Myanmar: Trade with India rising; much more needs to be done

Myanmar's bilateral engagement with India in trade has gained momentum since 2008 when political and economic reforms were launched in the former 'pariah' state. India-Myanmar trade has more than doubled in the last seven years and has crossed $2 billion in 2013-14,

Analysis

Myanmar’s bilateral engagement with India in trade has gained momentum since 2008 when political and economic reforms were launched in the former ’pariah’ state. India-Myanmar trade has more than doubled in the last seven years and has crossed $2 billion in 2013-14, but much remains to be done, as India is Myanmar’s distant 11th trade partner.

The 5th India-Myanmar Joint Trade Committee meeting held on 17 February in Myanmar’s capital city aimed at intensifying economic cooperation between the two countries. The meeting was co-chaired by Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry, Nirmala Sitharaman, who announced that bilateral trade will reach $10 billion in next five years and Indian investments in Myanmar would cross $2 billion mark.

In order to achieve this trade target, two routes — maritime and border trade — assume significance. Ever since India launched its Look East Policy, Myanmar’s importance as a strategic and economic partner has been important and trade and connectivity projects were initiated with an objective of achieving regional prosperity.

Border trade

Myanmar is India’s land-bridge to South-East Asia. Sharing a 1,700-km border, the immense potential of border trade potential between was rightly identified by the Look East Policy. However, the only operational border trading post has been the Moreh-Tamu post, off the border in Manipur state in India.

Trade between India and Myanmar through the border trade points of Moreh and Zokhawthar in 2012-13 was only $ 6.5 million. However, the informal trade that takes place across the border is several times higher. Large unregulated informal trade, fraught with security, health and safety risks have remained as challenges to border trade.

Myanmar exports 25 percent and imports 15 percent of its total trade through the border from India. Border trade with India comprises of only 1 percent of Myanmar’s total border trade. India accounts for a sizeable share in Myanmar’s imports of pharmaceutical products (37 percent), essential oil, perfumes, and cosmetics (6.6 percent), rubber and articles (6.2 percent), articles of iron or steel (5.6 percent), cotton (5.6 percent), and iron and steel (5.5 percent).

The Indian commerce and industry minister during her visit to Manipur earlier this year had said that her government is keen on trade and plantation projects in the region as part of the Special Economic Zone in the state. Sitharaman in the bilateral meeting in Nay Pyi Taw underlined the need for improving border trade by offering Myanmar, banking arrangements suited for border trade.

Maritime trade

Trade through sea is another way of intensifying economic cooperation between the two countries. Rightly, discussed in the Joint Trade Committee Meeting was India’s assistance for subsidized direct shipping links to Myanmar. Potential of maritime trade with Myanmar cannot be overlooked since South-East Asian economies- Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, have become important trade destinations.

The Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project (KMMTP) that connects Kolkata port with Sittwe port presents such an opportunity. Also important would be the Chennai port for sea links with ports of Yangon and Dawei, the latter is being developed by Thai companies into a Special Economic Zone. Hence, it is no coincidence that the next round of Indo-Myanmar Joint Trade Committee Meeting scheduled to take place in Chennai.

Maritime trade, however bypasses the North-Eastern region of India, and development of this region has been an imperative of the Look East Policy, hence skepticism exists for over-reliance on maritime trade to boost economic cooperation between the two countries. Undoubtedly, maritime trade is high in returns and presents lower security risks compared to border trade.

Indian investments

India is 12th on the list of investors in Myanmar with a cumulative investment of US $ 1.89 billion from 1989 to 2012. Foreign direct investment in Myanmar hit US$6 billion in the first 9 months of the current fiscal year 2014-15.

India’s engineering sector is eyeing the Myanmar market to create a bigger presence for engineering exports, and oil and gas companies ONGC Videsh and GAIL are aggressively scouting for more exploratory blocks in Myanmar. Infrastructure development is another area where India is engaging with Myanmar and is expected to continue to do so.

The new Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) law in Myanmar allows 100 percent FDI in textiles, 80 percent in food and beverages and production and distribution of fruits and vegetables. These two sectors in which India can intensify investment, especially for food and beverages production the thinly populated North-East states could be ideal, because of the ready availability of land.

The opportunity that Myanmar presents for Indian companies is immense, but without identifying the sectors for increased engagement, the efforts would be in vain. This must be the logic behind Sitharaman’s invitation to the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry to India in April for showcasing Myanmar’s economy to attract Indian investments.

(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata)

Sri Lanka: TN position and NPC resolution can delay refugees’ return

N Sathiya Moorthy

Independent of the enthusiasm shown by the Governments of India and Sri Lanka for the early return of the over 100,000 Tamil refugees in southern Tamil Nadu to their homeland across the Palk Strait, there could be delays of the unexpected kind. The position taken by the host Tamil Nadu Government and the ’genocide’ resolution passed by the Tamils-exclusive Northern Provincial Council (NPC) recently has the potential to discourage expectant returnees to have a re-think.

Any refugee returnee issue of the kind is fraught with inherent political, social and administrative problems, both fathomable and otherwise. Considering that the Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka have spent a substantial part of their growing-up years in Tamil Nadu, they will have inherent apprehensions in re-locating to a land that they almost/utmost unfamiliar and at times uncomfortable with.

