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SOUTH ASIA WEEKLY REPORT
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Vol. VI Issue. 9
Myanmar: Ethnic tensions threaten progress
Medha Chaturvedi
01 March 2013

Analysis

Myanmar is on the cusp of a new era of reforms and development. With the civilian Government showing much interest in the forward looking economic alleviation agenda and Aung San Suu Kyi's appointment as the Leader of the Opposition, the international community has been significantly forthcoming in welcoming the country to the global economic fraternity. However, the ethnic strife in the country continues, posing a serious challenge to the process of national reconciliation and jeopardising the overall security environment, critical for attracting investments.

Peace agreements

President Thein Sein-led Union Government has managed to finalise ceasefire agreements and peace accords with most of the major ethnic militias, most of which are concentrated near the international borders of the country. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) with its headquarters in Laiza in Kachin State, four hours away from the Chinese border, is continuing fighting in major towns like Chipwe and Sawlaw closer to the Chinese border, against the Tatmadaw despite having lost its headquarters last week.

Its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), is now in talks with the Government, mediated by China in their territory in the border town of Ruili. As several rounds of talks have already progressed, the primary demand of the KIO, that of political autonomy under a federal structure remains unaddressed. This poses the question that even if the government is able to get a peace accord with the KIO, will it be sustainable in the long run when the basic issue remains unchanged?

The Kachins were one of the signatory to the original Panglong Agreement which the' Father of the Union', Gen Aung Saan had signed with 18 of the ethnic minorities in February 1947 in an attempt at the unification of the country. Unfortunately, the General was assassinated in 1948, before the agreement could be fully enacted and after the military takeover in 1962, led by Gen Ne Win, the country's fledgling attempts at federalism suffered a major setback. Myanmar hasn't recovered from that ever since. Subsequent military leaders, from Gen Saw Maung to the last military head of the state, Gen Than Shwe, have only further fortified the highly centrist unitary political structure in favour of the majority Bamar population.

In 2008, the new Constitution was drawn up which essentially did not bring much change in the existing structure of political administration in the country. In fact, Article 337 of the 2008 Constitution states, "All the armed forces in the union shall be under the command of the Defense Services," which puts all the armed forces, including the ethnic armies under the direct command of the Junta.

Regional repercussions

Most of the bigger ethnic militias that have signed peace accords with the Government, including the Shan State Army (SSA) North and South, have been intermittently exchanging fire with the military in frontier regions. This indicates that the government needs to do more than just signing temporary peace agreements which don't provide a permanent solution to the ethnic conflict.

Moreover, most ethnic armies' controlled areas are situated on the borders of the country which make it a problem which is no longer limited to Myanmar. The spill over effect in the form of stray artillery shells have found their way in Yunnan province on China and bordering areas of Thailand. In Thailand, due to mounting international pressure, a process has been initiated to regularise thousands of Myanmar refugees escaping the country due to the ethnic conflict now.

In fact, Chinese troops are reportedly training and arming, preparing themselves for a possible major conflict. China has also made border control stricter so that Kachin refugees (over 130,000 have already crossed into China) not cross the border anymore and bring with them the danger of fighting in Yunnan. China is also willingly mediating peace negotiations between the Myanmar government and the KIO.

There are also economic interests at stake to which this continuous conflict poses a serious threat. Most of the areas controlled by the ethnic armies have large reserves of natural resources. In Rakhine states where an ethnic conflict of a different nature is taking place. Scores of stateless Rohingya Muslim population is being subjugated by the local Buddhist community and the State authorities and the situation remains tense since last June. Rakhine state with its capital in Sittwe is on the shore of the Bay of Bengal and has the maximum number of off-shore gas blocks.

The Rohingya conflict has been creating problems for Bangladesh and other countries in terms of illegal immigration and an overall decline in the security situation of the region. With the Myanmar government opening up the economy in a calculated controlled protectionist manner, a poor security scenario in the country may discourage foreign investment, critical at this juncture. More importantly, with projects like the Shwe Gas pipeline which the Chinese are building, connecting Kyaukpyu to Kunming, will run through Kachin State and other infrastructure projects, major international interests are at stake.

For India, four States in the North-East border Myanmar, including some parts of conflict-ravaged Kachin State. Continuing ethnic conflict is posing a threat to the already delicate security situation in India's North-East. None of these countries would like a direct confrontation with the ethnic groups, but if the situation escalates to a point where their national interests are compromised, there may be international repercussions.

