06 April 2012
Pakistan is facing an acute energy crisis. In times such as these, when energy resources are an important marker of future prosperity of a nation, Pakistan’s grip over its energy resources is loosening day by day. The country has been facing major deficit in power supply over the last two years, forcing citizens to resort to violent protests on the streets. And, this year is going to be no different. As on Sunday, 1 April, the supply-demand deficit stood at 6,500 MW, according to the official figures released by the Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO).
The present acute crisis finds its origin in three overlapping causes. First, the demand-supply resource-deficit. Second, inefficient and under-utilisation of available resources. Third and last, unusual climatic conditions that are adding to the deficit. Together they all have made the energy situation rather bleak. There have been protests on the streets of Lahore against power outages, which in some rural areas of Punjab have lasted over 18 hours in a day.
Apart from the usual suspects, the shortfall that exacerbates in summer has an interesting dimension this year. In what could be an obtuse effect of climate-change, hydel power generation from the river systems that are responsible for powering a good share of power plants has been sluggish. As a result, four power plants with a combined capacity of 700 MW, are out of order. The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) reported that the hydel energy potential has come down to as low as 600 to 700 MW on an average. The sluggish water flows have forced the closure of two major independent power plants, namely AEG, and Pak Gen. This is in addition to Hubco and Engro that are shut partially, because of the technical and maintenance reasons. The inflow is not expected to increase drastically in the next two weeks since snow melts slower than glaciers do, nor is there enough gas left to power these dead power plants as an alternative.
On the agriculture front, the kharif season that begins in April is going to face the brunt as sowing will be affected adversely. The sowing pattern depends upon the predictions of water availability. And this year due to the unusual phenomenon of snowing in March, predicting water flow has become difficult. Thus, IRSA is currently predicting water availability for less than 35 days at a time, compared to 70 days in normal weather conditions. A directive has been issued to the farmers of the Sindh Province to delay sowing until April 15, when the flow of water is expected to increase. Overall, a 21 per cent water shortage is forecast for the next quarter across Punjab and Sindh.
It is also to be noted that electricity in Pakistan is drastically subsidised leading to a ‘spiral debt’ situation. As per PEPCO figures, an outstanding bill of Pak Rs 152 billion due to the Independent Power Players from the Government. Some of them have threatened to shut down operations if the dues are not paid. Agriculture accounts for over 21 per cent of the GDP and employs almost half of the country’s total labour force. About 62 per cent of the country’s rural population is directly or indirectly involved in farming for its livelihood. Thus, if water shortages continue beyond the first fortnight of April, the economic cost of the crisis will multiply.
The Opposition has found a major plank of criticism in this unfolding crisis. The urgency of the crisis and the resulting protests has been such that it has outflanked the debate over the strained ties with the US in the joint session of Parliament. The PML (N) took to the streets and the Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan threatened to launch a countrywide protest. The record power-shortage is also likely to push the Government to seek out immediate options outside its borders to power the country’s demand. Energy has been a regular topic of discussion in Finance Minister Knar’s news conferences this month. Pakistan is also considering an offer of gas supply from the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL).
It is not that Pakistan does not have options to find its way out of this crisis, but exercising any available option will need a shift in policy-thinking and thereby, a strong political will. India and Iran have emerged as two most reliable options to fuel the country’s future energy needs. But there are considerable economic and political roadblocks between Pakistan and a stable energy future. Effectively, it is energy that will shape the nation’s foreign policy in the medium term. And it is no wonder that the foreign policy at least in the short term is centred on energy.
Though the effect of an extended winter may not show much on the long-term energy policy of the country, the Pakistani economy and agriculture in particular are sure to be hampered by this unusual and unmanageable problem. Even if such changes are temporary, the impact on the water availability can be significant at least in the current season. Rising prices mixed with crippling shortages and resultant outages has equally exposed the hollowness of the Government claims and have brought angry protestors on the streets.
(The writer is an Intern at Observer Research Foundation)
Sri Lanka: Time to reflect on the Indian vote
N Sathiya Moorthy
Not that the worse is over on the UNHRC’s Sri Lanka vote, it is time that Colombo and New Delhi reflected on what had gone wrong, if any, with the brick-by-brick rebuilding of bilateral relations, particularly over the recent years. In the context of the Indian vote in Geneva, which went against Sri Lanka, they need to reconstruct the immediate past with understanding and alacrity to ensure that communication gaps of the kind that had bedevilled their centuries-old engagement in the 20th century are left behind for the good.
