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SOUTH ASIA WEEKLY REPORT
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Vol. V Issue. 43
Myanmar: The importance of Suu Kyi's India visit
Sripathi Narayanan
26 October 2012

Analysis

Nobel Peace laureate and pro-democratic champion of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to visit India in mid November. The dates are yet to be finalised. This would be Suu Kyi’s first visit to India since her political carrier took a downward turn after the elections of 1990.

Since her re-entry into Myanmar’s mainstream politics, Suu Kyi’s India visit is her fourth foreign visit in as many months. She first visited Thailand, then Europe, where she received the Nobel Peace Prize and the US. These visits presented three different political underpinnings in the context of Myanmar’s reform process.

In Thailand, Suu Kyi wore a cloak of reservation, neither sure nor certain of the nature of her country’s reform process. This had resulted in some misunderstanding between her and the Generals in power back home. However, this bad-blood between her and the Government was overcome when she appealed for responsible investment and engagement from the international community while in Europe. Her approach in Europe was based on attracting investment into Myanmar that would benefit the people.

However, Suu Kyi’s visit to the US, by far the strongest critic of the junta, can be considered more than satisfactory. Her US tour was succeeded by President Thein Sein’s address to the UN General Assembly, the first such instance since the 1990 sanctions. Subsequently, the US invited Myanmar as an observer to the ’Cobra Gold’ multi-national military exercise, though pending confirmation. The US’ invitation is symbolic, but could lay the foundation for the deepening the ties between the two nations.

Incidentally, the outcome of ’Cobra Gold’ exercise cannot be gauged in the near-term with the acceptance of the Nay Pyi Daw into the international fold. It needs to be understood in the context of military-to-military ties (read: Pentagon) that it can foster between Myanmar and the US. It is indeed ironic that American engagement with nations of South-East Asia has been driven by security considerations and is lead by military-to-military ties, wherein the civilian establishment (State Department) fills in the gaps that are not addressed by the uniformed services.

The same could be the case with Myanmar too, since the existing State structure is one that is dominated by the military. In this case, Pentagon may even take the lead over the head of the State Department, the latter having achieved for the US more than a semblance of democratic reforms, for Myanmar to be accepted by constituencies nearer home and also by the rest of the international community.

Myanmar’s State structure in this context is at cross-roads and would have to choose between what could be dubbed as the ’Pakistani model’ of a hyper-active Army that interferes in the matters of politics or a ’Turkish model’ where the Army leads the nation from the back seat. Incidentally, most South-East Asian nations have already adopted the ’Turkish model’ of army-backed State, instead of an army-lead State.

It is in this backdrop that Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to India gains significance. The visit in some sense comes as an after-thought, but is indeed important in more than one way. In India, the Government may not fall head over heals on her credentials as an adopted daughter of the Mahatma, but could well temper it with realpolitik back home in Myanmar ? where she is also emerging as a significant political force. Neighbourhood realities would also seek New Delhi to take a closer look than has been the case by the ’distant West’.

It could, however, be speculated that Suu Kyi’s India visit could more be on business and less on symbolism, wherein she may be representing her nation, not stopping with her cause. At the same time, for India reengagement with democratic forces after a two decade sabbatical is not only reviving other channels of communications in that nation but also has strategic implications as well, since New Delhi would like to cultivate other options in this nation other than the military.

While the West, which supported the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, is ironically reaching out to the military, India is in the process of deepening its engagement with the democratic forces even while continuing to maintain healthy ties with all the players in Myanmar.

For Suu Kyi, the visit would also have political and personal angles. As the leader of the NLD, Suu Kyi would be interacting with her Indian interlocutors at one-level. It was in Delhi where she had spent a considerable number of years as a student when her mother was the Myanmarese Ambassador to India.

(The writer is a Research Assistant with Observer Research Foundation)

Nepal: No option to fresh poll

Akanshya Shah

Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s new political roadmap contradicts Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s stated position to end the current political deadlock in Nepal. At best, it could serve as a starting point for a fresh round of negotiations soon after the festival season ends in mid-November. In the absence of an all-party agreement on the issue of federal restructuring of the State, no tangible progress would be made on Constitution writing.

