Vol. V Issue. 47
Maldives: Of democracy and 'mobocracy'
N Sathiya Moorthy
23 November 2012
If one thing is becoming increasingly clear in 'democratised' Maldives, it is that street-protests can change Governments and constitutions, policies and national priorities. It is thus that the nation found street-protests heralding 'multi-party' democracy, and the consequent change of Constitution and of elected national leadership, from President Maumoon Gayoom to President Mohammed Nasheed. That was up to 2008.
Later, unending rallies in the name of the religion-centred 'December 23 Movement' culminated in the resignation of President Nasheed earlier this year. His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) took to the streets in a big way over the issue after the February 7 resignation. It has since been organising rallies after rallies, and across the country, on every conceivable issue, political and otherwise.
Today, it is not politics any more. On the 'GMR issue', involving the 're-construction and concession' of the Male international airport, street-protestors have been seeking to force the hands of the Maldivian Government to ensure the exit of the Indian infrastructure major from the airport project and the country. Every nation has its law governing contracts, constructions and concessions and/or leases of the Male airport kind. They provide for adjudication and/or arbitration.
Over the years, nations have laws that forbid influence-peddling in decision-making for this and other contracts, and the employment of middle-men, the cost of which is often passed on to the host-government. Needless to say, national Constitutions empower and expect the Judiciary to ensure that these and other laws are not violated. Contracts with foreign and domestic entities also provide for domestic and/or international arbitration, under valid and well-defined laws and/or procedures.
Maldives has its laws and judiciary. Democracy and constitutional guarantees have made the nation's judiciary as independent as can be under the circumstances. The Civil Court in Male had struck down the provision of $ 25 entry-fees under the contract for Maldivian nationals using the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). When GMR felt aggrieved, it went on in appeal, and also to international arbitration, as provided in the contract with the Male airport authority, which is a State-owned entity but itself a commercial entity, nonetheless. In this case, the GMR deal provides for international arbitration in and legal jurisdiction in Singapore. The matter is already pending before the Singapore High Court, which has passed an interim order, incidentally favouring the builder-company.
Yet, it is the mobs on the streets of Male and their signature campaign seem to provide justification for their demand to throw GMR out of the airport deal and the country. At the height of the 'December 23 Movement' rally seeking President Nasheed's resignation, religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) had assured the nation - and the international community - that it would do nothing that would adversely affect the economy, driven near-exclusively by overseas tourist arrivals.
At President Nasheed's resignation, senior Opposition leaders, now in the Government, walked the extra mile to reassure the nation and the world that the religious NGOs that had spearheaded the 'December 23 Movement' would not be allowed to interfere with the civil administration. That does not seem to be the case as the 'GMR issue' suggests.
Rather than discussing policy issues within the Government, particularly in the Cabinet, where they have representation, political parties have taken to the streets, instead.
Identity politics - how far?
It is not as if nations and their leaders have not resorted to 'identity politics' of the religious kind. In Maldives, a Sunni Islamic nation, a clarion call was given in the name of religion to unite the people against the Sultanate and for a new Constitution, as far back as 1932. The story of the Sixties, when religion and sovereignty as a British Protectorate were used to obtain freedom, is part of living memory. The pro-democracy movement this century did not involve religion. It revolved around issues of governance and then existing governmental schemed, dubbed 'autocratic'.
Since then, religion-centric Adhaalath Party has been the part of the two multi-party democratic Governments, under Presidents Nasheed and now under President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik. In doing so, the party has ended up blurring religion-based concerns like the Nasheed Government's decision to permit liquor-sale in inhabited islands (as against uninhabited ones where alone resorts used to be permitted) and the larger issue of 'nationalism'.
Inviting Indian troops
In New Delhi this month on a scheduled visit after his arrest back home on an allegation of alcohol-consumption, Ibrahim Zaki, former SAARC Secretary-General and special envoy of ex-President Nasheed, said that if in power, he would have been constrained to invite the Indian armed forces, to keep of 'Islamic fundamentalism' that was threatening Maldives' national security and was also behind the anti-GMR protests.
Back home, it was interpreted to mean that Indian armed forces would be involved to protect GMR's business interests. The Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), while being critical of Zaki, however, underlined the long-lasting relationship between the two militaries, and expressed the hope that the Indian armed forces would assist them if invited by the Male Government to do so.
As may be recalled, in March this year, the Coast Guards of the two countries had the 11th edition of the 'Dhosti' series of sea-borne exercises aimed at securing mutual national interests, in which common Sri Lankan neighbour was inducted for the first time. Earlier this month, a 45-man MNDF team was in India for training, again a part of an existing bilateral arrangement.
Zaki has since issued a statement, clarifying that he too had referred only to the long-standing security cooperation between the two countries, and that his positive observation had been misinterpreted in Maldives. Zaki as an experienced international interlocutor would have also known that the Indian State's security policy has not involved protecting the interests of Indian corporates, nearer home (other than in terms of maintaining law and order) - and not certainly, outside the country. These are complex issues, for which the Indian answers have been clear and simple.
The present-day developments, if they could be called so, is much different from the 1988 situation, when India rushed armed forces to secure Maldivian sovereignty from some Maldivians. The latter, as may be recalled, had funded and hired Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries, to engineer a coup d'etat against President Gayoom. The Government in Male was caught unawares and unprepared, as the events of the day showed. 'Operation Cactus' provided the security umbrella of sorts with participation from Indian Navy, Air Force and Army commandos.
