Vol. V Issue. 44
Pak army's Waziristan problem
02 November 2012
There are conflicting reports about Pakistan army’s decision to launch a military offensive against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and other terrorist strongholds in North Waziristan. While various media reports, quoting named as well as anonymous army officials, insist on the ’imminence’ of the operation, there is no credible evidence of such an operation taking place any time soon.
A closer examination of the statements, including that of the Army Chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, and other connecting developments, however, show up contours of a clever strategy played out by the military and civilian leadership. Neither really wants a military operation at this juncture for different reasons but is really keen to project otherwise, primarily to the estranged US and other Western nations.
The first round of an "imminent" operation in North Waziristan surfaced soon after new ISI chief, Lt Gen Zahirul Islam , visited Washington in August this year. Abbasi’s visit was crucial? it was the first official Pakistani military interaction with Washington after the US-Pak relationship went from bad to worse following the US Special Forces raid on Abbottabad in Maya 2011 to kill Osama bin Laden.
Although the contents of the discussions Gen Islam had with his counterparts in Washington remained secret, media began speculating about a Pakistani army operation in North Waziristan. The US had been putting pressure on Pakistan for long to launch operations in the North Waziristan stronghold of Haqqani Network. North Waziristan is also home to several terrorist groups besides the Haqqani Network, which the US considers to be a close ally of the Taliban and al Qaeda operating out of Afghanistan.
Select media leaks in Pakistan, based on briefings by anonymous army officials, followed, pointing out that the army was quite keen on the operation and was preparing to do so if the US troops stationed in Afghanistan were to carry out supporting military actions on the other side of Durand Line. The army however made it clear that they were not keen on a joint operation in Pakistan.
According to media reports, additional troops were mobilised in the tribal areas and select offensives were launched in Khyber, Khurram and Orakzai Agencies of Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA). These operations were mostly in response to the growing terrorist incursions from Afghanistan and attacks on security forces and installations of Frontier Corps and Pakistan army.
Gen Kayani raised the expectations by declaring that the war against terrorist groups was "our war’ during an Independence Day eve speech at Pakistan Military Academy. The Corps Commanders Conference, held subsequently, endorsed the chief’s call and said it was imperative for Pakistan to clear its areas of terrorist groups.
While the world stood up and took notice of this dramatic shift in Pakistan army’s attitude, the political leaders were playing their own game, but in tandem. Interior Secretary Rahman Malik, infamous for his flip-flops, first said the operation was well on its way and then refuted any such notion. The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was, of course, wary of being held responsible for the obvious consequences of a military operation on the eve of election and thought it better to seek a political consensus. Imran Khan strongly opposed the idea of an operation. Religious parties said, ’No’. PMLN was certain to oppose any PPP initiative and did so. The only political party which supported the military operation was Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
As the political leadership dithered, the army made their next move and said they were prepared to launch the military operation in North Waziristan but would need political approval. Gen Kayani made it clear that he would require a political go-ahead to execute the operation in North Waziristan. He has even invited a delegation of parliamentarians to visit South Waziristan this month as part of his strategy to keep the army out of harm’s way.
As for the political parties, they would rather fight their rivals in Punjab and Sindh instead of anonymous terrorist groups in Waziristan. Neither PPP, nor PMLN, is willing to take the responsibility for the military operation. They are acutely aware of the pitfalls of an uncertain military operation within Pakistan in the election year. They would rather have the army take the sole responsibility for the operation.
Gen Kayani has made it clear that he is not the one to hold the baby. First is the dilemma over the exact nature of the mission. The army is not yet ready to give up on the Haqqani Network and is interested in taking on only TTP elements holed up in Mir Ali. The army wants no harm done to its strategic asset, the Haqqanis, headquartered in Miran Shah. Miran Shah is the capital of North Waziristan and Mir Ali a subdivision in Tochi Valley, 25 km east of Miran Shah. There is no way the army can ensure the decimation of TTP while keeping the Haqqanis safe.
Even if a selective military operation was to be launched, the army would require the help of Pakistan Air Force and artillery to soften the targets first before launching any ground operation. Heavy artillery firing and aerial bombing cause heavy loss of life and this ’collateral damage’ is likely to trigger a wave of protest in other areas of Pakistan and damage the army’s credibility and image. Gen Kayani, with the experience of his superior Gen Pervez Musharraf’s fate fresh in mind, is keen on staying away from any such public outrage.
But what worries Gen Kayani more is the possibility of the army getting a bloody nose in such an operation within the country. The army is not quite sure of the strength of TTP and its capability to take on a regular army. TTP is a guerilla force and has displayed considerable dexterity in taking on regular troops and security forces in an area which it is quite familiar with. Another issue for the army is how other terrorist and extremist groups are going to react to the military operation. If other groups, including the Haqqanis, were to turn against the army, it would prove to be calamitous for the force.
