South Asia Weekly | Volume IX; Issue 15

    Election preparations in Assam, April, 2016

    Source: PTI

    ANALYSIS

    India: Will ongoing assembly polls impact national politics?

    By Satish Misra

    National parties, including the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress, and different regional parties are currently engaged in electoral campaigns in four states and one Union Territory. Elections in the states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and the Union Territory of Puducherry are being held between April 4 and May 16. The results of all the five assemblies will be announced on May 19.

    In none of the five, the BJP as the leader of the ruling coalition at the Centre, is in power. That is also why it is leaving nothing to chance to win at least in one if not in all the five. On the other hand, the Congress, which is ruling Assam and Kerala, is equally serious to retain power in at least one, if not in both.

    The results of these elections are important not only for the Congress and the BJP, but also for regional parties like the AIADMK ruling Tamil Nadu, the Trinamool Congress that is in power in West Bengal and the NR Congress in Puducherry as they are pitching in to beat the anti-incumbency syndrome to return to power. In particular, chief ministers Jayalalitha (Tamil Nadu) and Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) are leaving nothing to chance.

    In all, the various national parties, their regional counterparts, and their coalitions, wherever applicable, are wooing 117 million potential voters, who are set to elect 824 MLAs. A section of the electorate in Assam and West Bengal have cast their franchise on April 4 and there was a heavy turnout of voters.  In 18 seats in West Bengal and 65 seats in Assam, polling was 81 and 78 percent respectively. This has confirmed the citizenry’s commitment to democratic process and institutions.

    Close contest in Assam

    The election results are going to depend on host of local, regional and national issues. In Assam, where the Congress is pitted against a determined BJP–led alliance, it seems there is a very close contest.

    The Congress, suffering from 15 years of incumbency factor, would, under normal circumstances, have lost the battle but it appears to be in a close contest. The Congress had won 78 seats in 2011 assembly elections, improving upon its own performance of 53 seats in 2006. In 2001 elections, it had won 71 seats.

    The main challenge to the ruling Congress in the state is from the BJP–led coalition and the All India United Democratic Forum (AIUDF) which has been gaining strength for last 10 years. In 2006 elections, the AIUDF, which then was called Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), had won 10 seats. The AIUDF, which mainly represents the voice and concerns of Muslims, increased its tally to 18 in 2011 elections. The AIUDF won three Lok Sabha seats in 2014 general elections.

    The BJP, which had won five seats in the 2011 assembly electoral battle, improved its performance by winning seven Lok Sabha seats in 2014, with a vote-share of 36.50 percent, up from 15.30 per cent in 2009. If the Lok Sabha results were to be any indicator of the results this time, then the BJP and its alliance partners should win about 70-plus seats in the house of 126 which would enable it to form the next government in the state. Even in local body elections, held in 2015, the BJP had won 360 out of total 746 seats.

    It seems that the BJP is facing a tougher battle on the ground. Though the BJP has forged an alliance with the AGP and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), yet these alliances have angered the party’s traditional and loyal workers and leaders. Both the top leaders of the BJP, who are being projected and perceived as future chief ministers, are recent entrants to the party which has resulted in lot of disgruntlement among the rank and file and state party leaders.

    The popularity of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had played a very big role in the Lok Sabha polls but the ‘Modi magic’ is on wane and that is why the party has restrained from overusing him in the electoral campaign unlike it did in previous assembly elections in 2014 and 2015.

    The BJP is also facing some flak for non-fulfilment of promises like the grant of schedule tribe status to six tribes made during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The land swap agreement with Bangladesh has also angered sections of the party’s traditional voter base. The BJP–led NDA government’s recent move of allowing Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants to stay in Assam has fuelled protests as the central government’s decision is against the Assam Accord of 1985.

    Anti-incumbency in Kerala?

    In Kerala, where the Congress–led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) have been alternatively in power for over three decades, the contest again is between the two fronts with the BJP-led coalition trying its best to make its electoral presence.