Myanmar's ethnic conflict is no longer a problem for just the country, but a regional concern now. It can prove to detrimental to the acceptable pace of reforms that the civilian government has undertaken and for which, has been lauded. Therefore, the government now must aim at reaching lasting solutions for peace in ethnic armies' controlled areas rather than transient ceasefire and peace agreements which in true sense, are use by these armies to rearm themselves.

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

Nepal: Is CJ the right choice for Prime Minister?

Akanshya Shahi

The proposal mooted by Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal to form a Chief-Justice led interim, election government in Nepal has once again landed in controversy with the Judiciary and major parties divided over the possibility of such an arrangement. In either case, it is doubtful if such a government is the right option to solve the political crisis faced by the country since last five years.

In 2008, Nepal started its transition from monarchy to a federal democratic republic. Five years later, the country is without a Constituent Assembly, is left with a caretaker government since May 2012, when the CA was dissolved, and does not have a Constitution. There is intra and inter-party rivalry, and all consensus that drove the People's Movement in 2006 has come to an end.

But the moot question is can there be a non-political solution to the on-going stalemate. Unfortunately, the answer is not in the positive as a political problem requires a political solution. Although there is little doubt that a fresh mandate is required to end the present deadlock, it is certain that only a political settlement can help resolve the contentious issues and take the democratic process in the right direction.

The idea of a CJ-led government has been severely criticised by the Nepal Bar Association, which argues that this is a process to jeopardise the independence of the Judiciary and is against the principle of separation of powers. The main Opposition, Nepali Congress, has sought CJ Khil Raj Regmi's resignation if he were to take up the top executive post. The NC's reaction is, however, more to do with its opposition to Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai than on the idea itself. But its second-rank leaders have warned of "severe consequences" if the proposal is supported without the internal party approval. The other party, CPN-UML, too is sharply divided over the proposal.

India's backing?

People of Nepal want stability and peace more than anything else although stability in Nepal is in the interest of India and China - the country's two immediate neighbours.

The general perception in Nepal is that such a proposal has received backing from New Delhi as the "last resort" to end the present crisis. But this alternative is hardly a viable one given the uncertainties over the polls planned for June 5. The CJ himself has openly commented that it might not be possible to hold elections by the stipulated time followed by similar statement by the Election Commission.

The CPN-Maoist (Baidya)faction too has been creating a lot of problems. Since the time it split from the United CPN (Maoist), it has consistently sought PM Bhattarai's resignation and opposed every move of the Government. It is now demanding a round table conference to settle the contentious issues. But this faction has been consistently sidelined in every dialogue.

At the heart of the crisis is the issue of state restructuring over which the CA was dissolved in May 28, 2012. The society at large is now polarised in Nepal over the federal issue. While the UCPN (Maoist) support the ethnic division of the state, the opposition is against such a move, which they feel will lead to disintegration of Nepal as it is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society. It is urgent to settle this issue, which can once again be the bone of contention.

Only a national consensus government including the top leaders can resolve the problem and consolidate the gains of Jana Andolan 2006. Needless to say, the onus must lie on the largest party to take the twin task of peace process and constitution writing to its logical conclusion. And India should be willing to support any democratic government in Nepal that can see the country through the transition.

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

Country Reports

Nepal

CJ ignores court, agrees to be PM

In a move fraught with deep constitutional and political ramifications, Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi agreed to become prime minister, only a day after the Supreme Court had ruled that the matter involved a question of separation of powers, and would be heard by a Full Bench on March 7.

Regmi responded "positively" after top leaders of four big parties met him. The registrar of the court then issued a statement "on behalf of the SC" saying the Chief Justice was "ready to head the election government". Assistant spokesperson of the court Hemanta Rawal said that the Chief Justice had taken a "positive view" not for personal ambition, but to help end the political and constitutional crisis.

But at least three sitting judges have described Regmi's decision as a "betrayal and compromise by the CJ for power". The Nepal Bar Association, on the other hand, has sought CJ's resignation if he were to take the top post.

Source: Indian Express, The Kathmandu Post, February 25, 2013

Paras' health deteriorates

Former King Gyanendra Shah and Queen Komal left for Bangkok, Thailand, on February 27 as the health condition of their son and former Crown Prince Paras Shah has reportedly deteriorated. Paras's two daughters -- Purnika and Kritika -- and his son, Hridayendra, too flew to the Thai Capital along with their grandparents.

Paras was admitted at Bangkok-based Samitivej Hospital after suffering a massive heart-attack on February 19. The hospital has said that no significant changes has been observed in Shah's medical condition and that he was still in a very critical state.

