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SOUTH ASIA WEEKLY REPORT
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Vol. V Issue. 40
Sri Lanka: Impasse in peace process should worry friends
N Sathiya Moorthy
05 October 2012

Analysis

The current impasse in the peace process in Sri Lanka should worry friends of the nation, including India. Starting haltingly in the post-war months, the negotiations between the Government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been deadlocked, so to say, with neither side wanting to go the other's way as far as the process are concerned. The problems and solutions would have to wait. The fact however is that the deadlocked processes, if they have to be still known that way, is dangerously drifting towards nowhere. Such a drift in the past had pushed what was essentially a political issue with a possible political solution to other means.

For months now, the Government and the TNA have stopped talking. That was after 18 rounds of negotiations, after which each side said, or implied, that the other was shifting the goal-post, consistently and persistently so. Neither of the negotiations teams had a clear mandate but the TNA delegation still seemed to have a clearer idea on what to discuss and where to go from there. The Government delegation, purportedly stronger in terms of negotiations issues and skills, did not seem to be clear on what it was tasked with. Or, that was the TNA's complaint at every turn. Till date, the Government side as not contested the TNA's claim.

The Government's subsequent proposal for a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to negotiate a national consensus to the 'national problem' is both logical and practical. If it was a genuine-afterthought and not a delaying tactic is a question. The Tamils have always argued that successive attempts of the kind for decades now were only a delaying tactic. They seemed convinced all through there again questions remain. For, such a line of argument would imply a great 'national conspiracy' on the Sinhala side. It would imply that the two 'Sinhala political majors', namely the SLFP and the UNP, were playing good-cop-bad-cop, whoever was in Government and whoever was in the Opposition at a given point.

Yet, no harm would come the Government's way if it were to assuage the feelings and fears of those sections of the Tamil, whom it says are 'genuine' in its perception. With President Mahinda Rajapaksa scheduled to address Parliament in the Budget Session in November, the Government could consider giving a national commitment in the matter. An initiative, purportedly by the UNP Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe did not go too far. Media reports at the time had indicated that at one stage, the Government was expected to respond positively to his initiative, in turn roping in the TNA into the PSC process, too.

The TNA's pathway to permanent peace seems to be as illogical as it sounds logical on paper, particularly in the context of the PSC proposal. The logic is based on a purportedly existing 'national consensus' of sorts if the Government were to give a commitment at the negotiations table. The TNA is also not wrong when it says that what had started off as negotiations with the Government, under the seal of the President's Secretariat, is since being explained away as with the SLFP leader of the ruling coalition in Parliament. Be it as it may, the TNA has not protested overly on that score.

The changed Government position implies that the leadership is not sure of unstinted support from coalition partners to any bilateral negotiated settlement with the TNA. In the US recently, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader and Justice Minister Rauff Hakkeem reportedly told the American interlocutors that the TNA could not speak or negotiate for the Muslim community. As if to contest this claim, the TNA has since argued that the Alliance would not 'desert' its 'Muslim brethren as the SLMC has done' after the Eastern Provincial Council polls.

Every section of the otherwise divided Muslim polity in the country is very much a part of the Government of the day, as they have been on most occasions in the past. So are sections of the Tamil polity, whose differences with the TNA over possible solutions to the ethnic issue are relatively over methods, not motives. Where motives are involved, Tamil parties and groups backing the Government feel that the TNA is not speaking to the pro-LTTE Diaspora Tamils, but is speaking for them. Then there is the question of 'Upcountry Tamils', whose divided polity is otherwise united in the neglect of the community by the Government to an extent, but by the 'Sri Lankan Tamil polity', even more.

The on-again-off-again internal squabbling within the TNA may have eroded some of its credibility to deliver on the promises that it might have to give the Government in bilateral relations, or the PSC, or both. Maybe, unlike in the months immediately following the war, the TNA may have to convince the Government and the rest of the world that they are a united lot, and they would not be rendered as 'powerless' as their moderate predecessors were rendered helpless by the emerging ranks of Tamil militant youth groups in the Eighties and beyond.