    The UDF had come to power after winning 2011 assembly elections,  replacing the LDF. The UDF has now 73 seats in a House of 140 and the LDF 67 members. Incumbent chief minister Oommen Chandy, who is suffering from the anti-incumbency, has also been involved in a few controversies which have negatively affected his image and that of his government, creating favourable conditions for the return of the LDF to power. However, LDF is also affected by factionalism led by two senior-most leaders — former Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

    The BJP has formed a third front by entering into an alliance with the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BJDS), a new party formed by the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, a powerful organisation of the backward Ezhava community, once the backbone of the CPM. The front has added to its strength roping in a minor faction of the Kerala Congress, led by P C Thomas, also.

    While the main contest is between the UDF and LDF, results on May 19 would show if the BJP–led front is able to make a dent by winning a couple of seats or not. Irrespective of the number of seats that the third front is able to win, its polled percentage would be a pointer to the future politics of the state which till now has been broadly divided between the two coalitions of UDF and LDF.

    In Puducherry, the contest is between the ruling All-India NR Congress (AINRC), the Congress-DMK alliance and the AIADMK. The AINRC has been joined by the PMK. The ruling AINRC seems to be well-placed.

    Tamil Nadu: Four fronts in fray

    In Tamil Nadu, the DMK and AIADMK alliances have been alternating in power since 1967 and efforts to break this pattern by forming a third front have not yielded much results. In the current elections too, there are four fronts in the fray. Apart from the two old alliances, the traditional competitors for power, there are two more this time. One is the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) which has five parties in its fold and the other is the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

    The BJP–led NDA made serious efforts to forge alliance with some political parties, including the DMDK of popular Tamil film star Vijyakanth, but Vijyakanth decided to join the PWF which has projected him as its chief ministerial candidate.

    In the 2011 election, the AIADMK led seven-party alliance had won 203 seats in the house of 234 members. The DMK-led five-party alliance had managed to win rest 31 seats. In the 2006 assembly polls, the DMK alliance had won 163 seats. The AIADMK-led three party alliance had won 69 seats while the rest two seats had gone to the DMDK and an independent. The DMDK had a vote share of 8.5 per cent.

    The election here is on May 16 and the results on May 19 will show whether opinion polls showing victory for the ruling AIADMK front are correct or not. It would also be interesting to watch if the PWF is able to make a dent in the two-front monopoly of the political power in the state.

    West Bengal: Interesting battle

    A very interesting battle impacting the future realignment of political forces before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is taking place in West Bengal where two traditional rivals in the state namely, the Congress and the Left Front, have reached an electoral understanding against the ruling All-India Trinamool Congress (AITC), which had wrested power in the state in 2011, ending 34 years of rule of the Left Front. The Trinamool Congress, which fought the election along with the Congress, had won a comfortable majority by grabbing 184 seats in the 295 (one nominated) member house, while the Congress had got 42 seats. The Left Front had won 62 seats.

    In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, a four-cornered contest between the AITC, the Left Front, the Congress and the BJP–led NDA took place. The AITC won 34 seats with a vote share of 39.05 per cent while the Communist Party of India (Marxist) could just manage two seats with a vote share of 29.71 per cent. The Congress won four seats with a vote share of 9.58 per cent. The BJP too won two seats and its vote share went up substantially to 16.80 per cent from 10.66 percent in the 2009 general elections.

    Polling in the state is being held in six phases with the first phase taking place in the Naxalite–affected areas on April 4 and 11. The main contest seems to be between the AITC and the Left Front-Congress combine.

    The BJP, which had made deep inroads in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, seems to be not on a very strong wicket. Winning more than a couple of seats by the BJP would be considered a major achievement. The ruling AITC has anti–incumbency to fight and it has also been hit by few scams and scandals. However, AITC supremo Mamata Banerjee’s continues to remain popular.

