Vol. V Issue. 29
Maldives: A case for 'institutional reforms'
N Sathiya Moorthy
20 July 2012
The January 16 arrest of Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohammed, and the subsequent prosecution of then President Mohammed Nasheed, his Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu and three senior army officials now should indicate the kind of 'institutional reforms' that Maldives requires. Considering that the current political impasse has had its immediate origins purportedly in the arrest of Judge Abdullah and its continuance could be linked to any adverse verdict against President Nasheed for the same, there is an urgent need for addressing these issues. Yet, this should be attempted with the full realisation that Rome cannot be built in a day, as the erstwhile ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) might have hoped for.
In all fairness, the political crisis leading to the controversial February 7 resignation of President Nasheed did not have its origins in the arrest of Judge Abdullah. Nor would it have been the end-game. Yet, it purportedly alienated one more section of the Maldivian society, this time the legal fraternity. Some saw it as a diversionary tactic at best when the Nasheed Government was besieged by the political Opposition. It gave an additional cause for the 'December 23 movement' of Islamic NGOs to press their demand for President Nasheed's exit. The movement from the very beginning had the blessings and participation of the otherwise diverse and at times desperate group of Opposition parties in the country. This fact should not be overlooked either.
The arrest of Justice Abdulla by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), the nation's armed forces, raises questions. So has the criminal case against President Nasheed and others. The MNDF was created in 2004 by bifurcating the by then notorious National Security Service (NSS) under then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. This was done precisely with the intention of ending the misuse and abuse of the NSS, which at the time had policing powers, rights and responsibilities, as well. The bifurcation involved the creation of a Maldivian Police Force (MNF), which had the policing powers, and the MNDF was made the nation's armed forces, as in any other country. But old habits did not die either then, or since.
Politicisation of security forces
Justice Abdulla's arrest, those of two Opposition leaders, namely, Abdullah Yamin (People's Alliance) and Gasim Ibrahim (Jumhooree Party) in mid-2010, and also a day-long closure of the nation's Supreme Court all involved the MNDF, though they should have stopped with the police. Even after bifurcation of the NSS and the emergence of multi-party democracy, in that order, the Government is excessively dependent on the MNDF for law and order duties. At the institutional-level, the MNDF and the MPF have continued to take orders from the Government of the day. At the personal-level, this may have become possible only with top-level transfers in both with every change of Government and change of Ministers. Loyalty, not professionalism remains the key, leading to constant and confusing politicisation of the security forces in the country.
It does not stop there. Apart from President Nasheed and his Defence Minister, the Attorney-General had also named then MNDF chief, Maj-Gen Moosa Ali Jaleel, Brig-Gen Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, heading the troops in the national capital, and Col Mohamed Ziyad for the arrest of Justice Abdulla. They were removed from their positions immediately after the Waheed Government took over. So was then Commissioner of Police of Male. This was a repeat of the situation when President Nasheed assumed office. In the present case however, Brig-Gen Didi had played a key role in defence of Male when Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries attacked Male in 1988. He was posted back to Addu City in the South after President Nasheed's resignation, and lost no time in resigning from the armed forces after three-plus decades of service after the Government moved the Hulhulumale court. To the local media, he said that he did not want to compromise the dignity of his office and uniform by appearing as an accused in a civilian court..
Through the past months since President Nasheed resigned from office, the MDP has charged both the MNDF and MPF with being part of the conspiracy to overthrow his Government along with their political opponents. Obviously, they have the respective leaderships of these forces at the time in mind. As they are also not tired of pointing out, elements within the two uniformed services had indeed joined the street-protests demanding his resignation since the night before he quit office. This can demoralise the already demoralised forces. It could cause more problems than solving any even as the nation is inching towards fresh presidential polls, either when due in the second half of next year, or earlier, as demanded by the MDP.
The circumstances under which President Nasheed resigned are the subject matter of an independent probe by a Commission of Inquiry (CoNI), to which the MDP, as also the Commonwealth have named two members, since. Pending the inquiry, the MDP has not stopped repeating those charges, or adding fresh ones, particularly with regard to the party's street-protests ? to permit or regulate which there are no specific laws in the country. That way, a whole spectrum of legislation needs to be drafted or amended by Parliament, combining the demands of a modern nation with the customs and traditions that have the sanction of law, as elsewhere.
Conflict of interest
Various charges of misconduct and maleficence had been laid against Justice Abdulla prior to his arrest. At present Presidential Advisor, Dr Hassn Saeed had laid out charges against Justice when he was the Attorney-General under President Gayoom. The Supreme Court, a creature of the 2008 Constitution, too had occasions to pull him up. So did the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), another controversial institution in which the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party of President Nasheed did not have faith in despite its constitutional character.
Throughout the period of Justice Abdulla's detention during the Nasheed regime and after his release and resumption of office under the incumbent dispensation of President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, the MDP has claimed that he was a 'threat to national security'. This was at variance with -or, was it in addition to ? -- the earlier allegations against Justice Abdulla. If the new charge was true, the MDP Government did not substantiate it. If it were true still, the question arises how a successor Government could take a narrow view of things and order the judge's release and immediate reinstatement. The recent report of the Maldivian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says that Justice Abdulla had to undergo mental torture and harassment in detention, and efforts also were made to persuade him to leave the country. It ruled out physical torture of any nature, however.
