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This week our top story explores a string of mysterious murders involving India’s most-wanted accused terrorists. We also have an interview with Sean Turnell, an Australian economist who spent nearly two years in prison in Myanmar after the coup.
The Diplomat Brief
November 15,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story explores a string of mysterious murders involving India’s most-wanted accused terrorists. We also have an interview with Sean Turnell, an Australian economist who spent nearly two years in prison in Myanmar after the coup.
Story of the week
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Does India Have an Assassination Program?

What Happened: India and Canada’s bilateral relationship has been on ice since the Canadian government claimed to have evidence that the Indian government was involved in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian national and Sikh separatist leader who was designated a terrorist by India in 2020. India has strongly denied the accusations. However, Nijjar is not the only man on India’s wanted list to die a violent – and mysterious – death abroad. Is the growing tally of dead enemies a coincidence, or evidence that India does indeed have an assassination program?

Our Focus: One former operative of RAW, India’s intelligence agency, claimed to have direct knowledge of one such assassination: the killing of Khalid Bashir. Bashir, who served as the chief security officer for Hafiz Saeed, leader of the Pakistan-based Islamist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), was murdered in May 2013 in Lahore. A source told Siddharthya Roy, a journalist focusing on terrorism and transnational crime in South Asia, that India was behind the kill. Further arousing suspicions, no fewer than five men alleged to have partaken in the 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 have been murdered in the past five years. None of these cases has been solved.

What Comes Next: Indian intelligence officials have denied involvement in any of these cases. One former covert agent insisted that India couldn’t have pulled off so many killings in heavily-surveilled Pakistani cities. Instead, he suggested Pakistani authorities were guilty: “Every once in a while, rogue states like Pakistan do a purge of troublemakers once their usefulness has expired. And this is a purge that’s underway.” But while everyone officially denied India partakes in extraterritorial killings, many suggested there would be nothing wrong in doing so: “See, all big nations resort to assassination,” one high-ranking RAW agent told The Diplomat. “... And it is natural that India might – not saying it has – but might do things just as all big nations do.”

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Behind the News


Sean Turnell

Sean Turnell, author of the book “An Unlikely Prisoner” documenting his detention in Myanmar, on why he thinks he was arrested: “My arrest was useful to the SAC [State Administration Council] – in painting a narrative that somehow the NLD [National League for Democracy] government was a puppet of sinister foreign hands that were pulling all the strings.”

Read the interview
This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

The Big Biden-Xi Summit

A year after their first in-person meeting in Bali, President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will meet again – this time in San Francisco, where the United States is hosting this year’s APEC summit. The Biden-Xi meeting is the culmination of a flurry of high-level exchanges that began in June this year; the question now is whether it will deliver anything beyond a pledge to keep talking. With deeply entrenched differences, China and the U.S. might not be able to achieve much aside from clearing away some dangerous misperceptions – itself no small feat.

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Bonus: While Xi’s visit is taking all the headline space, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol will also be at the APEC summit. They are expected to reaffirm their commitment to trilateral cooperation with the U.S.

South Asia

Voting Continues in Indian State Elections

Voters in two states – Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – will go to the polls on November 17, the middle of a string of 5 Indian states holding polls this month. This week’s votes are a straight contest between the BJP and the Congress – posing a test not only for the opposition’s electoral prospects but also for the INDIA coalition. The opposition bloc has faced questions since its inception about how the parties will work together in state polls, where their interests are often at odds.

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Southeast Asia

Myanmar Resistance Group Opens New Front in Rakhine

This week, the Arakan Army launched attacks on military outposts in Rakhine State, potentially opening a major new front in the country’s nationwide civil war. The assaults by the Arakan Army (AA) have so far targeted police stations in a number of townships in the western Myanmar state, breaking an informal ceasefire that has held since November 2022. The well-armed AA is part of the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which late last month launched Operation 1027 in northern Shan State. The offensive has made swift progress, overrunning an estimated 150 military outposts , cutting a major border crossing with China, and seizing control of numerous towns and strategic highway junctions. With the Myanmar military losing ground fast in northern Shan, the extension of Operation 2017 to Rakhine State could be disastrous for the country’s besieged and overextended junta.

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Central Asia

Kazakhstan Takes Small Steps Toward Direct Election of Local Leaders

In 2021, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a law changing the country’s electoral procedures to allow for direct elections at the local level. Local leadership had long been appointed or indirectly elected. That summer, 730 village akims – akin to a mayor – were directly elected for the first time. But it wasn’t until early November 2023 that larger entities – specifically three towns and 42 provincial districts – were enabled to directly elect their leaders. It is perhaps no surprise that the victors mostly hail from the ruling party, Amanat, and most already held the positions to which they've now been elected.

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Visualizing APAC

Ports visits to Pacific Island countries by the Chinese navy are one demonstration of China’s growing interest – and influence – in the region.

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Word of the Week


жети ата

Jeti ata, Kyrgyz for “seven fathers,” refers to the traditional expectation that children can recite their ancestry back 7 generations – but only on the male line.

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Asian Studies at Georgetown
Indo-Pacific Bidenomics: A New Economic Order

The Diplomat Magazine | November 2023

Indo-Pacific Bidenomics:
A New Economic Order

This month, our cover story explores the economic aspects of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, as well as the implications for great power competition. We also dig into the politics and pressures driving Nepal’s approach to China, visit a struggling village on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, and take early stock of Cambodia’s first new prime minister in nearly 40 years. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

Read the Magazine