    ‘Nationalism’ debate

    The results on May 19 will show if the electoral understanding between the Left Front and the Congress could emerge as a working model for other assembly and national electoral contests. If the Left Front is able to improve its electoral strength substantially in the ongoing assembly elections, then a major realignment of political forces is likely to take place which would throw a major challenge to the BJP-led NDA of PM Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

    The results would also provide an answer to the ongoing ‘nationalism’ debate. The BJP has launched the nationalism debate aggressively and its leaders are using it by raising slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ in elections rallies.

    Though use of aggressive nationalism is a move to use yet another emotional card to hide its failure to deliver on its promises during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, if it can deliver political dividends then the party would try to capitalise on it in the assembly elections of the biggest state of Uttar Pradesh in 2017 and in other Hindi speaking states subsequently.

    The author is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

    Sri Lanka: ‘Re–defining’ or reiterating ChinaIndia equations?

    By N. Sathiya Moorthy

    china-srilanka

    Sri Lanka will ‘re–define’ the China-funded $ 1.4–billion Colombo Port City Project, Chennai-based The Hindu has quoted visiting Prime Minister Ranil Wickemesinghe as saying after talks with President Xi Jinping and his team in Beijing. Back home, sections of the Sri Lankan media reported deputy foreign minister, Dr Harsha de Silva, an economist by profession and reputation, getting emotional on the launch of the India-funded ambulance scheme across the island–nation.

    Therein lies the wide gap between perceptions and performance in terms of India and China viz. Sri Lanka. China is offering big money and more when Sri Lanka’s needs are even more. India, in context, can offer relatively much less in financial terms, but has the political clout with much of the rest of the international community, wherever and whenever it mattered the most. In contemporary Sri Lanka, economic needs and politico-diplomatic demands compete for equal space, relevance and recognition — or, so it has seemed, thus far.

    It was PM Ranil’s first China visit after assuming office in January 2015, after President Maithripala Sirisena taking over power. Earlier, he had waited for his formal elections in parliamentary polls of August, before making neighbouring India, his first overseas destination, officially. As if not to lose further time, after stalling the port city project, among others, after assuming power, PM Ranil has since appointed a three-member high-level committee, to clear all Chinese investments in a jiffy.

    Need for caution

    In seeking to ‘re–define’ the Colombo Port City project, the one-plus-year-old government has now decided to expand the scope, from land–reclamation and realty scheme under predecessor President Mahinda Rajapaksa into an business and financial hub, open to international players, including Indians. PM Ranil told The Hindu in Beiijing that some Indian investors have already talked to him about it. His government could now be expected to take forward the mutual interest(s) viz India while working on the details in the coming weeks and months.

    India’s concerns, and those of Sri Lanka even more, should also be over the kind of business/financial transactions for which the new port city is to be put to use by ‘international players’. There is no denying the limited opportunities for Sri Lanka to enter into nationally–profitable economic ventures of the kind, over the short, medium and long terms.

    Whether under the Rajapaksa, earlier, or later, Sri Lanka has wanted to replicate, if not try to replace, Singapore to the east and Dubai to the west in the Indian Ocean traffic and profits. It now seems wanting to replicate in the financial sector too. The new government has thoughtfully looked up at an alternative after raising concerns about legal and environmental issues regarding the original port city project proposal.

    Yet, Sri Lanka cannot be blind to the possibilities of the ‘financial hub’ being misused and abused for big-time illegal money and business transactions, particularly after Europe and the rest of the world are waking up to the realities of ‘terror funds’. Sri Lanka, in the company of India and Maldives in the immediate neighbourhood, should also be alive to greater flow of drug-money than already, considering that they already an inter-linked extension of ‘Golden Triangle’ and ‘Golden Crescent’.

    Equity–swap and more

    PM Ranil’s China visit will be remembered even more for his government’s decision to offer equity-swap to Chinese companies in the existing and future projects, if only to offset at least a part of the $ 8–billion debt. It is also the first time that a figure has been put on pending Sri Lanka payments to China over the Rajapaksa decade, if not more.

    Recent reports have also indicated — possibly for the first time — that China’s investments/lending in and to Sri Lanka carried an eight percent interest, or thereabouts. Economists had claimed it to be the case when the Rajapaksa regime was silent throughout. They had also pointed out it was much higher than the international lending rates, particularly between governments and between private investors and governments.