Gen Kayani, as the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the US blitzkrieg of Afghan hideouts of Taliban and al Qaida, had to face ignominious failures in many such operations in the tribal areas. Not only were the troops, sent to prevent fleeing al Qaida and Taliban elements from Afghanistan to take shelter in Pakistan, killed in direct fighting but many of them were taken prisoners and executed.
There is an abiding feeling among senior army officials that once the US and other international forces leave Afghanistan, the terrorist groups hiding in Pakistan will ’melt away’ and there will be no need to launch any military operation in the tribal areas.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
Sri Lanka: Ruling combine seeks to impeach Chief Justice
N Sathiya Moorthy
With the ruling UPFA coalition submitting a memorandum signed by 117 members in the 225-seat Parliament to Speaker Chamal Rajakasa, the stage may now have neen set for impeaching Sri Lanka’s first woman Chief Justice Sirani Bandaranaike. The constitution provides for a third of the membership seeking impeachment of any member of the nation’s higher judiciary, which, however, has to be passed by a simple majority in Parliament.
Details of the charges against Justice Bandaranaike will be known when the Speaker, a brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, announces it to the House when Parliament reconvenes on Tuesday, November 6. According to Sri Lankan media reports, the Speaker will then (have to) nominate a Parliament Select Committee (PSC) to process the motion, before being brought back to the full House for vote. Considering that the Government side has two-thirds majority in the House, obtaining a single majority (comprising for instance the very signatories to the impeachment motion) would be adequate to get it through.
Indications, going by media reports and political commentaries by the Opposition parties in particular, relate the government’s stand-off with the judiciary on a series of unfavourable pronouncements, which otherwise were supposed to be in line with the constitutional scheme. Particular reference is being made to the Supreme Court’s decision that a majority of the nine ’toothless’ Provincial Councils had to clear the controversial Diveneguma Bill before the pro-Government Parliament could take it up for safe passage. Last year, the court had similarly held clearance by the Provincial Councils was required before Parliament could amend the existing law on local government elections.
In a way, the Divineguma Bill in particular is aimed at further consolidating the powers now conferred on the Provincial Council in the Centre. This time the powers relate to those that are supposed to have devolved on the Provincial Councils under the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and decentralised there too, among various ministries and departments. An added issue on the judicial front flowed from a petition filed by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), challenging the authority of the nominated Governor of the Tamil-exclusive Northern Province to represent the Provincial Council, for which elections have continued to remain promised but pending, all the same.
First signs of an imminent tiff between the legislature and the judiciary in what essentially had involved only the executive and the Supreme Court emerged when Speaker Rajapaksa informed the House about a communication from the Chief Justice being addressed not to his office, but to the Secretary-General of Parliament. He observed that it should have been the other way round. Media reports have since indicated that the Supreme Court’s decision on the TNA’s petition and allied submisisons, have been sent to President Rajapaksa and Speaker Rajapaksa, and that the latter would unveil it to the House.
What however caused eyebrows to raise was a recent attack on a senior serving judge, who was Secretary to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), an ’Independent Institution’ under the Constitution. The police is yet to crack the case, but in between the political motives came to be seen behind the attack. Judges across the country protested. Reports had it that they had stayed away from courts for a day. The Bar too joined in, with the Opposition, for its part, calling for protecting the freedom of independence of the judiciary. These calls are being heard even more continually and vociferously after the impeachment move gathered momentum.
According to news reports, a team met President Rajapaksa recently and sought his intervention to stop the impeachment move. The Press quoted team members to say that President Rajapaksa had cited the pending impeachment papers that were already before the Parliament Speaker. The team is also said to plan a meeting with the Speaker, possibly before the impeachment move comes up before Parliament. The prestigious Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is likely to consider its position on the impeachment motion soon after meeting the Speaker, it is said. Earlier, the BASL had taken exception to the attack on the JSC official and demanding immediate police action to identify the culprit in the case.
A ’deflecting game’ at UPR?
That the ruling MPs chose November 1, the day the UNHRC was to consider the four-yearly Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Sri Lanka at distant Geneva, has, however, not gone unnoticed nearer home. Critics of the Government in Colombo would claim that it was aimed at ’deflecting’ the attention of the vociferous West at the UPR, to move away from the ’ethnic issue’, which otherwise has been at the centre of the continuing global discourse on Sri Lanka, both during the three-decade long ’ethnic war’ and now for three years after the war ended.
