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SOUTH ASIA WEEKLY REPORT
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Vol. V Issue. 51
India: Countdown begins for next Lok Sabha polls
Dr. Satish Misra
21 December 2012

Analysis

A victory by almost retaining its 2007 tally of 117 seats in Gujarat and a defeat in Himachal Pradesh for the BJP has not only set the tone for the next Lok Sabha elections but has also created a new set of problems and challenges for the two national parties in particular and for the entire political class otherwise.

While in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has scored a personal hat- trick by successfully beating the anti-incumbency factor three times in a row and helping the BJP to keep its Congress rival at bay since 1995, a clear victory for the latter in Himachal under former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has helped the party in arresting the growing public perception at the national level that it stood almost no chance to retain power at the Centre after the 2014 General Elections.

Modi's returning to power despite stiff opposition from a section of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) and former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, who contested the election after leaving his parent BJP and floating his own Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), has reiterated once again the role of personality in Indian politics. In fact, the election battle was between Modi and the 'Rest' in which the former has won hands down.

In Gujarat, the BJP's tally of 117 of 2007 has come down by two and the Congress has improved its tally by two seats if one goes by the tally of 59 in 2007. Keshubhai's party has only been able to score two seats and others have bagged four. In terms of polling percentage, the BJP has lost by approximately one per cent in Gujarat and five per cent in Himachal.

Congress improves poll percentage

The Congress has improved its voting percentage in both the States. In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress gained 13 seats but the BJP lost 15 seats and came down to 26 from 41, thus conceding two seats to others which shows the degree of disillusionment of the electorate with the outgoing Prem Kumar Dhumal Government.

The results of the two Assembly elections also establish that roots of democracy are deepening as the percentage of polling has been going up and people are willing to participate in the democratic process. The percentage of voting has been going up thanks to efforts of the Election Commission and other civil society organisations.

Though it cannot be conclusively said today, it can still be easily surmised that the issue of corruption did not impact the outcome of the election in a big way. In Himachal, where the Congress has won by winning 36 out of 68 seats thus getting a clear majority, State Congress President Virbhadra Singh had been charged with alleged corruption by his rivals and had to resign as Minister in the Manmohan Singh Government at the Centre earlier this year after a judicial court framed charges.

The very fact that the Congress has won the election under his leadership and has improved its tally in Gujarat despite being perceived as corrupt in the background of scams clearly shows that corruption is not an issue with the electorate and is a city-based phenomenon where IT-savvy middle class youth is agitated over the issue.

Seeking people's pardon

Clamour for Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate and to make the next election as Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi is going to be louder and shriller with every passing day. The political discourse largely dictated by media and inspired by Modi well-wishers inside the BJP and outside in the coming weeks and months is going to be 'strong versus weak' in which the Gujarat Chief Minister would be projected as a tough and strong performer who has taken his State to new heights of development and prosperity and the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi would be shown as soft and weak.

Modi himself does not believe in humility and staked his claim within hours of his victory when he delivered his thanks-giving speech in Ahmedabad on Thursday -- in Hindi, not native Gujarati -- in which he sought 'pardon from the people for any mistakes', without of course mentioning the 2001 'Gujarat riots'. He also stressed that his win was for India's development and did not remain focused on Gujarat by talking of development in the State.

Modi's prime ministerial ambition has been long known. Modi fan clubs have been in existence for the last couple of years in different cities of the country. He can go to any extent to fulfil his ambition and he has never hidden this from anyone. Outside of Gujarat attempts have been made over the past months to project, if not promote, Modi as a possible prime ministerial candidate of the BJP. They were only waiting for the Gujarat polls to be over.

Not 'if' but 'when'?

The BJP, which is already suffering from dissensions and factionalism, is going to be confronted with the question whether to project Modi as the prime ministerial candidate or not and if yes then when. First, the BJP would have to decide if Nitin Gadkari has to be given a second term or not. There is already a debate on the issue within the BJP with the RSS backing Gadkari for a second term and Modi being opposed to it.

Though Modi has not gone on record to say he is opposed to giving Gadkari a second term but his acolyte and his lawyer friend Ram Jethmalani's opposition to the present BJP president is no great secret. In coming days, Modi would definitely try to strengthen his hold on the party machinery in New Delhi by bringing his own confidants to key positions. He may bargain for party positions by conceding a second term for Gadkari and thus reach an understanding with the Sangh.

After capturing the party, Modi would try to set the national agenda for the next Lok Sabha polls but he would have to cultivate the BJP's allies in the NDA where Bihar Chief Minister and leader of the Janata Dal (United) is opposed to him being projected as the prime ministerial candidate and Shiv Sena is also not very comfortable with him if full knowledge that Modi has been promoting Raj Thackeray and has been ignoring Uddhav Thackeray. In the person of Modi, parties like BJD and TDP too would also have problems.

Indirect strategy

It would not be easy for Modi to bulldoze his way in the BJP as there are other claimants for the prime ministerial chair which include, former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and others.

The BJP may adopt an indirect approach in which Modi is given a larger than life role in party affairs and is made responsible for the national campaign and does not anoint him as the NDA's prime ministerial candidate with a hope that the BJP improves its Lok Sabha tally considerably. In that case not only present NDA allies but many others may gravitate towards the party with Modi being served as a fait accompli.

The other scenario could be that the BJP-NDA does not contest the next election as an alliance and the BJP goes into election with Modi as its leader. If the party with the slogan of a strong and decisive government is able to create a national frenzy and succeeds in bagging a tally of around 180 seats in the general elections then many would join the power game.

