Vol. V Issue. 22
Pakistan: The pipeline project, a benchmark issue
01 June 2012
The on-going electricity crisis in Pakistan and the country-wide protests that followed have laid bare the weaknesses in the country's energy policy. Indeed, much of the electricity in Pakistan is generated through the consumption of fuels and notably oil, which is imported at a high cost, which has also been shooting up through and through. Given the increasing electricity consumption, oil-import is becoming unaffordable, and the power shortages have mushroomed. Thus, the diversification of the energy sources appears a necessity for ensuring stable supply. In this perspective, Pakistan is engaged in two rival negotiations for building a pipeline that would carry out its provision in gas.
The TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline project would be operational in 2018. It aims at bringing the gas of the largest gas field of Turkmenistan at Daulatabad, to the Indian city of Fazilka at the border with Pakistan. Financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) under a 30-year agreement on the supplying of gas from the fuel-abundant Central Asia to the energy-needy Pakistan and India, the project is already at an advanced stage, following the signing of the crucial Gas Sale and Purchase Agreement in May.
However, crucial issues have still to be overcome. First, doubts have been raised on the capacity of the Daulatabad gas field to provide gas without interruption through three decades. Turkmenistan's capability to build the appropriate infrastructure in the forthcoming years is also under question. The pipeline crosses conflict-ridden areas such as Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan apart from Balochistan, the largest Pakistani Province, in which the loose State presence struggles with militant groups. The prospect for peace in the region is dubious at best as the withdrawing NATO troops have not been able to settle the underlying instability. The project is nevertheless heavily backed by the US as the pipeline would challenge the Russian and Iranian influence over energy trade in the region.
The US is however opposing with all its might the rival pipeline project, which aims to link Iranian gas fields to Pakistan and India. This IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipeline would follow a more secure route (even if Balochistan cannot be avoided), and at the same time would undermine the American efforts to isolate Iran in retribution for its nuclear policy. On the other hand, Russia supports the project as the IPI does not challenge its monopoly in Central Asia. Pakistan has thus to choose its economic partner, given the fact that its choice will for sure alienate the country from the leader of the rival project. This polarisation will confirm its position as a US partner and ally, or will catalyse their current trust dearth and probably put an end to their alliance. In turn, this could make Pakistan an even better partner for China or Russia.
Impact on ties with India
Despite their divergences, these two pipeline projects have however one common feature. They are aimed at supplying gas from the West to the East of Pakistan and India. Pakistan would thus play the role of a transit country as well, and would be granted an obvious influence over its neighbour, as the gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine proved during the previous decade. Indeed, Pakistan could be tempted to cut the gas supply in order to force India to renegotiate the transit fees or as an authoritative instrument of political pressure on the 'Kashmir issue'. In this case, a quick response of India will undoubtedly occur and the gas line project(s), also as a part of the efforts for the enhancement of the bilateral relations, could then be wiped out.
On the other hand, the necessary cooperation required for building a common pipeline can be the first step towards broad-spectrum furthering of bilateral partnership. This suggestion is based on the theory that multiplying of the common interests of two countries will reduce their will to confront each other. This reasoning is the basis for international organisations such as the European Union, which founded its political structure on the former economic ties. In the case of an Indo-Pakistani pipeline, a long-term commitment could encourage the two neighbours to minimise political disturbances in order to protect wider interests. The Indo-Pakistani pipeline project is thus a cut-off point in their relations, and can become a guarantor for peace or a trigger to further conflict.
(The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation)
Sri Lanka: What international community cannot do
N Sathiya Moorthy
At the annual conference of the 'Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchchi (ITAK)', which he heads as the elected president, the nominated chief of the larger Tamil National Alliance (TNA), R. Sampanthan, made a few points. One, the ITAK was the leader/ guiding spirit of the TNA and that the Sri Lankan Tamils (SLT) have for long accepted the ITAK as reflecting their aspirations. Two, the contributions of the Diaspora SLT should be acknowledged but they should allow the leadership on the ground to negotiate the best deal possible for the Tamil civilians living in Sri Lanka in the post-war circumstances. Three, the failure of the LTTE meant that violence did not pay and that the Tamil community should adopt political methods to achieve their goal ? particularly since India, the US and the rest of the international community were with them. Four, all Tamil-speaking people should unite for the common cause, and that the Tamils should be talking to the Muslim community, to this end.
Broken into components, there could be further points and pointers to Sampanthan's thinking in his Batticaloa. It was one more 'balancing act' on Sampanthan's part, an eternal attempt at keeping the flock together. His reference to ITAK as the leader of the TNA pack, and kind of a conscience-keeper of the Tamil community seemed to have flown from the need for continuing with the post-war moderate approach of the TNA in the dealings with the Sri Lankan State and the Government of the day. As reports indicate, an effort is on in recent times in the Tamil polity to drive a wedge between traditional moderates, as in the ITAK, and one-time militants (not all of them from the LTTE stables) who gave up arms long ago and many of whom are partners in the TNA since. Whether true or not, the reports claim that the moderates are trying to side-line Tamil politicos with a militant past. This, the sub-text has it, is being done not with any altruist motives in the interest of the larger Tamil cause but only to sub-serve collective self-interests of a few, new and old.
EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran did not lose much time to contest Sampanthan's claims that the ITAK played a leadership role within the TNA. He said that the TNA accepted Sampanthan as their leader but not the ITAK as their guiding force. He may have a point as militant groups like the EPRLF and TELO, both original members of the TNA and PLOTE a post-war entrant with a limited role, had been founded alongside the LTTE, even when the ITAK was more active in the Tamil politics of the pre-war era. They had differed with the ITAK and such other moderate groups on methods, not motives. Premachandran claimed that the ITAK had only three members of Parliament among the total 14 after the 2010 parliamentary polls. The TNA still remains a parliamentary grouping with the ITAK's 'House' remaining as its common electoral symbol. The parliamentary strength of the Alliance came down to 13 after the lone Sinhala member from the East crossed over to the Government side. Premachandran's argument is that post-poll, the ITAK could not claim to be numerically stronger than other individual grouping by adding on new members at the top. Truth be told, the reverse may still be the ground reality, which the likes of Premachandran want to wish away.
Sampanthan's response to Premachandran's arguments has been muted, as was only to be expected. Yet, over the past months, the octogenarian leader is seen as being more assertive in intra-TNA affairs. During the run-up to the UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka earlier this year, Premachandran claimed that Sampanthan's decision not to send a TNA team to Geneva to campaign their cause was unilateral and taken without consultations. Sampanthan contested the claims and clarified that prior consultations were held, if only on phone. He also gave out the reasons for his preferring not to send a TNA team to Geneva, which he said could have proved counter-productive, now and later. The TNA, as he indicated at the time, would have to negotiate with the Government in Colombo, after all, and no useful purpose would be served on this front, if the TNA were to campaign against it in Geneva, now (and possibly got identified with Diaspora groups, most of whom still favoured a separate State). In context, Sampanthan claimed that the international community was already seized of the matter, and no additional purpose would be served by the TNA campaigning for the cause beyond a point and in Geneva.
'National flag' row
More recently, Sampanthan publicly defended his act of holding a Sri Lanka national flag in the company of UNP Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesignhe, at their combined 'May Day' rally in Jaffna, on May 1. This time, the criticism came from MaavaiSenathiraja, a trusted aide of Sampanthan, who was later re-elected General Secretary of the ITAK at Batticaloa in May. Maavai, attributing his position to agitated queries from near and far in the Tamil community, said that Sampanthan's act was unacceptable, as the Tamils had not accepted the Sri Lankan national flag, almost since inception. Sampanthan hit back this time, too, pointing out how the national flag formed a part of the Sri Lankan Constitution. He submitted that as members of Parliament, they all had taken oath under the Constitution, and could not thus diversify the flag from the Constitution. He also recalled how in the past he had hoisted the Sri Lankan national flag, and how he would do so in future, too, if called upon.
The message was clear. Despite the triggers and temptations provided by the vote against Sri Lanka at Geneva, Sampanthan continued to hold the post-war position of negotiating with the Government, for finding a political solution to the ethnic issue within the four walls of the Constitution, as it existed today. Translated, it meant that the Tamils, as represented by Sampanthan's leadership, would be looking for meaningful, devolved powers under a united Sri Lanka. At Batti, however, Sampanthan also referred to the re-unification of the North and the East, ordered separated by the Supreme Court in 2006, three years before the conclusion of 'Eelam War IV'. For this to happen, he indicated that the Tamils would have to bring the Tamil-speaking Muslims on board. His preference and that of the TNA for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) in this regard is not unknown. Yet, lasting Tamil-Muslim political unity going beyond electoral adjustments between the TNA and the SLMC, if at all, is easier said than done, if one looked at the internal divisions within the Muslim polity and community, as well. Sampanthan is not unaware of them.
Critics say that Sampanthan at best has sent out confusing and contradictory signals from Batti. According to the critics, while indicating peaceful methods as their modus, Sampanthan has not indicated negotiated settlement as a way out. Instead, he had referred repeatedly to the Tamil goal, indicating that a 'separate State' might after all be in his thought process. This has made friends of Sampanthan and the TNA, both in Government and elsewhere, uncomfortable. They had expected Sampanthan to outline their new approach, if any, to the TNA joining the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), as mooted by the Government. There was no reference of the kind however, in his speech. Some critics would even want to refer to Sampanthan's speech at Batticaloa as a 'second Vaddukottai resolution', on the footsteps on the original one, given to the Tamil community in 1976, by the late S J V Chelvanayagam. Sampanthan's reference at Batti, to Gandhian methods to achieve the goal has a ring of SJV to it.
It is in this context, Sampanthan's constant reference to India, the US and the rest of the international community being on the side of the Tamils of Sri Lanka assumes significance. For long, the Sri Lankan Government, particularly under President MahindaRajapaksa, the incumbent, has insisted that there could be no external influence but only a 'home-grown solution' to the ethnic issue. As if to attest to the same, the TNA also entered into halting talks with the Government. The talks have once again been halted, with each side blaming the other, and the Government proposing the PSC in between, as the only sure way to ensure an ever-enforceable political solution, based on national consensus ? or, one with a substantial support. It is in this background, India, the US and a substantial section of the international community joined hands in voting on a Sri Lanka resolution in Geneva. Though the resolution covered only human rights issues, the expectation, particularly in Tamil/TNA circles was that it could well be a tool for the international community to make the Sri Lankan Government to find a lasting political solution to the ethnic issue.
Doubts persist. The TNA itself is an amalgam of a few Tamil political groups and individuals elected MPs under the Alliance banner under the common 'House' symbol of the ITAK. They do not ordinarily represent the will of every Tamil in the country and overseas. There is no explanation how the common Opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka polled more votes in the Tamil North than all the TNA nominees for the parliamentary polls less than three months later, in April 2010. The votes polled separately by the UNP and SLMC candidates in the parliamentary polls do not account for the huge gap. There is nothing to suggest that the TNA and vociferous Diaspora groups like the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), British Tamil Forum (BTF) and the 'trans-national government of Tamil Eelam' (TNGTE) are on the same page on issues and methods. It is unlikely that the international community has understood these implications for the Tamil polity and society in Sri Lanka.
