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SOUTH ASIA WEEKLY REPORT
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Vol. V Issue. 49
Sri Lanka: Keeping the Palk, Straight
N. Sathiya Moorthy
07 December 2012

Analysis

No other dispute, including the sensitive 'ethnic row', impacts as much on India-Sri Lanka relations than the 'fishing issue', particularly over the medium and long terms. Much as the Government of India is keen on seeing a negotiated settlement to the ethnic issue, the political solution would still have to be thrashed out by the stake-holders in Sri Lanka.

Over the past decade in general, and after the conclusion of 'Eelam War IV' in particular, the international community has taken a greater interest in the affairs of Sri Lanka than earlier. Against this, the fishing issue is bilateral in nature, involving the Governments and sections of the polity and peoples in the two countries, and does not interest/involve third nations or other interest groups.

The solution too has to be bilateral in nature, involving the Governments, fishers, and/or both. Likewise, any possibility of any escalation of the issue too will have bilateral consequences in more ways than one, going beyond the more visible and equally acknowledged livelihood issue and also going beyond the issue pertaining to the high number of lives lost in the 'ethnic war' in Sri Lanka.

In this background, the recent judgment of the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, indicating that the Tamil Nadu fishers might after all be in the wrong in violating Sri Lanka's territorial waters may help set the tone for serious re-thinking in the State on the handling of a livelihood issue that has acquired avoidable political overtones and impacting on India's Sri Lanka policy, where the 'ethnic issue' has captured the imagination of the common man over the past decades.

Tamil Nadu has to prioritise its concerns on the Sri Lanka front, particularly after a section of the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen have raised a banner of revolt against the 'unethical and unprofessional practices' followed by their Indian brethren. For one more time, recently, the Sri Lankan Tamil fishers in the Jaffna region staged a protest procession on this count, and handed over a memorandum to the Indian Consul-General's Office in the town.

The Sri Lankan Tamil fishers are not opposed to Indian fishers sharing their catch at the source. Instead, they are opposed more to the Indian fishers deploying trawlers, nets and fishing methods that have destroyed marine-wealth on the Indian side of the shared Palk Strait -- and hence banned by the Sri Lankan Government. In the process, they complain, the Indian trawlers destroy their smaller boats and nets, and thus their livelihood when they are trying to make some sense out of their post-war situation.

Other issues remain. A section in the Sri Lankan Government, from time to time, has raised issues of 'sovereignty' and 'territorial waters' being violated every time an Indian fishing-boat crosses into Sri Lankan seas. On the Indian side, a view remains that the shared seas should be deemed to be a 'common heritage' of fishers from the two countries and schemes evolved together by the Government for cooperative development, management and exploitation. In jurisprudence, these are un-reconcilable contradictory positions. The Madras High Court order may have discouraged this discourse on the Indian side, already.

In a conciliation-sounding letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) arrested 37 Tamil Nadu fishers, way of what is otherwise suggested as their 'traditional fishing grounds' inside Sri Lankan waters, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa wanted the New Delhi to urge Colombo that to warn and let off violators without detention. On earlier occasions, the State Government had used strong words, particularly when Tamil Nadu fishers were killed in mid-sea, allegedly by Sri Lanka Navy.

A solution to the issue should involve a compromise between the fishers on both sides, with the blessings of their respective Governments. This would involve the scaling down of the number of Indian trawlers that could fish within the Sri Lankan waters and also the kind of equipment, including fishing vessels and nets that could be deployed. In this, the Sri Lankan Government and the Sri Lankan fishers only expect the Indian counterparts to respect the law of the land, nothing more, nothing less.

An earlier agreement between the fishing communities in the two countries, with the blessings of the respective Governments, did not succeed only because the Indian side did not have any enforcement programme or mechanism. Their agreement on alternate days of fishing has generally been adhered, too. Thus, the revival of further negotiations, as agreed upon at the highest levels in the Governments in the two countries will have to address these issues.

From the Indian side, mid-sea attacks on their fishers have to stop. The SLN reassurance has not convinced many on the Indian side of the Palk Strait. Yet, there is truth in the Government of India's observations that there are fewer incidents of mid-sea attacks on Tamil Nadu fishers over the past years, particularly since the 2008 joint statement. Tamil Nadu complains that the mid-sea attacks may have been replaced by arrests and long detentions, something that India regularised in regard to Sri Lankan fishers arrested in its waters as Colombo, at the time, would free detained Indian fishers without police cases and court trials.

The emerging complexity of the fishing issue is such that no long-term solution could be found without Tamil Nadu finding alternative fishing fields for its fishers. The advent of elective provincial politics in the Tamil-majority North in Sri Lanka could bring with it 'competitive politics' with which Tamil Nadu has been familiar with over the years. It could mean that rival Tamil political parties would be taking up the cause of their fishing constituency vis a vis their Indian brethren more vigorously than already. This can create more problems to the 'umbilical cord' relations between the Tamils in the two countries, about which the Tamil Nadu polity in particular is proud of.