If and when the BJP decides to project him as its prime ministerial candidate, then the communalism versus secularism debate is going to intensify. Regional parties and others would have to once again decide which side to stand with.

Regains initiative

On the other hand, the Congress, which had hit a low in 2012 in the backdrop of multiple scams, charges of corruption, policy paralysis and ineffective governance, seems to have regained some initiative as was reflected during the Winter session of Parliament which concluded on December 20. Not only, the Congress-led UPA government was able to transact business in the two houses by getting some crucial legislation passed but it appears to be gearing for regaining some of the political space it had lost to its rivals.

Though underlying message from Gujarat and Himachal is not very different from 2009 Lok Sabha polls or other subsequent State elections like in Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab earlier as it is very loud and clear but it would depend on how different political parties and their respective think tanks choose to understand and interpret it. People at large want development, yearn for good governance and security and wish for social peace and harmony. At the same time, there also exists a desire to eliminate corruption in the growing urban middle classes but the issue does not form the overriding priority of the voting citizenry. In this overarching framework, electorate of different regions and states has their own specific priorities and political preferences and this is going to be reflected in the electoral behaviour in coming months till the next general elections which is going to be held in early 2014.

The coming year is likely to witness fierce political battles with all parties from national to regional fighting hard to win each inch of the political space. In a no-holds barred war, political outfits would employ all kinds of strategies and weapons to win the confidence of the voter. Times ahead are interesting as well as worrying.

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

Maldives: Now is the time for all good men...

N Sathiya Moorthy
With only months away for presidential polls in the second half of 2013, to be followed by parliamentary elections in the first half of 2014, the current phase and perception of political instability has consequences for the infant Maldivian democracy, far beyond what may be accepted in private, unacknowledged otherwise. There is thus a need for all political parties to come together on the issues that have contributed to what is emerging as a national deadlock, identified by the India-facilitated 'Roadmap Talks' and debated by domestic stake-holders in a non-serious and insincere way, for them to be able to arrive at consensus solutions to those problems.

Today, India may have lost the initiative, particularly after the 'GMR controversy' had thawed relations between the two nations a bit, but that does not mean the problems do not exist or have not become even more complicated. The abrupt resignation of All-Party Talks moderator Ahmed Mujthaba, in sheer frustration, has only added to the Maldivian woes, since.

In the absence of someone who could remind the parties that they have committed to meeting again, and bring them together, again and again, what was re-designated as 'Leaders' Dialogue' involving decision-makers in major political parties also seems to have gone into a limbo, if not dead already. It is unclear if the Government is unwilling to identify a new moderator for the talks to revive, or those that it had approached had given up hope even before attempting to salvage the national situation.

Coalition from the start, but...

Unlike other Third World democracies in the neighbourhood and beyond, Maldives started off as a 'coalition polity', even before the political parties and their leaderships had learnt to work the same even in the midst of inherent deficiencies and consequent difficulties. With the result they have entrapped the nation in the democratic quagmire and continue to blame one another without wanting to acknowledge their own contributions to the current impasse.

It was to break this impasse, when first smelt and felt that the All-Party Talks were mooted. When parties refused to commit themselves to the process by sending junior and/or quarrelsome officials to the national discourse that a need was felt to raise the level of participation to decision-makers in individual parties who would not have the excuse of wanting to consult their respective leaderships - and use up the time-gap between two sessions to torpedo the process itself from within. Mujthaba's resignation has put paid to the efforts, but then he could not be blamed for the same, either.

No checks, no balance?

For a South Asian nation that took to multi-party system after all others - Bhutan too made the democratic transformation in November 2008, as Maldives - the atolls-nation may have telescoped inevitable processes of democracy. Nations like India and Sri Lanka may have taken decades to acknowledge emerging tendencies and address democratic concerns and tackle the issues and problems that have stared at the face of infant democracy almost from day one. Their demography and diversity too may have contributed to their proven resilience, which again Maldives has proved to a larger or lesser extent, already.

Maldives thus is in the midst of not only a political churning process, which commenced with the turn over to multi-party democracy but various institutions of democracy have also come under mutual strain since. Thus, almost from the start, the three arms of the State, namely, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary - with the extended fourth pillar in the Press - have pressured one another for supremacy and greater legitimacy.

While it is an untenable affair, yet other democracies too have faced similar problems, from time to time. If anything, neighbouring Sri Lanka just now, and distant Pakistan, another South Asian nation and SAARC member in its way - have witnessed problems between their respective Executive and Legislature tied down in knots with the Judiciary. But democracy has built certain resilience in these countries, which Maldives has to do as strong as the rest.

At present, the Legislature and the Judiciary are tied in a series of issues, whose numbers seem to be growing. The checks-and-balances system at work in matured democracies is yet to be tested in Maldives, they having been alien to the system though the moderation that otherwise is a bench-mark for democracy is not alien to the Maldivian society over generations and centuries. If anything, democracy seems to be straining that moderation, mostly out of domestic political compulsions, possibly un-associated with 'global trends' (?).

Yet, when Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain offered to speak with the People's Majlis, or Parliament, to discuss their mutual differences, Speaker Abdulla Shahid reportedly wrote to him, offering to meet with the seven-judge Bench along with the Majority and Minority Leaders of the House. That a divided polity outside Parliament was ready to bury the problems inside, to be able to sit together and also with the Judiciary has a message of its own. This offer and acceptance has to be taken forward to their logical conclusion, for the rest of the nation to learn from.

