- Feb 15 2016
Maldives: Yameen ready for talks, international mediators
N. Sathiya Moorthy
The last time, it was the visits of Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, and those by two Sri Lankan Ministers and one from the UK that ‘did the trick’. Jailed former Maldives president Mohammed Nasheed obtained a month-long ‘medical leave’ for urgent spinal surgery in London. This time after separate and near-coinciding visits by a delegation from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and the European Union (EU), President Abdulla Yameen has offered to re-start multi-party political negotiations, that too with international mediation.
“President Yameen has decided to re-launch the political party talks. Invitations for parties will be sent out by President's Office,” a tweet by the Foreign Ministry said. Not long after on Thursday, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon told CNN that her government had invited international bodies such as the UN, Commonwealth and the EU to mediate the talks. Yameen decided on the talks to find ways for overcoming the challenges to the fledgling democracy, she said. “It also shows the President’s priority of strengthening the judiciary,” she added.
The Yameen leadership would want to believe that his Government is not acting under international pressure. Alongside the announcement about restarting the talks, Minister Dunya, Attorney-General, Mohammed Anil and Fisheries Minister Mohamed Shainee are now in London, meeting with top British diplomats, Commonwealth chief and officials and media groups. The visit was not known to be on cards. However, given that AG Anil is on the team could also imply that the Yameen leadership is also seeking to impress upon the international community, the legality involved in the Nasheed-Judge Abdulla cases, and the lack of constitutionality in the demands for Nasheed’s freedom.
Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had called upon Yameen to commence political negotiations, even before the former was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison in the ‘Judge Abdualla abduction case’. He has repeated the demand since flying to the UK for medical treatment. So has the international national community, including a recent report of a UN affiliate, the CMAG and EU teams, more recently.
Yet, to conclude that Yameen’s initiatives of the kind are exclusively under international pressure as a majority section of the global and domestic media has concluded, need not be entirely correct. Nasheed, the MDP openly and overtly supportive sections of the international community have tagged on their demands for reviving the all-party talks with freedom for ‘all political prisoners’ in the country. Needless to say, the count starts from Nasheed himself.
This could mean delays, if the MDP insists that Nasheed, who is a prisoner still, should be their delegate or lead their delegation. The EU delegation in particular has pressed this point at and after meetings with Yameen and Dunya. However, during Nasheed’s imprisonment, the party and the leader did nominate two different delegations to negotiate with Home Minister Umar Naseer after Yameen insisted that the Government was ready to negotiate with the party, but not a ‘prisoner’.
Pre-supposed and more...
The West has reiterated that without a political solution (read: Nasheed’s ‘electoral freedom’), the 2018 presidential polls cannot be ‘free and fair’. The argument had produced results ahead of the 2013 presidential polls, when Nasheed was already facing trial in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’. At the time, he skipped court hearings more than once. On the last occasion, he took a unilateral decision to stage a sit-in, in the Indian High Commission at Male.
Apart from other issues and concerns, the MDP’s open demands and those of the party’s western supporters – whether nations or institutions – seem to have pre-supposed that the Maldivian Judiciary is under Executive care, and the President could just ask, direct or dictate freedom for Nasheed and other political prisoners without going through due processes. The Government seemed inclined to prove otherwise. Even while admitting to institutional weaknesses, particularly in the Judiciary, the Yameen leadership seems keen to ensure that existing processes are gone through, if only to convince the world that they have always been on the right.
For absolute freedom, Nasheed would either have to obtain a favourable order from the Supreme Court, where his appeal is pending (alongside an earlier one in his favour by the State). That alone would make him eligible to contest the presidential polls of 2018. The double-quick alternative for obtaining freedom would be for Nasheed to seek presidential pardon, and for Yameen to grant it. Existing laws would disqualify Nasheed from contesting the 2018 polls, however.
