Vol. V Issue. 27
Afghanistan: Peace talks with Taliban gain momentum
Kaustav Dhar Chakrabarti
06 July 2012
For the first time, Taliban and Government representatives met publicly on June 27 in Japan, signalling another round of parleys between the belligerents to find a negotiated end to the insurgency. Key members of the Government and the insurgent movement met during a conference on reconciliation and peace-building, independently organised by Doshisha University in Kyoto. President Hamid Karzai's senior aide, Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai, led the Government delegation and sat alongside Qari Din Mohammad Hanafi, who was Minister for Planning during the Taliban rule during 1999-2001. Also present was Ghairat Baheer, son-in-law of Hizb-e-Islami chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Baheer, an influential member of Hizb in his own right, was earlier detained by US forces.
The Afghan leaders did not talk directly with their counterparts. The Taliban representative's mandate, according to the group's spokesperson, was to give its account of the war and its expectations for the conflict's resolution. It stressed that the purpose of the event was not to negotiate with the Government, which it considers as a 'puppet regime'. Notwithstanding Taliban's downplaying of the conference, it represents a remarkable event in the decade-long conflict. For the first time, Taliban has agreed to share a common platform with the Government without insisting on the need for secrecy. This change of stance might indicate a greater willingness on the part of all interested parties, including the United States, to accelerate peace talks and achieve the much desired 'political solution' to the insurgency.
A week after the conference, on July 4, the Government released 79 Taliban insurgents imprisoned in the Bagram jail. This is seen as a goodwill gesture by Hamid Karzai to empower those within the insurgent movement in favour of a negotiated settlement. Concurrently, Karzai's chief spokesman Aimal Faizi urged the US to play a more proactive role in the talks, and also asked Pakistan to use its influence to convince militant leaders based in its territory to participate in negotiations. Faizi also reached out to Saudi Arabia to use its clout with Islamabad as well as the different militant groups to shun violence and enter the political process through a power-sharing arrangement.
While this is the first public meeting between the two sides, several secret exchanges have taken place in the past that involved the US as well. In November 2010, the first direct meeting between a Taliban envoy and the US was facilitated by Germany. This was followed by the second round of talks in Doha, Qatar, in 2011. By the third meeting, which was arranged in Germany in May 2011, the two sides had reached a more robust understanding of each other's positions and established clear parameters for the future trajectory of peace talks.
Even though the Taliban predicates meaningful conflict resolution on the exit of foreign troops from Afghan soil, it's sincerity in pursuing dialogue at least as a means to reduce the level of violence even as the conflict continues was recognised by the Afghan Government and the US. As a result, the UN agreed to divide its list of global terrorists between al-Qaeda and Taliban in June 2011, in order to drive a wedge between the two and at the same time, facilitate the release of Taliban leaders held in various US-run prisons. President Karzai unilaterally released Taliban prisoners, which created immense goodwill among them for the Afghan Government.
Despite a series of meetings, the peace talks have not yielded the desired results. Important players in the Afghan and the US administrations, as well as the Taliban, remain sceptical of negotiations and persist with entrenched positions. The Afghan Government maintains that for Taliban commanders to enter peace negotiations, they must accept the legitimacy of the nation's Constitution. This position is untenable for the insurgents, since accepting the authenticity of the Constitution that sanctions the presence of international troops invalidates the very raison d'ętre of the movement. The Government's second pre-condition, that the insurgents renounce violence before the beginning of negotiations would nullify their bargaining power, making such a position unviable for a rationale-minded insurgent group.
On the other hand, the Taliban's pre-condition that foreign troops leave Afghanistan before they make peace with their 'Afghan brothers' can simply not be accepted by the Government. The Afghan security forces currently lack sufficient capacity and training to challenge the insurgency without the support of foreign troops.
In addition to the problem presented by inflexible preconditions, several other obstacles continue to mire the process of reconciliation. Many key US officials fear that peace talks with a strengthened Taliban will be viewed as 'giving in to terrorists' in domestic politics, which in turn, will have a debilitating effect on the outcome of the forthcoming presidential elections back home. Likewise, the Pentagon is known to be averse to negotiations before weakening the insurgents militarily. The military argues that for negotiations to generate an outcome favourable to the Government, the Taliban must not have an upper hand. This in turn requires prolonged military operations to 'soften' them before talks begin.
Lastly, non-Pashtun members of the Government in Kabul, erstwhile members of the Northern Alliance, the non-Pashtun anti-Taliban militia, remain fiercely opposed to the very idea of reconciliation with their one-time nemesis. Belonging to powerful ethnic groups such as the Tajik and Uzbek, they have accrued vast resources in the last decade to prepare for contingencies. Ever sceptical of the US' 'staying power' in the region, they appear ready for the next round of civil-war with the Taliban.