That Sri Lanka was upset over the Indian vote would be an under-statement. Post-Geneva Sri Lankan explanations claimed that the Indian vote did the trick for the US-sponsored resolution. Colombo’s passivity in addressing India’s immediate concerns on the vote has, however, been followed by an unstated urgency not to allow political rednecks to run amok, post-vote. The subdued Sri Lankan reaction to the Indian vote was an acknowledgement to two aspects. One was the political compulsions on the domestic front in India, as Sri Lanka saw it. The other was the communication gap that may have led Colombo to believe all along that the Indian vote was in the bag, which belief in turn encouraged Sri Lanka to proceed with its campaign, accordingly.
On ‘domestic political compulsions’ in India, Colombo continues to be on denial mode. It needs to reflect if at the height of ‘Eelam War IV’, India would have extended, or would have been able to extent, near-unlimited support and sympathy to the Sri Lankan Government to finish off the LTTE terror network without the accompanying commitment on an early political solution to the ethnic issue, post-war. Both were inter-linked. Post-war, post-vote, it would be wrong to conclude that India would go back on its part of the deal because Sri Lanka did not keep its commitment on the political solution. The Indian commitment cannot be reversed but the Sri Lankan commitment can still be kept.
There are reasons for it. The Sri Lankan commitment to India had kept the ‘Tamil Nadu factor’ for New Delhi, within manageable levels during the war years. The polity and larger society, both inside Tamil Nadu and erstwhile in the country, understood that LTTE terrorism and the ‘ethnic issue’ were not necessarily two sides of the same coin. They also understood that a solution to the second could not be expected without a preceding solution to the LTTE problem. The LTTE problem having been addressed with Indian support and Tamil Nadu’s sympathy (despite the peripheral pan-Tamil groups protests and protestations to the contrary), there was natural expectation that the other side of the deal should and would also be kept.
Post-war, the argument was for Sri Lanka to be given time for finding a political solution. The latter was already on the platter, on the statute book. The Thirteenth Amendment needed no time for implementation. It needed political will and direction. It was the crux and spirit of the Sri Lankan commitment to India and the rest of the world. On more occasions than one, New Delhi had made that commitment to the Tamils in India and to the international community. It was on behalf of Sri Lanka. Colombo also allowed the reference to the same in the UNHRC counter-resolution passed by the UNHRC in May 2009, post-war.
All nations that voted for it at the time, China and Russia included, endorsed the Indian view. Their votes now against the US resolution related only to country-specificity. They did not have the added Indian problem of having to face constituencies within and outside the country to whom their Governments had made commitments, based on Sri Lanka’s word. India faced that problem.
Independent of the Indian position, Sri Lanka did not have problems with a counter-resolution of such a nature in 2009. It did not protest ‘internationalisation’ of the ethnic issue in the post-war era at the time. It was the driving force, instead. This added a new dimension to the diplomatic discourse. Colombo seemed to have overlooked this part of the process. India that had written the Thirteenth Amendment into the 2009 counter-resolution faced the flak. The credibility of not just Colombo, but New Delhi by extension too was at stake. It might still be uncharitable to say that India tried to cut the losses on this front. It withdrew from the guarantor’s role.
Post-war, the world did not expect the Sri Lankan Government to initiate fresh talks with the Tamil polity in the country, for adding more to 13-A. It was a conscious decision of the Sri Lankan State, but an undefined attempt to curtail the reach of the Amendment. The world at the time would have appreciated if the Government had reservations in extending Police powers wholesale, under a community-centric power-devolution package when that community was limping back from war and terror, and was as much divided within as it was divided outside in the larger national context. The later-day negotiations with the TNA were halting and the Government alone cannot be blamed for it.
Yet, to the TNA should go the credit of not wanting to revive the talks only after 13-A was implemented in full. It had wanted 13-Plus, and the Government’s offer and definition of the same were vague and unsteady. It lacked continuity, hence commitment, too. Today, after year-long talks, punctuated by the Darusmann Report, initiated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Sri Lankan Government’s very own LLRC Report and related developments, if Colombo has amended or abridged version of the 13-A or other initiatives on the power-devolution front, it should not shy away from coming out in the open. That could be a good beginning in the post-Geneva period to put even the post-war period in the past.
The Indian response at the UNHRC vote flowed not from the ‘Tamil Nadu factor’. The ‘China factor’ had no role to play. It is good for both sides that they could evaluate bilateral issues independent of external factors. It was instead based on the unanimous Indian voice, as reflected in Parliament, through a full week and more. The Tamil Nadu parties did protest loudly and disrupted proceedings in both the Houses. Yet, the voice that was heard inside Parliament and outside, too, cut across party and regional lines and labels. Reflecting the mood in native Tamil Nadu, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress leader of the ruling coalition at the Centre, departed from the past on this occasion. The State unit wanted India to vote for the US resolution, and they said so publicly. So were the State and national leaderships of other national and nationalist parties in the country.