The alternative would be for the nation’s Parliament to amend the Constitution and electoral laws, to provide for one-time, one-man exception, or amend the existing provisions for term-served prisoners to contest polls. President Yameen’s ruling combine has close to a two-thirds majority required for any amendment. Yet, Government parties could argue that it involves larger questions of democracy issues, and would be a fit subject for all-party talks and not a quick-fire constitutional amendment.
Political negotiations have had a chequered career in democratised Maldives, post-2008. The all-party talks with former chairman of the Maldives Human Rights Commission, Ahmed Mujthaba as Convenor/Moderator, did not really take off. One meeting or the other, one party or the other, to the all-party talks had ensured that the negotiations did not really proceed to any way close to a possible conclusion.
Likewise, the then Indian Foreign Secretary, Ranjan Mathai’s initiative for political reconciliation through an all-party round-table during his brief visit in the weeks after Nasheed’s exit was torpedoed, by using the very process. The Mujthabha-led all-party negotiations were not revived in any earnestness or seriousness until the presidential polls of 2013. The past attempts of the ‘international community’ in the matter were equally less productive, or counter-productive.
Even while backing the MDP’s demands for an international inquiry into Nasheed’s exit as President on 6 February 2012, a Commonwealth probe report went against it. The MDP would not accept the findings whole-heartedly. In the process, the international community’s focus also shifted from its initial demands to the probe-findings. The MDP ended up concluding that the international community was sympathetic to and supportive of anti-Nasheed, ‘anti-democratic’ forces in the country.
Issues for talks
The larger question in terms of political negotiations could well relate to the issues that the all-party talks should agitate, and also the differing positions and perceptions that individual parties may put forth. There is nothing to suggest just now that even the MDP, as the largest political party, could put forth specific demands, other than freedom for Nasheed, the nation’s most charismatic and popular leader.
This apart, any serious negotiations that (were to) go beyond ‘freedom for all political prisoners’ could also flounder over the differing positions that individual political parties might take, from the very concepts on. It’s where the Mujthabha talks lost steam – or, was deliberately made to lose steam and relevance. The question could thus swing from issues for talks, to the talks as an issue in itself. It could get stuck there, too, if international negotiators, as and when summoned, did not go with a honourable withdrawal scheme at every turn – or, with an ‘exit plan’ in toto, if it came that.
If they do not handle it with care and caution, given their template notions about democracy and democratic institutions, and inadequate knowledge of Maldives, polity and society, international facilitators could harm the negotiations at times, than add value. They may have models that have worked in ‘matured’ democracies, not in Maldives. To make it work in contemporary Maldives, used to a thousand years of one-man rule since the days of the Sultanate, is what democratisation has failed to achieve, too.
The negotiations, whenever, however and wherever held – if some insist on some specifics and others all agree, too – could raise more questions than answers. Ranked opposite the Yameen dispensation and alongside him (Gasim’s JP, for instance) are political parties and civil society groups that had piloted the 2008 Constitution draft. Now, all sides would be called upon to revisit their old positions, and this could cause embarrassment to some, on specifics.
Any political settlement would look at various aspects of governance, government structure and social order. It should not surprise anyone if the MDP agitates for ‘independence of Judiciary’ and other government ‘institutions’, but without being able to tell the rest, how – or, convince them about it. Given the ‘Abdulla abduction case’ and the day-long closure of the Supreme Court when Nasheed was President, among others, any forceful arguments by the MDP could end up becoming a slanging match, both inside the negotiations and outside.
Around the visits by the EU and CMAG delegations came reports of what some social media circles might dub as a ‘third coup-bid’ against President Yameen. As coincidence would have it, Defence Minister Adam Shareef, the third one to occupy the office in about a year, declared at a function that the nation’s armed forces would stand by the ‘legally-elected’ government in the country.
This one involved a former Attorney-General reportedly obtaining a ‘fake arrest warrant’ against Yameen from a non-jurisdictional judge in a distant island, based on ‘forged documents’. The police, which was in the dark all through, arrested the two. The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has since sacked the judge concerned but ‘international jurists organisations’ have called for his freedom from remand, ordered by the High Court.