In conclusion, the US is not alone in suffering from war fatigue. The Taliban, other insurgent groups, their supporters in Pakistan, and more than anyone else, ordinary Afghans whose cooperation and coercion will determine the conflict's outcome, have suffered immense losses in the last 12 years and have repeatedly shown willingness to find common ground. Unfortunately, Afghanistan holds the unenviable distinction of being both of cause and the effect of great power rivalry. The practice of rival international actors supporting local belligerents has exasperated ethnic and regional polarity. North-based Tajik and Uzbek communities have come to dominate the State apparatus and receive support from the US, India and Russia. South-based Pashtun groups, on the other hand, have coalesced under the rubric of the Taliban and enjoy the support, or at least benign ignorance, of Pakistan. In this context, a negotiated settlement between local warring factions is more likely to succeed is it also involves their international patrons.
(The writer is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
Rohingyas in Bangladesh, an irritant with Myanmar
International attention has been drawn towards the Rohingyas living in Bangladesh following the outbreak of ethnic riots in the Myanmar in early June. The riots in Myanmar led to exodus of thousands of Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh. However, Bangladesh, which had given shelter to Rohingyas who had fled their homes in Myanmar earlier, declined to accept fresh refugees. Instead, Dhaka has been urging Myanmar for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees who have fled their homes in Myanmar and are living in Bangladesh for a long time. However, Myanmar is reluctant in addressing Bangladesh's concern.
The repatriation of Rohingya refugees has become a major irritant between the two countries. The problem of repatriation has to be resolved bilaterally, but the international community cannot overlook the developments on this score. This also owes to the fact that the Rohingyas have been exploited by various scrupulous organisations for various criminal activities. This in turn might have spill-over effect in the region and also in the international security scenario.
Bangladesh shares a 2271-km of border with Myanmar. Chin and Rakhine are the two Myanmar Provinces bordering Bangladesh. The Rohingyas are the Muslim religious group living in Rakhine Province. The word Rohingya is derived from 'Rohang', claimed to be the ancient name of the Rakhine (Arakan) State of Myanmar. Their language is similar to Bengali (the dialect spoken in Chittagong area in Bangladesh).
In June, riot erupted among the minority Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. The riots cost more than 60 lives and thousands of Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. However, Bangladesh declined to accept them citing strained recourses as the reason. Dhaka's stand has been criticised both inside the country and internationally. It was argued that Bangladesh should reconsider the decision at least from the humanitarian point of view.
Doubts are being raised about the possible reason for Bangladesh's stand, especially when the country has a long history of providing shelter to Rohingyas who have been victim of persecution in Myanmar. Rohingyas' exodus from Myanmar to Bangladesh had occurred first in 1978 and later in 1991. Earlier, Bangladesh cooperated with Rohingya refugees and even allowed international organisations to open refugee camps. According to an estimate made in the 90's there were around 250,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
With time, the country has hardened its stand on the Rohingyas issue. Bangladesh has withdrawn almost all major support to these refugees. Government's indifference has implicitly affected in the lives of these refugees. There are only two designated camps for Rohingya's in Bangladesh with capacity of housing few thousands and residents of camps are recognised only as refugees. While others living outside these camps, with numbers running in lakhs, are being regarded as illegal migrant.
Bangladesh points out that the country is over-populated and Rohingyas are putting additional pressure on the scarce resources of the country. The local people resent acceptance of Rohingyas in the country. To them, theRohingyas are involved in various illegal activities like smuggling of drugs and arms in the border areas which has not only vitiated social live but has also disturbed peace and security in the bordering areas. It is also feared that improvement of living conditions of Rohingya's will encourage more to cross border
Another line of argument analysing the reason behind the Bangladesh's dealing with the Rohingya problem is that Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh argues that the Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognised by Myanmar as its citizens. So by accepting more Rohingyas and allowing them to stay inside the country, Bangladesh might confer legitimacy on Myanmar's claim.
The controversy over the origin of Rohingyas has left them in a Stateless condition that in turn has made their future uncertain. With no opportunities, it is obvious that these people might end up indulge in various unscrupulous activities. Hence, Bangladesh and Myanmar should resolve the issue.
(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
Investment summit in Delhi
The 'Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan', a day-long seminar aimed at promoting foreign investment in Afghanistan took place in the Indian capital on June 28. The event was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry and supported by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Government officials and private companies of more than forty countries participated in the event, including delegations from China, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkey, as well as multinational companies such as General Electric, Exxon Mobil, and JPMorgan Chase.
Afghanistan, which is often described as an economic basket case, relies heavily on foreign aid. In fact, in 2010, international assistance accounted for 97 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, highlighting the debilitating effect of three decades of civil war on the country's economic infrastructure. Kabul's aid dependency illustrates the security crisis which has made private companies extremely wary of investing in the country. Concurrently, failure of the Government to implement reforms and generate revenue reveals the enervated nature of the State.
Notwithstanding the crises, Afghan officials used this opportunity to illustrate the country's resource wealth and pro-business policies. For instance, the planned $10 billion TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline project is expected is generate a steady stream of revenue for the Government. Other projects highlighted include a $23 million cement plant in Jabal-e-Seraj, a $6.6 million project on saffron processing and a $5 million 'poultry economic development package'.