For starters, the refugees will require assurances on rehabilitation, for them to be able to start their off their from where they had left in the host-State, despite all the other inconveniences, even if not from where they had left it before the ’ethnic war’ intervened and destroyed much of what they have had. Given the long and numerous stories of inevitable unemployment and joblessness flowing from across the Strait, they would also be concerned about family incomes, to feed themselves all and for providing education and healthcare for their children and the needy, respectively.

The youth among them, who may have been born and/or married while in the Indian camps, may not know the Sri Lanka of their earlier generation and might even feel like ’outsiders’. Some may be disturbed by a feeling of ’guilt’, and others too apprehensive about possible taunting by their brethren back home. The central theme in this case would that be that they had settled safely in a secure environs far away from the war-zones, leaving the rest to fight and die in the war that was not exclusively theirs. Yet, their incessant yearning to return home cannot be wished away, either.

Even in the best of times, the Sri Lankan State and the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist polity in the island-nation would have apprehensions about the wholesale return of the Tamil refugees from India in particular, and those from across the world, otherwise. Apart from the 100,000-plus refugees in India, a guesstimated 200,000 of them, mainly those whose applications for asylum may be, or may have been, rejected are said to be spread across the western world.

The mid-year report of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for 2014 puts the number of ’people of concern’ from Sri Lanka at 181,645. Official More than a third of this figure comprises refugees in Indian camps, going by domestic Government figures. Incidentally, another 35,000 or so Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka live outside the camp in India, either on their own, or with relatives and friends.

No throwing out

India is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention. Nor does it have a refugee law, on the lines proposed. Yet, to refugees from across all borders abutting the country, India has been doing more than what is internationally expected or prescribed. It’s both acknowledged and appreciated, both by the individuals concerned and the international community.

There is no culture, politics or functional legal framework for India to either throw them all out, or not accept them, or hold them hostage in the mid-seas or land-borders, as has been the case with many countries that are signatories to the UN convention and pride themselves to be having a prescription law for the protection of refugees. Indian and Indians do not know to ask their ’guests’ – however intrusive and destructive – to get out. Nor do they know the why and how of throwing them out.

Even without refugees, Indian immigration laws are lax in formulation and lazy in enforcement. Of course, unlike many other countries, particularly in the western hemisphere, India does not make politics out of granting ’political-asylum’ to every other person demanding it at one stage, and denying them the same when it may have become uncomfortable nearer home. It’s choosy and conservative in granting ’political asylum’, if at all. The last big name to be granted political asylum in India was the Dalai Lama. That was decades ago.

It’s thus that local political groups have often suggested/demanded that willing refugees be granted Indian citizenship without second thoughts – though the politics and processes of it may be more complex than elsewhere, too. In the case of Sri Lanka’s Tamil refugees, the DMK party in Tamil Nadu had suggested the same, but the response of the refugees themselves was muted, if not discouraging.

Help & concerns

Despite ignorance and impressions to the contrary, Sri Lankan Government agencies, particularly those in south India, have been doing a commendable job, to make things as comfortable as possible for the refugees. However, their efforts have often been stymied by pan-Tamil protestors in the State, who manhandled Sri Lankan officials, operating out of Tamil Nadu Government offices in the district headquarters, with police protection.

A few years ago, the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission (DHC) in Chennai commenced a process of registering births and deaths in the camps, at respective district headquarters on a cyclic basis, to facilitate the new-born to attain Sri Lankan citizenship, passport and other identification papers as applicable in alien environs. Even without this, the DHC at Chennai often wears a festive look as Sri Lankan refugees from within the country and outside – so also Diaspora members – celebrate their marriages, and/or have them registered there.

In coordination with OfERR, a Sri Lankan refugee-relief organisation and the cooperation of the Tamil Nadu Government, the DHC also conducted O-Level exams for camp-inmates at Chennai a few years ago. Teachers from Sri Lanka were available to coach the candidates, though only for a few weeks, and question papers and invigilators too were flown in from Sri Lanka for the purpose. However, this experiment too could not be repeated/replicated in the following years, to include possible A-Level exams, too.

After mindless attacks by local pan-Tamil groups, the ’mobile registration’ process – of DHC officials visiting district headquarters by turn – had to be given up. The SL officials had chosen weekends for the registration purpose to minimise hardship and loss of sundry earning for the refugees during the working week. Lately, there has also been some reluctance to help revive the ’mobile registration’ process – or, so it seems.

Otherwise, the Sri Lankan Government too would have to do enough by way of providing facilities for the returnees to settle down, mainly in the place of their original residence. It’s unclear how many of the refugees owned the residences that they had left or otherwise had a lien over the same – and how many of these homesteads might have changed hands, be it in the possession of the armed forces or fellow-Tamil encroachers.

Govt apparatus still cautious

The present political-change in Sri Lanka may be more conducive for the refugees to consider returning in large numbers, if only over a period. Yet, independent of the change and consequent perceptions, the Government Establishment in Sri Lanka, particularly the security apparatus, could be apprehensive about the LTTE-linked militant loyalties of at least some of them, and the consequent potential for trouble. These are for real, until the last embers of a dying separatist Tamil cause are doused wholly. It’s thus for the refugee population to reassure them that they meant no harm, now or later.