With a vision of its own, the Tamil Nadu Government of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has since began looking at deep-sea fishing, canning and marketing facilities and education to the State's fishers, both as an alternative and a supplementary to diversify and increase family incomes of fishers. The programmes, launched through the Budget of 2011-12 have to be fast-tracked. Tamil Nadu has also undertaken the construction of two fishing harbours away from the troubled spots, to encourage affected fishers to relocate permanently. This work again has to be fast-tracked.

In between, the State and Central Governments in India can look into the existing scenario, and regulate and curtail vessel-usage and movement, in terms of fishers' social background as traditional communities and others, use, misuse and abuse of the existing permit-system in the Rameswaram area, and identification of fishers and fishing communities possibly indulging in regular violation of the Sri Lanka waters, and discouraging them, particularly from travelling all over the place.

The State and Central Governments could also revisit the existing ban-periods, banned areas and banned species for fishing in the troubled waters, and devise development and management methods that would help revive a fishing interest in marine products other than from prawns, which mainly attracts them to Sri Lankan waters. Such diversification and legalisation would also help, in the absence of effective regulatory mechanisms for banning smuggling of these marine food, which also cross the banned areas (like the Gulf of Mannar) at will, and put the fishers in serious trouble with the law, at times.

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, as leader of the ruling AIADMK, moved the Supreme Court, contesting the 1974 transfer of the Katchchativu islet to Sri Lanka, in exchange for the Wadge Bank on the south of India (which is seldom mentioned in the Indian discourse on the subject). The exchange was signed three years after Sri Lanka had faced the first-major (left) insurgency, which India helped militarily to quash and even six months less after Colombo had provided refuelling facility to the Pakistan Air Force in the 'Bangladesh War' of December 1971.

From India's 'Cold War' security concerns, that too after the war with China in 1962, the exchange may have implied that New Delhi saw Colombo as a strategic friend and ally with whom the ownership and possession of Katchchativu could be entrusted and Wadge Bank, directly facing the Indian Ocean, required direct security-handling by India with its better naval assets. The three-year grace period for Sri Lankan fishers to withdraw from fishing in the Wadge Bank, as against the permission for Indian fishers to dry their nets on Katchchativu showed the relative availability of fish in the respective waters.

The Centre, in its wisdom, may not have taken the domestic stake-holders into confidence. Anyway, it was/is a domestic issue, like the pending Supreme Court case, not to affect bilateral arrangements. The ethnic issue and the 'Eelam Wars' have dominated bilateral discourse over the past three decades so much, the fishing issue has got intractably inter-linked to the same. Extricating the two is not only necessary but no time should also be lost in doing so - lest the 'umbilical cord' relations too could sour before long.

On paper, if not otherwise, the Sri Lankan Government and political leaders have been telling their fishers not to violate other national waters, particularly that of India. In India, Tamil Nadu politicians and others claim reverse violation as if by traditional right. The Sri Lanka Navy is also occasionally reported to be arresting their fishers violating local laws on fishing, including use of trawlers, banned nets, fishing methods, etc.

Sri Lankans, particularly the Sinhala southerners, fishing once in the Wadge Bank, have moved along to distant waters. The Palk Strait fishers in India have to show enterprise and have staying-capacity in terms of the finances required for going deep-sea fishing. This is at a time when further along the Tamil Nadu coast, the Thoothoor fishers in the southern-most Kanyakumari district have been at deep-sea fishing for a thousand years.

The Thoothoor fishers get caught, not in the adjoining waters but those in the distant Gulf-Arab region - but again, without valid travel documents, like their Palk Strait brethren. Their numbers being few and their issue not being politicised, their return through the intervention of the Government of India is also less messy. Thus encouraging the Palk Strait fishers to go deep-sea in the adjoining waters also means that they would not have to violate other territorial waters for decades, if not centuries, to come - and thus would not have to get entangled in court cases in third countries and mid-sea attacks by navies or fishers from other nations.

While no fish is available in the Katchchtivu neighbourhood, any permanent solution to the fishing issue would also have to involve Kachchativu as well - just as defined freedom for traditional fishers from India to fish in the Sri Lankan waters, obeying the law of the land and also the sensitivities and anxieties of the local fishers. Equity and practicality demands as much - nothing more, nothing possibly less!

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

Afghanistan: Talking to the Taliban

Aryaman Bhatnagar
Pakistan's decision to release a number of Afghan Taliban prisoners in an effort to push the peace talks in Afghanistan forward has been applauded and hailed in some quarters as an important achievement. The Afghan government welcomed it as an important initial step taken by Pakistan, which removed a significant hurdle for future talks with the Taliban regarding a political solution in Afghanistan.

Proclaiming this development as a 'breakthrough' though, as some have, would be slightly premature at this stage.

There is a general consensus, at least publicly, that the peace process in Afghanistan should be 'Afghan-led' and 'Afghan-owned'. This implies that, while countries like the US and Pakistan have an important role in brokering any final settlement in Afghanistan, there has to be direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. However, the Taliban are showing no signs, despite welcoming the release of the prisoners, that they are interested in holding talks with the Afghan government. The insurgents see the Afghan government as a stooge of the West and have preferred to communicate directly with the US than with the Afghan government. Even the Haqqani network declared recently that it was willing to hold talks the US, but made no mention of reaching out to the Afghan government.