As promised on assuming office, the new Government has since moved the courts, charging President Nasheed, Minister Tholhath and three senior military officials of the time, among others, with unlawful detention of Judge Abdullah. To pre-empt charges of 'conflict of interest' the Government moved the Magistrate Court in suburban Hulhulumale Island, off the national capital of Male, where Justice Abdulla is seated. However, the magistrate ruled that he could not assume jurisdiction to try the case without Chief Justice Abdulla assigning the same, and the Judicial Services Commission too endorsed it. The Magistrate has not dismissed the petition but has only returned the same to the Prosecutor-General's office, with the indication for the latter to rectify the process.
It was commendable that the Government had thought about the possibilities of 'conflict of interest' issue being whipped up if Justice Abdulla had tried this case. Yet, judicial systems across the democratic world dictate that such charges are laid by the other party to a criminal case. Better still, in most such cases, the Judge concerned would recuse himself when the situation so demanded. The short-cut approach adopted by the Government should be seen as a part of the institutional weakness that haunts the process. As such, no motives need to be attributed to the same at this stage, to that limited extent again.
Banishment as a punishment
It is likely that the Government will revive the case against President Nasheed at the appropriate judicial forum. If courts found him guilty, President Nasheed would be barred from contesting elections. Already, the MDP has declared that the party would not participate in any presidential polls where President Nasheed is barred from contesting. Be it as it may, the law relating to the offence for which President Nasheed is being charged with is a fit case for review and reform, it would seem. The section provides for 'banishment' for a term, or imprisonment for three years, or a fine of Rf 2000. If sentenced to more than 12 months, President Nasheed cannot contest elections until after the completion of three years, or he has been granted a pardon (by the President?).
It is very likely that no other democracy, and certainly not in the South Asian region, still has 'banishment' as a part of its penal provisions. In Maldives, not only banishment but 'house arrest' also continues on the statute book, as a punishment for crimes. Contemporary history is replete with instances where either or both punishments have been freely handed down to political adversaries of the Government, since the pre-democracy days, dating beyond President Gayoom's 30-year rule. Other areas of law like banking, labour all need to be , migration and property too need to be updated. The MDP that has been talking vociferously in favour of fast-tracking legal and judicial reforms has been concentrating mostly on individuals, not necessarily institutions and certainly not processes, which alone add to the value of democracies. Other parties are not doing that either. They seem to derive comfort from the status quo, not necessarily because they favour it but mostly because the complexities of the social and political issues that such reforms could throw up may be too much for the polity to address, hence stomach. Conversely, the reforms process thus far has introduced institutions that are superfluous for a nation of 350,000 people. The number of commissions serving and servicing the Government employees, including the police, is a case in point. Yet, neither has the credibility of the 'integrity commissions' been ensured, nor have they been allowed to settle down without continued criticism of their functioning.
The MDP calls it 'institutional reforms', the new Government of President Waheed says there is need for 'institutional empowerment'. In relation to institutions like the higher judiciary, enough time has not been given for either. The Supreme Court itself is a creature of the new Constitution, and the law provides for a seven-year term for 'capacity-building' in judiciary across the country. No efforts seem to have been made in this regard, nor any attention known to have been given on the kind of reforms or empowerment that is needed, and methods of doing it within the seven-year period. After the change of leadership, both sides seem to have stopped talking about their respective positions on the issue. The All-Party Roadmap Talks was set up to address such issues, but it has grabbled only with trivia, in comparison.
Discussing trivia, instead
There needs to be a greater realisation in all sections of the nation's polity and society that democracy is not a half-way house, to be built, abandoned, and re-built at whim. It is an evolutionary process, with which individual societies experiment a perceived format and make adjustments and amendments as their nation's circumstances demanded. There are no successful models, or failed models in democracies, for an intended democracy to pick off the shelf and display the wares. It has to be meticulously worked upon, brick by brick.
A generation can at best lay strong foundations, but it would be for the future ones to build upon it, brick by brick, floor after one more floor. There would be no finality still, as democracies evolve and need to evolve with the new generation, lest they should be rendered redundant and be described as 'autocracy' of some kind or the other. That has also been the Maldivian experience, through much of the 20th century. The advent of a new generation, a new century does not make for the experience. It can at best be a cause for experimentation. In all this, a nation's patience is the key.
It is not that the current crop of leaders in Maldivian polity does not understand. The agenda for the Roadmap Talks that they agreed upon after the change of Government in February focusses on much of what needs to be done. The prioritisation of the agenda also underscored their understanding of the evolving situation, overall. Yet, on the ground, they are talking politics, not policies. This does not mean that the events leading up to the February 7 resignation of President Nasheed need not be gone into.
It is not about individuals again, but about institutions, including the Presidency and the armed forces, in situations that the Constitution-makers had not provided for but wanted to avoid in the first place. The findings of the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) could thus form a part of the Roadmap agenda, as much needs to be done on institution-building, all-round, if the new-generation Maldivian dream of democracy has to be nourished and cherished.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
Myanmar: What's in a name, Myanmar or Burma
The recent exchanges between the Myanmarese Government and the Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the nation's name have opened a Pandora's Box. The Government wants to stick to the official name of Myanmar, ie, Republic of the Union of Myanmar. The Opposition, followed by the international community, prefers a return to the old name of Burma. This debate on name-calling is sadly a reflection of the complexities that lies within this South-East Asian nation as it grabbles with the new-found reforms agenda.
The history and etymology of the two words signify and symbolise a host of issues that continues to plague the land even today. Burma, as it was known till about two decades back, was the name that the British used when they were the colonial masters in the region. However, the nation is known as Myanmar in the Barman language, wherein the Barman ethnicity constitutes the largest segment of the population in what is otherwise a diverse and polarised nation. The other ethnic groups have their own nomenclature for the Barmans as well as the nation.