Prachanda presented a "political roadmap" to President Ram Baran Yadav recently, seeking the latter’s support in ending the political and constitutional deadlock since the demise of the Constituent Assembly (CA) on May 28. Dahal went to ’Sheetal Niwas’, the official residence of the President, on October 25 to brief the Head of State on the different alternatives that his party thinks are "suitable" to bail out the country from the current crises. In his proposal handed over to the President in writing, Dahal reiterated the promulgation of a new Constitution by reviving the CA and by incorporating issues that have been agreed upon so far. He said his party will accept a Nepali Congress-led government, but only after the promulgation of a new Constitution through the CA.

The revival of the dead CA has also been advocated by some other senior leaders of various parties, of late. But such a revival is against the Supreme Court (SC) ruling of November last year which clearly stated that in case the Constitution is not promulgated by May 28, a fresh mandate, referendum or a suitable political option should be among the alternatives. The CA revival will amount to clear violation of the Supreme Court ruling. Even if all the parties would agree to a short CA revival to amend the Interim Constitution, as suggested by some legal experts, in the absence of a concrete agreement on the issue of federalism, over which the CA was dissolved, no progress on the Constitution-writing will be achieved.

If the CA is to be revived, an agreement on the restructuring of the State must be duly put in place by the political leaders of Nepal. But that seems hard to achieve as no party is willing to compromise on its position over federalism. While the Maoists, backed by ethnic groups, will not budge from ethnic division of the State, the Opposition Nepali Congress and the UML are advocating restructuring on the basis of multi-ethnicity.

Dahal has also proposed holding fresh CA elections if parties fail to agree on giving it a new lease of life. He further suggested amending the Interim Constitution and electoral laws through ordinances on the basis of a larger political agreement. Here, his suggestion directly contradicts Prime Minister Bhattarai’s stand that there is "no alternative to fresh polls". Bhattarai, soon after announcing the dissolution of the CA, had also said that seeking a fresh mandate from the people was the only way out of the political impasse. Also, Prachanda’s new idea of rule through ordinances would only remind Nepalese of the Panchayat era when State administration was run through royal ordinances.

Dahal’s third option is formation of a non-political civilian government. This couldn’t have come at a more inappropriate time. At a time when the major parties are wrangling over the leadership of a new government that would hold fresh polls, the Maoist chairman, in his proposal, said an "apolitical government" led by civil society representatives or former judges could be formed if consensus eludes the parties. What Prachanda has done is that he has kept both alternatives -- revival of the CA and fresh elections ? open while giving a jolt to the Nepali Congress by talking about a non-political government in line with Bangladeshi experience.

This is a time for confidence-building and reaching a consensus, as rightly suggested by President Yadav. Reportedly, the President has stressed on a political consensus. He told Dahal, "You should engage with political parties to reach an understanding." The President is right as there is no alternative to consensus.

Maoist leaders have said that the new political proposal floated by the party is designed to kick-start the "give-and-take negotiations" among the parties. But by talking about the CA revival and formation of non-political government, Prachanda is leaving no basis for fresh negotiations. The right way is to start dialogue with all other stakeholders with an open mind. But the best course available to the parties still is to go head for polls after their failure to draft a new Constitution even after four years. More appropriately, the country can even go in for parliamentary elections, which could act as a CA temporarily. After all, the old CA acted as Parliament for four years.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow with Observer Research Foundation)

Country Reports

Nepal

Preserve independence: Gyanendra

Former King Gyanendra Shah has said the time had come to ponder over the current state of Nepali society. "It is evident that the people of Nepal want to see their country remain independent, her nationalism strengthened and that too in an environment of peace, happiness and tranquility," the former King said in his statement issued on the occasion of Vijay Dashami.

He said Nepalis should ensure that Nepal´s independence is steadfastly safeguarded, while her natural and stunning beauty along with her harmonious social fabric is painstakingly preserved.

Source: nagariknews.com, October 26, 2012

Euro-carrier caught

Close on the heels of the Tribhuvan International Airport’s illegal currency scam, which exposed a high-rung police official earlier in the month, TIA police have made another big haul, confiscating 195,000 euros.

The money, equivalent to Nepali Rs 21.45 million, was seized from Dawa Tasi Lama, 40, of Bouddha as he was about to board a Spice Jet flight to New Delhi on Friday morning. Lama, who hails from Humla district, is a herbs trader. According to the police, he has been trading a rare herb called Saduwa from India to China for the last 15 years.

