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South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII; 25 | ORF

Neighbourhood Studies – ORF
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2020-06-23 10:51:23

Bangladesh: 24 Migrants’ dream ends with death in Libya

Joyeeta Bhattacharya

For 24 Bangladeshi migrants, the dream of a prosperous life in a faraway land was shortened abruptly after they were killed by abductors in Libya  last month. The Bangladesh Foreign Ministry said that the migrants were abducted while crossing into Libya in search of work and were tortured to extract a ransom.

The incident has exposed the horrific exploitation and torture a migrant has to experience in his journey with the hope of a better future in far-flung countries away from their home. The present incident once again highlighted the need for strict action by the concerned country and the international community to eliminate the menace of human trafficking.

The incident has once again exposed the unholy nexus between uncanny man-power exporters and the human-traffickers who predate many innocent people. Thousands of Bangladeshis have fallen victim to such unholy nexus and faced inexplicable torture, captivity and slavery. Yet, the urge for a better economic opportunity abroad is making them take the risk.

‘Basket case’ no more

In Bangladesh, migration has proved to be a successful means for many to come out of poverty. Given the success witnessed, many want to imitate the same for themselves to get a respite from poverty.  Though the country has achieved significant economic growth over the past years, a large portion of the country’s population still remains poor.

Employment opportunity for the youth, primarily for the unskilled, still remain scarce. Hence, many feel migration could be an alternative to transform their luck and lives. Unfortunately, their poverty coupled with ambition is aiding the human-traffickers to prosper as they often pose as man-power businessmen who can help to achieve their dream.

Migration has been intricately linked to the development of the country.  At the time of independence in 1971, the country was referred as a ‘basket case’ because of the abject poverty at the time. It has shed its image long back and is on the path of prosperity and growth. The economic success resulted in Bangladesh qualifying as a middle-income country from least developed, a status the country is likely to attain in 2021.

Migrant labour has been one of the reasons behind the present success of the country because their remittances form a major share for forex over the past decades. As of now, nearly 12 million Bangladeshis have been living abroad and they have been sending large sum back as remittances. In 2018, the earning from such remittances was around $15 billion, which was approximately five percent of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  In 2019, the country received remittances worth nearly $18 billion.

Manpower export

Bangladesh has formal arrangements with countries across the globe for export of manpower. These arrangements resulted in a thriving man-power business in Bangladesh. Mostly, migrant workers travel via formal channels. However, a section often takes informal ways.  Traditionally, countries in the Middle-east like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar were the prime destination for Bangladeshi manpower.

Also, countries like Syria, Yemen and Libya hired migrants from Bangladesh to work primarily in the oil industry. But the slowing down of the economy in the gulf countries largely due to the falling oil prices and conflicts in the region impacted Bangladesh’s manpower market.

The recent trend, however, suggests Europe as the most preferred destination of Bangladeshi migrants.   From January-August 2017, around 8,700 Bangladeshi migrants landed in Italy comprising roughly around 9 percent of all the maritime arrivals, claimed the International Organisation of Migration. Often, conflict-torn Libya is used as a route for entry into Europe.

Neither cheap, nor easy

The journey of the migrants is neither cheap nor easy. The migrants have to pay a large sum of money, nearly around $9000-$10000 each. Also, the risk is high because the journey involves transit through difficult terrains, conflict-driven countries and perilous sea voyages.

Also, exploitation by the traffickers has been a concern. For many, these hazards have paid fruits because their success in reaching the desired destination has contributed to improving their lives. Sadly, not all were or are lucky and the dream of a good life gets terminated in the mid-way, like in the present incident. Dead bodies of hundreds of migrants floating in the sea near Malaysia in 2015 is also a telling example of the unfortunate fate of many of such migrants.

Normally, the authorities in Bangladesh are accused of being lethargic in reacting to control human trafficking.  The main grievance has been the low conviction rate in the cases of human trafficking, which people consider as a reason for enhancement of the confidence of the human traffickers. Lately, however, the government has become serious in curbing human trafficking in the country.