In a way, this one was thus a ‘judicial coup-bid’ of some kind. The first one involved a ‘constitutional coup’ mooted by the MDP central council in December 2014, when it called for Yameen to hand over the presidency to Gasim Ibrahim, who was outside the mandated list. End-September 2015, Yameen escaped a blast on the presidential yacht when returning from the annual Haj pilgrimage. Then Vice-President Ahmed Adheeb was later arrested on the twin charge of assassination to kill Yameen, and also to get him impeached with the Opposition support in the People’s Majlis, or Parliament.
Incidentally, the ‘arrest warrant’ for Yameen reportedly flowed from allegations of large-scale embezzlement from a public sector corporation, until recently under the care of a close associate of impeached VP Adheeb, now in prison for the ‘assassination bid’ and on multiple graft-charges, as Tourism Minister. Citing alleged confessions of the key accused, the MDP has claimed that much of the $ 70-m diverted funds had ended with Yameen or other high government officials.
This is by far the most genuinely political issue/case that Yameen’s detractors have got to target him. Yameen has since denied involvement in graft and promised stringent criminal action against the real culprits, based on the findings of Government auditors. As may be recalled, when Nasheed was President, an Indian news magazine had made out a $ 70-m embezzlement charge against Yameen, when he was Finance Minister under half-brother, President Gayoom. Though the Government promised action, nothing was either done, or came out of it.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)
Myanmar: Naming a new President
Wide speculations have embroiled the nominations for the presidential candidate in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, which swept the parliamentary polls, indisputably holds the key to the nomination of president, but is keeping the cards close to her chest.
One common speculation is that the NLD is considering the option of circumventing the constitutional provision that bars Suu Kyi from becoming President. If so, it’s a significant departure from Suu Kyi’s much-publicized statement following her party’s landslide victory, that in the NLD-led government in Myanmar, she would be ‘above the president’. She had called the government that she intends to form as the ‘National Reconciliation’ government, suggesting attempt at rapprochement with the military.
As to who will become the president will depend on the outcome of the behind the scene negotiations between the NLD and the military until March 17, which is the last day for nominating the president and vice presidents in the parliament.
Suspending Article 59(f)
Article 59(f) of the Constitution bars anyone whose spouse or children are foreign nationals from becoming the president or vice-president. The provision made by military rulers of the country in the 2008 constitution has remained the bone of contention, ever since the NLD’s participation in parliamentary politics, when they cornered 43 of the 44 seats they contested in the by-elections.
Now, the NLD is mulling over the option of moving a motion in favour of suspending the Article 59(f) that would allow their leader to become the president. Unlike the previous constitution, the 2008 constitution does not mention whether an article of the constitution can be suspended or not.
A constitutional amendment to the effect would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which the NLD lacks, owing to the electoral scheme freezing 25 percent seats in both Houses exclusively for military nominees. The local media has reported that hard bargaining is on between the NLD and the military for suspension of the constitutional provision 59(f).
Media is also abuzz with reports of an instruction to NLD MPs by the party high command to brace up for a session of parliament for clearing the constitutional hurdle for Suu Kyi to become president. Suu Kyi and the NLD are said to have kept their options open.
With the nominations of speakers and deputy in upper and lower houses of parliament complete, bearing a mix of NLD and non-NLD MPs including a former military genera,l Suu Kyi has displayed much purpose to the term ‘National Reconciliation’ that she calls the government her party is going to form.
Among the speaker’s also included an ethnic Karen, a Kachin and an Arakanese. The move of nominating ex lower-house speaker and former Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) chair Thura U Shwe Mann, a close ally of Suu Kyi to a legal affairs commission shows that she would leave no stone unturned in getting the constitutional provision suspended. Thura U Shwe Mann was in favour of repealing the Article 59(f).
Successful rapprochement between the military and government elect is required for any constitutional provision to be suspended the military and Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) seems to be not interested in giving this concession to the NLD. Commander-in-Chief of the Defence forces, Min Aung Hlaing, has remained tightlipped over the nominations for the executive post. But, he seems unlikely to be in favour of suspending the 59(f). The NLD is considering, appointing military MP’s to key government posts and as chief ministers of states, and expect in return that the military bloc will favour suspension of 59(f).