'Geneva vote' and after
In the past, the LTTE had time and again exposed the naivette of the international community, by leading them up to a point, and going back on commitments without a trace. If the Colombo Government too had excelled in the practice as much, that would still not resolve the problem for Sri Lanka ? or, for the international community, which is otherwise serious about an early negotiated settlement. If the past is anything to go by, the international community would soon find itself caught in the cross-fire of a blame-game between various stake-holders in Sri Lanka. In this, the Sri Lankan players have displayed a greater determination at obfuscation and have displayed proven tactics for that part of the world than the international community is ready to acknowledge (as failure of their own strategy in and for the island-nation). In the present case, the Diaspora groups not inclined to a negotiated settlement could be expected to derive strength from the 'Geneva vote', and expect to arm-twist the international community in ways that the latter had not thought possible to try and have its way. The revival of the demand for a referendum on a 'separate Tamil State' in the weeks after the Geneva vote should be a pointer. It is also a leaf out of the LTTE book.
The game would not be unilateral however, whatever the prescription of the international community is in contemporary the Sri Lankan context, and the methods it hopes to adopt in achieving that limited goal, if at all, for the 'suffering Tamils' of Sri Lanka. Any revival of apprehensions/suspicions about a change in the mood of the post-war Tamil polity in the country (read: TNA) and possible revival of hard-line approach would have a cause-and-effect result in the Sinhala community and polity, too. Much as they may blame the incumbent Government as the cause, the consequences would remain as much the same as if Colombo had yielded early on in the post-war years on power-devolution and political solution. If the international community were to think that Geneva was mainly a way to force the Colombo dispensation to come around to yielding greater political space for the Tamil community, and the Tamil-speaking people in the island-nation, it would not stop there. Instead, preconceived notions of an imminent revival of Tamil militancy, now or later, could force all sections of the Sinhala polity to rally round the Government ? and more so, the security forces, and the consequent hard-line political stand that could emanate in their midst.
Lately, media discourses in Sri Lanka have often referred to the West anticipating/wanting an 'Arab Spring' kind of situation evolving in the country. Open identification of some western countries, particularly by their diplomats in Colombo at the time, to the candidature of Sarath Fonseka in the 2010 presidential polls, have revived 'hopes' of such expectations in some. Or, so it seems. If that were to flag pan-Sinhala, pan-Sri Lanka nationalism, instead, the chances are that hard-liners, across the board in the Sinhala polity and community, despite their relatively smaller numbers, would have won. Their victory would be across the board in all Sinhala political parties. Their respective leaderships, working assiduously for a democratic change-over in the traditional way that Sri Lanka has known since becoming the first Asian nation to usher in universal adult suffrage in 1931, would not be able to resist the hard-line stance that only a few members in their respective parties may actually project and propagate, otherwise.
In the pre-war past, mutual provocation, coupled with imaginative preparation by the LTTE, had pushed the two sides into a military confrontation. It went beyond traditional forms of terrorism, and may have been among the nemeses of the LTTE. A bloated military establishment, always in need of men and material to fight a conventional war, and an attendant civilian administration that the LTTE could not maintain in the absence of a State structure and recognition, added to its woes. The latter were otherwise steeped in the tactical imagination of a single man called Prabhakaran ? who, to himself and his following across the world, could do no wrong, and had isolated himself from the outside world owing to the high-price that Governments had placed on his head. Since the early months of the conclusive 'Eelam War IV', Diaspora groups had been known to have discussed a tactical change in their overall approach, yet to obtain the same goal ? from militancy to moderate politics with international blessing, and/or from catastrophic terrorism targeting common civilians of whatever kind unacceptable to post-9/11 world, to State-specific insurgency after a time, and using the interregnum to push Sri Lanka into that remiss, through tactical, political moves, one at a time, unnoticed by the international community and in ways the Sri Lankan Government takes the blame in the end.
Human memory being short, and short in particular for more recent developments, if it came to as much, it would only be a repeat of what Sri Lanka went through the pre-Eighties, when alone political moderation among the Tamils had to vacate all the space in favour of youthful militancy, which went beyond the tactical way to force the Government to negotiate with the Tamil polity, as may have been originally envisaged. If the security forces of the time was as much unprofessional as they were ceremonial otherwise, their conduct in the Tamil areas, and their handling/manhandling of Tamil youth arrested on suspicion provided enough grit for the rumour mill, but more so, justification for the furtherance of militancy/terror tactics. The predominant American presence in Sri Lanka may have provided the justification for the early batches of Tamil militants to train and arm in Palestine. The rest, as they say, is history, yet the provocation provided by the bank robberies and skirmishes in interior villages, meant that the cycle of violence culminated in the anti-Tamil, Pogrom-83, leading to further war and violence over the next three long decades.
The lessons are not far to seek ? or, see, either. Under the circumstances, the Sri Lanka situation would be much different from that in 'Arab Spring' nations. There, the transformation was from constitutionally acknowledged dictatorship/authoritarian approach to grassroots-level democracy of some form. Sri Lanka is well past that stage. It has a vibrant democracy movement. Strategies and tactics that worked elsewhere need not produce near-similar results. If anything, democracy would become the voice of the nation. Political parties otherwise opposed to the Government in Colombo could find the limited soil under their feet slipping by, too. The Opposition leaders would be scrambling for cover when targeted as 'anti-nationals' or 'stooges of the West', an opprobrium that they have always found difficult to live with. Should Tamil militancy be allowed to revive, the consolidation of the rest of Sri Lanka under the banner of a 'Sinhala nationalist identity' could not be stopped either.