    As if to celebrate Ranil’s visit, China has offered a $ 500-million grant to Sri Lanka. Both in Beijing and earlier in Sri Lanka, he had talked about China seeking an additional 1,000 acres in southern Hambantota, in the news over the last decade and more, particularly in India, for setting up a special economic zone/technology park. They have also confirmed earlier media reports in Sri Lanka about increased Chinese funding for other infrastructure/road projects.

    During PM Ranil’s visit, the two nations have also reportedly taken forward their ongoing talks on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Their central banks have agreed on cooperation agreement, and so have their science ministries and institutions. Where there is a noticeable gap, details of bilateral talks on the defence front are not known as yet. Sri Lankan media, quoting official sources, had mentioned it as among the topics for discussions during the prime minister’s China visit.

    Levelplaying field

    Shorn off the frills and ‘re-definition’ the government of President Mithiripala Sirisena and PM Ranil may have only reiterated decisions and actions of the predecessor Rajapaksa government, which used to be much despised by sections of the Indian strategic community in particular, also for this reason. The new government’s decision to now project the Colombo Port City project as an international financial and economic hub would also fall within the scope of the ‘five–hubs development plan’ Rajapaksa’s ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ manifesto for the 2005 presidential polls.

    When Rajapaksa came to power, the election manifesto also became a part of the government’s action plan. Indications and promises were that India as the strategic neighbour would get fair play and a level-playing field in external involvement in Sri Lanka’s ‘hubs activity’, but that was not to be the case. Whether it owed to lack of political will or bureaucratic hurdles, India found the going tough on developmental schemes like the bilateral Sampur power project, and the signing of CEPA, a contemporary improvement upon the bilateral FTA, signed in the last decade of the previous century.

    In recent weeks and months, Sri Lanka has opened negotiations with India on an ETCA (Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement). Critics in Sri Lanka, starting with Rajapaksa, have dubbed it a rehashed CEPA, which he did not sign with visiting PM Manmohan Singh (November 2008), weeks after the two sides had initialled the draft(s). Weeks before leaving for China, PM Ranil dubbed ETCA critics nearer home as ‘traitors’, which may have already done more harm than good.

    It’s so also with the ‘ambulance scheme. However, by reaching out immediate emergency medical care to populations across the country at the shortest possible time, the Sri Lankan Government can hope to win over the beneficiary communities, and thus silence criticism, if only over the medium and long-terms.

    Comparable to the India–aided scheme, however, is the agreement during Ranil’s Beijing visit to for China to provide mobile kidney clinics. It has come at a time when Sri Lanka is being rocked by an India-centric kidney donation/replacement racket involving big–time private sector hospitals in Colombo and local and Indian middlemen.

    National consensus

    Without crossing the t–s and dotting the i–s, the continuance of what seems to be the Rajapaksa China policy – or, China-India equations — by the Maithiri-Ranil duo should be seen as a reflection of a ‘national consensus’ that had been in place either before or immediately after Mahinda R came to power first in 2005. Throughout his second term, too, when human rights and graft charges came to be flagged by the international community, Ranil’s UNP leader of the present-day government, had maintained a stoic silence, also on the China front.

    What was projected as a massive UNP criticism of the Port City project ahead of the 2015 January polls for the presidency was not necessarily shared by Candidate Sirisena, who ultimately defeated Rajapaksa — but purely on the wholly one-sided voting on the ethnic score. The Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims and Upcountry Tamils of recent Indian origin voted mostly against the incumbent, and in favour of the Sirisena candidacy, and for a variety of reasons, making a difference to the end-result.

    China, Hambantota and Port City were not issues at the time. ‘War crimes’, accountability issues, and political solution to the ethnic issue, instead, were, the immediate concerns of the Sri Lankan Tamil community and polity. Muslims had a grouse of their own, thanks to the perceived government silence/indulgence of the Sinhala–Buddhist extremist/violent Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). A substantial section of the Upcountry Tamil population have continuing grouses of their own, which were centred as much on the community leadership as the government of the day.