During a press conference, Lama said he was running the business in partnership with a Chinese, Hang Zin, reportedly living in Khasa. Lama claimed this was the first time he was carrying money like this. He used to earlier take the money to India through hundi, which is an unofficial money transfer network practised mostly by importers to pay their suppliers who dispatch under-invoiced goods.

On October 6, police arrested Binod Kumar Soni, an Indian national, in possession of Nepali Rs 12.4 million in nine currencies not accepted by Nepal’s central bank.

Source: ekantipur.com, October 26, 201

Trafficking victims rescued in Haiti

Two Nepalese men were rescued from prison-like conditions in Haiti after 11 months at the mercy of human traffickers who had promised them jobs in the US, the International Organisation for Migration has said. .

The men, in their 30s, had been recruited in their native Nepal by a human smuggling network that had charged them an unspecified fee in exchange for legal immigration and work in the US. Since starting their journey last November, the men had been shuttled through Singapore, China, Brazil, Panama and finally on to Haiti and had been provided official visas for each country they stopped in. Although the two men had been willingly smuggled initially, they became trafficking victims when they arrived in Haiti in January this year and were taken to a private home in the northern city of Cap Haitien and kept in most inhumane conditions.

When their captors told them to call their families and ask for more cash, the men described to their loved-ones, in Nepalese, details of landmarks they had passed when they were being transported to the house. Their relatives then contacted Nepalese police, who in turn alerted police units forming part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, which organised a rescue mission.

Source: AFP, October 24, 2012

Shrestha bags US military honoure

Sergeant Saral Kumar Shrestha was named "2012 Soldier of the Year" of the US Army during an award ceremony in Washington, as stated by Army News Service.

Sgt. Shrestha joined the US at the very young age of 17 for higher studies in 2006 and joined the US Army in 2009. He is a power generation equipment repairer with Bachelors degree in Computer Information Science Networking and is assigned to US Army Special Forces Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Source: Rastriya Samachar Samiti, October 26, 2012

Pakistan

Musharraf to contest polls

Former President Pervez Musharraf has announced that he will be contesting the upcoming general elections from Chitral constituency in Khayber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Musharraf, 69, made the announcement via a video-link, while addressing the elders of Chitral from Dubai.

The former President ruled Pakistan between 1999 and 2008 and had formed a party called All-Pakistan Muslim League (AIML) while in exile. He was declared a "proclaimed offender" by a trail court hearing the Benazir Bhutto assassination case and a red warrant has also been issued by Interpol for his arrest.

The Pakistan People’s Party-led Government has warned the former President that he would be arrested whenever he returns back to Pakistan because the court had issued a non-bailable warrant against him in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com, October 24, 2012

Prime suspect identified in Malala case

Pakistan has identified a young Taliban militant named Ataullah Khan, a university science student in his early 20’s, as the lead suspect in the shooting attack that left Malala Yousufzai , a 14 year-old school girl, hospitalised with multiple bullet wounds.

According to the Pakistani intelligence officials, he was "the principal suspect who stitched together the plot" to target Malala, who lives with her family in the northern Swat Valley.

The officials also said that Khan may have crossed the border into Afghanistan after shooting the girl. In an effort to draw Khan back across the border, officials have taken his mother and fiance into custody. The doctors treating Malala said that, she was making steady progress at a hospital in Birmingham, England.

Source: cbsnews.com, October 24, 2012

Sri Lanka

Gota in New Delhi

Against the backdrop of protests in Tamil Nadu against training to Lankan defence personnel, India and Sri Lanka held discussions yesterday on furthering their defence cooperation. Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is in India on the invitation of National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, called on Defence Minister A K Antony, Defence Ministry officials said.

Gota Rajapaksa also held a meeting with Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma in which the two are understood to have discussed the entire gamut of military relations between the two sides, they said.

The meetings came at a time when Tamil Nadu political parties are vehemently opposing any kind of military ties with the island-nation. However, despite these protests, the Defence Ministry has decided to continue military relations and is also planning to hold joint exercises with Sri Lankan armed forces along with training its personnel.

It has also tried to address the concern of the Tamil Nadu political parties on the issue and has directed the armed forces to hold the joint drills away from the south Indian States.

Source: Daily Mirror Online, October 26, 2012

N-talks with India on safety aspects

Sri Lanka and India were discussing a bi-lateral agreement on how to ensure safety in case of a nuclear accident, Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka told Parliament. The Minister said that under the three international conventions on nuclear safety, signed by both India and Sri Lanka, there was room for them to arrive at a bi-lateral agreement on the issue.