There is also the question of the Muslim identity and their political aspirations that needs to be addressed, particularly since the upcoming Census figures could throw up as many opportunities as there could be accusations. That is another area where the Sri Lankan Government would have to take sanguine decisions early on, without letting Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists to take a lead in the matter, as was the case on the Tamil front in the past. It is not just about the Sri Lankan Government, but also of the otherwise divided Sinhala polity as a whole, which the Tamils for long have been charging ? and at times rightly so ? of allowing themselves to be led by the hard-liners, whose cause also sub-serves their political agenda, at the cost of those original agendas of other, major sections of the polity. This all has been a part of the vicious circle in which Sri Lanka has been caught through the decades after Independence, and there is such a threat all over again ? or, is there one?
This was the past and so has been the present. This could also be the future.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
Afridi jailed for militant ties
The lawyers of Dr Shakeel Afridi filed an appeal against his conviction on Friday. The court clarified that the doctor has not been sentenced for helping the CIA to find Osama bin-Laden last year but for its ties with the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam. However, the militia denied any link with Dr Afridi.
The political complexion of this affair is thus growing as the US officials already urged Pakistan to free the sentenced doctor which, according to them, helped the re-establishment of stability in the country.
Source: The News International, June 1, 2012.
HRC, part of the statute now
President Asif Ali Zardari has signed a Bill into law, providing for the setting up of a National Commission for Human Rights, a Governmental body protecting human rights in Pakistan. Expected since the Paris Principles enactment in 1993, the commission will be composed of 10 members, some seats being reserved for women and religious minorities.
Linked with a Human Rights Court, the HRC could address specific cases through a petition or suo motu action. Despite its financial and administrative independence, the commission will not be able to investigate cases concerning the armed forces and intelligence agencies.
Source: The Express Tribune, May 30, 2012.
Concern over economic unsustainability
Economic analysts are underlining the probability of a forthcoming economic crisis as the economic structure of Pakistan is estimated as unsustainable. Budget deficit reached 6.6 per cent last year and the tax revenues are among the lowest in the world.
To restore stability, the Government decided to borrow from the banking system, but these repeated loans only provoked the international investors to be doubly careful. Moreover, any intervention of the IMF is now impossible as the country had to leave the organisation in 2008 after refusing to enforce strict reforms demands.
The Government has now few options. One of these would be printing money to pay off debts, but this would fuel inflation, which is already high. The reduction of the deficit is another option, by the raising of taxes and by the reduction of the expenditure, as advocated by the Minister for Overseas Pakistanis, Farooq Sattar.
Source: Daily Times, May 31, 2012.
Wind energy with Chinese help
The Chinese oil and gas company, United Energy Group Ltd, plans to invest $3 billion in a wind-energy farm project in Pakistan. The company says that it has already been approved by the Pakistani Government for a 500 MW wind power project.
Pakistan is obviously diversifying its sources of electricity as the power crisis provokes peak shortages. Indeed, there is no wind-produce energy in Pakistan yet, and the country is importing expensive oil which cost is now unaffordable for the state given the increase of the electricity consumption.
Source: The Express Tribune, May 31, 2012.
$ 500-m aid sought from IMF
On the completion of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Standby Arrangement (SBA) of US$2.6 billion next month, Sri Lanka will start negotiations with the IMF for another $500 million Security Arrangement (SA), International Monetary Cooperation Senior Minister Sarath Amunugama has said.
"This will be an important policy support for the Government as it faces some critical issues like rising prices in fuel and other commodities in the global market," the senior minister said. "The SBA with the IMF will end with the release of the final tranche of some $ 500 million. The IMF programme with Sri Lanka for the release of $2.6 billion has been judged to be a confidence booster on Sri Lanka by the global lending agencies."
Dr. Amunugama said several other borrowers like Spain, Portugal, Greece and Maldives had ended midway their SBA with the IMF because of the difficulty in carrying out policies with regard to the global financial crisis. He said on the completion of the SBA, discussions would be held to obtain $500 million as a Security Arrangement with the IMF to enable Sri Lanka to access funds in case of emergency needs.
Dr.Amunugama said Sri Lanka was on the right path with regard to its economy. He said its financial and economic management was under control and was well on its way to achieving the target of 7.2 per cent GDP for this year. There is no doubt that the IMF will respond positively to Sri Lanka's request for a Security Arrangement of US$500 million to improve the country's foreign reserves and face with confidence any possible global economic or financial upheaval. "What is most important is that Sri Lanka has never defaulted on its repayment obligations and is reputed to be a country that fulfills it loan agreements with international donor agencies," Dr. Amunugama said.
A Central Bank Economic Research Department spokesman said Sri Lanka had received about $2.1 billion in eight instalments and IMF officials would arrive in Sri Lanka to review and negotiate the release of the final instalment of $500 million.
Source: Daily Mirror Online, May 31, 2012.
Fast-tracking on ocean boundaries
The Sri Lankan Government is initiating action to fast track a UN-led process, which may pave the way for the country to expand its oceanic boundaries.
Sri Lanka sought to expand the existing 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone to 800 nautical miles on May 8, 2009, 12 days before defeating the LTTE, especially its sea going arm, the Sea Tigers.
Chairman of the National Oceanic Affairs Committee, Chris Dharmakirti said that Sri Lanka's proposal, a 450-page document, would be the basis for the country's claim. Dharmakirti was addressing a media briefing at the Government Information Department. However, it would take 16 years for the UN to consider that proposal as applications of only three countries would be considered annually by the UN, Dharmakirti said, adding that Sri Lanka was the 43rd country, in a queue awaiting their turn.