The importance of the seminar taking place in India cannot be overemphasised. New Delhi has cultivated close ties with Kabul since the fall of the Taliban. During this period, it has emerged as the biggest donor in Afghanistan's extended neighbourhood. Its $2 billion worth largesse, however, is hardly philanthropic. Its continued support of the Karzai regime and resistance against the return of Taliban is driven by its competition with Pakistan, often referred to as the New Great Game. MEA's statement that the event 'is being organised in line with India's long-term commitment to assisting the people and government of Afghanistan as they build a peaceful, pluralistic, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan' should be viewed in context of India's efforts to reduce Karzai's aid dependency before the withdrawal of international forces and the accompanying decrease in aid.
Source:Tolo News, June 28, 2012; New York Times, June 29, 2012
Troops fire at NATO team-mates
In yet another instance of Afghan soldiers turning their weapon against NATO mentors and team-members, an Afghan National Army (ANA) trooper fired shots at western troops, injuring five. The 'green on blue' incident took place at night at a military base in the eastern MaidanWadrak Province on July 3.
NATO did not clarify the identity of the shooter who managed to flee the base in the ensuing confusion. This throws open the possibility that an insurgent disguised in ANA uniform might have deliberately fired in haste and fled to foment distrust between foreign troops and local forces. However, the incident's occurrence inside a secured base in the middle of the night indicates that an Afghan trooper was indeed involved.
It remains unknown whether the accused solider was motivated by personal reasons (such as avenging an insult, a common reason in culturally sensitive honour-based societies), or ideological affiliation with the insurgency. Irrespective, the tragic incident represents a growing trend. Two days earlier, a local policeman had killed three British soldiers in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. 26 International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, troops have died at the hands of Afghan security forces this year, compared to 35 in all of 2011.
Source: Tolo News, Khamma Press; July 4, 2012
Bank pulls out of bridge project
The World Bank (WB) has cancelled its $1.2-billion credit for the Padma bridge project claiming that it has proof of a graft conspiracy on the contract. Following World Bank (WB), co-lender Asian Development Bank (ADB) had also pulled out of the US $2.9-billion Padma Multipurpose Bridge (PMB) project. WB and ADB pull out made the construction of the Padma Bridge, one of the major infrastructure project announced by Awami League government, uncertain. Analysts in Bangladesh opined that it was government's reluctance to take action against persons accused by WB had been the reason for WB's decision.
The Opposition has termed it as a major failure of the Government. The main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has urged Government to try to revive the World Bank's funding for the Padma Bridge by taking action against the people the lending agency suspected had been involved in corruption in the project.
Although the Government is looking for alternative sources of funding but also have left option open for compromise. Government is contemplating upon sending a high-profile team with new compromise proposals to the World Bank headquarters in New York to make the bank reconsider its cancellation of the Padma bridge loan.
Source:New Age, July 3, 2012/ The Daily Star, July 4& 5, 2012
Shipping meet with India
A meeting between shipping secretaries of India and Bangladesh was held this week. PK Sinha, Secretary in the Indian Ministry of shipping, led an eight-member delegation at the meeting while Abdul MannanHawlader, his Bangladesh counterpart led a 17-member team. Some of the important outcome of the meeting was as follows:
a) India and Bangladesh have renewed the 'Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade' during a meeting between shipping secretaries of the two countries held this week. The protocol will remain functional till 2014 and will enable trade and transit between the two countries using inland water. The India-Bangladesh Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade was first signed in New Delhi on March 28, 1972.
b) Annual maintenance fees paid by India to Bangladesh was increased. Instead of Tk 5.5 crore India will pay Tk 10 crore for next two years.
c) Bangladesh has suggested signing of an agreement for transhipment of Indian cargo using conventional coastal vessels. India welcomed the proposal and expressed need for detailed discussion later.
Source: The Daily Star, June 29, 2012
No private players in hydro-power
The Government has said that it will not be looking at developing any new hydro-power projects through private developers, until all the current 10 hydro-power projects under-development generating 10,000MW is up and running. These hydropower projects are to be built by 2020, with the majority to be inter-governmental undertakings between the Governments of India and Bhutan.
The decision to this effect was taken after media reported on interests shown by Tata Power, which expressed its interest in undertake and to develop large capacity hydropower project in Bhutan. The managing director of Druk Green Power Corporation, DashoChhewangRinzin, also added that a number of Indian companies were interested undertaking development of hydropower.
However, Tata Power holds 26 percent of the 126-MW Dagachu hydro-power project, which has an estimated cost of about Nu 11 billion. This is a result of a Government-to-Government agreement between Bhutan and India.
Source:kuenselonline.com, July 5, 2012
Land Bill put off till next year
The deliberation on the Land Amendment Bill 2012 has now been put off till the formation of the new Parliament 2013. A decision to this effect was taken by Parliament after the King's recent kasho(decree) wherein the nation has identified the need to revisit the Land Bill after considerable debate and understanding has been archived on the subject.
