Showing posts with label South Asia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Asia. Show all posts

5 September 2019

Data and Development: Harnessing AI in Nepal

By Manish Gyawali

Creating a strong economy should be central to any country’s developmental plans. It is clear that the best choice for a country to grow its economy today is to accept the tenets of economic liberalism: keep markets free and competitive and minimize governmental interference in markets. 

In developing countries, in which governments often have a stronger role to play in economic growth and development, it is essential that accurate data be used as the basic input in policymaking. The reasons for doing so are self-evident: collecting accurate data serves as the most reliable metric of the “baseline” state of a country. Changes in the data therefore reflect actual changes on the ground. 

Today, we have new modes of data collection that are more reliable than those used in the past. Traditionally, surveys were seen as the main instruments of data collection. Information obtained from surveys is often accurate, but designing them is difficult and time-consuming. Thankfully today, we have a plethora of other data sources that may be more current and more reliable. These new data sources include data retrieved from the internet such as the outputs of web crawling and social media, telecommunications data, and geospatial data. 

8 August 2019

How South Asia can continue as world’s fastest growing subregion

By Lei Lei Song

Since 2014, South Asia has been the fastest growing subregion in the world, with its eight economies collectively boasting average annual growth of 7.0%. This is higher even than East Asia (6.2%), which includes China; Southeast Asia (4.9%); and the Pacific (4.7%). To carry on this impressive performance beyond the next couple of years, though, will require reforms and investments.

Strong growth in South Asia has been largely driven by the performance of Bangladesh and India, with growth averaging above 7% in the past five years. Domestic demand in terms of consumption and investment has been strong. Major reforms such as the introduction of a goods and service tax in India and measures to make it easier to do business across the subregion have helped promote private investment. In next two years, India is expected to continue to grow above 7%, while Bangladesh’s growth is around 8%.

28 July 2019

July 2019 Issue VOLUME 12, ISSUE 6

In our cover article, Matt Bryden and Premdeep Bahra trace the evolution of the jihadi terrorist threat in East Africa over the last three decades. They argue that al-Shabaab’s January 2019 attack on the Dusit D2 luxury hotel compound in Nairobi, Kenya, “brought together three strands of al-Shabaab’s organizational DNA: its Somali provenance, its ideological affiliation with al-Qa`ida, and its growing cohort of trained, experienced East African fighters. The successful combination of these traits in a single operation suggests that al-Shabaab’s longstanding ambition to transcend its Somali origins and become a truly regional organization is becoming a reality, representing a new and dangerous phase in the group’s evolution and the threat that it poses to the region.”

Our interview is with Catherine De Bolle, the Executive Director of Europol, who previously served as Commissioner General of the Belgian Federal Police between 2012 and 2018.

4 July 2019

Nepal: The Guthi Bill And Lessons Learnt (Brute Majority Is Not Enough) – OpEd

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

The Controversial Guthi Bill, its abrupt withdrawal from the Parliament and subsequent massive but disciplined demonstration against the Government’s attempt to nationalize Guthis should be a good lesson for Oli Government. 

First, the Government thought that with its brute majority it could get through the bill without considering or even attempting to explain to the people the benefits. This was a mistake. The second mistake was to treat it as law and order problem in the early stages. In the end, it brought, the power of the common man to the fore as against the might of the Government. What is left unsaid was tht the powerful Newar community cannot be trifled with and particularly with their centuries old traditions and practices.

Guthis are socio economic institutions that have been present since the fifth century. These institutions that are mainly held as trusts have certain obligations like conducting the many festivals of the valley with the proceeds of the endowed land and donations from the public. Of late the income from the endowed lands has not been sufficient but these festivals like the many “Rath yatras” one sees in Kathmandu were the result of generous donations of well to do people. There was active participation of the public in all these festivities.

3 July 2019

The Indo-Pacific Is the New Asia

By Melissa Conley Tyler

It’s official. We live in the Indo-Pacific. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations released a joint statement this week in Bangkok during its annual summit called the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”. It defines the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions as a single interconnected region, the Indo-Pacific. While it won’t stop people from disliking the term, it suggests that the Indo-Pacific is now the shared geographic term for conceiving of this region.

The controversy over naming the region has generated heat for some time. For some, the Indo-Pacific concept is seen as divisive. In Australia, there have been debates over whether it’s an objective statement of geography or a loaded political term used to signal support for US over China.

It’s also been contested term in the wider region. China doesn’t like the term, complaining about a scent of containment. India supports it (that’s the “Indo-” bit), as does Japan. France recently released an Indo-Pacific strategy. But the big issue is the United States’ support for the term culminating in its Indo-Pacific Strategy released this month.