In the weeks after Eastern PC polls, TNA leader Sampanthan declared at a meeting of his 'Ilankkai Tamizh Arasu Kadchi' (ITAK) that the Tamils had given no authorisation to anyone to destroy the Alliance. As if in retaliation, the four non-ITAK partners in the TNA have written what has become an 'open letter' to Sampanthan, charging the ITAK with motives in not wanting to have the Alliance registered as a party independent of the ITAK and with an election symbol independent of the ITAK's 'House' symbol. In the post-war period, the TNA has proved, time and again, that it needed negotiations or elections to keep the flock together. It is not a healthy sign that the TNA is sending out to the larger community, and the larger country.

The TNA also may have to take the initiative to convince the Government of the day - and by extension, the international community - that the UNP Opposition, which is always seen as endorsing any reasonable political package to the Tamil community. Yet, such promises have been followed by reversals, which is at the core of Tamils suspicions. After the JRJ commitments and 13-A, came the Premadasa regime. With the 'Chandrika Package' came the UNP burning the Constitution Amendment Bill in Parliament, citing reasons that have been for from convincing to date.

The PSC thus makes for the right choice of the course. It is not without reason., From the Fifties on, the Tamils have pointed to a pattern. It is anybody's guess what magic-wand the TNA has now to make the UNP stick to its commitments. Going by the experience of the past, no such commitment could be taken for granted, from any stake-holder, unless they are in the know of what commitments they are being asked to commit to. Less said about the attitude and approach of non-SLFP partners in the ruling UPFA coalition, the better it is for anticipated results. A 'national discourse' alone can provide the answers. The PSC could provide a structured forum, the next and only step being the full House, which would then have (only) to vote?

In a nation where Prime Minister Premadasa (the successor President, to boot) did not endorse 13-A when formulated by his President, J R Jayewardene, safer would it be to assume that President Rajapaksa too could not count the chickens before the eggs are hatched, in terms of outright parliamentary party support for his peace proposals from his SLFP. If the argument is that the Government could get his 18-A passed and needed only the will to get any ethnic deal through the UPFA parliamentary group, the answer is this. JRJ too had Parliament voting for an extension of its term, but could not carry his party wholly with him on the ethnic issue (despite having 13-A passed by it).

The internal squabbling in the TNA has come when an Alliance delegation is due to visit New Delhi, for discussions with the Indian leadership. It is anybody's guess how the TNA expects India to react to its positions on the political solution back home. It is worse still if one considered what the TNA would have to say on possible 'actions' that India may have to initiate to keep the peace process going and in the right direction towards a solution acceptable to all stake-holders in Sri Lanka. In the absence of demonstrable unity of purpose and processes as a political party, the TNA may lose credibility with the international community - which it believes that the Sri Lankan Government has lost, already.

India already faces the embarrassment of such credibility questions on the Sri Lankan Government's commitments in the war years, which it had used to argue Colombo's case with and in the international community. Today, the TNA is pushing itself to a similar corner, without any external help or initiative - other than possibly from sections of the Tamil Diaspora, if at all. Not that anyone in the TNA hierarchy needed such external influence or inducement. With the peace process deadlocked already, the emerging scenario is further drifting away from whatever processes that are possible under the circumstances - but are becoming increasingly impossible, too!

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Afghanistan: Obama's surge comes to an end

Kunkhen Dorji

The US troop-surge in Afghanistan came to an end this September. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced that 33,000 surge-troops dispatched by President Barack Obama in late 2009 had officially left Afghanistan. Important symbols of American democracy, the White House and the Pentagon have yet not taken a stand on whether the move was successful or a big failure for America and its larger interest.

America has paid a high price in Afghanistan, whether it's human lives or the dollars. Looking at the positive side, it was instrumental in flushing out the Taliban from southern Afghanistan. It also helped build the Afghan Security Forces, which is a success story now. The money that came in the name of reconstruction also provided employment, though for the short-term to many youth in the country.

For President Obama, "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat" the Al-Qaeda was the most important goal not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan too. For it to succeed the US had to go after the Taliban because there was a fear that, if the latter came to power again, they would regroup and provide a safe haven for the Al-Qaeda and their activities.

The advisors to Obama who pressurised him to surge in 2009, believing that there was a good chance of winning what was already a near-failed war. In a way, it would have also helpedto rebuild the war-torn country, to create an atmosphere of rust and to convince people to stop supporting insurgent groups.

Yet, for the surge to succeed in Afghanistan, the US needed doing a reality-check on a few issues:

a) The Afghan Government must support the US and its actions

b) Pakistan needs to act swiftly to stop its territory from being used by insurgent groups

c) Greater role for the Afghan army and its willingness to take control of the areas freed by the American troops once under the influence of insurgents and continuous flow of security personnel and funds from the American side.