Ranawaka also said that the site evaluation study report or the safety analysis report of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in South Indian had not been made available to Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Government had not received the reports, the Minister said, adding that there was no 100 per cent guarantee that there would be no nuclear disaster even though there could be assurances to that effect.

The Minister also noted that there had been no comprehensive studies conducted by the Sri Lankan Government on the possible impacts on the environment of the country as those were still being reviewed at the moment. There was only a 100-km distance between Sri Lankan maritime border and the Kudankulam Power plant and some 220 km between that facility and Kalpitiya, the Minister said.

Source: The Island, October 25, 2012

Iran sanctions: Compensation sought from US

Government Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella has called upon the US to come up with a scheme to avoid harming friendly countries by its embargo on Iran -- or compensate them. Public sector Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Managing Director L T Susantha de Silva said that the US embargo on Sri Lanka’s main crude oil supplier Iran had taken its toll on Sri Lanka’s fuel sector, and hectic negotiations had already been started with other sources to fill the void created by the loss of crude from Iran.

While assuring the citizenry that every effort was being made to preclude a fuel shortage during the next two weeks if the country’s oil refinery at Sapugaskanda had to be closed due to lack of crude from Iran, De Silva said that every effort had been made to purchase crude from other sources. However, the most suitable crude oil for the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery (SOR) is the light crude from Iran.

Source: Daily Mirror Online, October 25, 2012

Afghanistan

US revives row over ’Durand Line’

US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, reignited a traditional flash-point between the two countries by stating in an interview that Washington recognised the Durand Line as the international border between them. The Durand Line was drawn up by the British in 1893 to divide the region’s Pashtun population between what was then British India and the Kingdom of Afghanistan. Although, it has marked the de facto border ever since, no Afghan Government ? including the Taliban ? has recognised it as the official international border.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry issued a response stating that "any statement by anyone regarding the legal status of this line" as irrelevant. The spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Ajmal Faizi, said that any decision on the Durand Line belongs solely to the Afghan people and government and they alone can settle the issue.

The Pakistan Foreign Office maintained that the Durand Line issue is a settled and closed chapter for Islamabad. Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan said that Pakistan regard the Line as the recognised international border and "it is a position accepted by the international community" as well.

Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, The Hindu, Tolo News, October 23-25, 2012

New panel to lure Taliban

A deal between Pakistan and the US regarding a new bilateral commission to lure Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table was finalised during US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman’s visit to Islamabad.

The formation of such a commission has been in the pipeline for months. Although, full details of the proposed commission are still not clear, sources suggest that the two countries will identify groups for reconciliation and facilitate smooth transition of power following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The proposed bilateral commission is said to encompass a solution to the Haqqani network as well.

The Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) welcomed the finalisation of this bilateral commission and dismissed all suggestions that Afghanistan had been sidelined in the process. The HPC’s international relations adviser, Mohammad Ismael Qasemyar said that Afghanistan sees the commission as a positive development and recognised that "without cooperation from Pakistan and the United States, reaching a sustainable peace will be difficult".

Source: The Express Tribune, Tolo News, October 22, 2012

Pakistan wants Mullah Fazlullah

Pakistan has demanded the extradition of Mullah Fazlullah, the commander of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (Swat chapter) from Afghanistan. Islamabad insists Mullah Fazlullah has regrouped his fighters in the Afghan province of Kunar and has been launching several attacks on military posts in Dir, Chitral and other areas of Pakistan. Pakistan also claims that the plot to kill child activist, Malala Yousafzai was hatched in the Kunar province.

Afghanistan, however, claims that TTP militants are hiding in remote mountainous regions on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. Afghan authorities have further stated that Pakistan has not shared any evidence with them to substantiate such claims.

The Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman, Muazzam Khan, while replying to questions during his weekly press briefing, said that Pakistan had given a dossier, containing information regarding Mullah Fazlullah fleeing to Afghanistan from Swat, to the Afghan government and the NATo-led International Security Assistance Force.

Source: Dawn, October 22, 2012; The Express Tribune, October 25-26, 2012; The News International, 26 October 2012

China begins oil production

The Chinese firm ? the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) -- has started the extraction of oil from the Amu Darya River Basin in northern Afghanistan.