    Breathe easy

    In Beijing, PM Ranil equated his government’s deals and dealings with China to the historic ‘rice for rubber’ pact of 1952, when his UNP was in power. At the time, Communist China, in its infancy, sold rice to a post–Independence Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, against the rubber that imported in return. According to reports, the Chinese sold rice at a price lower than the international market prices, and purchased rubber at a higher rate than the prevailing global prices.

    In the Nineties, after rival SLFP’s Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga (CBK) became Sri Lankan President, China sold fighter aircraft to take on the LTTE might, reportedly again on flexible terms. If anything, the CBK regime had initialled the controversial Hambantota port MoU with China, after India had declined the Sri Lankan offer/proposal. On assuming power, Rajapaksa, also from the SLFP, reopened the Hambantota deal, only for India to decline the offer politely — and for its own justifiable reasons.

    The Ranil offer(s)/proposal(s) now built upon the post-Independence bilateral relations with China, and equations with India. However silent the two sides just now may be on Sino-Sri Lankan military ties during PM Ranil’s current/maiden visit, India can breathe easy that there may not be a repetition of Chinese submarine(s) wading the neighbourhood waters, as happened under the Rajapaksa leadership.

    Ranil has also reassured India and Indians, also while talking to The Hindu in Beijing, that India had nothing to fear militarily. Instead, India could also participate in joint Sino–Sri Lanka economic activities, to which he has since included the Chinese Maritime Silk Route (MSR) and other trade-route projects, which again the Rajapaksa leadership had signed in, in its time.

    It is not as if the Sri Lankan State and the majority Sinhala polity has been playing foul with India, from time to time, a succession of political administrations notwithstanding. On the economic issue, as on the ethnic front, the nation and its succession of leaders/leaderships have been playing the ‘sovereignty’ and ‘national priority’ cards to their best, addressing real and reality issues to the best of their abilities, and also addressing the domestic constituencies.

    If neighbouring India too benefits, they are happy. If not, they do not worry too much, and for too long, either. In doing so, they are also playing on the impossible situations on the Indian/global economic/fiscal might, viz. China, and also on the SLT community/polity’s limited use for India and the international community – after which it’s only domestic ‘ethnic politics’, which is centred on communities, nearer home and afar and alike!

    The author is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.

    COUNTRY REPORTS

    Afghanistan

    Suicide bomber kills six

    A suicide bomber on a motorbike detonated himself near a bazaar in Afghanistan’s northern Parwan province on 5 April, killing six and wounding 26 others. The bomber was targeting the police headquarters, according to Mohammad Sayed Seddiqi, administrative chief of Siagird district. No policemen were killed, but at least one officer was among the wounded. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

    For more information, see: Afghan Officials: Suicide bomber kills 6 in country’s north

    Unprecedented casualties

    Unprecedented casualties suffered by Afghan forces in 2015 stalled U.S. and NATO efforts to train Afghan troops, the new commanding general in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, told Reuters on 4 April. In his first interview since taking command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, Nicholson stated, “This intense period of combat interfered with the glide slope we were on. The assumptions we made about our timelines, we have to re-look based upon the high casualties they took.” According to Nicholson, 5,500 Afghan troops were killed in combat and more than 14,000 were wounded in 2015.

    For more information, see: Fierce Afghan fighting slows NATO training mission- new U.S commander

    Silent on foreign troops

    Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar dropped one of his conditions for ending his war with the Afghan government, according to an associate of his group, the Hezb-i-Islami Party. According to Amin Karim, an official of the party, Hekmatyar, the party’s leader, is no longer demanding that all foreign troops leave Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani welcomed the shift in a statement, noting if the warlord joins the peace process, Hezb-i-Islami will be “the first group to walk through the gate.” Hekmatyar has been at war with the Afghan government for over 40 years, and his followers are responsible for the deaths of thousands.