Paras, who as Crown Prince was unpopular for his play-boy life-style, has been staying in Bangkok for some time, though his wife Himani and other family members live in Nepal.

US aid for police training centre

In a sign of growing bilateral cooperation, the US has funded four buildings at a police training centre in Nepal, aiming to train "a new generation" of police force in country.

Inspector-General of Nepal Police Kuber Singh Rana and US Ambassador to Nepal Peter W Bodde jointly inaugurated four buildings at the training centre in Biratnagar recently.

The new buildings, a cafeteria, a block of classrooms, a women's barracks at the Nepal Police Regional Training Centre and the Rani border station, were all funded by the US government through its Department of Justice, according to a statement issued by the US Embassy in Kathmandu. The US Department of Justice spent around $750,000 on building and equipping the three Regional Training Centre buildings and the border station.

"The US has been a strong supporter of the Nepal Police and we've long recognised the professionalism and dedication of the Nepali men and women who serve in law enforcement," remarked Ambassador Bodde at the inaugural function. "Both my government and your government realise the importance of strengthening the capacity of the Nepal Police so they can continue the important work they do throughout the country, and in particular the Tarai region," Bodde said.

Source: PTI, February 22, 2013

CBSE school attacked

Some activists belonging to the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M) vandalised vehicles of the D A V Sushil Kedia School for following the Indian CBSE syllabus.

The activists attacked two school buses and a private car being used by school principal Bhuvaneshwari Rao, also an Indian citizen, in protest against the CBSE exams being conducted in Nepal "without addressing their grievances". The activists smashed windowpanes of the buses and pelted stones at Rao's car.

This is the second time since last month that the school, in Lalitpur district, has been attacked by activists of the CPN-M led by Mohan Baidya, the breakaway faction of ruling United CPN-Maoist.

The All-Nepal National Free Students Union (Revolutionary) and the Nepal Teachers Organisation, belonging to the CPN-M, have also been warning the school management not to run the school without addressing the grievances.

"The school syllabus shows India as the birth-place of Buddha instead of Nepal, and also says Mt Everest is located in India, which are factually incorrect and against Nepal's interest. We will not allow the school to give wrong information to the students," a leader of the teachers' association said.

Some Indian teachers serving in the school have also received threats from the activists.

Source: Indian Express, February 26, 2013

Pakistan

Power outrages

On 24 February, technical defaults in Pakistan's power grid caused a nationwide blackout impacting nearly 70 percent of the country. The 550 megawatt (MW) capacity Uch Power Plant reached maximum demand, but the National Power Control Centre failed to cut off energy supplies to 'unimportant' customers. The consequence was a chain reaction affecting five other power suppliers and causing blackouts in all major urban centres.

Pakistan produces roughly 7500 MW of electricity but requires around 13500 MW. Periodic blackouts in certain areas are necessary to keep the system from being overburdened. However, "Right now the country is not following any load management plan and therefore the National Power Control Centre (NPCC) had no exact idea how to ask distribution companies to reduce the stress on the system," said a Water and Power Ministry official.

While the Government was quick to lay blame on private sector power companies, like Hubco, many believe that it merely wanted to avoid cutting off power to customers (read: voters) in the run-up to elections. In response to the blackout, the government added 5000 MW to the national grid and had power restored to most areas by 11 am on February 25.

Source: The Express Tribune, 25 February, 2013, The Express Tribune, 26 February, 2013

Talks on caretaker PM

Pakistan's Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has written to the Leader of the Opposition National Assembly (NA) Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, inviting him for talks regarding the appointment of a 'caretaker' prime minister. The parties aim to name a nominee before the NA breaks up in mid-March. Such consultations are mandated under Article 224 of the Constitution.

In his letter, Prime Minister Ashraf asked Nisar to propose 'eminently qualified persons' for the caretaker slot. The two parties are required to reach a consensus appointment from four proposed names, two from each party. If no consensus is reached then responsibility redounds to a parliamentary committee. The caretaker administration "will have (a) mandate to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country within ninety days".

In other election news, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl have declared their intention to jointly contest the next election. JUI-F leader Fazlur Rahman and PML-N President Nawaz Sharif announced the alliance. This will mark the first time the two parties have contested elections in alliance, and it will likely make them a significant political force, especially in Khyber PK and Baluchistan.

Source: The Nation, 26 February, 2013, The Nation, 28 February, 2013

IP pipeline finalised

On 27 February in Teheran, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari met with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to discuss a range of issues. One important topic was the Iran-Pakistan (IP) Pipeline. Acknowledging US opposition to the project, Ayatollah Khamenei noted, "The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is an important example of Tehran-Islamabad cooperation, and despite hostilities towards the expansion of ties we must overcome this opposition decisively."