Cabinet Spokesperson and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has chosen to respond only thus far to the US criticism on the impeachment initiative at the UPR. Referring to American criticism back home in Colombo, Rambukwella said that the impeachment motion had been initiated under the Constitution. This, according to him, clearly showed that Sri Lanka was not ruled under any ’jungle law’. Over the weekend, the Government has otherwise been silent on the issues flagged by other member-nations at the UPR, which kept the focus almost entirely on the ’ethnic issue’ and the ’accountability’ concerns flowing from ’Eelam War-IV’.
Before Justice Bandaranaike, the UNP Government of then President J R Jayawardene had sought to impeach Chief Justice Neville Samarakone. Just before his retirement, the Rajapaksa leadership, media reports speculated, was considering the impeachment of Chief Justice Sarath N Silva, immediate predecessor to Justice Sirani, who has more than a decade to go for superannuation. Justice Sarath Silva was among the first to criticise the Government on the current impeachment move, as he has been on a host of other issues since retirement. News reports have spoken about his speaking to President Rajapaksa on the issue at a funeral in Colombo, recently.
The divided political Opposition, which had hoped that the impeachment motion could give them a common cause for coming together one more time after a succession of failures, remains hopelessly divided. Independent of the numbers, where they are just not equipped to shake or shock the Government, the Opposition parties are back to their blame-game sideshow. The Left-nationalist JVP, a shadow of its old self in terms of parliamentary representation, has charged the Opposition UNP with colluding with the Government on this issue, as others. UNP Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, news reports said, had spoken to a senior JVP counterpart, denying the charge.
Independent of the results of the impeachment motion, if taken forward to its current logical conclusion, it remains to be seen how the Opposition fares in terms of raising a common voice against the Government in what is still seen as an ’urban, elitist’ issue. Questions have been flagged about the processes involved, including the constitutional requirement needing only a simple majority for impeachment of the kind, but at a time when the Government of the day has two-thirds majority in Parliament, such arguments have only an academic value, and nothing more!
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
Govt responds to US statement at UPR
The Government, in response to the statement made by the US at the UNHRC Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva has said that they had completely acted within the provisions of the Constitution with regard to the proposed impeachment of Chief Justice Sirani Bandaranaike.
"If jungle law has been practiced in this instance I can understand all these allegations and counter-allegations regarding the motion but that is not the case. We as legislators have acted completely within the framework provided in the Constitution," Cabinet Spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.
The US representative at the UPR in a statement urged the Government especially in the light of news of the efforts to impeach the Chief Justice, to strengthen judicial independence by ending interference with the judicial process, protecting members of the judiciary from attacks and restoring a fair, independent, and transparent mechanism to oversee judicial appointments.
"Should a democratic country use the Constitution and act within it, or to go beyond or against it? These are the questions that need to be asked from those making these statements. As far as the government is concerned it does not get involved with matters of the judiciary, but when there is an issue between the judiciary and others there is provision in the Constitution as to how it should be resolved," Minister Rambukwella said.
Foreign Minister meets Khursheed
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and his Indian counterpart Salman Khursheed in New Delhi, on the sidelines of the IOR-ARC ministerial meet. It was the first meeting for Khursheed with a Sri Lankan dignitary after taking over as External Affairs Minister a week earlier.
At their talks, the two leaders expressed the hope that the next meeting of the Joint Commission is held at the earliest. Trade and investment issues came up during the meeting. The two Ministers also discussed the status of Indian projects in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan projects here. The two Ministers also called for an early meeting of the fishermen associations of India and Sri Lanka. India also requested that Indian fishermen caught in Sri Lankan waters are treated humanely.
At the meeting Professor Peiris said India was an important partner of Sri Lanka and played an indispensable role in that country.
Regional issues won’t affect ties with India: Gota
Having had discussions with top Indian officials dealing with security, foreign relations as well as intelligence, in New Delhi, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has expressed confidence that Indo-Lanka relations wouldn’t be affected by either domestic or regional issues.
The Defence Secretary was responding to a query whether the ongoing dispute between the GoSL and the TNA over post-war national conciliation could jeopardise bilateral relations. Asked whether his talks were dominated by the ongoing controversy over the 13th Amendment, he said that the issue came up during discussions with Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.
Responding to India’s concerns that external elements could use Sri Lanka to undermine India’s national security interests, the Defence Secretary assured that the GoSL wouldn’t allow extremist activities detrimental to India.
Presidential polls in April 2014
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan has fixed the date for the next presidential elections for 5 April 2014. IEC chief Fazel Ahmad Manawi said that he was optimistic that the election would go ahead with no delays because possible obstacles were taken into consideration when dates were decided. It was also announced that the country’s provincial elections, originally to be held in mid-2013, will also be held on the same date. The Parliamentary elections are to be held in 2015.
The announcement was greeted positively by the Presidential Palace, Opposition parties and the non-governmental election watchdog, The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan. The decision was also hailed by the international community with the UN, EU and the US acknowledging it as a positive development and a step in the right direction.