    For more information, see: Afghan warlord changes his conditions for peace with Kabul

    Post for Mullah Omar’s son

    Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of late Taliban founder Mullah Omar, was appointed on 4 April as head of the group’s military commission for 15 provinces of Afghanistan. According to Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, Yaqoob and his brother, Mullah Abdul Manan, were both called to sit on the Taliban’s leadership council, the Rahbari Shura. Members of the late founder’s family had initially claimed the leadership for Yaqoob after the discovery of Mullah Omar’s death, but agreed to swear allegiance to current Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour after he agreed to a list of their demands last year.

    For more information, see: Son of Afghan Taliban founder given top council post

    Bangladesh

    Bloggers killed

    In yet another incident of attack on the secular bloggers a law student Nazimuddin Samad was hacked to death.  Samad was critical of the religious radicals and promoted secularism through his blogs. Samad was on a hit list of 84 bloggers that a radical Islamist group compiled and sent to Bangladesh’s Interior Ministry. In Bangladesh bloggers expressing views supporting secularism are been attacked by the radicals. In 2015 around 5 bloggers were killed by the radicals.

     For more information, see: Their worst fear comes true and Secular Student Activist Slain in Bangladesh

    Protest claims four 

    At least four persons were died 30 others were injured following  clash between law enforcers and locals during a protest over constructing of a coal-based power plant Chittagong. In December 2013, a private firm S Alam Group entered into an agreement with SEPCO3 Electric Power Construction Corporation of China to set up a coal-fired power plant.

    For more information, see: 4 killed in clash over setting up power plant

    Bhutan

    Hailstorm hits farms

    A hailstorm damaged at least 300 cardamom farms in Norgaygang gewog, Samtse and more than 87 acres of fields in Kashi gewog, Wangdue on April 6. The hailstorm in Samtse lasted for two hours and affected at least two chiwogs: Choogoophendegang and Assamsa.

    For more information, see: Hailstorm damages crops in Samtse and Wangdue

    India clears revised cost

    The Mangdechhu hydropower project (MHP) may start power generation by the end of next year but with a cost overrun of about 39 percent of the approved investment of INR 28.96 billion. The revised cost estimate was approved on March 23 by the union cabinet of Government of India (GoI).

    For more information, see: GoI approves revised costs of MHP

    4-G service

    In order to catch up with technological advancements in the country, Tashi InfoComm Ltd (TICL) launched the fourth generation of data technology for cellular networks, 4-G, which is the latest generation of mobile systems technology in Thimphu.

    For more information, see: TashiCell launches 4G in three dzongkhags

    India

    No reciprocity: Pak

    Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, has left New Delhi embarrassed to no end. He has suggested that the peace process was off, and that there was no question of reciprocity in allowing a National Investigation Agency (NIA) team from India to travel to Pakistan as part of the probe into the Pathankot terror attack, which India has said is against mutual commitment.

    For more information, see: Pakistan envoy’s comments embarrass Modi government

    China blocks ban

    China has again blocked India’s bid at the UN to ban JeM chief Masood Azhar, the mastermind of the Pathankot terror attack. Just hours before the deadline, China requested the UN committee, which is considering a ban on the chief of the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), to keep on hold the designation. India in February wrote to the UN calling for immediate action to list Azhar under the Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee.

    For more information, see: Sushma Swaraj likely to raise with China issue of banning Masood Azhar

    Temple lifts ban

    Yielding to a high voltage campaign by activists, the Shani Shingnapur temple trust allowed women to enter the sanctum sanctorum, breaking the tradition followed for several decades. Significantly, lifting of all gender barriers for access to the core area came on the auspicious occasion of “Gudi Padwa.

    For more information, see: Shani Shingnapur temple lifts ban on women’s entry

    Banks violated SC guidelines

    Despite a nationwide uproar over the gigantic size of non-performing assets (NPAs) and many loan defaults, the public sector banks have violated the Supreme Court guidelines to give prosecution sanction within four months to proceed against officers accused of criminal conspiracy to cheat them.