Three Wise Men...

The nation is now being driven by three Presidents, one incumbent and two, his predecessors. President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik represents the constitutional authority of the Maldivian State at present. His predecessors, President Mohammed Nasheed (MDP) and President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (PPM), control the levers of the nation's two top-most parties, both inside and outside the Majlis. Their relative clout and command is the representation of the parliamentary strength that they command in spite of the current vagaries of democratic politics.

Outside Parliament, the registered membership of the MDP and the PPM is indicative of the clout-and-control command of their respective leaderships. Other political parties like the DRP and the JP too have their parliamentary presence, substantiated further by the number of members registered with the Election Commission. There are other parties with no parliamentary representation but that should not deter the nation's leaders from going ahead on the golden path of consensus-building.

Together, the four political parties and President Waheed as the Executive authority of the State comprise the core of Maldivian politics and public administration. The issues flagged by the agenda for the aborted Roadmap Talks are real and needs to be addressed by the divided polity sooner than later, given the inherent weaknesses that they respectively may possibly encounter in the new Majlis as in the current one.

It is easy to argue, whatever the reason that the newly-elected President alone could take up the initiative for addressing the common concerns of the nation and arrive at a consensus, to be able to ensure a stable polity and an effective economy. In a fast-changing world, Maldives may not have the time, when it is ready. Nor would the world have time, as other events and developments in the rest of the world have repeatedly shown over the post-War decades.

Afraid of solutions?

The nation should grab the current opportunity, or challenge, and use the time between now and the presidential polls, to address the concerns outlined the Roadmap Talks agenda, and arrive at a national consensus on broad issues. Politics and elections could still happen on details derived from such consensus. In some nations, the consensus was allowed to evolve over time. Having telescoped the processes, Maldives does not have the luxury of time. It also has to telescope the solutions.

Nothing helps in the matter better than a formal Leaders' Dialogue, which they all had agreed to in the first place and shied away from it, nonetheless. Are they afraid of a solution rendering them less politically relevant than at present? Are they afraid that emergence of unanimity of views on issues and problems could render a few of the peripheral groups outside this charmed circle, or inside, less sustainable than already?

The answers are not far to seek, but have to be obtained - and enforced, too. It can start with the Leaders' Dialogue or with the consultations between the Judiciary and Parliament - or, better still, both. Conversely, other wise men of the nation who have confined themselves to the side-lines, either out of choice or otherwise, may have to come out, and be heard. They need to outline to the polity and society, as to what is wrong with them, and also guide them, if only on broad terms, as to where to go from here, if Maldives were not to slip into the throes of democratic dilemma, further on and further still.

Trickle-down democracy and 'identity politics'

Multi-party democracy is all about the 'trickle-down' reach and effect of socio-political benefits that participatory, 'identity politics' can offer a nation and its population, apart from socialising the power-structure away from inherited and hereditary rule of whatever kind. The West, where democracy has its roots, learnt to 'manage' nature of 'identity politics' early on, by glossing over inherent differences through a broad-spectrum bi-polar approach.

Third World democracies, particularly the South Asian nations, did not either attempt it, or could not 'manage' it, with the result, identity politics has still remained either a unifying force (India) or a divisive cause (creation of 'Bangladesh' and the ethnic war in Sri Lanka). Yet, they took time evolving with the result, democracy, democratic processes and institutions had taken deep-roots in those countries before divisive forces and fissiparous tendencies showed up.

With no 'isms' to cite thus far, the moderate Islamic identity of Maldives is now becoming the emerging centre of future 'identity politics'. It is inevitable that water would find its level in the matter even if none had attempted it. Yet, when it comes, it has often been unannounced and unnoticed, thus. It has often caught nations napping, immersed as they otherwise are in institutions-building and in evolving and executing a development strategy for the country as a whole.

It may take time for Maldives to reach that stage, yet the urban-rural divide that has impacted politics in other South Asian/Third World democracies would have its run in Maldives through the inability/refusal of the 'trickle-down' effect flowing from the national capital of Male, and to a lesser extent less than a handful of urbanised islands in relative terms, to the 'islands' that are rural, traditional and under-developed.

It cannot be, 'guided democracy' of the 'managed' western type. Yet, it should not be of the divisive nature, which has failed a few democracies across the world and brought a bad name to 'democracy' as well. Instead, it should be of the kind where the trickle-down effect of democracy should benefit not just a few, or leave out a few, but benefit them all.

It cannot be otherwise in a nation of 350,000 or less - most of them youthful and literate but with little or no chance for higher education and equitable employment. It is thus the time for the wise men of Maldives to act - and act with wisely, too! Having chosen the democratic path for their nation and the people, they just cannot fail them, after all.

(The writer is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Country Reports

Maldives
Yameen blames National Movement

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Parliamentary Group Leader Abdulla Yameen has said that any damage to relations between India and the Maldives is the result of the actions of the National Movement. During an interview with private broadcaster DhiTV on Tuesday (December 18), Yameen claimed that the Male airport contract was not withdrawn from India-based GMR Group owing to the pressure of National Movement, but by all the parties in the Government.

Yameen was also quoted as claiming that the ongoing protests and rallies being held by the National Movement were unnecessary. He added that the Maldives might have to face difficulties due to the recent activities of the National Movement. Earlier this week, National Movement steering committee member and Minister of State for Finance Abbas Adil Riza said efforts would be taken to "break up"Parliament should its dispute with the Supreme Court continue.