Due to US pressure aimed against the IP pipeline, Russian and Chinese firms backed out of building the Pakistani portion. Consequently, Pakistan announced that the contract was awarded to the (as of yet unsanctioned) Iranian firm Tadbir Energy. In order to avoid sanctions and begin construction quickly, "Tehran has agreed to provide a $500 million loan to partially finance construction of the pipeline on the Pakistan side, which will cost $1.5 billion. Pakistan will pay the remaining cost from its own resources."

The initial groundbreaking, now scheduled for 11 March, will occur at 'Gabd zero point' on the Pakistan-Iran border, where the Pakistan section of the pipeline begins. According to a Pakistan Embassy official in Tehran, both countries' Presidents will also sign "Agreements for opening two more border crossings (Gabd and Pasni) and setting up an oil refinery in Gwadar." Iran has completed its portion of the pipeline, and Pakistan's is slated for completion in fifteen months. The aim remains to start delivering gas via a completed IP Pipeline in late 2014.

Source: The Express Tribune, 28 February, 2013, The Nation, 01 March, 2013, Dawn Pakistan, 01 March, 2013

Sri Lanka

UNHRC chief criticised

Sri Lanka has accused UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay of behaving in an irresponsible manner with a secret agenda of disparaging Sri Lanka.

At its presentation at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Sessions in Geneva, Sri Lanka's Human Rights Envoy Minister Mahinda Samarasainghe claimed that Ms. Pillay under the guise of preparing the groundwork for a future visit had sent officials to Sri Lanka to gather information for her report released recently.

"Thus it now appears the team's agenda was purely to collect material for her present report and not to "help prepare the ground" for a visit by her," the minister said.

He detailed to the Council that the Sri Lankan Government had invited Ms. Pillay in April 2011 to visit Sri Lanka but in May last year she had stated that the visit to Sri Lanka would be undertaken after an advance visit by a team of officials from the OHCHR to explore possible areas for cooperation.

Source: Daily Mirror Online, March 2, 2013

No credible inquiry as yet: US

The US has said that Sri Lanka has not initiated a full, credible, or independent investigation into longstanding allegations of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, including sexual assault.

Speaking at the State Department daily press briefing, Patrick Ventrell, Acting Deputy Spokesperson said, "?to date, the Government of Sri Lanka has not initiated a full, credible, or independent investigation into longstanding allegations of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, including sexual assault. So we're reviewing this particular report, but you know where we've been in terms of human rights in Sri Lanka and our really deep concerns."

In response to a question about UN Human Rights Report and also Human Rights Watch on Sri Lanka, the spokesman said, "So we're reviewing this lengthy and extensive report. I understand we just got it a day or so ago. But we do note our strong concern about human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka."

Source: Daily Mirror Online, March 1, 2013

Motion rejected in German Parliament

A motion against Sri Lanka titled, 'Use the UN Human Rights Council and demand Observance of Laws, Human Rights and Reconciliation Process in Sri Lanka' has been defeated at the German Bundestag (German Parliament).

The motion had been put forward on Thursday by the opposition Social Democratic party (SPD) group in the Parliament and signed by its chairman Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former candidate for German Chancellor and former Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Parliamentarian Jürgen Klimke speaking for the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU) party group had argued that there is no need for the motion as the Federal Government was already actively working with the international community and the Sri Lankan government to address issues related to it. The motion had been defeated by the votes of the governing coalition in the German Bundestag.

Tom Koenigs, parliamentarian of Alliance 90 / the Greens and Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the German Parliament in his speech however had argued that it was the responsibility of the international community to prevent internal conflicts from developing into Human Rights violations. Tom Koenigs had further stated that Germany should be the first to contribute towards better protection from grave human rights violations.

Source: Asian Tribune, March 2, 2013

No presidential poll next year: Govt

The 2017 presidential election will not be brought forward to next year, the government said yesterday, amidst mounting speculation that President Mahinda Rajapaksa intended to go for the poll.

Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, responding to questions at the weekly Cabinet press briefing in Colombo, said that speculation of an early presidential poll was unfounded. "We intend holding two or three Provincial Council elections this year," he said adding that it was most likely to be in the Southern, North Western and Central provinces.