The Taliban have also shown no signs of adhering to the preconditions laid out by the Afghan government and the US for the insurgents - renouncing violence, accepting the Afghan constitution and breaking all ties with al Qaeda. This makes it even more difficult to overcome the opposition within Afghanistan to the idea of holding talks with the Taliban.

A number of groups in Afghanistan, particularly the non-Pashtuns and women oppose the return of the Taliban within the mainstream politics of Afghanistan. They fear a reversal of all the progress made in the past decade, especially if a settlement is reached without the preconditions having been accepted first by the Taliban. The reports of Ismail Khan calling upon other regional non-Pashtun leaders to raise a militia in an attempt to balance the perceived threat of the Taliban is a clear evidence of the prevailing fear and opposition to the Taliban prevalent in the country.

According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the upper house of the Afghan parliament was also sceptical of the recent developments accusing the High Peace Council of indulging in a one-way dialogue - only granting concession to the insurgents without getting any guarantees from them in return.

The belief that Pakistan would be able to assist in the process by using its sway over the Taliban also needs examination. Rawalpindi's control over the Mullah Omar-led Quetta Shura, the faction with which the Afghan government wishes to negotiate, is tenuous at best and is restricted to the provision of physical refuge. Even in the 1990s, the Taliban government in Afghanistan resented and resisted the efforts of the Pakistan government to control it. Thus, it is unlikely that Pakistan would be able to play a bigger role than it already is.

Pakistan's significance, thus, could lie more in its ability to act as a 'spoiler' for the peace process as it has in the past. For instance, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was arrested for reaching out to the Afghan government independent of Pakistan. It could possibly continue to play a destructive role by denying access to the upper echelons of the Taliban leadership or refusing to release other senior Taliban leaders, which the Afghan government believes can play a major role in reaching a final settlement. It is the continuing mistrust of Pakistan has that has also led many Afghan parliamentarians from viewing these latest developments with a great deal of caution.

Finally, one also needs to examine the prospects of reaching a settlement with the Taliban in light of the impending withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. According to Reuters, some senior Afghan officials believe that it would be difficult to reach a settlement with the Taliban before 2014, a belief shared by a number of American officials as well.

A delay in reaching the final settlement with the insurgents beyond 2014 poses problems. Post-2014, the military presence of the US and NATO troops is going to be drastically reduced. Reports suggest that the US would possibly retain about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, but only about a 1000 of them would be involved in counterinsurgency operations. Moreover, the US has already made heavy concessions to the Afghan government by putting an end to the night raids and agreeing to hand over control of the Afghan prisons, both of which can adversely affect the quality of battling the insurgency, and could possibly make further concessions. Thus, post-2014, the Afghan government and the US are going to negotiate from a weaker bargaining position making it even tougher for them to extract concessions from the insurgents.

However, at the same time, the continued presence of a residual US force in Afghanistan beyond 2014 is also in contradiction to the Taliban demands of a complete withdrawal of the foreign troops from Afghanistan. It is going to be a tough task for the Afghan government and the US to balance their future security interests with their efforts of reaching a settlement with the Taliban.

Despite the existing obstacles, the recent developments should not, by any means, be considered a small step. It can help in easing some of the tension and mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which in itself is important for the future stability of Afghanistan. Whether this could serve as a catalyst for a major breakthrough in the peace talks, remains to be seen.

(The Writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Country Reports

Sri Lanka
CJ, Opposition walks out of impeachment probe

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake walked out of an impeachment probe by a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), and her lawyers wrote to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, asking for an impartial team for them to work with her.

According to a lawyers' collective, the PSC wanted to rush through the proceedings, gave the defence 24 hours to study thousand pages of documents, and members heckled them in the close-door investigations.

After the CJ withdrew, the political Opposition too has declared its intention to disassociate from the PSC. Earlier, Speaker Rajapaksa, a brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had ruled that courts cannot interfere with the work of Parliament, on which issue many Opposition parties too endorsed his view.

Source: Daily Mirror Online, December 4-7, 2012

TNA not for total withdrawal of Army

In an attitude of moderation, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) told Parliament yesterday that it was wrong to assume that the party wanted the armed forces out of the North and the East. TNA leader R. Sampanthan who participated in the committee stage debate of the Defence Ministry said his party only wanted the armed forces to be present in these areas but without any adverse impact on the day to day lives of civilians.

"We don't want the armed forces stationed there to subjugate the Tamil people, to make them feel they are not equal citizens of this country. We don't want the armed forces to make our people feel inferior. Our people want to live with self-respect and dignity. That is all. We are not demanding the total withdrawal of the armed forces. They should be there as they are in any other part of the country," Mr. Sampanthan said.

Sampanthan said that as many as 150,000 soldiers had been stationed in different parts of the North, and their presence in such a large number was totally unacceptable and unwarranted. "They can be confined to the places where they were before the war. They can maintain their intelligence and carry out surveillance. It is a legitimate duty. We only want them not to have an adverse impact on the lives of our people," Sampanthan said.