Afghanistan signed a 25 year contract with CNPC in December 2011, which covers drilling and a planned refinery in the northern provinces of Faryab and Sar-e-Pul. CNPC will extract 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, starting from January 1, 2013. The crude extracted from Amu Darya will be sent to Turkmenistan, where it will be refined and then sold to Afghan clients or abroad. CNPC is expected to complete work on the Afghan refinery in two to three years.

Source: Daily Outlook Afghanistan, October 24, 2012

Bangladesh

Deals with China

Three deals were inked with China this week to boost cooperation in economic, power and financial sectors. These deals were signed during the visit of a high-level delegation of Communist Party of China. The leader of the delegation was Li Changchun, member of the Standing committee of Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee (CPCCC).

The three deals comprised an agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation signed by Economic Relations Division Secretary Iqbal Mahmood and Chinese Vice-Minister of Commerce Jiang Zengwei for their respective sides, a Memorandum of Understanding between Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry of Bangladesh and Commerce Ministry of China on strengthening cooperation in the field of electricity, and a framework agreement on concessional loan to be provided by China to Bangladesh, signed by Economic Relations Division Secretary Iqbal Mahmood and Chinese Vice-Minister of Commerce Jiang Zengwei.

Source: bdnews24.com, October 21, 2012

BDR mutiny: 723 jailed

As many as 723 soldiers of Border Guards Bangladesh were sentenced this week on charges of their involvement in the bloody mutiny of 2009. The court declared that this judgment is the final one in the series of trial conducted by the military to book the culprits of the border guards’ mutiny of 2009. Around 6000 people have been sentenced till date for the mutiny that caused death of 74 people including army officers.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised the trials and accusing of torture and death of a number of suspects died in custody. However, the military has termed the claims of HRM as baseless and claimed that a number of suspects died due to heart attacks or other natural causes.

Source: bbc.uk.co, October20, 2012

Jagjivan Ram, 1971 war hero

After 41 years of winning Independence, Bangladesh this week has honoured then Indian Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram. Bangladesh described him as a war hero.

Jagjivan Ram has been honoured for being instrumental in the formation of the ’Joint Command’ of Bangladesh and Indian Forces for the final assault which led to victory. I

Source: indianexpress.com, October 22, 2012

Bhutan

Primary sector input to GDP down

According to the National Accounts Statistics, the Gross Domestic Product of Bhutan has shrunk whem compared to last year. However the tertiary sector, registered significant growth while the primary sector registered a fall.

The economy produced goods and services worth Nu 85 billion in 2011 (calculated at current prices, which takes into account inflation). The primary sector, agriculture, contributed 18 per cent of the GDP, while the tertiary sector, contributed 44 per cent.

The increase in GDP from Nu 72 billion in 2010 to Nu 85 billion in 2011 was mostly on account of increase in hotel and restaurant services (41 per cent), followed by transport and communication (36 per cent), and mining and quarrying (24 per cent). Tourism also saw an upward trend of 10,551 additional tourists in 2011 whereas 2009-10 this sector witnessed a addition of only 4,156 tourists.

According to the report, the tertiary sector grew by 16 per cent, while the primary and secondary increased by only four per cent and three per cent respectively. The primary sector’s contribution to GDP has stagnated since 2007, when it was 20 per cent. It remained there until 2009, declined to 19 per cent in 2010, and then to 18 per cent last year.

Source: kuenselonline.com, October 25, 2012

Business rating downgraded

Starting and running a business in the country has grown slightly more difficult and it is no doubt because of the Indian-rupee shortage in the country. This was what a recent analysis the International Finance Corporation (IFC) had to show.

The recently published a report on doing business report for 2012 where Bhutan was ranked 148 out of 185 economies throughout the world. Bhutan fell down by six notches compared with its position in the previous year when it was ranked 142.

The ease of doing business is measured using 10 indicators, some of which include starting a business, getting credit, investor protection, getting electricity, registering property and enforcing contracts. The country’s score against all of the indicators dropped except in two where its score stayed the same as those of the previous year.

India was ranked 132, Bangladesh, which was ahead of India, ranked 129 and Afghanistan was 168. Singapore retained its top place followed by Hong Kong, New Zealand, the United States, Denmark and Norway.