Prime MinisterJigmi Y.Thinley said the King's recent kashoclearly indicates that the Land Act needs to be amended. Lyonchhoen said in the current Act, there is no mention of land ceiling for the members of the royalty. In the kasho, the upper-limit for land-holdings, including the royalty, has been fixed at 25 acres.
While introducing the Land Amendment Bill 2012 in the National Assembly, the Agriculture Minister said that the review was carried out mainly because of the inconveniences caused during the implementation of the Act. He added that the Act needs to be reviewed in order to maintain consistency with other related Acts and in keeping with current developments.
Source:bbs.bt July 3, 2012, kuenselonline.com July 4, 2012
Allotted funds under-utilised
Some of the MPs of the National Assembly have said that the allocation of funds should be in accordance with its utilisation. While debating the budgetary allocation for the financial year 2012-13, they pointed out how for the financial year 2010-11, most of the gewogs and dzongkhags did not utilise their budget fully. Overall, most gewogs and dzongkhags did not use more than 60 percent of budget allocated to them. The average budget use ranged from 40 to 60 percent of the allocation.
This case has been highlighted by the fact thatDoronaGewog had utilised only 3.49 percent of the total development budget and returned the remaining funds to the Government. However when compared to 2008-09 and 2009-10, the utilisation of budget funds was much better in the 2010-11 financial year.
Source: bhutanobserver.bt, June 30, 2012
Fall in unemployment rate
The Labour Minister's announcement to the National Assembly that unemployment rates has this year dipped to 2.1 per cent below the Government's target of bringing it to the internationally accepted 2.5 percent.
However, this claim is being received with a touch of scepticism, with the next general elections being expected next year. It is being asked, how come the Government had managed to reduce the unemployment rate from 3.3 per cent to 2.1 per cent, in a year, when it was actually increasing a few years ago. In addition to this, the absolute numbers is not very height since of the 700,000 population only half fall under the economically active population between 15 to 65 years. Therefore the actual reduction would be only a couple of thousands.
The drivers are by the construction sector that employs thousands of expatriate labours and local support staff. New start-ups in the trading and service sectors are also creating many new employment opportunities for those with and without skills.Questions on the methodology have also been raised despite the government clamming to have been following international standards.
Source: kuenselonline.com, July 5, 2012
Mauritius offers two islands for tax treaty
How far will a country go to secure a favourable deal for itself? Pretty far, it seems. Marritius has offered a couple of sun-drenched islands to India as part of a trade and investment deal. While the offer has been talked about for a while, Mauritius has revived it at a time when it is very keen to persevering with the 1983 double-tax avoidance treaty with India.
Source: The Times of India, July 6, 2012
New Delhi fumes as Pak shrugs off 'insinuation'
Pakistan on Thursday defiantly pushed aside 26/11 master-mind Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal's disclosure about the support of its official agencies for the terror attack, drawing a terse reminder from India that efforts for improved bilateral ties cannot go very far if the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage remained unpunished.
Action against the killers would be the biggest CBM, New Delhi stressed during the two day foreign secretary level talks between the two countries.
For the first time, India has claimed that lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafez Saeed was not just involved in planning and coordinating the 26/11 attacks, but could have been present in the control room' from where instructions were being passed on to the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai.
Source: The Times of India, July 1, 2012, The Indian Express, June 30, 2012
Court martial on Kashmir encounter
The Army has decided to try its five officers accused in the Pathribal fake encounter in 2000 in a General Court Martial (GCM) eight weeks after the Supreme Court gave it the option to choose the mode of trial.
The ruling National Conference welcomed the Army's decision and hoped that the proceedings and results are made transparent so that there is no scope for any allegations or feelings of a cover-up.
Source: The Hindu, June 30, 2012
Pawar quits Tele-GoM
The spectrum allocation issue continues to be a hot potato for the Centre with the newly appointed chairman of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on Telecom, SharadPawar, recusing himself on Monday from the high-power body to stay out of controversy.
Meanwhile, the telecom tribunal on Tuesday gave a split verdict in a case by mobile phone operators that had challenged a government order requiring them to stop offering 3G services beyond their licensed zones through mutual roaming pacts, lawyers said.
The tribunal asked the operators to appeal at a higher court, one lawyer on the case said, after the tribunal split its vote with one in favor of the government and the other in favor of the carriers.
Source: The Hindu, July 2, 2012,www.reuters.com, July 3, 2012
VP poll on August 7
The vice-presidential poll, if necessary, will be held on August 7. The notification will be issued on July 6, the Election Commission announced on Tuesday.
Source: The Hindu, July 4, 2012
Hopes of monsoon revival
With over 30 per cent rainfall deficit across the country a month after the monsoon, Agriculture Minister SharadPawar on Tuesday admitted the position was not "fully satisfactory," but allayed fears saying that it was not "too serious" either and pinned hopes on the revival of monsoon in this month to recoup the deficit.
Source: The Indian Express, July 4, 2012.