He said the military is cultivating large swathes of land in the North, especially in areas such as Iranamadu and Keravil. "Our people want to get back to their agriculture, fisheries, animal husbandry and other industrial activity. There are military cantonments being set up. We are opposed to any move to alter the demographic pattern of these areas," he said.

Referring to the advent of Tamil militancy, Sampanthan said he had taken the view that the LTTE was a phenomenon created by the successive governments that failed to address legitimate grievances of Tamil people. He said the LTTE was not created by the Tamil people and added that the country would not have faced this situation if the pacts between S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and between Mr. Chelvanayagam and Dudley Senanayake had been implemented.

In a note critical of the LTTE, Sampanthan said his leaders were killed by the Tigers, and he too was in their hit-list once and expressed his disappointment over the TNA being called an LTTE proxy by the Government.

Source: Daily Mirror Online, December 7, 2012

Afghanistan
Responsible for 70 pc security

The Afghan Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were responsible for 70 per cent of the security in the country. The ANSF took official control over seven provinces in eastern Afghanistan. The provinces included Nangarhar, Laghman, Kumar, Nuristan, Kapisa, Parwan and Panjshir.

It is estimated that about 80 per cent of the military operations across the country are led by the Afghan forces, with the foreign soldiers only playing a supporting role. It has also been reported that the security situation may have improved as a result of the transfer of control to the ANSF as the local residents have more trust in the Afghan forces.

The MOD spokesman, General Zahir Azimi announced that the security situation in areas under ANSF control have "improved 20 percent over the last four months".

Source: Tolo News, December 5-6, 2012

Opposition to foreigners' prison

The Afghan National Security Council declared that foreign countries have no authority to either arrest Afghan nationals or operate prisons in Afghanistan as it violated Afghanistan's national sovereignty.

The security council's announcement came as a reaction to the statement made by the United Kingdom Defence Minister, Philip Hammond expressing his opposition to hand over Afghan prisoners to the Afghan authorities fearing they were tortured after detention.

Earlier Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered his security council to investigate immediately if Britain was holding prisoners on Afghan soil and insisted they were handed over.

Karzai also told US President Barack Obama that until the US finalised the plan to hand over all prisoners and prison in Afghanistan to the Afghan authorities, he would not sign the security pact with the US.

Source: Pajhwok, December 3, 2012; Telegraph, December 3, 2012; Tolo News, December 3, 2012

Tops corruption index

According to a report published by Transparency International, Afghanistan is perceived to have one of the most corrupt public sectors in the world with as much as $8 billion having being embezzled over the past decade. Afghanistan topped the Corruption Perception Index along with North Korea and Somalia out of 176 countries surveyed.

The report claimed that one in seven Afghans has paid a bribe, while the recent scandal involving the Kabul Bank has strengthened this perception. The average bribe paid by each Afghan amounts to one-third the normal salary of a Government employee, or $150 month.

The report said that weak governance, impunity, fraud in elections, government-dominated justice sector, unnecessary detentions, extortion, and illegal killing with impunity all contribute to the increase of corruption.

In the region, India was ranked 94, Iran 133, Pakistan 139, and Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were equal at 170.

Source: Tolo News, December 5, 2012

NATO-Russia cooperation

NATO and Russia have committed to continue their cooperation in support of Afghanistan's lasting security during NATO's foreign ministers meeting at Brussels.

NATO and Russia agreed to expand their counter-narcotics cooperation with dedicated programmes for Afghan police women and training on the use of dogs in the fight against drugs. There was also an agreement on expanding support for the Afghan Air Force by providing training to technicians on more types of helicopters and developing the Afghan Air Force's medical evacuation capability.

Source: Pajhwok, December 4, 2012

Bangladesh
Jamaat violence

Around 200 people, including 55 policemen, were injured and nearly 150 activists of Jamaat-e-Islami arrested during a countrywide dawn-to-dusk hartal (street protest) called by the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami on Tuesday. The day long hartal was marked by sporadic incidents of vandalism, arson, detention, and chase and counter-chase between law enforcement officers and picketers. Jamaat supporters vandalised and torched several vehicles and attacked police.

The hartal was called demanding the release of its detained leaders on charges of war crimes, withdrawal of what they claimed to be 'false cases' against them and holding of the next general election under a non-partisan caretaker government.

It needs to be recalled that top Jamaat leaders including its Ameer Motinur Rahman Nizami have been languishing in the jail since 2010 on charges of war crimes committed during the Bangladesh's liberation war of 1971.

Source: The Independent, December 5, 2012

Fall from the corruption ladder

Bangladesh slipped down in the Corruption Perception Index 2012 of Berlin-based Transparency International (TI). In recent index, the country fell by 24 notches to 144th In the previous year, the country stood at 120th position. As per TI, Bangladesh has scored 26 on a scale of 0-100 and has been ranked 144th from the top. Last year, Bangladesh's score was 27.