Manawi also said that they were open to the Taliban and other insurgents like the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar-led Hizb-i-Islami contesting the polls in 2014.
Source: Daily Outlook Afghanistan, November 1, 2012; The Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 2012; The Express Tribune, October 31, 2012
War lords rearming militias
Afghanistan’s Minister of Energy and Water - and a former leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance - Mohammad Ismail Khan said that he and other warlords are rearming their militias in anticipation of NATO troop withdrawal in 2014. Khan and other former Northern Alliance leaders feel that NATO has failed to secure the country and therefore the creation of military units comprising the former Mujahideen fighters was necessary to secure Afghanistan.
Khan also claimed that the Mujahideen should be given agreater role in the Government as the "foreigners sidelined those who fought for ages". He emphasised that just as the Mujahedeen had previously driven out foreign invaders, the Soviets, so too there was now a need for the Mujahedeen to again rescue the country from "foreign conspiracies".
Source: The Long War Journal, November 1, 2012; Tolo News, November 1, 2012
US report spells doom for security
US Government watchdog - The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) - in its report on the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) has raised serious doubts about long-term stability prospects. The report claimed that the Afghan government will continue to face challenges that will prohibit it from being capable of fully sustaining ANSF facilities after 2014. The main challenges outlines by the report included a lack of sufficient numbers and quality of personnel, and undeveloped budgeting, procurement and logistics systems.
The report found that only 40 per cent of the Afghan operations and management posts had been filled. There is also a shortage of technicians able to handle key issues such as water supply, sewage disposal and electricity. SIGAR also announced that it would launch an investigation into the $230 million worth of missing spare parts that had been ordered for the Afghan army.
Source: The Guardian, November 1, 2012; The Telegraph, November 1, 2012
New Pakistan initiative for peace
Pakistan has increased efforts to reach out to some of the main non-Pashtun leaders in Afghanistan, who have been at odds with Pakistan for years. This is being seen as a significant policy shift of Pakistan, which could aid the peace process in Afghanistan.
Although, Pakistan continues to see the Afghan Taliban as an ally, it has come to acknowledge that the group can no longer take full control of the country. Moreover, it fears that the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan could provide an operating space for the Pakistani Taliban across the border. It is for this reason that Pakistan has increased its efforts to achieve a peace agreement that would include all the major political players in Afghanistan.
Pakistan first advertised its overtures to non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan in February when Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar met with a range of ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara leaders during a visit to Kabul. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf followed suit in July when he traveled to Afghanistan and invited the group to the opening of the new Pakistani Embassy in Kabul.
The outreach has rattled the Taliban, who have warned Pakistani officials that they can’t trust the non-Pashtuns.
Source: Associated Press, October 27, 2012
Calls for action against absentee MPs
Afghanistan’s Parliament remained shut on October 28 as a large number of Afghan Members of Parliament (MP) failed to show up for the first parliamentary session after the Eid al-Adha religious holiday. The parliament has remained shut since October 17 because more than 100 MPs left Afghanistan to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
The lack of numbers led those present to criticise their absent colleagues and called for an investigation into the absenteeism. MP Sheenkai Karokhil said those spending time outside the country should be investigated along with those spending enormous amounts of government money. Another MP, Ruqiya Nael said the investigation should specifically focus on those who went to Hajj.
Source: Tolo News, October 29, 2012
Khaleda meets Indian leaders
Begum Khaleda Zia, chairperson of the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and former Prime Ministerhas visited India. Begum Zia in her week-long visit beginning on October 28 was called on by top Indian leaders, including President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and Opposition Bharatiya Janta Party (BNP) leader Susma Swaraj.
During her discussion with Indian leaders she raised issues of bilateral importance like sharing of Teesta water, Land Boundary agreement, security cooperation, etc. In her meeting with Prime Minister Singh, Begum Zia informed that neither she, nor her party would allow terrorists or separatists to use Bangladesh soil to harm India’s interests. This is very important declaration as during her rule (2001-06) various anti-India terrorist and insurgent groups used Bangladesh’s soil to carry out their clandestine activity against India. Some groups were even believed to have linkages with some officials of her Government.
The visit is very significant as BNP was known for its anti-India stand. Observers of India-Bangladesh relations opined that the visit highlight change in the BNP’s policy towards India. BNP’s vice-chairperson Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury claimed that Begum Zia had conveyed to the Indian leader that she wanted a new era of India-Bangladesh relations.
The visit will have important implications for Bangladesh’s internal politics, which has long remained divided over the country’s relations to India. Commenting on the visit local newspapers claimed that the visit had made it clear that India believes in engaging with all parties in Bangladesh and its people not just one party or individual.