The ’Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist’ polity might be worried at the surge in the Tamil voter-number and population. Independent of the results that some of them have enthusiastically celebrated, the contribution of the Tamil-speaking population to present-day President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory would be an eternal cause for their unfounded worries for decades more to come. It’s another matter that the refugees, from nearer to home in India, and elsewhere, have the possible potential to tilt the political status quo within the community.

Post-poll in Sri Lanka, the national leaderships in the two countries have enthusiastically welcomed suggestions for the early return of willing refugees, housed in India. At the highest-level talks in Delhi, between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two sides have decided to take forward the efforts in this direction.

It does not require any reiteration that there would not be any coercive element in this regard. Nor would there be any indirect encouragement for them to return early, say, in the form of the Indian government holding back their monthly doles, rations and other facilities. At the same time, the Government of India can be expected to help and assist the returnees in every which way, if they volunteer – and only volunteer – to go back to their homeland.

Apart from the itemised list of funding and assistance that India would be extending, there have also been suggestions for the Indian Government to continue with the payment of doles, receivable in bank accounts in Sri Lanka, for a fixed period, say up to three years. Another suggestion has been for India to extend and expand the IDP housing scheme in the war-affected areas of Sri Lanka, to cover the refugees, particularly those now camping in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

The Government of India and that in Tamil Nadu could also be expected to continue with their educational concessions, and seat reservation for refugee families, in their higher educational institutions, wherever applicable, for a specific length of time. There are other specifics that the Governments in India may be willing to consider as and when presented appropriately.

Fear, intimidation and autonomy

However, there are palpable hurdles, many of them political, for the enthusiastic return of the refugees to their homeland. Taking a patronising view of things, the host Tamil Nadu Government jumped the gun even before the green flag had been pulled out for the refugees’ return, to declare that it would want the Sri Lankan armed forces withdrawn from the Tamil areas, before it could happen. While de-militarisation has been among the Tamils’ demands in the larger context neither the refugees, nor brethren back home, have made it a condition precedent for the former returning home.

The State Government has since gone beyond what Chief Minister Panneerselvam had conveyed to Prime Minister Modi in a letter last month. It was soon followed by the State’s decision not to participate in the multi-ministerial officials’ meeting called to discuss the issue in Delhi. In his policy-making annual address to the State Assembly, Governor K Rosaiah has since said that any meeting to discuss voluntary repatriation the refugees was premature and should be deferred in view of the prevailing atmosphere of fear and intimidation, among other things.

The State Government was committed to the peaceful, just and honourable resettlement of the refugees, the Governor said. Flagging specific concerns in relation to the government of a ’friendly neighbour’, the Governor spoke of the ’presence of the Army in Tamil areas, non-settlement of internally-displaced people and absence of any concrete and credible measures taken by the Sri Lankan Government’, as among the other issues in this regard.

"But it is of the view that voluntary repatriation can be countenanced only after proper rehabilitation of the internally- displaced Sri Lankan Tamils," Governor Rosaiah said. In this context, he stressed that a congenial atmosphere for the return of the refugees could be achieved only by fully restoring the autonomy and democratic rights of Tamil minorities, besides sufficient economic and political measures – again a sensitive political and constitutional issue in that country.

Portending trouble?

In and from the post-poll Sri Lanka under new regime with Tamil support, the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) resolution, alleging ’genocide’ in the end-game of the conclusive ’Eelam War IV" and the consequent demand for continuing with an international probe into ’accountability issues’ against the Sri Lankan armed forces, may have already come as a greater, emotional hurdle to refugee-return. It’s not about what has been said, or not said, but about what it might portend, even in passive socio-political terms, to life in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, particularly the Northern Province.

Northern Province Chief Minister and former Supreme Court Judge, C V Wigneswaran, may have conferred greater respectability and urgency to the issues that the resolution has flagged by his attesting to its content and piloting it in the Provincial Council. Wigneswaran may have also further ruffled the refugees’ hopes by declaring even more recently that there are over a hundred thousand war widows among the Tamils in the North. The acknowledged official figure for the Tamil war-widows earlier was 90,000, in the North and the East put together.

With the international community, starting with the US sponsor of the UNHRC resolution ordering an ’independent probe’ in March last year, and the UNHRC too agreeing to delaying the presentation of the investigation report, at the instance of the new Government in Sri Lanka, the reaction of the Tamil community in general, and that of the NPC on the one hand and the hard-line sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, are anxiously awaited by refugees who want to return home from India. Any rumbling on the ground would discourage the refugees in India in particular, and elsewhere, otherwise, from wanting to return home early.

Economic refugees

There is a non-Indian element to the whole ’refugee-return’ exercise. Considering that even five years after the end of the ethnic war in Sri Lanka, Tamils in the country keep taking dangerous boat-rides to nations such as Australia in search of greener pastures but blaming it on unsubstantiated military harassment, there is resistance to refugee-return from among the Tamils, including those with local citizenship, across the West.

There have even been claims/accusations against the West, though not always openly stated and substantiated, that some nations had taken a keener interest in ’accountability issues’ in Sri Lanka, only to try and create the ’right conditions’ for the early return of asylum-seekers and refugees in their midst. There have even been charges that those nations were manipulated on issues that were otherwise real, only to try and ensure that the refugees/asylum-seekers would not be sent back to Sri Lanka.

It is often argued that the continuing western interest in seeing the refugees in the Indian camps return home early also owed to their own concern about the return of those ’illegally’ staying back in their countries. The ’Indian example’ and precedent could then be used for them to ’encourage’ illegal migrants among them to return to Sri Lanka, early on – or, so goes the argument.