However, this move could be counterproductive as reports hint at the military being miffed by NLD’s nomination of members of the military bloc for constitutional posts, requiring them to resign from their military assignments to take up constitutional posts. The only factor that could possibly make military commander Min Aung Hlaing to give in to the compromise is in return seek Suu Kyi’s assurance that her government will not infringe upon the military’s vast economic interests, nor seek revenge for abuses under years of junta rule.
The suspension of the article 59(f) has not found empathy with the presidential office either, whose spokesperson Ye Htut had gone on record stating that suspension of any constitutional provision is possible only during emergency. The USDP is also not likely to favour the suspension, after Shwe Mann appointment to the key position has led to an apparent split in the military backed party.
In nation’s interest
Continuing to use the corridors of power as the sanctum sanctorum of reforms introduced by erstwhile military-led government would remain the single most important challenge for the newly elected NLD government in the country.
Widening the web of democratic reforms and reconciliation with ethnic minorities should be the priorities of the government elect. Suu Kyi’s elevation to the corridors of power has hardly helped stop the heavy fighting between the Shan rebels and the army in the northern Shan state.
The political dialogue set to start soon with 8 ethnic groups who have signed the ceasefire, the government elect has task at hand when it comes to ethnic reconciliation. So, Suu Kyi, and her party have to cautiously tread with government formation so as to not tarnish its image nationally and internationally.
She cannot set a bad precedent by subverting constitutional provisions for fulfilling her ambitions. Whether, Suu Kyi becomes the president or not, it is clear that she will be the singlehandedly lead the government as she had indicated after her party’s victory in the November polls that she would be ‘above the president’.
So how does it matter as to who becomes the president? Maybe, it does matter for Suu Kyi personally, after spending devoting 25 years for political change in Myanmar. But, where she has emerged as the most powerful civilian of the country, national interest must precede any personal ‘ambition’. But, as many, commentators have noted, Suu Kyi the activist and democracy crusader is radically different from Suu Kyi the statesman who harbors the personal ambition of leading the country.
Suu Kyi is only one among the many heroes who cut their teeth in the 1988 uprising against the tyranny of Gen Ne Win’s one-party rule. She was then known to be a moderate leader among the many shades of political leaders opposing the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
Like Suu Kyi, hundred thousands of activists have sacrificed their lives to fight for bringing democracy in the country before and since 1988. Aung San Suu Kyi must seize this opportunity of steering the country into a path of holistic welfare of its people and democracy. Whether she becomes the president or not is of little consequence, but the course that her stewardship will take would be detrimental for the country’s future.
(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata).
Airstrikes target ISIS
U.S. officials say there have been about 20 airstrikes against Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan in the past three weeks, as the U.S. expands its fight against the insurgent group beyond Iraq and Syria.
For more information see: “US airstrikes target Islamic State in Afghanistan”, Fox news, 11 February 2016
On 10 February, the U.S. Treasury named Nayf Salam Muhammad Ujaym al-Hababi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. According to the Treasury Department's designation, al-Hababi has been active in Afghanistan since 2009, and is currently serving as the al Qaeda emir for the Eastern Zone of Afghanistan. He allegedly provided support for al Qaeda through the purchase and distribution of weapons, and planned and supported attacks against U.S. forces between 2012 and 2015. Adam J. Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said, “Al-Hababi has a long history of directing deadly attacks against U.S. forces and our Coalition allies in Afghanistan, along with plotting al Qaeda terrorist operations in the United States and around the world.”
For more information, see: “U.S puts sanctions on alleged Al Qaeda leader”, The Wall Street Journal, 10 February 2016
More US soldiers
For the first time since combat operations were declared over at the end of 2014, a battalion of 500 U.S. Army infantrymen is being sent to southern Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province where the Taliban have made a comeback, Fox News has learned.