CNI unable to meet July 31 deadline
The Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), created to investigate the transfer of power, has announced that it will not be able to meet the deadline of 31 July to complete its work. CNI Co-Chair and retired Singaporean Judge G.P. Selvam told a news conference in Male that the compilation of the report will most likely be complete by the end of August.
Reasons for the delay, according to him, included the delay in resumption of work after reconstitution, and the registration by about 250 people wanting to provide information to CNI. He added that any person who wishes to provide information to the CNI should be given the chance to do so.
CNi member, Dr Ali Fawaz said that if necessary, the people who have already provided information to the CNI will be summoned again for questioning.
"When we halted the work earlier, we had interviewed 87 people. Since we resumed work on 26 June, 52 interviews have been completed. So the total is 139. We have recorded a total of 103 hours of interviews. We are in the process of inviting the 187 people who have submitted application forms to come down for interviews," Fawaz said.
CNI member Dr Ibrahim Yasir said that the relevant interviews are being translated to English for the foreign members of the CNI."If necessary, we will summon the people who have already provided information for questioning. The report will be compiled including information from previous interviews," Yasir said.
Source:SunOnline, July 5, 2012
External challenges have decreased
Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Abdul Samad Abdullah has said that since the transfer of power in February, the challenges faced by Maldives in terms of external affairs have decreased. At a news conference, he said,"We faced serious challenges from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) as well as the Western world. Our team had to work extra hard over the past four, five months to face up to these challenges."
He referred to the calls by a group of Maldivians to boycott the tourism industry in Maldives, and said that this is not acceptable. "It's hard for me to comprehend, that a group of Maldivians can campaign to boycott our tourism industry. This will affect the Maldivian people. It's hard to accept," DrSamad said.
Source: SunOnline, July 5, 2012
Below-target revenues in June
A fall in GST revenue and tourism land rents is to blame for lower than expected revenues in June, the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) has said.Revenues for June 2012 still increased 11 percent on the corresponding period for 2011, however this was 10 percent lower than projected, MIRA stated, partly due to a shift in payment deadline to July 1 for the land rents.
Total revenue collected for 2012 so far is Rf 3.5 billion ($227 million), MIRA said in its June report, a 59.1 percent increase for the same period in 2011. In all, 31.5 percent of the total revenue was received from Tourism Land Rent, whilst 15.2 percent, 12.5 percent and 12.5 percent represents revenue collected from GST (Tourism Sector), Bank Profit Tax and GST (Non-tourism Sector) respectively.
MIRA's collection accounts for most of the Government's revenue, aside from the import duties that were not phased out with the introduction of the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (TGST).
Source: Minivan News, July 5, 2012
Wind energy from Gamesa-India
Gamesa India, the Chennai-based wholly-owned subsidiary of Spain's Gamesa Group, is now expanding its wind turbine business to Maldives and Myanmar. In the Maldives, the company is looking at projects having scope of 100-150 MW while its work is in an exploratory phase in Myanmar, Mr Ramesh Kymal, Chairman and Managing Director of Gamesa India, said.
Currently, Gamesa has an installed capacity of 800 MW of wind power in India and also introduced three models of equipment for low to medium wind speeds for niche markets.
At an average rate of Indian Rs 5.5 crore to Rs 6.5 crore per MW of installation, investments to the tune of Rs 5,400 crore were made in the 800 MW of projects developed so far. A similar level of investment is likely to be made in the next phase by 2013, he said.
Source: The Hindu Business Line, Chennai, July 5, 2012.
President TheinSein has informed Parliament on July 4 that Vice-President Tin AungMyintOo had resigned from office. This announcement has now put an end to weeks of speculation that Oo had resigned and had become a monk with a local Buddhist monastery. However he has given health reasons for the resignation.
Considered by many as a hardliner, Oo's resignation is seen as a shot in the arm for President TheinSein's efforts at political and economic reforms. It is also expected that the Cabinet might be reshuffled in this session, which began on July 4, to ease out several hard-liners.
Under the Constitution, Parliament has a week's time (July 10) to appoint a new Vice- President. The candidate shall be nominated by the group of non-elected military parliamentarians and approved by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.
This session of Parliament was its fourth and also the first time that witnessed the participation of the opposition political party, National League for Democracy (NLD). All the elected members of the NLD, 37 in all, minus its leader Aung San SuuKyi took their place in the Parliament. SuuKyi, at present is recovering for her gruelling tour of Europe.
Source:channelnewsasia.com. xinhuanet.com, July 4, 2012, online.wsj.com, dailytimes.com.pk, July 5, 2012,http://edition.cnn.com, July 6, 2012
President to visit Thailand
President TheinSeinis scheduled to make a delayed State visit to Thailand later on July 22-24, after twice postponing the trip, according to a YutthasakSasiprapa Thailand's Deputy Prime Ministers.
The President was initially due to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia held in Bangkok in late May, but rescheduled the visit for June 4, sending his Minister for Energy instead. He ended up postponing the trip again, citing "unfavourable conditions", but without elaborating.
