Central & South Asia Observer

March 18th, 2022

01

India: State Elections

Over the past few months, citizens of the major Indian states, Manipur, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh headed to the polls for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. The stakes were high for the current ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), given their holdings on a majority of seats in four out of the five states’ governments, opposition parties sought to replace the BJP as the ruling party by tapping into public disenchantment on issues like unemployment and inflation. The most crucial state for the BJP is Uttar Pradesh, as a victory there would decide the trajectory of the general election in 2024. Uttar Pradesh is one of the most populous states in India, home to more than 200 million Indians, the state holds a lot of political power in India, as they send the most legislators to Parliament, making a win here crucial politically. Uttar Pradesh is also symbolically important as communal tensions have been very prevalent in the past and continue to be today. However, for the BJP, winning a majority in all five states has proven to be a difficult task  due to the COVID surge in 2021, the economic issues that ensued, and the BJP’s growing intolerance towards minorities, specifically Muslims. This is proven to be especially difficult for Yogi Adityanath, the current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath is notorious for his extreme, militant-like Hindu nationalist rhetoric and his harmful policies towards the Muslim minority and civil society activists. Adityanath’s main competitor is Akhilesh Yadav, the former chief minister from the Samajwadi or Socialist party. It is crucial to point out that it is very unlikely for the Indian National Congress party to win many seats in Uttar Pradesh due to their decline in popularity and power. This puts quite a lot of pressure on Yadav to attempt to unseat Adityanath in the elections if the opposition wants to succeed in deterring the BJP from solidifying their power in India. Should the BJP win in the state elections, it could solidify India’s trajectory towards a Hindu-nationalist, authoritarian country. Narendra Modi and the BJP government has already done a lot of damage to idea of Indian secular democracy by revoking article 370 and 35-A in Indian-administered Kashmir, passing the Citizenship Amendment Act, by passing the controversial farm laws and committing human rights abuses during the farmer’s protests, and by doing very little to combat the very serious COVID crisis in 2021. The BJP’s push towards a Hindu-nationalist, authoritarian India poses a threat to their long-standing secular democracy as they continue to oppress and threaten the minorities and those who oppose their rhetoric. It is imperative that the opposition works hard to succeed in unseating the BJP in these crucial elections.

02

Pakistan: Cooperation with Russia

On February 23rd, 2022 Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Moscow to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin on issues ranging from economic cooperation and a delayed gas pipeline pivotal to Pakistan’s economy to Islamophobia. In 2015, Pakistan and Russia agreed to build a 683 mile long pipeline to transfer imported Liquified Natural Gas from Karachi on the Arabian Sea coast to power plants in the northeastern province of Punjab. This project, known as the Pakistan Stream gas project or the North-South gas pipeline, is to be built in partnership with Russian companies. The project was halted in 2020 after the U.S. levied sanctions against the company Pakistan was negotiating with. The costs of the project are estimated to be between $1.5 billion and $3.5 billion, with Russia financing 26% of it and Islamabad the remaining 74%. Khan’s visit to Russia came after several Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia for their military deployment into Ukraine, suggesting further delays in the project. The North-South gas pipeline is significant for Pakistan and especially their power sector since the country’s reliance on imported LNG has increased in the wake of their diminishing domestic gas supplies. Completion of the pipeline would resolve issues with availability and transportation of gas within Pakistan, particularly during the winter season when demand for gas is high. By helping Pakistan build its natural gas infrastructure, Russia anticipates Pakistani gas demand to divert Middle Eastern gas supply from Europe to Pakistan, thereby increasing dependency on Russian gas. Pakistan and Russia have grown closer as they have held regular joint military exercises since 2016. Both countries seek not only to deepen their economic ties but Russia also plans to sell arms to Pakistan. It is expected that Pakistan will continue to develop stronger ties with Russia which conflicts with U.S. interests of countering Russia.

03

Bangladesh: Human Rights Groups ask UN to Ban Bangladeshi RAB from Peacekeeping

In a letter published on January 20, 2022, 12 human rights organizations asked the United Nations to exclude Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) members from peacekeeping units due to evidence of ill conduct. Members of the human rights groups cited evidence indicating RAB’s history of extrajudicial killings and abuses. With Bangladesh having been the largest troop contributor to the UN in 2020, the international organization has yet to comment on the situation.

RAB was established in 2004 to combat crime and terror in Bangladesh but has since been involved in hundreds of murders, disappearances, and cases of torture. The United States has labeled the battalion as responsible for “serious human rights abuses”. The Bangladeshi government fervently maintains that RAB is an integral government agency and denies all accusations of wrongdoing. Failing to implement thorough background checks on units offered to the UN has and may continue to lead to individuals with a history of abuses entering the force

04

Bangladesh

Since taking in nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar, Bangladesh has struggled to manage population size in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp. On October 9, 2021 the Bangladeshi government and the United Nations (UN) signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Rohingya humanitarian response on Bhasan Char in an attempt to ameliorate overcrowding in the camps. The MoU would allow for the transfer of Rohingya refugees to the Bangladeshi island of Bhasan Char under a UN policy framework that ensures the protection of Rohingyas on the island. The UN has emphasized and supported Bangladesh’s efforts to provide access to education, skill-training, and health for these refugees so that they may be able to sustainably return to Burma. During the MoU, the UN praised Bangladesh’s continued commitment to providing humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees and called on the international community to monetarily support such efforts.

05

Central Asia: Increasing Uncertainty

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created uncertainty within Central Asia. As former Soviet republics that gained independence about three decades ago, the Central Asian states are still largely dependent on Russia. The sanctions placed on Russia have already taken a significant economic toll on the region. For example, Kazakhstan, which exports two-thirds of its oil through Russian ports, raised its baseline interest rate from 10.25 percent to 13.5 percent to protect its currency which fell alongside the Russian ruble. Central Asian states also depend on Russia for remittances from seasonal migrant workers, particularly in construction. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, remittances made up nearly 30 percent of the countries’ GDP in 2020. Imports of staple commodities such as grain and sugar from Russia will also be severely diminished. As the war in Ukraine rages on, Central Asian governments are wary of taking any strong positions. With the diminished position of Russia in the Central Asian economies, China may seize upon the opportunity and build more economic ties as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. Regardless of the war’s conclusion, the fallout will continue to affect Central Asia for a significant period after.

05

Afghanistan: Taliban Restrictions

In Afghanistan, Taliban officials have reneged on a previously made argument to open high schools for women. Conversely, the Taliban announced that the women’s high schools would remain closed until a plan that is in accordance with Islamic law was established. During the previous Taliban rule (1996 -2001), education and most employment opportunities for women were prohibited. Following the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in 2004, women enjoyed access to education and more employment opportunities including in medicine, private entrepreneurship, and government. With the fall of the government in August of 2021, women have been forced back into their homes. Currently, no women are part of the Taliban government. The moves by the Taliban to curtail women’s education will certainly decrease literacy rates among Afghans. In some cases, women are the only ones who can perform jobs according to Taliban rules, but they will not be able to access the training necessary to complete those jobs. For example, only female doctors are permitted to be in the delivery room during a birth. With the lack of female health professionals and Taliban rules against men delivering care to women, Afghan women face a significant health crisis exacerbated by the humanitarian crisis in the country.