Prime Minister Singh’s Parliament statement that India was ‘inclined’ to vote for the US resolution thus was a reflection on the mood of the nation. It was a consensus mood the kind of which President MahindaRajapaksa often says that he needed to build to find an acceptable solution to the ethnic issue, nearer home. The message was clear -- that Governmental commitments to the rest of the world were not time-specific, or circumstances-controlled. They are eternal, to be called into action and at times question.
It is not like politics nearer home, where election promises across democracies are often kept only as promises. Worse still, international commitments are also actionable, not to be time-barred. The other man’s wrongs are not justifications for one’s owns violations of the kind. In Sri Lanka’s case, it also lent credibility to the unsubstantiated Tamils’ claims, often un-understood elsewhere, that independent of the political leaderships of the times, and independent of circumstances the Sri Lankan State was fast on promises and faster on reneging on them.
From the Indian side, it is unclear if the communication could have been initiated by New Delhi before Prime Minister Singh spoke that India was ‘inclined’ to vote for the US resolution. It was a political decision in both the countries. Sri Lanka decided not to negotiate the US resolution. India decided to vote for a negotiated resolution. If the Indian processes had been initiated when Sri Lanka made its stand known, maybe, the political positions might have been different from the two of them to re-negotiate their own later-day positions and arrive at a common ground. It could well have been for Colombo too to have read the evolving Indian compulsions, without dismissing it to the ‘Tamil Nadu factor’ or comparing it to the ‘China factor’, then it would have helped, too. At the end of the day, India-Sri Lanka relations have become a stand-alone affair, where the ‘China card’ was neither considered, nor played by either.
The strategic community in Sri Lanka, despite their continuing reservations about India flowing from the Eighties, are now concerned that New Delhi may have now ‘out-sourced’ its regional concerns and leadership to the US, thus introducing a new element to the shared neighbourhood in the Indian Ocean Region. To them, this is fraught with consequences that neither India, nor Sri Lanka, could handle without re-injecting the mutual trust and confidence in the pre-Geneva period. They refer to the ‘China factor’ on their side of the Palk Strait on the one hand and the story of East Timor, where they claim that neighbourhood friends of the US divided the country, to have a foothold in that strategically sensitive part of the world.
In this context, they refer to the total absence of discouragement from the US side through the war years and even afterward, to the presence and politicking of V Rudrakumaran, an American citizen who is the self-styled ‘prime minister of the Trans-national government of Tamil Eelam (TNGTE)’, on and from the American soil. They recall, how the ‘TNGTE’ was allowed to conduct a ‘parliament session’ on American soil, through personal participation and video-conferencing not long after the end of the ethnic war, and ask if the US would have allowed such things to happen in the case of Palestinians on its soil. To them, the ‘China factor’ in India-Sri Lanka relations needed to be read in these terms, and not as a stand-alone issue in bilateral relations, per se. They would want New Delhi to recapture its prime position in the region, and also exercise the regional leadership authority that has always vested in it, by history and geography, demography and economy.
Through the years of ‘Eelam War IV’, India had ensured that bilateral relations with Sri Lanka were not held hostage to the ‘Tamil Nadu factor’. The coalition compulsions for the Centre were as much there at the time as at the time of Geneva vote now. It was election time for the Manmohan Singh Government, and it did not dither. This should show that the larger ethnic issue, or Sri Lanka finding a political solution at the ethnic issue, had weighed with India at Geneva. Yet, the Geneva vote has also shown that the ‘China factor’ did not weigh with India, as some may have thought on either side of the Palk Strait. Again, the larger dimensions of the ethnic issue were at play. Today, India-Sri Lanka relations stand on their own, yet the fact remains a solution to the ethnic issue has become a paramount concern for that to progress and prosper. They should not miss the bus now.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
$ 10-m US reward on Lashkar chief
The US has announced a reward of $10 million for information leading to the capture of Lashkar-e-Toiba leader Hafez Mohammed Sayed. According to documents gathered from the hide-out of Osama bin-Laden at Abbotabad, Hafez was in constant touch with the slain Al-Qaeda leader. In addition, the US State Department has urged the Pakistani Government to freeze his accounts and prevent him from moving freely in the country.
The Pakistani Government has rejected the award seeking concrete evidence against Sayed.India has welcomed the announcement and said that it might go a long way in bringing justice to the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa said that the announcement was made at the behest of India, and is mulling to challenge the decision legally in the International Court of Justice.