It was done not only at the explicit invitation of the Maldivian Government. The brief Indian military engagement also involved securing Maldivian territory and sovereignty from the mercenaries. No Indian State or commercial interests were involved. If it were the first case, New Delhi would have deployed diplomacy. If it were the latter, it would have advised the Indian entity involved - whether from the public sector or the private - to follow the legal and judicial process.
New Delhi, according to media reports, has indicated to the parties concerned to explore available legal and judicial processes in the 'GMR case'. It has said nothing more, nothing less. Otherwise, India as a friendly neighbour has encouraged successive Governments in Maldives only to facilitate big-time foreign investments, as very few domestic investors are forthcoming in whatever they could have chipped in with. Despite the early entry of GMR, very few overseas investors too have shown an interest in Maldives, in the absence of commercial viability.
Whether overseas banks or mutual funds, in which individual investors in third nations have put in their hard-earned pennies and dollars for high and secure returns to see them through on a rainy day. The less said about international funding agencies like the IMF and the World Bank, the better. Their conditions for extending credit facilities to member-nations have been as stiff as that of any commercial bank. Third World nations are believed to have lost out in the end as they may have benefitted initially and intermittently from their largesse.
Three Presidents in four years
With their investment interests limited to relatively low-cost, high-return resorts sector, Maldives could not even think of expanding its infrastructure, leave alone on the scales that were required, until GMR stepped in. This does not mean that the Maldivian Government of the day should not review specific issues relating to the contract-cum-concession, or other allegations flowing from it. In doing so - or, even without it - the Maldivian State may consider the overall policy pertaining to overseas investments and retune the policies, based on decisions.
Starting with President Gayoom, who was in office for the better part of 2008, Maldives has had three Presidents in four years from around the time it ushered in multi-party democracy. Presidential polls are now due in November 2013, less than a year from now. It could throw up a fourth President in five years, or endorse one of the three from among Presidents Gayoom, Nasheed and Waheed, for a five-year term. It could be a strong leader with a strong party-following returning to the helm. Or, it could be a political coalition as it has been since the 2008 polls, with or without the alliance leader calling the shots on policy matters.
What the rest of the sub-continent has understood as the 'TINA factor' could also be at work. 'TINA', for the uninitiated stands for 'there is no alternative. It is the acceptance of their helplessness by the Government parties to the diktats of their coalition leader than the other way round. Contemporary India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, not to leave out Nepal, the Republic-in-the-making, are identifiable examples. Maldives and Maldivians do not have to go through the pains of 'democratic transition' and 'coalition politics' for them to be able to appreciate democracy, democratic institutions, opportunities and challenges.
After GMR, Nexbiz now?
GMR is not in it alone. According to media reports, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament has since decided to direct the Government to halt the MVR 2.5-billion Border Control System project, undertaken in collaboration with Malaysian company Nexbiz. The decision has to be voted by the full House, and the work-halt, it is said, is aimed at providing time and opportunity for Parliament to discuss the details.
The agreement was cleared by the Nasheed Government, and was reportedly signed after the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had ordered against it. The Finance Ministry reportedly told the PAC that it did not have a copy of the agreement, and did not know the contents in full. Under the agreement, Nexbiz can charge $ 2 on every passenger departing from Maldives for 22 years, and $15 on every issued and renewed visa. Critics of the Nasheed Government had said that the concession was similar to the $ 25 per person using the Male airport under the GMR agreement but was made inapplicable to Maldivian citizens by a local court -the burden then being undertaken by the Government, instead.
Keeping specifics aside, the Government will have to decide whether the nation can have 'rolling policies' and 'rolling plans', which could well provide for alternations and alternatives flowing from emerging global scenarios on the one hand and domestic requirements and understanding, on the other. The alternative is for one elected Government to roll out the inherited policies without actually doing so - but by targeting the investor, be it a local or an overseas entity. This goes beyond controversies and contraventions of rules and procedures, for which remedies should lie in the law and the courts, not on the streets and protests.
Independent of political differences and personality clashes, a broad-based national consensus would be required on policy matters, if Maldives has to move forward on any front and in any sector of growth and development, including human development. It is different from the implementation and enforcement parts - which have suffered in the absence of the former. It is here that the Government, the polity and the People's Majlis, or Parliament, will have to train their attention.
Empowering the Judiciary
The need for a consensus policy flows from the 'sovereignty' and nationalist issues flagged in relation to the GMR agreement. While recent history on the airport front cannot be overlooked, less than a decade later, the Maldivian Government did open up uninhabited islands for FDI in resort-tourism sector. Change of Governments has not made any difference to this one policy, yet the 'sovereignty' issue has not been flagged in the case of those resort-islands where speed-boats and sea-planes can land without question.
On assuming office under testing circumstances, President Waheed had promised to work towards national reconciliation and empowerment of 'Independent Institutions', starting with the Judiciary. This was at a time when the Nasheed Government of which he was Vice-President had continually campaigned for 'reforms' in the Judiciary and other 'Independent Institutions' under the Constitution, including the Election Commission. Judiciary's empowerment cannot occur if street-protestors are allowed to take over the role. The alternative mechanism is Parliament, over which the Judiciary acts as the democratic 'watch-dog' in terms of law-making and enforcement.