At the same time the President's visit to Bangladesh that was scheduled for mid July has now been postponed. It is now expected to take place after Ramzan, which is to begin in the third week of July.
Source: channelnewsasia.com, July 2, 2012, asiaone.com, July 6, 2012;
OIC urges SuuKyi to help end violence
The head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) urged Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San SuuKyi to help end violence against the Muslim Rohingya community in her country.
The IOC has urged the newly-elected Members of Parliament to accept an international inquiry into the recent violence, granting free access to humanitarian aid groups and international media in the western Myanmar state that saw deadly clashes last month between Muslims and Buddhists.
The 57-member pan-Muslim body called for the quick "return of the victims to their respective properties", expressing his "deep concern about the unabated and continuous violation of Rohingya rights in Myanmar".
Source: dailytimes.com.pk, July 6, 2012;
Shan army agrees to withdrawal
The Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) has agreed to withdraw from two of its military bases at the request of the government's Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) in order to avoid conflict during the ongoing peace talks.
Sai La, the spokesperson for the SSA-North, said, "We are taking into consideration the interests of local farmers who need to sow rice at this time of year. If the conflict continues they will be forced from their farms." He also added that the SSA-North will continue monitoring the situation on the ground as it withdraws its bases as per the agreement.
The military bases involved are the Kunnamile Base in Monghsu Township, southern Shan State, and to the east, LoiPhaPheung, a mountain base near the Salween River. The agreement comes following talks between the two sides in Mandalay on June 22.
Source: irrawaddy.org, June 5, 2012
'Press Council' put on hold
Plans to form a new Press Council to replace the old draconian censorship board, Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), appear to have been put on the back burner as the country faces its worst communal violence in decades, according to journalists.
A month after clashes between Muslims and Buddhists broke out in Arakan State; the government has fallen silent on the proposed Press Council, which many expected to be unveiled by now after months of discussions about how it should function. Journalists who took part in those discussions say they were told by the Ministry of Information that there would be "no more censorship in July."
Ever since the breakout of communal violence in Arakan State in early June, the Government has been restricting the media coverage of the issue. Chief Minister of Rangoon Division, MyintSwe, has warned journalists in the city to be careful on how they cover the issue.
Source: irrawaddy.org, July 5, 2012;
US Ambassador cleared
The appointment of Derek J Mitchell as the US Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Myanmar has been accepted by the Government. Myanmar's acceptance of the appointment of Mitchell, who has been serving as US Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Myanmar, signifies the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries at Ambassadorial-level.
Mitchell will be the first ambassador of the US to Myanmar in 22 years following the country's historic election in April. The US had decided to re-establish diplomatic relation at the level of Ambassador in recognition of Myanmar's political reforms.
At the same time the US Treasury Department has relaxed some sanctions on Myanmar, allowing financial transactions to support the country's humanitarian and development projects.
Source: mysinchew.com, July 6, 2012;
Parliamentarians in India
A delegation of 10 parliamentarians of Myanmar called upon the Speaker of the Indian Parliament, Meira Kumar on July 4, while attending a week-long orientation programme organised by India's Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training (BPST) of the LokSabha Secretariat from the second of July.
Ms.Meira Kumar applauded Myanmar's democratic transition, pointing out that its Parliament had got "a new look" by providing a voice to diverse groups and also added that the there was potential to double bilateral trade by 2015.
Source: http://zeenews.india.com July 4, 2012, indianexpress.com, July 5, 2012;
Indian firm eyes wind energy
Gamesa India, a Chennai-based wholly-owned subsidiary of Spain's Gamesa Group plans to expand its wind turbine business to Maldives and Myanmar.
In the Maldives, the company is looking at projects having scope of 100-150 MW while its work is in an exploratory phase in Myanmar. The company said that it vies Myanmar as a major wind power market given its higher wind speed as the potential to use to same.
Source: thehindubusinessline.com, July 5, 2012;
Integration process to start
The Government is all set to resume the integration process of former Maoist combatants willing to serve in the Nepal Army (NA).
A selection board, which is headed by Acting Chief of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and comprising representatives from the NA and the Ministry of Defence, has decided to kick start the process by checking the former combatants' eligibility.
There will be a bearing tests (an examination in which a candidate's height, chest, weight and health are measured and checked) conducted by the NA and the PSC will then carry out the written examination and interviews.
However, given their dissatisfaction over the integration process, many of the 3,123 combatants willing to join the NA are now likely to switch over to voluntary retirement after the selection process begins.
Some commanders have recommended that the party send them for voluntary retirement en masse. They feel that retirement is a far better choice than the "humiliating integration."
Meanwhile, the opposition parties have accused Prime Minister BaburamBhattarai of keeping them in the dark about preparations being made by the selection board.
Source: ekantipur.com, July 3, 2012.
Fertiliser crisis hits farming
The shortage of chemical fertilisers has hard hit the poor farmers of the country as the Agriculture Inputs Company (AIC) is facing shortage of funds for procurement of the planned 30,000 tons of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) from India.