Source: The Dawn, April 3, 2012,The Tribune,5, 2012
Supply route again for US troops
At a high-level meeting held between the US and Pakistan in Islamabad, the price to be paid to Pakistani troops for their participation in the global war on terrorism was re-negotiated. Also under discussion was the price to be charged for NATO containers supplying goods to troops stationed in Afghanistan at present, and for the pull-out of heavy equipment when coalition forces withdraw in 2014. The meeting comes even as the stalemate continues in Parliament over the NCNS recommendations.
Though no unanimity has been reached on the two key issues of Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and NATO supplies, a consensus to resume the supply route with newer arrangements has emerged. The Pakistani side also raised the issue of pending claims worth $2.5 billion on account of CSF but the US officials said the releases would depend on Parliament’s resolution.
Source:The Express Tribune, April 55, 2012
France offers more investments in hydel energy
On a visit to the WAPDA House, French Ambassador to Pakistan, Philippe Thiebaud, offered investments in some key hydro projects, including the Harpo and Basho dam. The French along with the Germans are already funding the Munda hydropower project.
The Water and Power Ministry seeks to invest in cheaper energy and plans to add another 1000 MW to the national grid by the end of the year. The Government has decided to change its energy fuel mix and future focus would be on hydel, wind, coal and solar power generation in order to generate cheaper electricity.
Source:The Daily Times, April 5-6, 2012
Geneva vote: Minister criticises TNA
External Affairs Minister Prof G LPeiris charged in Parliament that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had created a preposterous situation in the country by claiming that they had instigated the United States to bring the resolution against Sri Lanka.
Referring to the media statement by TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran in which he had said that his party had redefined the US- attitude towards Sri Lanka, the minister said that such a remark would have foreseeable consequences in the country.
"When people of this country know that it is the TNA that instigated and promoted the US to bring this resolution, what will be the reaction of the people? Every government is politically under compulsion from its people. The TNA accused us of not doing anything. Yet, it is the TNA that tries to hamper the process," he said.
Against the backdrop of allegations that the government has not taken a clear-cut stand on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, the minister asserted yesterday that though the government had accepted the report in general, it did not mean that all of the recommendations would be implemented in toto.
Concluding the two-day debate on the Geneva resolution in Parliament, Prof.Peiris said that nowhere in the world, had the recommendations of similar reports been implemented in toto.
The Minister made these remarks during his speech after Opposition MPS, including JVP'S Anura Kumara Dissanayake and UNP'S Joseph Michael Perera, prodded him to declare the official stand of the government on the issue. The Opposition members also recalled that the Leader of the House NimalSiripala de Silva had earlier accepted the report on behalf of the Government.
Source:Daily Mirror Online, April 5, 2012
Call to arrest LTTE leaders overseas
JHU leader and Minister of Power and Energy Patali Champika Ranawaka has called for the arrest of LTTE leaders residing abroad and are trying to destabilize Sri Lanka once more.
Minister Ranawaka who was speaking during the adjournment debate on the Geneva resolution in Parliament aid some LTTE leaders including V Rudrakumaran who were residing abroad were planning to destabilise the country and disturb the Government’s efforts to bring about peace among communities. “There are terrorists moving about in the society freely today and they should be brought to book without delay,” Ranawaka said.
He said US was eying Sri Lanka as it is strategically located. Minister therefore pointed out that Sri Lanka would be important for USA in its efforts to take control of the seas between Iran and Indonesia. “The USA is trying to intervene in Sri Lanka’s affairs to fulfil this objective,” he said. In this context he warned that the Geneva resolution would have adverse effect in the long run.
Source: Daily Mirror Online, April 5, 2012
Govt. faults UNP for extending LIOC agreement
In the shadow of the somewhat strained diplomatic relations between India and Sri Lanka, the Government, in Parliament, faulted the Opposition UNP for having extended the agreement signed with Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) to carry out business in the lubricants sector of the country when the party was in power.
“It makes its profits mainly from oil bunkering. It conducts those transactions in foreign currency. The public sector Ceylon Petroleum Company (CPC), which is a partner in the project with counterpart Indian Oil Corporation, is running at a loss because it was deprived of its market share in this manner through this agreement. Today, the LIOC can increase its prices as it wishes. There is no need for it to consult us. Even before we increased the prices for the last time, their prices were higher than ours. The CPC can take decisions only according to the policies of the Government,” the House was told.
The Government said that it was consulting the Attorney-General about the steps that should be taken regarding the leasing out of the oil tanks in Trincomalee to India during the previous UNP time.
“There are 99 tanks. Only, two of them are being used. We have consulted the Attorney-General about measures to be taken in this respect. Attempts to reach LIOC Managing Director Suresh Kumar for his comments failed.