Source: SunOnline, December 19, 2012

Row over GMR loan-guarantee

Attorney-General (AG) Azima Shukoor has claimed that a loan guarantee provided by the erstwhile Government of then President Mohammed Nasheed to Indian infrastructure group GMR would have allowed the company to obtain finance without any upper limit in the name of developing the Male airport. Such a loan agreement contravened contravened the country's financial regulations unless approved by Parliament at the time, she told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the People's Majlis

However, her claims have been dismissed by former Attorney General Ahmed Ali Sawad, who said that the agreement was signed within State laws. Responding to Shukoor's statement that he had cleared the agreement draft, Sawad said, "She (Shukoor) needs to figure out if it was a guarantee or not a guarantee, because in the meeting she said that it 'was a guarantee' and then said that it was like a guarantee'. Regardless of whether or not it was a guarantee, the whole thing is irrelevant as she has stated the GMR contract is void ab initio (invalid from the outset),"Sawad claimed.

Source: Minivan News, December 20, 2012

Speaker meets Nasheed

Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Shahid has met with former President Mohamed Nasheed late night on Wednesday. Reporters of Sun Online saw Shahid leave Nasheed's residence M. Yaagoothuge at around 1:15 am. When contacted about this meeting, Shahid told Sun Online that he met with Nasheed because Nasheed had plans to go overseas the next day for medical treatment of his father. He said that Nasheed was a close friend of his since school years.

Shahid said that no discussions took place in relation to the Parliament or political parties. "The meeting had nothing to do with the parliament or my own party. We are close friends since school years,"Shahid said.

Source: SunOnline, December 20, 2012

No-trust vote notice to Home Minister

Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Shahid has sent the 14-day notice to Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed in relation to the no-confidence motion submitted to the parliament against him. This is the second time a no-confidence motion has been submitted to Parliament against Jameel.

The earlier motion, filed by MDP, was withdrawn by the party at the last minute. The motion was signed by 17 MPs and submitted by MDP last Monday. Notice in relation to no-confidence motion has also been sent to Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

In the meantime, Kulhudhuffushi-South MP Mohamed Nasheed said that Parliament will not violate the Supreme Court order and ask for a secret vote on the no-trust motions within the House. Even if Parliament members were unhappy about the court order, the Majlis will not act against a Supreme Court ruling or order, he told a Dhivehi TV channel.

Source: SunOnline, December 21, 2012

Nasheed barred from travelling overseas

Despite clearance from the Hulhumale' trial court where he is charged in the 'Judge Abdulla Mohammed arrest case', former President Mohammed Nasheed was barred from taking an overseas flight to Bangkok, where his father was undergoing medical treatment. Nasheed was stopped from flying at the airport after he had obtained court orders to the effect a day earlier.

The Immigration Department later claimed that it owed to a technical problem with their computers, as the court order, permitting Nasheed to travel to Bangkok between December 19 and January 6 could not be entered into the network, for the airport officials to clear.

An official of the Hulhumale Court said the order lifting Nasheed's travel ban had been sent to the Immigration Department. Official added that the court had always complied with the requests made by the former-President to leave the capital Male. Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali had earlier said Nasheed's passport had been withheld under a court order. Nasheed will be allowed to travel once the court gives permission, he had said.

Source: SunOnline, December 19-20, 2012

Myanmar
Military ties with US

The US is poised to take "nascent steps" to open up military ties with Myanmar as a way of bolstering political reforms undertaken by the former military-ruled State, a senior US defence official said.

The Pentagon said the cooperation would likely take the form of "non-lethal" training for Myanmar officers focusing on humanitarian assistance, military medicine and defence "reform".

"We're looking at nascent steps on the US-Burmese military-military relationship. We generally support the proposition that carefully calibrated, appropriately targeted and scoped military-to-military contact is effective in advancing overall reform efforts in Burma," the official said.

Source: channelnewsasia.com, December 20, 2012

Pipeline with Chinese Province

Construction of the Yunnan branch of the Myanmar-China gas pipeline and Yunnan Urban Gas Project has commenced in Anning City, Yunnan Province in China.

CNPC and the Yunnan Provincial Government signed a strategic co-operation framework agreement in 2010. Construction of the gas pipeline and urban gas project is a concrete step forward taken by the two sides.

With CNPC as the constructor and major investor, the project has a total investment of approximately $ 738 million, and is designed to include 21 branch lines totalling 1,700 km and 13 urban gas projects, covering 15 prefectures and cities.

Six of the branch lines will be put into operation together with the trunk of the Myanmar-China Gas Pipeline before June 2013. It is estimated that by 2020, the total deliverable of the pipe network in Yunnan will reach 7 bcm/a.

Source: pipelinesinternational.com, December 20, 2012

Nepal
Maoists' integration near-complete

The integration of former Maoist fighters into the Nepali Army (NA), one of the major components of the peace process, has reached nea-r completion with the decision of the Special Committee (for supervision, integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants) to form a separate directorate under the NA.

A meeting of the Special Committee (SC) on December 14 decided to form a three-member team under the SC Secretariat Coordinator Balananda Sharma to deal with a few remaining tasks, expected to be completed in two months.

After that the term of the Committee will automatically expire. The meeting thus decided to extend the SC's tenure by two months. The Sharma-led team will include representatives one each from the Maoist side and the NA.

The meeting decided to establish the 4,171-strong National Development and Disaster Management General Directorate under the leadership of a major general. The directorate will have 1,460 former Maoist fighters and 2,711 personnel from other security bodies.