AIC, which is also the state-owned importer and distributor of fertilisers, is only in a position to procure 5,000 tons of DAP from Indian Potash Ltd (IPL) that was designated by the Nepal government to supply 30,000 tons of DAP. According to officials, at least 100,000 tons of fertilisers are required to meet the current demand.
Farmers who are facing acute shortage of fertilizers in the ongoing paddy season will not be able to start plantation if the government does not release sufficient funds for procurement of fertilisers immediately.
In a bid to ease the supply of fertilisers, AIC had decided to procure 30,000 tons of DAP from the tainted IPL, which was found to have supplied underweight sacks of fertilizers four months ago. Then parliamentary Public Accounts Committee had instructed the government to blacklist the Indian firm.
Source: myrepublica.com, July 3-6, 2012.
Child workers rescued
Police has rescued 124 child workers, all below the age of 14, from 46 sari embroidery factories in MadhyapurThimi, Bhaktapur, on July 5.The rescue operation was carried out with the help of Bhaktapur District Administration Office, Bhaktapur Metropolitan Police Range, UNICEF, CIWIN, Concern Nepal, Save the Children, Child Extraction Network and the Children Development Society (CDS).
The children had been working and living in squalid conditions.Police have handed proprietors of 39 embroidery factories over to the labour office for employing children below 14 years of age. Preliminary investigation showed that most of the children had been forced into the job due to poor financial status of their families. Some of them hail from neighbouring States in India.
Source: thehimalayantimes.com, Reuters, July 6, 2012.
NATO supply routes reopened
On July 3, after a phone conversation with Pakistani Foreign Minister HinaRabbaniKhar, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Pakistan has agreed to reopen key NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. The breakthrough that followed months of negotiations was achieved after Clinton apologized for the botched US drone strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 2011. While Pakistan got the apology it had steadfastly insisted on, the government agreed to drop demands to raise fees on the supply trucks using the routes.
On July 6, for the first time in seven months a pair of trucks carrying NATO supplies crossed the Chaman border into Southern Afghanistan. Albeit the trucks are allowed to pass, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet decided that they are not allowed to carry any lethal cargo, except for equipment for Afghan National Security Forces, essential for ensuring peace and stability in the country.
Source: Dawn, July 3, 5, 2012; The News International, July 5, 2012.
Bill to change contempt law
After the recent unseating of previous Prime Minister YousufRazaGilani on the charges of Contempt of Court, the government has now made a move to protect other federal and provincial Government leaders, including the current PM, from falling under the same fate. Following a meeting on July 5, the Cabinet cleared a draft law named "Contempt of Court Bill".
If Parliament passes the Bill, contempt proceedings cannot be initiated against holders of public office as mentioned in Article 248(1) of the Constitution. Article 248(1) reads: "The President, a Governor, the Prime Minister, a Federal Minister, a Minister of State, the Chief Minister and a Provincial Minister shall not be answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performance of functions of their respective offices or for any act done or purported to be done in the exercise of those powers and performance of those functions."
Source: Dawn, July 4, 2012; The Express Tribune, July 5, 2012.
Mob kills 'blasphemer'
Thousands of people beat a man to death and burned his corpse after he was accused of desecrating the Quran. The incident took place on July 3 in the Ahmedpur East area of Punjab's Bahawalpur district.
A senior police officer said that the victim seemed to be mentally unstable. He was arrested after residents saw him throwing pages of the Quran onto the street. While the man was being questioned, some people started making announcements over the mosque loudspeakers to galvanise residents into taking the matter into their own hands. Just hours later, thousands of people stormed into the police station demanding the man to be handed over.
When the police refused, the mob turned violent. They torched the police station, four residential quarters and four police vehicles, and caused injuries to eight police personnel. After this, they grabbed the victim, dragged him to an open place, killed him and set his body on fire.
Source: Dawn, July 4-5, 2012
Indian FM visiting in Sept
Top Foreign Ministry officials, India's RanjanMathai and Pakistan's Jalil Abbas Jilani, met on July 4 in order to bolster a peace dialogue. The meeting covered peace and security, confidence-building-measures and Kashmir. One important decision arrived at during the talks, is a proposed visit to Islamabad by Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna in September.
The Foreign Secretaries also made an earnest appeal to media on both sides to end their mutually hostile propaganda. Concerning the Indian home ministry's allegations about Pakistan's officials being involved in the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Jilani denied the charges.
Source: Dawn, July 6, 201, The News International, July 5, 2012.
Minister moots Panda bonds with China
International Monetary Cooperation Minister SarathAmunugama has suggested that the government invests in Panda Bonds to boost Sri Lanka's development programme. This proposal is being positively evaluated by the Government.Panda Bonds are Sri Lanka Development Bonds in Chinese currency known as RMB (Renminbi) or Yuan. This means that investors who deal in Chinese currency in the bond market can come to Sri Lanka and invest in RMB.