Reasons for Bangladesh's fall in the index include the questionable role and stance of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) on some high-profile cases. The government's attempts to curtail the ACC's independence and effectiveness, large-scale withdrawal of criminal and corruption cases on the basis of political considerations, and weakening of institutional capacity to control corruption observed Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) executive director Dr Ifekharuzzaman. He further claimed that other reasons for the low rank in the corruption index include a weakening of Parliament by boycotts, conflict of interest, politicised administration and law enforcement, continued provision for conversion of black money into white, and weakened public procurement rules.

Among seven South Asian countries, Bangladesh's position is sixth from top and second from the bottom. The top position is of Bhutan (score 63, rank 33), while the lowest position is of Afghanistan (score 8, rank 174).

Source: The Independent, December 6, 2012

Return of JMB

Elite Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) this week arrested five top-level leaders of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) from capital Dhaka. The leaders of the banned militant outfit were preparing to hold a secret meeting, Rab officials said. Among the five one Shaik Rahamat Ullah alias Masum, 33, is a member of Majlish-e-Sura, the highest decision making body of the JMB.

Rab officials claimed that JMB men regrouped, targeting to kill BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Awami League leader Suranjit Sengupta and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni. Rab's Legal and Media Wing Director Captain M Sohail claimed that the leaders of the banned organisation have been getting together under the umbrella of some religion-based political parties. The Rab official further added that In collaboration with the likeminded parties, JBM is trying to destabilise law and order, aiming to foil the war crimes trial and save war criminals.

Source: The Daily Star, December 3, 2012

Japan okays metro rail funding

For the construction of country's first metro rail project in Dhaka Japan Japan has approved $2.1 billion in soft loan for the $2.7 billion project.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith revealed this after Japanese Ambassador in Dhaka Shiro Sadoshima handed over the approval letter to him. Construction of the metro rail will begin by June next year and expected to end in 2017.

Source: The Daily Star, December 3, 2012

'India Show' brightens investment prospects

The first-ever India Show themed 'Partnerships for Progress' held this week in Dhaka. Aim of the show was to display the best of India in the 21st century and bring the business communities of both countries together. The exhibition featured a series of seminars, business to business interactions, product displays and a public interface.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) organised the show with the assistance from the Indian government and in partnership with the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IBCCI).

More than 60 Indian companies representing textile and handicrafts, automobile and spare parts, readymade garments, consumer products, jewellery, healthcare, education, information technology, agro-business and food processing, renewable energy, light engineering are exhibiting their products and services in over 100 stalls and pavilions.

Source: The Daily Star, December 4, 2012

Bhutan
The 'cleanest nation' in the region

Bhutan continues to top among the SAARC member nations as being perceived the least corrupt, going by 2012 corruption perception index according to Transparency International. However, Maldives was the only SAARC member state not included in the index.

Among some 40 nations within the Asia-Pacific region, it stood fifth. New Zealand was top in the region and among the 176 nations that were included in the index.

Among the 176 nations across the world that were measured for perceived corruption in public sector, Bhutan ranked 33rd, an indication, Anti-Corruption Commission officials said was something to be reckoned with .It jumped five positions from 38th in 2011.In terms of score, the country secured 63 points out of 100, where on the scale from 0-100, 0 meant that a country was perceived as being highly corrupt and 100 was perceived very clean.

It ranked 38th in 2011 out of 183 nations worldwide, a drop by two positions of 36th in 2010 among 178 countries in 2010, although the scores for both years remained same at 5.7 out of 10 on a scale from 0-10.

Source: kuenselonline.com, December 6, 2012

Trade with Bangladesh, the Indian bottleneck

Orange export of Bangladesh through India has been stagnancy because of factors that are political in nature. Most of this trade is mainly through Assam or West Bengal foothills with many Indian stakeholders directly or indirectly involved at many tires beginning from skilled labour, ground handling agents, transporters to investors.

According to exporters, insurgency or unpredictable bandhs in Assam have always remained as a major hindrance. In addition, time consuming clearance of highly tightened security at Indo-Bhutan and Indo-Bangladesh borders are also another matter of concern.

In case of any major blockade in Assam traders use the West Bengal route. But unrest around Darjeeling's political crisis has major worry. In addition, tussles between tribal forces, Gorkha activists and rapid re-emergence of Kamtapuri activists and unrest in entire Dooars are other source of worry for traders.

Source: economictimes, indiatimes.com, November 30, 2012

Haryana to purchase 2000 MW power

The Indian State of Haryana has decided to purchase around 2,000 MW of hydel power from Bhutan.

The Government has finalised modalities regarding the purchase at the administrative level, according to Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The Chief Minister is expected to visit the nation from December 14 to 16.

Source: indianexpress.com, December 7, 2012

India
Joining hands to counter China

India, Indonesia and Australia will form the first "troika" to confer on the Indian Ocean, a first step towards a trilateral grouping in Asia. This new engagement is believed to be significant as all three countries seek to hedge against possible Chinese expansionism.

