Manipur Police officially confirmed that the Meitei radical outfit, Arambai Tenggol, is involved in several “anti-social activities,” including business extortions, attacking civilians, and snatching vehicles from the public and government workers. The police warned that the group was gaining public support under the pretext of providing protection, whereas they are engaged in criminal activities. Furthermore, the statement informed that the Indian Army and central security forces will intensify their presence in the region while combing operations will persist for the foreseeable future. The police called upon the public to cooperate with them as they carried out their duties. On 08 March, The Hindu reported that the Junior Commissioner Officer has been rescued after he was abducted by a radical Meitei group in Manipur. The Security officers conducted a search operation and rescued him on the same day after hours. Indian Army spokesperson said on X: “Indian Army rescued its JCO, Nb Sub Konsam Kheda Singh, abducted this morning, while on leave. Manipur police are investigating the case.” This is the fourth such an event happening to the soldiers who are on either duty or leave and to their soldiers. The root cause of these abductions was the ethnic conflict in Manipur.

India: Ladakh witnesses protests
On 06 March, there was a protest demanding for statehood of Ladakh. The rally in Ladakh was initiated demanding three major points: its inclusion in the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution, the establishment of a public service commission, and statehood. Additionally, they are demanding the increase of Lok Sabha seats to two. This development came right after the reports of the unresolved meetings between the Leh Apex Body (LAB), Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA), and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The coordinator of the LAB said: “All religious organizations called for Leh Bandh in support of the LAB and KDA after the meeting with the Ministry of Home Affairs failed on 4th March.” Climate activist Sonam Wangchuk was a part of the protest and said: “I want to follow the peaceful methods of Mahatma Gandhi, where he inflicted pain on himself... The pain will be inflicted on self so that our government and policymakers take notice of our pain and act.”

India: INS Kolkata rescued a bulk carrier in the Gulf of Aden
On 07 March, according to The Hindu, INS Kolkata assisted MV True Confidence, Barbados bulk carrier when it was attacked by a drone or missile in the Gulf of Aden and shipwrecked. The Warship saved 21 lives including one Indian. The Indian Navy stated: “On March 6, there was a fire onboard and critical injuries to some of the crew members. INS Kolkata, deployed for maritime security operations, arrived at the scene of action at 4.45 p.m. and rescued 21 crew members, including one Indian national.” The rescued crews were immediately shifted to Djibouti. Similarly, such an incident happened on 05 March, when MSC Sky II, a Liberian-flagged container vessel with a crew of 23 personnel including 13 Indians was rescued by INS Kolkata after requested by MSC Sky II.

Pakistan: Aurat March participants make multiple political demands
On 8 March, hundreds of women participated in the Aurat March to demand rights and freedoms on International Women’s Day, focusing on political demands, calls for transparency in election results, and an increase in the number of seats reserved for women. Calls were also raised for an end to the enforced disappearances, and an elimination of surveillance systems that perpetuated a paternalistic vision of women’s safety. Marchers carried placards and banners, sang, danced, and chanted slogans in an expression of solidarity with women’s struggles globally. Before the march, a 12-point charter of demands had also been announced. Women demanded the strengthening of campaign finance laws to ensure transparency, equitable resource distribution, and strengthening grassroots politics. They further called for the rejection of all proposed bills that violated the dignity of the transgender community and asked the government to decriminalize defamation, sedition, and anti-dissent laws, including Section 144. Additional demands included restoring student unions on campuses to allow the right to organize, recognizing unpaid labour, and providing climate adaptation support through proactive disaster resilience measures.

Pakistan: IMF says it looks forward to working with the new government, calls for resolving electoral issues
On 8 March, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it would support forming a new economic programme for Pakistan upon any request from the new government while urging Pakistan to peacefully resolve electoral disputes. An IMF spokesperson stated: “We look forward to engaging with the new government to complete the second review under the current Stand-by Arrangement and, should the government request, support the formulation of a new medium-term economic programme.” Though the spokesperson did not comment on domestic politics, the call to political leaders asking them to resolve electoral disputes was seen as an unusual step taken by the IMF. The spokesperson clarified that while the current focus was on “the completion of the current Stand-by program, which ends in April 2024,” the IMF was looking “forward to working with the new government on policies to ensure macroeconomic stability.” Pakistan’s authorities had earlier stated that they intend to seek a USD six billion loan from the IMF to help debt repayments in 2024. (“Anwar Iqbal, “In rare political message, IMF urges resolution of all electoral disputes,” Dawn, 9 March 2024)