It is true that the 'December 23 Movement' that successfully spearheaded the street-protests demanding President Nasheed's resignation/ouster had made elements of their 'Islamic agenda' as part of their campaign - not all of them unwelcome. It may have also been triggered by the controversy surrounded the non-Islamic practice of installing SAARC monuments by member-countries at the southern Addu City, the summit venue in November last year. Yet, the protestors had also kept economic policies from out of the campaign though there was an occasional mention of the 'GMR issue' even at the time. It was said that those things would be settled through due processes. The Judiciary provides the due process, so does the Legislature.
Part of a shrinking world
Unlike in the Thirties and the Sixties, Maldives finds itself part of an ever-shrinking world. Engagement with the external world in the form of resort-tourism has contributed to the economic prosperity of the nation and of its citizenry in a span of 30-plus years. It has funded Education and Healthcare in ways that was thought impossible previously. It is at present funding programmes to improve inter-island/atoll communication and transportation, apart from ensuring high levels of sanitation, which is a sine quo non for ensuring better healthcare.
Education, which has stopped at the Cambridge A-Level (and not any madrassa education, as some overseas observers are wont to believe) has to take the next generation forward, if the second-generation educated in the country are to move up the social and economic ladder, through beneficial employment, either nearer home or afar. All this requires the kind of investment climate, as much as investments, based on policies that are consistent and continual, whatever testing that the nation may engage in and whatever tweaking that individual political parties at the helm of affairs may want to attempt, in the name of ideology or practicality. That is what democracy too is all about.
Leaders' Dialogue, the way out
Not long after assuming office, President Waheed had mooted the 'Roadmap Talks' agenda, marketed by the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai to the rest of the nation's polity. The core-points in the agenda, taken forward in the same spirit as it was mooted, would have avoided the kind of policy paralysis and leadership crisis that the nation is slipping into. For a coalition Government, there is a greater need for greater cohesion among the partners than at present.
The Government parties cannot give the impression that they were/are at it only to keep the MDP and President Nasheed away. It will not help them in an election year. Instead, any anti-incumbency factor that might have worked against the incumbent in October 2008, and February 2012 - though in different ways - has the nasty habit of coming back to haunt those in power. This has also been the democratic experience of India and the rest of the democratic world.
At the 47th anniversary of establishing bilateral relations, Indian High Commissioner Dyaneshwar Mulay made a suggestion for the three Presidents - one incumbent and two former Heads of State - in Maldives to sit together and evolve a consensus approach to policy-formulation and implementation. They have to include other party leaders in Government and outside. The Indian suggestion is again only a reiteration of President Waheed's forgotten efforts at post-CoNI 'Leaders' Dialogue' that did not take off. The initiative still rests with him, still.
(The writer is Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation)
Myanmar: Obama visit proves symbolic
The month of November for Myanmar seems to be that period in the year which brings in good fortune. Last November, it was the visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit that was meant to inspect the 'flicker of progress' on democratisation front. In comparison, this November's visit by re-elected US President, Barack Obama, was more symbolic and did not carry enough substance. This was also the agenda for the visit since there were no significant announcements to be made, or agreements to be signed.
President Obama was in Myanmar for only a few hours. He was in the region for a summit of the East Asia Forum, being held in Cambodia. Yet, President Obama is also the first US Head of State and Government to visit Myanmar - and also Cambodia. It is already being dubbed a landmark visit, with analysts claiming that it would help the US counter the perceived inroads that they Chinese have purportedly made in Myanmar on a wide variety of fronts. Yet, memories of the famous picture of President Obama hugging another Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, alone may remain, if one were to look for tangibles from the visit years down the line.
The visit has largely been analysed through two prisms. One is the 'China factor', and the other is the internal issues of Myanmar. The latter is limited to ethnic violence that has plagued the Arakan State for the past few months. However what the US President actually achieved through the visit has been missed. The real outcome of the visit in many ways lies in ensuring that the Myanmarese Government under President Thien Sein stays the course of political reforms. It is not in the prospective geo-strategic realm of counter-balancing the Chinese footprint in Myanmar.
This is because of a few factors. The first and foremost is the sheer size and longevity of the Chinese commitments in Myanmar, and that too in troubled times. It has been multi-dimensional and purportedly came without any conditions being attached. Thus for the near-term it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the US or any other country to match let alone counter the Chinese's presence in Myanmar. At the same time Chinese engagement has been multi-dimensional.
The second issue is that the process of reforms has a great deal of ground to cover since the basic infrastructure is only being developed. Because of this, the nature of the West's engagement with Myanmar, including that of the US, would be limited since the open market economic foundation of these nations demand a number of systems and infrastructure to be in place.
The other factor is about Myanmar's expectations from the world. The nation has to its credit of weathering the sanctions in partnership with China, Thailand and India. Even then the nature of engagement with these three nations has been guided by the principle of 'independence'. This independence, in the context of Myanmar, is not about sovereignty, but is about absence of dependence on a single nation for existence. At the same time, powers-that-be have understood the changing contours of international affairs and the importance of Asia -- and have a great deal of appreciation for the same.
In such a backdrop, President Obama's visit in some ways can be seen as a continuation of a process that was initiated by his Secretary of State, last year -- again while visiting the region for the East Asia Forum meeting. Between the two American visits little has changed in the absolute sense. There is however hope and expectation that by the next East Asia Forum, the role and importance of Myanmar, both in the region and in the global context, transforms into a narrative that is beyond human rights, civil liberties and democracy - to include something tangible as economy, growth and development, however tardy the position be.