For more information see: “US Army orders hundreds of soldiers back to southern Afghanistan”, Fox News, 11 February 2016
$2.5 –b aid from US
US President Barack Obama, in his final budget proposal as president, has allocated $2.5 billion for Afghanistan and an additional $860 million for Pakistan to demonstrate the United States’ continued commitment to both countries and to ensure the availability of necessary resources to fight violent extremism in both countries. Highlighting the budget’s broader funding for the fight against IS, Heather Higginbottom, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, said, “The funds will also help communities liberated from ISIL, assist those who have fled the conflict, and discredit terrorist propaganda.”
For more information, see: “U.S to increase financial support to Afghanistan”, TOLO News, 11 February 2016
Pak gives $ 500-m aid
Pakistan’s Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal announced that Pakistan has launched $500 million worth of projects for Afghanistan’s education, health and infrastructure sectors, the media reported on February 12.
For more information see: “Pakistan launched $500 million projects for Afghanistan”, Financial Express, 12 February 2016
Terror expansion: US
The US intelligence chief this week opined that efforts by Bangladesh's Prime Minister to undermine the political opposition will encourage transnational terrorist groups to expand their network in the country. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made this comments during his testimony to a Senate hearing.
For more information see: “US intel warns of expansion of terror groups in Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 10 February 2016
Full implementation: PM
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina this weekobserved that her government has been sincerely working to fully implement the Chittagong Hill Track (CHT) Treaty signed in 2 December 1997. She also claimed that two-thirds of the accord has been implemented. The accord brought an end to decades of insurgency in CHT insurgency. Prime Minister informed that the treaty has 4 chapters and has 72 clauses. Amongst them, 48 have been implemented fully, 15 partially and rest are on the way of implementation.
For more information see: “PM promises full implementation of CHT Treaty”, Prothom Alo, 10 February 2016
The country has recorded a $2.1 billion surplus in Balance of Payments (BOP) in the first six months of the current fiscal year. Bangladesh Bank expects the trend to continue for the rest of the financial year. The present BOP surplus is 28 percent higher previous year. In 2014-15, fiscal year BOP deficit was of $1.56 billion.
For more information see: “Bangladesh achieves $2 billion Balance-of-Payment surplus in six months”, bdnews24.com, 6 February 2016
Thai aid for port?
Bangladesh and Thailand this week agreed to undertake a feasibility study on the Chittagong Port's capacity and facilities with aim of signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish direct coastal shipping links between the two countries. The decision was arrived at a meeting between a visiting delegation of the Port Authority of Thailand and the Ministry of Shipping (MoS) officials in capital Dhaka.
For more information see: “Dhaka, Bangkok may conduct feasibility study on Ctg Port”, The Financial Express, 9 February 2016
Prince is born
The nation is in high spirits following the birth of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey on February 5. Prayers and congratulatory messages continued to be expressed across the country and abroad. Social media is flooded with expressions of happiness for Their Majesties and The Gyalsey. Many initiatives and activities in their honour are being conducted.
For more information see: “Nation rejoices with The Gyalsey’s birth”, Kuensel, 7 February 2016
India funds highway works
The Government of India has sanctioned the widening of the Chuzom-Haa Highway, at a cost of Nu 2.6 billion. The work is scheduled to begin soon and the widening of the highway is expected to be completed by 2016.
For more information see: “Indian government sanctions widening of Chuzom-Haa highway”, Kuensel, 9 February 2016
Low tourist arrivals
The number of tourists visiting Bhutan saw decrease in the 2014-15 financial year. While more than 58,000 tourists visited Bhutan in 2014, only around 51,000 visited last year. Consequently, revenue inflows also decreased by around Nu 300 M.
For more information see: “Number of tourists visiting Bhutan decreases”, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, 11 February 2016
David Headley told the special court that he was told to survey naval air station and Siddhivinayak Temple but he discouraged it as targets as both were heavily guarded. Headley was told to recruit someone from BARC and hand over videos of BARC to Major Iqbal and Sajid Mir.