Incidentally, the region of modern Myanmar till the advent of colonialism was known by the reigning Kingdoms of those times, and not by a specific/generic name, a characteristic that Myanmar's history shares with other nations in the region. And it was in 1989 that the military rulers replaced 'Burma' with 'Myanmar' in 1989.
The late 80's and the early 90's was a period of change in Myanmar. This started with the end of the Nu Win era of the 'Burmese way of socialism'. It was accompanied by a change in the higher echelons of the Government and a growing sense of assertiveness on the part of the general public. All this culminated in the students' movement of 1988 first and the elections of 1990, which the NLD swept with its grand coalition. However, the post-poll developments took the nation back to a prolonged period of military rule with a ray of hope now having been spotted at a near distance.
The demand for a change of name, it was argued, is aimed at not identifying the nation with a particular ethnic group. Then, as now, most key figures of decision-makers are identified with the Barman ethnicity. At the same time, it was also an exercise in image make-over, when the junta had promised to pave the way for a multi-party democratic system accompanied by liberal economic policy. But then all these idealistic positions of the junta were to collapse with its brutal repression and non-recognition of the electoral verdict of 1990.
Shooting in the foot
This debate, on the other hand, strikes a new cord now. First and foremost is the relevance of the current discourse, when the nation seems to be turning a new page in its contemporary history. The other pertains to the continuing ethnic upheaval. Aung San Suu Kyi's current demand for name-change is an antithesis to her NLD's participation in the democratic process. Already, there are those who argue that the NLD's participation in the democratic reforms process by itself is recognition for the army-backed State structure.
The NLD is in fact shooting itself in the foot when its new-found electoral fortunes that are a few months' old was at the behest of the State that Aung San SuuKyi opposes. Her electoral victory and that of her brethren from the NLD in the April by-elections incidentally owes to the stipulation imposed by the Constitution on the functioning of the Executive and the Legislature. The vacancies for which they contested owed to a constitutional provision that mandated elected legislators elevated to Executive positions had to vacate their parliamentary membership.
Thus the Suu Kyi, by rallying support for name-change is in some ways seen as contradicting the source and result of her political renaissance, as her political fortune owes to the system that goes by the name of 'Myanmar'. At the same time, this issue is also a reflection on the fractured nature of the nation's polity and society. The ethnically diverse nation has yet to come to terms with its demographic realities. As such, the current debate contributes little to the effort of nation-building. This is despite the populist position of Suu Kyi, which is echoed by the other warring ethnic groups. It does not reflect positively on processes that strive to co-opt and unite the people under a single banner for the future good of the nation.
Institution-building, need of the hour
It might be prudent for both the NLD and the Government to set aside this wasteful debate and turn their attention to the serious issue of nation-building. It is time for Myanmar, Burma or whatever name that people would like to call it, to focus on institution-building and to resolve the civil war/ insurgency that has been ravaging the nation for decades now.
Like in 1989, the year 2012 is a sort of make-or-break period for Myanmar. Since any significant step in nation-building was attempted only after Burma became Myanmar, any prolonged discourse on this front will end up being counter-productive in addressing the internal turmoil and political/administrative reforms that are required. Instead, it might fuel the fire of identity and identity crisis.
Finally, Aung San Suu Kyi now needs to decide as to whether she is a leading political party that is a government-in-waiting or an NLD that basksin the spotlight as 'Her Majesty's Royal Opposition'. Individual nations and multinational forums have shared a long, healthy and progressive relationship with Naypyi Daw. They recognise 'Myanmar'. It is these nations and multinational forums that are now striving for a relationship with the Suu Kyi, who wants 'Burma'' instead. They may not now want to add to issues that they are striving to tackle with the Myanmarese State even while openly in support of the democratisation process with Suu Kyi and NLD in the lead.
'Burma' or 'Myanmar' may mean the same to the outside world but is more than symbolic nearer home, since the two words are a world apart. A rose by any other name is still a rose but not in the case of nation-States where the nomenclature carries a baggage with it. Maybe, it is the baggage of Myanmar that is now a bone of contention. When compared to the baggage Burma, now lost in the pages of history, Myanmar is by far a lighter load on the shoulders of its leaders ? present and/or future.
(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation)
Gayoom rejects Nasheed's "insincere" apology
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has rejected his successor Mohamed Nasheed's apology over the claims that he had master-minded the "coup" that forced regime change on February 7.
"He has said that if I had not played a role in the coup, he apologises for the claims. In truth he had attempted to prove his false allegations that I in fact was the instigator of the transition in Government," President Gayoom said. "Hence I do not believe he had actually apologised."
Gayoom also said that Nasheed had continuously made the allegations on various local and international media outlets."So if he truly wants to apologize, he must do so through the same medium," he said.
The issue assumes significance after President Gayoom said that he would not sit on the same table as his successor to negotiate a way out of the current political impasse until the latter apologised for the 'coup charge' against him.
Source: Haveeru, July 18, 2012
Parliament committees reconstituted
A compromise agreement between parliamentary group leaders to rework the composition of standing committees was approved with 60 votes in the 77-member Parliament, the People's Majlis.Two consecutive sittings were cancelledthe previoust week to allow parliamentary group leaders to agree on the re-constitution, which was triggered by Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hassan Adil joining the Government-aligned Jumhooree Party (JP).
Section 101(b) of the parliamentary rules of procedure stipulates proportional representation in the committees, stating that the number of MPs each party has should be taken as the basis for determining the composition of the 11-member standing committees.