(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
Warning about fundamentalism
In New Delhi after his recent arrest on charges of alcohol-consumption back home, Ibrahim Zaki, specil envoy of former President Mohamed Nasheed warned India against the rise of fundamentalist forces in his country that were, he said, also threatening Indian economic interests there.
"The attack on GMR contract is an Islamic fundamentalist issue," he told newsmen, adding that a majority of people in Maldives were not against the project. "If we were in the Government, definitely we would have done it by now? definitely (asked for) their (Indian forces) to be on the ground," said Zaki, who is known in India as the man who telephoned then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to seek help when President Gayoom was threatened by a coup in 1988.
"When Islamic fundamentalism takes over the country, if the Lashkar-e-Taiba can take over the country, then I have no choice" but to call in forces from India, Zaki said referring to the Pakistan-based militant group that India blames for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, among others.
In Male, the Maldivian Defence Ministry, in a statement, said that Zaki's observations in New Delhi could harm the sovereignty and independence, and threaten the national security of Maldives. The MNDF highlighted that the two countries have had strong bilateral ties for many years, and expressed confidence that the relations will remain the same, and that India will assist Maldives if officially requested by the Maldivian Government in the future.
At a workshop that he addressed, Maldivian Home Minister Muhammad Jameel Ahmad likened Zaki's statement to the "bloody aggression against Maldives in 1988 by the terrorist mercenary leader Vasanthi". He described Zaki's statements as "a threat to national security", saying national security would be threatened or disrupted not only with weapons but also with words.
Source: SunOnline, November 22-23, 2012
Parliament seeks prosecution of police chief
Parliament has forwarded a case against Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz to the Prosecutor-General (PG) requesting action against the Police Chief over the arrest of Kaashidhoo constituency MP Abdulla Jabir and Henveiru-South constituency MP Hamid Abdulla Ghafoor.
The two MPs were among the 10 people arrested in Haa Dhaal Atoll Hondaidhoo on the night of November 15 for allegedly drinking alcohol. However, they had been released on orders of the Kulhudhuhfushi Magistrate Court.
According to the Parliament's Rules of Procedure, no MP can be arrested when a no-confidence motion against the President, members of the cabinet and independent bodies are before the Parliament. However, at the time of the Hondaidhoo arrest, no-confidence motions against President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, and President of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) Mohamed Fahmy Hassan had been filed at the Parliament. Hence, Parliament's Privileges Committee had decided to forward the case against Riyaz to the relevant State authorities.
Appearing before the police, in response to a summons for his cooperation in the investigation of the liquor consumption case against him, parliamentarian Jabir however exercised his 'right to silence'. The other arrested MP, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, had also exercised his right to silence, when appearing before the police, earlier.
Source: Haveeru Online, November 23, 2012
US President on historic visit
US President Barack Obama became the first American Head of State to visit Myanmar and was received by President Thein Sein. He also called upon Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
President Obama in his brief interaction with Government officials called for greater reforms that would promote freedom of expression, including a free media and respect for human rights.
The US President promised a $170-million development aid pledge to Myanmar to coincide with the formal opening of a US Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Myanmar, which was suspended for years over the junta's repression of the democracy movement.
Source: straitstimes.com, channelnewsasia.com, November 19, 2012
Ministries repay 'embezzled' money
President Thein Sein has ordered more than a dozen ministries to repay tens of thousands of dollars "embezzled" by staff, in a rare public move to tackle graft in one of the world's most corrupt nations.
The order comes after the Auditor-General found dozens of cases of "misuse and dishonest actions" across 15 ministries that stripped more than $ 230,000 from Government coffers over the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Most had been refunded but $ 70,000 was still owed to the Government, the financial watchdog said in a report to Parliament submitted earlier this month.
Source: straitstimes.com, November 20, 2012
Asia's next 'rising star': IMF
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected a rise in Myanmar's economic growth rate to 6.25 per cent for the year 2013 as a result of recent economic reforms and increasing foreign investment in natural resources and commodities exports. It praised the reforms and said new policies could turn the nation into "Asia's next rising star."
The IMF projected GDP growth to accelerate to 6.25 per cent in in the fiscal year 2012-13, up modestly from an estimated 5.5 per cent growth this year and 5.3 per cent in 2010-11. Myanmar's GDP in 2010-11 was $ 45.4 billion, according to the IMF.
Source: irrawaddy.org, November 22, 2012
Opposition slams Govt, budget
Irked by the Government's unilateral declaration of fresh polls and endorsement of the Budget, 16 Opposition parties have decided to intensify their protests to replace the incumbent with a consensus one.
The parties, including the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML said only a national consensus government must hold elections in order to guarantee that they are free and fair. They said the polls for next year will not take place as the legal and political hurdles that prevented polls from taking place on November 22 still prevail.
A meeting of the parties expressed "serious dissatisfaction" and "condemned" the budget ordinance introduced without a broader consensus. It concluded that the government's unilateral move has further lessened chances of consensus to resolve the deepening political crisis in the country.
Source: ekantipur.com, November 22, 2012
New party for identity-based federalism
Ashok Rai, former vice-chairman of CPN-UML formally announced a 98-member ad hoc committee of the Federal Socialist Party-Nepal under his leadership.