    For more information, see: Banks violated SC guidelines on loan defaults

    Maldives

    Yameen visiting India

    Topping possibly the highest number of bilateral visits and meetings in the two capitals and elsewhere, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen is visiting India over the week-end, his third in two years since assuming office in November 2013. In New Delhi, Yameen, accompanied by Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon and others, will call on Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and have a luncheon meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ahead of the CMAG review meeting at the end of one-month deadline set for listed democratic reforms in Maldives. The two leaders are also expected to other bilateral issues, including cooperation against IS terrorism and China.

    For more information, see: President Yameen to make official visit to IndiaCommonwealth Deputy Secretary-General meets Dhunya; Will not allow extremism to flourish: Adam Shareef; President inaugurates major airport development project and Yumna Maumoon resigns

    Nasheed told to return

    Ahead of President Abdulla Yameen’s India visit, the government has asked former President Mohammed Nasheed, now on ‘medical leave’ in the UK, to return to prison and serve out his term, saying they were not satisfied with the documents supporting his demand for two-month extension. A day earlier, ruling PPM-controlled Parliament amended the relevant laws, incidentally passed under the Nasheed regime, to deny post-retirement benefits like pension, security and personal staff to former presidents convicted for criminal offences.

    For more information, see: Ex-President Nasheed ordered to return to prison; Maldives parliament strips ex-presidential benefits for opposition leader; US senate urges Maldives to redress “injustice” of Nasheed’s jailing; Family: Nazim will return after treatment; Ex-MP flees Singapore after order to return to prison; Government denies ordering surveillance on ministers, lawyers; Muhuthaaz pleads not guilty for the attempted illegal arrest of the President; Three journalists facing trial on charges of obstructing police duty; and, Government wants to grant police prosecution powers

    Myanmar

    Charges dropped

    Students, human rights activists and their supporters, who had been on trial for their involvement in national education reform protests, had their charges dropped on April 8. The dismissal of these cases came just one day after Aung San Suu Kyi said she would work for the immediate release of political prisoners and student activists.

    For more information, see: Courts Drop Charges Against Student Activists; NLD withdraws charges against student protestors and Myanmar court frees student activists

     ‘A beacon of hope’

    Describing Burma as a “beacon of hope” in a world where other countries are turning increasingly to authoritarian rule, Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion on April 7 pledged his country’s support for Burma’s transition to democracy.

    For more information, see: Burma ‘a beacon of hope’, says Canadian FM and Suu Kyi has a busy week meeting foreign diplomats

    Opposition to China plan

    A Chinese-led $3 billion plan to build Myanmar’s largest oil refinery near the southern city of Dawei has raised questions about China’s strategic intentions in launching apparently commercially unviable projects, while local groups have already signalled their opposition.

    For more information, see: Doubts raised over Chinese oil refinery plan

    Nepal

    Postal Highway inaugurated

    The task of blacktopping of much-talked Postal Highway was inaugurated on April 7 after a long hiatus. The first phase of blacktopping of postal highway has begun at Jalthal of Jhapa which is expected to materialize the perspective plan linking Madhes from Bhadrapur of Jhapa to Kanchanpur with road network. General Secretary of Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) Rajendra Lingden inaugurated the blacktopping of the road.

    For more information, see: Blacktopping of Postal Highway starts

    GMR faces opposition

    Various authorities concerned have urged the government to take forward the construction of the 900-Megawatt Upper Karnali Hydropower Project with its own investments.  At a programme in the capital on Kathmandu on April 7, the stakeholders demanded that the project should be developed to its original proposed capacity of 4,180 MW.  The Power Development Agreement has already been signed with the Grandhi Mallikarjuna Rao (GMR) company of India to start the construction works.

    For more information, see: Govt urged to construct Upper Karnali project with own investment

    Call for talks

    The Madhesi people are the most affected during Madhes protest, CPN-UML senior leader and former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal said in Gaur, district headquarters of Rautahat. Responding to the media about the consequences of the upcoming protest of Madhes-based parties, Nepal said, “The upcoming protest should not be similar to the recent one. The issue can be resolved through dialogue.”