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

Country Reports

Afghanistan

Pak army, ISI chiefs in Kabul

The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, Gen Raheel Sharif and the Director-General of the ISI Rizwan Akhtar were in Kabul this week for a one-day visit to discuss security issues between the two countries. During the meeting, Gen Sharif claimed that the insurgents carrying out attacks were enemies of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both sides vowed to explore possibilities of conducting joint operations to tackle the insurgents.

For more information see: "Pakistan’s Army and ISI Chiefs Arrive to Kabul", Tolo News, 17 February 2015; "Afghanistan’s enemy is Pakistan’s enemy, says army chief", Dawn, 17 February 2015

Peace talks to be revived

According to reports emerging from Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani is taking preliminary steps to begin peace talks with the Taliban again. President Ghani has begun meeting various stakeholders to ensure that all voices are taken into account if negotiations move forward. Senior Pakistani officials have claimed that Taliban officials, including Mullah Omar have been approached about the possibility of reopening such talks. Pakistani officials have also confirmed that the Taliban’s office in Doha has been revived and that initial contact between the Afghan government and the Taliban has already taken place.

For more information see : "Ghani Prepares for Peace Talks With Taliban Leadership in Coming Weeks", Tolo News, 19 February 2015; "Afghan Taliban’s Doha office revived: Pakistan officials", Dawn, 20 February 2015

Civilian casualties up

The 2014 report of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on "Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict" has estimated a 22 percent increase in civilian casualties in 2014. The annual report puts the total number of dead and injured civilians at 10,548, which has been the highest figure recorded by the UN since 2009.

For more information see : "UNAMA report shows 22 percent rise in civilian casualties in Afghanistan", , Khaama Press, 18 February 2015

Bangladesh

Politics in conundrum

There seems to be no end to the political chaos in Bangladesh. The entire week country wide witnessed country wide shutdown enforced by opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP). Since 5th of January BNP has been staging country-wide shutdown to oust Shiekh Hasina led Awami League government. Also, political violence continued and there had been to improvement of the law and order situation. International community has expressed concern over the prevailing political condition of the country.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has written to BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia, expressing concern over the situation in the country. Meanwhile, a group from European Union visited Bangladesh to assess the situation. The EU delegation met leaders of both the political parties. But efforts of the international community do not seem to alter the condition. BNP has welcomed the EU’s call for a dialogue but Prime Minister Sheikh Haisna has categorically said that no dialogue will be possible unless there is end to violence.Bangladesh is witnessing continuous country wide Around 71 people died in the political violence since shutdown began in January.

For more information see : "One killed in violence", The Independent, 16 February 2015; "UN chief writes to Hasina, Khaleda", The Independent, 18 February 2015, "48-hour Hartal, Again", The Daily Star, 18 February 2015; "12 sustain burns", The Independent, 20 February 2015; "Dialogue amid violence not a good idea, AL tells EP team", The Independent, 20 February 2015

$8.69-b projects with China

China has responded positively to Bangladesh’s request for financial cooperation in important projects. The Chinese embassy recently informed the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that the list of 15 development projects submitted to Beijing, involving over US$8.69 billion, for inclusion in China’s 13th five-year plan (2016-2020), would be considered positively. "

For more information see : "China sends positive feedback for $8.69 billion projects", The Independent, 17 February 2015

Security talks with India

The Home Secretaries of India and Bangladesh met this week in Delhi. At the meeting the two sides reviewed a wide range of security issues including terrorism, insurgency, smuggling, and trafficking. Bangladesh has expressed its concern at a recent "rise" in the number of killings of Bangladeshi nationals by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF).

The major outcome of the meeting was consensus among the two countries to strengthen the border management system through "enhanced joint patrol and regular meetings at local levels". Bangladesh side was led by Senior Secretary for home affairs Md Mozammel Haque Khane, while Union Home Secretary LC Goyal led the Indian team.

For more information see : "Dhaka expresses concern over ’rising’ border killing", Bdnews24.com, 18 January 2015

Bhutan

India’s ’smiling squads’ on border

India’s border guard force Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) has replaced its gun-toting troops with a ’smiling’ non-combative personnel team to interact and frisk people who cross-over to India from Indian borders of Nepal and Bhutan.

For more information see : "SSB deploys unarmed ’smiling’ squads at Nepal, Bhutan borders", www.zeenews.india.com, 18 February 2015

Drop in crime rate

The Royal Bhutan Police has said that there has been a drop in the nationwide crime rate by about 15 percent compared to last year. The RBP said that compared to 2013 when 3288 crime cases were recorded, 2014 saw 2775 cases.

For more information see : "RBP Says National Crime Rate Has Dropped by 15%", The Bhutanese, 16 February 2015

India

PM speaks against persecution

Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his much criticised silence against increased targeting of religious minorities and vowed to protect freedom of religion and faith. He made these comments during a ceremony organised by the Christian community in New Delhi on 17 February. An alarming number of churches have come under attack in the last few months. Modi’s decision to break his silence, however, may be motivated by a range of factors. US President Barack Obama’s censure against rising intolerance in India and a prominent editorial in The New York Times may have prompted Modi, who is sensitive to his international image, to act. Alternatively, the party’s rout in the recently held Delhi Assembly elections might have brought home the electoral costs of condoning fundamentalist elements among the Hindu right.