Source: Daily Mirror Online, April 0, 2012
Clarification sought on US base
Afghanistan want that US should clearly mention the type of military presence it will leave behind in Afghanistan once most of its combat troops leave by the end of 2014. President Hamid Karzai’s chief spokesmen Aimal Faizi said that the Government wanted tot to know how many military bases will be there, how many soldiers and what will be there mission and what Afghanistan would get from the US for its security forces.
He further said that the negotiations are taking place almost on a daily basis and “we think we will have an agreement soon”. From the US perspective the point that can avert the presence of minimal military and obtuse the negotiation on strategic planning deal for a long-term co-operation is the re-penetration of Al-Qaeda and other militant group in the region. Pointing on the ban of night raids by foreign troops, he said that we can again start them but only if they are ‘Afghanised’ or conducted by Afghan forces in accordance to the country’s laws.
Source: www.reuters.com, March 31, 2012
US not for permanent bases
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the achievements of Afghan National Security Forces and said they are becoming stronger and more capable. While addressing to the World Affairs Council 2012 NATO Conference, she said that that the US had set the goal of transitioning full responsibility for security to Afghan forces by 2014 and was making real progress towards the goal. “We are looking to set a milestone for 2013, when ISAF will transit from combat role to supporting role and by the end of 2014, Afghans will be fully responsible, then a small number of forces would remain at the invitation of Karzai’s Government for only the purpose of training, advising and assisting Afghan forces to continue and pursue counter-terrorism operations.”
She further said that US does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan or a presence that posed threat to the neighbourhood.
Source:The Outlook, April 5, 2012
Huge investments in Hajigakiron mine
An Indian consortium and a Canadian firm would jointly invest $14.6 billion in developing the Hajigak iron mine which has estimated 1.8 billion tons of high quality iron-ore deposits. According to the Ministry of Mines, extraction rights for B, C, and D blocks of the mine had been given to AFISCO- an Indian consortium of seven companies led by Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and a fourth block called “A” to Canada’s Kilo Goldmines Ltd.
The volume of investment was agreed between the companies and the inter-ministerial committee at a meeting under the supervision of international observers. China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) won the bid to develop the mine and this project involves largest foreign investment in Afghanistan’s history. Mines Minister WahidullahShahrani said that rail road contract with other companies is on discussion and can be signed by June this year. The US Geological Survey assessed that Afghanistan has significant amount of undiscovered non-fuel mineral resources.
Source:The Outlook, April 1, 2012
Teesta failure hurts ties
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said that failure to sign the Teesta water-sharing treaty during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh in September 2011 year has hurt the ties between the two countries.
Sheikh Hasina expressed her view in an interview with an Indian daily. However, she was hopeful that the treaty the two countries will sign the treaty soon. She further opined that reaching an accord on Teesta would help repair the damage.
Source:The Daily Star, April 1, 2012
Call for trilateral pact on rivers
Bangladesh has been pushing for a sub-regional cooperation on management of water resources and hydel projects on trans-boundary rivers in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The Advisor to the Prime Minister is claimed to have handed over two terms of references for sub-regional cooperation with Bhutan and Nepal on management of water resources and on hydro-electric projects. Dhaka is learnt to have shared a draft MoU for trilateral cooperation agreement for this with the Indian side recently.
Its proposal envisages two different trilateral MoUs — Bangladesh-India-Nepal and Bangladesh-India-Bhutan — for the management of water resources in Ganga and Brahmaputra basins, respectively. Bangladesh’s proposals envisage “equitable distribution” of benefits from projects and suggest instituting a permanent consultation platform with Joint Working Groups for “each initiative” of either water resource development or hydro-power development in either of the countries.
Source:The Daily Star, April 4, 2012
US assistance from MCA
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged the US Government to enrol Bangladesh in the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) so that the country could receive assistance from the fund. She made the request to visiting US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.
Source:: The Daily Star, April 6, 2012
Over 50,000 hired workers from India
The Ministry of Labour and Human Resources has recently reported that Bhutan is currently hiring 55,551 Indian workers. This has become one of the key factors that are fuelling the on-going Rupee crunch, as noted by the 2010 and 2011 annual report of Royal Monetary Authority (RMA). According to the RMA, import of construction and installation-related services, mostly from India has increased to Nu 1.2 billion between 2010 and 2011.
Services related to the development and maintenance of major hydropower projects, constituted 22.9 percent of the total service imports for the fiscal year.The overall deficit in other business services like accounting and architecture increased to Nu 800.5 million between 2010 and 2011.