However, the UNP said that the Government announcement could be a ploy to put the Opposition off track. The party's media spokesperson Gayantha Karunathillake MP, said that by talking of only provincial polls, the Rajapaksa regime was obviously trying to deflate the joint Opposition campaign, which had gathered steam due to rampant corruption at the highest levels, rising crime-wave, failure to implement the rule of law, spiralling cost of living, unprecedented crime wave, failure to adhere to judicial rulings and stop frequent attacks on journalists.

Source: The Island, February 28, 2013

Afghanistan

US troops to be expelled from Wardak

Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered the expulsion of the US Special Forces from Maidan Wardal province after hearing reports about the torture and murder of Afghan citizens by these forces. They were given two weeks time to leave the province.

Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told reporters that the US Special Forces and Afghan armed men who are paid and led by the US Special Forces have become a parallel structure to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). This decision reportedly came after complaints from the Wardak provincial governor and tribal elders.

Karzia's decision was applauded by residents and officials of the province, who for months have been complaining of being harassed and tortured during unauthorised raids by the forces and their Afghan supporters.

For its part, the International Security Assistant Force (ISAF) acknowledged that it had received a lot of allegations against the Special Forces conducting themselves in an unprofessional manner, but stated that they were yet to receive any evidence to back such claims. It has agreed to investigate the issue.

Source: Pajhwok, February 25, 201, Tolo News, February 24-25, 2013

Anti-Iran protests in Herat

Around 600 local residents in Herat took to the streets to protest against the execution of 13 Afghans in Iran. The protests were also directed against the Afghan government for their failure to protect Afghan workers and refugees based in Iran. This is the second time in the past week that Iran is said to have executed Afghan citizens.

The protestors, who blocked the main highway between Herat and Islam Qala, demanded that the Iran Government hand over the dead bodies of the Afghans to their citizens. The Iran Government claimed that the Afghans were responsible for drug- trafficking.

Source: Khaama Press, February 28, 2013, Tolo News, February 24, 2013

Govt to fund 90 pc development

The Afghan Ministry of Finance announced that about 90 per cent of the government's development budget would be funded by Afghanistan's own internal revenue. The government expects to raise the additional money by increasing customs revenues and taxes.

But the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries urged the government to improve its tax collection to meet the ambitious revenue targets. Tax evasion is a major problem in Afghanistan.

Justa few days after this announcement, the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) also presented a four-year blueprint to attract investors into Afghanistan with a hope that plan will be funded by international donors.

AISA officials said that they have presented the blueprint to the donors, telling them that they need to fund these projects if they are to see the country stand on its own feet.

The plan includes the creation of industrial parks, awareness programmes for attracting investors, vocational training centers, a fund to support investors, and other methods of encouraging donors to invest in Afghanistan's private sector.

Source: Tolo News, February 25, 2013; Tolo News, February 28, 2013

Bangladesh

Capital punishment for Sayedee

In a historic judgment, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) on February 28 ordered death sentence to Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a high-profile Jamaat leader, for his crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War. The 73-year-old Nayeb-e-Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami, was found guilty in eight cases out of a total of 20 filed against him for his involvement in killing, torture, rape, looting, arson, and forced conversion of two Hindu women to Islam in his home district of Pirozpur during the 71War.

Immediately after the pronouncement of the verdict, activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student outfit Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) let loose a reign of terror throughout the country. Jamaat and ICS activists were involved in fierce clashes with members of law-enforcement agencies, leaving at least 38 people, including three policemen, dead and nearly 1,000 injured in different parts of the country on the day, also marked by a hartal, called by Jamaat.

In most of the cases, the clashes occurred when law-enforcement personnel tried to thwart Jamaat's militant protests against the verdict. The police said Jamaat and Shibir activists attacked them with sharp weapons. During the violence, Jamaat and Shibir activists set police vehicles ablaze and attacked the residences of Awami League leaders in many areas. Jamaat, in aPpress statement, however, claimed that 50 of their activists were killed in police firing.

Jamaat enforced its country-wide hartal on February 28. Though the hartal was initially peaceful, it turned violent after news of the verdict spread across the country. Some media reports claimed that Jamaat-Shibir fanatics wrecked havoc on the Hindu community across the country as the soon as news of the verdict spread. They damaged at least six temples, including one of Buddhists, and torched houses and business establishments of Hindu people in Noakhali, Gaibandha, Chittagong, Rangpur, Sylhet, Chapainawabganj.

Reacting to the ICT verdict, the ruling Awami League led 14-party alliance said that the people's expectations have been fulfilled. However, the main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) remained silent over the death sentence handed down by the ICT to Delwar Hossain Sayedee. It can be recalled that Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami is a key ally of BNP.