Top BNP leaders have claimed that the party’s earlier anti-India stance was a mistake. Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman, a BNP standing committee member, said that the party made various mistakes regarding its relations with India. The party leaders claimed that it allies Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote influenced BNP to take the anti-India stance.
However, the ruling Awami League seems to be unhappy with India. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni accused Begum Zia of following "double standards" towards India and termed it to be pointless.
Source: The Independent, October 30, 2012/The Daily Star, October 31, 2012/ The Independent, October 31, 2012/ New Age November 1, 2012/The Daily Star, November 2, 2012/weeklyblitz.net November 1, 2012/ dnaindia.com, October 29, 2012
Indian envoy quits to join politics
Diplomat and author Pavan K Varma has resigned as India’s Ambassador to Bhutan and has taken a plunge in to politics. He is planning to join the Janata Dal-United, saying he wants to contribute to "clean politics and good governance" in the country.
Varma, a 1976 batch IFS officer, has taken voluntary retirement and demits office on December 31. A former head of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), he was also an Official Spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry.
Varma had met Bihar Chief Minister and senior JD-U leader Nitish Kumar, who has welcomed his decision, sources said. "I believe that clean politics and good governance are the need of the hour. And if I can contribute in some measure to it, it will help," Varma said when asked about his decision to join politics.
Source: hindustantimes.com, October 31, 2012
Power soon from Dagachu project
The 126-MW Dagachu hydro-power is expected to come into stream in a few weeks and a lion’s share of the electricity generated is to be exported to India.
According to Dasho C Rinzin, MD of Bhutan’s Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC), that holds 51 per cent stake of the project, its new completion date has been assessed to be in March 2014 in place of originally planned date in August 2013. The delay, caused mainly by adverse natural calamities and geological reasons, has escalated cost of project in the tune of over 20 per cent.
Against the initial estimation of Rs 800 crore, the project cost had been revised at Rs 1090 crore earlier. As per the latest estimation, the final project cost is going to be equivalent to Rs 1200 crore - informed DGPC officials. DGPC is considering Asia Development Bank as the best source of additional financial support. ADB is already involved into the project as financial and technical supporter.
The ’run-of-the-river’ type project is planned to produce 500Gigawatt hour of renewable energy per year mainly to be delivered to the regional grids in eastern India. Being a large supplier of Green energy to India, still largely dependent on coal fired power plants, Dagachu will reduce as high as 5lakh ton of Green House Gas emission per year earning high carbon credit that also can be traded in international carbon market.
This is the first major private public partnership project in Bhutan with multiple Bhutanese and external stakeholders. The company formed to look after the project consists of Bhutan’s DGPC and India’s Tata Power Company.
Source: economictimes.indiatimes.com, October 31, 2012
Trilateral talks with Bangladesh and India
According to the Bangladesh High Commissioner to India, Tariq Karim, his country is convening a high level tri-partite meeting with India and Bhutan aimed at jointly utilizing the water resources of the Brahmaputra River especially for power generation,
"Bangladesh is about to convene a meeting of Bhutan, India and Bangladesh on Brahmaputra basin management," Karim told reporters. "We are all bound together by the Brahmaputra. We were separated (politically) and we are thinking at how we can cooperate in harnessing the power and force of the river."
Describing the three countries as the ’children’ of the mighty Brahmaputra, Karim said, "The river cannot be tamed in segments. It has to be done together, so Bangladesh and Bhutan has to participate with Meghalaya and Assam."Once the three countries can embark on the project, it would transform the whole region, the High Commissioner said.
Source: economictimes.indiatimes.com, October 27, 2012
Air connectivity with India to increase
Interested in operating direct flights between Bhutan and India, Air India representatives recently visited the country to conduct a market study. Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) chief administrative officer, Karma Wangchuk said that Air India is studying the possibility of flying scheduled flights to Paro airport. He said that, as far as DCA is concerned, Paro airport is open to the airline for scheduled services.
Drukair commercial manager, Tshering Penjore, pointed out that the Air India representatives had met with concerned agencies, such as the tourism council and the association of Bhutanese tour operators on their recent visit.
Establishment of Air India scheduled services will be dependent not only on market potential, but also availability of aircraft to the Indian airline, according to Tshering Penjore. He said that Air India may not have enough aircraft to immediately establish scheduled operations to Bhutan, and that a code-sharing agreement may be implemented instead.
A code share agreement is an alliance between two or more airlines, where an airline can sell seats on another airline’s flights. During Air India officials’ recent visit, Drukair and the Indian airline also finalised code share and interline ticketing for domestic routes in India.
Passenger traffic has been steadily increasing between Bhutan and India over the years. Last year, about 53,000 regional tourists visited the country, of which a majority was from India. Regional tourists, who choose to fly into the country, are considered high-end tourists. According to tourism council statistics, the regional high-end market of India continues to be the biggest source market for Bhutan.