Explaining the difficulties experienced by the Government, in the run-up to submitting Sri Lanka's proposal, Dharmakirti said that the main reason for the delay in the UN process was that those responsible for deciding on bids sat only for six weeks annually.
The official said that Sri Lanka, with the support of 120 countries, had moved what he called an omnibus resolution to rectify the limitations by extending the sittings. "We called for sittings throughout the year, though there was consensus for extending the sittings from six weeks to 26," Dharmakirti said. If agreement could be reached on extended sittings, Sri Lanka's proposal was likely to be taken up in 2018, the expert said.
Emphasising that Sri Lanka was among the countries affected by the slow process in deciding on bids made by various countries, Dharmakirti said that the meeting would be held from June 4 to 12.Dharmakirti and Dr. N. P. Wijayananda, who heads the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, will be among members of the delegation.
When pointed out that the Government wouldn't have been in a quandary today if it had sent its proposal early, Dharmakirti said that the country lacked the required resources to finalise the report ahead of other countries. He said that initially the country was to submit its claim in 2004, though finally time was given till May, 2009 to finalise it. There had been setbacks, including the death of the Captain of a Russian ship engaged in the operation, he said, adding that subsequently, with the assistance from several parties, the government had managed to finalise the bid. Asked whether Sri Lanka was the last in line, Dharmakirtisaid that a couple of other countries, including India, that were behind Sri Lanka. "Despite the delay, we were able to obtain the services of Dr. Ray Woods, who spearheaded New Zealand's successful bid, to prepare our own case," Dharmakirti said.
Dr.Wijayananda, who had been involved in the project since its onset, said that the country could acquire vast natural resources, including gas deposits. Both Dharmakirti and Wijayananda acknowledged the urgent need to launch a project to secure the services of experts in the field, as part of the strategic plan to exploit the situation.Dharmakirti said that Sri Lanka would have to discuss its claims with its neighbours to ensure speedy agreement on proposed oceanic boundaries.
Source: The Island, Colombo, May 30, 2012.
Haqqani kingpin detained in Paktika
The Afghan and the NATO coalition security forces detained a Haqqani network leader in a combing out operation at Paktika Province. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force confirmed the detention.
The Haqqani leader commanded a large group of insurgents and possessed several AK-47 rifles, grenades, magazines of ammunition which were seized.
The detention of Haqqani leaders, in the light of the recent Pakistan Accountability Bill in the US Senate in early May may mark a further receding point in the US-Pak relationship.
Source: Khaama Press, May 31, 2012.
6 m children live in 'critical conditions'
Afghanistan recently celebrated its Children's Day. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs published a report documenting the abysmal state of affairs for more than approximately six million children in Afghanistan who have to endure arduous labour, are victims of sexual abuse and are denied access to proper education. There are no exact statistics of the number of Afghan children living in abject misery.
Although the Education Ministry has tried to clear the air by issuing reports suggesting that nine million children have been admitted to schools, the recent allegations on Taliban poisoning girl children attending schools has proved to be deleterious to this claim.
Source: Khaama Press, May 31, 2012.
Iran to step up fuel transit
The Iranian Oil Ministry has announced that they will step up the transit of petroleum products to Afghanistan. The ministry also announced that it will resume the oil swaps through the Neka oil terminal ? that were stopped last year over pricing issues.
Afghanistan, owing to a lack of oil refining facilities, heavily relies on its neighbours including Pakistan, Iran and Turkmenistan, to meet a large chunk of its needs for oil products.
Iran contributes to about 30 per cent of Afghanistan's oil supply and the remainder is catered to through Central Asian countries.
Source: Outlook Afghanistan, May 31, 2012.
India must act fast: Hasina
Stressing on the early signing of Teesta water-sharing agreement Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged quick action from India to resolve some pending issues.
Hasina said that India needs to move forward quickly on some pending issues so that Dhaka and New Delhi can work to execute various agreed decisions. There is a high expectation of inking the Teesta water sharing deal. Hasina made the remarks when a Indian delegation led by Meghalaya State Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki called on her in the week.
During the meeting, she also reiterated that her country attaches highest importance to its relationship with India. Hasina claimed that relationship between the two countries has scaled new heights following the reciprocal visits of the premiers of India and Bangladesh to each other's country.
Source: The Daily Star, June 1, 2012.
Dialogue on interim govt
Ruling Awami League-led alliance has decided to hold dialogues with the opposition on the issue of an election-time interim government.
To alliance leaders there is still room for discussions with the opposition on the form of the proposed interim government. However, the leaders ruled out any chances for restoration of the provision for the caretaker government as it had already been declared void by the Supreme Court. The form of the interim government is yet to be decided and they are stressing for discussions among the political parties.
The main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), terming the concept of interim government as misleading, turned down the offer of dialogue by ruling Awami League. The party claimed Awami League didn't clearly mention what it meant by an interim government since it actually wanted only a partisan government. The Opposition has also declined to participate in the parliamentary election likely to be held in 2013 if it takes place under a partisan government.
Source: New Age, May 28, 2012/Bangladesh Observer, May 30, 2012.
Keen to join TAPI
Bangladesh has expressed its interest to join Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) project which is expected to be completed by 2017. Some reports claimed that the government had requested Asian Developmental Bank to include Bangladesh in the project. Officials in the Energy Ministry informed that the country needs gas from outside as the reserve inside the country is depleting.