Source: The Independent, March 1, 2013; The Daily Star, March 1, 2013

Pak-based LeT is active

Dr Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, Home Minister, has said that Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is active in Bangladesh and law enforcement agencies tracked down their network and kept them under sharp security vigil. Minister said that the government has already brought the LeT operatives under security vigil ... with the cooperation of people. He further added that it is the moral and legal obligation of the Government to uproot them (Le T) totally.

The Minister's remark came as the country witnessed massive street violence during the past one month over the 1971 war crimes trial with Jamaat stalwarts being the prime accused for carrying out atrocities siding with Pakistani troops.

The Minister also said that masked terrorists carried out attacks on citizens and government officials in their bid to thwart the war crimes trial.

Source: The Independent, February 28, 2013

Navy to get two submarines

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said that her Government had moved to purchase two submarines and a Coast Guard cutter for Bangladesh Navy to modernise and strengthen the force.

She said that steps have been initiated to purchase two submarines from a friendly country. She, however, did not mention the name of the country friendly to Bangladesh and the timeframe for completing the purchase.

The Coast Guard cutter will be purchased from the US, she said.

Source: The Daily Star, February 28, 2013

Bhutan

Getting closer to China

As China prepares itself to establish important diplomatic ties with Bhutan, India may feel threatened. For decades, Bhutan has seen its foreign policy through an Indian prism. Therefore, this new found closeness to China is leading to some apprehensions and scepticism in New Delhi. This scepticism is indicative of the flaw of in the Indian diplomacy of the desire to maintain a status quo in an ever dynamic international political scenario.

India should take the coming China-Bhutan diplomatic closeness as both a challenge and a test to its diplomacy. It is not in India's interest to shy away from developing relations between the two countries.

It is almost a similar scenario to which China was confronted with just a few years ago when the George W. Bush administration batted for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group for an India-specific waiver and the Chinese were full of apprehension.

But Indian apprehensions are unfounded given that they accord highest priority to Bhutan in terms of aid for development projects. Moreover, India and Bhutan are engaged in building hydro-power projects worth 10,000 MW. Therefore, it is in everyone's best interests that the three countries coexist peacefully.

Source: Global Times, February 27, 2013

PDP names candidates

The main Opposition party, People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Bhutan introduced 25 of its candidates for 2013 elections while confirming that it has 40 candidates so far.

Just like the 2008 candidates the candidates for the upcoming election are highly qualified with a wide experience. The candidates belong to all kind of sectors such as civil service, corporate sector and the private sector. The entry of these well qualified candidates with strong professional backgrounds could pose a strong challenge for any party in the 2013.

Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay said that their candidates are mostly from Private and Government sectors. He said that the private sectors are facing some major issues in this present scenario and the selection of candidates will help in developing the private sector. The OL said their five years of experience had given them enough knowledge about the major issues that the private sector faces.

Source: The Bhutanese, March 1, 2013

Ericsson setting up 4G network

European telecom equipment-maker Ericsson said that it will deploy the 4G (LTE) network for Bhutan Telecom (BT) this year and pilot commercial services will be initially launched in the country's capital Thimphu.

As part of the 4G deployment, Ericsson will provide Bhutan Telecom with LTE equipment in the 1800 MHz spectrum band, including its RBS 6000 radio base station technology that supports operations of multiple networks, from 2G to 4G, through a single set of equipment.

Under the contract, Ericsson will also provide its Home Subscriber Server (HSS) functionality that contains subscription-related information and performs authentication and authorisation of the user. The contract includes provisioning of LTE software for various nodes, and services including network implementation, commissioning and integration.

Source: PTI, February 27, 2013

India

Budget aims at fiscal prudence

In a gamble that draws on fiscal prudence and political pragmatism in equal measure, Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday (February 28) sought to kick-start engines of growth by providing incentives for productive investment, stepping up expenditure in social sector to invigorate the economy in the longer term and giving a token tax break at the lowest slab rate to offset the inflationary burden on the middle class.

To provide for the various increased allocations, Mr Chidambaram moved to tap the well healed by way of a one year surcharge of 10 percent on the 'super rich' sections of taxpayers-all 42,800 of them- along with duties on imported or domestic luxury vehicles such as SUVs, mobile phones (priced over Rs 2000) and what has been the tax horse of most Finance Ministers-cigarettes. With other minor tinkering of duties including TDS (tax deducted at source) on sale of property worth Rs 50 lakh, the net additional tax revenue in the kitty works out to Rs 18,000 crore.