Pakistan: Moody’s provides positive outlook for Pakistan’s banking sector
On 7 March, in light of solid profitability, stable funding and liquidity, Moody’s Investors Service changed its outlook on Pakistan’s banking sector to ‘stable’ from ‘negative.’ The agency claimed that these factors provided “an adequate buffer” to withstand the macroeconomic and political challenges facing the country. It further forecasted that due to subdued activity in 2023, the economic growth rate would return to two per cent and inflation would fall from 29 per cent to 23 per cent. The agency underscored: “Pakistani banks remain highly exposed to the government via large holdings of government securities that amount to around half of the total banking assets, which links their credit strength to that of the sovereign.” However, it also warned that high-interest rates and inflation would continue to “curb private-sector spending and investment.” Since banks were funding the sovereign’s fiscal deficits, there was not much left to loan to the real economy. Moody’s pointed out that the banking sector’s asset risk was tied to high government securities exposure, given that government securities accounted for 51 per cent of total assets in Pakistani banks. The agency made several other predictions, including a gradual decline in profitability, a stabilization of operating expenses following “easing inflation and banks’ cost-control efforts,” and a broadly stable capital.

Pakistan: PML-N becomes largest party in NA after distribution of reserved seats
On 6 March, Dawn reported on the PML-N becoming the largest political party in the National Assembly (NA) after the reserved seats that were not given to the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) were distributed among three political parties. The PML-N’s seats increased to 123 from 107, and the PPP’s to 73 from 68. The number of JUI-F lawmakers also increased from seven to 11. Aside from this, in the NA, the MQM-P has 22 members, the PML-Q has five, the IPP has four, and the PML-Zia, Balochistan Awami Party, Balochistan National Party (Mengal), National Party, and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party have one member each. Of the 99 independents who won the election, nine did not join any party. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI-backed independents had won 91 seats compared to the 19 seats secured by other parties combined, the JUI-F has been allotted ten reserved seats, the PML-N has been given eight, the PPP has been given six, and the ANP and PTI-P one each. (Iftikhar A Khan, “PML-N gets lucky as reserved seats doled out,” Dawn, 6 March 2024)

Pakistan: Foreign Office claims Indian PM’s visit to Kashmir as an effort to “project normalcy”
On 7 March, Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Mumtaz Baloch described Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kashmir as “efforts to project normalcy” that were a “façade” in reality. Baloch said that tourism could not be “promoted in a situation where local people are being intimidated and their rights and freedoms are being denied.” Modi had justified his decision by saying that “dynastic politics” had limited Kashmir’s potential and emphasized during his visit that he was “working hard” to win over the Kashmiri people. Baloch claimed that following the formation of the new Cabinet, there would be clarity on Pakistan’s foreign policy and relations with other countries. While this clarity would help shed light on how new policies would “impact Pakistan’s interaction with India in the coming days,” Baloch added that “impact Pakistan’s interaction with India in the coming days.”

Pakistan: Imran Khan calls for proper investigation into 9 May riots and audit of elections
On 6 March, Imran Khan expressed support for the communiqué of the corps commanders’ conference and demanded strict action against those responsible for inciting the 9 May violence by using CCTV footage to identify the culprits. He lamented that no one wanted to conduct an independent and transparent probe into the violence, adding that the “May 9 narrative could not work for 8 February [election].” Criticizing the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for making the “unconstitutional” decision to not give the PTI its reserved seats, Khan questioned the legal basis on which seats were distributed among parties that did not win them. He thus demanded an audit of four constituencies, asserting that accepting the election results would be equivalent to “accepting the slavery.” Describing the 2024 elections as “the most rigged one in the history” of the country that would lead to an economic downfall, he claimed that the Sharifs were only relying on the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) for their future policies.

Pakistan: UN Ambassador claims 98 per cent of Afghans left Pakistan voluntarily, calls for UN investigation into TTP’s funding source
On 6 March, addressing a special UN Security Council (UNSC) session on Afghanistan, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram stated that Afghans had not been forcefully deported from Pakistan. Citing a UN report that regarded the protection environment in Pakistan as unfavourable, he said the description was inaccurate and offensive, and highlighted that Pakistan had sheltered nearly five million Afghan refugees for almost 40 years. Akram stated that of the 500,000 undocumented Afghans who returned to Afghanistan, 98 per cent left voluntarily and two per cent engaged in terrorism, drug smuggling, or other criminal activities. He added: “Even today, over one million undocumented Afghans remain in Pakistan. They should return forthwith. We have made several exceptions for those with Afghan ID cards, POR cards, for those who may be ‘vulnerable’ if they return.” He also pointed out the international community’s obligation to help the destitute Afghans with unconditional humanitarian assistance and called on the global community to help revive the Afghan banking system, release the country’s frozen assets, and implement the planned infrastructure and regional connectivity projects.