The NA sent the 1,442 former Maoist fighters selected for integration to training on November 25. But many of them have filed applications seeking voluntary retirement citing reasons such as health problems and household matters. Some have also applied for retirement package saying they are confused about the posts they are going to get in the army.

Source: The Himalayan Times, December 15, 2012

70 MW to be imported from India

Nepal will be importing 70 MW of electricity from India this year in a bid to reduce load-shedding hours. The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) will formally write to the Indian Government with the request for import. A meeting of NEA decided to this effect as per agreements reached earlier.

According to Managing Director of NEA, Rameshwor Yadav, a team of NEA had reached agreements with Bihar Electricity Board and Power Trading Corporation to import electricity last week. As per the agreements, NEA will pay Rs 8.15 per unit.

The demand for electricity increases in Nepal by an average of 80 MW annually. NEA authorities say that with this import of electricity from India, load-shedding hours can be restricted to 18 hours per day.

Source: The Himalayan Times, December 17, 2012

Poultry-import causes bird-flu concern

The Government has initiated action against four senior quarantine officials who were found deliberately allowing containers carrying illegally imported chicken from India for international food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken to enter the country.

Two containers of frozen and ready-to-eat chicken imported by Devyani International, operator of KFC for Nepal and Mango Tree International were taken control by local poultry farmers in Dharke of Dhading on December 14 and 15. Those officials facing the action are chief and deputy chief of Birgunj Quarantine, chief of Aanptari Internal Quarantine Office and senior official of Central Animal Quarantine.

In a bid to minimise the risk of bird-flu, the Government imposed a ban on the import of poultry products since 2008 from several countries, including India, where outbreak of the avian influenza was reported. Cases of bird flu have been reported in Nepal more than two-dozen times since the imposition of the ban.

According to Khatiwada, the consignment included 10,866 kg of frozen and ready-to-eat chicken worth about Rs 4 million. The seized chicken products were found in rotten state producing foul smell. The products were dumped in the presence of local farmers. The Customs clearance papers for the consignment also confirm that the chicken originated at Venkey's poultry farm in Pune, India.

Source: myrepublica.com, December 17, 2012

Mob storms media office

In a blatant attack on freedom of expression and right to information, an unruly mob stormed the offices of Nepal Republic Media at JDA Complex, Sundhara, in Kathmandu and manhandled its cheif editor, journalists and office staff on December 20.

The hooligans, who shouted "Shiva Sena Jindabad", forcibly entered the offices of the media house, which publishes Republica and Nagarik dailies and Shukrabar weekly, and assaulted Kishor Nepal, editor-in-chief of Nagarik and Shukrabar. Though the Shiva Sena ´cadres´ claimed to be visiting the office to express their dissatisfaction over content in Shukrabar, they did not give any opportunity to the journalists to explain.

Police intervened to take control of the situation as the mob threatened to burn the office down.

Source: myrepublica.com, December 21, 2012

Pakistan
Nine health workers killed

The UN agencies involved in the Pakistani polio drive have pulled out their staff and the government has scaled down its country-wide coverage from four to two provinces after this week nine health workers associated with the polio vaccination drive were attacked and killed in Karachi and Peshawar.

The attacks in Karachi caught the program off-guard, as police protection only had been provided in areas deemed particularly sensitive. The perpetrators have not yet been determined, and even though the Pakistani Taliban have been issuing warnings to the mostly female polioworkers and accusing them of being 'infidels' and sterilising Muslim children, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesperson Ehtisullah Ehsan denied any involvement.

During the summer earlier this year, Hafeez Gul Bahadur, warlord and militant leader in North-Waziristan, had warned that acceptance of polio drives would be dependent on the immediate cessation of drone strikes in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon condemned the attacks, calling them "cruel, senseless and inexcusable". The Pakistan Ulema Council, an association of moderate clerics, have announced protests against the killings.

Source: The Nation, December 19, 2012, Reuters, December 20, 2012, News1130, December 21, 2012

Saudis invite Khar for 'urgent' talks

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is expected to pay a visit to Saudi-Arabia amidst mounting pressure to scrap Pakistan's plan to import natural gas from Iran. Washington and Riyadh oppose emerging energy trade between the neighbours as Teheran aims to dismiss the notion that the heavy economic sanctions that have been imposed on the country are effectively leading to international isolation.

As President Asif Ali Zardari has so far withstood demands to halt the pipeline project, Saudi Arabia has issued an invitation to Foreign Minister Khar to visit the oil-rich Kingdom "at the earliest moment possible". Some sources hint at a possible attempt by Saudi Arabia to provide alternative options to energy-strapped Pakistan's nascent cooperation with Iran.

However, talks about the on-going reconciliation process in Afghanistan are also supposed to factor in the visit. In the meantime, Iran and Pakistan are collaborating in the combat against illegal trade of narcotics. An agreement was reached during the sixth tripartite Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan joint meeting on drug trafficking, with Iran and Pakistan deciding to build a wall that would allow for tighter border controls.

Source: The Express Tribune, December 20, 2012, The Nation, December 20, 2012

Sweeping surveillance powers for Govt

The Pakistan National Assembly unanimously passed a Bill which will provide security and intelligence agencies with far-reaching powers to carry out a wide-range of activities such as surveillance and data-collection from, amongst others, mobile phones and e-mails.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf called the measures as targeted against 'enemies of humanity and terrorists' and not ordinary citizens, rebuffing concerns by civil society groups and the opposition. The Bill, which has yet to pass the Senate and be signed by the President, also includes an over-arching and uniform legal framework for collection of evidence which all law enforcement and intelligence agencies will be governed by. Thus, rule of law in the gathering of evidence is supposed to be established.