Following days of negotiations and disagreement over control of powerful oversight committees, a deal was struck on Thursday between the Government-aligned People's Alliance (PA) and the MDP. The PA gave up its seat on the Government Oversight Committee to the MDP in exchange for one of the MDP's four seats in the Finance Committee. The PA however gave their Finance Committee seat to the JP.
The agreement sees MDP gain control of the Government Oversight Committee with six seats out of 11. The erstwhile main Oopposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has two seats in each of the 13 committees, while the breakaway Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has three seats in seven committees and two seats in six committees.
Following the approval of the reworked composition by the full Majlis today, Speaker Abdulla Shahid expressed gratitude to parliamentary group leaders for their cooperation in reaching the agreement in the House despite "serious disagreement" outside. He went on to urge MPs to continue in the "spirit of compromise".
Source: Minivan News, July 16, 2012
Parliament to revisit old Laws
Parliament has agreed to discuss amendments to a pair of controversial laws widely used to suppress dissent during the former junta's rule. Lower house speaker Shwe Mann confirmed that changes would be considered to the Emergency Provision Act and the colonial-era Unlawful Association Act, after a lawmaker raised the issue in parliament.
Pro-democracy campaigners have said the laws have been routinely used to detain dissidents and ethnic rebels. While it is unclear how much support there is in parliament for changing the laws, debating their future is the latest sign of the mood for reform in Myanmar's fledgling democracy.
The wide-ranging association act has been used to punish dissidents communicating with exile organisations and the nation's myriad ethnic groups - with both declared 'unlawful' during the army's five-decade rule.
Source: straitstimes.com, July 17, 2012
Vice-President nomination delayed
The nomination process for appointing Myint Swe as Vice-President looks likely to be postponed since one of his direct family members hold foreign citizenship.
One of Myint Swe's children now reportedly lives in Australia and has become an Australian citizen. According to Myanmar's 2008 Constitution, any national whose relatives are foreign citizens or hold foreign citizenship is not qualified to serve as President or Vice-President
Military appointees in Parliament on July 10 nominated ex-General Myint Swe, the Chief Minister of Rangoon Division, to be the new Vice-President following the resignation of Tin Aung Myint Oo earlier this month.
Source: irrawaddy.org, July 17, 2012
Memorial ceremony for Aung San
The 65th memorial ceremony of Myanmar's Independence hero Gen Aung San, father of the pro-democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was televised for the first time in over 20 years.
The ceremony was led by Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham, thus marking a change in the position of the Government which has undertaken a series of reforms over past couple of years. In the past, the memorial day used to be a low-key affair in the nation.
Source: channelnewsasia.com, washingtonpost.com, July 19, 2012
Suu Kyi to visit US
Pro-democracy leaderAung San Suu Kyi is expected to visit the US in September. As per reports she is expect to receive Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honour on September 19. Suu Kyi will also be presented with the Atlantic Council's Global Citizen Award on September 21 in New York.
During her visit she will meet and interact with a number of people including senior officials of the US Government. An invitation to Suu Kyi was extended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the nations in December last year.
Source: channelnewsasia.com, July 17, 2012; sfgate.com, washingtonpost.com, July 18, 2012
Army chief to visit India
Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar's armed forces Vice-Senior General Miu Aung Hlaing is expected to visit India, August 1-8, where he will hold discussions with top military leadership, including the services chiefs and officials from the Ministry of Defence of India.
Gen Min Aung Hlaing, is scheduled to meet with Defence Minister A K Antony and the three Service chiefs -- Admiral Nirmal Verma, Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne and General Bikram Singh -- in New Delhi on August 3.
Apart from visiting Buddhist sites in Bodh Gaya, the Myanmarese general will also be hosted at the Eastern Army Command at Kolkata, Eastern Naval Command at Visakhapatnam and other defence establishments during the visit
This visit comes soon after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Myanmar in end-May. India in recent time has supplied Myanmar with a host of military equipment, including Islander maritime patrol aircraft, 105-mm light artillery guns, naval gun-boats, mortars, grenade-launchers and rifles.
Source: ptinews.com, timesofindia.indiatimes.com, July 19, 2012
The authorities seized a narcotics factory in eastern Shan state, detained nine suspects with 73kg of 'ice' crystal methamphetamine and 274kg of liquid meth along with drug-making equipment and a pistol during a raid on a house in Laukkai on July 9.
Officials said the haul was worth an estimated $ 3.7 m. "It's our biggest ice seizure in history. It's a part of our crackdown on the chemical ingredients and factories," a senior official at the Home Affairs Ministry.
Source: straitstimes.com, July 16, 2012
Demand for probe against Prachanda
In a sign of deepening troubles for the ruling United CPN (Maoist), six of the seven former People's Liberation Army (PLA) division commanders have resigned en masse from their party posts, alleging that Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' was hatching a conspiracy to make a few division commanders scapegoats for huge financial irregularities involving PLA commanders close to him.
The PLA ex-commanders also demanded a thorough investigation against Dahal and deputy commanders Barshaman Pun, Nanda Kishor Pun and Janardan Sharma over embezzlement running into billions of rupees.
They have accused party headquarters of compelling some division commanders to embezzle party resources by frequently demanding millions from them.They have also alleged that the chain of command at all seven 'cantonments' was structured in such a way that there could be no financial irregularities without close collusion between the deputy commanders and Chairman Dahal.
Prior to this, Dahal had on July 18 issued a statement about taking strong action against those involved in financial irregularities. This could have instigated the ex-commanders to resign en masse. Reports suggested that Dahal is planning to suspend 3rd division commander Dhan Bahadur Maski Magar, 5th division commander Kali Bahadur Kham and 4th division commander Tej Bahadur Oli on the charge that they were the main culprits behind the irregularities.