The party has included those who left all major and fringe parties because of their conviction that there should be single, identity-based federalism. While making the announcement, Rai declared that his party would carry out a crusade for inclusive democracy, instead of a formal one.
At least 10 leaders have been selected from Brahmin and Chhettri communities and many leaders from Madhes-based communities, besides Dalits. The party has claimed that their ad-hoc central committee includes leaders who left many political parties including CPN-UML, NC, Maoists, and CPN-Unified, among others.
Despite several attempts, Rai failed to bring with him Chaitanya Subba's group, who did not compromise on their stance on liberal social democracy as the guiding principle of the party. Former chairman of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) Pasang Sherpa, who had left CPN-UML long ago has not joined Rai's new party.
Source: thehimalayantimes.com, November 21, 2012
18-month jail for ex-Defence Secretary
The Apex Court has convicted former Defence Secretary Chakra Bandhu Aryal for corruption and slapped an 18-month imprisonment. The court also slapped a fine of Nepali Rs 6,602,530 in addition to ordering confiscation of property worth the amount.
A Full Bench of the Special Court headed by Chairman Gauri Bahadur Karki concluded that Aryal's property, including two houses and some bank shares, be confiscated. The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, the constitutional graft watchdog, had filed the case against Aryal in November 2003 stating that the source of his property worth Rs 14,799,298 could not be established.
A Special Court in October 2007 gave a clean chit to Aryal. But dissatisfied with the verdict, the CIAA moved the apex court. Aryal retired as Defence Secretary in May 1999.
Source: myrepublica.com, November 23, 2012
Anti-Shia attacks mar Muharram
Sectarian violence was witnessed in major Pakistani cities as Shiites observe the 10-day mourning period of the holy month of Muharram, the anniversary of the battle of Kerbala, where the nephew and various family members of the Prophet Muhammad were killed.
Separate blasts in Karachi and Rawalpindi at Imambargahs (Shia mosques) claimed the lives of over 26 Pakistanis and wounded dozens more. Another blast in Quetta was aimed at security forces, killing five. A second potential Anti-Shia blast in Karachi was prevented due to timely defusal of the bomb in question.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a Sunni militant organisation that does not consider Shias as Muslims, has claimed the responsibility for all attacks and vowed that violence would continue. Towards the culmination of the religious mourning, Ashura, members of the Shia community have been receiving death threats via SMS, with such lines as "Kill, kill Shiites". Pakistani security forces have been anticipating the violence by cordoning of sections of major cities and temporarily barring mobile phone services. The attacks also coincide with Islamabad's hosting of the Development 8.
Sectarian violence has been increasingly rampant in Pakistan in recent years, with the perpetrators, radical Islamist groups such as Lashkar-e-Janghvi or Pakistani Taliban, intending to destabilize the country in order to make way for the broad objective of an ultraorthodox Sunni theocracy. In the last months, it has been especially the ethnic group of the Hazaras, majorly Shia, which has been subject to targeted killings and terror attacks, mainly in the area in and around Quetta.
Source: The Express Tribune, November 21-23, 2012, The Nation, November 21, 2012
As the election looms in 2013, major Pakistani political parties engage in political manoeuvring and alliance-building. Former Prime Minister Nawar Sharif said that his party, the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League), would not contend elections alone, but would seek electoral alliances with other parties. Among those mentioned by him are the Jamat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest Islamist party, and various Balochi and Sindhi national parties. He also refuted claims that the PML-N would join hands with the PPP (Pakistan People's Party) to fend off Imran Khan's PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf) as "that would only help the PTI".
At the same time the PTI has ruled out an electoral alliance with former military dictator Pervez Musharraf's party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). The day before, Musharraf had hinted at a possible joint venture. In a press statement PTI press secretary Shafquat Mehmood described Musharraf as "living in a world of dreams", adding that such an alliance would be "next to impossible". In a later press conference, Imran Khan has also denied any potential alliance with a party from the present coalition government, stating that he would prefer the PTI in the opposition rather than aligning themselves with any of the parties currently in power.
Source: DNA India, November 22, 2012; The Express Tribune, November 23, 2012; The Nation, November 20, 2012
Indian High Commissioner calls for cohesive action against non-State actors
Indian High Commissioner Ashok K. Kantha has said that India's over-riding foreign and defence policy objective was to secure a peaceful and enabling international environment, both in the neighbourhood and globally, so as to concentrate on domestic priorities of nationhood and inclusive development while ensuring independence and autonomy in India's decision-making.
HC Kantha underlined that another vital objective was to protect and safeguard India's territorial integrity and sovereignty and to deal with non-traditional threats to security, which are increasingly becoming trans-national in character. He also underlined India's recognition that transnational challenges could be addressed only through global efforts.
HC Kantha was addressing security forces officers at the Sri Lankan Defence Services Command and Staff College, Batalanda, on the invitation of the Defence Ministry. In his address, the High Commissioner touched upon India's unique geographical location and key global and regional developments influencing India's security environment and highlighted that India's unique geographical position, maritime as well as continental entity, with its footprints and interests reaching well beyond South Asia and positioned as a bridge between different parts of Asia such as West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia etc. formed the key determinants of the India's defence policies.
He underlined the transformation of global and regional balance of power, in which the risk of direct conflict between major states has markedly receded, transnational challenges like terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, energy security, climate change and the prolonged economic crisis have become the primary threats to global peace and stability. He emphasized the need for a collective global response to these challenges and especially the ones emanating from non-states actors, failed or weakened States.