While examining it, the difficulties too were not far to seek. Following are the few points in order to understand it broadly:

a) Karzai critical of US action: Afghan President Hamid Karzai's Government is quite upset with the American actions, one being the mishandling of the districts of Kandhaharr and Hemland and the interference in the day to day activities of the Pashtun governance of that particular area. He wants the US and NATO forces to focus more on the border rather than being interested in Afghanistan's internal politics.

b) Pakistan not doing enough to tackle terrorism- Pakistan is often referred as the safe haven for the terrorist organisations from Afghanistan. The ISI, Pakistan's secret service, had allowed the Taliban to re-organise and re-establish networks inside Afghanistan. It's an established fact that the ISI officials regularly meet the senior Taliban Mullahs. The ISI has in the past provided them with arms and intelligence. They also receive funds through drug trafficking and donations.

b) Weak Army: It is a very weak security force, overshadowed by the American troops present in Afghanistan. Even after freeing areas from the clutches of the insurgent groups, the ultimate plan to transfer power of the Afghan forces have not become the reality. In fact, it's still the American troops that control large part of these areas.

The cost of keeping American personnel in Afghanistan costs around $ 1 billion a year. More than $ 100 billion was spent on the war last year. Though the US people do support their President and his view on war, there is very little Americans support for his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

In spite of all the difficulties, the US and NATO troops have made outstanding progress in the past three years. The southern parts of Afghanistan, once the hot-bed of the insurgents, is now largely peaceful, though the eastern parts of the country are still controlled by the Haqqani network.

But there are still some critical questions which need to be addressed, like the question of self-governance. The Afghan Government, the Army and the Police Force, are still not directly involved in the decision-making processes of the country. Will peace sustain for a longer time?? After all the hard work and the spending of billions of dollars, will America lose the war against terrorism? And, finally will Afghanistan revert back to anarchy again?

Today, America is talking about withdrawing its troops permanently from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Inside the country, many changes are taking place, like the recent event where almost all the powerful Governors were sacked, even those closer to the Western powers by President Karzai. But surprisingly, there was no pressure on the President to reinstall them, nor was any case of violence registered. It proves that democracy is slowly but taking root in Afghanistan.

There is some degree of stability in Afghanistan today, but one cannot jump to a conclusion so early. The world needs to wait and watch how the transfer of power will eventually take place, from the American forces to the civilian Government of Afghanistan in 2014.

(The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation)

Country Reports

Afghanistan

235 refugee families return

According to the UNCHR'S Senior Protection Officer in Baluchistan Tayyaba Sharif, around 235 Afghan refugee families returned to their native towns in Afghanistan. She added that at least 2,874 families compromising 14,087 individuals have been repatriated since January from Balochistan.
The UNCHR Pakistan official believes that voluntarily repatriation has increased to 39 percent compared to last year and under the voluntarily repatriation process the UNCHR had supported over 50,000 Afghan refugees this year , while last year the number of refugees repatriated was around 32,000. The collective data shows that since 2002, the UNHCR had facilitated the return of more than 3.7 million refugees. "The UNHCR ha set up four Voluntary Return Centres (VRCs) in Balochistan to help as many Afghans return home as possible" Tayyaba added.
Murtaza Khazmi, UNHCR Afghan envoy for refugees, said that there was improvement in the law and order situation in Afghanistan that made it possible for the safe return of the large number of Afghans to their hometown. He added that "Afghan government has established 63 towns for the refugees living in Pakistan and Iran". The initiatives taken by the Afghan government would help immensely in massive repartition of the refugees.

Source: dailytimes.com.pk, October 3, 2012

Bangladesh

Buddhists targeted

The country has now witnessed the worst kind of communal riots after the Awami League formed the Government in 2009. The riot took place in the coastal district of Cox's Bazar that destroyed 12 Buddhist temples and monasteries and left hundreds of people homeless. The violence was apparently triggered by a Facebook posting of a photo defaming the Holy Quran. Local people have blamed the Rohingyas for the attacks on the minority communities. It needs to be recalled that Cox's Bazar houses thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir blamed radical groups for the riots. Alamgir further claimed that the riot was premeditated and deliberate act of communal violence against the minority.