Source: kuenselonline.com, November 2, 2012
Young faces in key positions
The eagerly-anticipated reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers brought in young faces in key positions and rewarded loyalty, but could be found deficient in negotiating a balancing act in regional representation.
The reshuffle, also geared for giving a fillip to the recent reforms push of the government, put some key ministries under the control of reform enthusiasts.
Source: Hindustan Times, October 29, 2012
Govt blinks, not to amend RTI Act
The UPA Government has backtracked on its move to amend the Right of Information Act (RTI) following strong protests from civil society activists.
The amendments to the UPA Government’s landmark legislation were cleared by the Cabinet way back in 2006 but could not be implemented because of stiff opposition from NGOs and activists who said the changes would dilute the Act. These amendments are expected to be formally withdrawn at tomorrow’s meeting of the Union Cabinet.
Source: The Tribune, November 1, 2012
Tighten purse, PM tells ministers
Concerns over the economy and fiscal deficit and the need to tighten the government’s purse strings were underscored at the first full meeting of the Union Council of Ministers here, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh utilising the opportunity to remind his Cabinet colleagues to farm out work to the younger ministers.
Source: The Tribune, November 2, 2012
FM pledge to cut fiscal deficit
A day before the Reserve Bank of India’s half-yearly monetary policy review, Finance Minister P Chidambaram Monday pledged that the UPA Government would cut its fiscal deficit to an ambitious 5.3 per cent during the previous fiscal, and further reduce I to 4.8 per cent in 2013-14 despite the compulsions of general election due that year.
Source: The Indian Express, October 30, 2012
RBI may cut repo rate by 50 bps
Belying expectations of some sections of the market, RBI kept the repo rate unchanged at 8 per cent. The CRR cut of 25 bps to 4.25 per cent of NDTL, effective November 3, is likely to lead to a primary liquidity injection of Rs 175 billion.
The RBI asserts that the move was pre-emptive, aimed at prospective liquidity tightening owing to (1) continued wedge between the credit and deposit growth, (2) higher currency in circulation due to advent of festive season and (3) build-up of Government cash balances since mid-September.
Source: The Economic Times, October 31, 202
Trilateral meet rankles China
Chinese State media outlets and strategic analysts have expressed wariness at the India, Japan and the US trilateral meet held in New Delhi on Monday, saying it aimed at exerting pressure on China over its regional ambitions.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to Monday’s talks saying it hoped "relevant countries will make more effort to promote regional peace, stability and development". "It is in the interests of all countries in the region," spokesperson Hong Lei was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
The Communist Party-run Global Times, a widely-read tabloid known for its nationalistic views, said in an editorial on Tuesday that Japan ? embroiled in a dispute with China over East China Sea islands ? was seen as driving the trilateral initiative, being the "most anxious" of the three countries about China’s rise.
Source: The Hindu, October 31, 2012
US shares strategic aim in Iran: Burns
US believes that India has took a "smart long-term strategy" by reducing import of oil from Iran and both countries share a "strategic aim" with regard to Teheran’s nuclear ambitions. "I don’t think India needs much convincing about the strategic dangers of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon," US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said Friday.
Burns added that India and the US share a clear strategic aim in stopping Iran from going nuclear because of all the obvious risks that would ensue in a region in the Middle East that already has more than its share of instability, the dangers of a nuclear arms race and everything else that could come from that.
Source: www.hindustantimes.com, October 27, 2012
Joint military exercise with US
As many as 400 Indian Army soldiers would arrive at Fort Bragg - home to airborne and special operations forces - in the ULS next year, to hold a joint annual military exercise.
The fortnight-long "Yudh Abhyas" from May 3 to 17 is an exchange of combat units between the two countries - with each of them hosting it every alternate year.
The purpose of the exercise will be bilateral operations, the exchange of ideas and developing the ability to work side by side, Lt Gen Francis J Wiercinski, the commanding general of US army Pacific in Hawaii, told The Fayetteville Observer in a recent interview.
Source: www.indianexpress.com, November 1, 2012
MACL required to pay GMR $3.8 m
Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) has been asked to pay airport operator GMR $ 3.8 million, due to the amount deducted from the Concession Fees exceeding the Concession Fees payable by GMR to the Government. GMR is allowed to deduct Airport Development Charge (ADC) and Insurance Charge from the Concession Fees payable to the Maldivian Government. MACL was required to pay $ 1.5 million to GMR last quarter as well, for the same reason.
Financial statements published today by MACL show that $ 5.2 million is payable by GMR to MACL as Concession Fees for the past three months, inclusive of $ 4.9 million as Fuel Concession Fees and $ 277,755 as Variable Concession Fees.