For more information see : "PM Narendra Modi breaks his silence, says govt will ensure undeniable right to retain, adopt religion of choice", The Indian Express, 18 February 2015; "Won’t tolerate violence against any religion, promises Modi", The Hindu, 17 February 2015

New twist to ’terror boat’ incident

B K Loshali, a senior Coast Guard officer and Chief of Staff (North West Region), Coast Guard caused a controversy by publicly stating that the unidentified boat chased by the Coast Guard on 31 December was destroyed by the patrol boat under his orders.

The statement contradicts the Government’s position on the incident which maintains that the boat, originating from Pakistan, was on a terrorist mission and its occupants had set it on fire to avoid capture.

Loshali’s subsequent denial proved untenable as a video of his speech was circulated online. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar defended the Government’s position and promised to bring video evidence to prove its case. He also suggested disciplinary action against Loshali.

For more information see : "Blow the Pak boat off, we don’t want to serve them biryani: Coast Guard DIG", The Indian Express, 18 February 2015; "Coast Guard DIG denies report that he ordered to blow up Pak ’terror’ boat, video contradicts his claim", The Times of India, 18 February 2015

Modi for self-sufficiency in defence production

Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged international companies to invest in India and contribute to its defence manufacturing industry while speaking at the annual Aero India show in Bengaluru. He alluded to the new Government’s policy to incorporate diverse actors – public sector, private firms, and foreign players – in defence production and emphasised its decision to increase foreign direct investment in defence sector from 26 percent to 49 percent, and modify offsets policy to encourage more transfer of technology.

For more information see : "Aero India 2015: PM Narendra Modi vows ’Make in India’ boost for defence manufacturing sector", The Financial Express, 19 February 2015; "We will build an industry that will have room for everyone: PM Modi at Bangalore Aero show", The Indian Express, 18 February 2015

N-capable missile test-fired

The Strategic Forces Command successfully tested the Prithvi-II, a nuclear-capable surface to surface missile from a base in Odisha on 19 February. Prithvi-II has a range of up to 350 km and payload capacity of 1000 kg. The test was reported to be successful as the missile splashed into the Bay of Bengal within 20 metres of the designated target.

This was a user-trial. The Strategic Forces Command personnel selected a missile at random from a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) facility and carried out the test. Prithvi-II was inducted into the Command in 2003 and has undergone a battery of tests since then.

For more information see : "Prithvi-II proves its mettle in user test-firing", The Hindu, 19 February 2015; "India successfully test-fires Prithvi-II missile at Chandipur in Odisha", The Economic Times, 19 February 2015

Maldives

President’s address on 2 March

With the political climate in the country heating up, anxiety surrounds the annual address of President Abdulla Yameen to Parliament, scheduled for 2 March.

In 2012, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of predecessor President Mohammed Nasheed, stalled proceedings and prevented successor-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik from delivering the customary address on 1 March – which in turn had to be postponed to another day.

For more information see: "Presidential Address to be delivered on 2 March", SunOnline, 19 February 2015; "Two JP MPs and 15 councilors defect to PPM", Minivan News, 20 February 2015

Action sought against Oppn

With some speakers at an Opposition MDP-JP joint rally declaring that they would turn suicide-bombers to target President Abdulla Yameen, his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has said that they were encouraging terrorism in the country and sought action against them.

For more information see : "Opposition rallies encourage terrorism, says PPM", Minivan News, 19 February 2015; "Govt will implement punishment on criminals- President", Miadhu, 20 February 2015; "Crowds will be dispersed if protesters act outside the law, warn police", Haveeru Online, 19 February 2015; "Hundreds march in support of President Yameen", Minivan News, 19 February 2015; "Islamic Minister urges AP members not to participate in any coup attempts", Miadhu, 15 February 2015

Call for Yameen’s resignation

Continuing with their night rallies of the previous days, the joint Opposition protestors in a Male rally have reiterated their call for President Abdulla Yameen to quit office.

For more information see : "MDP-JP protesters call for President Yamin’s resignation", Haveeru Online, 9 February 2015; "Thousands hold a march in defence of constitution", Miadhu, 20 February 2015; "’Journalists are politically influenced and threatened’", Haveeru Online, 18 February 2015; "USD 100 mn owing from Qasim islands", Haveeru Online, 16 February 2015

HC rejects Nazim’s appeal

Rejecting the bail-appeal by sacked Defence Minister, Col Mohamed Nazim, the High Court has remanded him to custody for 15 days.

Nazim’s defence, meanwhile, has found holes in the prosecution argument that he was in possession of illegal weapons and was plotting a coup – pointing to the absence of any video-graphing of the police raid on his house and also forensic tests on the weapons.

For more information see : "Nazim remains in custody as High Court rejects appeal", Minivan News, 20 February 2015; "Nazim’s appeal hearings concluded", SunOnline, 16 February 2015; "No forensic evidence against Nazim, says legal team", Minivan News, 16 February 2015; "Police silent over allegation of no raid video", Haveeru Online, 16 February 2015; "No one is safe if people like Nazim are arrested, says Nasheed", SunOnline, 15 February 2015

Nasheed case being dropped?