The boom in hydropower, private construction and other such activities has increased the inflow of expatriate workers resulting in a huge increase in payments made to them. It amounted to Nu 2.2 billion in the 2010-2011 financial year, which is an increase of 75 percent from the previous year.
The services constituted 24.4 percent of total service imports. They were mostly imported for building and maintenance of Chukha and Punatsangchhu hydro-power projects. Additionally, the deficit on other business services in line with the overall economic activity expanded to Nu 637.9 million.
Source: Bhutanobserver.bt, April 7, 2012
Record inflow of tourists
Bhutan received 64,028 tourists in 2011, recording a 56.65 percent growth, the highest in the Bhutanese tourism history, according to Tourism Council’s draft annual report for 2011.The large influx of tourists was in the month of October and is attributed to the Royal Wedding. Incidentally Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions indisputably stand as the main attraction among tourists. 77.09 percent of tourists, who visited Bhutan in 2011, saw Bhutan as a cultural destination.
The report says most tourists visited Bhutan to see the country’s age-old living culture, colourful festivals and ways of life. Tourists, who visited Bhutan, were asked to cite the reason why they visited Bhutan in order to find out perceptions of the visitors on Bhutan as a tourist destination. However 18.74 percentof the tourists say that nature-based activities were the attraction.
Last year, Bhutan’s gross earnings from international tourism reached US$ 47.68 million, up from US$ 35.98 million in 2010.Gross earnings increase in 2011 marked the biggest increase rate in the last 10 years. The World Tourism Organisation says that cultural tourism accounts for 37 percent of global tourism. It forecasts that it would grow at a rate of 15 percent a year.
Source: bhutanobserver.bt, April 7, 2012
BRICS eyes bank, wants Iran talks
While making a strong statement on Iran and adopting a middle-of-the-road resolution on Syria, the fourth summit of BRICS leaders here on Thursday (March 29, 2012) largely eschewed political content and focused on economic and development issues which included beginning the process for setting up a bank and inking two pacts to ease trade among one other.
Source:The Hindu, March 30, 2012
Green tribunal holds back Posco
An Indian quasi-judicial body Friday suspended an environmental clearance given to South Korean steel-maker Posco to build a plant in the eastern state of Orissa and directed the environment ministry to review the project afresh.
The decision will further delay the setting up of the steel factory, which was first proposed in June 2005. The project has become a diplomatic sore point between India and South Korea, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week during a visit to Seoul reiterated India's support for the plant.
Source: www.wsj.com, March 30, 2012
Navy inducts n-powered submarine
Adding lethality to its sea-based force, India today (April 4) inducted Russian-made nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra into the Navy, joining the elite group of nations possessing sophisticated warships
Source: The Tribune, April 5, 2012
Govt denies coup-bid
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has lashed out at media reports that the Government panicked for several hours in the face of unexplained troop movement near Delhi in January this year saying they were “alarmist” and ought not be “taken at face value”.
Source: : The Hindu, April 5, 2012
Legitimacy confirmed: Waheed
Parliament has confirmed the legitimacy of his administration, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has contended. Addressing the Majlis on April 2, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim said, “President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan took oath of office in Majlis on 07 February 2012, and has delivered the presidential address as per the constitution on 19 March 2012. Hence, the People’s Majlis believes the transfer of power on February 7 was constitutional.”
In a statement on Monday, Dr Waheed said he welcomed the decision and “called on all parties to redouble their efforts to bring stability, security and prosperity to the Maldives.”
However, MDP parliamentary group’s deputy leader Ahmed Sameer said the deputy speaker had no authority to make rulings on behalf of the Majlis.
“The Majlis makes decisions after a debate and a vote. There has been no debate and no vote on the matter. A debate on the legitimacy of the government hasn’t even been put on the agenda,” Sameer said. “That the Deputy Speaker can unilaterally rule on this matter is a joke and is against the Majlis house rules,” he added.
During debate over an amendment to the Judges Act to include retirement benefits and privileges, MDP MP Ali Waheed expressed concern over the events surrounding the transfer of power on February 7, and called on the Deputy Speaker to pass a resolution for public referendums to establish coup had taken place and to hold elections.
In response Nazim said, “Since some MPs are addressing the Speaker on the transfer of power, I believe I now have to issue a ruling on the matter. ”After claiming Waheed’s administration was legitimate, Nazim asked MPs not to address the Speaker any further on the matter.
Source:Minivan News, April 5, 2012
Gasim to run for presidency
Jumhooree Party leader and Maamigili constituency MP Gasim Ibrahim has said that he has decided to run for presidency in the 2013 presidential election, and that he has no hope that the religion of Islam and the sovereignty of Maldives will be protected if another person is elected as the President.