Source: The Nation, December 21, 2012

Sri Lanka
Notices issued on Speaker and PSC members

The Court of Appeal has observed that it has the jurisdiction to hear the writ petition filed by Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake challenging the findings of the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) and as such issued notices on the Speaker and PSC members, returnable on January 3, 2013.

The Court observed that the order to issue notice on the respondents, the Speaker and the Members of the Parliamentary Select Committee, was nothing but a legal obligation to afford the respondents an opportunity of being heard.

The Court added that the relevant authorities should advise themselves not to act in derogation of the rights of the petitioner, until the application was heard and concluded, since any decision disregarding the proceeding to alter the status quo, may lead to a chaotic situation.

The Court of Appeal said it was conscious of the fact of a ruling given by the Speaker on the notice issued by the Court, in relation to another application pending in the Court, on the Speaker of Parliament and on the Members of the Select Committee appointed by the Speaker, where the Honorable Speaker ruled, "I declare that the purported notice, issued to me and to the Members of the PSC are a nullity and entail no legal consequences. I wish to make it clear that this ruling of mine as Speaker of Parliament will apply to any similar purported notice, order or determination in respect of the proceedings of the Committee, which will continue safely and exclusively under the authority of Parliament."

Responding to the court order, Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody yesterday said that the Speaker, the members of the Parliamentary Select Committee that probed the charges mentioned in the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and the Secretary General of Parliament would not comply with the Court of Appeal notices issued to them.

Weerakkody said that Speaker Anura Bandaranaike, in his historic ruling delivered in Parliament on June 20, 2001, said that the Legislature and the judiciary must not intervene in each other's territory. In accordance with this precedent the incumbent Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa on November 29, this year declared in Parliament that notices served on him and members of the PSC were a nullity and entailed no legal consequences. The ruling also applied to the Court of Appeal and therefore none of them would be present in the Court in response to the latest notices, he said.

The Opposition United National Party (UNP), reacting to the court order, said that everyone was bound to accept a Supreme Court ruling on the impeachment process if it were based on constitutional interpretations. UNP Vice-President Lakshman Kiriella told a news conference that the Supreme Court had the sole and executive province for the interpretation of the Constitution.

Source: Daily Mirror Online, December 19-21, 2012, The Island, December 20-21, 2012

Refugee lands with dead baby

A woman hugging her dead baby arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport at Colombo, along with a group of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees returning from India. The dead child was two months old and had been born prematurely in a refugee camp in India. The mother is a resident of Vavuniya.

A total 22 refugees, including 9 women 7 men and 6 children, were flown in on a Sri Lankan Airlines flight from Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu, India. The refugees are residents of Vavuniya, Batticaloa and Jaffna.

The mother was admitted to the Negombo Hospital for a medical check-up.

Source: Daily Mirror Online, December 20, 2012

LTTE cell busted in Tamil Nadu

LTTE cell busted in Tamil Nadu The anti-terrorist Q-Branch of the Tamil Nadu police in have busted a four-member gang of former LTTE cadres, who were plotting terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, using bombs. The police are on the lookout for three others in this case, involving the India-based men contacting their former compatriots in Sri Lanka and testing a crude bomb in an interior area in the south Indian State.

One of the three wanted men, as part of a plan to revive the organisation in Sri Lanka, is said to be in Madurai, trying to bring together sympathisers of the outfit that had been destroyed by the Sri Lankan army in 2009. The arrests were made possible by information provided by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA).

Source: The Times of India, Chennai, December 21, 2012

Astronauts in space with Chinese help

Sri Lanka will send its first astronaut to space within the next seven years with the help of the Chinese Government now that we have entered the space age with the launching of the SupremeSat-1 on November 27, Science and Technology Senior Minister Tissa Vitharana has said.

He said a private Sri Lankan company SupremeSat has entered into a partnership agreement with China Great wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) for the design, manufacture and launching of telecommunication satellite SupremeSat and two other satellites by 2015. The second satellite is expected to be launched in April 2013.

"The total cost for the four-year project has been estimated at US$300 million funded completely by the private sector. There has been no government involvement. The Chinese government has agreed to establish an aeronautic and space administration center at Pallekele in Sri Lanka to administer, monitor and control satellites and to receive and distribute satellite communication. It also expects to train astronauts at Pallekele. As such Sri Lanka can hope to send a Pallekele Space Centre-trained astronaut to space at some future date,"the minister said.

Commenting on the country's satellite communication programme with CGWIC, the minister said Sri Lanka must not rely on commercial satellites launched by other countries because the SupremeSat -1 with the Lion Flag on its shell had undertaken to lease a part of its payload for commercial purposes to the Supreme Group of Companies headed by R.M. Nilan Maligaspe.

The SupremeSat-1 will provide Satellite Broadcasting, Digital Multimedia Systems, Data Transmission to East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Australia and the Pacific Region, the Minister said.

"The SupremeSat - 1 is a Geo Stationary Satellite (GSS) which will be positioned in an orbit of about 26,000 kilometers above Sri Lanka. This will help Sri Lanka to use it for telecommunication purposes with more clear and quality TV, radio and telecommunication transmissions with costs. Sri Lanka can use the SupremeSat-1 to provide facilities to other countries and earn much-needed foreign exchange,"the Minister said.