Peter Varghese, Australian High Commissioner and new Foreign Secretary, said Canberra would be taking charge of the Indian Ocean regional grouping next year, and an India-Australia-Indonesia trilateral would be one of the early deliverables. Talking to TOI on the eve of his departure, Varghese said, "We will have a troika with Indonesia, the incoming vice-chair. This will be a good window to do things, to push practical agenda for IOR-ARC."

Source: The Times of India, November 30, 2012

GDP growth at 5.3 per cent

India's economy extended its long slump in the last quarter, with lower-than-expected growth keeping it on track for its worst year in a decade and underscoring the urgency of politically difficult reforms to spur a revival.

The economy grew 5.3 per cent from a year earlier in the July-September period, provisional gross domestic product (GDP) data showed on Friday, below the 5.5 per cent posted for the three months ending in June."It is essential that the reform agenda is carried forward with vigour and that the recently announced measures are implemented," leading business chamber FICCI said.

Source: www.reuters.com, November 30, 2012

Push to cut emissions

At the United Nations climate change talks in Doha, India is taking an active role in asking developed nations to commit to ambitious carbon dioxide emission cuts and pledge money to combat the global challenge.

Delegates from 194 countries are attending a two-week-long annual conference on climate change here, which concluded on December 7.

Source: www.india.blogs.nytimes.com, November 30, 2012

Poll cooperation signed with Libya

India and Libya on Saturday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for cooperation in the field of election management and administration, with Libya Election Commission seeking training and electoral assistance from Election Commission of India.

The major aims of the MoU are promotion of exchange of knowledge and experience in electoral process; exchange of information, materials, expertise and training of personnel; production and distribution of materials pertaining to electoral systems, voting technology, voters' education and awareness, and participation of women and minorities in the electoral process, a press release said.

Source: www.bernama.com, December 1, 2012

Anti-piracy programme with Russian Navy

A Russian Naval Military vessel, Marshall Shaposhnikov (BPK 543), a large Udaloy Class submarine destroyer, arrived at Mumbai Port to carry out joint program with the Indian Navy to share ideas, upgrade and to get special training for both the navies on how to fight anti-piracy operations in the sea. To mark this joint programme, Kadakin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to India, briefed the media on board on Thursday.

Officials said that the squadron comprises of Marshal Shaposhnikov along with Sea Tug Alantu and oil tanker Ircut is in Mumbai from November 28 to December 2. The vessels sailed out of the Pacific Fleet naval base in Vladivostok on November 2. While en-route to the Gulf of Aden the vessels will hold an exercise with the Indian Navy and call at its port of Mumbai.

Source: The Times of India, November 30, 2012

Competitive manufacturing economy

India is likely to emerge as the second most competitive economy in the world after China in terms of manufacturing competitiveness in the next five years, a report has said. As per the 2013 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index compiled by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and the US Council on Competitiveness, five years from now, emerging economy nations would surge to occupy the top three spots.

China would retain the top spot, while, India and Brazil moving up to claim second and third rankings respectively, the report said. "India is rated this high mainly because of its huge talent pool, its strong domestic demand and and the incredible geographic position," Deloitte Global leader Manufacturing Timothy P Hanley commented on the finding of the study.

Source: Hindustan Times, December 3, 2012

Factory index accelerates

India's manufacturing sector beat the expectations of economists to grow at its fastest pace in five months in November, boosted by strong export orders and a surge in output, a business survey showed on Monday.The HSBC manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI), which gauges the business activity of India's factories but not its utilities, rose to 53.7 in November from 52.9 in October.

Readings above 50 denote growth, and economists had forecast a rise to 53.1 in November.

Source: www.reuters.com, December 3, 2012

Navy ready to sail into South China Sea

The Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral D K Joshi, upped the ante over India's presence in the South China Sea, saying the Navy is ready to sail into the disputed waters if the country's economic interests are affected in that area.

This comes in the backdrop of National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon's visit to Beijing to get acquainted with the new leadership. India has three oil blocks off the coast of Vietnam and one of them has started oil production.

Source: The Tribune, December 4, 2012

China opposes 'unilateral' exploration

China has said that it "opposes any unilateral energy exploration" in the South China Sea, in response to Monday's statement by Navy Chief Admiral D K Joshi that the Indian Navy was prepared to protect its interests and deploy its forces in the contested waters.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said China "hopes relevant countries respect China's sovereignty and national interests," when asked at a regular press briefing about Admiral Joshi's comments.

Source: The Hindu, December 6, 2012

Mulayam, Maya stay away, save UPA's day

The Lok Sabha on Wednesday rejected the BJP-sponsored motion that sought withdrawal of the UPA decision to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.

The Congress-led UPA won the numbers as the motion, moved by the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj, got 218 in favour and 253 against it. The arch rivals, the SP and BSP, walked out with a combined strength of 43.

"The FDI policy that we have put in place has the approval of this house," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Source: The Hindustan Times, December 6, 2012

Maldives
Airport handed over to MACL

The Maldivian Government formally handed over the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) at capital Male, after the authorised Appeals Court in Singapore upheld the power of the former to take back the airport, leased to Indian infrastructure major, GMR Group, for 25 years. The Singapore court also dismissed a petition by India's Axis Bank, which sought a direction to the Maldivian Government not to exit GMR as it was committed to 'sovereign guarantee' for the $ 350 m advanced for the project.