Source: The Hindu, March 1, 2013

Railways links rates to fuel-cost

Grappling with limited resources, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal chose to play safe in is maiden rail budget Tuesday, avoiding announcing over-ambitious projects and trains, and at the same time refraining from increasing basic passenger fares ahead of elections due next year.

Instead, in a major reform move, Mr Bansal for the first time linked passenger fares and freight rates to fluctuating prices of diesel and electricity.

Source: The Indian Express, February 27, 2013-02-27

Parliamentary panel to probe helicopter deal

The Government on Wednesday said that it will set up a joint parliamentary committee to probe allegations that officials were paid bribes by Italy's Finmeccanica SpA to help the group's helicopter division get a $744 million contract in 2010.

The 30-member committee will submit its report to the government within three months of being formed, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told the upper house of parliament.

Source: www.wsj.com, February 27, 2013

Canada keen to resume uranium supply

Canadian supplies of high-quality uranium to India are expected to begin once procedural formalities are completed, the country's envoy has said.

Canada is also keen to ship oil and gas to India while deepening its ties in the fields of space, education and food, said the country's High Commissioner to India Stewart Beck.

Source: The Times of India, February 23, 2013

Seven satellites launched

India has put into orbit seven satellites, including one built with France to study the world's oceans.

President Pranab Mukherjee watched the rocket carrying the seven satellites take off from Sriharikota launch centre in southern Andhra Pradesh state.

The six other satellites include two each from Canada and Austria and one each from Denmark and Britain.

India is emerging as a major player in the multi-billion dollar space market. It plans up to 10 missions this year. It has also announced plans for an unmanned voyage to Mars.

Source: www.bbc.co.uk, February 25, 2013

NCTC to inform States

To allay the apprehensions of some of the state governments, the Centre has decided to modify a few contentious provisions of the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). The new proposal NCTC is likely to be placed before the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Thursday for its approval.

The Centre is learnt to have agreed to inform the chief of state police organisation before conducting any anti-terror operation in that state, sources said.

Source: The Indian Express, February 27, 2013-02-27

Three N-E states vote for ruling parties

Three north-eastern states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya, which went to polls recently, have voted in favour of ruling coalition.

While the Left Front romped back to power in Tripura with a two-third majority, Meghalaya voters re-elected the Congress government and Naga reaffirmed its faith in the regional Naga People's Front.

Source: The Asian Age, March 1, 2013

Maldives

Fragile understanding: Nasheed

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has said that there was an understanding between New Delhi and the Maldivian Government that prompted him to leave the Indian mission in Male', but that this understanding is fragile.

In an interview with NDTV, Nasheed said, "I believe that there is some, although vague, contours of an understanding. The idea was that the Indian government has assurances from the Maldivian government that the elections would inclusive, free and fair and I would be able to undertake peaceful political activity. But unfortunately this understanding is very precarious, it's very fragile and there is not enough firmness in it."

Nasheed entered the Indian High Commission on 13 February following efforts by the police to arrest him under a court order, to produce him in court for the trial regarding the alleged unconstitutional arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdullah Mohamed.

He also told NDTV that the case against him is politically motivated, with the purpose of barring him from presidential polls in September.

Source: Sun Online, March 1, 2013

No deal with India: Govt

The Maldivian Government has reiterated categorically that no deal has been made to allow former president Mohamed Nasheed to end his refuge at the Indian High Commission in Male.

Media Secretary in the President's Office Masood Imad insisted that the Government had not given any assurances to any side to allow Nasheed to exit the chancery.

"The Maldives Government has not given any assurances to Nasheed or the Indian government. They say that we agreed to put off Nasheed's trial. But no such assurance was given by the government. If trials can be delayed, there are more poor and unfortunate people who would want to delay their trials. Cases with minor charges are ongoing. But this Government won't interfere or intervene in any trials," Masood stressed.

Source: Haveeru, March 2, 2013

Govt clears $ 100-m debt to India

The Maldives Government has cleared $100 million in debt owed to India, the Finance Ministry confirmed on Thursday. Following the refusal by State Bank of India (SBI) to extend the period of the $100-million in treasury bonds taken from the bank by the previous Government, Maldives had paid $50 million last December.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad said that Maldives had paid the balance $50 million to India last Monday. Similar to December the balance had also been paid from the State reserve, Minister added. "With the payment on Monday, we have now cleared the debt owed to India," Jihad said.