In this regard, actions have been taken both at the domestic and international level. In 2019, Bangladesh signed the UN Treaty to Combat Human Trafficking. Also, showing zero tolerance to human traffickers, law enforcement agencies undertook strict actions against the human traffickers. Just after the Libya case, the authorities have arrested 6 such perpetrators. This action is positive but to be more effective, Bangladesh will need cooperation from the international community because an international crime like human trafficking needs cross border cooperation.


Pakistan: Military further tightens grip over Imran administration

Ayjaz Wani

The military establishment in Pakistan has used the havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic to increase its control over the Imran Khan-led Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. The pandemic has devastated the already stumbling economy of Pakistan. The poor handling of Covid-19 by the PTI government helped the all-powerful military to increase its grip on the civilian administration. In recent months, key positions in the civilian administration have been taken over either by serving officers up to the rank of lieutenant generals or former military officials handpicked by the top brass.

As a direct consequence of the economic slump since the outbreak started in the country, Pakistan is staring at a long-term recession, at a scale which the nation has not been seen in the last 68 years. The army has also separately pressurised the government for a pay hike to the tune of 20 percent.

The increasing direct control gained by the military on the civilian government gives a clear impression that the affairs of the state are managed by the army even without any declaration of martial law or army rule. During last two months, key civilian sectors like the PIA, the country’s power regulator and even the National Institute of Health, which looks after the pandemic response of country, have come to be headed by serving or retired military officials.

Even the Prime Minister’s media management team has been infiltrated by the army with former ISPR official Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa being appointed to ensure that the PMO parrots the army’s intentions and the national media is refrained from writing against the army establishment.

Economy and the army

Since the birth of Pakistan in 1947, the country’s focus has been squarely on capacity building of its military at the cost of primary sectors such as public health, education and industry contributing to increased levels of poverty. The pandemic has only worsened the situation as the country is burdened with increasing international debt problems, domestic economic recession, unemployment and increased vulnerability of its population, especially the poor, to Covid-19.

Under such conditions, a typical democratically elected civilian government budget is bound to focus on the revival of economy, employment generation and strengthening the health sector through economic stimulus and tax rebates. However, given the model of civilian-military relationship in the Pakistan, the army establishment has forced the PTI government to increase the defence budget allocations by 11.9 percent.

The total allocated budget for the FY 2020-21 is to the tune of PKR 1,289 billion, that is 2.82 percent of the GDP. The total allocation becomes even higher if one includes PKR 369 billion set aside for the pension to retired army personal and PKR 324 for the development programme of armed personnel. The defence spending of Pakistan always looks deceptive as most of the military expenditures are kept hidden under different heads like nuclear programme and acquisitions. The dominating role of the military establishment also prevents the parliament from debating defence spending of country.

The army and civilian government have used political gimmicks and its traditional anti-India rhetoric, especially in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack of February 2019, to which India responded with air strikes in Balakote, in the PoK, to snuff out terror training camps. The relationship between the two countries worsened after New Delhi’s decision to scrap Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India in August giving a given semi-autonomous status to erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State. The military establishment and the civilian government have also time and again used the anti-India rhetoric to increase defence allocations.

Begs for debt relief

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan stares at a dip in its exports by 40 percent. According to PTI government, foreign remittances are also expected to decrease by 20 to 23 percent. The Economic Survey of Pakistan for 2019-20 has estimated that up to 18.53 million people will face unemployment.

To suffice the parochial needs of the military establishment and save the PTI government from full military coupe, Imran khan has been forced to impose additional taxes to fetch PKR 200 billion to the country’s coffers. The army establishment, which has remained politically dominant and economically affluent not only during the times the country has been pushed under army dictatorship, but even during the occasional periods of civilian rule.

The increasing intrusion by the military in the civilian government after the formation of Imran Khan-led PTI government, and the increasing transfer of control of civilian administration into the hands of the military, has thus kept the army in total command of the affairs of the state.