Southeast Asia has been a battleground for the term. For decades, the identity of the region has been one of “Asia” in a wider Asia-Pacific (Think the “Malaysia, Truly Asia” campaign).

2 July 2019

Myanmar: Current Developments – Analysis

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan.

The unilateral cease fire ordered by the Army ends Sunday and there is as yet no sign whether the ceasefire will be further extended by the Army. 

For the first time, there were fewer incidents of fighting between Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army in June. However an incident near Sittwe port and the destruction of construction materials of an Indian project for Kaladan Bridge should be of concern to India. 

The Chinese are now back in their attempts to revive the Myitsone dam but the local leaders do not seem to be convinced! 

It is now learnt that Sheikh Hasina in her visit to China in the first week of July is likely to press China to intervene and persuade Myanmar to start taking back Rohingya refugees.
Will the Unilateral Ceasefire be Extended by the Myanmar Army?

The unilateral ceasefire ordered by the Tatmadaw (except in Western Command in Rakhine State) ends today. The first cease fire was from December 21, 2018 to April 30 2019 and the second one extended at the behest of China was between April 30, 2019 to June 30 2019. There is no information as yet whether the Chinese would move again for another extension as they should as most of the conflict areas are on the Chinese border.

1 July 2019

How the digital economy is shaping a new Bangladesh

With the advent of rapid digitalization, many developing countries like Bangladesh are focusing on the digital economy: a global market for digital outsourcing.

The digitalization of a country’s economy not only drives innovation in its service industry, it also fuels domestic job opportunities, enabling faster economic growth. In the quest to lower costs and risks, many large corporations in developed nations like the US, UK and Australia are turning to IT outsourcingfrom countries including Bangladesh, leading to a recent boom in freelancing.

Freelancing jobs include everything from computer programming to web design, tax preparation, and search engine optimization. This has generated a wide range of new opportunities for people in emerging markets that did not previously exist. Asia has become the number-one region for providing outsourcing services to the rest of the world.

27 June 2019

Fighting Venom With Venom: Is There A Case For Using Al Qaeda Against ISIS?

by Uddipan Mukherjee

A major difference of ideology between Al Qaeda and ISIS is with regard to attacks on places of worship of non-believers (minorities) as well as non-conformist Muslim groups.

To contain an ultra-radical ISIS, an Al Qaeda can be a tactical option.

However, a solution to end Islamic terrorism can explored with a combination of military, political, propaganda and sociological tools.

ISIS, through its recently posted video on 29 April 2019 commended the suicide bombers of the Lankan attacks of April which took away the lives of around 250 individuals.

Your brothers in Sri Lanka have healed the hearts of monotheists with their suicide bombings, which shook the beds of the crusaders during Easter to avenge your brothers in Baghouz.Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, 29 April 2019, Al Furquan Media Of Islamic State Of Iraq And Syria (ISIS)

Why have we forgotten one of WWII’s most important battles?

By Lydia Walker

The Battle of Kohima has much to teach us about how we remember the past.

Earlier this month, international leaders congregated in Normandy to celebrate its wartime anniversary, which included a commemorative parachute jump. D-Day was one of the many smaller wars that made up World War II, yet the battles, images and people of that invasion have become central to our memory of the war. By contrast, little such fanfare will mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Kohima today, even though its landscape, too, is saturated in history.

The bloody three-month long siege of Kohima took place in the Himalayan foothills of Nagaland, in northeast India, the region which hangs over what is now Bangladesh and borders what is now Myanmar. Though the allied victory against the Japanese was a major turning point on par with the Battle of Stalingrad, we won’t see world leaders travel to Kohima for its remembrance. This battle has been comparatively forgotten because of where it occurred and who fought and lived there.

22 June 2019

Orban and Aung San Suu Kyi Gave in to Hate the Same Way

By Azeem Ibrahim

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her pro-democracy activism and her resilience in advocating for the cause of democracy in the face of terrible repression by the socialist military junta of Myanmar.

Around the same time, a young Viktor Orban was feted as one of Europe’s future democratic leaders after playing an instrumental role in Hungary’s post-communist transition to democracy. Had the field been less crowded in Europe, Orban could well have been nominated for the same honor as Aung San Suu Kyi, and for the same reasons.

Back then, you would have expected the fellow University of Oxford graduates to have a lot in common. Alas, the two also have much in common today—just all the wrong things. A summit between the two on June 5 epitomized the painful truth: On opposite sides of the earth, the two leaders have converged toward the same rejection of everything they once stood for.

Orban is reviled by many at the moment as the spiritual father of European right-wing populist illiberal democracy. He is a highly successful domestic politician who casts a long shadow over European politics and the West’s long-standing efforts for a peaceful and cohesive Europe under a liberal political and economic consensus.