Pakistan: US State Department expresses commitment to “longstanding partnership with Pakistan”
On 4 March, the US State Department expressed the US’ commitment to maintaining and strengthening its robust partnership with Pakistan, under the tenure of Shehbaz Sharif. The Department’s spokesperson, Matthew Miller, commended Maryam Nawaz’s appointment as the first female chief minister, expressing hope that this “milestone in Pakistani politics” would enable more women to be involved in the country’s politics. He appreciated “cracks in the glass ceilings,” adding that the US was looking “forward to cooperating with Pakistan more broadly on integrating women more fully into the country’s political life, the economy,” and other “decision-making spaces.” Miller reiterated that the US values “the longstanding partnership with Pakistan,” and regards “a strong, prosperous, and democratic Pakistan as crucial to United States-Pakistan interests.” He added that the US would “continue to focus” on “shared interests” while engaging with Sharif and his government.

Sri Lanka: Protest against Indian illegal fishing
On 03 March, the Sri Lankan fishermen from Jaffna, Mullaitivu, and Mannar, the northern districts protested against the alleged recurring illegal fishing by the Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters. They demanded swift action from the authorities to prevent the illegal poaching and swore to intensify the issue if it's unresolved. Lately, there have been several protests against the Indian counterparts for allegedly fishing in Sri Lankan waters crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line. The systematic and periodic confrontation due to fishermen issues has created strains in bilateral relations over the years. In 2023, 240 Indian fishermen were arrested, and 35 trawlers were seized by the Navy for poaching.

Sri Lanka: Halt in debt repayment due to debt reconstruction
On 06 March, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe initiated the idea of a debt restructuring process to reduce the foreign debt from 9.5 per cent  to 4.5 per cent of its total GDP. The country hopes to halt repaying debts until 2027, and after the debt reconstruction process, it will resume paying in 2042. The Finance Minister stressed the necessity of restructuring all loans from domestic to international and says it is to attain temporary relief from all the debt defaults from 2023 to 2027 and continue to pay from 2027 to 2042. The debt repayment would have been easier if the country had maintained a standard economic state after the economic crisis in 2022. It was due to the economic crisis that revenue collection dropped and bankruptcy was declared.

Sri Lanka: India to construct renewable energy infrastructure instead of China
On 01 March, Sri Lanka granted permission to construct hybrid renewable energy infrastructure to an Indian company after rejecting a Chinese firm that won the tender. The Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority and U-Solar, an Indian company, signed a contract for the construction of hybrid renewable infrastructure. Sri Lanka received funds of USD 11 million from India to build three solar and wind hybrid power generation facilities across three islands off the Jaffna peninsula in Northern Sri Lanka as an initiative to strengthen the bilateral energy partnership. The press release from the Indian High Commission in Colombo said: "the project aims to address the energy needs of the people and is now being executed through grant assistance from the Indian government. This project is a combination of various forms of energy that include solar and wind energy aimed at optimizing capacities". This is the third energy project backed by India, after the National Thermal Power Corporation and the Adani Group.

Sri Lanka: IMF proposals discussed with party leaders
On 08 March, Daily Mirror reported that President Ranil Wickremesinghe called for a meeting with party leaders to discuss the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) proposals, which will be presented by a high-level delegation. The purpose of the meeting is to provide an opportunity for opposition party leaders in Parliament, including Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa, leader of the National People's Power (NPP) Anura Kumara Dissanayake, and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader Sivagnanam Sridharan, to engage in discussions with the IMF delegation. This meeting offers a chance for these leaders to discuss the IMF's proposals and potentially influence any decisions made about them. The President's Media Division (PMD) has announced that the meeting has been open to all party leaders interested in participating. The PMD has also stated that individuals who are interested in joining the discussion have been allowed to participate alongside the invited leaders.  The IMF's proposals are likely to have significant implications for the country's economic future, as the organization typically provides financial assistance and guidance to countries needing economic support. The meeting between the party leaders and the IMF delegation is an important step in ensuring that the government's decision-making process is transparent and inclusive, as it allows for a diverse range of perspectives to be considered.

Sri Lanka: Rajapaksas meet the PM
On 08 March, Daily Mirror highlighted a meeting between President Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) leaders Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa. The meeting aimed to discuss outstanding political matters ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. However, no final decision was made on the formation of an alliance between the parties, as the SLPP leaders sought clarity on two policy matters - alienation of national assets and power devolution - from the President to decide on the party's stand. The SLPP appears to be sticking to its original ideology regarding state institutions and seeks some compromise from the President in his plan for restructuring them. The parties also raised concerns about the proposed contours of power devolution to resolve the political question of northern and eastern provinces. Despite the lack of a decision, the parties decided to accelerate their political activities and decide on final decisions depending on how far they can find common ground on areas of each other's concern.

Bangladesh: Building fire killed 46 people in Dhaka
On 1 March, The Daily Star reported that 46 were killed in the fire at the building in Dhaka. The remains of 39 people were identified this morning. Bodies were handed over to their respective family members at Dhaka Medical College Hospital and Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn & Plastic Surgery. Six bodies that remained unidentified were not claimed by anyone due to severe burns and a DNA test was needed. The rest of the critically injured people were undergoing treatment.