The UCPN (Maoist) has also formed two probe commissions and asked both commissions to submit their reports to party headquarters within a month.
Source: myrepublica.com July 18-20, 2012.
Economic growth up, but misses targets
Healthy growth in the agriculture and service sectors has pushed the country's economic growth to 4.6 per cent. The growth was 3.5 per cent last fiscal year. The Economic Survey has, however, shown that the growth rate in the fiscal year 2011-12 is below the Government's target of five per cent.
The Survey has projected the agriculture sector's growth at around 4.8 per cent due to a record food grain production. Nepal is expected to record an all-time high production of food grain of over 9.457 million tonnes in the fiscal 2011-12. With this, the contribution of this sector to the GDP will increase to 35 per cent this year, from the 33 per cent last fiscal year. The agriculture sector's growth in the last fiscal year was 4.1 per cent.
Likewise, the service sector that contributes 55 per cent to the GDP is projected to grow by around six per cent. However, the expansion of the manufacturing sector has been disappointing this year also with just one per cent record. Over the last five years, the growth of the industrial sector has remained at just 0.3 per cent. Inflation too is projected to remain at eight per cent, which is one per cent higher than what the Government had targeted.
Source: ekantipur.com, July 14, 2012
Pilgrims die in bus accidents
At least 39 people were killed on July 15 and another nine on July 16 in two major bus accidents in the country, where roads and vehicles are often poorly maintained.
Most of the passengers who died on the first accident were Indian nationals who were going to attend the Bolbam festival in Tribenighat. The bus was carrying 100 to 120 Hindu pilgrims, mostly from Uttar Pradesh, to a temple in Nawalparasi district, 150 km west of the capital. The overcrowded bus skidded off a slippery road and plunged into a flooded canal in southern Nepal
In the second accident, the bus rolled some 100 meters (330 feet) from the highway and plunged in the Trishuli river, about 80 km west of Kathmandu
Source: The Times of India, July 15-16, 2012
Unbelievable to accuse Pakistan on Mumbai attacks: Salman Bashir
Pakistan's envoy to India Salman Bashir remarked that it was unbelievable to allege Pakistan's state institutions of involvement in the Mumbai attacks, days after New Delhi demanded further action following Abu Jundal's revelations. Jundal is accused of being one of the handlers of the ten Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists who carried out the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. He was recently arrested in India and subsequently is believed to have revealed involvement of certain ISI officers in the attack. Trying to clear any question marks over Islamabad's commitment to renewed peace process with, Bashir said that it is in their national interest to have best of relations with India. On the issue of terror, he said that Pakistan was willing to cooperate and reiterated his country's offer for a joint investigation into the Mumbai attacks.
Source: Daily Times, July 16, 2012
US to restart strategic dialogue with Pakistan
Pakistan and the US are all set to restart the stalled strategic dialogue, according to Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi. Dates for the renewed dialogue have not been fixed yet. Islamabad and Washington would sign two Memorandum of Understanding regarding NATO supply. She further said that negotiations between the two countries had moved forward, adding that a written agreement would be signed very soon. US has also agreed to release the Coalition Support Fund payment of over $ 1 billion to Pakistan. This much needed dialogue will substantially help to normalise the estranged relations between the two countries.
Source: Daily Times, July 16, 2012
PM Ashraf to visit Kabul
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf will be visiting Kabul for a day, during which he plans to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai and participate in the trilateral summit, also to be attended by the British Prime Minister David Cameron. The Prime Minister is also scheduled to hold meetings with Chairman High Peace Council Salahuddin Rabbani and leaders of Afghan National Front and Truth and Justice Party. He will be accompanied by the Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Advisor to the Prime Minister Rehman Malik and Minister of State for Commerce Abbas Ahmed Afridi. The agenda of his visit to Afghanistan is focused on bilateral ties, political stability in Afghanistan and efforts to counter terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He termed the visit very important in the current circumstances and hoped for a positive outcome.
Source: The News International, Dawn, July 19, 2012
Accountability Court summons Sharif
An accountability court issued notices to former PM Nawaz Sharif and other members of the Sharif family to respond to an application filed by the National Accountability Bureau for reopening three corruption cases against them. The Bureau had formally announced that inquiries against Nawaz and Shahbaz would be reopened in accordance with President Asif Ali Zardari's orders for scrutinizing all politicians. The references against the Sharif family pertain to Hudaibia Paper Mills, Ittefaq Foundry and assets beyond means. In the Hudaibia case they are accused of securing a huge loan in the mill's name and using the amount for some other purpose. In the Ittefaq case, they are accused of abusing hefty loans. In the third reference, the Sharif family is accused of accumulating assets beyond their declared means of income by allegedly misusing their authority.
Source: The Express Tribune, July 18, 2012
Ban on immunisation to continue in Waziristan
A group of tribal elders tasked to persuade militant groups to allow polio vaccination, informed the administration that the ban on immunisation in Waziristan would continue till drone attacks were stopped. About 1,62,000 children in the North Waziristan are at the risk of polio because of refusal by the tribal people and the imposition of the ban by the Taliban group on vaccination. The Chief of Turikhel tribe, Malak Mamoor Khan, asserted that the drone strikes were more dangerous than polio virus because hundreds of children were being killed by drones. However the tribal elders offered cooperation to the administration for speeding up the development work.
Source: Dawn, July 19, 2012
TNA undecided about attending TESO meet
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has said that it would have to carefully consider whether to participate at a meeting of the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation (TESO) scheduled for August 12 in Chennai. The meeting has been organised by DMK chief M Karunanidhi who had earlier said a resolution demanding Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka would be moved at the conference but changed his stance following a request by the Government of India and said no such resolution would be taken up or discussed.