19 June 2019

Nepal: “ A Summer of Protests”- Does PM Oli care?

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

This summer, Nepal is seen to be witnessing protests on various issues all of the Government’s own making.

The first was the Media Council Bill which is still attracting a large number of protests. There has been no attempt by the government to explain the Government’s stand! (We have a paper on this)

Then came the advertisement in the Public Service Commission calling for filling up of vacancies of over 9161 local government posts- a responsibility over which the centre has no moral jurisdiction when the States are mandated to do so under the Constitution. This is being done without even ensuring proper quota under the reservation scheme. No doubt the States and particularly the Madhesi groups are up in arms.

Then there is the Guthi Samsthan bill by which the Government ,wants to nationalize the Guthi properties and bring them all under a National Commission- a project the Government had been planning since last November. There was no hurry to take over the Guthi functions done by private institutions under proper checks and there have been no complaints of misappropriation or misuse. Guthis are socio-economic Institutions to fulfill religious, public and cultural functions. Yet the the Government was in a hurry to upset the powerful Newar Community of the valley who allege that it is a direct assault on their cultural heritage!,

11 Years on, Has Nepal’s Republic Succeeded?

By Peter Gill

Pessimism about Nepal’s politics is common, despite significant changes since the declaration of the republic in 2008.

In Nepal, May 28 marks Republic Day, commemorating the date in 2008 when an elected Constituent Assembly brought an end to the country’s centuries-old monarchy and declared it a federal, democratic republic. This year, the president and a minister marked the holiday by inaugurating a new Republic Memorial at a park that was symbolically carved out of the old royal palace grounds, known as Narayanhiti, in central Kathmandu. But after the VIPs left, the monument did not open to the public as planned. Like many state construction projects, it has faced repeated delays since it began in 2012, and workers are now completing finishing touches and removing scaffolding.

Across the street from the Memorial’s closed gate is a small teashop where office workers and local youth gather in the mornings. Hari Ballav Pant, the shop’s gregarious, grey-mustachioed owner, grew up in the neighborhood and has seen it change dramatically over the years. During the monarchy, he ran a business shampooing carpets inside Narayanhiti Palace. When asked what the new Republic Memorial means to him, Pant replies tersely.

18 June 2019

Is Bangladesh Winning in the US-China Trade War?

By Anu Anwar

The implications for Bangladesh of the trade war are significant, if Dhaka can seize opportunities and avoid the pitfalls ahead.

As the U.S.-China trade war intensified, pundits on both sides of the Pacific and elsewhere are calculating: Who is the real winner? Indeed, it is not China or the United States, but countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Chile that could benefit from the widening trade dispute between the world’s two biggest economies. The impending effect of the trade war on supply chain dynamics and investment patterns could help these countries emerge as potential winners of the conflict.

For Bangladesh, China and the United States have been long-time, stable trade partners. The volume and values of trade are very significant with both countries. However, the nature of trade with both countries is different. Bangladesh’s top import partner is China, with Bangladesh importing over $15 billion in Chinese goods, as of 2017. Meanwhile, the United States is the second largest destination for Bangladesh’s exports, taking in more than $5.8 billion in 2017 (Germany was the largest destination at just over $6 billion).

17 June 2019

One South Asia

Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world, with a population of 1.67 billion people and economic growth of 7.1 percent over the last decade. But despite recent shifts, historical political tensions, trust deficit, cross-border conflicts and security concerns contribute to a low-level equilibrium.

At present, South Asia is one of the least integrated regions. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5 percent of South Asia’s total trade, compared to 25 percent in ASEAN. Intra-regional investment is smaller than 1 percent of overall investment. 

16 June 2019

The Rohingya Crisis

Eleanor Albert and Andrew Chatzky

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group, are fleeing persecution in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, fueling a historic migration crisis.


Discriminatory policies of Myanmar’s government since the late 1970s have compelled hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya to flee their homes in the predominantly Buddhist country. Most have crossed by land into Bangladesh, while others have taken to the sea to reach Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Beginning in 2017, renewed violence, including reported rape, murder, and arson, triggered an exodus of Rohingya amid charges of ethnic cleansing against Myanmar’s security forces. Those forces claim they are carrying out a campaign to reinstate stability in the western region of Myanmar, but international pressure on the country’s elected leaders to rein in violence continues to rise.

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority who practice a Sufi-inflected variation of Sunni Islam. There are an estimated 3.5 million Rohingya dispersed worldwide. Before August 2017, the majority of the estimated one million Rohingya in Myanmar resided in Rakhine State, where they accounted for nearly a third of the population. They differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups ethnically, linguistically, and religiously.