Gasim said that he supported the former President Mohamed Nasheedin the second round of the 2008 elections because he hoped that Nasheed would be honest to the nation and the religion of Islam and would run the country in accordance to the constitution. However, Nasheed was the total opposite and governed in opposition to the Constitution and his presidential vows. He added that he was obliged to make a public apology to the people because of Nasheed’s failure.
“With this experience I cannot trust and have high hopes on another person. I only want happiness for our people. I do not want anything extra for myself,” he said.Gasim said that he wants to establish a system of governance that benefits all of the people equally. He also said that many have been calling him to fulfill this need for the benefit of the people.
Source: Miadhu, April 5, 2012
‘ADC will bankrupt Airport’
Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has declared that the Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) is unable to pay the disputed airport development tax (ADC) without risking bankruptcy.
The ADC was intended to be a US$25 fee charged to outgoing passengers from January this year, as stipulated in the contract signed with Indian infrastructure giant GMR in 2010. The anticipated US$25 million the charge would raise was to go towards the cost of renovating INIA’s infrastructure.
The ADC was to be charged after midnight on January 1, 2012, however the Civil Court blocked the fee on the grounds that it was essentially the same as a pre-existing Airport Services Charge (ASC). Following the court ruling the Nasheed government agreed that the ADC be deducted from its concession fee paid to the government-owned company in charge of the airport, Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL).
On Monday however, new Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told local newspaper Haveeru that MACL should not and could not cover the development costs. “The Civil Court ruled against that charge. Hence that amount must not be deducted from the payment to the government which would reduce its income,” Jihad argued. ”The Airports Company might face losses if that happens,” he said.
“I don’t believe that GMR can deduct that amount from the payment owed to the Government. The estimated $30 million for this year must be paid. If the payment is not received it would be difficult to run the Airports Company,” he said further. Speaking to Minivan News, Jihad said the next step was to ask GMR to resolve the issue after the board of MACL was reappointed.
In a statement following the court decision, GMR stated that it “has been permitted to collect ADC and Insurance charge under the Concession Agreement signed between GMR-MAHB, Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) and The Republic of Maldives (acting by and through its Ministry of Finance and Treasury), and as such has set up processes for ADC collection from 1st January 2012 supported by an information campaign to ensure adequate awareness.” CEO of INIA Andrew Harrison said that the company was unwilling to comment on the “sensitive” issue at this point.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla has assured his Indian counterpart that all existing investment agreements would be honoured. According to the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, Samad assured Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna that the Government’s policy was unchanged, after his counterpart expressed the desire that the Maldives remained friendly to outside investors.
Suu Kyi wins, NLD sweeps the polls The National League for Democracy leads by Aung San Suu Kyi has swept the recently concluded by elections. As announced by the Election Commission, the NLD won 43 of the 44 constituencies where it had fielded candidates. The landslide victory gives Suu Kyi her first-ever seat in Parliament although it will not threaten the comfortable majority of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The NLD has won 37 seats in the 440-seat Lower House along with four in the Upper House of Parliament, and two in the regional chambers, the results showed.
The NLD lost one seat in eastern Shan State to the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, which has strong support among ethnic minorities. The USDP won just one seat, in a constituency in northwest Sagaing, where the NLD's candidate was disqualified from contesting.
However the USDP has complained of electoral irregularity by supporters of the NLD in a few constituencies
Source:channelnewsasia.com, April 3 & 6, 2012
ASEAN for ending sanctions
The two-day annual ASEAN talks in the Cambodian capital praised Myanmar's unfolding reforms, which have seen the military loosen its grip on power and initiate on political reforms. Myanmar President Thein Sein addressed the leaders during a closed session to say the polls were free and fair and he accepted the result, while his ASEAN counterparts had congratulated him on the reform process. ASEAN leaders, including the body’s General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan, called upon the international community to lift the sanction that they have imposed on Myanmar.
After the fair conduct of the polls the US said that it will lift its sanctions regime but added “sanctions and prohibitions orders will stay in place on individuals and institutions that remain on the wrong side of these historic reform efforts”. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also extended an invitation to her Myanmarese counterpart to visit Washington to hold bilateral talks.
Source:channelnewsasia.com, April 1-3 and 5 2012, irrawaddy.org; April 6, 2012
KUN seeks legal status
The nation’s oldest insurgent group, the Karen National Union (KUN) has sought support from civil society leaders in the Karen State capital Pa-an to help the group gain legal status, according to local sources. Nang Khin Htwe Myint, the chairwoman of the Pa-an branch of the National League for Democracy (NLD), said that the KNU leaders have asked for ideas and suggestions from civil society groups to assist their bid to operate legally.