Source: kuenselonline.com, October 25, 2012

IED explodes in Gelephu

Ahead of the launch of the Gelephu airport and improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in the vicinity. The IED was planted inside a hole dug in an abutment of a small concrete bridge on the Gelephu-Sarpang Highway. The midnight explosion did not cause any damage to persons or property. However the police and the military have beefed up security on the Gelephu-Sarpang Highway.

This is the second IED explosion this month. The first one happened on the night of October 16, when an IED was planted under the Bhur Khola Bridge

Source: bbs.bt, October 24, 2012

Envoys of US, UK come calling

US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell visited Bhutan on a six-day tour from October 21. Her British counterpart to Delhi, Sir James David Bevan, too visited the Himalayan Kingdom on October 25.

The two Ambassadors’ visits were independent of each other and they called on a number of officials, including Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley.

Indian Joint Secretary Akhilesh Mishra in the Ministry of External Affairs too made a five- day official visit to the Kingdom and called on the Prime Minister on October 23.

Source: bbs.bt, October 23, 2012; thebhutanese.bt, October 25, 2012; bhutanobserver.bt, October 26, 2012

ICT agreement with Singapore

The Government has inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Singapore to strengthen the Kingdom’s information and communication technology (ICT) capabilities on October 22.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, Ronnie Tay and Dasho Kinley Dorji, Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) signed the MOU in Thimphu.

The MOU will pave the way for developing ICT manpower and expertise in Bhutan through a series of projects and build on existing ICT collaborations. As a start, representatives from IDA International will train key officials from Bhutan in e-Government policies.

Source: asiaone.com, October 22, 2012

India

Haves commit $ 12 b on biodiversity

India, backed by other vociferous developing countries, ultimately convinced the rich world to double the international funds for conserving biodiversity in the developing world by 2015.

The decision was taken at the annual meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity, after hard-nosed negotiations with the European Union and some other countries drew the meeting into extra time, stretching over from Friday night to Saturday

Source: The Times of India, October 21, 2012

Iran n-talks: US sees role for New Delhi

The US wants India to persuade Iran to return to the negotiating table on its nuclear programme, the first time it has openly asked New Delhi to intercede with Tehran.

Ahead of his meetings with National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai in the US-India strategic security dialogue here, US Deputy Secretary of State Willian Burns said, "We feel a great sense of urgency, an urgency widely shared in the international community. There is a great deal at stake here, given Iran’s failure thus far to comply with its international obligations ? the danger of increased tension, nuclear arms race in a region that already has more than its share of instability and which plays a very important role in the health of the global economy.

Source: The Times of India, October 21, 2012

Trade with US to touch $ 100 billion

Bilateral trade between India and the US is expected to touch USD 100 billion in the coming years on increasing economic engagement between the countries, a senior US official has said.

"Our economic cooperation is increasing considerably with two-way trade likely to reach USD 100 billion in the coming year as well as the prospect for a bilateral investment treaty.

"This could strengthen investor confidence on the part of both Indian and Americans," US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said after his meeting with Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

Source: www.financialexpress.com, October 20, 2012

Putin’s visit put off by two months

India and Russia have put off their high-level engagement planned for November 1 by two months in order to reach an agreement on some contentious military and civil issues.

In a one-line announcement, the External Affairs Ministry said Putin would now visit India on December 24. Moscow has been upset with New Delhi over a host of issues, including the continuing stalemate over Russian telecom giant Sistema’s over $ 3 billion investment in a joint venture in India.

Source: The Tribune, October 23, 2012

Japanese firms chase growth

Japanese companies are increasingly turning toward India for investments, as they look for growth and alternatives to China, where tensions are still running high.

Japan has been the single-largest foreign direct investor in India this year, with investments of $1.5 billion in 34 deals through Oct. 11, according to Dealogic.

Source: www.wsj.com, October 24, 2012

Maldives

Judges refuse to attend Majlis panel

The three Judges presiding over the trial against former President Mohamed Nasheed were absent from the Parliament Committee on Government Accountability, despite having been summoned. A member of the committee, in which majority is held by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said that the Judges did not provide any reason for their absence.

The Judges had refused to attend the Committee on a previous occasion. They are being summoned in relation to an investigation by the Committee on the report of the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI).

A statement issued by the parliament office in defence of Shahid’s decision said that the Constitution allows the Parliament and Parliament Committees to ’summon any person to appear before it to give evidence under oath, or to produce documents’. The Supreme Court and Judicial Service Commission have issued statements indicating that summoning judges to Committees should not be allowed. Article 141(c) of the Constitution also stipulates, "No officials performing public functions, or any other persons, shall interfere with and influence the functions of the courts."