The Prosecutor-General’s office has since withdrawn the pending case against former President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), on the charge of illegal detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Mohammed Abdulla, when the former was in office. If convicted and sentenced, Nasheed might have to face disqualification from contesting future elections for a specified period.

For more information see : "PG withdraws charges against Nasheed", Minivan News, 16 February 2015; "PG Office withdraws charges against Nasheed", SunOnline, 16 February 2015; "Charges against Nasheed retracted by PG", Haveeru Online, 16 February 2015; "Civil Court rejects Nasheed stay order on Hulhumalé Court bench changes", Minivan News, 15 February 2015; "Cannot issue temporary hold on bench: Civil Court", Haveeru Online, 14 February 2015

Dunya meets Sushma

On a private visit to India to call on an ailing relative in Bengaluru, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, undertook a quick trip to Delhi, when he met with India’s External Affairs Minister, Dunya Maumoon, and discussed issues of bilateral interests.

The two ministers are believed to have discussed issues of mutual interest ahead of the planned Maldives visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

For more information see : "Minister Dhunya meets Minister Swaraj in Delhi", Haveeru Online, 15 February 2015; "Foreign Minister meets with Indian External Affairs Minister", SunOnline, 15 February 2015

Myanmar

Casualties mount in Kokang conflict

Casualties mounted in Kokang as conflict intensified in Laukkaing including in Mawthike and Gonegyan. According to the state television 3 soldiers and 2 civilians have been killed in the conflict that begun on 15 February. Meanwhile, the government has rejected ceasefire talks with the Kokang rebels.

For information more see : "Casualties mount as Kokang conflict intensifies" Eleven Myanmar, 19 February 2015; "Govt rejects Kokang request for ceasefire talks", Myanmar Times, 19 February 2015

NLD chair calls for rule of law

Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy Chairperson said that the Rule of Law must prevail, replying to a question on the imposition of martial law in Kokang on 15 February. Suu Kyi said that the rule of law must be included in the framework.

For information more see : "NLD Chairperson: Respect Rule of Law", Eleven Myanmar, 19 February 2015

Trade with India to reach $ 10 b

Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry, Nirmala Sitharaman has said that bilateral trade with Myanmar would reach $10 billion in the next five years and india would invest $2 billion in Myanmar. She co-chaired the 5th Joint Trade Council Meeting in Nay Pyi Taw.

For information more see : "Myanmar-India trade expected to reach US$10 billion in five years, says Indian commerce minister", Eleven Myanmar, 19 February 2015

Nepal

Route to Everest changed

Nepalese officials said on Wednesday that they are changing the route that climbers take up Mt Everest after an avalanche killed 16 guides last year, the deadliest accident in the mountain’s history.

For information more see : After mishaps, Nepal changes Everest route", The Times of India, 19 February 2015

Not the official view: India

A visiting BJP leader has sparked a controversy over her remarks on future federal structure in Nepal, prompting the Indian Embassy to step in to defuse the row saying they were her personal views and do not reflect the policy of the Indian government.

For information more see : "BJP leader’s remark on Nepal doesn’t reflect govt view: Indian embassy", eKantipur, 19 February 2015; "Indian Embassy in Nepal dissociates from BJP leader’s remarks", The Hindu, 18 February 2015

Unarmed guards on border

The border guarding force SSB has replaced its gun-toting troops with a ’smiling’ non-combatised personnel team to interact and frisk people who cross-over to India from the international borders of Nepal and Bhutan. The new "interactive" protocol has been put in place by the Sashastra Seema Bal keeping in mind India’s good relations with these two eastern neighbours and the fact that scores of civilians cross-over to both the sides for their regular business and visits.

For information more see : "SSB deploys unarmed ’smiling’ squads at Nepal, Bhutan borders", , Business Standard, 18 February 2015

Opposition to launch protest

To protest against the ruling parties’ decision to initiate the voting process on disputed issues of constitution writing, the 30-party alliance led by UCPN (Maoist) is organising rallies across the country on Saturday.

For information more see : Oppn alliance unveils plan for protest", eKantipur, 20 February 2014

Pakistan

Support for Afghan reconciliation

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced this week that the Pakistan military welcomed reports about the possibility of the reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban being resumed. The Pakistan military also claimed that it was willing to support this process but it had to be an Afghan-led process. Subsequently the Pakistan Foreign Office also issued a statement expressing interest in facilitating and supporting the reconciliation process.

For information more see : "Pakistan ready to facilitate Afghan peace negotiations", The Daily Times, 20 February 2015; "Pakistan supports peace talks between Taliban and Afghan government: ISPR", The Express Tribune, 19 February 2015

Kerry praises CT efforts

US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a joint news briefing with Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, commended Pakistan’s efforts in countering terrorism and eradicating all forms of extremism in the region. He also praised Pakistan for its efforts in improving relations with Afghanistan.

For information more see : "Pakistan making unprecedented effort for Afghan peace: Kerry", Dawn, 20 February 2015

Sri Lanka

Sirisena visits India

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena made northern Indian neighbour his first overseas destination in office, holding official talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when four agreements, including one on civilian nuclear cooperation, were signed between the two countries.

While the two sides sought to revive the fishers’ talks between the two countries, they also discussed the return of Sri Lankan Tamil war refugees’ voluntary return to Sri Lanka, early on.