For more information see: “Visited and videographed BARC: Headley” The Hindu, 12 February, 2016
Sonia, Rahul exempted
The Supreme Court will hear petitions by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi seeking to set aside a Delhi High Court order refusing to quash summons issued to them in The National Herald case. The matter is listed before a Bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and C. Nagappan.
For more information see: “SC to hear Gandhis in National Herald case today” The Hindu, 12 February 2015
Markets continue to crash
The stock markets fell by more than 800 points on Thursday, after foreign investors intensified their selling on a weak global economic outlook and concerns over the health of Indian banks. The BSE realty, oil & gas indices and the BSE bankex were the top sectoral losers.
For more information see: “Sensex down 800 pts as global sell-off accelerates” Business Standard, 12 February 2015
Yameen for talks
After talks with visiting EU and CMAG delegations, President Abdulla Yameen has announced revival of multi-party talks for political reconciliation in Maldives. The visits coincided with reports of a judicial magistrate issuing arrest warrant against Yameen in a multi-million ‘tourism scam’, after which the judge was arrested for criminal conspiracy, based on ‘forged documents’.
For more information, see: “Maldives yields to global calls for multi-party talks”, Haveeru Online, 11 February 2016; “Maldives invites foreign mediators to multi-party talks”, Haveeru Online, 12 February 2016; “Maldives seeks ex-pres' treatment details as medical leave expiry looms”, Haveeru Online, 11 February 2016; “Duplicitous attacks on the Maldives”, Washington Times, 9 February 2016; “Maldives reassures close ties with Europe, demands respect”, Haveeru Online, 11 February 2016; “Maldives ex-Prosecutor General detained over alleged coup plot”, Maldives Independent, 9 February 2016; “Maldives army will always defend 'lawful' govt, defence minister says”, Haveeru Online, 9 February 2016
Japan opens embassy
After China opened its embassy in Maldives in 2011, Japan has now become the latest country to open on in Male. Bilateral ties date back to the years immediately after Maldives’ Independence when Japan became Maldives development and technological partner.
For more information, see: “Japan opens first ever embassy in Maldives”, Miadhu, 9 February 2016; “Japanese ambassador: Ties with Maldives have strengthened within last 10 years”, SunOnline, 9 February 2016; “Agreements made in the Japan trip has started to bear fruits”, SunOnline, 8 February 2016; “Will visit Maldives again: Hamachi”, Miadhu, 9 February 2016
Army clashes with Shan rebels
Clashes continued between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Shan State Army-South in the second week of February, with both armed groups trading blame over the cause of hostilities. Fighting has been reported on successive days since Feburary 7 across three townships in northern Shan State of Namkham, Namhsan and Kyaukme.
For more information: “Civilians Displaced as Ta’ang, Shan Armed Groups Clash in Northern Shan State”, The Irrawaddy, 11 February 2016; “Shan rebel fighting continues”, Eleven, 11 February 2016; “Clashes between SSA-S and TNLA force villagers to flee”, Mizzima, 11 February 2016
President cancels US visit
Outgoing President, Thein Sein has cancelled has cancelled plans to attend the US-ASEAN summit in California due next week. Thein Sein’s office put off the visit on 11 February without citing reasons.
For more information see: “Burma’s Outgoing President Cancels Visit to US-ASEAN Summit Next Week”, The Irrawaddy, 12 February 2016, “Thein Sein to skip US trip”, DVB, 12 February 2016
Police have seized over 260,000 methamphetamine pills worth over 1.3 billion kyats (over US$1 million) in Rangoon’s Mingaladon Township, officers confirmed that on February 5, they found the stimulants abandoned at a garbage dump on the Yangon-Prome road.
For more information see: “Rangoon Police Seize US$1 Million Worth of ‘Abandoned’ Drugs”, The Irrawaddy, 12 February 2016
Sushil Koirala passes away
Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala’s personal doctor Dr Kabirnath Yogi on February 11 said he did not have time to take the ailing leader to hospital even though he wanted to. At an interaction programme held at the Reporters’ Club in the Capital city, Dr Yogi said although, he had made numerous phone calls to the hospital for an ambulance to rush the former Prime Minister, it was not received and ambulance was not managed.