When asked about the conference, TNA leader R. Sampanthan said his party was carefully considering whether to attend it. "The meeting is scheduled for August 12. There is enough time. We are carefully considering it. We need not rush into taking a decision," he said.
However, Mr Sampanthan said the invitation sent to him had mentioned that this conference was not to discuss a separate state in Sri Lanka but was supposed to discuss the right of Tamils to live in dignity and with self-respect under a system of substantial self-rule in the North and East. Meanwhile the Indian government had conveyed to Mr. Karunanidhi its displeasure over the resolution calling for Tamil Eelam and asked him to drop this matter.
The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) described the move by Karunanidhi as absurd and foolish'. TULF leader V. Anandasangari said a senior politician like Karunanidhi should not have resorted to such action that could be detrimental to the future of both countries.
Source: Daily Mirror, July 18, 2012
Norway denies trying TNA-SLMC alliance
The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo has denied attempts to form an alliance between the TNA and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) for the upcoming Eastern Provincial Council elections.
"The Norwegian Embassy would like to point out that Norway has not been involved in forging any alliance between TNA and SLMC. Norway does not interfere with other countries' elections or internal party politics," a Norwegian Embassy statement said.
Source: The Island, July 18, 2012
Call for 'regional solution'
Leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the UK met in Kabul on July 19 and reaffirmed their commitment to 'an independent, peaceful, self-reliant, and democratic Afghanistan'. The first trilateral meeting between President Hamid Karzai, and Prime Ministers Raja Pervez Ashraf and David Cameron attempted to negotiate a resolution of the conflict by addressing the concerns of each of the interested actors.
In continuation with the recent diplomatic efforts to convince Afghan and regional players of the international community's enduring interest in Afghanistan, Cameron emphasised Britain's sensitivity to the country's needs even after its troops withdraw from it by 2014. He also signed an agreement to build and operate a military academy to train future generations of Afghan military officers.
The trio also underscored the deep linkages between insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and putforth the argument that peace in one country is contingent upon stability in the other. In this context, Karzai once again extended the olive branch to the Taliban insurgents and urged Islamabad to use its influence with the rebels for this purpose.Ashraf, whose country is widely believed to be supporting Pashtun insurgent groups like the Taliban, Hizb-i-Islami, and Haqqani network, categorically stated Pakistan's desire to have friendly relations with all ethnic communities in Afghanistan
According to conventional wisdom, Pakistan supports these rebel groups as a hedge against non-Pashtun groups that have come to dominate the Government since 2001 and enjoy warm relations with India. Ashraf dismissed this zero-sum interpretation of Pakistan's policy and said that it 'wants to work closely with Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek leaders to strengthen our relations with these communities'. The recently elected Prime Minister also inaugurated the Quaid-e-Azam complex inside the Pakistan High Commission in Kabul.
Source: Panjwok, July 19, 2012; Tolo News, July 19, 2012; Khaama Press, July 19, 2012
Suicide-bomber kills parliamentarian
Ahmad Khan Samangani, a prominent parliamentarian from the northern Province of Samangan, was killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body as he embraced Samangani at his daughter's wedding on July 14. Several important security officials who had come to attend the ceremony were killed or injured in the attack. Mohammad Khan, the Provincial head of the National Directorate of Security, Sayed Ahmad Sami, the local police commander were the most important among the 20 guests who died, which also included renowned leaders of the anti-Soviet resistance and local businessmen.
Ahmad Khan Samangani, a former Uzbek militia commander, wielded influence in the politics of northern Afghanistan, which is deeply divided by ethnicity and past 'mujahedeen' experience. Besides being a leader of the anti-Sovietmilitia during the 1980's, Samangani also fought many crucial battles against the Taliban. His views towards reconciliation with his former nemesis remain unknown
Samangani's assassination is not an isolated incident. The following day on, July 15, Higher Education Minister Obaidullah Obaid's convoy was targeted with bombs by insurgents while he was travelling from Baghlan to Kunduz province in the north of the country.
These high-profile attacks bear two significance implications. First, they demonstrate the Taliban's capacity to breach sensitive security and assassinate high ranking members of the Government even in regions where they do not wield the support of the population. Second, the series of concerted strikes against non-Pashtun leaders might indicate the Taliban's motivation to exasperate existing ethnic antagonisms to destabilise Kabul's efforts to mediate reconciliation between the Pashtun-dominated insurgency and the non-Pashtun led Government.
Source: Tolo News, July 14, 2012; Al-Zazeera, Reuters, July 15, 2012
Chinese offers way-out on Padma
A Chinese company incorporated in Australia has expressed an interest in building the Padma bridge with a funding option. The company proposes to provide 70 percent of the $2.9 billion required for the project without any interest. BangaldeshCommunications Minister Obaidul Quader refrained from commenting on the proposal, but would not also confirm or deny the development.
Senior officials of the Economic Relation Division have pointed out that the Chinese funds would come interest-free, ensuring quality. Bangladesh would not have to spend scarce foreign currency for the project. The World Bank's $1.2-billion loan bears 0.75 percent service charge while the Asian Development Bank would have charged less than one percent for its promised $ 615 million. Under the new proposal, 30 percent of the project cost would be financed by the Government in local currency.
Construction of the Padma Bridge is facing uncertainty following the cancellation of the World Bank loan for the project. The Government is desperately looking for other financing options and even pondering over the idea of self-financing. The bridge, an election pledge of the ruling Awami League, will connect Dhaka with 16 south-western districts, home to about 60 million people. It is estimated to contribute 0.6 per cent to the GDP.