Source:SunOnline, October 24, 2012

HC to decide on injunction for Nasheed trial

The High Court will decide on a request by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team for an injunction halting his trial over the detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed at a hearing on November 4, the same day the trial at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court is set to resume.

Concluding the hearing of an appeal lodged by Nasheed’s legal team, challenging the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court’s ruling on three procedural issues raised at the magistrate court’s first hearing on October 9, High Court Judge Shuaib Hussain Zakariya said the three-judge panel would issue a ruling on the injunction at the next hearing on the morning of November 4.

Talking to media after the hearing, Nasheed’s lead attorney Hisaan Hussain explained that a request was made for a temporary injunction to suspend the criminal trial pending a ruling by the High Court on the procedural points.

"Today we submitted in detail the reasons we are seeking a temporary injunction," she said. "In response, the Prosecutor General’s Office said they did not have anything further to say about issuing the injunction and to proceed in the way the court decides. That is, they do not object to [the court] issuing the injunction."

On the High Court scheduling its next hearing for November 4, Hisaan noted that the next hearing at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was scheduled for 4 pm on the same day. "We believe seeking an injunction is by its nature a matter of urgency," she said. "So we have requested that the court expedite its decision on the injunction. We hope the court would make a decision before [November 4]. We will make such a request to the court in writing as well."

At the High Court hearing, Nasheed’s legal team raised the three procedural points dismissed by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court: a magistrate court holding a trial on a different island to where it was based; the constitutional legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court; and the legality of the arrest warrant issued by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, as such orders could only be issued by a court in the locality of the defendant’s permanent address.

At the October 9 hearing, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court summarily dismissed the first two points and agreed to hear the last issue. The court however ruled that the warrant was issued legally as it was following a precedent established by the High Court.

Meanwhile, the High Court today allowed the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to enter into the appeal case as third parties on the issue of the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court. Lawyers from both institutions were present at today’s hearing. The state was represented by lawyers from the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO).

Source: Minivan News, October 22, 2012

’Majlis has no power for secret vote’

President’s Press Secretary Abbas Adil Riza has said that the People’s Majlis despite being a power of the state it does not have the authority to break the law and oppose the Constitution.

Abbas said that the Majlis does not have the constitutional power to pass laws contradicting the constitution. He said that the constitution is very clear on giving equal rights to all and it is unacceptable to pass any laws giving leaders of one of the state powers to be exempted from equality and justice. Abbas said that if the Majlis’ misuse the Constitution and takes advantage of the equality rights then this should be resolved through the courts of law.

"The vote of no confidence against a President was conducted in an open ballot very recently. However, now this amendment they are bringing to states that the motion of no confidence against the President and Vice-president will be conducted in a secret ballot while the motion of no confidence against the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker will be conducted in an open ballot," he said.

Abbas said that the people will not accept this inequality and injustice ever. He said that the Government will not accept this either and this issue should be resolved through the courts of law. The General Purpose Committee of the Majlis approved of several amendments to the Standing Orders at its meeting held on Wednesday.

Committee-approved amendments include additions to Articles 167 (a), and 177.

Approved amendments to Article 177 now establish votes taken pursuant to Articles 172 and Article 173 as ’secret votes’. Article 172 lists conditions under which Parliament can vote to remove the President and Vice-President from office. Article 172 (b) stipulates that a motion to remove the President and Vice-president must precede a declaration of impeachment signed by one third of the parliament. The declaration must then be presented to the floor and debated upon, and sent after a vote of acceptance to an 11-member committee formed to that end, which represents each of the political parties in parliament, as per Article 172 (c). Article 173 states how this committee must function, and policy of committee approval through referendum.

Article 177 states the process of tabling a motion of no confidence against a member of the Cabinet. Article 167 (a) says that open ballots shall be held under all circumstances with the exception of circumstances prescribed in the Constitution which imposes the conduction of secret ballots. With the amendment to these Articles, all the votes described above have now been established as Secret Votes.

Source: Miadhu, October 23, 2012

Poll funding requirement up

The Independent Institutions Committee of Parliament has decided that under the new law, political parties will be required to have 5,000 members before it can be registered, and 10,000 members for it to be entitled to financial support from the Government. This was passed unanimously by the Committee at the meeting.