Dr.Amunugama said he believed that since there was a large pool of such currency, Sri Lanka could tap the RMB market with advantage in interest rates and repayment schemes and was more competitive than dollar bonds.He said because of the large number of Chinese development projects managed through Panda Bonds, Sri Lanka could repay loans obtained from China and also obtain further investments or loans in RMB which would be highly advantageous to Sri Lanka than dealing in US dollars.
"It is interesting to note that the IMF and Euro Zone banks are beginning to prefer the Panda Bonds to dollar bonds that has already been floated in international financial markets," Dr.Amunugama said.He said since China was already having a huge dollar surplus ? more than three trillion US dollars resulting from two decades of unprecedented growth; it was exploring other avenues of investments.
Dr.Amunugama said such investments would add vigour to the government's future plans to make Sri Lanka an Asian financial hub and particularly for the Hambantota development project."My intention in making this proposal is to launch serious discussions and research making Sri Lanka an important financial market in the region. With the collapse of the Euro Zone and downturn in the US economy, the resilience of the Asian economy gives an opportunity for Sri Lanka to be an innovator in financial management in Asia.
Dr.Amunugama said no one must have a misconception that this exercise would replace the dollar but it was only an exploration of other investment avenues in a rapidly changing global market.He said if we could convert some of our investments and repayments to RMB our dependency on the dollar would be reduced to some extent and auger well for Sri Lanka's economy in the long run.
China also feels that Panda Bonds could help China avoid the risks of US Treasury Bonds. China's foreign exchange currency reserve has passed US$3 trillion mark and yet grows by some 300 billion dollars every year.With the worsening US financial crisis, China's foreign exchange reserves were facing increasingly serious pressure. Undoubtedly China must achieve a more reasonable balance of trade as soon as possible, and that objective is an integral part of the eleventh 'Five-year Plan'.
But if China cannot adequately reduce its current account and capital account surpluses over the short to medium term, then it must find some other way to guarantee the security, liquidity, and profit of its current foreign exchange reserve. Therefore, China would be delighted to invest in Sri Lanka in RMB.
Source: Daily Mirror Online, July 6, 2012.
Airmen not returning due to pressure
The Ministry of External Affairs dismissed the claims made by the Indian media that the Lankan Airmen sent to South India for training were returning to Sri Lanka due to political pressure from elements in Tamil Nadu."This is not true, they have completed their first phase of training in Chennai and will now travel to Bangalore for the second phase of training. There is no question of political pressure," Public Communication Director-General SarathDissanayakesaid.
The nine Airmen had been sent to the Indian Air Force Station at Tambaran in Tamil Nadu for their first phase of training. Taking exception to the transportation of the nine Lankan Air Force personnel from Tambaram airbase to Bangalore for continuing their training there, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa urged the Centre to deport these personnel back to Sri Lanka.
"The people of Tamil Nadu would not accept providing training to the Lankan Air Force personnel at Bangalore instead of Tambaram. I reiterate my demand for deporting the Sri Lankan personnel to their country immediately and that they should not be given technical training in any other part of India," the Chief Minister said in a statement.
By transporting the Lankan Air Force personnel to Bangalore, suspicion has arisen in the minds of the people of Tamil Nadu whether the UPA Government, in which her DMK rival is a constituent partner, is acting in favour of those who act against the Tamil race, she said.
Recalling her statement against providing training to Lankan Air Force personnel on July 5, Jayalalithaa said all opposition parties in the State had expressed similar views and the people of the State had, in one voice, opposed the decision of the Centre. She said DMK president M Karunanidhi was "so-ft-pedalling" on the issue. Jayalalithaa recalled that when asked about the training of Lankan personnel, the he had said, "If it is true, it is condemnable and that it would be appropriate for the Centre to send them back."
Source: Daily Mirror Online, July 6, 2012.
Govt still hopes TNA will take part in PSC
The Government is confident that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), in spite of its claim last week in a statement to India that it did not see any point in getting involved in 'what looks like an infructuous negotiating process', will eventually participate in the Parliamentary Select Committee on the National Question (PSCNQ).Asked to comment on frequent visits by Indian dignitaries to Colombo and the status of the proposed PSCNQ, Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister KeheliyaRambukwella said that all avenues would be kept open for as long as it took.
When it was pointed out that the TNA, which was a major player in the equation, had conveyed its disappointment at the dilatory tactics adopted by the government to India's National Security Adviser, ShivshankarMenon, during his Sri Lankan visit last week, the Minister said that the TNA had the habit of saying one thing in the morning and quite another in the evening.
"Nevertheless, we see light at the end of the tunnel and are confident that the TNA will return to the negotiating table very soon," Rambukwella said while reiterating that any solution to the ethnic issue had to be endorsed by all stakeholders.
Menon said at the conclusion of his Colombo visit that New Delhi did not intend applying pressure of any sort, but would be glad to assist in getting the reconciliation process back on track.India was committed to a united Sri Lanka, where all communities would feel they were in control of their own destiny, Menon noted.
Source: The Island, July 7, 2012
Afghanistan: Kaustav Dhar Chakrabarti;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Jussi Albert Jännes
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;