President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik reiterated that it was a commercial transaction (gone sour) and should not interfere with the traditional good relations with India, which was however peeved at the turn of events. He promised the safety and security of Indians working in Maldives, including those employed by GMR, after New Delhi repeatedly expressed concern in the matter.

Source: SunOnline, December 7, 2012

Majlis moved for $ 96-m loan

Parliament has begun debate on the MVR 16.9 billion (US$1 billion) State budget for 2013 submitted by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad last week.

At the beginning of Tuesday's sitting, Speaker Abdulla Shahid read out a letter from President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik requesting parliamentary approval for loans and Government guarantees in the coming year. Parliamentary approval for loans is required under amendments brought to the Public Finance Act in 2010.

Speaker Shahid announced that the President's request was sent to Parliament's Finance Committee for consideration and review. Minivan News understands President Waheed requested parliamentary approval for loans amounting to over $ 96 million.

Presenting the budget to parliament last week, Finance Minister Jihad explained that next year's budget deficit was to be financed with MVR 971 million ($ 62 million) as budget support and MVR 1.3 billion ($ 84 million) from Treasury bill (T-bill) sales.

Source: Minivan News, December 5, 2012

Myanmar
Fifth most corrupt nation in the world

Despite recent reforms, Myanmar has been listed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world in a survey by Transparency International. The nation ranked 5th-worst country in terms of public sector corruption among 176 nations.

TI said reforms had not improved Myanmar ranking, as new anti-corruption measures remain tentative and their impact has yet to show up in its research. TI's Corruption Perception Index 2012 placed Burma at 172, just above Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia -all of which are either war-torn or deeply isolated countries.

Source: irrawaddy.org, December 6, 2012

UN calls for access to conflict regions

The UN's humanitarian chief has called on Myanmar to stop blocking aid to thousands of people displaced by conflict with northern ethnic rebels, raising concerns over welfare as winter draws in.

The United Nations has been prevented from reaching more than half of the 75,000 people forced from their homes by fighting between the army and minority Kachin insurgents, said Valerie Amos in a statement sent overnight after a visit to the area on Thursday.

"The UN has not been allowed access to provide badly needed assistance to some 39,000 people in areas outside the government's control since July 2012,"said the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. She said local partners were supplying food and other relief, "but their stocks are depleted and with the winter months approaching, getting more supplies in is critical".

Fierce fighting has raged in Myanmar's Kachin state since a 17-year ceasefire between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) shattered in June 2011.

Source: dawn.com, December 7, 2012

Nepal
Congress picks Koirala but parties still at odds

Two weeks after President Ram Baran Yadav called on parties to form a national unity government, the Nepali Congress (NC), on December 5, unanimously named party president Sushil Koirala as its prime ministerial candidate. Koirala, a bachelor, has not assumed any top public posts in his six-decade long career since the restoration of democracy in the country.

The NC is claiming leadership of the unity government to hold the second Constituent Assembly elections in a "free and fair" manner, stating that other parties had already agreed to from an election government under it. The party, which has been plagued by an intra-party rift since its 12th general convention, demonstrated its cohesiveness by selecting the candidate for PM unanimously.

The ruling United CPN (Maoist) and Madhesi parties have, however, urged NC to agree on the federal restructuring issue before taking over government leadership. The second deadline given by the President to form a national consensus government expired on December 7.

Source: ekantipur.com, December 6-7, 2012

Transit treaty with India

Nepal has urged India to renew the bilateral Transit Treaty by adding five new trade and transit routes so that the country could start use of routes considered important for giving impetus to trade with other countries, including Bangladesh.

Existing Nepal-India Transit Treaty is set to expire on January 5, 2013. The treaty has a provision of automatic renewal, however, either side needs to approach the other for renewal if it wants to add or remove certain provisions.

Under the change, which Nepali officials have has been negotiating with India for a year now, Nepal has sought India to add in the treaty new land routes between Vishakapatnam sea port and four major customs, rail route between Birgunj dry port and Vishakapatnam and also Rohanpur (Bangladesh)-Singhabad (India)-Jogbani (India) and Phulbari-Banglabanda in order to facilitate Nepal´s foreign trade.

India in February 2011 had given its nod to open those routes as well. However, the two sides have not yet finalised modalities for operationalising these routes.

Source: myrepublica.com, December 6, 2012

Manisha Koirala reaches out to well-wishers

Nepal-born Bollywood star Manish Koirala, who is undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in US, has requested all her well-wishers, friends and close ones not to worry about her health.

On December 6 she issued a statement, the first after she was diagnosed with cancer, on a social network site. She said that she was glad to be with her family and loving and caring people in postings on Facebook and Twitter.

Manisha was rushed to Norvic Hospital in Kathmandu on November 25 and was treated at the emergency ward after she complained of stomach pain. She was then rushed and admitted at Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai, on November 28 for further treatment.