For information more see : "Pre-empting China, India inks nuclear pact with Sri Lanka", The Hindu, 17 February 2015; "Strong ties between India and Sri Lanka: Maithripala Sirisena", The Hindu, 16 February 2015; "’We won’t side with either giant’ ’Both India and China are Sri Lanka’s friends,’ Sirisena tells New Delhi", The Island, February 17, 2015; "Sirisena courts India on first foreign trip", The Island, 14 February 2015; "Modi due in Sri Lanka on March 13", Daily Mirror Online, 19 February 2015; "Modi to visit 4 Indian Ocean countries next month", The Island, 19 February 2015; "Holy shrine door broken open to let Sirisena, his wife in", The Island, 19 February 2015; "Entry fee reduced for Lankans to New Delhi Museum", Daily Mirror Online, 19 February 2015; "President to visit US this year", Daily Mirror Online, 19 February 2015

TNA for Indian initiative

Ahead of President Maitripala Sirisena’s India visit, Northern Province’s ruling Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan urged the former’s Indian host to prevail upon the visitor to implement the promised power-devolution under the long-existing Thirteenth Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution.

On return to Colombo, Cabinet Spokesperson and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who had accompanied President Sirisena, said that India did not insist on the implementation of 13-A.

For more information see: "TNA seeks Indian push for 13-A", The Sunday Leader, 15 February 2015; "Rajitha: India did not insist on 13 A plus implementation", The Island, 19 February 2015; "NPC Opposition Leader flays CM for ’playing double game’", The Island, February 15, 2015; "Govt. to return more land in North-Swaminathan", The Island, 18 February 2015; "Jaffna fisherman to look for alternative livelihoods", The Island, 18 February 2015; "Sri Lanka fishing on very tricky waters", The Sunday Leader, 15 February 2015; "Boat carrying four Lankans intercepted off Cocos Islands", Daily Mirror Online, 19 February 2015

UNHRC report not in March

Heeding the new Sri Lankan Government’s suggestion, the UNHRC at Geneva has agreed to delay the report into the war-time ’accountability issues’ pertaining to Sri Lanka by six months, to its bi-annual session in September 2015

For more information see: "UNHRC agrees to delay the report", Daily Mirror Online, 16 February 2015; "UN rights chief backs delay for SL war crimes report", Daily Mirror Online, 16 February 2015; "Ban, Mangala discuss key issues", The Sunday Leader, 15 February 2015; "US tells Zeid to decide on Lanka", The Sunday Leader, 15 February 2015 "UN rights chief should decide on SL report delay: US", Daily Mirror Online, 14 February 2015; "Nimal praises Mangala’s efforts, urges UN to change its approach towards Sri Lanka", The Island, 17 February 2015; "Opposition Leader queries what Mangala wrote to UNHRC", The Island, 19 February 2015;

Not much change in China ties

Despite the post-poll speculation to the contrary, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has reiterated his post-poll position that relationship with China would be strengthened to higher levels than under the previous regime.

For more information see: "Ranil vows to strengthen Lanka-China relations", The Island, 18 February 2015; "Only PM can speak on Port City", The Sunday Leader, 15 February 2015; "China proposes triangular partnership with India, Sri Lanka", The Hindu, 19 February 2015; "U.S. welcomes Indo-Sri Lanka nuclear pact", The Hindu, 18 February 2015

Not a defeat, but conspiracy: MR

In a message read out at a huge rally organised by the non-SLFP partners in the erstwhile ruling UPFA, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that his defeat in the 8 January election was the result of a conspiracy.

In an obvious reference to the rally organisers’ call for him to be made the UPFA prime ministerial candidate in the elections that have been promised to be ordered on 23 April, the message said that he could not ignore the hands of affection and honour.

For more information see: "Cannot ignore hands of affection-MR", Daily Mirror Online, 19 February 2015; "Will not leave SLFP, supporters-MR", Daily Mirror Online, 15 February 2015; "Wimal: Maithri under Ranil’s thumb", The Island, 18 February 2015; "SLFP Biyagama electorate unanimously picks Mahinda as PM candidate", The Island, 17 February 2015; "SLFP grassroots want Mahinda", The Island, 15 February, 2015; "MR Candidature Creates Ripples Among SLFP Bigwigs", The Sunday Leader, 15 February 2015; "Rumpus at SLFP meeting", The Island, 14 February 2015; "Susil: Nugegoda rally has rattled the UNP", The Island, 19 February, 2015; "Nugegoda Rally was a success: Susil", Daily Mirror Online, 19 February 2015

Primary Documentation

Afghanistan

Press release by UNAMA about the rise in civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2014,United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 18 February 2015

Bangladesh

Speech of Hon’ble Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, MP, for the inaugural ceremony of the "Grand Art and Cultural Show, Charm of Silk Road" of the Chinese Artistic Group, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 2 February 2015

India

Mani Shankar Aiyar (Congress MP, Rajya Sabha) "Why AAP Victory is Good News", NDTV, 14 February 2015

Yogendra Yadav (Aam Aadmi Party), "’Delhi was the first experiment. We want to be a national alternative.’", The Asian Age, 15 February 2015

Ashutosh (Aam Aadmi Party), "As Team Kejriwal, We Accept These 10 Challenges", NDTV, 16 February 2015

Text of PM’s statement to the media during the visit of President of Sri Lanka, Shri Maithripala Sirisena, to India, website of the Prime Minister’s Office, 16 February 2015