The period of the T-bills taken from SBI was extended in 2011. However, following the increasing tensions with the Indian government over the airport row with GMR Infrastructure Limited, India had turned down the request for an extension. The attempts by the Finance Ministry to secure the extension had been futile.

While the treasury bond debts to SBI has been cleared, Indian High Commission officials have stated that the $100 million granted to Nasheed's government as stand-by credit is still outstanding. Out of another $100 million agreed to be granted by India in 2011, $30 million dollars were conceded in the same year and another $20 million in February last year, the High Commission added.

The High Commission also stated that under an agreement made in January 2012, India sanctioned $40 million for the housing projects in Maldives and this amount, which was also granted as a financial loan, has been conceded.

According to the latest statistics of MMA, the State reserve had depleted to MVR 4.9 billion at the end of December 2012.Though the reserve was MVR 5.7 billion at the end of November 2012, the figure was MVR849.7 million less at the close of last year which is a slide of 14 per cent.

Source: Haveeru, February 28, 2013

More credit remains to be repaid to India

The $100 million repaid recently by the Maldives Government to India only relate to the rolling credit given through the purchase of treasury bonds and not the entire credit from India, Indian High Commission in Male has said.

An official of the High Commission revealed that during former president Mohamed Nasheed's Government stand-by credit of $100 million was granted by the Indian Government in 2008.

According to the official another USD100 million additional stand by credit was agreed by Indian Government in November 2011 during the visit of Indian Prime Minister for SAARC Summit. Out of that, $30 million dollars were disbursed in November 2011 and another $ 20 million was disbursed to the present government in February 2012, official said.

In addition, under an agreement made in January 2012, India had agreed to sanction USD40 million for the housing projects in Maldives where around one-fourth had been disbursed few months back as mobilisation advance.

Source: Haveeru, March 2, 2013

Myanmar

Peace talks with KIO in China

As part of a draft agreed in Ruili earlier this month, the Government's peacemaking committee leader Minister Aung Min offered to meet the KIO on February 28. But the KIO replied that it will not be ready to meet then as the central KIO is still engaged in discussions about the issues.

A KIO central committee member said that on February 22 and 23 at the KIO's headquarters in Laiza it collected the opinions of more than 100 representatives of Kachin people in preparation for the meeting with the Government's peacemaking committee. Several Kachin sources have suggested that foreign countries mediate the talks between the Myanmar Government and the KIO.

On February 4, the KIO and the Myanmar Government held talks in Ruili, China, where both sides agreed to reduce military tensions and hold political talks later in February.

Source: Mizzima News, February 26, 2013

Defence gets the most

Myanmar's Parliament has approved the $ 1.15 billion military budget. About $700 million will be spent on military hardware, accounting for over half of the controversial budget this year.

In a joint parliamentary session in Naypidaw, 445 parliamentarians voted in support of the proposed military budget, 60 voted for a reduction of the budget and 7 MPs abstained.

The budget approval will again make the military the largest recipient of public funds, granting it more than one-fifth of the total budget, only marginally lesser than last year. It is the first time however, that the Ministry of Defense has shared details of its annual military budget.

By comparison, this year's proposed national budget allocates just 4.4 percent of government funds to education and 3.9 percent to health care in the impoverished country, according to opposition MPs.

The documents show that it will spend about $633 million on military hardware, with about $200 million to be spent on aircraft, $93 million on ships, $30 million on military vehicles, $195 million on military accessories, $112 million on military industries and $1.1 million on weapons.

The remainder of the budget will go on construction projects, including the building of army bases, roads, military-owned businesses and maintaining military universities and schools.

Source: The Irrawaddy, March 1, 2013

Drug-lord executed in China

Myanmar drug kingpin Naw Kham and three of his associates were executed by Chinese authorities for their role in the murder of 13 sailors in Myanmar in 2011.

A court in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan in southwest China, said the four were killed by lethal injection. The accused were shown on live television before their execution, as they were taken, handcuffed, from their prison cells. The State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) ran a two-hour special live broadcast leading up to their execution, although it did not broadcast the act itself.

The brutal killing of the 13 Chinese sailors triggered anger and outrage in China. The government launched a man-hunt across three countries for Kham, even considering launching a drone strike on a Myanmar village at one point -it later shelved the plan in order to catch him alive.

Kham's trial and sentencing received widespread media attention in China, with the government using the case to underscore the measures it would take to defend the rights of Chinese citizens overseas.

Source: The Hindu, March 1, 2013

Contributors:

Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Daniel Rubin and Louis Ritzinger;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Dr.Satish Misra;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Medha Chaturvedi