Condemning the riots various political parties and civil societies observed that the riot mainly aimed at protecting the war criminals of 1971 (Independence war of Bangladesh) now facing trial. The parties and organisations include Workers' Party of Bangladesh, Communist Party of Bangladesh, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal, Bangladesh Hindu-Buddha-Christian Oikkyo Parishad, Ain O Salish Kendra, Mahila Parishad, Gonosanghati Andolon, Bangladesh Jatiya Hindu Mohajote.

Expressing its concern over the attacks on the reliiogus minorities Khaleda Zia, Chairperson of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and demanded exemplary punishment of the perpetrators. Interestingly many of leaders of Jamaat-e-Ismali, BNP's main ally, are now facing trails on charges of war crimes.

Source: unbconnect.com, September 30, 2012/ The Daily Star, October 1, 2012

Buying of warships from China

To strengthen its naval power the Government has placed an order to China's Wuchan Shipyard for the purchase of two sophisticated warships. The expectation is that at least one of the ships will be handed over to Bangladesh by next year. The 64-metre, 648-ton ship will have a speed of 28 nautical miles. With the placement of order for supplying warships, Bangladesh has entered new vista of defence cooperation with China.

The present Awami League Government has made an elaborate plan for strengthening its defence facilities by procuring huge number of military hardware as well as sophisticated equipment and weapons with the objective of transforming Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Air Force and Bangladesh Navy into a sophisticated military power. Special efforts are being taken to strengthen the Bangladesh Navy for safeguarding huge natural resources in the Bay of Bengal. It is believed by economic and petroleum experts that by 2030, Bangladesh's economy will grow hugely thus placing the country to the economic status of developed nations, if the petroleum resources within the Bay of Bengal will be properly explored.

Source: Weekly Blitz, October 4, 2012

Bhutan

Religion out of politics

The Election Commission, in a bid to separate the State and church,has issues a notification which states that from January 1, 2013, the public, including religious organisations and personalities, shall not conduct, organise or host religious events and activities that would involve presence of public. And that this should be observed until the completion of parliamentary elections next year, which, going by recent calculations, would be held in July.

The Election Commission's move was in line with the Constitution that provided "for the political system in Bhutan to be secular where religion was elevated to the higher pedestal through the declaration, 'religion shall remain above politics'."

Source: kuenselonline.com, October 5, 2012

Organic farming

The Himalayan Kingdom has plans to change its agricultural practices in the next 10 years. The nation hopes to make all its agricultural produces organic and free of chemical fertilisers. Initially the nation plans to make its staple diet wheat and potatoes and fruits organic

Source: themalaysianinsider.com, October 6, 2012

India

Elections for Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh announced

An air of anticipation descended on Delhi on Wednesday with the Election Commission announcing elections to the State Assemblies of Gujarat (December 13 and 17) and Himachal Pradesh (November 4).Since the fight in both States is between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress, political circles see it as a given that the results will spill over into national politics, impacting its course in the coming months.

Source: The Hindu, October 4, 2012

States not for 'water reforms'

A conference of Water Resources and Irrigation Ministers here on Wednesday saw opposition to the Centre's proposal to evolve an overarching national legal framework of principles on water, to link financial assistance to "aggressive" water sector reforms and to set up a Permanent Forum of Water Resources and Irrigation Ministers to deliberate on issues/disputes.

Source: The Hindu, October 4, 2012

UPA-II gambles with more reforms

Notwithstanding the strong opposition to its reforms agenda, the Manmohan Singh government on Thursday pressed ahead with more big-ticket economic initiatives, raising the foreign direct investment cap in insurance sector to 49 per cent, opening up the pension sector to foreign investment and clearing the Companies Bill, 2011. It also approved amendments to the Competition Act, 2002 and the Foreign Contracts (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2010.

Source: The Hindu, October 5, 2012

RBI to allow new banks

In a much-awaited big ticket announcement that hopes to boost the financial sector, the Reserve Bank of India is set to allow the opening of new banks and invite applications for licenses this month.

Source: The Indian Express, October 5, 2012

Exports down by 9.7 pc

India's exports for the month of August declined from the same period last year, data from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry revealed Monday.

Exports in dollar terms dropped 9.74 percent year-on-year, while imports fell 5.08 per cent.In rupee terms, the exports were higher by 10.76 percent from last year and imports grew 16.74 percent.