On the other hand, increased financial demands and unchecked corruption in military establishment has made the PTI-led civilian government a mendicant to the global funding agencies and at the mercy of debt relief measures by developed countries. According to International Monterey Fund (IMF), Pakistan’s external debt repayment obligations stand at $12.73 billionin 2020. The growing demand of the army establishment, worsening economic situation due to ongoing pandemic and increasing corruption has forced Imran Khan to ask rich countries and global financial institutions for debt relief in April 2020. Recently,the Paris Club of creditor nations suspended debt service payments from Pakistan.

Pakistan also needs more debt and finances to kick-start the economy and has been directed by the IMF to “freeze salaries of government employees and adhere to the fiscal consolidation path by showing a nominal primary deficit in the new budget” – the two demands that Islamabad finds hard to digest. Islamabad is keen to restore the IMF programme under Enhanced Fund Facility (EFF) to get support from other global funding agencies like World Bank and Asian Development Bank.


Country Reports

Afghanistan

US meets troop-reduction target

On 18 June, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Marine General Frank McKenzie announced that the US had successfully reduced the number of its troops in the country to 8,600, effectively fulfilling the obligation agreed upon in the US-Taliban deal. However, he did not share how further reduction will take place in keeping with the obligation of bringing US military presence to zero by May 2021, calling it an “aspirational commitment” which would require certain irrevocable assurances on the part of the Taliban.

UN report on corruption

The fourth annual report of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on ‘Afghanistan’s Fight Against Corruption: Crucial for Peace and Prosperity’, stated that a peaceful future in the country would be contingent on sustained efforts to fight corruption. The report noted that anti-corruption reforms slowed in 2019, with fewer legislative decisions taken in the regards, and that institutional gaps remained due to stalled progress on strategizing and implementation.

Bangladesh

Surge in Covid-19 cases

The week witnessed a surge in the Covid-19 cases as the number of positives surpassed 1 lakh mark. On 18 June, nearly 3000 people were tested positive adding to the total of 102,292 confirmed Covid-19 cases. The first case of the Covid-19 virus infection was reported on 8 March 2020. Many influential people of the country have been fallen ill due to Covid -19 infection and country’s Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi has been one of them. Recently, Sheikh Abdullah, the religious minister in the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government have died of the virus infection. The government is closely monitoring the developments.

China grants zero-tariff

Business ties with China got a major boost after the country declared to grant zero-tariff treatment for 5,161 Bangladeshi products in its market. The facility will be functional from 1 July this year. Following the decision around a total of 8,256 Bangladeshi products will enjoy the benefit. Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the development as a success of its economic diplomacy. Bangladesh is getting the privilege as a least developed country.

Bhutan

Trade pact with Bangladesh

Bangladesh and Bhutan finalised the terms and conditions for signing a preferential trade agreement (PTA) to increase bilateral trade. Bhutan agreed to provide duty benefit on export of 100 different goods, including garments, processed agricultural goods and electronics. On the other hand, Bangladesh agreed to provide duty benefit to 34 Bhutanese products including fruits, according to officials of Bangladesh’s Commerce Ministry. Both countries agreed through video conference to make the PTA functional from 30 August.

Two women murdered

The police arrested two men on 14 June in connection with the brutal murder of two Bhutanese women in Jaigaon. Sources in Jaigaon claim that the murder could be a result of a blackmail and revenge scheme. The two men, Yogesh Lama and Salman, confessed to the crime. Earlier in the day, bodies of the two women, a 22-year-old from Chukha and 26-year-old from Sarpang were found at Mechey Basti in Jaigaon by the locals. One of the deceased is suspected of being raped and murdered.Two men, Yogesh Lama and Salman, who were arrested on 15 June, have confessed to the crime. They used a knife to kill the women.

Transition to new normal

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering announced that classes 10 and 12 will resume from July 1 as part of Phase 1-transition to a new normal post Covid. Prime Minister also said that the government has decided to discontinue work from home. The closure time of businesses will be extended until 9 pm from 1 July. Lyonchhen said that the relaxation of restrictions does not mean it will increase the risk of local transmission of COVID-19.

India

Heightened tensions

Last week, the ongoing India-China border tension in the Galwan valley escalated in a violent exchange between the two sides which took a toll on the lives of 20 personnel of the Indian forces. The attack was reported to be carried out with rocks and clubs. The Indian Army has confirmed that there have been casualties on both sides. Prime Minister Modi assured the nation that while India wants peace but wouldn’t compromise on its sovereignty.