At the same time the KNU, led by Secretary-General Zipporah Sein, and Government peace negotiators, led by Railways Minister Aung Min, discussed details related to ceasefires such as codes of conduct for troops from both sides, ceasefire monitoring mechanisms and the opening of liaison offices during a meeting at the Zwegabin Hotel in Pa-an.
Nang Khin Htwe Myint revealed that KNU leaders are also going to tell Burmese MP-elect Aung San SuuKyi, chairwoman of the NLD, about their negotiations with the Government when they meet the Nobel laureate in Rangoon.
“Daw Aung San SuuKyi said that she is ready to help achieve peace in ethnic minority areas, so we are going to learn what plans she has. And we will tell her about our peace talks process and see how we can cooperate together in the future,” said Naw May OoMutraw. “We are happy with the talks [in Pa-an], but we haven’t reached any result. We hope for positive scenario,” she added.
Source:irrawaddy.org, April 5, 2012
New currency regime
Myanmar since April 2 began a managed flotation of its currency, overhauling its complex exchange rate system in the new government's most radical economic reform yet. The central bank set a reference rate of 818 kyat to US$1 (S$1.25), according to an announcement on its website. The move brings the official currency rate in line with its value on the black market of about 800 to the greenback.
The move is part of burgeoning reforms to modernise an economy left in disarray by decades of military rule and isolation. Announcing the move last week, the central bank said the managed floating exchange rate would allow market forces to determine the value of the kyat while leaving room for it to influence the unit's value.
Source: straitstimes.com, April 3, 2012
New schedule for Constitution-writing
Constituent Assembly (CA) Chairman Subas Nembang has proposed a new schedule for completing constitution writing within the May 27 deadline. Top leaders from major political parties have vowed to work as per his timeline. In his action plan, Nembang has called for completing Army integration by April 12 and laying groundwork for resolving disputes in Constitution-writing simultaneously.
Nembang has proposed that remaining disputes, if any, should be decided through vote in the full sitting of the CA in two days starting April 18. He has urged the leaders to prepare the integrated draft of the new constitution by incorporating all the thematic reports by April 27 and endorse the draft from the Constitution Committee (CC) and the full sitting of the CA by May 4.
After this, the draft and the feedbacks received from the public will be discussed in the CA and the full sitting of the CA will forward the report along with its directives for revision to the CC. The CA will hold clause-wise deliberations over the bill and it requires to be endorsed by two-thirds majority of the CA.
Some of the major thorny issues in constitution writing include the system of governance, judicial system, state restructuring and electoral system. Works at the CC and the dispute resolution sub-committee have come to a virtual halt with Nepali Congress and UML leaders insisting that there should be tangible progress in integration of former Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army before advancing the constitution writing.
Source: myrepublica.com, April 6, 2012.
Yadav Poudel, who covered local news for the Kathmandu-based Avenues TV, the national Rajdhani Daily, and the local Mechi Times, was found dead near a hotel in the Jhapa District of eastern Nepal on April 2. Initial news reports said Poudel's throat appeared to have been slit, but the English-language daily Republica reported that doctors who conducted the autopsy said he had likely been beaten and thrown from the hotel roof.
The ‘Reporters Without Borders’ took up the incident and said that the police found Poudel’s body outside the Purbanchal Sekuwa Corner Hotel, near the town’s bus station. Local media reports quoted neighbours as saying they heard men on a motorcycle shouting that the journalist had hidden in the hotel and that he had to be killed.
Source:www.mikeldunham.blogs.com, myrepublica.com, http://en.rsf.org/nepal-provincial-reporter-stabbed-to-04-04-2012,42257.html,April 2-5, 2012
Indian Army chief in Kathmandu
Indian Army Chief Vijaya Kumar Singh has committed that his country would provide any support sought by the Nepal Army for the completion of the peace process. Singh, who is in Kathmandu to attend a regional seminar on disaster response and humanitarian assistance operation, expressed his commitment during his meetings with key political leaders and the Nepal Army brass. Gen Singh paid a courtesy call on President Ram Baran Yadav, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar on April 5.
Singh told Nepali media that he had conveyed to top Nepali leaders that “the Indian Army stands by the Nepal Army on whatever they will do.”
Singh was the keynote speaker at the concluding session of the regional seminar, the first of its kind in Nepal, which is hosted by the Nepal Army and participated by personnel from the Indian Army and the Pacific Command of the US Army. During his Nepal visit in December 2010, Singh was conferred the Honorary General of the Nepal Army.
Source: ekantipur.com, April 6, 2012.
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
India:Dr. Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;