The trade deficit for August was $15.622 billion compared to $15.245 billion a year ago.During August, oil imports bill rose 2.96 percent annually in dollar terms, while non-oil imports fell 8.74 percent.

Source: www.rtinews.com,October 1, 2012

US help in renewable energy

India and the US are exploring the possibilities of large-scale cooperation in the generation and storage of power from renewable sources like solar and wind power to make power-cuts in India a thing of the past.

The two countries are setting up a group to discuss financing options for encouraging energy generation through renewable sources and integration of various renewable energy sources with the grid and storage technologies.

The decision to set up the group was taken here Friday at the just concluded India-US energy dialogue co-chaired by B.K. Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission, and US Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Source: www.nydailynews.com,September 29, 2012

Heaviest satellite launched

India's advanced communication satellite GSAT-10 that would augment telecommunication, direct-to-home broadcasting and radio navigation services was successfully launched early on Saturday on board Ariane-5 rocket from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana in South America.

At the end of the countdown lasting 11 hours and 30 minutes, Ariane -5 ECA rocket injected GSAT-10 into an elliptical Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO), very close to the intended one, after a flight of 30 minutes and 45 seconds, Indian Space Research Organisation said.

Source: www.hindustantimes.com,September 29, 2012

Admiral Gorshkov delayed

India will 'strongly' take up with Russia the delay in delivery of aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, the refurbished Admiral Gorshkov, asking it to deploy additional manpower to ensure the large warship's 'refit package' is completed within six-seven months.

Defence Minister A K Antony will stress this to his visiting Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov during the 12th meeting of India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) here on Thursday, said sources.

Source: www.timesofindia.com, October 3, 2012

Maldives

Red notification against Nasheed

The Court has displayed a red notification on the front door of former President Mohamed Nasheed's residence, G. Kenereege, following Nasheed's failure to appear in Court for the defamation hearing. Nasheed is being sued by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim for defamation.

The notification, put up by Civil Court, informs Nasheed to be present in Court on Monday at 11:00 for the hearing on the defamation charges by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim; and that a verdict will be delivered in absentia if Nasheed fails to appear in Court as summoned.

The notification was endorsed by Civil Court Judge Mariyam Nihayath and put up on Kenereege last Wednesday. In addition to Nazim, Commissioner of Police Abdullah Riyaz has also sued Nasheed for defamation.

Riyaz and Nazim's claims against Nasheed are based on a speech given by Nasheed one day after the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) released its report, during which Nasheed had said that he still suspects Defence Minister Nazim and Police Commissioner Riyaz of having conducted a coup, and encouraged people to therefore continue to call them 'traitors'.

Source: SunOnline, October 5, 2012

Security for Nasheed halted on request

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has disrupted provision of security for former President Mohamed Nasheed, as requested by the latter. Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim said today that it is MNDF's procedure to withdraw security when requested.

MNDF provides security to Nasheed under Article 5 of the law on security and privileges to former Presidents. The MNDF separately said that it could not be blamed for any harm to President Nasheed when his security had thus been withdrawn. It has also approached higher authorities, including the courts, it was said, to clarify on its powers and responsibilities in matters of providing security to former Presidents under the law.

Source: SunOnline, October 5, 2012

MP killed near house

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Member of Parliament for Ungoofaaru constituency, Dr Afrasheem Ali, was found murdered at the staircase of his apartment building in capital Male after he had appeared in a television talk-show earlier. A religious scholar, his body with knife-wounds on his back and skull, was found by his wife when she began looking for him after he was late in returning home and his mobile was not answered.

President Mohammed Waheed, away in the US, declared three-day State mourning and a State funeral for the slain MP. Cutting across party lines, all leaders and civil society representatives were present at the funeral.

The police have arrested a few persons, including a female activist of the Opposition MDP, but would not give out details pending the completion of investigations. They also clarified that the police security for the MP was withdrawn on request, as he generally accepts it onl when Parliament was in session.

Source: SunOnline, October 1-3, 2012

Myanmar

Buddhist monks protest Bangladesh attacks

Around 100 monks demonstrated in Yangon against attacks by Muslim mobs targeting Buddhist temples and homes in neighbouring Bangladesh.Holding signs with slogans including, "The Earth Is for everyone, not only for Muslims" and "Stop insulting Buddhism", the robed monks staged a short protest outside the Bangladesh Embassy in the former capital.