TAPI pipeline is about 1600 kms long with a transit length of 735 kms in Afghanistan and 800kms in Pakistan. The pipeline is expected to cost $7.6billion.
Source: bernama.com, May 30, 2012.
Malaysia offers $5-6 b for airport
Malaysia has submitted a proposal with an investment offer of US$ 5-6 billion for construction of the proposed Bangabandhu International Airport.
Malaysian Prime Minister's special envoy for South Asia Dato S Samy Vellu handed over the written proposal to Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Faruk Khan during a meeting at the latter's Secretariat office in Dhaka.
During the meeting, Khan informed that the ministry has primarily completed the feasibility study for the construction of the proposed airport.
The Government has primarily selected seven sites for the airport; he claimed adding that the government has a plan to start the construction work as soon as the fund is available for its implementation.
The government wants to implement the project under Public Private Partnership initiative.
Source: New Age, May31, 2012.
Dollar reserve, but no rupee
According to the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), Bhutan has around $ 720 million in reserves while rupee borrowing from the Government and the commercial banks in India has touched around 15 billion.
The dollar-reserves have limited impact since 80 percent of the imports are in rupees and therefore the need of the hour is to focus on creating a rupee-reserve. According to 2010 trade statistics, India is Bhutan's largest trading partner with total imports worth Nu 29.32 billion and exports totalling Nu 15.58 billion.
However, from 2006-2009, the country recorded more rupee inflows from India than outflows as exports out-valued imports. In 2006, the exports to India exceeded imports by 1.4 billion followed by 7.6 billion in 2007, 4.1 billion in 2008 and 2.4 billion in 2009. It was during this time that Bhutan could have accumulated some rupee reserves but failed to do so.
At the same time, the Government cannot sell off dollar reserves to ease the pressure on the rupee demand. Some of the reserves have already been pledged against rupee borrowings from the State Bank of India. According to RMA, Bhutan has pledged roughly $ 200 m against its borrowings from SBI.
Source: kuenselonline.com, bhutanobserver.bt, June 1, 2012.
Nu 3-b excise refund from India
Bhutan will receive over Nu 3 Billion from India as refund of excise duty on import of goods for 2010 and 2011. An agreement to this effect was signed on May 30, between the Director of the Department of Revenue and Customs, Choyzang Tashi, and Director-General for Inspections of Customs and Central Excise of the Government of India, Sandhya Baliga.
The total amount to be refunded now is more than that for 2008 and 2009, which was over Nu. 2 Billion. The Department of Revenue and Customs attributed the increase to the department's improved recording system, proper maintenance of documents and the increase in imports from India.
Source: bbs.bt, My 30, 2012.
EC on social media policy
The Election Commission's policy of the use of social media states that political parties and candidates are expected to submit the links of their social media to the returning officer during the time of filing the Letter of Intent or nomination and shall be government by the rules and regulations of electoral campaigning.
The policy aims to ensure responsible and effective use of social media by election officials, political parties, candidates and their supporters, and media agencies in all matters related to elections, during or outside the election period.
The policy says that no one can communicate or transmit hate messages on social media with the intent to defame or reduce the electoral chances of opposing contestants or political parties. All social media users should follow the code of conduct in the Election Act, which is spelt out in Media Coverage of Elections Rules, Election Advertising Rules and Fundamental Principles, the policy says.
The policy defines social media as online and mobile communication, collaboration, sharing or publishing platform, whether accessed through the web, a mobile device, text messaging, email or any other existing or emerging communication platform.
It says that any communication or material sent, forwarded or relayed by a civil servant, religious personality, member of the royal family or armed forces that is found to be in support of or opposed to a political party or a candidate will be treated as political advertising and in violation of the election laws.
According to the policy, ECB will use social media to disseminate election-related information to voters but only under its name and authority. An officer appointed on election duty will use his or her personal blogs, websites and other media for mailing or communication. Any violation of the provision, the policy says, will be considered an offence under the Election Act.
Source: bhutanobserver.bt, June 1, 2012.
Bill soon on alcohol-reduction
The Ministry of Health could be drafting a bill that would be recommending a policy that will curtail the harmful use of alcohol. Such a proposition was put forth during the stakeholders' meeting on the implementation of National Policy and Strategic Framework on the Harmful Use of Alcohol.
Participants recommended that the policy on the harmful use of alcohol be submitted as a Bill in Parliament. The policy that is soon be presented to the Cabinet aims at reducing the harmful use of alcohol systematically.
Financial constraints impeded the implementation of alcohol-reduction plans. It is now hoped that the Government will allocate sufficient funds for the implementation of the provisions of the alcohol-reduction policy, which will include treatment and rehabilitation of alcohol dependents.
The National Statistics Bureau has been nominated as the agency to create a national data-base on alcohol production, consumption, trade, revenue, and problems related to alcohol such as diseases and deaths.
Source: bhutanobserver.bt, June 1, 2012.
Youth policy in doldrums
The National Youth Policy, the overarching document that was expected to address the issues faced by the youth of the country that was expected to guide youth support programmes has yet to make any impact. The youth policy is supposed to create the "necessary space for all players to do what they can for the youth".
Right after the launch of the policy on December 7, 2011 and after a few meetings and discussions on the sane among the stake-holders was the policy has remained on the shelf. According to the Department of Youth and Sports, it has not been in a position to muster the adequate level of resources, both in terms of human and financial.
Source: bhutanobserver.bt, June 1, 2012.
Forex reserves drop by $ 1.80 b
The foreign exchange reserves fell by $1.80 billion to $290 billion for the week ended May 18, registering a sharp drop for the third week in a row, largely due to suspected sale of dollar by the central bank to defend rupee, the Reserve Bank of India data showed.