The statements indicate that GMR would collect $ 7.5 million by charging $ 27 per departing passenger. However, as GMR is not allowed to collect this $ 27 per departing passenger, it has requested MACL to pay $ 2.2 million, derived by deducting the amount it would have collected, from the Concession Fees of $ 5.2 million. In total, GMR had notified MACL to pay a $ 3.7 million (MVR 57.10 million) - inclusive of $ 1.5 million due from the previous quarter.
GMR is not able to collect $ 27 per passenger following a Civil Court Order issued earlier this year, prohibiting the company to impose this fee. GMR has filed a case in this regard to Singapore’s Arbitration Court.
Source: SunOnline, October 29, 2012
CJ for discussions with Parliament
The Chief Justice has sent a letter to the Speaker of Parliament encouraging discussions between Parliament and the Judiciary, following the summon for a third time of the three Judges presiding over the trial against former President Mohamed Nasheed, to the Parliament’s Government Oversight Committee.
The letter, sent by Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain to Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Shahid, stresses the importance of discussions to determine the best policy to follow, in the event a member of the Judiciary is required to attend a Parliament Committee.
Faiz said in the letter that the institution responsible for advising the Parliament on issues related to justice and courts, is the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). Thus, it would be best to communicate with the JSC in the event that that Parliament requires information related to the Judiciary for an investigation.
Parliament has not yet responded to the Chief Justice’s letter.
Source: October 31, 2012
’Secret no-trust votes void’
Parliament Counsel-General Fathimath Filza has advised Parliament’s General Committee that the Committee’s decision to establish no-confidence votes as secret votes, is void. A member of the Committee said that Filza has informed that the Committee meeting last Tuesday night was held without either the Chairman or the Deputy Chairman, and was thus against parliamentary regulations. "So we would have to put the issue on the Committee’s agenda once again," the member said.
The complaint that the Committee meeting was held against Parliament rules was filed to the Counsel-General by the Committee’s Deputy Chairman, Kudahuvadhoo MP Ahmed Amir. He is in charge of the Committee at the moment, as its Chairperson Maafannu-hulhangu MP Abdul Raheem Abdullah is out of the country.
Amir could not attend the meeting held on Tuesday night as he was not in Male, and the meeting was chaired by Henveiru-medhu MP Ali Azim. The amendment to make no-confidence votes secret votes, submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was passed by votes of MDP members present at the Committee meeting.
Parliament rules stipulate that the responsibilities of the Committee Chairman, in his absence, must be assumed by the Deputy Chairman. MDP’s attempts to establish no-confidence votes as secret votes comes at a time when no-confidence motions have been filed against President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.
Voting for the no-confidence motion against the Home Minister is on the agenda of the Parliament sitting of November 14.
Source: SunOnline, November 2, 2012
PPM postpones congress for the third time
Pro-government Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has postponed the party’s congress for the third time scheduling it for next January.
PPM’s basic regulation stipulates that the party must hold its congress within six months of its inception. However, citing the political turmoil in the country the party put off its congress to November 13-15 before rescheduling it to January 17-19 next year.
Party’s Secretary-General Yumna Maumoon detailed that the decision to postpone PPM’s congress was made by the council after the party failed to secure an appropriate venue to host the meeting.
"Our hope is to invite 1,000 members for the congress. So we need an adequate venue to accommodate such a large number of members," she added.
After postponing the congress, PPM had also extended the opportunity to establish the party’s branches. PPM revealed that people who propose to establish branches before December 16 would be given the chance to participate in the congress.
Yumna detailed that the chance to propose amendments to PPM’s basic and steering regulation has also now been opened. PPM has requested to submit amendments to the party’s main office by November 22.
Source: Haveeru Online, October 31, 2012
Parliament clears new FDI policy
Parliament has approved a new foreign direct investment (FDI) bill that removes limits on how much non-Myanmares can invest in joint ventures with local partners. The new legislation, passed November 1, 2012, incorporates most of the recommendations made by President Thein Sein, who must now sign it into law within one week.
A majority of the 496 legislators who cast a vote the Union Parliament supported all but one of the 11 proposed changes in the president’s revised version of the draft bill. The changes aimed to lift limits on foreigners in both restricted and non-restricted sectors.
"We need foreign investment as our country is in need of more employment for our people," said Lower House MP Thein Nyunt from the opposition New National Democracy Party, expressing support for the president’s policies.
In the original draft law, foreign partners could only take a 49 percent stake in projects in restricted sectors such as agriculture, giving their Burmese partners a controlling interest. This was later changed to 50 percent, putting foreign and domestic investors on an equal footing.
Following the president’s suggestions, however, the MPs agreed to remove this cap completely, allowing foreign companies to become majority shareholders in joint-venture projects. Another change removes the minimum 35 percent of start-up capital that foreign investors were required to provide as a condition for permission to invest in non-restricted sectors.