Prior to passing the decision, long debates were held especially on the issue of not providing money to parties which have less than 10,000 members. Chairman of the Committee, Kulhudhuffushi-dhekunu MP, Mohamed Nasheed said that parties that have less than 5,000 registered members will be given six months to enroll additional members when the law is enforced. Parties that fail to have 5,000 members within this period will be de-registered. Parties that register after the law is enforced will be given three months to meet the requirement of 5,000 members.

Nasheed said that the requirement of 10,000 members to obtain money from the Government was decided because, considering the size of the population of Maldives, a political party that has 10,000 members would be politically influential. It would be reasonable to provide money for such a party to promote its ideas.

Source: Haveeru Online, October 23, 2012

Myanmar

Rakhine ethnic violence claims 50

Ethnic violence in the Rakhine state has resulted in the loss of over 50 lives since October 2. The clashes between the ethnic groups have also resulted in the destruction of 1,948 houses and 8 religious buildings, according to the Myanmarese Government.

The cause of this round of violence has yet to be ascertained but is similar in nature to the June violence that has plagued this state that was triggered on the question of the Rohingya Muslims.

In a bid to arrest the situation, the Government has imposed a curfew in some places of the state and the government has dispatched additional security forces in a bid to curb the situation.

Source: thehindu.com, nationmultimedia.com, October 26, 2012

New FDI law soon: President

A joint committee submitted a report on the proposed new foreign direct investment (FDI) law to the country’s Union Parliament setting the stage for approval of the long-awaited bill.

The move comes a day after President Thein Sein told reporters at a press conference in Naypyidaw that the law would be passed "in a matter of days". The report, prepared by a bill committee representing both houses of Parliament, focuses on 11 changes recommended by the president, who sent the draft law back to the ommittee last month.

In its report, the committee expresses agreement with all but one of the president’s recommendations. The sole exception was a proposed change to section 24 (f), which deals with wages and benefits for highly skilled workers.

Thein Sein recommended that skilled foreign workers should receive higher wages and better benefits than Myanmarese workers with the same qualifications and experience, as an incentive for them to work in the country.

Source: tirrawaddy.org, October 22, 2012

US official meets President

The visiting Deputy Secretary of US Department of Treasury Neal S Wolin had called on President U Thein Sein while on an official visit to Myanmar. The President and the Deputy Secretary held discussions on issues of Myanmar’s economic reforms, monetary issues and assistance to be provided in line with the international rules and regulations and its standard and removal of all remaining economic sanctions by the US.

Wolin’s two-day trip came after President Obama granted financial assistance programs for the country that will be carried out by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

Wolin also discussed ways on improvement of Myanmar’s anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism controls in cooperation with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the sources added.

Source: globaltimes.cn, October 26, 2012

Govt to hold talks with ethnic groups

The United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC) an umbrella organisation that includes various ethnic groups in Myanmar, is expected to hold informal talks with the President’s Office Minister Aung Min during the first week of November. The venue for talks is speculated to be in Thailand, and representatives from all the UNFC member groups ? the Karen, Kachin, Karenni, Mon, Chin, Shan and other minorities?will be involved.

The Government’s peace delegation has met with several ethnic armed groups for bilateral talks on ceasefire matters, and that it is meeting with the UNFC as a bloc to discuss political matters. This is the first time that both sides have sat down together at the peace table.

The UNFC and its ethnic leadership have generally agreed on the principles of a federal state in Burma. They have said that they would also like to hold another ethnic conference such as that in 1947 in Panglong.

Aung Min’s delegation is also scheduled to meet the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) on Octtober 30 and 31 in Ruili, in China’sChinese Yunnan Province. Past meeting with the KIO has not resulted in any tangible outcomes.

Since last year, Aung Min’s peace negotiators have signed ceasefire agreements with several major ethnic groups, including Karen, Shan, Karenni, Mon, Chin and Pa-O armies.

Source: irrawaddy.org, October 25, 2012

NLD members threaten to quit

More than 500 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) have threatened to resign against the closure of the party office in Pathein Township, Irrawaddy Division.

The NLD released an official statement on September 12, saying that the party no longer recognised the Pathein Township branch after some members made verbal attacks against fellow members based at the Irrawaddy Division office, including Lower House MP Win Myint.

Source: irrawaddy.org, October 22, 2012

Contributors:

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