Forty-two-year old Manisha was one of India's top actresses and comes from a prominent political family in Nepal.

Source: thehimalayantimes.com, December 6, 2012

Ex-Crown Prince Paras held in Thailand

Former Nepalese Crown Prince Paras Shah has been arrested for smashing property at a luxury apartment in Bangkok, police said on Thursday, just a week after news emerged that he had been bailed on drug charges.

Shah, who as Crown Prince was unpopular for his playboy lifestyle, is accused of destroying property at his rented apartment in central Bangkok in May, AFP quoted Bangkok police. "The incident occurred during an argument with his Thai girlfriend. The property's owner estimated that 900,000 baht ($ 30,000) of damage was done," local police superintendent said.

Shah, who denied the charges, has now been bailed.

Source: AFP, December 7, 2012

Pakistan
Zardari not to be part of PPP campaign

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari will neither head nor participate in the ruling-PPP campaign for the next general election scheduled for May 2013, Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Sha disclosed to the press on Wednesday. He is considered an intimate friend of the President.

Shah also commended Zardari for his role as the president of Pakistan, calling him "the greatest defender of democracy". The Pakistani Supreme Court ruled recently that future Presidents should not be associated with a political party and non-partisan.

While this might signify a retreat from politics for President Zardari, PPP leaders have indicated that his son, Bilawal Zardari, will play an important role in the upcoming PPP election campaign. Not eligible for political office until he turns 25 next September, BilawalZardari is expected to launch his political career from his family stronghold in Sindh on the day of his mother's death anniversary December 27.

In other election news, the Pakistani Supreme Court has ordered the Election Commission to carry out a door-to-door campaign to verify the electoral lists in the harbour metropolis of Karachi. It also ruled against vote transfer without the voters' individual consent. Citing the dire law and order situation in Karachi, the court has ordered the Pakistani Army and the Frontier Corps to aid the Election commission. The MQM, Karachi's ruling party, has grudgingly accepted the ruling but insists it should be applied nationwide. They also protested against the army and Frontier Corps involvement.

Source: The Express tribune, December 5, 2012, The Nation, December 6, 2012

SC stands by Balochistan ruling

The Supreme Court has upheld the ruling from October 12 this year that the Balochistan Government has lost its constitutional authority to govern the Province and whatever it is doing, "is doing it at its own risk and cost".

Saying that the provincial and federal Governments have failed in their responsibility to provide security for the people, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry told Balochistan Government counsel Shahid Hamid that "you do whatever you like but the judgment on Balochistan passed on October 12 is still intact, though it has been flouted... the history will not forgive you".

He added that Chief Minister Nawab Muhammad Aslam Raisani should take responsibility for the killings and disappearances in the province instead of blaming the police. The Supreme Court, however, is still refraining from flat-out ordering the provincial government to resign.

In the meantime, Chief Minister Raisani has failed to gather support for a non-trust motion against his political rival, Assembly speaker Bhootani. Accused by his colleagues of destabilizing the government, Bhootani has been refusing to hold assembly sessions because of the government's lack of legitimacy. JamiatUlema-e-Islam-Fazal, the coalition partner of the PPP, refused to back the motion.

While embattled CM Raisani still managed to win a vote of confidence from the assembly last month, his PPP membership has been suspended. A scheduled visit by Interior Minister Rehman Malik fell through on Monday, after the minister had failed to honour the formal invitation by the government.

Source: The Nation, December 6th, 2012; The Express Tribune, December 5, 2012

Mullah Nazir's deadline expires

Hundreds of Mehsud tribesmen have started evacuating their houses in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan Agency, as Mullah Nazir's deadline came to an end on Wednesday.

On December 1, Mullah Nazir, a pro-government Taliban commander in South Waziristan, in a jirga with AhmadzaiWazir tribal elders, ordered all Mehsud tribesmen - both militants and internally displaced persons (IDPs) - to evacuate AhmedzaiWazir areas, which include Wana, by December 5.

The announcement came in response to the November 29 suicide attack which targeted and wounded Nazir. Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is suspected as a likely instigator of the attack. Together with three other Taliban groups, Mullah Nazir's faction has been in an uneasy alliance with the TTP, called the 'Shura-e-Muraqba', since January 2012. However, the TTP had been threating Mullah Nazir with revenge since the murder of Hakimullah Mehsud associate and militancy pioneer Wali Muhammad Yargulkhel in July 2012.

Many Mehsuds tribals are held to be loyal to the TTP, even though living in AhmadzaiWazir territory. According to a senior political administration official, "More than 200 families have started to leave Wana? most Mehsud tribesmen in Shakai have left their houses", adding that there was no proper registration system in place and travel permit requirements had been eased.

He said most Mehsud families were expected to move to Tank and DI Khan districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and a significant number could opt for Balochistan'sZhob district. The mass exodus is meeting the authorities of adjacent provinces and districts largely unprepared. Still not clear is if the expulsion will also include the more established Mehsud members in the region, who have been active members of the business community as well as the political scene.

Source: The Express Tribune, December 6, 2012, The News, December 5, 2012

Contributors:

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