Source: irrawaddy.org, November 2, 2012
Aid from World Bank
Myanmar is moving at "warp speed" in opening up after years of authoritarian rule but needs to build institutions to improve transparency and economic governance, the World Bank said on Thursday as it approved $80 million in development aid.’
According to Pamela Cox, the Vice-President of the World Bank for East Asia and the Pacific region said the bank has a further $165 million in loan assistance committed for Myanmar after it cleared $900 million in arrears to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Japan is helping in this process which is expected to be completed by January.
The World Bank is re-engaging with the country after a gap of two decades as its government undertakes economic and political reforms. The bank opened an office in the main city Rangoon in August, and its board of directors have approved a strategy for the next 18 months, providing technical assistance and advice to Myanmar’s government on management of public finances, regulatory reform and private sector development.
The Bank has also approved an $80 million project to provide $25,000 grants to villages in 15 townships across the country, where community councils will identify the kind of help they want, such as roads, bridges, irrigation systems, schools, health clinics or rural markets.
Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com, November 2, 2012
Drug production up despite crackdown
Poppy cultivation in Myanmar has risen for the sixth consecutive year despite a state eradication campaign, a United Nations report has said, throwing doubt on government assertions the problem would be over by 2014.
Unprecedented eradication efforts managed to destroy almost 24,000 hectares (59,280 acres) of poppy fields in the 2012 season, running from the autumn 2011 to early summer this year, more than triple the previous year’s total.
But the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said land used for cultivation in Myanmar, the world’s second top producer of opium after Afghanistan, still increased 17 per cent to its highest level in eight years.
Myanmar is forecast to produce 690 tonnes of opium in 2011/12 according to the report, up from 610 tonnes - about 10 per cent of the world’s opium - the previous year, the UNODC said. Afghanistan produces around 90 per cent.
Source: reuters.com, October 31, 2012
Talks falter over govt leadership
Top leaders from the major political parties during the talks on November 1 failed to even hold agenda-wise discussions, let alone make any headway in resolving the contentious issues.
A meeting of top leaders from United CPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-UML and Madhes-based parties ended inconclusively immediately after Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal urged the opposition parties -- NC and CPN-UML -- to join the current ruling coalition and go for fresh polls. Dahal had proposed forming a taskforce comprising leaders from all the four sides -- UCPN (Maoist), NC, CPN-UML and the Madhes-based parties -- to lay the grounds for holding election.
The leaders were expected to take decisions on pressing political issues such as holding fresh CA election or reviving the CA r and the new budget. While the NC has claimed the leadership for the new government, it is yet to give name of its candidate for the top post.
Source: nagariknews.com, myrepublica.com, November 1-2, 2012
The Government is under pressure to bring full budget as it would be unable to manage funds for administrative expenses such as salaries, allowances, pension payment, medical expenses, and fuel and office operation expenses from mid-November in the absence of a full budget.
However, the Opposition parties have been opposing the idea of the current Government presenting the full fiscal estimates. They have urged President Ram Baran Yadav not to endorse any budget-related ordinance forwarded by the Government without consensus.
Most of the donor-funded projects, including road expansion programmes, have been badly affected as the government has failed to allocate sufficient amount for the projects under the present one-third budget.
Source: myrepublica.com, ekantipu.com, November 2, 2012
Two British Gurkhas shot in Afghanistan
A man wearing an Afghan police uniform killed two NATO troops (both British Gurkhas) in southern Afghanistan. Afghan officials said there was an attack in Helmand Province’s Nahri Sarraj district.
Although officials have not divulged too much details of the incident, it has been reported that the assault appeared to the latest in a string of insider attacks that have threatened to sever the partnership between international troops and the Afghan forces they are trying to train to take over responsibility for the country’s security. There have also been cases of insurgents donning Afghan uniforms in assaults.
A statement from NATO gave no further details, saying the shooting is still under investigation.
Source: AP, October 31, 2012
Cabinet clears visa accord with India
Information Minister Qamar uz Hassan Kaira, told a news conference that a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, the members accorded approval to the relaxed visa agreement with India.
India said that it would take necessary steps to activate diplomatic channels to implement it. The new accord replaces the 38-year-old agreement which says that a visa has to be issued in a period not exceeding 45 days from the application. Also under the new system, people above 65 and children below 12 years of age and eminent businessmen are exempted from police reporting.
The Cabinet also approved three agreements concerning customs and certification issues, which were signed by officials of the commerce ministries of both countries in September.
Source: deccanherald.com, November 2, 2012
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Pakistan: Kunkhen Dorji;
The Island, October 29, 2012 Daily Mirror Online, November 2, 2012 Daily Mirror Online, November 2, 2012