For more information, see: “Did not have time to take Koirala to hospital: Koirala's personal doctor” The Kathmandu Post. 11 February 2016; “TUTH phone didn't respond even after dialing 13 times: Dr Yogi” Republica, 11 February 2016
End to fuel crisis
Ending almost three-month long 'lot system' in distribution of fuel, the government has decided to distribute 5 liters of petrol to two-wheelers and 15 liters of petrol/diesel to four-wheelers on a daily basis from February 12 through every petrol pump. Following the increase in supply of petroleum products from the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), the state-run oil monopoly -Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) - took the decision to this effect in view to address the fuel crunch in the market.
For more information, see: “Vehicles to get fuel from today” Republica, 11 February 2016; “Petroleum products supply to normalise from Friday, quota system scrapped” The Kathmandu Post, 11 February 2016
As the date for Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s India visit draws near, there is a divergence of views over the overall framing of the visit, which is taking place after four-month-long strained bilateral ties. One school of thought suggests that the visit should be made political, concentrating solely on improving bilateral relations, while there are also strong opinions that it should be focused on securing tangible economic assistance from the southern neighbour.
For more information, see: “Divergent views appear ahead of Oli’s Delhi trip” The Kathmandu Post, 11 February 2016
Pakistan has arrested 97 al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants, including three commanders, in the southern city of Karachi and foiled a planned attack to break U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl's killer out of jail, the army said on February 12.
For more information: “Pakistan arrests 97 al-Qaeda and other militants; foils jailbreak plan”, Reuters, 12 February 2016; “Pakistani intelligence arrests nearly 100 militants”, Mail Online, 12 February 2016
Pat for talks
State Department spokesman Mark Toner has said that Pakistan is an important partner in the region for achieving a stable and secure Afghanistan. He however refused to confirm report in a newspaper regarding F-16 sales to Pakistan.
For more information see: “US lauds Pakistan's efforts to support Afghan-led reconciliation talks”, Daily Times, 12 February 2016
$ 16-b gas deal
On 10 February, during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s two-day visit to Qatar, Pakistani and Qatari officials signed a 16-year agreement that will have Qatargas-2, the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) producer, sending 3.75 million tons of LNG to Pakistan per year. One Pakistani official said, “This is the single largest commercial transaction that Pakistan has entered into." Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the Pakistani petroleum minister, said the deal would account for 20 percent of Pakistan’s gas needs and will save the country roughly $1 billion per year. Pakistan, starved for energy, still has a LNG deficit that stands at roughly 2-4 billion cubic feet per day.
For more information, see: “Pakistan signs landmark 15-year LNG supply deal with Qatar”, Reuters, 10 February 2016
PIA resumes flights
On 9 February, Pakistani International Airlines (PIA) resumed its domestic flights. International flights began on 7 February, after six days of a PIA employees strike. The tense situation continues, as the Pakistan Air Lines Pilots Association (PALPA) did not back the decision made by the PIA’s Joint Action Committee – the employees’ representative body – and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ruled out negotiations with employees until they returned to work.