9 May 2019

South Asia Is Islamic State’s New Target

by Sadanand Dhume 

Islamic State has lost its caliphate in the Middle East, but it retains the capability to cause mayhem thousands of miles away. This is the grim lesson of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, in which suicide bombers killed more than 250 people at three churches and three luxury hotels. No region is entirely safe from such attacks, but South Asian democracies such as India and Sri Lanka appear particularly vulnerable.

In March, Islamic State lost its last sliver of Syrian territory to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, but the scale and sophistication of the Sri Lanka attacks show that the jihadist group remains dangerous. That eight of the nine suicide bombers detonated their explosives with no hitches points to expert bomb making. Most terrorist groups also cannot marshal the resources or manage the logistical complexity of plotting nearly simultaneous attacks across three cities.

3 May 2019

What explains rich-kid terrorists

By Peter Bergen

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of "United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles at CNN.

(CNN)Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said Wednesday that most of the terrorists who killed at least 253 people at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Sunday were "well-educated and come from maybe middle- or upper-middle-class. So, they are financially quite independent, and their families are quite stable financially."

Two of the suicide bombers were the sons of a wealthy Sri Lankan spice trader, Mohamed Ibrahim, sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

28 April 2019

What’s Different About the Attacks in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka has a bloody history marked by a brutal, nearly 30-year civil war. In recent years, it’s been mostly spared from violence, until Easter Sunday, when large-scale, apparently coordinated terrorist attacks on churches and hotels killed nearly 300 people.

The government blamed the attack on a little-known Islamist militant group, National Thowheed Jamath, which had gained notoriety in Sri Lanka for defacing four statues of the Buddha outside temples in Mawanella, a town in the country’s center, in December 2018. What investigators will now have to piece together is how the group’s capability skyrocketed from vandalism to a sophisticated, multipronged attack and, perhaps more important, why now.

Places of worship are soft targets, but the attacks Sunday suggested a level of complexity not seen since the civil war between the government and the separatist Tamil rebels that ended in 2009. The Tamil rebels pioneered modern suicide bombings, assassinated political leaders, and targeted civilians. But that conflict was also ethnic in nature: the majority Sinhala community versus the Tamil rebels. Since then, religious violence has been rare—and when it does erupt, it is typically restricted to Buddhist-Muslim tensions. That’s partly why the Easter assault by an obscure group on Christian places of worship is so surprising.

Lessons Learned from South Asia's Terrorism Troubles

by Abdul Basit

India and Pakistan must make concerted efforts to curb the financing of extremist groups and put an end to cross-border terrorism.

South Asia has one of the highest regional concentration of militant groups in the world, including some of most-wanted jihadist groups by the United States such as Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Ahead of the expected U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) claimed attack on India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Kashmir’s Pulwama district has revived the concerns of a more lethal and dangerous militant landscape in South Asia.

The Pulwama attack has once again exposed the vulnerability of the two South Asian nuclear rivals, India and Pakistan, to terrorist blackmail, by pushing them to the brink of war. The aftermath of the attack underscores a new phase of militancy in violence-infested Kashmir and renewed hostilities between India and Pakistan. In the absence of joint counterterrorism and extremism frameworks at the regional level, South Asian militant groups will continue to exploit inter-state mistrust rivalries and mistrust to expand and entrench themselves in the region.

27 April 2019

The Attacks in Sri Lanka and the Threat of Foreign Fighters

By Daniel Byman

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the horrific terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday on churches in Sri Lanka, which killed over 300 people. It appears that the group may have worked with a local radical Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, mixing the resources and capabilities of both. Initial reporting—still to be verified—indicates that many of those arrested in the follow-up sweep had fought in Syria. Early reports are often wrong or exaggerated, but if Sri Lankan foreign fighters played a significant role in the terrorist attacks, this would be the largest killing by foreign fighters linked to the Islamic State ever, and the largest foreign fighter-linked attack since 9/11. The attacks suggest both the danger posed by foreign fighters and the importance of government efforts in stopping them.

When individuals leave their homes and travel to a foreign war zone, they often change profoundly. The travelers usually train and fight, and they often emerge more skilled as a result. In some cases, as with those who went to Afghanistan in the 1990s, individuals may go through multiple training courses and learn highly specialized skills. In others, they often learn only the basics of combat, but that combat experience gives them greater skill and discipline—if they survive. Such experience may explain the jump in lethality for Sri Lankan jihadists, who before the Easter attacks had not carried out mass casualty terrorism. Coordinated attacks are more difficult than one-offs, and National Thowheeth Jama’ath’s track record had consisted of vandalism against Buddhist statues and low-level communal violence. In addition, the suicide vests used in the Sri Lankan attacks all worked—a rarity for many terrorist groups—and in general showed a high degree of sophistication according to Scott Stewart, a terrorism expert. This suggests that the individuals were well-trained and equipped.