He drew attention to international terrorism as possibly the pre-eminent threat to global peace and security while pointing out India's own experience as a victim of cross border terrorism for over two decades. He underlined the major risks associated with weapons of mass destruction possibly falling into the hands of terrorists and non-state actors and to the increased incidences of piracy, gun running and terrorism in the Indian Ocean region.
The High Commissioner drew attention to the fact that India has never pursued aggressive or expansionist policies and India's armed forces have always been used to defend the motherland against external aggression. India has never sent troops abroad except for UN peace-keeping operations or at the express specific request of the legitimate government of the country concerned. India's defence preparedness and credible deterrence includes nuclear doctrine of credible minimum deterrence, which envisages no first use of nuclear weapons, non-use against non-nuclear weapon States and voluntary moratorium on further nuclear tests.
He underlined that India's defence preparedness has not been at the cost of development and India's defence expenditure remains modest at around two per cent of the GDP and in per capita terms is among the lowest in the world. The High Commissioner emphasised that a natural corollary of India's non-aligned foreign policy has been to enhance engagement with all the major countries of the world, which has resulted in substantial strengthening of our relationship with all the major countries and regions of the world and India's rapid economic and social transformation since early 1990's has provided opportunities to meaningfully engage with the rest of the world in an unprecedented manner.
India, at the same time, has been in the forefront of promoting South-South cooperation and continues to give highest priority to closer political, economic and other ties with our neighbours in South Asia and extended neighbourhood. He also referred to India's successful "Look East Policy" launched in 1990s which is based on a cooperative paradigm of positive inter-connectedness of economic and security interests. He noted that there is a growing appreciation of India's relevance and role in addressing cross-cutting global issues and India today is today a net provider of security in domains ranging from maritime security to UN Peace keeping operations and one of the engines helping to pull global economy out of recession.
High Commissioner Kantha highlighted that India is Sri Lanka's closest neighbour and our bilateral relationship is extremely strong, anchored in common civilization heritage, shared interests and interlinked destinies. He underlined that India has consistently stood for a united, strong and prosperous Sri Lanka and the defence cooperation between the two countries encompasses a wide array of activities such as high level exchanges, training, joint exercises and exchange of goodwill visits by Naval ships of the two countries. In recent years, the relationship has been marked by close contacts at the highest political level, growing trade and investment, cooperation in the fields of development, education, culture and defence, as well as a broad understanding on major issues of international interest.
Source: The Island, November 22, 2012
CJ given time to file objections
Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) appointed to probe charges against her, was given time till November 30 to file objections in her defence.
At the commencement of her first appearance, the Committee informed her that it would disregard the recommendations of a Supreme Court Bench that the PSC should defer its meetings till after the Bench had given its determination on petitions challenging the legality of the impeachment motion against her.
Media personnel, covering Parliament, were allowed to cover the Chief Justice's arrival and talk to her lawyers but were told to refrain from taking photographs inside the building.
The parliamentarians, who signed the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice have also asked for an opportunity to appear before the PSC to validate their charges.
Source: The Island, November 22, 2012
Army Chief sues Tamil newspapers
Army Commander Lt-Genl Jagath Jayasuriya has filed action in the Jaffna District Court against the Uthayan and the Valampuri, two Tamil newspapers that are published in Jaffna, claiming Rs 100 million from each of the two entities as damages for publishing what he called highly defamatory articles concerning him in their July 11 issue.
The Army in a statement stated that the Uthayan and Valampuri newspapers regularly published highly defamatory articles ridiculing the Sri Lanka Army and senior Army officers, For instance, it said even if a suicide takes place in Jaffna, the two newspapers make it a point to refer to the existence of an Army camp in the area, thus casting aspersions on the Army in an unnecessary manner.
The statement quoting Director, Legal, Army Brigadier Ranjith Rajapathirana, added that the Army would continue to file defamation cases against whosoever defamed the Army in the future. He had stated, "Just as much the Army was not above the law, we are not below the law either, and we will fight vigorously to protect the good name of the Army and our heroic soldiers."
France ends combat role
France has ended its combat operations in Afghanistan two years before all foreign troops are expected to be withdrawn from the country. The French troops were located in the Kapisa province and Kabul's Sarobi district. At its peak, France was the fifth largest troop contributor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force having provided 3600 troops. France has lost 85 soldiers in Afghanistan.
Some 1500 French troops are expected to remain behind in Afghanistan in non-combat roles. Of the remaining troops 1000 will help return military equipment to France and 500 will stay on to provide training for Afghanistan's army. Apart from France, Canada and the Netherlands have also ended their combat roles in Afghanistan.
French President Francois Hollande had pledged during his election campaign that he would withdraw all French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012.
Source: BBC, 20 November 2012; Reuters, November 20, 2012; The Telegraph, November 20, 2012
Tensions over Bagram Prison
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, accusing the American officials of violating an agreement signed in March 2012 to fully transfer the Bagram Prison facility to Afghan authorities, ordered Afghan forces to take control of the prison. The move came after the expiration of a two-month grace period to complete the transfer.
The status of 57 prisoners held at Bagram, who had been acquitted by the Afghan courts but are continued to be held by American officials at the prison in defiance of release orders, is a matter of concern. Similarly, at issue are the status of new detainees being captured by American troops, who the Afghan officials feel should be transferred to their control. The US has already handed over a number of prisoners to Afghan authorities since March, but continue to hold on to some detained suspected insurgents.