Source: bdnews24.com, July 20, 2012
Banks with terror links
US Senate Permanent Sub-committee on Investigations has alleged that two Bangladeshi banks, the Islami Bank Bangladesh (IBBL) and Social Islami Bank (SIBL) have links with terrorist-financing
A report of the committee claimed that taking advantage of the weak internal governance of the US branch of HSBC, these two banks have allegedly been routing funds to different international networks suspected to have terrorist links
HSBC's Financial Intelligence Group provided information that the chief of Bangladeshi Islamist terrorist outfit JMB, Shaikh Abdur Rahman, maintained accounts with IBBL.
Reacting to the report, Bangladesh Bank (BB), country's central bank, claimed that the alleged terrorist link of IBBL and SIBL was reported back in 2007 and the BB had taken necessary measures already. The central bank was now examining the recent report and, if necessary, it would take further steps
Source: The Daily Star, July 19, 2012
Four 'JMB men' arrested
Four suspected members of the banned religious militant outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were arrested this week in capital Dhaka. The law enforcement agencies have seized a good number of books and leaflets containing instructions on militant training and bomb-making were seized from the JMB cadres.
A member of law enforcement agencies claimed that JMB is trying to reunite at the field level and is conspiring to undertake subversive activities across the country.
Source: The Daily Star, July 20, 2012
India to send back remains of war heroes
As a friendly gesture, India has decided to hand over the remains of 2,416 Bangladeshi freedom fighters who had been laid to rest on its eastern frontier during 1971'Liberation War'.
A delegation from the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs of Bangladesh handed over a list to the Indian authorities suggesting the places along the Indian border where many martyrs had been buried. The delegation also visited north-eastern Indian States and West Bengal
India plans to hand over the remains of the freedom fighters to Bangladesh with State honour.
Source: The Daily Star, July 20, 2012
New gas discovery
State-run Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company Ltd(BAPEX) has discovered new deposits of natural gas in an onshore field at Srikail in Comilla district, about 100 km from the capital Dhaka.
The discovery will help to resolve the existing energy crisis. The new field has a recoverable reserve of around 300 billion cubic feet (Bcf). BAPEX expects that around 30 million cubic feet of gas could be produced daily from the well from December this year. Bangladesh's overall gas production is around 2.15 Bcf per day against demand for over 2.7-3.0 Bcf per day
Source: reuters.com, July 14, 2012
Road link with Bangkok
Thailand has expressed a keen interest in expanding trade and commercial relationship with Bangladesh through establishing a road-link via Myanmar. Thai Ambassador to Bangladesh Madurapochana Ittarong has opined that Thai trade with Bangladesh will increase after the establishment of a road-link with Bangladesh.
Thailand put emphasis on increasing trade and commercial activities with Bangladesh as a member country of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec), added Thai envoy.
Source: The Daily Star, July 20, 2012
ADB respite on rupee crisis
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide rupee-denominated loans to local banks by the end of this year, in a bid to support regional trade with India. This move is expected to provide some respite to the rupee shortage and improve liquidity.
The move to provide such a facility is based on the strong demand for rupee from countries like Bhutan and Nepal, an ADB news release said. This facility of providing loans and guarantees to local banks falls under ADB's trade finance program. The program provides guarantees to regional banks, which fall out of the local banks' network.
Source: kuenselonline.com, July 20, 2012
New tourism tariff proposed
In a bid to increase the footfall of tourists, the Tourism Council of Bhutan is planning to revise its tariffs rates.
Under the existing system every foreign tourist needs to pay a minimum daily tariff of $ 250 during high season and $ 200 in regular season to Government in advance. After completion of the trip, the Government keeps a royalty fee of $ 65 and $ 50 per head per day in high and regular season respectively. The balance is given to concerned tour operator as reimbursement of expenditure to arrange logistics for the tourist.
The proposed system which is under consideration plans to increase the royalty to $ 80 in high season and $ 65 in regular season per head per day while withdrawing the minimum limit of tariff. This can significantly lower tour expense for the tourist from the existing minimum $ 200 per person per day.
This move is expected to attract budget tourists while at the same time increase the revenue for the Government. However. member-nations of SAARC are not subjected to royalty fee.
Source: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com, July 15, 2012
Political parties submit status report to EC
People's Democratic Party and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa have submitted ther status report to the Election Commission which covers their respective financial statements, income-expenditure account, liabilities, membership list, details of party offices and office-bearers.
The eligibility of the parties to contest in the next election will depend on the status report. ECB's Commissioner, Deki Pema, said the status report will be reviewed by the public election fund division of ECB. The officials will also go through the latest audit reports of the parties. The report will be further reviewed by the Commission.
The ECB had earlier directed the two political parties to clear their financial liabilities by June 30. The DPT says all their outstanding liabilities have been all cleared, while PDP is still in the process of clearing the outstanding debts.
Source: bbs.bt, July 17, 2012
DNT's list of candidates
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has confirmed the participation of 31 candidates out of 47 seats required by a political party to contest in the 2013 elections. The party said that the integrity, sincerity of purpose and intelligence of the 31 candidate are beyond doubt is confident of taking the country forward.
The party has confirmed contesting 11 seats from the 17 constituencies in the eastern Dzongkhags. From the western part of the country, the DNT has nine identified candidates. The seven Dzongkhags of western Bhutan has 14 constituencies. In the central Bhutan, out of the six seats in the three Dzongkhags four seats are filled. In the southern Bhutan Dzongkhags, out of the total of 10 seats, 7 are filled.