The rally ended when police asked the monks to disperse. Sectarian tensions have been running high along the country's joint border since June when deadly clashes erupted between Buddhists and Rohingyas in Myanmar's western Rakhine State. Myanmar's Government and many Burmese view Myanmar's Stateless Rohingya population as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh police said Tuesday they had arrested nearly 300 people in connection with a wave of violence in the southeast of the country where Buddhist temples and homes were damaged and set on fire.

Source: channelnewsasia.com, October 5, 2012

Nepal

Prez 'ready' to act if parties fail

President Ram Baran Yadav has said that he is ready to take "necessary steps" if political parties fail to arrive at a compromise and end the current political deadlock. The President invited leaders of the ruling coalition and opposition parties at his residence and expressed dissatisfaction over their failure to negotiate a new deal even four months after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. He said the country should no longer be 'held hostage' and stressed on the need of agreement to hold CA elections for a second time.

"If parties cannot strike agreement, they should tell me how and when I should make a move. I am ready to act accordingly," the President's Press Advisor, Rajendra Dahal, quoted the President to the media.

The statement from the Head of State comes as parties engage in a spat over the leadership of a new government that would hold fresh elections. The deal okayed by top leaders of the three major parties-UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress and CPN-UML-and the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha on September 19 to hold fresh CA elections has failed to materialise following the dispute on the candidate that would lead a national unity government.

Source: ekantipur.com, October 1, 2012

Koirala escapes attack

In a stunning event, a Nepali Congress (NC) cadre attacked party president Sushil Koirala on September 30.Prabesh Basnet, originally from Solukhumbu district, tried to hit Koirala with a wooden photo-frame at a general meeting of the party's Kathmandu Constituency Number 4 at Kapan. Though not very active in the party´s activities, Basnet is a member of NC-affiliated Nepal Students Union (NSU) at Pashupati Multiple Campus, Chabahil.

He was, however, unsuccessful in the first attempt. When he made the second attempt, the party´s General Secretary Prakash Man Singh and other senior leaders foiled the assault and saved Koirala. NC working committee member Gagan Thapa then reached the stage and held him tightly by his neck. The party cadres who were attending the function then beat up Basnet indiscriminately.

Basnet has been handed over to police for investigation.

Source: myrepublica.com, September 30, 2012

Lumbini in India's Buddhist circuit

India has formally announced its plan to develop Buddhist circuits incorporating Lumbini in Nepal, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Inaugurating a two-day international Buddhist conference in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India's federal Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahaysaid his ministry has identified three circuits to be developed as part of the Buddhist Circuits during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17).

Circuit 1: The Dharmayatra or the Sacred Circuit, will be a 5-7-day circuit that will include visits to Gaya (Bodhgaya), Varanasi (Sarnath), Kushinagar and Piparva (Kapilvastu) with a day's trip to Lumbinir

Circuit 2: Extended Dharmayatra or Extended Sacred Circuit or Retracing Buddha's Footsteps, will be a 10-15-day circuit that will see visits to Bodhgaya (Nalanda, Rajgir, Barabar caves, Pragbodhi Hill, Gaya), Patna (Vaishali, Lauriya Nandangarh, Lauriya Ariraj, Kesariya, Patna Museum),Varanasi (Sarnath), Kushinagar, and Piparva (Kapilvastu, Shravasti, Saniska) with a day's trip to Lumbini.

The third circuit will, however, not cover Lumbini. Circuit 3-Buddhist Heritage Trails State Circuits will go through Ladakh, Srinagar and Jammu in the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir in India to Dharamshala, Spiti, Kinnaur and Lahaul in Himachal Pradesh.

Source: ekantipur.com, October 1, 2012

Pakistan

Meaningful talks with India important: Shahbaz Sharief

Talking to senior editors and journalists in Lahore, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said that mutual coexistence is detrimental to peaceful relations with India. He said that both the countries need to sit together to resolve all the bilateral issues for which he believes that "meaningful and result oriented dialogue" is very important. He also believes that promotion of mutual trade and exchange of delegations can bring about an improvement in Pak-India relations.

Talking about the relations with Afghanistan, he said that Pakistan wants to have peaceful relation with it because peaceful Afghanistan is important for peace in Pakistan as well. He further added that only the people of Afghanistan have the right to decide the future of Afghanistan.