However, Afghanistan does not expect an immediate change of guard. Hamid Karzai's office said that would hold discussions with their American counterparts and then only come to a final decision.
For Afghanistan, control over the prisons and the ability to determine the fate of the prisoners held there is crucial for protecting the sovereignty of the country. On the other hand, the control over the prisons is a crucial part of the American counter-insurgency strategy as it does not have complete faith in the capabilities of the Afghans to manage the prisons or the prisoners. Moreover, it feels that Afghanistan has released scores of dangerous Taliban commanders in the past.
Source: The New York Times, November 19, 2012; The Wall Street Journal, November 19, 2012
Increase in opium cultivation
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Annual Report, the land under opium cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 18 per cent in 2012 as compared to 2011. This increase has taken place despite a significant increase in government eradication efforts, which wiped out nearly 10,000 hectares of poppy. Hefty prices for opium, which at $196 per kilogram, falling slightly as compared to last year, were responsible for the expansion.
At the same time, the overall production of Opium has reduced by 40 per cent as a result of natural pests and a plant disease that has affected the opium farms. The value of opium produced was halved to $700 million, dropping from the equivalent of seven per cent of GDP in 2011 to four per cent in 2012. Most poppy cultivation, 95 per cent, was concentrated in the southern and western provinces hardest hit by insecurity and organised crime.
The report did show one potentially promising sign: Less opium was cultivated in a "food zone" in Helmand province, where 42,000 farmers had received agricultural aid during poppy planting season, compared with other areas of the province.
Source: Dawn, November 20, 2012; The Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2012; Tolo News, November 22, 2012
'No' to foreigners on poll panel
A majority in Afghanistan's Upper House of Parliament voted against Article 33 of the draft Election Law, which allowed for two foreign nationals to be included in the seven-seat board of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).
The Senators believed that the presence of foreigners on the ECC would bring the ability of Afghanistan to govern itself and its sovereignty into question.
Source: Daily Outlook Afghanistan, November 21, 2012; Tolo News, November 21, 2012
Jamaat protests turn violent
The week witnessed violent country-wide protest movement by Jamaat-e-Islami (J), the influential religious political party. The cadres of JI and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) took out processions in various parts of the country and in some places, especially in Dhaka and in Chittagong they turned violent and attacked members of the law enforcement agencies, vandalised shops and vehicles.
These incidents of violence greatly disturbed daily lives of common people. JI had announced a countrywide protest movement, which it claimed to be 'peaceful' opposing Government's "oppression" on its leaders and filing of "false" cases against them.
Top JI leaders have been languishing in jail since 2010 on charges of war crime. Government of Bangladesh instituted International War Crime Tribunal in March 2010 to carry out trials of war criminals of 1971 war. JI is known for supporting Pakistan army during Bangladesh's liberation war in 1971 and perpetrating violence on freedom freighters during the war.
Looking at the JI street protest US Ambassador Morzena suggested dialogue with the party, which was rejected by the leaders of the ruling Awami League. Contrarily, leaders of the ruling party strongly demanded banning of the politics of JI-ICS for creating anarchy to obstruct the trials of war criminals. Awami League leaders also accused the leading opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party of its involvement with the recent JI activities.
Commending strongly to the incidences of political violence in the country Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that if more the attacks are intensified, the quicker the pace of the trials will be. Expressing her firm commitment on completing the trial Hasina informed that there is no stepping back from holding the trials of the war criminals. She further said that if forces who are opposing trial of war criminals, if they want, she might introduce Sharia law. Hasina informed that if such forces do not stop creating troubles, the government will be forced to think of alternative option.
Source: The Daily Star, November 19, 2012; New Age, November 19, 2012; The Independent, November 20, 2012; The Independent, November 17, 2012
Khaleda seeks popular support to oust govt
The main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson, Khaleda Zia, this weeky urged the people to oust the incumbent government to facilitate the next general elections under a non-party neutral government. She made this call while addressing a large public meeting at the Barisal organised by BNP.
Begum Zia, the leader of the opposition in parliament, has been spearheading a campaign for realising her key demand for holding the next general elections under a non-party neutral caretaker government. The BNP supremo claimed that her party did not believe in militancy and terrorism. Khaleda said that a non-party neutral caretaker government was essential to remove the Awami League from power. She further asserted that no election would be held or be allowed under the Awami League Government,' she asserted.
Source: New Age, November 20, 2012
'Address labour issues o get GSP'
US Ambassador Mozena said this week that Bangladesh needs to look into the issues relating to labour conditions and their right to association for getting generalised system of preferences (GSP) facility in the US market, which is under review by the US authority.
Expressing his dissatisfaction over Bangladesh's progress in addressing such issues, the US envoy said it sent a negative signal to Washington in respect of Bangladesh's appeal for GSP privileges. A petition against Bangladesh's GSP privileges has been pending for five years which is the longest in the history of America, Mozena noted.
Source: The Financial Express, November 20, 2012
Property of fugitive killers to be attached
The Government has decided to confiscate the properties of the six convicted fugitive killers of the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It has requested all the countries, through the foreign ministry, not to issue passports and visas to the fugitives, to stop their movement from one country to the other.The absconding convicts are Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Shariful Haque Dalim, SHMB Nur Chowdhury, AM Rashed Chowdhury, Abdul Mazed and Moslemuddin.