The satellite was launched on November 27 from the Xichang Sattelite Launch Centre.

Source: Daily Mirror Online, December 21, 2012

Afghanistan
Britain to pull out half its troops by 2013

British Prime Minister David Cameron flew into Afghanistan on Thursday for a Christmas visit to troops serving there, days after announcing that thousands of them would head home in 2013.

Britain will withdraw nearly half its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, the government said on Wednesday, as part of a security handover to Afghan forces more than a decade after the USled invasion.

Nearly all of Britain's 9,000 soldiers are due to pull out when the NATO mission finishes in late 2014. Like the US, Britain will leave behind an undisclosed number of soldiers after 2014 to help local forces face threats from the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies.

"Because of the success of our forces and the Afghan National Security Forces ... we'll be able to see troops come home in two relatively even steps - 2013 and 2014," Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament. He had discussed the plan with U.S. President Barack Obama by phone on Tuesday.

Britain, which has the second biggest foreign force in Afghanistan after the United States, says it has helped to stabilize the country and prevent militants from finding a safe haven. Critics, however, state that Afghanistan continues to be unstable and an overblown defense budget is questionable during times of economic crisis.

Source: Reuters, December 21, 2012

Reconciliation talks in France

Representatives of Afghanistan's warring factions met on December 20 for two days of landmark talks that diplomats hope will boost a fledgling peace process in the war-torn country. The organisers, the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), confirmed the closed-door talks had got underway at an undisclosed location near Paris but would not give away the agenda or other details for fear of compromising a potentially significant confidence-building exercise

Until now, the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government, which it regards as a pawn of the United States, and initial discussions with American officials were suspended in March. But the presence of senior Taliban figures such as Shahabuddin Dilawar and Naeem Wardak has been seen as a sign that the Islamist group is considering going beyond tentative discussions.

Source: The Nation, December 21, 2012

Bangladesh
PM smells conspiracy to foil war crimes trial

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this week claimed that the incidents of violence on the minority Buddhists, fire in the garment factory near Dhaka and the efforts to project Bangladesh as a corrupt country are interlinked. She opined that these incidents are part of a bigger conspiracy to foil the on-going trial of war criminals.

The Prime Minister made such remarks at a function in Dhaka organised to commemorate the Victory Day. Prime Minister alleged that the defeated forces of the Liberation War and their international allies are also involved in the conspiracy. She said that such group has money and media at their disposal; sole motive of this group is to malign her party Awami League, to dislodge the party from power to protect war criminals. The Prime Minister expressed her determination to complete trial of war criminals.

In March 2010 Awami League Government set up the International War Crime Tribunal to try out criminals of 1971 War who perpetrated various crimes on the freedom fighters and their supporters. It also needs to be recalled that there had been riots between Buddhist and Muslim communities in south-eastern Bangladesh in September this year.

The country also witnessed an incident of fire in a garments factory that killed more than 100 people. The Government also been discredited for the World Bank's cancellation of funding to the Padma multi-purpose bridge project on charges of corruption.

Source: The Independent, December 18, 2012

UN accepts Hasina 'Peace model'

The UN General Assembly has unanimously upheld the peace-centric development model of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Her proposal was accepted by the 67th UN General Assembly as its 29th item on its agenda on December 16.

To Sheikh Hasina, peace is achievable with the removal of injustice. According to her these injustices include repression and absence of rule of law, inequality and economic disparity, deprivation and poverty, suppression of self-determination, denial of secularism and multi-ethnicity, negligence of equal rights for women and the marginalised, as well as the lack of transparency and accountability of governments.

Earlier in October 23 2011, a top-level UN meeting at the 66th General Assembly session unanimously accepted the Prime Minister's proposal as a resolution. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would present the resolution in next year's 51st assembly of 'Commission for Social Development'.

Source: The Independent, December 19, 2012

Severe gas shortage likely from next year

Bangladesh is expected to face a severe shortage of gas from next year as Petrobangla, the state-owned gas production company, it will not be able to add adequate supplies to the gas pipeline. This disclosure was made by the planning division of Petrobangla as it revealed that it had planned to add 250 to 300 mmcf gas to the national grid from international oil companies (IOCs) and 420 mmcf from own sources.

However, this has not happened. Under these circumstances, the planning wing of the power division has asked the Power Development Board (PDB) to be more conservative in installation of any new gas-fired power plant till 2015-16, as it fears that the country might face difficulties in supplying gas supplies to different sectors.

According to Petrobangla, at present it faces a shortfall of around 470 mmcf of gas. Petrobangla is currently producing 2,249 mmcfd of gas. According to a forecast by Petrobangla, the country may face a shortage of 346 mmcfd gas in 2013, 278 mmcfd in 2014, 299 mmcfd in 2015 and 289 mmcfd in 2016.

Source: The Independent, December 17, 2012

Bhutan
Impressed by Gujarat polls

A delegation from Bhutan, which visited the state of Gujarat to study the election process, is impressed with the peaceful conduct of assembly polls in the state and hopes to take home some electoral lessons.

Bhutan Deputy Governor Chewang Jurmi said, "We have witnessed quiet and peaceful elections here. The entire process is very well coordinated and is going on smoothly."

Wishing to replicate the good electoral practices during polls in the Himalayan Kingdom, Jurmi said priority given to senior citizens and women for voting is a good move which can result in voter turnout increase. The door-to-door distribution of voter-slips to electors is another electoral practice that has caught the attention of the 10-member delegation.