    For more information, see: Madhav Nepal urges dialogue for resolving Madhes issues

    Pakistan

    PM named in ‘Panama papers’

    The family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was among the dozens implicated in a massive leak of 11.5 million secret files from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonesca that specializes in offshore tax havens.  According to documents available on the website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — one of the approximately 100 news organizations that worked on mining the data – Nawaz’s children Mariam, Hasan, and Hussain “were owners or had the right to authorize transactions for several companies.”

    For more information, see: ‘Panama Papers’ reveal Sharif family ‘offshore holdings’

    Afghan ‘spy’ arrested

    On 6 March, Pakistan arrested a suspected Afghan intelligence agent who is believed to be responsible for assassinations and bombings in Baluchistan province. “The arrested man is an Afghan national living in a rented house in Boghara area at the outskirts of Chaman town. Paramilitary forces raided the house on intelligence and detained him,” said Manzoor Ahmed, a spokesman for the paramilitary force. Afghan authorities have not released a statement about the arrest.

    For more information, see: Pakistan says it has arrested Afghan intelligence agent in province

    Viper choppers from US

    The US Navy awarded Pakistan a $170 million contract for the delivery of nine AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement on 4 March. This shipment falls under the Foreign Military Sales Program with Pakistan, according to the statement, which the two governments established to enhance Pakistan’s counterinsurgency and counterterrorism capabilities. The delivery is expected to be completed in September 2018.

    For more information, see: US Navy orders nine AH-1Z viper attack helicopters for Pakistan

    Rains claim 92

    The toll rose to 92 on 6 March after torrential rains caused flash flooding and landslides in parts of northwest Pakistan. Most of the deaths occurred in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where 65 people were killed. Twelve people were killed in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and 15 people died in Gilgit-Baltistan. Rescuers continue to search for 23 people who were buried in a landslide in the northern mountains.

    For more information, see: Rescuers search for 23 in Pakistani landslide; flood toll at 92

    Sri Lanka

    Port City project back

    Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, during his maiden China visit, more than a year after assuming office, met with President Xi Jinping, and agreed to speed up the controversial Colombo Port City project, but in a new format, and also proposed equity-swap to try and offset $ 8-b debt to the host-government and entities.

    For more information, see: Lanka, China agree to speed up port city project; SL requests equity swap for China debt; Cash-strapped Sri Lanka looks to restructure USD 8 bn China debt; Ranil appoints top-level committee to facilitate Chinese investments; China grants 500mn Yuan symbolizing Sino-Lanka friendship; Japan, India and Sri Lanka in trilateral collaboration in Science and Technology; and, Harsha breaks down during ‘ambulance’ speech

    MS restores MR’s security

    President Maithiripala Sirisena has intervened since, to restore the military security of predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, after the government defended the decision and members of the ‘joint Opposition group’ in Parliament had expressed concern over the sudden proposal for reduction.

    For more information, see: Sirisena restores Mahinda’s military security; Security withdrawn not to disgrace MR; Military security of MR and Gota will be replaced-Hettiarachchi; and, PM urged not to withdraw MR’s elite commandos…Prof. Peiris, Wimal assert MR’s life at stake

    PRIMARY DOCUMENTATION

    Myanmar

    Press Releases

    Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi holds talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Mr. Wang Yi, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, April 5, 2016.

    Joint Press Briefing by Myanmar and Canadian Foreign Ministers Ministry of Foreign Affairs, April 7, 2016.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY

    Afghanistan

    Opinion pieces

    Bangladesh

    Bhutan

    Editorials

    Opinion Pieces

    India

    Opinion Pieces

    Maldives

    Opinion Pieces

    Myanmar

    Opinion Pieces

    Nepal

    Opinion Pieces

    Pakistan

    Sri Lanka

    CONTRIBUTORS

    Afghanistan and Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah

    Bangladesh: Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

    Bhutan and Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale

    India: Shubh Soni and Pushan Das

    Maldives and Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy

    Nepal: Dr Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury and Sreeparna Banerjee

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