The forex reserves had declined by $1.37 billion and $2.18 billion respectively in the previous two weeks.
Foreign currency assets, the biggest component of the forex reserves kitty, fell by $1.74 billion to $256.11 billion during the week ended May 18, according to the Reserve Bank of India's weekly statistical supplement.
The slowdown in Europe and the US has not only walloped the stock markets and export dependent sectors of the economy, it has also taken a toll on the number of students headed abroad for higher education.
The amount remitted abroad for education purposes has dropped by almost 57 percent in two years, with data for the months of February and March 2012 yet to come. In the 10 months period of financial year 2012, the remittances stood at only $ 94.5 million, a steep fall from $ 150 million in the financial year 2012-11 and # 217.8 million in 2009-10.
Source: www.twocircles.net, May 26, 2012, The Indian Express, May 28, 2012.
Growth weakest in nine years
India's annual economic growth slumped in the January-March quarter to a nine-year low of 5.3 percent as the manufacturing sector contracted and a fall in the rupee to a record low suggests the economy remains under pressure in the current quarter.
The growth rate was much lower than expected and was even below the lowest forecast in a Reuters poll that had produced a median of 6.1 percent from predictions ranging between 5.5 percent and 7.3 percent.
"The data highlights the unusual degree of weakening of the country's economy, likely driven by poor investment and widening trade gap," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, an economist at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.
Source: www.reuters.com, May 31, 2012.
New telecom policy approved
The Cabinet on Thursday cleared a new telecommunications policy aimed at introducing greater transparency after a corruption scandal over mobile phone licences rocked the Government.
The policy will streamline licensing regulations by allowing operators to obtain a single nationwide licence and separate the allocation of licences from the awarding of bandwidth. "The policy seeks to provide a predictable and stable policy regime," Telecom Minister KapilSibal told reporters in New Delhi.
The new rules come as the Congress-led government seeks to clean up the industry following accusations that the 2008 sale of second-generation licences and bandwidth were rigged, costing the public treasury billions of dollars.
Source: www.nydailynews.com, May 31, 2012.
Panel to decide bandwidth auction price
The Telecom Commission has decided to let a ministerial panel make a decision on the base price for a bandwidth auction.
It will refer the regulator-suggested base price of 36.22 billion rupees ($654.1 million) for one-megahertz bandwidth for the proposed spectrum sale to the ministerial panel along with an analysis by the sector regulator on the impact of the price on the industry, said the policy panel's chairman, R. Chandrashekhar.
Source: www.wsj.com, May 26, 2012.
Nod for $ 6.3-b Australian coal mine
India's GVK Power & Infrastructure has won environmental approval from the state of Queensland for it's a $6.4 billion ( US$6.30 billion) Alpha coal project, clearing a key hurdle towards winning a lease for the Australian mine.
The approval from Queensland's Coordinator-General sets a range of conditions for building a mine designed to produce 30 million tonnes a year of thermal coal and a 495 km (310 mile) rail line from the mine to the port of Abbot Point.
Source: www.reuters.com, May 28, 2012.
Striking pilots meet Minister
In a bid to end the 18-day-old strike at national carrier Air India, some of the agitating pilots met Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh in New Delhi. "'A few pilots in their individual capacity came in today to meet the minister. They wanted to re-join duty and said they were ready to cooperate and discuss all outstanding issues," a senior official of the ministry told IANS.
Ajit Singh reportedly advised the pilots to join back duty immediately after going through the mandatory guidelines and said none of them would be victimised.
Source: www.nydailynews.com, May 25, 2012.
Roadmap talks over three days
In a fresh bid to try and end the political impasse the All-Party Roadmap talks adjourned for a three-day weekend retreat talks at the Bandos Resorts owned by the nation's billionaire Vice-President Waheed Deen. While not much progress can be expected at one go, the fact of prolonged talks should be seen as a limited success in itself.
Earlier, the talks had centred on the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to recast the agenda for the talks, and re-prioritise the items. At the last round, the MDP accepted the agenda as it stood, with the party's demand for early elections mentioned as the last item, preceded by discussions on economy, institutional reforms and constitutional amendments.
Source: Minivan News, May 30, 2012.
No agreement on CNI
The Commonwealth has issued a statement clarifying that neither the Government, nor former President Mohamed Nasheed has yet agreed on a nominee to the Commission on National Inquiry (CNI).
The CNI was formed by President Mohamed Waheed to investigate the controversial circumstances in which his predecessor President Nasheedquit.Pressured by the Commonwealth, the Government agreed to allow a retired foreign judge and a representative of President Nasheed sit on the panel, but imposed conditions on this nominee.
There is agreement on a retired Judge from Singapore, but the Government has declined all 10 names first submitted by MDP as being active politicians. Another, a serving senior Army official, was rejected as he was a close relative of President Nasheed. The latter withdrew the last nominee of his after the Government indicated that it had no objection.
Source: Minivan News, May 31, 2012.
Indian PM comes calling, signs 12 pacts
The India Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh paid a three day official visit to Myanmar from the 27 of May. This is the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister in over 25 years. The last one was by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987.During the visit, the Prime Minister called on President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw as well as the leader of the National League for Democracy Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangoon.
The two nations are set to boost their bilateral ties and as many as 12 bilateral agreements were signed by between the two Governments. These agreements cover a long list of areas, including the establishment of transportations links between the two countries, through land, sea and air. A blanking agreement will facilitate and boost trade between the two nations. The Government of India also extended a $500 million line of credit to Myanmar during the Prime Minister's visit.