List of Agreements/MoUs signed during the State Visit of the President of Sri Lanka to India, Ministry of External Affairs, 16 February 2015

Prime Minister’s Media Statement during the State Visit of President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to India, Ministry of External Affairs, 16 February 2015

External Affairs Minister’s Remarks at the Interaction with the Indian Community in Muscat, Ministry of External Affairs, 17 February 2015

Text of PM’s address at the National Celebration of the Elevation to Sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia, website of the Prime Minister’s Office, 17 February 2015

Text of PM’s address at Aero India Show in Bengaluru, website of the Prime Minister’s Office, 18 February 2015

Shashi Tharoor (Congress MP, Thiruvananthapuram), "PM Modi’s Olive Branch to his Critics", NDTV, 18 February 2015

Nepal

Press Release from Embassy of Nepal, New Delhi, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Nepal, 20 February 2015

Press Release from Embassy of Nepal, Ottawa, Canada, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Nepal, 19 February 2015

Sri Lanka

"Prime Minister’s Media Statement during the State Visit of President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to India", Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 16 February 2015

"Speech by the President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee at the Banquet hosted in the honour of HE Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka", Rashtrapati Bhavan, Government of India, 16 February 2015

Bibliography

Afghanistan

Nathan Hodge, "Taliban, Afghan Officials to Meet for Peace Talks", The Wall Street Journal, 19 February 2015

Mujib Mashal, "Afghanistan’s Team of Rivals", Al Jazeera, 17 February 2015

Martin van Bijlert, "Electoral Reform, or rather: Who will control Afghanistan’s next election?", Afghanistan Analysts Network, 17 February 2015

Heather Barr, "Afghanistan: Still a Man’s World?", Foreign Policy, 17 February 2015

Thomas Ruttig, "President’s CEO Decree: Managing rather than executive powers", Afghanistan Analysts Network, 13 February 2015

Bangladesh

Taj Hashmi, "Bangladesh crisis in the mirror of historical sociology", The Daily Star, 16 February 2015

Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury," Political violence: A threat to national security", Political violence: A threat to national security", 17 February 2015

Bhutan

The Bhutanese, "A Parallel System for MPs", The Bhutanese, 16 February 2015

India

Swapan Dasgupta, "The bandwagon effect", The Asian Age, 19 February 2015

Ashutosh Varshney, "What Delhi rejects", The Indian Express, 19 February 2015

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, "Thus spake Modi", The Indian Express, 19 February 2015

Praveen Swami, "Why the truth on Pakistan boat matters: the lies hurt our national security system", The Indian Express, 18 February 2015

Arun Kumar, "A social role for NITI Aayog", The Hindu, 17 February 2015

Swati Narayan, "Sweeping away India’s social security", Live Mint, 16 February 2015

Kumar Ketkar, "General Amit Shah’s Black Tuesday", NDTV, 16 February 2015

Maldives

N Sathiya Moorthy, "Troubled politics in pristine Maldives", South Asia Monitor, 19 February 2015

N Sathiya Moorthy, "Maldives: China denies military base, sends out new signals to India?", www.orfonline.org, 16 February 2015

Myanmar

Eleven, "Create Good Economic Prospects", Eleven Myanmar, 19 February 2015

Sithu Aung Myint, "White card or government political playing card?", Myanmar Times, 16 February 2015

Nepal

Avinash Gupta and Hari Sharma, "Boon or bane?", Republica, 19 February 2015

Gopal Sharma, "Nepal sexual minorities back panel’s call for legal same-sex marriage", Reuters, 17 February 2015

Pakistan

Najam Sethi, "New Architecture for Dialogue", The Friday Times, 20 February 2015

Shujaat Bukhari, "A cautious new beginning", The Friday Times, 20 February 2015

Thomas E Ricks, "Musharraf admits that Pakistani proxies fought in Afghanistan – so what does that tell us about where Pakistan is today?", Foreign Policy, 16 February 2015

Huma Yusuf, "Extremism in Sindh", Dawn, 16 February 2015

Sri Lanka

N Sathiya Moorthy "President Sirisena’s global out-reach commences on a positive note", www.orfonline.org, 19 February 2015

Chathushika Wijesinhe, "Do not ask who the next Prime Minister is", Daily Mirror Online, 19 February 2015

Gomin Dayasri, "Fly high and fall flat", Daily Mirror Online, 18 February 2015

K Godage, "A new treaty of peace with India", Daily Mirror Online, 17 February 2015

Neville Ladduwahetty, "Revisiting Sri Lanka’s foreign policy", The Island, 17 February 2015

N Sathiya Moorthy, "Sirisena visit: Taking bilateral relations to a new plane", South Asia Monitor, 17 February 2015

Shamindra Fernando, "Wigneswaran’s resolution alleging genocide of Tamils and President’s visit to New Delhi", The Island, 17 February 2015

Jehan Perera, "Inclusive actions needed to reunify the polity at multiple levels", The Island, 16 February 2015

N Sathiya Moorthy, "Parliamentary polls, now or whenever?", The Sunday Leader, 15 February 2015

Contributors:

Afghanistan : Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh : Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Myanmar & Bhutan : Mihir Bhonsale;
India: Kaustav Dhar Chakrabarti and Manmath Goel;
Maldives & Sri Lanka : N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal : Pratnashree;

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