Bangladesh: Muhammad Yunus granted bail in court
On 04 March, The Times of India reported that a court in Bangladesh granted Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus bail in a USD 2.3 million embezzlement case. He was also sentenced to six months in prison on a separate charge of violating labour laws. Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for pioneering microcredit, was found guilty of embezzling over 250 million takas and money laundering by giving money to trade union leaders instead of workers. The charges involve a worker's welfare fund of Grameen Telecom, which owns 34.2 per cent of the country's largest mobile phone company, Grameenphone.

Bangladesh-Nepal: WTO to give interim duty-free and quota-free market access
On 01 March, the World Trade Organization agreed to duty-free and quota-free market access to countries expected to graduate from Least Developed Countries (LCDs). By the end of 2026, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Lao People's Democratic Republic will be formally transitioned from the UN-defined category of LDC to developing countries. More LDCs will follow in the footsteps of these countries. There are 45 LDCs, 15 of which are now on the route to becoming developing countries, and 10 of which are WTO members. Bhutan was removed from the list in December last year. This is to offer a seamless and sustainable transition time for new LDC graduates before withdrawing the unilateral tariff, duty, and quota-free market access that these nations have enjoyed as LDCs.

Bangladesh: The US calls to upgrade labour laws
On 05 March, The Daily Star reported that the US has called for upgrading labour laws in Bangladesh. The United States reiterated its desire to enhance Bangladesh's labour laws to global standards to expand economic relations in President Biden's 2024 policy agenda. In 2023, representing this policy agenda, the US Trade Representative (USTR) negotiated with the Commerce Ministry on the significance of this trade agenda by Biden's administration. This was officially disclosed on March 1 in President Biden's 2024 Trade Policy Agenda and 2024 Annual Report to Congress. It states that ever since Bangladesh terminated its eligibility for the Generalized System of Preference in 2013, some of the labor issues, like worker safety standards and worker rights issues, have risen.

Bangladesh: Japanese health project launched in Rohingya camps
On 07 March, the Dhaka Tribune reported that the Japanese Ambassador visited Bhasan Char, where over 30,000 Rohingya refugees have been relocated from the Cox’s Bazar camps. During his visit, the ambassador attended the inauguration ceremony of a new project to provide medical equipment for pathological tests and dental care. This project, supported by the Japanese government through the Grant Assistance for Grass-roots Human Security Projects (GGHSP), is being implemented by an NGO. The project is expected to enhance the quality of healthcare services in Bhasan Char by providing necessary equipment such as a Biochemistry Analyzer and a portable Dental X-ray. The ambassador expressed hope that this equipment would improve the healthcare environment in Bhasan Char, thereby supporting Bangladesh's efforts to help the Rohingya people. Japan has been a significant supporter through its GGHSP, having extended approximately USD 16.9 million in grants.

Bhutan: Prime minister pledges press freedom
On 07 March, Kuensel Online reported that the struggles Bhutanese journalists face in obtaining information from authorities would end soon as the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay's has pledged support and willingness to engage with the media is seen as a beacon of hope for the media community. At a recent Meet-the-Press event, the Prime Minister underscored the media's pivotal role in upholding democratic values and ensuring government accountability to the public. He emphasized that the media acts as a vital link for this accountability and should actively fulfill its duty by critiquing and engaging in discussions on government policies that may be deemed ineffective or potentially harmful in the long run. The Prime Minister also stressed the importance of fulfilling campaign promises while recognizing the media's role in shedding light on commitments that could have adverse consequences. Despite Bhutan's drop in press freedom ranking due to government regulations on media oversight, the Prime Minister encouraged the media to fearlessly serve as a reminder and partner in shaping the 13th plan with fresh ideas.

Bhutan: Enhancing digital connectivity with India's support
On 04 March, Kuensel highlighted that after eight years of negotiations, the third internet gateway for Bhutan is expected to operationalize soon after the Service Level Agreement (SLA) is signed between the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) India and Bhutan Telecom Limited. The gateway will be established in Gelephu, Bhutan connecting Gelephu-Bongaigaon-Agartala in India to Cumilla-Kuakata in Bangladesh to Singapore. The gateway will help improve resilience and reliability, reduce dependence on a single link, and provide a safety net. The GovTech officials are also exploring strategies to reduce the overall price of the internet for citizens. The agreed subsidized service will enhance speed and will be cost-efficient.

About the authors

Akriti Sharma is a doctoral scholar at NIAS. Dhriti Mukherjee is a Research Assistant at NIAS. Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan Govindaraj, and Narmatha S are postgraduate scholars at Madras University.

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