Maldives

More test positive

With 37 more persons testing positive for Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, the total number of cases in the country has gone up to 2,187. Of the 37 new positive cases, 19 were locals, 12 Bangladesh and six Indians, as Maldives depends heavily on migrant-labour. The authorities have also clarified that the number of tests for the pandemic has crossed 40,000, including repeated tests. They also pointed out how the number of recoveries are also on the rise, with the figure put at a high 82 percent. They pointed out how the government ended up spending MVR 800-plus million already and the total expenditure could cross the MVR 1-billion mark, and expressed satisfaction that it has helped save precious lives.

Myanmar

More nationals return

Myanmar has continued to allow relief and charter flights to bring back citizens stranded in foreign countries due to suspension of international airlines, repatriation of foreigners and carrying overseas business persons and experts. A charter flight of MT Ratu Chemical/Oil Products Tanker from the ENRA Group Bhd was sent to get back its workers who completed their duties in Yetagun offshore field in Dawei. The flight landed at the Yangon International Airport on 18 June morning with 134 Myanmar nationals who were stranded in Malaysia with the help of this company and the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

No trial for CM

The result of a resolution seeking to impeach Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein was taken on 18 June. The central reason among others given for the impeachment of the chief minister was the recent holding of a religious event in violation of the government ban on mass gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  However, the parliament was defeated by a vote of 77 to 25. Thus, the resolution seeking the ouster of the ailing chief minister, who has already said he would not seek re-election in the November election, has been rejected.

Nepal

Row with India

The issue over the placement of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh has become synonymous with several important border claims and the recent India-China border dispute. While the National Assembly unanimously endorsed the new political and administrative map of Nepal, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was said to have ‘noted’ the event. Tension regarding this scenario seems to be escalating in the near future.

Oli projects ‘falsity’

It was recently alleged that Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli, in his National Assembly address put forward ‘misleading’ facts about the COVID-19. The nation was taken aback after the virus was portrayed as simple as normal viral cough and cold. Given the severity of the issue throughout the world, the statements made by him are being considered ignorant as well dangerous for the country with rising cases and death rates each day.

Pakistan

India cautioned of ‘misadventure’

Pakistan has warned New Delhi of any misadventure and said any such move will evoke a response from Islamabad. Speaking in the senate, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that there is complete unanimity within the country on the Kashmir issue and the security of the country. He also claimed that New Delhi faced hurdles during the UNSC elections and said he held talks with his Chinese counterpart on telephone over the situation in Ladakh. It is pertinent to mention that the relations between India and Pakistan are all time low from February 2019. 

Envoy meets Taliban chief 

Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq visited Doha to meet Mullah Abdullah Ghani Baradar, the political chief of the Taliban. They discussed the Intra-Afghan Dialogue and its progress. The newly-appointed special representative of Pakistan considers Doha an appropriate venue to kickstart the Intra-Afghan Dialogue that was apparently started within days after the peace deal was signed between the USA and the Taliban in February. However, the dialogue ran into trouble following the initial refusal by President Ashraf Ghani to release the Taliban prisoners.

Sri Lanka

Match-fixing probe

Sports Minister Dullas Alagaperuma has ordered a probe by a special investigation team into the allegations of match-fixing in the  2011 Cricket World Cup finals. India won the cup against Sri Lanka. The issue came up after then Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage claimed that he had known about it. Many political leaders, including Namal Rajapaksa, son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and a member of the dissolved Parliament, and also sports enthusiasts, promptly demanded an inquiry into the ex-minister’s charges.

No responsibility: Sirisena

Denying any prior knowledge of last year’s Easter Sunday attacks, former President Maithripala Sirisena refused to accept any responsibility for the devastating bomb blasts that left 259 people dead and at least 500 injured. In an interview given to BBC Sinhala, he Sirisena insisted that he had not been briefed about the impending attacks. Then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had admitted that information was, in fact, received by sections of the country’s security establishment days before the incident, from their Indian counterparts.