The average age of the confirmed candidates is 44 years with only four candidates above 50 years, 17 are in the forties and nine candidate in the thirties. The youngest is 29 years old. 23 of the confirmed candidates have master's degrees in various fields; eight of the confirmed candidates are with bachelor's degree
Source: bbs.bt, July 14, 2012
NCP Ministers quit Govt
Just days after it got the Trinamool Congress to support its presidential candidate, fresh fault-lines in the ruling Congress-led UPA coalition became evident this evening as senior Ministers Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel, belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) decided to "boycott" a meeting of the Union Cabinet, and following it a day later by exiting the same.
The immediate provocation seemed to be Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to overlook Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar for the No. 2 position in the Cabinet after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee quit, to contest for the president's post. However, the NCP claimed that the decision had more to do with the Congress' handling of the allies, and the need to strengthen the party base ahead of the 2014 parliamentary polls, among others.
After extensive discussions with Prime Minister Singh and Congress-UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the NCP announced that the two Ministers would quit the Government and extend 'outside support' in Parliament.
Source: The Indian Express, July 20-21, 2012
TMC retreats, to back Pranab
With just two days left for the presidential election, Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ended all speculations as she announced that her party has decided to support UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee.
Mamata's turnaround is being seen as a signal that she has opted to stay within the UPA fold till 2014.
Source: The Indian Express, July 18, 2012
Jaswant to take on Ansari for VP
The Opposition National Democratic Alliance has named senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh its vice-presidential candidate to take on the UPA nominee and incumbent, Hamid Ansari.
On the face of it, the contest will be symbolic as the UPA has more than the required number in the electoral college of 790 MPs to ensure a second term for Ansari.
Source: The Hindu, July 17, 2012
Rahul Gandhi to assume a 'larger role'
Ruling Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi will soon assume greater responsibilities, he himself confirmed on Thursday, either in the organisation or in the Government.
This is hoped to end weeks of speculation on whether he was agreeable to playing a role befitting one whom the party hopes to project as its prime ministerial candidate in 2014.
Source: The Hindu, July 20, 2012
India needs another wave of reforms: Obama
Noting that India has prohibited foreign investments in too many sectors such as retail, US President Barack Obama on Sunday cited concerns over the deteriorating investment climate in that country to endorse another "wave" of economic reforms.
Responding to the US President's raising concerns over "deteriorating" investment climate in India, the Government said certain "international lobbies" were spreading such stories and he was not properly informed of the country's strong economic fundamentals.
Source: The Hindu, July 16, 2012
US pushing to hike cancer drug price
Even as US President Barack Obama is plugging his signature law to lower health care costs at home, his administration is pressuring India and other countries to impose higher prices even for lifesaver cancer drugs.
The Obama Administration's multiple "strategies to affect drug pricing abroad by using American international political muscle", according to a Huffington Post investigative report, became apparent in a testimony by US Patent and Trademark Office Deputy Director Teresa Stanek Rea two weeks ago.
Source: www.nydailytimes.com, July 13, 2012
IMF pares growth to 6.1 pc
With global recovery weakening further, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has marginally reduced India's growth projections from 6.8 per cent to 6.1 per cent for 2012, and from 7.2 per cent to 6.5 per cent in 2013.
Source: The Hindu, July 17, 2012
Exports fall, trade deficit narrows
India's exports fell nearly 5.5 percent in June due to weak demand from Europe and the US, a Commerce Ministry official said, adding pressure on Asia's third-largest economy.
Imports also fell sharply, however, thanks in part to lower global oil prices, and narrowing the trade deficit to $10.3 billion compared to the previous month, something of a silver lining that may help assuage concerns about India's balance of payments.
Source: www.reuters.com, July 13, 2012
Cricket series with Pakistan
India and Pakistan will resume bilateral cricketing ties after a five year hiatus when they face off in a short series in December-January.
A working committee meeting of the Indian cricket board here on Monday gave the go-ahead for the tour, of three one-day internationals and two Twenty20 matches.
Source: The Asian Age, July 17, 2012
Vietnam prefers Indian presence
Wanting to hold on to Indian presence in the resource-rich South China Sea which is witnessing increasing Chinese assertiveness, Vietnam has decided to extend the contract for exploration of hydrocarbons in a crucial oil block in the region to ONGC Videsh Ltd.
ONGC Videsh Limited earlier indicated to the Vietnamese authorities its plans to terminate operations in the 128 block as it could not begin oil exploration due to hard sea bed and wanted quit for "techno commercial" reasons.
A formal announcement to extend the contract for exploration of hydrocarbons in the block to the overseas arm of ONGC, is going to take place soon, a top government official told a group of visiting Indian journalists.
Source: www.hindustantimes.com, July 15, 2012
Maruti GM killed in labour trouble
The man burnt to death in an attack by workers at automobile major Maruti Suzuki India's Manesar plant on Wednesday evening was identified a day later as Awanish Kumar Dev, General Manager (HR)
A deadly riot at a northern factory of carmaker shut the plant on Thursday and inflicted the biggest loss on its share price in almost two years.
Source: The Indian Express, July 20, 2012, www.reuters.com, July 19, 2012
Fisherman dies in US Navy firing
India said it will "take appropriate action" over the killing of an Indian fisherman and injuries to three others after they were allegedly shot by an American warship near Dubai on Monday night.
Source:The Asian Age, July 18, 2012
Afghanistan: Kaustav Dhar Chakrabarti;
Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan & Myanmar: Sripathi Narayanan;
India: Dr Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Jussi Albert Jännes;