While, in Bhutan, voters are frisked before they enter the polling station, there is no frisking of electors in India. It is another voter-friendly process that the delegation from Himalayan Kingdom is interested in implementing in their country.

Source: daily.bhaskar.com, December 17, 2012

Japanese envoy presents credentials

The Ambassador of Japan to Bhutan, Takeshi Yagi, presented his credentials to His Majesty the King. Ambassador Yagi also called on the Prime Minister, Jigmi Y. Thinley. He reiterated the desire of his government to promote the existing bonds of friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and Japan.

Takeshi Yagi was the Director-General of the Economic Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan prior to his current assignment.

Formal diplomatic relations between Bhutan and Japan was established in March 1986.

Source: bbs.bt, December 20, 2012

India
Free trade in services with ASEAN

Even as China continued with its aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, India and the 10 ASEAN nations on Thursday resolved to strengthen bilateral cooperation to ensure maritime security and freedom of navigation in the disputed sea in accordance with the international law.

India and ASEAN agreed to elevate their relations to a strategic partnership. Vietnam sought New Delhi's "support"in the "full implementation"of the code of conduct in South China Sea.

"I hope India supports ASEAN in the full implementation of the declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea and the six point principle on South China Sea in order to settle disputes peacefully as per international law,"Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said at the Indo-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in New Delhi.

India and ASEAN also announced that they had finalised a free trade agreement (FTA) in services and investment after prolonged negotiations and elevated their relationship to a strategic level.

Source: The Tribune, The Indian Express, December 21, 2012

Malik's visit backfires

India refused to issue a joint statement with Pakistan at the end of Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik's three-day visit, in a public protest against his provocations which set the peace process backwards, negating the very objective of the meeting.

Though a joint Press conference by Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and his Pakistani counterpart was ruled out at the very outset on account of Parliament being in session, the two sides had agreed to issue a joint statement.

Source: The Times of India, December 17, 202

Hafiz Saeed against MFN status for India

The Defa-e-Pakistan Council formed by Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and 26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind, Hafiz Saeed on Sunday launched a 'movement' to oppose the move to grant Most Favoured Nation-status to India. "On the pattern of a campaign against the reopening of NATO supply routes, today we announce the launching of a movement against giving India the status of Most Favoured Nation," Saeed said addressing thousands of people who joined a "peace march" to the Wagah land border with India.

Besides opposing the move to give India MFN-status, the event marked the fall of Dhaka in the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh. During his address, gathered members shouted slogans in support of jihad.

Source: www.ibnlive.com, December 17, 2012

Maritime pact with Sri Lanka, Maldives

India, Sri Lanka and Maldives will soon sign a trilateral agreement on maritime cooperation to pool resources and share data in the region for better control over the territorial waters, and detect suspicious movements.

Indicating this at the maritime security seminar, 'Galle Dialogue', here, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives have recently been working on a trilateral agreement for cooperation in carrying out surveillance, anti-piracy operations and in curbing illegal activities including maritime pollution. A key aspect of information sharing is Maritime Domain Awareness.

Source: The Hindu, December 16, 20122

Bid to keep Suu Kyi, junta happy

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid's maiden visit to Myanmar is proving to be a subtle balancing act that seeks to deliver a clear message to the ruling military regime that regardless of the glowing welcome to pro-democracy icon Aung Suu Kyi got in New Delhi last month, India will press ahead with engaging Naypyitaw's Government of the day.

Source: The Indian Express, December 15, 2012

Quota Bill passed by huge margin

Barring the Samajwadi Party, an overwhelming majority in the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill that provides for quotas for SCs and STs in government job promotions.

The Constitution Amendment Bill was approved by 194 members in the 245-strong House. Nine from the Samjwadi Party and an independent voted against the Bill.

Source: The Hindu, December 18, 2012

New banking law to allow more players

The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, paving the way for setting up new private banks and strengthening the regulatory role of the Reserve Bank of India.

The RBI has now been empowered to supersede bank boards to safeguard depositors and shareholders' interests, as the RBI will be able to investigate the books of the associate enterprises of a bank.

Source: Hindustan Times, December 19, 2012

RBI keeps rates unchanged

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Tuesday, kept the indicative policy rates and Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) unchanged, reiterating that it would ease the policy in the fourth (January-March) quarter.

"In view of inflation pressures ebbing, monetary policy has to increasingly shift focus and respond to the threats to growth from this point onwards,"the RBI reinforced in its third mid-quarter review of monetary policy.

Source: The Hindu, December 19, 2012

Cos Bill passed with mandate on CSR spending

Lok Sabha on Tuesday voted to replace India's 56-year-old omnibus Companies Act with the Companies Bill, 2011, that brings the management of the corporate sector in line with the global norms.

It introduces concepts like responsible self-regulation with adequate disclosure and accountability, ushers in enhanced shareholders' participation and provides for a single forum to approve mergers and acquisitions.

Source: The Indian Express, December 19, 2012

Boeing delivers P-81 Patrol aircraft

Boeing Co. Thursday said it has delivered the first of eight P-81 maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft to the Indian Navy in Seattle. The US defence contractor will hand over another two in 2013 and the remaining five by 2015.

India initially ordered eight P-81 aircraft in January 2009, becoming the first international customer for the P-81. It later ordered four more, which will be delivered after 2015

Source: www.online.wsj.com, December 20, 2012

Contributors:

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