Bibliography

Afghanistan

Opinion Pieces

Heather Barr, “School Closures Hurt Even More in Afghanistan”, Human Rights Watch, 18 June 2020

Shubhangi Pandey, “Afghanistan: UN Report Offer a Gloomy Forecast for Peace”, Observer Research Foundation, 18 June 2020

Editorials

Afghanistan Times, “Government’s Sweetening-Up Technique”, 17 June 2020

Afghanistan Times, “Anti-Media Provisions in the Pipeline”, 16 June 2020

Bangladesh

Opinion Pieces

Sabria Chowdhury Balland, “Bangladesh and Covid-19: Disaster within a disaster”, Asia Times, 18 June 2020

Khaled Aziz, “What Covid-19 has taught the banking industry in Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 18 June 2020

Tasneem Siddiqui, “The price of a migrant worker’s dream”, The Daily Star, 18 June 2020

N N Tarun Chakravorty, “Tackling COVID-19: The Bangladesh case”, Prothom Alo, 18 June 2020

Bhutan

Opinion Pieces

Samphel Norbu, “COVID-19 and beyond: six lessons to keep us going”, Kuensel, 18 June 2020

Editorials

Kuensel, “After the Jaigaon murder”, 15 June 2020

India

Opinion Pieces

Sriram Panchu, “Mediation in the age of COVID-19”, The Hindu, 19 June 2020

Kaushik Basu, “Crisis also brings opportunity for building a nurturing economy”, The Indian Express, 19 June 2020

Chakshu Roy, “Probity in RS polls can be ensured by internal change in parties, not stricter law”, The Indian Express, 19 June 2020

M.K. Narayanan, “Remaining non-aligned is good advice”, The Hindu, 16 June 2020

Suhrith Parthasarathy, “The need for an anti-discrimination law”, The Hindu, 15 June 2020

Editorials

The Hindu, “At the high table: On India’s U.N. Security Council win”, 19 June 2020.

hindustantimes, “Providing work to migrants”, 19 June 2020.

hindustantimes, “India needs better mental health care systems”, 16 June 2020.

The Telegraph, “Hunting season: Failure of the anti-defection law”, 18 June 2020.

Maldives

Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: Can Yameen win more elections for MDP rival?”, www.orfonline.org, 15 June 2020

Myanmar

Opinion Pieces

Htoo Chit, “Remembering Kraisak Choonhavan—a Friend to Myanmar Laborers and Refugees in Thailand”, The Irrawaddy, 18 June 2020

Nepal

Opinion Pieces

Bipin Ghimire, “As India and China fight, Nepal should stand neutral”, Republica, 19 June 2020

Lok Raj Baral, “The dragon atop the world”, The Kathmandu Post, 18 June 2020

Bhairab Raj Kaini, “What is missing in budget for agriculture?”, Republica, 18 June 2020. 

Editorials

The Kathmandu Post, “Stop peddling pseudoscience”, 19 June 2020

Pakistan

Opinion Pieces

Irfan Husain, “India’s ambitions”, Dawn,20 June 2020

Zahid Hussian, “Leadership matters”, Dawn, 17 June 2020

Khurram Husain, “Budgeting on hope”, Dawn, 18 June 2020

Syed Mohammad Ali, “The World Bank’s ‘Papergate’”, The Express Tribune, 19 June 2020

Editorials

Dawn, “China-India clash”, 18 June 2020

The Express Tribune, “India-China tensions”,18 June 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Kumar David, “Leave no room for military to thirst for power”, The Island, 21 June 2020

Dr Upul Jayawardhana, “Gota-Sajith alliance: Exercise in futility?”, The Island, 21 June 2020

M S M Ayub, “Elections remain a gamble for the people”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 June 2020

Ravi Nagahawatte, “Mahinda’s 50 years in politics: A battle-hardened politician who is still indispensable”, Daily Mirror Online, 18 June 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “What after Mangala’s new poll design?”, Ceylon Today, 16 June 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “When Tamil parties want to talk to the Government”, Colombo Gazette, 15 June 2020


Contributors

Afghanistan: Shubhangi Pandey

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

Pakistan: Ayjaz Wani


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