Among the convicts Nur Chowdhury and Rashed Chowdhury, are believed to be residing in Canada. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of Bangladesh's independence and father of incunbant Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was killed, along with 16 members of his extended family in 1975.
Source: The Independent, November 21, 2012
Diplomatic ties with Kazakhstan
Bhutan has established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Kazakhstan. A Joint Communiqué to this effect was signed by Lhatu Wangchuk, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bhutan to the United Nations, and Byrganym Aitimova, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.
The two Ambassadors expressed the interest of their governments to cooperate closely in the bilateral and multilateral fields. They also discussed the possibility of exchanging bilateral visits at all levels and explore trade relations including tourism between the two countries.
Kazakhstan is the 47th country with which Bhutan has established diplomatic relations.
Source: bbs.bt, November 22, 2012
Hydro sector to be liberalised
The hydro-electricity sector of Bhutan that has an extensive Indian footprint could be posed for change. The Kingdome is contemplating on the probability of open up of this sector to global payers by liberalising foreign investment policy
The country of a population of around 7 lakh hosts a hydropower potential of 30,000 MW against its existing domestic need of around 500MW with a total production of around 2000MW. the excess 1500MW is exported to India and this trade makes India the largest importer of Bhutan produce while significantly contribution to Bhutan's economic growth of over 20% per annum.
Source: economictimes.indiatimes.com, 16 November 22, 2012
Kasab hangs, Justice for 26/11 still elusive
In a top secret operation, a 25 year old Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, was hanged in Pune's Yerwada Central Jail at 7.30 a.m. on Wednesday.
Fifteen minutes later, a terse phone call conveyed to Maharashtra Home Department that Operation "X" was "successfully completed". Police sources said Kasab was buried on the jail premises.
Source: The Hindu, November 22, 2012
PM reaches out to BJP
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday invited senior BJP leader L K Advani and the leaders of the opposition in Parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, for dinner in an attempt to reach out to the opposition days before Parliament's winter session, which is expected to be tumultuous.
The invitation on Saturday is part of the dinner and lunch diplomacy Singh has initiated over the last few days, was cancelled owing to the death of Shiv Sena chief Balasahib Thackre. Earlier, Singh broke bread with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati and a dinner for leaders of the UPA partners Friday evening.
The dinner with the BJP leaders was eventually hosted on Thursday evening.
Source: The Indian Express, November 17 & 22, 2012
'Green clearance' for mines eased
The Prime Minister's Office has given its go-ahead the Finance Ministry's proposal to set up a National Investment Board (NIB), asking it to rework the cabinet note and bring it for approval soon.
It has also separately directed the Environment Ministry to immediately issue orders saying fresh environment clearance will not be needed for coal mines to increase their production by 25 per cent. Also, it has asked the Ministry not to insist on fresh clearances each time the lease of mine is renewed.
Source: The Indian Express, November 17, 2012
Rare earths pact signed with Japan
Despite the postponement of the India-Japan annual summit, the two countries on Friday signed an agreement which will allow Tokyo to import rare earth minerals - important for Japan's high-tech industry - from India.
Japan is hoping that the deal with India will help reduce its reliance on China for rare earth minerals at a time when it is involved in a conflict with Beijing over the Senkaku islands.
Source: The Times of India, November 17, 2012
Walmart probing bribery charges
Wal-Mart on Thursday reported that its investigation into violations of a federal anti-bribery law had extended beyond Mexico to China, India and Brazil, some of the retailer's most important international markets.
The disclosure, made in a regulatory filing, suggests Wal-Mart has uncovered evidence into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as the fallout continues from a bribery scheme involving the opening of stores in Mexico that was the subject of a New York Times investigation in April.
Source: www.indianexpress.com, November 17, 2012
ASEAN summit will take ties to new level: PM
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Sunday the ASEAN-India summit in Phnom Penh would help to take relations with the 10-member bloc to a new level.
In his departure statement before leaving for Cambodia to attend the 10th ASEAN-India Summit and the Seventh East Asia Summit, the Prime Minister said the move to launch negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership among the ASEAN countries and its economic partners, including India, would be "a giant step" towards creating an economic community in the region.
Source: www.hindustantimes.com,November 18, 2012
Retail to grow to $ 1.3 trillion
The size of India's retail industry is expected to more than double to $1.3 trillion by 2020, led by an estimated 25 per cent average annual growth in organised retail if overseas investment is permitted in the sector, an industry body has said.
"The Indian retail is poised to become a $1.3 trillion opportunity by 2020. With the current market size estimated at $500 billion, this translates to an additional $800 billion in the next eight years," said R.V. Kanoria, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
Source: www.economictimes.indiatimes.com, November 18, 2012
Infrastructure cooperation with China
Chinese officials said on Tuesday that next week's Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) in New Delhi would help both countries deepen cooperation on investment and infrastructure projects, with one of the largest-ever delegations of Chinese officials set to travel to India for the November 26 talks.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters that representatives from Chinese "government agencies, enterprises and financial and research institutions" will travel to New Delhi, with a view to "stepping up communication and coordination of macro-economic policies, and deepening and expanding mutually beneficial cooperation in investment, infrastructure, high technology, energy conservation and environmental protection".
Source: The Hindu, November 21, 2012
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Pakistan: Matthias Vollhardt;