Source: pakistantoday.com.pk, October 5, 2012

Russian FM calls on PM

Prime Minister of Pakistan Raja Parvez Ashraf met the Foreign Minister of Russian Federation Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov in Islamabad. The Prime Minister during the meeting said that Pakistan attaches high importance to the relations with Russia. He further went on to say that Russia as a country is very important because of its linkages with Europe and Asia.

The Prime Minister also said that both the countries have convergence of views on many regional and international issues like Afghanistan, Syria, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the UN Security Council.

He said that Pakistan wanted to boast its economic relation and benefit from the expertise of Russian Federation particularly in the energy sector. He further said that Pakistan seeks Russian federation's cooperation in expansion of Pakistan steel mills. He also sought help from Russia for upgrading the railways in Pakistan.

The Russian Foreign Minister conveyed the best wishes of President Vladimir Putin to President Zardari. He also said that Russia was looking forward to the next SCO summit where both the countries would participate which would be held in Kyrgyzstan.

Source: thenews.com.pk, October 5, 2012

Sri Lanka

SC to interpret Governor's powers

The Court of Appeal has referred to the Supreme Court for interpretation and determination, two questions of law that had arisen from the hearing of the petition filed by Mavai Senadhirajah Jaffna District TNA Member of Parliament. The petition was in connection with the Divi Neguma Bill.

The two questions are: whether the 'expression of the views' of the Provincial Council was included in the 'expression of the Governor's views' when a Provincial Council is dissolved and whether a question determining the above fact will fall under Article 124 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Article 124 empowers the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution.

The petitioner, Senadhirajah argued that the Governor could not approve a Bill in place of the members of the Council. A Governor was not elected by the people. Only the members were elected by the people and could voice the opinion of the people. If the governor of the Northern Province approved the Divi Neguma Bill, without seeking the vote of the members, the action of the governor was unconstitutional and could be quashed or prohibited by the Court.

Source: Daily Mirror Online, October 8, 2012

TNA member-parties seek merged identity

in regard to register Tamil National Alliance as a political party, a discussion is very much necessary; hence requests were made by the membership parties for time allocation from the Alliance parliamentary group leader R Sambandan.

On behalf of EPRLF party, Suresh Piremachandran, Selvam Adaikalanathan on behalf of TELO, Sitharthan on behalf of PLOTTE, and V Anandasangareei on behalf of Tamil United Liberation Font had decided to sign this document.

"If Tamil National Alliance according to a structure gets established as a political party, the many criticisms which we are now facing could be avoided was further mentioned in the report. To register the Tamil National Alliance, the policy and the legal documentations are now processed," they said in a letter to Sambandan, which was however made available to the media.

Source: Uthayan (Tamil), Jaffna, October 4, 2012

Muslim Congress betrayed all Tamils: TNA

By voting with the Government in the Eastern Provincial Council, empowering the Centre on the Divi Neguma Bill, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress has done great injustice to all Tamil-speaking people, TNA leader R Sambandan has said.

"The SLMC Provincial members reviewed the Divi Neguma Bill in the morning, but in the late afternoon they supported it, what is in the backdrop? Muslim Congress wanted the postponement of the Provincial Council debate on the Bill for some days. But that was not taken into consideration. How could the Muslim Congress, which was not even permitted to postpone the petition, settle the people's problems and how could they obtain the rights of the people?" Sambandan asked, and declared, "Even if the Muslim Congress discarded the people who voted for them, we will not desert our Muslim brethren."

Source: Uthayan (Tamil), Jaffna, October 8, 2012

Anti-B'desh protest turns violent

Buddhist monks protest outside the Bangladesh Embassy in Colombo against a spate of attacks targeting Buddhists. They urged Bangladesh to punish those responsible for the massacre of Buddhists. Some of the protesters threw missiles at the Embassy causing minor damage.

According to Tamil Mirror website, Bangladesh Government took up the issue of attack on the Embassy with Colombo, with Dhaka summoning local Sri Lankan High Commissioner. Bangladesh officials in Colombo said that it is one thing for anyone to protest, another thing to attack their embassy.

Source: The Island, October 4, 2012, Tamil Mirror, October 4, 2012

Contributors:

Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kunkhen Dorji;
Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
India:Dr.Satish Misra;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;