The other areas where cooperation between the two nations has been agreed upon include education, research and cultural exchanges. The two sides have agreed on sharing their expertise and learn for the other in the fields of agricultural and information technology. The two sides have also signed a memorandum of understanding in developing their common border region and well as to setup trade hubs in that said region.
Source: The Hindu, The Indian Express, May 27, 28, 30 and June 1, 2012.
Suu Kyi's overseas travel in 24 years
Pro-democracy fighter Aung San Suu Kyi's flew to Thailand on May 30, her first trip abroad in 24 years, ending an era of isolation and cementing her arrival on the global stage. Her visit to Thailand is to the World Economic Forum on East Asia as well as to meet Myanmar communities. Her arrival in Bangkok was greeted by an ecstatic thousands-strong crowd of her compatriots as well by the Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
During her visit, Suu Kyi addressed the Myanmarese community in Thailand and promised them that she would do all possible to help them. While addressing the World Economic Forum, she stressed on the need for her nation's Government to continue with the on-going reforms and focus on educating as well as to focus on legal reforms.
Source: channelnewsasia.com, straitstimes.com, 29, 30, 31 May 2012, 1 June 2012.
End to media censorship
The tormentor-in-chief of Myanmar's heavily censored media will put down his black marker pen for good in a month, signalling the end of one of the world's most draconian press scrutiny regimes. Tint Swe, head of the Press Scrutinisation and Registration Department (PSRD), said he will release its iron grip on the country's media in the latest significant reform for a country emerging from decades of repression.
"There will be no press scrutiny job from the end of June. There will be no monitoring of local journals and magazines," he told AFP in an interview in his office in Yangon. "I would say it is the right time rather than we are ready. When we have parliament and government working on democratic process, how can censorship work at the same time," he said.
Source: straitstimes.com, 1 June, 2012.
In recent weeks, private banks have begun rolling out automated teller machines (ATMs), revolutionary in a country where people often haul sacks and suitcases of cash to banks.
This is the first time that ATMs have been introduced in the country which till recently did not have a uniformed banking system that was comparable to the international standards
Source: straitstimes.com, 30 May, 2012.
The Constituent Assembly (CA) was dissolved on May 28 following its failure to draft a new constitution. The dissolution of CA has left a huge political and constitutional vacuum in the country.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced fresh elections for CA (scheduled for November 22, 2012) at midnight on May 28 after all inter-party negotiations failed to garner a consensus on the issue of federal restructuring of the state.
The PM said in a press conference that there is "no option left" but to go for a fresh election. Earlier, major parties had proposed to bring an "incomplete" constitution and authorise the extended parliament to settle the issue of federalism. This plan was dropped after both the Madhes-based parties and Baidya-led faction of the United CPN (Maoist) said that they would not vote for an "incomplete constitution".
The talks also faltered after Nepali congress (NC) and UML opposed the Maoist and Madhesi parties' proposal for creating two-provinces in the Tarai-Madhes districts. NC and UML were adamant on a five-province model in the region keeping in view their capacity and identity. The NC vehemently opposed creation of single-ethnic identity based provinces. But there could be no agreement on mixed-identity based provinces as well.
The Bhattaria government has now been declared a caretaker one. The NC and UML have joined hands to oppose the Maoist decision to hold another poll. They have announced nationwide strike on June 8.
Source: Republica, The Kathmandu Post, The Indian Express, May 28-30, 2012.
Justice Bam shot dead
Supreme Court (SC) Justice Rana Bahadur Bam was shot dead by two unidentified assailants on a motorbike on May 31 in the capital. The 62-year-old sustained critical injuries in the chest. He was attacked while on his way to the SC after dropping by at Bangalamukhi temple in Patan.
Bam's bodyguard, ASI Mahesh Giri, and a personal friend, were also shot and injured when the assailants opened fire at point blank range at their car at Shankhamul in Lalitpur Sub-Metropolis.
Police estimated that at least 10 shots were fired from Chinese pistols. Such hit-and-runs, usually by bike-riding assailants, are not new to the capital. A five-member panel led by AIG Kuber Rana has been formed to probe the case.
Some leaflets issued by a never-heard-of Nepalbad Party were found at the incident site. Police said the name must have been concocted by a criminal gang. Officials have also stated that the shooting was well-planned.
Justice Bam was known to be a mild individual. He has become Nepal's first sitting SC justice to be killed. The incident is the first major attack on the judiciary.
Bam was implicated in a graft case over the course of one and half year. He was facing impeachment procedure for allegedly mishandling a kidnap case during his stint at Patan Appellate Court. He had not been given any duties at the SC. Bam, however, had challenged the allegations stating it was a case of personal vendetta.
Source: myrepublica.com, May 31, 2012.
Baidhya warns of party split
United CPN (Maoist) Vice-Chairman Mohan Baidhya has said that his faction has begun initiatives for the formation of a new party.
Organising a press meet in Newa Rajya Samiti in Kathmandu on June 1, the hard-line faction has announced a national assembly on June 15. Baidhya informed that the assembly would figure out the future action plan of the faction. He even warned of armed revolt if his faction faced any obstruction.
Baidhya has blamed the top leaders of the major parties and Constituent Assembly chairman for the failure to draft the new constitution. He has proposed to form a government through round table talks and claimed that such a government would complete the task regarding the constitution.
Meanwhile, the establishment faction of the party has also called for a broader meeting on June 29 to counter the hard-line faction.
Source: ekantipur.com, June 1, 2012.
Afghanistan: Pankhuri Mehndiratta;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
India: Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Yann Cres;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;