Student research: From Yale to Bhutan looking for the rare nest of endangered White-bellied Heron

Indra Acharja in the field in Bhutan.

The White-bellied Heron is a critically endangered heron species found only in Bhutan, Northeast India, and Myanmar. Fewer than 60 confirmed White-bellied Herons exist in the world today. While there are few records of occurrence of the bird from the range countries, nests of this species have remained one of the rarest in history. Before 2000, only two nests had been found which were presumed to be of this bird; one was reported in Darjeeling, India, before 1890 and another in Myanmar, before 1930. With lack of breeding evidence, the bird was assumed to have vanished during late 1900 until a new nest was found in Bhutan in 2003. Since then, two to five active nests have been identified in Bhutan from where two to eight new chicks fledge annually. However, the population has remained critically low and the trend is further declining.

Bangladesh Joins the Space Age

Satellite pride: Bangladeshi citizens exult at the launch of first national satellite; Bangabandhu-1 on the launch pad in Florida

With the launch of the Bangabandhu-1 satellite, Bangladesh has entered the space age. The project, assisted by other space powers, cost US$248 million and marks a promising step in integrating the economy in a global market, explains Abu Sufian Shamrat. Critics of the Bangabandhu-1 point to other concerns for the low-income rural nation. Yet over time the new technology, including 4G and expanded connectivity, could lead to innovation, sustainable economic growth and reduced unemployment. Fair and broad distribution of services with integration of rural districts could boost public support, and advanced communications are expected to reduce dependency on foreign satellite services and benefit telemedicine, distance learning, finance, agriculture and other sectors. Main challenges include repayment of borrowed funds for the satellite’s procurement and launch and a struggle to acquire space sovereignty. For now, Bangladesh’s expansion into space relies on cooperation with other space powers. – YaleGlobal

In Search of the Real Indo-Pacific

What’s in a name? US Defense Secretary James N. Mattis explains the geopolitical significance of the Indo-Pacific region while India’s Premier Narendra Modi downplays political significance

Global powers express renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific, and intentions are divided over strategies that could counter China or entice Chinese participation. The Indo-Pacific region dominated discussions at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, even more so than the summit between leaders of North Korea and the United States, explains Donald K. Emmerson, director of the Southeast Asia Program at Stanford University. Ministers. Delegates from more than 50 nations gathered at the security summit organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, June 1 to 3. Parties with an interest in the region rush to frame possibilities: India’s prime minister denied viewing the region as strategic or exclusive while the US defense secretary linked geography and ideology. Emmerson advises pragmatism. The Indo-Pacific is unlikely to rival China’s far-reaching Belt and Road Initiative, and the US already struggles with close G7 allies on supporting an international rule-based order. Emmerson concludes, “the temptation to read multilateral diplomatic content into a map of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ drawn in Washington should be resisted.” – YaleGlobal

India-China Relations in the Age of Xi Jinping

Chinese and Indian troops at standoff at India's border with Bhutan in summer 2017; India's Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi meet

The leaders of China and India, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, have nationalist tendencies with a pragmatic bend. Varying economic growth for the two rival nations and contrasting systems of governance – one increasingly authoritarian and the other democratic – have given China the upper hand as a power broker in Asia, suggests Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary of India and a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. China is taking a conciliatory approach for the time being due to unpredictability in the global economy and regional security. Saran analyzes how leadership influences the Chinese-Indian relationship: Xi and Modi rely on leader-to-leader engagement and focus on a “strategic and global dimension” beyond typical dynamics of bilateral relations. Both men explore numerous areas where compromise can be pursued, allowing both emerging powers to focus on pressing matters at home and abroad during a period of great uncertainty. – YaleGlobal

India’s Indian Ocean Challenge

 Indian Premier Narendra Modi with James Alexis Michel, president of Seychelles, during a 2015 visit, and a bridge crossing ocean waters to the Maldives airport, built by China, nears completion

Framed by Africa and Asia, the Indian Ocean is a potential source of global growth, already carrying two thirds of the world’s oil shipments and half the container traffic. China and India increasingly compete in the region, country by country, though local politics and resentments over tourism, trade or labor can derail efforts. India discovered this in the Seychelles after a deal on building a navy base on Assumption Island fell apart. “India’s attempt to gain a foothold in the western Indian Ocean may have suffered a temporary setback, but it won’t be the last of such attempts,” explains Harsh V Pant. “Competition for influence in the Indian Ocean is heating up with China and India both mapping out respective strategies.” China could take a lead with its extensive Belt and Road Initiative, but some partners are increasingly concerned about debt associated with the infrastructure investment. Potential partners leverage their opportunities, and Pant concludes that with a rapidly shifting strategic landscape, both countries must meet expectations or lose credibility as regional powers. – YaleGlobal

Environmental engineering students work in India for better water

A group of Yale students working with an Indian scientist in Hyderabad.

The humanitarian trips that students in Professor Jaehong Kim’s course “Environmental Technology in the Developing World” take each spring break have become an established tradition at Yale. For the most recent trip, there were a few new twists.

After a few years of traveling to Nicaragua, the course brought students for the first time to India. There, they worked with a for-profit company — another first for the class. Kim, the seven students, and two teaching assistants worked with Water Health International (WHI), based in Hyderabad, India. The company operates small-scale community water treatment systems and sells treated water to consumers, who cart away water in jars for a small fee.

It is a great humanitarian operation, but they still make money,” said Kim, professor and chair of the Department Chemical and Environmental Engineering. “It’s a very interesting and eye-opening experience to see such an operation, not only for me, but for the students. They learn that environmental engineering is, of course, about helping people, but it also has a business component to it as well.”


Conference on Identities in Contemporary Afghanistan

This two-day conference at Yale University, held from 13-14 April 2018, will investigate identities in contemporary Afghanistan. Social organization in Afghanistan is complex with interwoven identities based on religion, ethnicity, regional identity and political affiliation—amongst others—deeply entrenched by a legacy of conflict, processes of state formation and other broad historical forces.

The US-led intervention and the socio-political forces it has unleashed have triggered a period of significant social re-organization and change in Afghanistan. For example, new modes of government have led to shifting ethnic relations. Traditional forms of masculinity and femininity are being contested by imported Western conceptions of gendered identity and sexuality. Contemporary manifestations of Afghan nationalism engender new forms of national identity that, in turn, intersect and interact with emerging ethnic and regional identities. In addition, ‘new’ forms of identity have gained traction in present-day Afghanistan, including the growing distinction between ‘returnees’ and those who remained in-country during the recent decades of conflict. Class relations and associated modes of distinction have grown in importance in rural areas of the country and in previously impoverished communities. And, the salience of generational membership—in the context of a rapidly modernizing and increasingly educated youth—has become increasingly important.

The conference welcomes scholars to New Haven, Connecticut for the purposes of presenting papers and engaging in scholarly dialogue. Through a series of panels, speakers will present and discuss topics relating to identity, intersectionality, social organization and change in contemporary Afghanistan. The conference will be a public event in which proceedings will be enjoyed by Yale faculty and students and members of the public.

This conference is made possible with a grant from the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund, and funding from the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale. Additional financial support has been provided by both the South Asian Studies Council and Council on Middle East Studies at the MacMillan Center and the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies. Funded in part by a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center grant.