For more information, see: “Back on track: PIA union workers call off strike after eight days of protests”, The Express Tribune, 9 February 2016
President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe have promised visiting UNHRC chief, Prince Zeid Al Hussein, that their Government would stand by UNHRC commitment on accountability probe and political reconciliation. During his four-day visit, Prince Hussein also visited the war-ravaged North and the East and said the Tamil victims of war were yet to overcome their fears. Prince Hussein said decisions on the accountability probes was a ‘sovereign right’ of Sri Lanka
For more information, see: “Decision is SL's sovereign right: UNHR Chief”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 February 2016; “Prez, PM assure Hussein: Sri Lanka will meet UNHRC commitments”, The Island, 10 February 2016; “‘President will never accept foreign judges’...Former President accused of raising Geneva bogey”, The Island, 10 February 2016; “No need for any int’l investigation: JHU”, Daily Mirror Online, 10 February 2016; “Jt. Opp decries Hussein going beyond his mandate”, The Island, 10 February 2016; “UNHR Chief malicious, unfair: GL”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 February 2016
Moves for new party under Rajapaksa
Dissidents in President Maithripala Sirisena-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party identifying with predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa have reportedly finalised details for a new party under his leadership/direction. In between, a multi-party grouping for Rajapaksa has also sought to be recognised as the ‘official Opposition’ within Parliament, a position now being held by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
For more information, see: “Key decisions on new party led by MR finalised”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 February 2016; “We will continue our struggle: Dulles”, Daily Mirror Online, 9 February 2016; “Kiriella invites Jt. opposition to join govt”, The Island, 8 February 2016
PM meets new Japanese Ambassador, Cabinet Secretariat, 4 February 2016
Thomas E. Ricks, “In Afghanistan, how about trying this?:Don’t just be there, stand there”, Foreign Policy, 11 February 2016
Wahab Raofi, “A Solution to the Afghanistan-Taliban Conflict?”, The Huffington Post, 11 February 2016
Marvin G. Weinbaum, “Straight Talk on Afghan Peace Talks”, Foreign Policy, 5 February 2016
Tim Craig, “Afghan courts said these ex-U.S detainees should be freed. Why weren’t they?”, The Washington Post, 11 February 2016
Helena Malikyar, “Afghanistan: pity the children”, Al Jazeera, 11 February 2016
Wahab Raofi, “A Solution to the Afghanistan- Taliban Conflict?”, Huffington Post, 11 February 2016
Shahiduzzaman Khan, “TPP deal signed: What BD should do”, The Financial Express, 6 February 2016.
Kuldip Nayar, “Has Bangladesh lost its focus?”, The Statesmen, 11 February, 2016
Kuensel, “Moving on”, Kuensel, 12 February 2016
Kuensel, “Water: Solving the problem of plenty”, 8 February 2016
Nagaraj, “Why 7.6% growth is hard to square”, The Hindu, 12 February 2016
Jahangir Aziz, “Budget for a new reality”, Indian Express, 12 February 2016
Shweta Hingorani, “Reclaiming the PIL”, Indian Express, 12 February 2016
Abdulla Yameen, President of Maldives, “Duplicitous attack on the Maldives”, The Washington Times, 9 February 2016
Khin Omar and Alex Moodie, “Burma’s Peace Process Needs a Fresh Start”, The Irrawaddy, 12 February 2016
Chit Win, “What to expect from the class of 2016”, Myanmar Times, 10 February 2016
Republica “Chance for renewal”, Republica, 10 February 2016
Dawn, “IS threat”, Dawn, 12 February 2016
F.S. Aijazuddin, “Grounded Immobile”, Dawn, 11 February 2016
Rohullah Osmani, “Chabahar Port: A Win for South Asia”, Foreign Policy, 5 February 2016
Ziauddin, “The challenge of terror financing”, The Express Tribune, 12 February 2016
Khurram Husain, “Vilifying workers”, Dawn, 10 February 2016
Amina Jilani, “The sorry split”, The Express Tribune, 12 February 2016
M S M Ayub, “Prince Al Hussein offers concessions but with difficult conditions”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 February 2016
Dr Ranga Kalansooriya, “National anthem sung in Tamil a step in reconciliation?”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 February 2016
Malinda Seneviratne, “Sarath Fonseka and parliamentary politics”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 February 2016
Carlo Fonseka, “Accolades for President and Prime Minister”, The Island, 10 February 2016
Jehan Perera, “President reaffirms commitment to reconciliation process”, The Island, 9 February 2016
N Sathiya Moorthy, “It’s federalism vs. Unitary State, still”, The Sunday Leader, 6 February 2016
Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah & Mihir Bhonsale
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale
India: Shubh Soni & Pushan Das
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy
Nepal: Dr Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury & Sreeparna Banerjee